Tag Archives: Virginia Tech

Hokies’ Justin Fuente Proved He Was Last Year’s Best Hire

Now that the season is over, I can confidently say that Justin Fuente is my pick for best head coaching hire after last season. The Virginia Tech Hokies have become (somewhat) relevant this season and that isn’t just a fluke.

The Hokies finished the regular season at 9-3, winning the ACC Coastal Division. Granted, winning the ACC Coastal is about the equivalent of winning the SEC East these days. But I’ll get to my SEC East comparison. Virginia Tech then went on to lose in a pretty close game to Clemson at the ACC Championship in Orlando.

Virginia Tech beat UNC, Miami, Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame and a few other opponents. Who did it lose to? Virginia Tech’s three regular season losses were to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is the least excusable loss of the three. And you can blame the Tennessee and Georgia Tech losses almost entirely on turnovers.

In fact, I was at that Tennessee game. I remember just how sloppy it was. Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee by 70 yards, had the ball for two and a half minutes longer and had five more first downs than Tennessee did. But because of the Hokies’ five turnovers (and the Vols’ one), they fell to Tennessee in what turned out to be a bit of a rout.

Virginia Tech outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards and had ten more first downs than the Yellow Jackets did. But Virginia Tech lost by ten points after giving up four turnovers. Georgia Tech only gave up one.

The Syracuse game is a bit of a different story. The Hokies only had one more turnover than the Orange did. But Syracuse quarterback channeled his inner Lamar Jackson and had 311 yards passing as well as 106 yards on the ground.

Aside from these three hiccups, the Hokies really did have a great season under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Transfer quarterback Jerod Evans may not have been a Cam Newton, but he did what Fuente needed him to do. He racked up over 3,000 passing yards and also led the team in rushing yards.

Compare this to last season when Virginia Tech finished in a tie with Duke for fourth place in the ACC Coastal and you’ll see why I’m impressed. The Hokies, in one year, went from being 4-4 in conference play and unranked to being 6-2 in conference play and ranked somewhere in the Top 25 depending on which rankings you look at.

Just like it was miraculous for Jim McElwain to take the Florida Gators from 4-4 in the SEC to 7-1 last season, it was nearly miraculous for Fuente to do what he did with the Hokies this season. And just like I was anxious to see what McElwain would do this season, I’m very anxious to see what Fuente could do next season.

Now, I know he won’t be the national coach of the year. Some other coaches had even more success this season on a national level. But Fuente’s ACC Coach of the Year honor is well deserved. And of course I think calling him the best first-year head coach for a program is equally well deserved. Heck, I almost wish Florida had held out another year so we could have gotten Fuente instead.

What Fuente did for the Memphis Tigers football program in his four years there was incredible. And it seems like he’s on track to make equally incredible strides with his Hokies.

So here’s to you, Justin Fuente. You may not have the same name recognition as some of these other coaches, but you are truly a coach to keep our eyes on over the next few years. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see you repeat as division champions, just like McElwain did in the SEC East. In fact, I may even be rooting for you to join that club.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Kristen Botica

The Sunday Morning Notebook: Last Name Edition

What?

We just hit the reset button on the season, I think.  It’s Alabama — then everyone else.

I generally struggle to pick which games to write about. This week it’s easy.

I give you The Sunday Morning Notebook: Last Name Edition.

 

Chris Didn’t Blow It

Clemson lost to Pitt, if you haven’t heard.

Chris Blewitt, who owns the best last name of any kicker in the history of football, hit a game-winning field goal with six seconds left to beat the Tigers in Clemson, South Carolina.

Deshaun Watson threw for over 500 yards in the game, but it was Pitt’s Nathan Peterman who stole the show.  A senior, Peterman played out-of-his-mind, throwing for a career-high five touchdowns to lead the Panthers to victory.  Not only is it a career high, but Peterman hasn’t even thrown for FOUR touchdowns this season, and he’s only thrown for THREE touchdowns ONCE in 2016.

Peterman’s 22 completions were the most he’s thrown this year (second most in his career) and his 308 yards marked the first time he’s ever thrown for more than 300 yards in a game.

Speaking of career days, Pitt’s Senior Tight End Scott Ordnoff caught more passes (nine) for more yards (128) and more touchdowns (two) than he’s ever had in one game during his college career.

Good timing from Peterman and Ordnoff.

Notes:

  • Watson threw the ball 70 times for 580 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions.  Those numbers aren’t typos. His team lost, but he really boosted his Heisman resume.
  • Clemson’s Wayne Gallman rushed for three touchdowns on just 36 yards.
  • What will this do to Clemson’s playoff hopes? I don’t think anyone can accurately answer that question right now, but if they can win out and win the ACC Championship, I have to imagine they’ll still be in.

 

An Ugly, Boring, Beautiful Upset in Iowa

There isn’t much to report on this game, to be honest. Other than the fact that Keith Duncan became more famous than Duncan Keith for a few hours, as the freshman kicked his Hawkeyes to victory, much like Mr. Blewitt, to give Iowa its first win over a Top-5 team in six years.

Michigan’s Wilson Speight, who many people on my Twitter timeline were touting as the next Tom Brady (insert rolling eye emoji), completed 11 of 26 passes for 103 yards and an interception.

The brightest spot in the game was Iowa’s Akrum Wadley, who rushed for 115 yards on 23 carries.

Notes:

  • The loss for Michigan puts the Wolverines in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten East with Ohio State and Penn State. If those three teams are tied going into the final week of the season and the Buckeyes beat Michigan, that means Penn State would represent the East in the Big Ten championship game (assuming Penn State also wins its last game). Confused? Try this.

 

Can You Say Imatorbhebhe!?

Me neither. But I can say, “Washington Loses to USC.”

That’s right. The number two, three, and four teams lost yesterday, sending the media into a tailspin.

What happened here? USC contained Myles Gaskin and held Jake Browning at bay to upset the fourth best team in the nation.

To be honest, this game didn’t really look or feel like an upset.  USC looked like the better team from start to finish.  Sam Darnold passed the ball well for the Trojans, completing 23 of 33 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns.  USC also found success on the ground, getting 93 yards and a touchdown from Ronald Jones II.

Freshman Daniel Imatorbhebhe, pronounced exactly how it’s spelled, baby, finished with 78 yards receiving and this touchdown. It was a remarkable performance considering he only had 114 total receiving yards this season heading into the Washington matchup.

Notes:

  • I have to imagine USC will jump pretty high in the polls.  The Trojans lost three of their first four games, but have rattled off six straight wins, winning by nearly 20 points per game.
  • The Washington loss may mean that the Pac-12 champion will not get into the College Football Playoff. There are a lot of one loss teams that won’t be conference champions that are worthy of a playoff bid (Louisville, Michigan, and Ohio State are possible examples). The way the Pac-12 teams have beat up on each other, it will be hard to send one team to the playoff over the rest.

 

Other Notes:

-Sure, three of the top four teams lost and that’s the first time that’s happened in a single day of college football since 1985. But did you know Auburn lost, too?

-And Texas A&M.

-So did Virginia Tech, by the way.

-To top it all off, in perhaps the craziest development of the day, the most juggernaut program in college football history lost its first regular season game in 113 tries.

 

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

 

Photo: Phil Roeder, Flickr

Ken Bone Needs to Ask Tim Kaine the Important Question

There’s a presidential election coming up in November. As is the case in most, if not all elections, each side is engaging in the fire and brimstone rhetoric that accompanies people having a difference of opinion. To have a difference of opinion requires that each party chooses a side. To have a difference of opinion requires a decision to be made.

Having an opinion is synonymous with having a preference. It’s not necessarily right or wrong. It’s just a matter of having a preference. Having a political preference isn’t always as cut-and-dry as it may seem. There are grey areas between Republican and Democrat.

Living in the grey area of the political spectrum is something that I can respect. I live in that grey area, so I get it. But when a potential leader lives in that grey area with decisions as simple as choosing their preferred sports team, well, that’s troublesome. Because who a person roots for is what really matters. Right? Good. Glad we can agree on that!

Hillary Clinton’s Vice Presidential running mate, Tim Kaine, graduated from the University of Missouri but is a Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan. Can we really have someone like Kaine running around the White House if Clinton is elected? I say, no, we cannot have this.

I graduated from Missouri and married a lovely woman who not only worked at Kansas but lives in Lawrence. Needless to say, I spend more time in that God forsaken town than I ever imagined. But I didn’t hand in my Tiger Squad membership card. I still proudly wear my black and gold as I ride through town with thoughts of Quantrill dancing in my head.

Now, it’s true that Kaine was born and raised in Kansas and then left to earn his diploma at Missouri. Smart man. You know what they say about a Kansas education. After considering this, I’d have more respect for Kaine if he not only rooted for Kansas basketball but also rooted for Kansas football. But that’s not the case. Kaine is a “picker and chooser.”

The Virginia governor grew up in Overland Park, Kan., and is an avowed Jayhawk fan. Back in 2005, he called them his favorite team. But not, as it turns out, on the gridiron.

“I root for the Jayhawks in basketball,” Kaine told us yesterday. “I’ve never been a KU football fan.”

And to make matters worse, Kaine may not even be a Missouri Tiger football fan. Yes, he grew up in Kansas, went to Missouri and, having been governor of Virginia, may consider Virginia Tech his favorite football team.

I have to ask Kaine one question – When does it stop?

If our country ever went to war, could we trust Kaine to choose a side? Based on all of this, it’s a debatable question. Sure Kaine was born in the United States, but could he side with us if we went war with China? Maybe, maybe not. I bet Kaine once ate a fortune cookie containing a fortune that really spoke to him. How could he be expected to fight a culture that gave him that moment of zen?

These are observations that need to be made and these are the important questions that need to be asked. You know that Ken Bone would ask and so should you. Speaking of Bone, I want to know who that red-sweatered sage roots for.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

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Home Sweet Neutral Site?

Opening week of the 2016 season was dubbed to be the best in the history of the sport. It delivered in a way that made the long offseason worth it. Upsets, overtimes, drama.

But, the made-for-TV, neutral site settings must go. They are a blemish on the sport that rob the die-hards from the best of what college football has to offer. While the games in question matched up good programs, the fact they played in an NFL stadium made them less than what they could’ve been.

College football Saturdays produce a mental image of campus, collegiate landmarks, alums coming home and the stadiums, those stadiums. Not the whitewashed, corporate arena that just so happens to host a football game on that particular day.

With the quality of teams on the slate, the probability of good contests was a virtual guarantee. Houston’s convincing upset over Oklahoma, Wisconsin’s slobberknocking win over LSU, Georgia’s rally to top North Carolina, all were competitive games in NFL environments.

Those contests were indeed entertaining, but they didn’t come close to providing the atmosphere that we witnessed during Auburn’s 4th-quarter flurry. Texas A&M and 100,000 strong Aggies welcomed in the new season by downing UCLA in a raucous Kyle Field den. And, was there a more energetic environment than in Austin as Texas knocked off Notre Dame in overtime? All three games were on campus, in front of the student body and die-hards, in those storied stadiums. That’s what we think of when we envision the sport.

With that said, there is a distinct difference between the ones we just watched last weekend and the traditional neutral site games like Florida-Georgia and Army-Navy. When an annual matchup has been played at a neutral site for decades, that’s not a neutral site game. That’s just where the game is played. Ole Miss-Florida State in Orlando is not the same as Oklahoma-Texas in the Cotton Bowl.

All About the Benjamins

Look, I’m not naive. I understand why the bean-counting bureaucrats choose to allow the networks to play the role of love broker. The administrators want to hoard as much money as possible and this approach allows them to do so without having to work at it. In essence, they look to their TV partners as an escort service – no effort to get the desired results.

Just call a TV executive and tell them you want to make some money and you’re willing to play anyone, as long as it’s a one-night stand. The exec then sets out to find an NFL stadium owner who wants to make some dough (hint: all of them). They agree on a catchy game title and then collaborate to lure a corporate sponsor to put their logo on it. Time to leave the money on the nightstand.

Here’s where things get contorted, though. During the constant athletics arms race, it’s difficult to find a school that hasn’t unveiled its pricey facilities upgrades. They are pouring millions of dollars into stadium improvements so fans will want to continue to attend campus home games.

As they expand seating capacity and add video screens the size of a city block, they fill their home non-conference schedules with teams I wouldn’t watch for free even if they played in my front yard. This philosophy reveals their devotion to revenue above all.

What about the customers – the fans?

There’s not a single fan who would attend or watch a game played in a sterile NFL stadium over a showdown on campus. The fan interest generates the existence for this entire spectacle and there is never a single decision made with them in mind. The bureaucrats only think about what they can milk them for.

There’s not an Alabama fan on the planet who wouldn’t have preferred for the Tide to take on USC in Bryant-Denny or the L.A. Coliseum. LSU and Wisconsin fans would rather have played their two-game series in Death Valley and Camp Randall. Georgia fans taking over Chapel Hill? How about a return game of the Heels going between the hedges?

Non-conference matchups provide schools the opportunity to showcase the university and the college town to a national TV audience. Neutral site games are primarily a chance to promote tourism to a big city.

The ones who make the biggest sacrifice are the tens of thousands of devoted fans who aren’t given the thank you of watching a big name opponent in their own stadium – or travel to a unique opposing school’s campus setting.

The Biggest Obstacle

At the heart of this issue is fear. Coaches act like rugged survivalists and are molders of men, but when it comes to scheduling, they are cowards.

For all of their postings of memorable mottos about adversity and perseverance, most coaches instruct their ADs to go out of their way to take the path of least resistance. They schedule as many cupcakes as possible because they’re afraid to face tougher competition and possibly lose. Then, when they do play a worthy opponent, they opt to limit the risk by playing at a neutral site.

Let’s look at Nick Saban, for example. He gets credit for playing Power Five opponents and everyone cheers him and Bama for their willingness to play those games. However, it’s empty praise. He’s only willing to play a Power Five regular season game if it’s a one-time thing at a neutral site. And, it’s always opening weekend, so he has 8 months to prepare his team. That’s a lot of “only ifs” for a guy who touts “the process” and a fan base that proclaims to be the standard.

If coaches demand to their athletic directors that they want to play a home-and-home series with a Power Five team, the ADs will absolutely make it happen. It would be good for the sport if Saban would man up and take that stance.

A Potential Solution

Coaches’ contracts are filled with incentives. Why not take this approach: Incentivize TV deals and/or coaches’ contracts based on the quality of the opponent and the location in which they play.

Schedule a Power 5 non-conference game – get paid. Play it in a campus setting – up the incentive. Make it a home-and-home – max the payout.

The Worst Is Yet to Come

The matchups that the neutral sites produce are better than the alternative of the cupcake non-conference slates that fans are forcefed. So, even though there is a better option for where most of the Week 1 spotlight games were played, at least they’re actually being played.

For as much as I dislike the NFL stadium setting, it’s far better than the stupidity of playing in a NASCAR venue. This week’s Tennessee-Virginia Tech game at Bristol Motor Speedway is even dumber than the games that are played overseas. More isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more, which is what we’ll have on Saturday.

Labor Day Weekend was all that we envisioned. Competitive matchups between ranked opponents and traditional programs is how it should be. But, because the love of money is at the root, the bureaucrats will continue to give us the table scraps of what should be a gourmet meal.

E-mail Mark at mark[dot]fried[at]campuspressbox[dot]com or follow him on Twitter at @MarkCFried.

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Photo: thatlostdog–/Flickr.

 

Way-Too-Early Schedule Game: Notre Dame Edition

Well, it’s that time of the year. Summer is upon us and it’s almost okay to start dreaming of the college football season. Yes, it is only June, and still way too early for a legitimate top 25 and too early to count anyone out – or in, for that matter – of the national championship race.

Where does that leave us, you ask? I think it puts us in the perfect place to play everyone’s favorite game, the schedule game.

Over the course of this column I’m going to take a look at each of the 12 opponents Notre Dame will be facing during the 2016 regular season, give a quick breakdown and background information, and make a “way-too-early” pick on the game. Sound simple enough? Good!

Week 1 at Texas – Sunday, September 4 – Austin, TX

In a rematch of last season’s opener, Notre Dame will travel to the University of Texas to take on the Longhorns to begin the season. Last year, the Irish smoked Charlie Strong’s squad 38-3 in South Bend. Just as there was last year for Texas, there is a quarterback competition heading into camp. The difference between Notre Dame’s QB battle and Texas’ is the talent level. The pressure is building on Strong at Texas, and I don’t expect the Notre Dame game to help ease any of it.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Texas 17

Week 2 vs Nevada – Saturday, September 10 – South Bend, IN

Unlike last year, the Irish won’t open up the home portion of their schedule with a marquee opponent. While that isn’t meant to be a knock on the Wolf Pack, it’s the truth. Nevada projects to be a borderline bowl team this season and Notre Dame has higher aspirations than that level. The strength of the Wolf Pack will be their offense, specifically the backfield made up of Penn State transfer Akeel Lynch and James Butler. Nevada very may well have a nice season, but I doubt that this game is one of their highlights.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 42 – Nevada 20

Week 3 vs Michigan State – Saturday, September 17 – South Bend, IN

The third week of the season may be Notre Dame’s first real test. Michigan State is coming off of a College Football Playoff appearance and the Spartans have won two out of the last three Big Ten titles. Yes, last year took a lucky bounce at the Big House and a sick Zeke Elliott at The Shoe to get their two biggest wins, they were wins nonetheless. Sparty should be heading into 2016 ranked in the top 25. It will certainly be interesting to see who replaces Connor Cook under center for the Spartans. MSU will open the season with Furman at home followed by a bye week before their trip to South Bend. A night game at Notre Dame Stadium will be the first real test for this young team.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 27 – Michigan State 20

Week 4 vs Duke – Saturday, September 24 – South Bend, IN

While the Blue Devils are traditionally known for their success on the hardwood, they have been much improved on the gridiron lately as well. The Blue Devils are coming off a win in last year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl, however their team is not without its share of question marks. The biggest one of these may be the quarterback position. Last year the offense was driven by Thomas Sirk. Sirk was due to return to the helm this season, however he ruptured his Achilles for the second time during offseason conditioning drills in February. It is unknown if Sirk will be back and how effective he will be. If he is unable to play look for Parker Boehme to fill in. Just like their brothers on the hardwood, I think the Blue Devils will struggle with Notre Dame on the gridiron.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 38 – Duke 17

Week 5 at Syracuse – Saturday, October 1 – East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium)

Syracuse is entering a new era with Dino Babers taking over as head coach of the Orangemen. This season looks as if it is going to be a rebuilding year for Cuse, and a win against Notre Dame is highly unlikely. It would be surprising to see Syracuse in a bowl game, with many schedule predictions having them at or around four total wins. Notre Dame certainly shouldn’t be one of them.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Syracuse 3

Week 6 at North Carolina State – Saturday, October 8 – Raleigh, NC

For the second time in the first six weeks the Irish will be taking on the Wolfpack, although this breed is based in Raleigh, NC. NC State has the task of replacing Jacoby Brissett who graduated last year. Last season, the Wolfpack scored 33.2 points per game with Brissett in control. I would look for that number to drop a little bit, although I do think new offensive coordinatior Eliah Drinkwitz will do a good job keeping that number around 30. This is a tough spot for Notre Dame. The Irish haven’t recently played that well on the road (cough Virginia 2015 cough) and the Irish could be caught looking ahead to Stanford. I think this game is much closer and tougher than people think.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 31 – NC State 28

Week 7 vs Stanford – Saturday, October 15 – South Bend, IN

Stanford-Notre Dame has quickly become one of my favorite rivalry games in college football. Since the rain-soaked overtime classic in 2012 this series has produced some extremely memorable games, including last year’s Stanford victory at the end of the regular season on a last second field goal. I think this game could certainly be another classic in this rivalry. If Stanford figures out how to replace departed QB Kevin Hogan in the first six weeks, then I see no reason why this shouldn’t be a great game.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Stanford 17

Week 8 – BYE

They won’t win, they won’t lose. Not much to see here.

Week 9 vs Miami – Saturday, October 29 – South Bend, IN

This game hasn’t gotten much run yet, but I definitely think that this will be one of the best games on Notre Dame’s schedule. I think Miami is set to return to a product similar to their glory years, with Mark Richt at the helm. This is a tremendous opportunity to not only kick-start that resurgence for the Canes, but also to reignite the rivalry between Notre Dame and The U. Junior QB Brad Kaaya is one of the more underrated signal callers in the country. This is a game Notre Dame very well could lose. The biggest thing I think they have in their favor is that they are coming off the bye week. Truthfully, I think this one could go either way, and is a start to bringing back one of college football’s most missed rivalries.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Miami 20

Week 10 at Navy – Saturday, November 5 – Jacksonville, FL (EverBank Field)

Going from one rivalry that college football misses to one of my absolute favorites. Obviously the reasoning for this rivalry are more for off-the-field traditions rather than the competitive play on the field, but the respect shown between Notre Dame and Navy is one of my favorite things to witness. This year the game shouldn’t be as close as it has been in recent years. Navy lost Keenan Reynolds to graduation and he will arguably be the program’s biggest loss since Roger Staubach. Notre Dame shouldn’t have any problem with the Midshipmen.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 34 – Navy 14

Week 11 vs Army – Saturday, November 12 – San Antonio, TX (Alamodome) SHAMROCK SERIES

I don’t think that this game will be very competitive. Truthfully, I think that the most interesting part of this will be seeing how Notre Dame looks in their yet-to-be-released alternate uniforms. The Irish have yet to lose a Shamrock Series game, and I would be stunned if this is the first.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 41 – Army 9

Week 12 vs Virginia Tech – Saturday, November 19 – South Bend, IN

What does life after Frank Beamer look like for the Hokies? By this point in the season we will know the answer to that. Justin Fuente is in to replace Beamer as head coach. Fresh off coaching first round NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch at Memphis, Fuente will have his work cut out for him in deciding between Brenden Motley, Jerod Evans, and Dwayne Lawson to run the offense. Evans is a junior college transfer and many expect him to win the job. I think this is a game that Notre Dame should win, but it is one I could see them looking past with the date with USC the following week.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 28 – VT 27

Week 13 at Southern Cal – Saturday, November 26 – Los Angeles, CA

If all goes according to my predictions (it likely won’t), Notre Dame will be entering this showdown in LA unbeaten, just like in 2012. That being said, I don’t think that this matchup turns out the same as it did in Brian Kelly’s third year on campus. In my opinion, USC is one of the most underrated teams in the country and this game will ultimately decide which of these teams heads to the final four and which doesn’t. I give a slight edge to Southern Cal at home, but I feel as if this one truly is a toss up.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Southern Cal 24 – Notre Dame 21

I think Notre Dame will be very good this year and on the cusp of playoff contention once again. There are obviously a few games I think could be trap games as well as a few games I think are going to be toss ups. I could be right, I could be wrong, I guess we will find out in November how I did.

Campus Pressbox 34: A Magpie Tournament and Adjusting Cups in College Football

Mike Wilson (@pigskinopinion) and Seth Merenbloom (@SMerenbloom) talk about the first week of the College Football Playoff Poll, the officiating at the Duke/Miami game, and the solid careers of Frank Beamer and Jerry Kill.

Topics:

  • College Football Playoff Poll: Week 1
  • Miami/Duke officiating: What type of discipline should be done?
  • Frank Beamer career: Who should take over?
  • Jerry Kill career: What does Minnesota do?

Links:

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FSU’s QB Battle and ACC Wrap Up

Florida State’s 45-21 victory over Syracuse means a lot more than simply defeating an ACC opponent, the victory brings up questions at the most important position on offense, the quarterback.

With season long starter Everett Golson sitting out the game due to a concussion, backup Sean Maguire got the start and proceeded to pass for 348 yards, 3 touchdowns with no interceptions.

Maguire simply made the offense look the best it has all season. Most noticeably was his ability to throw down the field, which Golson has shown he isn’t consistently able to do. The plays that were being called for Maguire proved that there is more trust in his arm than Golson’s. The Seminoles haven’t been utilizing wide receiver Travis Rudolph’s speed downfield because Golson can’t be trusted to chuck it down the field. In comes Maguire, and two bombs to Rudolph later early in the game and he has two catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.

Travis Rudolph had his best game of the season with Maguire under center.
Travis Rudolph had his best game of the season with Maguire under center.

Being able to stretch the field is something that the Seminole offense has been lacking all season, with this, opposing defenses have been loading the box in order to contain running back Dalvin Cook, and Golson hasn’t given any team a reason not to because he hasn’t shown that he is capable of making the defenses pay.

All of this adds up to one big question for the Seminoles leading into the biggest game of their season against newly #1 Clemson; who should be the starting quarterback?

Normally a good game by the backup quarterback in replacement of the starter isn’t enough to supplant the starter, but this isn’t an ordinary situation. The first reason is that even though Golson transferred in during the offseason and subsequently won the starting job over Maguire, Golson hasn’t performed to the level that was expected and the level coaches were hoping. Secondly is that Maguire has proved that he can lead the team to victories, he is only 2-0, but one of them was against Clemson and their top five defense last season.

Who will start is a complete unknown at this point. Coach Jimbo Fisher has said everything from saying he’s going to wait and see throughout the week, to saying that he’s not eliminating the possibility of a two quarterback system. Regardless of who starts, the success of the Seminoles season will be determined by the outcome of their next game against Clemson. A win will help people forget about their loss to Georgia Tech, while also putting them in the driver’s seat of the Atlantic division of the ACC.

If you asked me, I think the nod will be given to Maguire. It is a tough decision, but Golson just hasn’t looked like he has been in control of the ‘Noles offense at any point of the season. At times he looks scared and opts to scramble, or he throws a short pass, the offense under Golson was more of a dink and dunk offense, compared to what Maguire showed us on Saturday. Maguire’s arm brought life to the offense, and he did so without Dalvin Cook.

The Seminoles face Clemson at 3:30 on Saturday.

Here’s what else happened in the ACC this weekend:

MIAMI’S KICKOFF RETURN VS DUKE

One of the biggest plays of the season happened last weekend when Miami miraculously returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Duke to win the game as time expired. Miami, in a last ditch effort to win the game lateralled the ball eight times and managed to get by the Duke coverage team to score the game-winning touchdown, but not really. One of the Miami runners who attempted to lateral the ball was clearly down upon watching the replay, and multiple block in the back calls were missed that should have been called. The ACC has thus suspended a couple of the ACC officials from the game, admitting that the referees erred on the play. So the play that won Miami the game, shouldn’t have been a touchdown, but it was. Why the ACC can’t overturn the play and give Duke the victory is beyond me, but as it stands Miami won the game, and now has an outside shot of winning the Coastal division. It really is a shame because Duke had a lot more on the line in this game than Miami did. With the loss, Duke now is a game back from UNC in the Coastal division of the ACC.

UNC LEADS THE COASTAL DIVISION

Because of the botched kickoff return, UNC is now sitting atop the Coastal division. With Pittsburgh and Duke both losing, #21 North Carolina is now quietly 7-1 and in position to face either Clemson or Florida State in the ACC championship. The divisional race is still far from over as UNC and Duke face each other this weekend, with Duke and Pitt facing each other in two weeks. Nonetheless it seems like this UNC team is being slept on. They have the 21st ranked offense in points per game in the NCAA, and the 15th best defense in terms of points allowed. People will point to their strength of schedule, but the win over #23 Pittsburgh helped put them on the map, and how they perform in their game against Duke this weekend will go a long ways to determining how good this team really is.

FRANK BEAMER RETIRES

Frank Beamer, the long-time coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies has decided to step down as head coach after the end of the 2015 season. This wasn’t a move that was completely unexpected, but it will mark the end of an era at Virginia Tech. Beamer began coaching for Virginia Tech in 1987, leading them to 22 straight bowl games. His teams have slipped a bit over the past few seasons, which along with his age, surely played a big part in his decision to step down. Beamer will be remembered as one of the most respected coaches in college football by coaches, and by his players who all credit Beamer to being one of the biggest influences in their careers. Beamer took Virginia Tech from an independent team in 1987, to the Big East in 1991, to where they are now in the ACC in 2004. Beamer led the Hokies to four ACC Championships, three Big East Championships, and six BCS bowl game appearances. Who will be the coach in 2016 is unclear, however Beamer has stated in the past that he hopes someone on his current staff will be named his successor.

Virginia Stumbles Into the OffSeason With Lots of Questions

Virginia's Kevin Parks is a man alone with his thoughts after concluding his college career with yet another loss to Virginia Tech. Photo/Ryan M. Kelly/ The Daily Porgress
Virginia’s Kevin Parks is a man alone with his thoughts after concluding his college career with another loss to Virginia Tech.  Photo/Ryan M. Kelly/ The Daily Progress

 

Well, that was quick. Whatever goodwill head coach Mike London managed to accrue after Virginia’s convincing victory over Miami last weekend evaporated in the frigid night air at Lane Stadium on Friday when Virginia coughed up a late lead and suffered a season-ending 24-20 loss to Virginia Tech. The game ended in the worst-possible way for Virginia—a sack on a 4th-down play that was ill-conceived, fooled no one, and had little chance of success. It served as a microcosm of the offensive shortcomings that have plagued the Hoos all year.  At the point of desperation and with the season on the line, Virginia dialed up play-action on 4th and 5 with 12 seconds left in the game. Play action?  Did anyone for even a second believe that Virginia would attempt a rush?

After a season of bizarre play calls like this one, Virginia fans are left to wonder if offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild hampered the offense or if the offense hampered Fairchild.   One thing is certain.  Virginia missed Jake McGee much more than anyone might have expected.  Virginia struggled terribly in the red zone this season and McGee, a sure-handed tight end, most likely was exactly the red zone weapon that Virginia so needed this year.  Reportedly at odds with the Virginia staff regarding his role in the offense, McGee opted to play his final season at the University of Florida.  Sadly for him, his Florida career lasted less than a quarter as he broke his leg in the first game.  It was the rare situation in which everyone involved lost–McGee, Florida, and certainly Virginia.

The Virginia Tech game offered the Cavaliers a chance at so many positives but it instead became another maddening chapter in Virginia’s increasingly long book of missed opportunities.   The maligned Virginia offense founds its rhythm just in time to execute a 10-play 89-yard that gave Virginia a 20-17 lead with 2:55 left in the game.  Virginia then turned the game over to its defense, the same defense that stifled opponents all year and kept Virginia in almost every game. In a bit of bitter irony that only Virginia fans can appreciate, the normally stout defense allowed Tech to score in just three plays.  “Sometimes I feel like we are just cursed,” said junior defensive tackle David Dean, echoing a sentiment shared for years by Virginia fans who struggle to explain Virginia’s futility in any other way.

With the loss not much changed for the Hoos in 2014. Sure, there were a few more wins and the Cavalier’s margin of defeat narrowed considerably, but the Hoos had a losing season. Again. It finished last again in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Again. It lost to Virginia Tech for the 11th consecutive time. It won no road games for the second year in a row. Yet against this backdrop of futility Athletic Director Craig Littlepage announced prior to the Tech game that Mike London would be back to coach the Cavaliers next season. “It was important to see improvement in our football program this season,” Littlepage said. “I’ve seen signs of progress in many areas.”  Never mind that this progress was measured against Virginia’s historically bad 2013 season when Virginia was rarely competitive and lost by an average of 21.6 points per game.  If 2013 is the standard then it is a laughably low one. Nevertheless London will be back for a sixth year despite an overall record of 23-38, an ACC record of 11-29, and a combined record of 0-10 against North Carolina and Virginia Tech, UVA’s biggest rivals. It is easy to understand why Virginia fans to have taken to every social media outlet to express their collective disbelief.

London will have every conceivable obstacle in his path next year-another difficult schedule, increased fan antipathy, the weight of his overall record as the Cavaliers coach and specifically his aforementioned record against Tech and UNC. London will need a heroic season next year to save his job. At the end of next season he will have one year left on his current deal.  Coaches don’t coach on one-year contracts because the uncertainty cripples recruiting.  So, either London and UVA will have a banner year and he will be extended or else London and the Cavaliers will part ways. With non-conference games against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State, Virginia appears to have once again overscheduled. Throw in the annual game against Virginia Tech and Virginia could easily have four losses or more. I think  sevens wins will be the minimum required of Virginia next year given the displeasure fans currently have with the state of the program.  I expect season ticket sales and early home attendance to lag accordingly.

“I trust the plan Mike has in place and believe his leadership provides the best opportunity for Virginia football to be successful in the future,” Littlepage said in a press release.    “The staff has refocused its recruiting efforts to emphasize the need to attract student-athletes capable of helping the program compete at a high level in the expanded Atlantic Coast Conference,” Littlepage said. “We are seeing many of these student-athletes on the field right now and the staff continues to have success on the recruiting trail. We will continue to support the program in their efforts to maximize their recruiting success.” Littlepage’s support of London puts him in a potentially untenable position. It’s win and win big for London next year or else Littlepage will be held responsible for Virginia football falling even father behind.

Reflecting on his team’s season-long effort, London said, “We improved as a football team. We played better. We did a lot of things that you can look at and you can build on, but ultimately when we don’t have a chance to go beyond the regular season and into other opportunities, it hurts. You want to win football games. That’s the whole objective.” In reference to Virginia’s offensive line play against Tech, London admitted that some of his lineman were “overmatched there a little bit.”  After five years of bungling effort, indefensible clock management, poor personnel decisions, and overzealous scheduling, many fans feel the same way about London. However,  the players, London and Littlepage all feel confident that next year is THE year that all the hard work starts paying off. For the sake of everyone with an interest in the University of Virginia’s football program, I hope they are right because at this time next year there will be no debate about London’s job.  He either will or he won’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Thumps Miami, Eyes Virginia Tech

Khalek Shepherd and Virginia celebrate a big win over Miami. Photo by Matt Riley
Khalek Shepherd and Virginia celebrate a big win over Miami. Photo by Matt Riley

Saturday’s 30-13 Senior Night thumping of Miami was a vindication of sorts for those Virginia fans who have supported the team and beleaguered coach Mike London during this up and down season.  Shaking free of a four-game losing streak caused as much by Cavalier mistakes as by opponent play, Virginia put forth a mostly mistake-free effort that left fans wondering where this team has been for the past five weeks.  Like a procrastinator who functions best only when pressed, Virginia had run out of time and really had no choice but to play a complete game to avoid a fourth losing season in five years. The win keeps alive Virginia’s bowl hopes and momentarily quiets the speculation that Mike London is on his way out as head coach.

London has said all year that Virginia’s losses were attributable to just a few plays here and there.  Having been beaten by more than 9 points only once this season, the stats would seem to bear that out. Turnovers–and to a lesser extent penalties–have been Virginia’s undoing this year and those mistakes likely cost the team victories against Duke and North Carolina, so it was a relief to have Miami play the role of accommodating victim Saturday night. Miami committed the penalties that extended Virginia drives and Miami made the turnovers that Virginia turned into points. Virginia’s other glaring issue–red zone efficiency– remains a problem. Virginia twice had to settle for field goals after gaining first downs inside the Miami ten yard line. However, on this night the offense converted enough opportunities and the defense did what it always does and bottled up the opposition.

All that stands now between Virginia and bowl eligibility is Virginia Tech in the annual battle for the Commonwealth Cup. What appears to be a relatively unexciting game between two also-ran 5-6 teams actually is a game with extraordinarily meaning. The winner becomes bowl eligible and denies bowl eligibility to the loser. That in itself should be reason enough for both teams to approach this game with an intensity that belies the circumstance. Virginia Tech has been to 21 consecutive post-season bowls, the second-longest active streak in the country. Virginia would love to end that. Virginia Tech has won ten straight games in this series and would love to extend that streak to eleven and salvage some pride in what otherwise has been a bad football year in Blacksburg.

This has become a rivalry game in name only. Not only has Tech won the past ten in this series, but it also has won 14 of the past 15, and 17 of the past 21 contests. Virginia seems to have closed the gap in the past few years, losing by 10 points last year and by a last-second field goal in 2012. However, victory–and the associated bragging rights–have eluded Virginia since winning the 2003 game 35-21. While it would appear that Virginia has its best chance in years to put this losing streak to bed following the impressive showing against Miami, a complication for Virginia is that London is 0-4 vs. Tech and the Hoos have yet to win away from Scott Stadium this season.  Simply put, there will be  an inordinate number of streaks in play when these two teams square off in prime time on Friday night.

Virginia players have been careful in interviews this week, understanding that trash talk from players on teams mired in long losing streaks looks foolish.  Virginia senior running back Khalek Shepherd sounded like a graduate of diplomacy school when asked yesterday about the animosity between the two teams.  “You respect every team that you play, but you fear no team. We respect Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech’s a great program, a great team under Coach Beamer,” he said. Virginia fans have had to fall back on their school’s supposed preeminence in the state’s higher education hierarchy as a rebuttal to Tech’s football dominance.  As football taunts go, this one doesn’t pack much punch but until the football Cavaliers give fans something  more powerful to lob at the Hokies,  this vapidity is all they have to counter ten years of gridiron futility.

Finally, there is widespread speculation that Mike London might be coaching for his job in this game. Absent a breakout season that quieted all doubts concerning his status, beating Virginia Tech would serve as a very tangible measure of the “progress” Athletic Director Craig Littlepage has said he would use to assess London and the program by. Virginia whiffed on the chance for that breakout season in losses to Duke and North Carolina so this game serves as London’s last best chance to achieve a pre-season benchmark that everyone said was vital to his job security.

Virginia vs. Virginia Tech at 8 pm Friday. Smashmouth. “Let the pads do the talking,” said Virginia linebacker Daquan Romero. This game may not draw much national interest given Tech’s record this year, but for residents of the Commonwealth and fans of both teams, there are subplots aplenty. Winner gets the Commonwealth Cup.

Coaches on the Rise, Part 2

As I was watching the historically inept performance of the Pitt Panthers (6 fumbles in 5 minutes), this Saturday and realized that the roller coaster of Pitt just has taken too much of a toll on me and probably others, it hit me…I started focusing on assistant coaches on the rise because I am dreaming that one day Pitt would decide to make football a priority like it did for basketball years ago.
Last week I focused on a few head coaches on the rise and offensive coordinators and this week the defensive coordinators get their shot. A common theme for the several of the listed coaches are the big time salaries that they collect which ultimately may just keep them at their current locations until the head coaching position opens.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama Crimson Tide: any list of defensive coordinators must start with Smart, who is in his seventh season at Alabama. He is the mastermind behind the defenses that have dominated not only the SEC but all of the college football. Smart is just waiting for the perfect job whether its if and when Nick Saban steps down or some other prize job.
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Georgia Bulldogs: Pruitt has been in coaching for only seven years but his star is definitely shining. He started as a support staffer at Alabama, moved up to defensive coordinator for a year, then spent once season as Florida State’s defensive coordinator where they won the national championship and now is at Georgia. The Bulldog fans better not get used to Pruitt staying put, buy enjoy watching his players run through the hedges for him. He will be a head coaching within the next couple years no question about that.
John Chavis, defensive coordinator, LSU Tigers: At the ripe age of 57 years old, Chavis’ head coaching window is at a crack but I think that his talent is unquestioned as he was the coordinator when LSU was top’s in the nation from 2010=2012 in defensive stats. His defenses are always good is the easiest way to phrase it. I don’t think Chavis would leave Baton Rouge for a mid major school but a Big 5 Conference team may get the steal of a lifetime.
Bud Foster, defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech Hokies: Foster has been the coordinator for 19 years and his chance at being a head coach may be fast closing, but I still think that Foster would be a fantastic head coaching bringing his schemes, recruiting prowess and dynamic defenses. Again, Foster like Smart might just be waiting for the head coach, Frank Beamer to step down.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson Tigers: The Tiger offense gets most of the accolades, but the defense is what keeps them going when especially injuries hit the Tigers like this year. Venables has the mind to be able to rebuild a defense or enhance an already stout defense. He is capable of adapting and adjusting which is the hallmark of a great coach.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: Narduzzi was named the top assistant last year as his Spartan defense was ranked number I in the Big ten for the third consecutive season. His defenses make the opponents running game obsolete. He received interest from Texas A&M in 2011 as well as some interest from Texas and Penn State last year. I expect Narduzzi to be the top man on the sideline of a MAC school next year if he feels like leaving his big ever increasing salary.
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin Badgers: Aranda joined the Badgers staff last year and made an immediate impact as his squad was in the top 10 in the NCAA in scoring defense, total defense and rush defense. His schemes make it easy for his defense to dictate the plays to the offense rather than the other way around. He has been successful in Utah State and Hawaii so he is climbing the ladder and succeeding wherever he goes.
That is the list of defensive coordinators and wow is it impressive from top to bottom and there are still may others making their names on defense as well as offense. Keep an eye on these names and their teams and what how dynamic they really are.