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ESPN College

  • Bobby Petrino, Louisville Cardinals hit reset button looking forward - ACC Blog
    10:11 AM ET The way the season ended for Louisville served not only as a teachable moment but an opportunity for coach Bobby Petrino to rethink the way he organizes his staff. After watching the offensive line struggle down the stretch, Petrino realized he needed…
    Written on Monday, 27 February 2017 10:05
  • Will Muschamp's revival off to great start at South Carolina - SEC Blog
    9:31 AM ET Will Muschamp's arrival at South Carolina a little more than a year ago was greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism nationally. Looking back on it now, it felt like a sea of raised eyebrows and a steady wave of groans when…
    Written on Monday, 27 February 2017 09:00
  • Big 12 mailbag: TCU, Texas, West Virginia QBs in the spotlight - Big 12 Blog
    3:00 PM ET In this week's Big 12 mailbag, we delve into the quarterback situations at TCU, Texas and West Virginia, and examine the 2017 prospects of the Horned Frogs, Mountaineers and K-State. Spring ball, up next. On to the 'bag: Trotter: A chance, yes.…
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  • ACC schedule review: Syracuse Orange - ACC Blog
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    Written on Friday, 24 February 2017 14:00
Dawgs.com Presents ESPN College
Monday, 27 February 2017 10:05

The way the season ended for Louisville served not only as a teachable moment but an opportunity for coach Bobby Petrino to rethink the way he organizes his staff.

After watching the offensive line struggle down the stretch, Petrino realized he needed to make changes. Not only did he bring in trusted friend Mike Summers to coach the offensive line, he decided for the first time in his coaching career he would have five assistants on offense.

Summers serves as the addition; former offensive line coach Chris Klenakis has a new role coaching the tight ends, while Lonnie Galloway (co-offensive coordinator/receivers), Nick Petrino (quarterbacks) and Kolby Smith (running backs) return.

“I think it’s a real strong staff,” Petrino said in a recent phone interview. “Throughout my entire career, I’ve always put the fifth coach on defense. Most of the people I talked to on other staffs have always had four guys on defense. I think it worked out great.”

The shift is meant to help a Louisville offense that lost its way over the final three games of 2016. On the surface, it is easy to point fingers at the offensive line, which struggled to keep strong pass rushes from Houston and LSU away from Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson[1].

But the breakdowns happened across the board, a chain reaction that helped lead to myriad problems the Cards simply could not fix.

“You don’t ever think that’s going to happen or see it coming,” Petrino said.

Louisville struggled through wins over Virginia and Wake Forest, but the major issues began immediately after the game against the Demon Deacons. The Wake Forest game kicked off in the evening for a television audience, and Petrino is adamant the short turnaround to a game at Houston on Thursday night played a role in what happened next.

Petrino says he did not see the same type of focus and energy in the week leading up to practice. With College Football Playoff hopes on the line, Louisville looked unprepared and out of it in a devastating 36-10 loss to Houston[2] that put a damper on its season.

“We got off the field at 10:45 on a Saturday night, so those practices on Sunday and Monday were tough on the guys and then travel on Wednesday to play a Thursday night game … there should be a rule made if you play on a Thursday night on the road, you do not play a Saturday night game,” Petrino said.

“I don’t think anybody should have to do that. That’s the only Saturday night ACC game that we’ve ever played in this stadium. Ever. Before a Thursday night game on the road.”

Petrino says he has addressed his concerns with the ACC. Louisville has a short turnaround between a Saturday home game against Murray State and a Thursday night game at NC State this season, but kickoff times have yet to be announced.

“They don’t say anything to me,” Petrino says of his conversations with the ACC. “But it upsets me. Student-athlete welfare needs to be looked at when they’re setting up schedules and games, and Thursday and Friday games. We talk a lot about student-athlete welfare except when it comes to scheduling games.”

The quick turnaround doesn’t fully explain the mistakes that unfolded. Petrino called the Houston game an anomaly, but some of the same issues came back in the bowl loss to LSU, where Jackson was held without a touchdown for the first time all season. Though Louisville was able to move the ball against Kentucky, turnovers ended up hurting the Cards’ chances to win.

Jackson, meanwhile, grew more impatient as it got more difficult to make plays. Because things came so easily in the first half of the season, Jackson tried to do too much down the stretch, believing every time he freelanced or improvised he’d be able to break a big play the way he did in September and October. That also led to some sacks and negative plays that could have been avoided.

“When we went back and really studied it, it was a combination of the offensive line and then Lamar not throwing the ball away, thinking he can make a play with his legs or looking for something big,” Petrino said. “That will be something we work on this spring and all pre-fall next year, is the understanding of when to just throw the ball away and that second-and-7 is better than second-and-15. Really understanding the down and distance and situations and patience on when I can make a big play and when I can’t make a big play.

“For three-quarters of the year, he’s making big plays and he did make big plays out of nothing. He just needed to be a little bit more patient, rely on his teammates a little bit more at the end of the year and take what they give you. That’s one of the things: He was pressing a little bit to make big plays and not reading it all the time like he did early in the year.”

The good news, of course, is that Louisville does have the Heisman Trophy winner returning in 2017. With the changes he’s made, Petrino hopes the Cards avoid what ailed them to close last season.

Monday, 27 February 2017 09:00

Will Muschamp's arrival at South Carolina a little more than a year ago was greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism nationally.

Looking back on it now, it felt like a sea of raised eyebrows and a steady wave of groans when his hiring was announced. There was possibly some quiet booing in the back.

Here was a guy who had been fired by Florida after four seasons and had spent only one year in between as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in which he helped it go a mediocre 6-6 during the regular season. He was seen as South Carolina’s backup when Kirby Smart went to Georgia and the backup’s backup when Justin Fuente signed on with Virginia Tech.

At SEC media days, Muschamp acknowledged his somewhat quick return to being a head coach, but pointed out that one-third of coaches in the NFL had been fired at one point in their careers.

“Why?” he said. “Well, because general managers are making the hire. They’re the ones making the decision in their football team, so they’re able to evaluate a situation and say, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s going to be different.’ You look at the circumstances and things that happen.

“I got hired by a coach [athletic director and former baseball coach Ray Tanner]. ... I got hired by a guy that sees those kinds of things, that had a conversation about my third year at Florida when he lost five or six guys for the entire season that are playing in the National Football League. And he brought that up to me. So, obviously, he did his due diligence.”

But not many people shared Tanner’s vision of Muschamp leading South Carolina at the time. The program had been drained of the talent that Steve Spurrier used to lead the Gamecocks to an SEC East title and three 11-win seasons, and many coaches wondered whether it had become the least desirable roster in the conference. The media ultimately picked South Carolina to finish last in the division, behind Vanderbilt and Missouri.

That, as it turns out, was a mistake.

Not only did South Carolina finish ahead of Vanderbilt and Missouri, it also beat preseason East favorite Tennessee, won six games and became bowl-eligible. In the process of doing so, we saw the beginnings of what appears to be a promising second act of Muschamp’s career.

Rather than being known only as the hot-tempered "Coach Boom" who never lived up to expectations at Florida, we were reminded of the smart young coach whom Nick Saban groomed at LSU, Mack Brown labeled Texas’ head coach in waiting and Jeremy Foley hand-picked as the man to succeed Urban Meyer at Florida. And he did it all with more freshmen (52) on the roster at South Carolina than juniors and seniors combined (37), while tying for the most true freshmen to start a game in the FBS (seven).

What’s more, Muschamp’s offense, supposedly his Achilles' heel, proved to be the most promising development.

Bryan Edwards[1] had the second best season by a freshman wide receiver since Alshon Jeffery and Rico Dowdle[2] became the first rookie to lead the team in rushing since Marcus Lattimore. Jake Bentley[3], who arrived on campus a year early after skipping his senior season of high school, started the final seven games, throwing for 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions to make South Carolina the only school in the country with a freshman to lead the team in rushing and passing.

Sophomore Deebo Samuel had 783 yards receiving despite missing three games, and fellow second-year player Hayden Hurst had the most productive season by a tight end in school history with 48 catches for 616 yards.

It’s only a start for a team that has a long way to go on both sides of the ball to compete with Florida and Georgia for the top of the division. But it’s a good start nonetheless.

Muschamp, of course, is taking nothing for granted.

“Our goals don’t change,” he said when asked to compare his outlook. “We want to win the East. That’s what we want to do.”

And in order to get there, some things have to change.

Muschamp didn’t mince words at his pre-spring practice press conference last week, calling the organization soft last year.

“It was a disappointment to put that on the football field,” he said. “Call it like it is. Physical is a state of mind, and we have to continue to buy into that.”

In one breath, he said he was pleased with the return of talented linebacker Skai Moore from injury. But next, he singled out redshirt freshmen Stephon Taylor[4], Kobe Smith[5] and Aaron Thompson[6] as players who must step up on defense.

“A huge part of our success is going to be how those three guys come on for us,” he said.

If Muschamp’s stated goal was to create adversity within the program to make for a more mentally and physically tough team, that statement was a good start.

South Carolina, despite last season, is still young and needs a big influx of talent. It will still be picked to finish near the bottom of the East. And Muschamp is still going to harbor his fair share of doubters.

Exceeding expectations was nice, but for the Gamecocks to get back to competing for divisions and Muschamp's second act of his career to be successful, last season can only be the beginning.

Friday, 24 February 2017 15:00

In this week's Big 12 mailbag, we delve into the quarterback situations at TCU, Texas and West Virginia, and examine the 2017 prospects of the Horned Frogs, Mountaineers and K-State.

Spring ball, up next.

On to the 'bag:

Trotter: A chance, yes. But it's going to require a couple of upsets. Oklahoma will be an underdog at Ohio State. Texas will be a massive underdog at USC. I'm not sure TCU, West Virginia or Texas Tech will be favored against Arkansas, Virginia Tech or Arizona State, respectively, either. So the Big 12 is going to have to win a couple games it shouldn't in order to build off of the momentum from last bowl season, when, ahem, the Big 12 won games it wasn't supposed to.

Trotter: West Virginia quarterback Will Grier[1] is the favorite right now. But whoever wins Oklahoma's starting running back job (Trey Sermon[2]? Rodney Anderson[3]? Marcelias Sutton[4]?) will have a chance. So, too, will Arizona transfer Anu Solomon[5], if he wins the Baylor quarterback job. Kansas State's Carlos Strickland[6], Oklahoma State's Tyron Johnson[7] and Oklahoma's Marquise Brown[8] could all be impact transfer receivers, but I don't know if they'll have the overall numbers to be contenders.

Trotter: West Virginia has a lot to replace on defense, on the offensive line and at receiver. On top of that, the Mountaineers have somewhat of an unknown in Grier, who though talented, hasn't played for a season-and-a-half. Yet with all that being said, I think the Mountaineers could still be a top 25-caliber team again. As for predicting the record, East Carolina, Delaware State, at Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State should be wins. At Oklahoma should be a loss. Which leaves Virginia Tech (in Landover, Maryland), at TCU, at Baylor, Oklahoma State, at Kansas State and Texas as winnable, but also losable games. If the Mountaineers could win, say, four games from that last category, they could be 9-3, which would constitute another terrific season.

Trotter: I think Shane Buechele[9] will be the starter in Week 1. But it would not surprise me if Sam Ehlinger[10] played in the opener. Nor would I be shocked if he were Texas' starting quarterback by the Oklahoma game.

Trotter: We might be. The previous two weeks, we ranked all the position groups in the Big 12, and TCU came out with the highest average ranking[11], which surprised even us. But when you think about it, TCU really has no glaring weaknesses on paper, with a terrific running back in Kyle Hicks[12], a boatload of capable receivers and the league's best linebacking duo. It's going to come down to quarterback Kenny Hill[13]. If he limits mistakes and shows more consistency, TCU could be a Big 12 title darkhorse.

Trotter: I think TCU would like to roll with Hill in his final season and give Shawn Robinson[14] a year to develop, possibly even redshirt him. Robinson has tremendous tools, athleticism and potential, but he's a little raw and could really use a season of fine-tuning his mechanics under offensive coordinator and position coach Sonny Cumbie.

Trotter: The Oklahoma schools are the clear top two, most notably because they boast the two most accomplished quarterbacks -- Baker Mayfield[15] and Mason Rudolph[16]. But there will be a third team that challenges. Last season, that team was West Virginia. This season, there's no reason it couldn't be K-State. The Wildcats have a favorable schedule. A veteran quarterback (Jesse Ertz[17]) and several stalwarts on defense.

Trotter: Exactly what I'm doing right now.