New Year's Day. Enough said. College football's holiest day features a full slate of intriguing action. And Miller and Bunting break down all of the matchups on this week's On the Quad podcast. Happy New Year!
Nine years after his final game in Gainesville, Steve Spurrier will renew a long and bitter rivalry with Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
The last time the former Florida head coach faced the Seminoles, he cruised to an easy 37-13 victory at The Swamp. But that wasn’t even the major story from that encounter.
ICONSteve Spurrier is certainly familiar with the Florida State program after leading the Gators for so many years.
Over the next few days, Spurrier accused FSU defensive lineman Darnell Dockett of intentionally trying to injure some of his Gators.
That prompted Dave Hart, the FSU athletic director at the time, to express how many Seminoles fans — and a lot of college football fans in general — felt about the Head Ball Coach. “It would probably be good if somebody just spanked [Spurrier] and put him to bed and hoped that he wakes up all grown up.”
Oh, those were the days.
Once again, Spurrier and Florida State will cross paths on a big stage. But this time, Jimbo Fisher is the head man in Tallahassee, not the legendary Bobby Bowden — the same Bowden who once had a football thrown toward his head by Gators quarterback Doug Johnson during a pregame brawl.
And Spurrier is no longer head of the Gators. Instead, he is the face of the South Carolina program.
But those are just minor details.
Many Seminoles supporters feel that Spurrier continued to look down at FSU upon taking the head job in Gainesville, much like he and his teammates did while playing for the Gators in the 1960’s. After all, Florida State was once a women’s college that only started a football program in 1949.
Spurrier recently admitted that he did hate the Seminoles in the past, but that those days are over. Coaching in Columbia after his stint with the NFL’s Washington Redskins, he maintains that his history with the ‘Noles is just that — in the past.
While that may be true, the stakes will be high when the Gamecocks and Seminoles meet at the Georgia Dome in a battle of BCS-conference runner-ups. South Carolina earned a spot in the SEC title game for the first time since joining the league in 1992, while Florida State advanced to the ACC title game in Fisher’s first season.
In his sixth season at South Carolina, Spurrier finally notched his signature win in Columbia, knocking off defending national champion and then-No. 1 Alabama. And he led the team to victories over all of the major East division powers: Georgia, Tennessee and his former Florida program. Rival Clemson was also a victim. And while the East may have been down this year, wins are wins. Division titles are division titles. And you can be sure Spurrier doesn’t mind one bit that he took advantage of a “down” year in the vaunted SEC East.
ICONStephen Garcia finally broke through this season at QB.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the success of the Gamecocks in 2010 was Stephen Garcia, who finally grasped the quarterback position after repeatedly being challenged by the Ball Coach, both on the field and through the media. Things clicked for Garcia this season, with all the hard work culminating in the victory over the Crimson Tide — the first time in program history the Gamecocks were able to knock off the nation’s top-ranked team. He threw for over 2,800 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, and he finally became a leader on an offense that desperately needed one.
But as good as Garcia has been, the Gamecocks would not have won the SEC East without freshman sensation Marcus Lattimore. The 6-0, 218-pounder is not only a load to bring down, but he opens up the passing game for Garcia to be able to find stud wideout Alshon Jeffery down the field. Establishing a presence on the ground and sticking with it will be crucial, especially to help avoid the Seminoles pass rush on third-and-long situations. Lattimore has proven in wins over Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee that he has no problem being a workhorse back.
If there’s one thing we can bet on, it’s that South Carolina will be energized from the opening kick, unlike the last two postseason appearances where it looked like the players didn’t even want to be at the game. We’ve seen the Gamecocks play their best in big games, with the exception of the SEC championship. But as we know, Auburn is a different animal. And surely the Gamecocks never want to experience anything like the second half of that contest ever again.
And they won’t, not against Florida State on Friday night. Because as we’ve seen throughout the season, this team is different. This isn’t the same underachieving bunch of Gamecocks.
Garcia is different. The offensive attack is different. And with a win, expectations will be different, which is a good thing for this program.
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Many scouting departments treat Bowl games and All-Star games differently than they do regular season college football games. There is also a difference as to how the Bowl games and All-Star games are approached. Today, we will talk about the Bowl games.
A Bowl game is a reward to a good season, but depending on when the game is played there may be a down period before preparations begin. If the game is played late in December or early January and the last regular season game was mid-November, then the school could have up to six weeks between games. All that time is not practice time. The players usually have a few weeks “off” before they get back into the practice routine. During the season practices are usually limited to game preparation. There is not time for much technique teaching, etc. That’s totally different during bowl preparation.
Coaches like to treat the early bowl practices much like an “additional” spring practice season. Because of this there is much more work on fundamentals. If the schools have these practices “open” to scouts they can be very valuable in a scout’s evaluation because he sees so much more than what he sees during a regular season visit. The early bowl practices can be very physical so a scout gets a chance to see much more “live” work. He also may have an opportunity to speak with some of the coaches or support people that he didn’t talk to when he made a school visit. The more people a scout gets to talk to the better his evaluation.
As for attending and scouting during the bowl games themselves, that’s a whole different “ballgame” and it really depends on the luck of the draw. Because there is so much media at these games, space is limited for scouts. There may be only 6 or 7 seats in the press box available to scouts. To make things fair, the league holds a lottery to fairly distribute the seats that are available. To further make things fair, the league groups the games into four categories — basically weighting the games. The top games such as the BCS Bowl games are “A” level games, games like the Holiday Bowl may be “B” level games, the Independence Bowl may be a “C” level game and so on. When the lottery is over a club may end up with passes to about five games — usually one “A” game, one “B” game and usually three passes to various “C” and “D” games.
The lottery is held in the beginning of December so scouting departments have a lot of time to prepare on how they will scout the games. After the lottery is over there is a lot of “trading” of passes that goes on. This happens because you may have “won” a pass to a game that you have absolutely no interest in but there may be a team or teams that have interest in that particular game. So in the days following the lottery your e-mail box gets flooded with trade requests such as “We have an Orange Bowl pass available to anyone who may have an Outback Bowl pass to give in return.” This trading period usually goes on for about a week, so in the end you get passes to games that you have at least a mild interest in attending. If you don’t have a pass to a game, viewing a practice or practices may be more beneficial.
The media and the public are all interested in the school matchups but scouts are interested only in seeing prospects. For instance, the BCS national championship game between Auburn and Oregon should be a great game to view for most, but if you are an NFL scout and neither school has a player or players that a scout has interest in then the game has no value to the scout.
ICONNdamukong Suh played perhaps the best game of his career in the Big 12 championship game last season.
From a scouting perspective these games are important because you want to see how a player responds to playing in a big game. If you are lucky there may be some interesting matchups in the game — perhaps a highly rated offensive lineman against a highly rated defensive lineman or maybe a top receiver versus a top corner. There is the old clich
Veteran Las Vegas handicapper Marco D'Angelo of Pregame.com returns to the “Tank it to the bank” podcast to break down the second-half of the 2010 college bowl game schedule. So get your pens and notepads out, because you're going to want to write this stuff down.
You can check out Marco's picks and analysis from the first “Take it to the bank” podcast by CLICKING HERE.
And you can check out more of Marco's stuff over at Pregame.com by CLICKING HERE.
NOTE: This podcast was so big we had to break it into two articles. This specific podcast starts with the BCS Title game (Oregon-Auburn) and covers half of the remaining schedule.
Has Will Muschamp landed his offensive coordinator at Florida?
According to the Twitter account of ESPN's Chris Mortensen, and as first suggested by the Gainesville Sun's Pat Dooley, it appears that Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is likely to accept the role as leader of the Gators offense.
It has been suggested by some members of the media that Chiefs head coach Todd Haley may want to bring in former Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels to serve as the new OC, as he has a relationship with quarterback Matt Cassel from their days with the New England Patriots.
It appears, as of now, that the Haley-Weis split is mutual.
Weis, who was replaced by Brian Kelly as head coach of Notre Dame after last season, has done wonders for the Chiefs offensive attack. Cassel has been solid under center, Jamaal Charles could win the rushing title and the offensive line has played very sound.
Muschamp is intent on installing a pro-style offense to help bring in pro-style quarterbacks and receivers to Gainesville.
I'll have more on this as the story progresses. But for now, back to watching Notre Dame and Miami in the Sun Bowl.
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Houston’s Gary Kubiak was the No.1 name on my list of head coaches that needs to go when I broke down the annual NFL coaching hot seat earlier this week. A club that started 4-2 and has once again failed to meet season long expectations under Kubiak. With a 5-10 record heading into Week 17, Houston is just playing out the schedule.
ICONIs the Phillips the answer for Kubiak and the Texans' defense in 2011?
But, Texans’ owner Bob McNair is expected to keep Kubiak around—again. The answer this time? Bring in former Cowboys’ head coach Wade Phillips to run the defense. I have no doubts about Phillips’ ability to coach defensive football—or how his players would perceive him as a coordinator. However, is this the answer, the key to the Texans’ playing winning football in the NFL and competing—consistently—with Indy, Jacksonville and Tennessee?
I get the idea of bringing in Phillips. The Texans have explosive playmakers on offense. Schaub, Johnson, Foster, etc. They should score points and put the defense in a position to win games. With a change in leadership on defense, the Texans will expect that side of the ball to close out games, make plays in crucial 2-minute situations and respond when they are put into an adverse situation—with the game on the line.
However, is it really that easy? Can Phillips walk into that first team meeting this offseason, grab the attention of the entire defensive side of the ball and start teaching a new system—one that comes with actual accountability? I have seen it happen in my own career when Gregg Williams came to Washington to run the defense. That first meeting was an eye-opening experience. But after working throughout the offseason, we went from a defense ranked near the bottom of the list in ’03 to a top five unit in the ’04 season. It can happen that quickly, but don’t count on it.
The scheme will be different and the players will have to buy into it. Mario Williams may find himself as a five-technique in a 3-4 front or even as an outside linebacker rushing off of the edge—like Phillips had with DeMarcus Ware in Dallas. That Houston secondary will have to step up and compete on Sundays when they are asked to play blitz-man coverage—a symbol of Phillips’ defenses. Overall, there will be change. Something that Texans’ fans should want to see, but something that also may take time.
The Texans’ defensive players should welcome this change—and asked to be coached hard. But Phillips isn't a guarantee for Kubiak and his future. Hiring him is just another attempt to win in Houston.
It’s been one hell of a run, but the 2010 regular season is set to conclude Sunday evening in Seattle. I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone for reading this column this season and wish all of you a Happy New Year.
If you’ve still got that fantasy itch, CLICK HERE for a chance to win some cash this weekend in the NFP/FanDuel Salary Cap Challenge. It costs $5 to enter, but you’ll get your money back if you can score more points than yours truly.
In addition, the NFP and FanDuel will be running a fantasy challenge throughout the NFL playoffs, so I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted on the details as I receive them.
And before we get to our final Starts & Sits of 2010, here is your motivational moment of the day…
START ‘EM UP
ICONBradford will try to lead the Rams back to the playoffs on Sunday night.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams: Bradford’s only thrown one touchdown pass over his last four games, but with St. Louis going after an NFC West title this Sunday, you know the rookie from Oklahoma is going to show up prepared and motivated—which is more than you can say about several other NFL signal-callers. The last time Bradford went against this Seattle defense (Week 4), the 23-year-old threw for 289 yards and two scores in a 20-3 win. Since then it hasn’t gotten much better for this Seahawks team that ranks 29th in the NFL in pass defense (257.1 yds/gm) and is currently allowing 21.6 fantasy points per week to opposing quarterbacks (third-most in NFL).
Joe McKnight, RB, New York Jets: Why would we recommend a guy who has carried the football just seven times in eight games this season? Simple. LaDainian Tomlinson isn’t expected to play very much on Sunday (if at all), as head coach Rex Ryan wants him to be rested for the first-round of the playoffs. In addition, McKnight has been impressing the New York coaching staff, as Ryan told the media this past week, “I think he’s [McKnight] going to get a ton of playing time…He’s earned his stripes.” If the carries are there, the rookie from USC could be set for a breakout performance against a Bills team that ranks dead last in the league in run defense (162.5 yds/gm) and is currently surrendering an average of 23.4 fantasy points per week to opposing running backs (third-most in NFL).
Jacoby Jones, WR, Houston Texans: With Andre Johnson expected to miss the Texans’ regular season finale this weekend, Jones is in position to close out his fourth NFL season with a bang. The 26-year-old wideout amassed 115 yards on five receptions (seven targets) in Week 16 at Denver and has another favorable matchup this Sunday against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that currently ranks 26th in the league in pass defense (250.1 yds/gm) and is giving up an average of 24.2 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers (fifth-most in NFL). Consider Jones a solid WR2.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers: It’s been a very disappointing season for the rookie from Fresno State, as Mathews has rushed for only 558 yards in 11 games this year. However, the 23-year-old from Bakersfield, California will have a chance to send fantasy owners out on a positive note Sunday in Denver against a Broncos defense that ranks 31st in the NFL against the run (153.9 yds/gm) and is giving up more fantasy points per week to opposing running backs (26.2 pts/gm) than any other team in the league. Mike Tolbert is expected to miss the Chargers’ finale due to a neck injury he suffered in Week 16 at Cincinnati—the same neck injury that opened the door for Mathews to rush for 55 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries against the Bengals last Sunday.
Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants: With Steve Smith out for the season, Manningham has stepped up in a big way over the past two weeks by hauling in 12 receptions for 245 yards and three touchdowns on 18 targets. The Giants have to win this Sunday if they want any chance of qualifying for the postseason, so you know this team is going to come out prepared. That’s good news for fantasy owners since Manningham and Big Blue head to Washington on Sunday to take on a Redskins defense that ranks 31st in the NFL against the pass (262.9 yds/gm) and is surrendering an average of 23.5 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers (ninth-most in NFL). Make sure this guy is in your lineup this weekend.
Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans: Daniels has only logged ten games so far this season due to injury and got off to a slow start after suffering a torn ACL back in 2009. But very quietly, the Houston tight end has started to regain his playmaking form. Daniels is currently averaging 8.7 fantasy points per game over a three-week stretch that includes 32 targets and 17 receptions. Consider the 28-year-old a solid start in Week 17 as Daniels is going up against a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that is currently surrendering 8.5 fantasy points per week to opposing tight ends. Keep in mind that with Andre Johnson on the shelf last weekend, Daniels found the end zone for the first time in 2010.
Atlanta Falcons, D/ST: The Falcons may have dropped a pivotal NFC South showdown to the New Orleans Saints last Monday night, but this D/ST racked up 15.0 fantasy points in the process (ninth-most in Week 16) against one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Because of the loss, Atlanta will have to go full tilt this Sunday when they welcome in a Carolina Panthers team that ranks dead last in both total offense (256.3 yds/gm) and scoring (12.4 pts/gm). As far as Week 17 matchups for D/STs are concerned, you won’t find a better one anywhere on the board.
SIT ‘EM DOWN
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears: Yes, the Bears have said they plan on treating this weekend’s game at Green Bay like any other, but where’s the motivation? Chicago has already locked up the No. 2 seed in the NFC and can only improve their playoff position with a win and losses by both the Saints (unlikely) and Falcons (even more unlikely). Cutler has been productive as of late, but he’s about to run into a hungry Packers team that ranks fifth in the NFL in passing defense (199.3 yds/gm) and is giving up an average of just 15.9 fantasy points per week to opposing quarterbacks (sixth-fewest in NFL). There are better matchups out there.
It's been a solid year for Hillis, but Week 17 offers another difficult challenge.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns: Hillis has been one of this year’s top waiver wire acquisitions, but keep in mind that the big bruiser has rushed for just 94 total yards over his last two games and hasn’t scored
a touchdown since Week 12. To make matters worse, Cleveland plays host to a Pittsburgh Steelers team this weekend that leads the league in run defense (64.1 yds/gm) and is surrendering fewer fantasy points to opposing running backs than any other team in the NFL (11.1 pts/gm). As if that wasn’t already enough, keep in mind that the Steelers have allowed only five rushing touchdowns all season (fewest in NFL).
Mike Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It’s been one hell of a 2010 for the rookie from Syracuse as Williams currently ranks 15th in scoring among fantasy wide receivers and has posted four touchdowns over his last four games. But this weekend’s matchup at New Orleans offers the 23-year-old his toughest test of the season. The Saints currently rank second in the NFL in pass defense (191.3 yds/gm) and are giving up fewer fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers than any other team in the business (13.4 pts/gm). When these two squads got together back in Week 6, Williams was held to just four receptions for 45 yards and no touchdowns.
Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills: Jackson’s been a decent play for the majority of the 2010 fantasy season, but owners are advised to go in a different direction in Week 17. The 29-year-old running back hasn’t scored a touchdown in any of his last four outings and is averaging just 65.2 rushing yards per game over his past five contests. That little slump should continue this Sunday in New York against a Jets defense that ranks fifth in the league against the run (94.5 yds/gm) and is giving up an average of only 13.4 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs (second-fewest in NFL).
How many snaps will Bowe get on Sunday?
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: Bowe went nuclear against the Tennessee Titans last week when he racked up 153 yards and a touchdown on six receptions. However, owners are advised to keep in mind the fact that Kansas City has already locked up the AFC West and doesn’t have a lot to play for in Week 17. That could lead to Bowe receiving a limited amount of playing time against an Oakland Raiders team that ranks third in the NFL in pass defense (196.1 yds/gm) and is surrendering just 19.3 fantasy points per week to opposing wide receivers (ninth-fewest in NFL). You may want to look for a wideout who is guaranteed to play for four quarters.
Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders: Miller finally broke through and found the end zone last week vs. Indianapolis, ending a six-game scoreless skid that had led many fantasy owners to the waiver wire in search of a replacement. But despite the recent success, keep in mind that the 25-year-old has only topped 70 receiving yards one time in 14 games this season. It won’t be easy for Miller Sunday at Kansas City against a Chiefs defense that is surrendering only 5.8 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends (tied for second-fewest in NFL).
Miami Dolphins, D/ST: How much motivation do you think this team has to pull out a win in New England against the Patriots on Sunday? Keep in mind that Miami has lost three of their last four outings at Gillette Stadium and is giving up an average of 22.8 points per game in their last five trips to Foxborough. Not only that, but opposing D/STs are averaging just 4.5 fantasy points per week against Tom Brady and the Patriots this season (fewest in NFL). I don’t know about you, but I have a tough time backing a team that spent the last two weeks losing to the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions.
South Florida and Clemson kick off Friday’s bowl action when the teams square off in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Here’s a look at the matchup between the Bulls and Tigers.
South Florida: Head coach Skip Holtz is playing it coy regarding his quarterback situation, as his own players don’t even know who will line up and take the first snap under center. The former UConn and East Carolina head coach would only say that both Bobby Eveld and B.J. Daniels would play against the Tigers. If healthy, I can’t see how Daniels doesn’t start. But I was surprised by how much Holtz tried to bottle up Daniels and make him a pocket passer this year rather than adjusting his scheme to the personnel. Daniels never looked comfortable this year, as he didn’t have the green light to act on his natural ability and turn it loose. That unpredictability — while it cost the Bulls at times last season — will be needed against a physical and speedy Clemson front four. The Bulls will also need to get Moise Plancher (743 yards) and Demetris Murray (508 yards) going on the ground to keep the Tigers defense honest.
ICONClemson's Kyle Parker looks to finish his college career on a high note.
Clemson: This certainly wasn’t the season Kyle Parker envisioned when he decided to return to school for his sophomore campaign and stave off his baseball career for another season. But losing Jacoby Ford and C.J. Spiller hurt the Tigers offense, and Parker just never was in sync. Jamie Harper ran for more than 140 yards against both Florida State and Wake Forest late in the year with Andre Ellington shelved, and he’s going to need another stellar effort to help out a passing game that just doesn’t have many playmakers. But Harper has been inconsistent, so we’ll see if he can continue his late-season momentum. Look for backup and next year’s starter Tajh Boyd to see time under center, as well.
Both teams have really struggled moving the ball and scoring points. In a game featuring teams with sputtering offenses, it’s often the team with the biggest difference-maker on defense that has the advantage. In this case, it’s Clemson with Da’Quan Bowers. Bowers leads the nation with 15.5 sacks and the Bulls must be able to keep him out of the face of Daniels and/or Eveld. If the quarterback can stay upright, USF can find some plays in the passing game against a questionable Clemson secondary. Keep in mind that the Bulls only lost by three points to UConn in the regular-season finale and were able to slow down All-American running back Jordan Todman.
This is a Clemson team that expected to return to the ACC title game even after suffering a couple of personnel losses on offense. I’m not sure how much the Tigers want to be at this game. Could special teams be the difference, where USF's Terrence Mitchell and Lindsey Lamar have excelled in the return game?
Odds and ends
• South Florida head coach Skip Holtz earned one of the biggest wins of his career at Bank of America Stadium on Aug. 30, 2008, when East Carolina beat Virginia Tech 27-22.
• USF is one of only six schools to have made a bowl in every year of its membership in a BCS league.
• Both teams are in the Top 25 in scoring defense and total defense.
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Continuing our countdown of the top 10 business of football stories in 2010, here are numbers 5 through 1:
5. Vikings’ bubble burst
The crumpling of a couple panels of the Metrodome does what years of politicking have been unable to do: unlocks potential public funding for a new stadium. After public assistance to the University of Minnesota and the Twins, the Vikings have been waiting their turn at the trough for years. The matter will now be discussed in early 2011 with apparent conviction by the lawmakers.
The team’s season was a nightmare, after going “all in” in bringing back Brett Favre (and adding $3.5 million to his pay), acquiring (and firing) Randy Moss, firing Brad Childress and their travel odyssey the past few weeks. Their high payroll obviously did not meet expectations and the team has many tough decisions ahead.
4. Vick’s escalating value
In April he was third-string. In September he was second-string, playing behind a player who received a $12 million extension to be the face of the franchise. In December he is on the short list for MVP and elected the NFC starter in the Pro Bowl.
As for Peyton Manning, he cut off negotiations during the season, meaning he will be a free agent in February. Colts ownership and management must feels confident about the continued existence of the Franchise tag in the new CBA, allowing them to hold onto Manning while negotiating what will be the largest contract in the history of football (or face enrollment in the witness protection program should they lose him).
Following Manning’s extension in the coming months will be that of Drew Brees – whose contract expires after 2011 – and perhaps Vick.
2. The Rolling Guarantee
As mentioned with McNabb’s contract, virtually all player contract extensions in 2010 were done with what I call a “rolling guarantee”, monies that trigger due to circumstances rather than locked in from the start of the deal.
Teams have the uncapped last year of the CBA as an excuse for these deals. Were the deals fully guaranteed from the start, the amounts would be reallocated back into the last Capped year, 2009, meaning teams would have had to have remaining Cap room to reallocate into, which none do.
The leverage is now in the owners’ hands. They want a different economic system; they want a change to the rookie pay system; they want an 18-game season; they want players to share in the economic risk. And I think they will get all of that.
The NFLPA and leader DeMaurice Smith are playing goalie, trying to protect what they have. They need to come out of this negotiation – whenever that is – with something to show their membership that improved upon what they had. That will be their challenge.