Saturday, January 23, 2010

Catching up: The offseason is upon us

* Get ready to throw a lot: Louisiana Tech, meet the Mike Leach spread ... sort of. Nobody actually wants to hire Leach, so Tech did the next best thing and hired Sonny Dykes, Leach's former protege and son of original spread passing game maestro Spike Dykes. The younger one had been at Arizona the past few years under Mike Stoops, turning what had been an abysmal offense into something not so abysmal (and actually fairly good at times). He served as co-offensive coordinator at Texas Tech for two years -- during which time Arizona was 74th and 115th (!!!) in total offense -- then went to Tucson and did this in three years:

2007: 67th in total offense, 56th in scoring offense
2008: 33rd in total offense, 24th in scoring offense
2009: 58th in total offense, 61st in scoring offense

Dykes isn't quite as pass-happy as Leach, though. In those three years, Arizona actually got increasingly balanced; they went from 10th in passing to 36th to 48th, and they went from 114th in rushing to 48th to 52nd. This year's overall dip had a lot to do with Willie Tuitama's departure after setting every school passing record in '08, but at least Dykes has shown the ability to adjust based on his personnel. He says he'll do the same at Louisiana Tech, which is probably good since Ross Jenkins hasn't exactly set the world on fire in two years as starting QB. Fortunately for Dykes, the expectations aren't high at Louisiana Tech. Proof: Derek Dooley just went 17-20 in three years and got hired by Tennessee. Be a WAC version of Texas Tech (top half of the conference and fairly regular bowl berths) and everyone will be happy.

* Everybody wins: East Carolina went for one of its own after Skip Holtz bailed for USF, hiring recently fired Texas Tech D-coordinator and ECU alum Ruffin McNeill. I wasn't gonna bother with numbers since Texas Tech's defense is seemingly always crap-tacular, but lo and behold:

2007: 45th in total defense, 50th in scoring defense
2008: 79th in total defense, 74th in scoring defense
2009: 49th in total defense, 41st in scoring defense

Tech's defense has been about average under McNeill; that's pretty impressive when you consider the competition (the OMG OFFENSE OFFENSE OFFENSE Big 12) and the insanely fast pace of Mike Leach's no-huddle offense, which results in a lot of possessions -- and therefore scoring opportunities -- for both teams. Just as importantly as all those numbers, though, is what McNeill did in the Alamo Bowl. He took over as interim coach amid all the Leach firing/lawsuit/Adam James controversy and had all of three days to pull Tech together and get the team focused. I'd say he did nicely: the Raiders won 41-31 in a game that featured two ballsy fourth-down conversions on the clinching drive. Tommy Tuberville was hired as head coach a few days later and cleaned house, but that worked out OK for McNeill -- he was even able to bring along an offensive coordinator in Lincoln Riley, Texas Tech's receivers coach and interim O-coordinator for that 580-yard, 41-point Alamo Bowl performance. Considering all the bizarro coach shuffling this offseason, this is one of the few instances in which I'm pretty sure everybody's happy with the end result.

* Newton finds a home: Former Florida quarterback Cameron Newton has enrolled at Auburn. Newton was essentially given the boot by Urban Meyer a couple years ago because of some ... um, unpleasantries. He transferred to Blinn Junior College, won a juco national title and has now transferred back into the SEC. Chris Todd was roughly a gazillion times better as a senior (under new O-coordinator Gus Malzahn) than he was as a crap-tastic junior, but with Todd out of eligibility, the starting job will now be in the hands of senior Neil Caudle, athletic redshirt freshman Tyrik Rollison or the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Newton, a five-star QB back in 2007 who was rated the No. 28 prospect in the country by Rivals. Newton appeared headed to Mississippi State a few weeks ago, but these comments from his father make it pretty clear that not even a prior relationship with Dan Mullen (Florida's offensive coordinator when Newton committed to the Gators) was enough to outweigh the stigma of Mississippi State:
He was leaning toward Starkville. He had that relationship with Dan Mullen and there was a comfort level there. I didn't think that was the right place for Cam. They just don't have all the moving parts. Cam was going to have to be the star. He'd have to do everything himself. I didn't want him to be a rented mule.
Ouch.

* On his way back: Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich, the 2008 ACC defensive player of the year, is back at practice after missing the entire 2009 season due to a rare form of cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma (I don't think it's related to the Ewing Theory). His career was thought to be in jeopardy, but according to The Associated Press, he was found to be cancer-free in October and began working with the team last week in an effort to get back for the 2010 season. His return would be huge for BC: We're talking about a guy who had 81 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries and six interceptions in 2008. Good luck to him.

* QB drama: Buffalo quarterback Zach Maynard is no longer a Buffalo quarterback. Maynard quit the team this week without citing a reason, but his high school coach had some harsh words for new coach Jeff Quinn (who was Cincinnati's offensive coordinator under Brian Kelly):

"It had everything to do with Turner leaving," Otis Yelverton, Maynard's high school coach in Greensboro, N.C., and a close family friend, said by telephone Thursday night. "Here's the deal. I'm not trying to throw anybody under the bus but I guess I am going to throw him under the bus. You got a starting quarterback who doesn't talk to the new coaching staff until (this past) Friday. We got a problem with that. ... You got a coaching staff that comes and acts like they really didn't want him there."

Quinn stayed at Cincinnati through the Sugar Bowl, arrived at Buffalo on January 5, met with the team on January 10 and met with Maynard individually on January 15. Is that an unreasonable timetable? I don't think so; a new coach has too many things to worry about to spend all his time bowing down to the team's young QB. Regardless, Maynard's a big loss. As a true sophomore this season, he started every game and completed 57.5% of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions along with 300 rushing yards. It seems like a safe bet that Quinn will be running the same offense we saw at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, so he'd better find a quarterback. The only guy left on the roster is Jerry Davis, a redshirt freshman who was 8-for-15 passing this year after coming to Buffalo as a no-name recruit.

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