You Are Until You Aren't
'Clemsoning,' according to Urban Dictionary, is the "act of delivering an inexplicably disappointing performance, usually within the context of a college football season." It was Clemson pitted against LSU in the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, and they were Clemsoning pretty hard - trailing for most of the game despite outgaining the Tigers in yardage. The game resembled a heavy-weight fight, and only at the end was it apparent how crucial Tajh Boyd's 22 yards rushing on 29 carries were to provide the little extra calm in the storm and clock management that Clemson needed against that defense. The Tigers beat the Tigers on a last-second field goal, and just like that Clemson had their first 11-win season in over 30 years. Well, you can't Clemson all the time.
Then, in 2013, they found themselves in the same situation, down late to a team they were also outgaining - the Ohio State Buckeyes. This was a modern football match instead of a heavy-weight battle, and Clemson was both as fast and tougher than the Buckeyes. Clemson took the lead early, then roared back in the fourth quarter as Braxton Miller suffered a broken rib and nursed an injured shoulder. Both games were close affairs that maybe shouldn't have been. But whatever it takes.
As Bill Connelly said in his 2014 preview, "Clemson has destroyed pretty much everything you had come to believe about Clemson in two years." That would be great news for a program that is historically successful (680-452-45), has a pretty rich history (like the LSU Tigers, they play in 'Death Valley'), and is, along with Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Miami, one of the big-name football programs in the ACC. They recruit in the south, pay their coaches plenty of money and play in a stadium that seats over 81,000 - a stadium the scholarship players helped build in 1942. They were in the top 15 nationally in attendance a year ago and should be again.
What all of this produced was a top-10 offense last year to go with a top-20 defense - a defense the Buckeye coaches compared favorably to Michigan State's before the bowl. Star players have departed for the NFL, but plenty of experience and talent returns - enough to where some advanced formulas are placing Clemson among the top five teams in the country. Tajh Boyd is gone, but there's a five-star freshman and a senior who, in mop-up duty, threw 5 TD's, no interceptions, and had a 79.3% completion rate. Sammy Watkins is gone, too, but the team has six four-star freshmen and sophomores. Not only has the team produced elite talent, it seems poised to be able to replace that elite talent.
Of course, all of this recent success might not have come to fruition if not for a couple of outside-the-box hires. Dabo Swinney was promoted from wide receivers coach when Tommy Bowden resigned; to be fair, he was also an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, and the promotion was wisely done for recruiting. Swinney is 51-23 in his career, a career he took a break from only 14 years ago to do real estate.
Swinney hired Chad Morris in 2011, who made his way up by coaching high school football in Texas. Now, he's one of the top assistants in the country, runs an advanced, fast-break offense, and is a persistent threat to leave Clemson for his own head coaching job - and yet, if he does, there's enough continuity in place to replace him. The staff has not been afraid to make a gutsy hire, and that also extends to the administration for hiring Swinney.
In fact, whatever goes into being a winning program, Clemson seems to have. Of course, there's still time. They might Clemson it.
From Potential to Production
A year ago, wide receiver was a big off-season question mark, and people were wondering who would step up from a group that was led by Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon. Now, the potential is a lot higher, and the depth is better. In fact, it says good things about this team that this is one of the bigger question marks. Only 1,292 yards of production return from last season, but it's a young group returning that will be getting better and would probably be a fine Big Ten unit on its own, let alone with incoming freshmen, players coming off of redshirts and Keith Heitzman's move to tight end. This is something that gives Doug Nussmeier lots of options.
Put 'em in ink: Devin Funchess
Funchess is Gardner's go-to man now, which means he stands an extremely good shot at leading the Big Ten in yardage. I'm hopeful that Gardner spreads the ball around, but Funchess will probably see it early and often. He's a flawed star, though - he caught the ball only 53.3% of the time last year, which means he produced at a less efficient rate than Chesson, JB, Fitz Toussaint, Joe Reynolds, and Jeremy Gallon.
Inside track for starting: Jehu Chesson, Freddy Canteen, Dennis Norfleet, Jake Butt
JB was a reliable presence for us last year - he had a higher catch rate (74.1%) than Jeremy Gallon (65.0%), and was second on the team to Fitz Toussaint out of anyone with at least 10 targets. He may not put up gaudy numbers being a tight end coming off of knee surgery, but he'll probably be ready to go by the conference slate.
Chesson blocks well, has experience, works very hard, and learns well. He's been overlooked a little bit, but he's one of the more underrated players on the team.
"There will be a pressure to produce, and there's nothing wrong with that," Chesson said in 2012. "I expect that, and welcome it... There are some things I haven't seen before, but it's not anything I can't learn if I really put my mind to it. It's kind of like calculus, in that way. You just got to work at it."
Canteen has gotten a lot of attention so far, and his speed and confidence - not just his talent - will help bolster this group. Realistically, there'll be a lot of competition for playing time, but that's fine. He just has to attract attention from the safeties to open things up in the middle for Funchess, JB and Fleet.
Outside track for heavy playing time: Amara Darboh, A.J. Williams, Keith Heitzman
All of Michigan's top three tight ends weigh 250 lbs. or more, with Heitzman weighing 42 lbs. more than incoming freshman Ian Bunting. Darboh has a lot of potential but needs to fight through a lot of guys to get on the field. He could be a perfectly productive receiver and only get one or two targets a game.
Special teams/redshirt season?: Drake Harris, Csonte York, DaMario Jones, Ian Bunting, Mo Ways
Harris has lost a lot of time to injury, and I think he'll spend 2014 watching from the sideline. York and DaMario Jones have done some good things in practice, but their biggest impact could be on special teams. For Bunting, Harris, and Ways, they would need to do a lot to earn playing time against some of the other receivers who have more experience, more comfort with the quarterback and the game, and more muscle to handle a Big Ten season. Ways may be the most likely to see his redshirt burnt - at 6'4", 199 lbs. with speed he could at least make a name for himself on special teams.
Hitting the Links Will Resolve It On The Field
Evan Spencer has put in a lot of reps, is a good presence and blocks downfield, but he just doesn't have the jets of a lot of the others - he's more of a slow-pace, possession receiver. OSU has been held back by things like this - they have some guys who can run you off the field, but those guys can't do some of the little things, like blocking and crisp route running, that help the team win. OSU really could've used somebody like Stefon Diggs. They did have Phillie Brown last year, but, as this says, they have to find some guys who can be the complete package.
Michigan has been practicing putting Bryan Mone in redzone and short-yardage situations, and he and Pipkins are the only defenders over 300 lbs.
My thought was that it's a little early, but on the flip side, he is their first Heisman winner, and their winningest coach is 128-105-6. And, as they say, they're not Michigan.
Maybe I'm out of touch but I hadn't heard about this at all. Please no Gardnering, Morrising, deWeavering, or Malzoning.
You will not believe who's #9.
The Big Ten is facing the SEC twice in non-conference, with Wisconsin-LSU and Indiana-Missouri. LSU will need to run the ball and I think their offensive line will be a strength against Wisconsin's front seven, a group that's losing a lot of talent. I've mentioned that without Beau Allen, their 3-4 is going to be undersized on the line (the nose guard Warren Herring is 294 lbs., and the starting ends are 278 and 260), and LSU is oversized: Vadal Alexander has started 22 straight, is 6'6" and 342 lbs. - he'll be the left guard (!!) - and competing at right guard will be Hoko Fanaika (6'6", 348 lbs.) and Evan Washington (6'6", 334 lbs.). Their tackles are 6'5", 315 and 6'6", 301. But yeesh are they going to have a hard time inside.
This will give you another writer's perspective. Dienhart is higher on Wisconsin, lower on Indiana, and much lower on Minnesota. They like Rutgers' chances but raise the same concerns of size.
None of the excitement means anything if we don't produce, of course. But these are some good questions to have.
The three seniors last year played a lot of minutes, which might cause some more bumps along the way for this group, particularly since Iowa's track record has been to develop players slowly (well, that's one of the side effects of building up two-stars into all-conference players). Also, I recommend reading about Reggie Spearman.
Well, darn writers coming up with interesting stuff and beating me to the punch. Sorry, being grumpy again. The link also has links to the best pass catchers, offensive line and more.
...I don't want this to be sensationalist but I'll link to one piece (of a few) from Rutgers' SB Nation page that goes on the offensive a little bit against the Big Ten. Fan bases, like ours, have their own ongoing conversations and Rutgers and Maryland have obviously been adjusting as well. RU fans seem to be very confident about their chances this season. In defense of that, I think the Hayden Rettig transfer may go a long way for Rutgers after he sits out this season. Maryland loses C.J. Brown, Deon Long, and possibly Stefon Diggs after this year, and if Rutgers is doing the right things now, they could be well set up for 2015. With football, the first impression becomes inconsequential pretty quickly.
It's Stewart Mandel's turn at this, and he looks at all of college football's non-conference games. Top ten lists for the Big Ten have been more than plentiful lately, and there's a reason why: we dominate this list. Also, Mandel doesn't mention it, but there's a lot of history in the UCLA-Texas game, from Rout 66 to the 2010 game that jumpstarted a very long season for the Horns. I don't know why it wouldn't be personal for the Horns at this point.
The south end zone will be turned into a tented area that's sort of an extended tailgate party. Long-term plans are undecided.
Here's another fun fact: Nebraska has more 9-win seasons in the last six years than Ohio State, and as many as Michigan, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and Purdue combined. I think there's some value to this question - other coaches could probably recruit better than Pelini, and without it there might be a ceiling for the Nebraska program - but it's a stretch to say that Pelini hasn't recruited well and therefore it's about Nebraska as a program. Different coaches have their strengths, and Bo Pelini teams are sturdy, work hard, and ultimately are successful, and he gets enough four-stars to win the games he's won. But I'm also sure another coach with more ties to Texas high school coaches could get more talent signed.
Of course, the RG3 statue was a great excuse to look at all the best highlights of his career. This is a good one that made SC's Top 10.
I'm dipping into the NFL on this one, but it shows the arm strength he has to go along with the speed.
He's cool under pressure.
He's usually very accurate - compare this to Braxton Miller, who makes receivers reach or shift for catches. Here, the receiver never breaks from full speed, Griffin's throw is automatic and hits him right in the chest at a spot where he hasn't gotten yet when Griffin throws it. Also, this deep slant route (called a post route) is a thing of beauty, and was designed to make that throw a little easier and take advantage of the speed in a way that isn't an over-the-top throw.
He lets plays develop and he's mobile in the pocket.
He can also punt it a little bit - very old-school.
He can win games.
And, of course, to win a Heisman, you also need a little luck. He had that, too.
This was just fantastic. A GameDay piece in 2011, it has a little background, some stats and highlights and plenty of humor.