There's no place like Saturday...

March 30, 2011

First Quarter Hail Mary...3/30

"...where completion is considered unlikely"

Auburn players took money

Imagine this: Football players in the SEC taking money in handshakes and payments on recruiting trips, even taking a payment reward for getting sacks in a game. Hard to believe, right?

Well, it’s not hard to believe because we’ve always known it goes down. Until now, we didn’t know where, to who or how it was happening.

Four former Auburn football players – Chaz Ramsey, Troy Reddick, Stanley McClover (left) and Raven Gray – will appear on the HBO show Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel Wednesday night, where they’ll admit taking payments from boosters.

All played under former head coach Tommy Tuberville at Auburn, between the seasons from 2001 and 2008. The report comes from an advance copy of the shows transcript printed on the website Sports by Brooks.

McClover, a former All-SEC defensive end selection, said he received handshakes from boosters containing hundreds of dollars during recruiting trips to LSU, Auburn, Michigan State and Ohio State.

The one-time commit to Ohio State says he moved his commitment to Auburn after he asked for and received an unspecified sum of money from a booster. He also claims to have received upwards of $400 for every sack in college. McClover played at Auburn from 2003-to-2005, ending his career with 15.5 sacks.

Gray, a former 2008 commit, proves the money process is still going on in college, as he said he got up to $3,000 thrown his way from boosters trying to convince him to sign with Auburn from junior college. He did sign with Auburn, but never ended up playing because of injury.

The full report can be seen on HBO at 9 p.m. eastern Wednesday night.

Pro Day update

The University of Miami welcomed back NFL scouts its annual pro day event March 25, after the first one held March 10 was canceled halfway through due to weather issues.

The Hurricanes have anywhere between four and five players who could go within the first two days of the NFL Draft, however many chose to stand on their numbers from the combine.

Cornerback Brandon Harris, wideout Leonard Hankerson and defensive lineman Allen Bailey, all considered possible first round choices, stood on their numbers but worked out in position drills.

Bailey, considered a ‘tweener’ prospect between defensive end and defensive tackle, reported at a weight of 275, below his 278 pounds at the combine. Harris, 5-foot-9, 194 pounds, stood on all of his numbers but his vertical, where he reported a 34.5 inch jump.

One prospect who stood out in South Florida was linebacker Colin McCarthy. Drawing mixed reviews from scouts and TV personalities, McCarthy turned in one of the better combine performances and is capable of playing the inside or outside positions at the next level. Reports are that McCarthy helped himself considerably, and could go as high as the late second round.

All 32 teams were represented at the University of Texas pro day Tuesday, where 53 coaches, scouts and team personnel turned out to one of the better annual events. Head coaches Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh and Jim Schwartz of Detroit were both in attendance.

The Longhorns top prospects include cornerback Aaron Williams, outside linebacker Sam Acho and corner Curtis Brown, all of which stood on their combine numbers.

Williams, however, did run his 40, improving on his combine time with a 4.40 at the pro day workout.

Cornerback Chykie Brown, a combine standout a month earlier, ran 40 times of 4.40 and 4.37 and also reported a 39 inch vertical jump. Brown has been an intriguing prospect for scouts who may have over looked the talented corner with Williams and Curtis Brown also on the roster.

UCLA defensive standouts, Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore, were on display at the Bruins pro day event Tuesday, where representatives from 27 teams were in attendance.

Ayers, an outside linebacker, ran his 40-yard dash once again, turning in times between 4.68 and 4.74, an improvement from his 4.82 at the NFL Combine. At 259 pounds, Ayers took part in drills at defensive end and outside linebacker, both of which he reportedly excelled.

Moore, a safety prospect, stood on all of his combine numbers besides his shuttle times, where he turned in a time of 4.16 in the short shuttle and 11.47 in the long shuttle. Considered the top safety prospect in the draft, Moore did nothing to disprove that Tuesday.

Both players are considered future first round choices, with Moore sitting on the fence between the bottom of the first round and top of the second.

Pro days to keep an eye on Wednesday include USC, Washington and New Mexico State.

March 29, 2011

College Football Report - Michigan State Needs to Take Advantage of 2011 Season:

If there was ever a year for Michigan State to take advantage of a good opportunity to win, the 2011 season would be the time to do so.

Michigan State isn’t a team big on taking advantage of opportunity, though. There really haven’t been a whole lot of chances to take advantage of anything around East Lansing, but when the chance was at hand, they’ve missed the mark.

Take the 2010 Capital One Bowl for instance. After an 11-1 season, and first place tie in the Big Ten, many Spartan faithful were smelling roses. Only the BCS rankings sent Big Ten foe Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl instead, a team the Spartans beat in October.

MSU fans were sent in a fit over the side-step by the BCS, but State did get the next best thing: A BCS Bowl game caliber team with Alabama, the reigning National Champion. It became a perfect opportunity for Michigan State to prove they belonged to be mentioned with the big boys of college football.

The outcome however, is a sensitive subject for some, a laughable matter for others. The Tide crushed State 49-7, racked up 546 total offensive yards and held MSU to just 171 total yards. The Spartans were even forced to go with backup wide receiver Keith Nichol at quarterback, after starter Kirk Cousins and backup Andrew Maxwell were knocked out of the game.

Not surprisingly, the Spartans did nothing to strengthen their argument of deserving a BCS Bowl game. It also put a soggy ending on an impressive season. Opportunity missed.

The 2011 season has yet to begin, but things are feeling a little different for State heading in. Starting the season on an 8-0 run doesn’t feel like a realistic start again, but as learned last season, it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.

The schedule opens with early pushovers against Youngstown State, FAU and Central Michigan. Visits to Notre Dame and Ohio State round off the first five games.

The Ohio State game is fairly intriguing. MSU has not beaten OSU since 1998, having lost eight straight to the Buckeyes, but five of the Bucks best players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, will sit due to NCAA violations. Head coach Jim Tressel will also sit for NCAA rule violations and there’s no reason to expect the suspensions to be cut.

Two traditional powers on the schedule will be heading through quarterback changes, where longtime starters have moved on at Iowa and Wisconsin. Rebuilding years could follow both.

Coaching changes, even more so destructive than a quarterback change, follow Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota. Michigan should be improved, but the offensive transition from the spread option to a pro style set should take at least a year.

The lone games that should give the Spartans a scare should be the early Notre Dame matchup, a late October trip to Nebraska and a season ending visit to conference sleeper Northwestern.

The offense is stacked with experienced talent, led by senior quarterback Kirk Cousins. As a junior, Cousins passed for over 2,800 yards, completing nearly 67 percent of his passes. Wideouts B.J. Cunningham and Keshwan Martin, both seniors, form an impressive duo for Cousins to throw to.

Running backs Edwin Baker (above), Le’Veon Bell and Larry Caper load one of the better backfields in the Big Ten. Baker, a junior, led the team in rushing last season with 1,201 yards and 13 scores on the ground, while Bell, a sophomore, adds size and power to the group.

The defense features bookend 6-foot-7 defensive ends in junior Tyler Hoover and sophomore William Gholston (right), a former five star recruit. Sophomore linebacker Max Bullough, forced to sit part of spring practice for disciplinary reasons, will help fill the hole left by All-American Greg Jones. The secondary returns starters Johnny Adams and Trenton Robinson, who combined for seven interceptions and 15 pass breakups last season.

Although the schedule may be working in MSU’s favor and a talent load may be returning, the key for Michigan State will be holding a winning mentality throughout the season and keeping themselves from falling into old ways.

At times last season, the Spartans got complacent and found themselves playing the comeback role more often than not. They nearly blew a 10 point lead to Wisconsin in the fourth. Entered the fourth quarter down 10 to Northwestern and needed to fight back down 28-13 to Purdue in the fourth quarter.

It made for great TV, but closely resembled the Spartans of old. The same Spartans that ended with an average finish of seventh place in the Big Ten the last 10 years. The same Spartans that, before 2008, followed a winning season with a 6-6 record or worse for 18 straight years. The trend later picked back up in 2009.

Other than last year, State has only one other first place finish in the Big Ten the last 20 years, but both are shared titles.

That can all change with the addition of the Big Ten Championship game come next fall, but that will also only change if Michigan State takes advantage of the opportunity at hand. Something easier said than done for the Spartans.

Photo Credit: Joel Hawksley/Grand Rapids Press

March 28, 2011

College Football Report - Washington State Emerging From the Depths of College Football:

At first glance, the 2010 football season for Washington State doesn’t appear like anything more than a repeat performance of its previous two miserable campaigns. The key part to that sentence, however, is at first glance.

When things go bad for the Cougars, they go really bad. Think of a cruise liner hitting, not just the tip of the iceberg, but instead the entire mass of ice. With four wins in the last three years, it really wouldn’t appear the Cougars football program is heading anywhere but under.

I suppose then, it would come as a surprise if you actually found out that Washington State is a program about to emerge in the Pac-12.

In 2008, thanks to wins against FCS opponent Portland State and in-state rival Washington, a 2-11 season was scrapped together. The only major college football team worse than the Cougars that year, was in fact Washington, who finished 0-12.

The offense barely averaged over 12 points a game, with a meager 241 total offensive yards. The defense was even worse, giving up a staggering 43.8 points a game. In only one game did the offense score more than 17 points. It wasn’t the greatest way for new head coach Paul Wulff to enter the program.

Those expecting a better year two for Wulff were sadly disappointed. While the cross state Huskies rebounded from a winless season to a 5-7 record, the Cougars sank to a 1-11 outing.

The offense again averaged just 12 points and 249 yards. The defense got better in points given up, but the improvement wasn’t noticeable at still 38.5 points.

Needless to say, expectations for the 2010 season weren’t exactly high around the Palouse. After a blowout against Oklahoma State in the opener, a narrow escape of FCS Montana State in the home opener, loss to SMU in game three and pounding from USC in game four, already low expectations dwindled. Cougar’s fans were just hoping for a team to take the field come October.

Not surprisingly, a team did take the field, but it was a team with a different attitude. The once over by halftime games the Cougars had been famous for had disappeared.

UCLA took the Cougars to halftime with just a 20-14 lead. In game six, Oregon trailed 14-8 in the first and went to halftime with just a 29-17 lead. Stanford beat WSU by just 10, allowing 28 points. Cal found themselves down at halftime, and only up 14-13 entering the fourth, while narrowly escaping with a 20-13 win. Oregon State was pounded 31-14 at home by the Cougars.

In the last game of the year, rival Washington would need to scrape together a last minute drive to beat the Cougars 35-28, scoring with just 44 seconds remaining.

Washington State was losing, sure, but losing with enough attitude to fight the next week, something that had been missing in the program for the latter half of the decade.

The 2011 season marks a start of the new Pac-12 conference . Stuck with the likes of Oregon, Stanford and Washington in the North division, the Cougars face an almost impossible feat to take the league during the 2011 season. They do however have a few things working in their favor for a much improved 2011 season.

On offense, they’re led by rising junior passer Jeff Tuel, who threw for over 2,700 yards and 18 scores in his first full season as the starter. Sophomore wideout Marquess Wilson was one of the best kept secrets in college football in 2010, catching 55 passes for 1,006 yards and six scores during his true freshman campaign.

On defense, the Cougars are led by junior defensive end Travis long, who led the team in sacks (4) and tackles for loss (10.5) as a sophomore last season. At linebacker, senior Alex Hoffman-Ellis and sophomore C.J. Mizell form an impressive and underrated tandem. Hoffman-Ellis finished second on the team in tackles last season with 81, while Mizell, a true freshman from Tallahassee, Fla., brought in 57 stops, with six for a loss.

The 2011 schedule features a winnable first half of the season, with early games against Idaho State, UNLV, San Diego State, new Pac-12 member Colorado and the struggling UCLA. Later meetings against Oregon State at home and California on the road, should also be considered winnable games for the Cougars.

On paper, a five or possible six win season isn’t out of consideration.

With all the reasons for WSU to head into the 2011 season with optimism, there are reasons to worry and areas that needed to be addressed during spring ball.

The running game ranked No. 117 in the nation in 2010, averaging just 2.6 yards a carry. Tuel was sacked 48 times and the line gave up 108 tackles for loss. The rush defense gave up 220 yards on the ground an outing, good for No. 115 in the country.

For all of the problems WSU had in 2010, Wulff and the coaching staff appeared to make an attempt to correct them already during the short offseason.

The Cougars signed seven JUCO lineman, including three offensive lineman. Rico Forbes and Taylor Meighen, both JUCO offensive lineman, are in for spring practice.

Running back Rickey Galvin, a 5-foot-8, 170 pound California product who was sidelined with a broken arm after just one carry last season, appears ready to take over. As a senior at Berkley High, Galvin led the Bay area with 2,264 yards and 24 scores on the ground, but was passed up by locals USC and Cal.

The steps to digging themselves out from being the laughing stock of the college football world has begun and the players capable of doing so look to be in place.

Don’t expect any conference titles or shocking upsets at Autzen Stadium come next fall, but just like that seemingly impossible to miss iceberg the program was heading for, there’s much more to the 2011 Washington State football program than meets the eye.

Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

March 24, 2011

College Football Report - West Virginia Looks Ready to Take Back Big East:

Watching West Virginia during the 2010 season was a bit like watching Brad Pitt strike out at the bar. The talent was there, but the right moves weren't made and they just couldn’t piece things together in key moments.

Make no mistake about it, the defense wasn’t the problem. The Mountaineers ranked third in the nation in total defense and third in points given up, sacrificing just 13.5 points an outing.

The offense, however, couldn’t hit a note on a player piano. They had more speed on offense than Charlie Sheen has on a Friday night. Only they weren’t winning, duhhh.

It’s not to say a 9-4 record is anything to run away from, it’s a respectable record, for Louisville or Syracuse in the Big East maybe, but not for West Virginia.

The Mountaineers own half of the Big East titles this decade, including a shared title last season. But what good is a shared title in a BCS conference if you have to miss out on the BCS Bowl? A tie in football, isn’t that like kissing your sister?

So the Mountaineers did what any team would do that needs assistance, they went and got help in the form of new offensive coordinator and future head coach to be, Dana Holgorsen.

Holgorsen’s name might not bring a familiar face to memory, but anyone who’s been paying attention to college football over the last decade has seen his work, and seen a lot of it. The new Mountaineer offensive coordinator has the resume many dream of in college football, and he’s put it together in a relatively short time period.

Holgorsen, 39, comes to Morgantown fresh off quick stops at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State, and anyone who’s obviously been paying attention lately knows the before mentioned teams have had some of the highest scoring and most potent offenses of the last decade.

Take his last stop, Oklahoma State, for instance. The Cowboys averaged 28.4 points an outing and 367 yards a game during the 2009 season. Then came Holgorsen in 2010 and OSU exploded for 44.2 points a game, good for No. 3 in the nation, while averaging just over 520 yards a game.

The Cowboys offense set five team records during the 2010 season, including total yards (6,451), points scored (539) and passing yards (4,256). Relatively unknown players like quarterback Brandon Weeden and wideout Justin Blackmon became stars.

But those weren’t the only players to go from near unknowns to gridiron kings under Holgorsen. Quarterbacks Case Keenum and Graham Harrell were transformed into 5,000 yard passers. Wideouts Michael Crabtree and Wes Welker have become Sunday stars after tearing up the college ranks.

Now Holgorsen is onto the next project of his career, where the talent and playmaking ability of his core group, and starting point, is better than ever before.

For the 2011 season, he’ll man the sidelines as the Mountaineers offensive mind. In 2012, he’ll take over as head coach of the program. There’s hope that there’s no hard feelings between current head coach Bill Stewart, who took over in 2008 after the departure of Rich Rodriguez. Holgorsen will clean up the offense and the problems that exist, all with Stewart still around, which is a bit like heading to rehab with you dealer as your sponsor (above).

The talent WVU has to work with is plentiful. Junior quarterback Geno Smith (above, left) has enormous upside after passing for nearly 2,800 yards, 24 touchdowns and only seven picks in his first year of starting. To go along with a 65 percent completion percentage.

The receiving core returns leading man Tavon Austin, a 5-foot-9 jitter bug, who may switch between the slot and tailback in the new offense. A pair of 6-foot-3 deep threats also return, in Brad Starks and Ivan McCartney, a former top recruit and high school teammate of Smith who could explode onto the scene next season.

The key will be putting people in the right places and finding the matchups that can be exploited in the Big East.

From 2004-to-2007 the Mountaineers averaged better than 30 points a game, including a near 40 in 2007. Not surprisingly, a stretch of 11 win seasons followed the program from 2005-to-2007. The last three years -- 9-4 seasons -- the Mountaineers haven’t averaged better than 26 points a game, including last season’s 25.

In a league that has been as weak as the Big East over the latter half of the decade, the best offense usually wins out. Take a look at Cincinnati’s 2008 and 2009 titles with the likes of Brian Kelly to thank.

With the pieces in place on offense, a solid staff led by Holgorsen behind them and a defense that includes pass rushing specialists Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, and a shutdown corner in Keith Tandy, there’s no reason the Mountaineers shouldn’t contend for a BCS Bowl berth in 2011.

The hope, at least for the 2011 season, is that Mountaineer fans and college football channel surfers won’t have to subject themselves to watching any more 15 play, 34 yard drives like the one against Syracuse on Oct. 23. A drive that ended with the ball turned over on downs after they killed 5:55 of a 6:35 remaining game clock, just six points from the lead in the fourth.

Kissing your sister, bad? No, how about listening to Lou Holtz inspirational speeches on replay, bad. But change isnt far off.

Photo credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

March 23, 2011

First Quarter Hail Mary...3/23

"...where completion is considered unlikely"

Pro Day update

A.J. Green, Georgia wideout and possible top five selection in April’s draft, was introduced to his first set of weird and seemingly useless NFL rules Tuesday at his pro day event.

Green worked out Tuesday in a 30-minute session on the Georgia campus, but not in front of NFL scouts. Instead, scouts viewed Green from TV screens inside Georgia’s practice facility with head coach Mark Richt.

Because of what’s referred to as the 40-mile rule, which states players can only workout for NFL scouts within a 40-mile radius of their home or state they played college football in, scouts had to break the rules or watch Green on ESPN3, just like everyone else. The rule is only in place because of the recent lockout by NFL owners.

Green’s throwing partner, former Oregon and Montana quarterback Justin Roper, lives six miles outside of the 40-mile radius. Roper and Green built up good timing through workouts, and felt it was best to work out together.

As for Green’s workout, he ran through 28 plays impressing throughout. He elected to stand on his combine numbers, including his 4.5 40-time.

At Temple on Monday, defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson worked out in front of numerous NFL teams, including the Bengals, Seahawks and Saints staffs. Wilkerson stood on his combine numbers, but impressed in drills. Wilkerson continues to be a player rising up many teams draft boards.

Scouts turned out to Reno Tuesday to take in Nevada’s pro day workout, where the Wolf Pack could have as many as five players selected in April’s draft.

The main focus was on quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who came away from last month’s combine as one of the more impressive quarterbacks on hand. Tuesday, Kaepernick completed 36 of his 38 passes and chose to stand on his numbers from the combine. The 49ers have been in strong interest of Kaepernick, working out the quarterback before Tuesday in a private meeting. He also has 10 future workouts and visits planed.

While scouts would have loved to watch Dontay Moch blaze through workouts again, the hybrid linebacker chose to stand on his very impressive combine numbers, electing to only run drills.

Tight end Virgil Green built on an impressive combine, weighing in at 252 pounds and running through drills with ease.

One player to keep an eye on, on day three of the draft, will be running back Vai Tau. Tau ran again, claiming to have turned in a better time than his 4.62 time at the combine. At 214-pounds, Tau put up four more reps in the bench than at the combine, hitting 24 reps of 225-pounds.

Workouts to keep an eye on Wednesday include Boston College, Connecticut and NC State.

'Ken' is a football player

Toy Company Mattel has found its latest Ken Doll model, and its former Iowa State defensive lineman Kurtis Taylor.

Barbie’s new boyfriend will take the face of Taylor, who entered the Mattel 'Genuine Ken': Search for the great American boyfriend, through social media forms.

The comeback player of the year for the Cyclones in 2007, Taylor ranked second in the Big 12 in sacks in with 6.5.

There’s no word yet if Mattel plans to make the Doll with the structure of a 6-foot-2, 255 pound man or if football pads come included.

Iowa workout found at fault

The University of Iowa football team is set to put the numerous problems of the past season behind them, including the Jan. 20 incident where 13 players were hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis.

First came the three game losing streak to close the regular season, including an embarrassing loss to Minnesota. Then came the suspensions, which included starting running back Adam Robinson and wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for drug related charges. Robinson was later kicked off the team.

To say the Hawkeyes football staff is ready to put the rhabdomyolysis incident in the past may be an understatement.

The Des Moines register reports that everyone on the football staff, including trainers and student workers, are cleared of any wrongdoing. An Iowa committee has found the workout to be responsible for the player’s symptoms. One part of the committee’s finding found that:

“The committee is as certain as possible that the strenuous squat-lifting workout the players did on Jan. 20 caused rhabdomyolysis in the 13 who were hospitalized, as well as serious muscle injuries to players who did not develop advanced rhabdomyolysis symptoms.”

The workout that had been used on Jan. 20 was the same workout used by Iowa coaches in the past, particularly in June 2004 and Dec. 2007. A question of rest periods and break time before the workout came into question.

The most important finding in the investigation comes that the cause of rhabdomyolysis was in fact the workouts, and not supplements or drugs involved, as had been speculated at one point.

All writing and views subject to © Drew P. Kochanny, All Rights Reserved. Photo's credited to rights owner.