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Thursday Morning Brews (7/31/14)

Stacy Revere

The Stewards of the Big 12, III

It's the end of our rundown on the Big 12 - and while there are some bad teams to look through, the depth, actually, is pretty darn good.

Oklahoma State University

Mike Gundy, once an offensive coordinator for the Cowboys under Les Miles, has outperformed his old boss in Stillwater. A 77-38 record, 3 seasons of 10 wins in the past 4 years, and a #3 ranking in 2011 all point to Gundy's skill level. He'll be facing a lot of turnover this year, especially on what was an underrated defense (OSU was 40th in offense, and 47th in defense). Gundy could adjust on the fly, as he has done before, but losing a starting QB, two leading receivers, three starting O-linemen, two key back-up running backs, four starters in the secondary, the best D-lineman on the team and a couple important linebackers seems to be an issue that might take Gundy a season to fix. The Cowboys could either be in that elite level of the Big 12 if he finds some more tricks up his sleeve, or else they will stand one or two steps below some other Big 12 powers.

Kansas State University

Jake Waters is both their efficient starting quarterback and leading returning rusher, as John Hubert (small, speedy runner that gashed our defense) and Daniel Sams (tall, speedy back-up quarterback that set up Waters, who gashed our defense) are both gone. And behind him, there is just a redshirt freshman, two-star quarterback. Where Kansas State is able to find its rushing yards (since it'd be foolish to run Waters) will be an important question for Bill Snyder, who, like Gundy, has built up an amount of faith when asking off-season questions. Still, this year's KSU team looks to be less potent on that side, even with Tyler Lockett (1,262 yards, 71.1% catch rate) returning for a senior season.

On the other side, the defense will continue its bend-don't-break philosophy, which has worked well against Big 12 offenses. They will also miss All-Conference safety Ty Zimmerman, and Blake Slaughter, their linebacker and leader of the defense. Whereas Iowa, another team that relies on two-stars and walk-ons, is surging, Kansas State may be falling back a little bit.

University of Kansas

Charlie Weis famously signed 15 JUCO players for 2013, hoping to short-cut the team's growth and in so doing only signing 9 high school players in the class. His team did improve from 1-11 to 3-9, but Kansas is still struggling mightily, and he likely mortgaged a couple wins from future teams in doing so. Short-cuts to success don't work in football, Mr. Weis.

It's a shame, because a man with the pedigree of Weis is exactly what the Kansas passing attack has needed. The starting quarterback last season had a 49.0% completion rate, and will be replaced with a sophomore who threw for less (36.5%). Three of the top six receivers averaged 3.4 yards per target. And from 2010-13, only once did a Kansas quarterback have a 1500-yard season. There have been, however, 51 interceptions. A new offensive coordinator, John Reagan, will try to make Kansas a run-first spread unit and will rely on a couple good players at that position, but Weis has not done what, for example, Bill O'Brien did at Penn State, and bring in a guy he could work with and coach him up to play well. On defense, they're strong in pass defense, but the line is both undersized and loses most of its experience. Collectively, the team seems to be going nowhere.

This comes as the top half of the Big 12 gels and gets stronger. Weis, who was the Notre Dame coach for five seasons and helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls, might not have the requisite knowledge to build up or scout talent among two-star recruits, and he also doesn't seem to be able to inject a long-term strategy or identity into the program - in fact, his public line has occasionally featured more sarcasm about his program than resolute optimism. Kansas may have hired him for his name and football knowledge, but that doesn't mean it was a good hire.

Iowa State University

ISU is another school in desperate need of a sturdy quarterback - and their running game also needs some help. Mangino has come in and will have some young athletes to work with (including an almost five-star wide receiver in Allen Lazard), and the coach and the personnel seem to fit each other. The Cyclones also have some very poor defensive statistics and while one could argue they were underrated (hey, a theme), they allowed 36 points a contest and won't improve by leaps and bounds unless the offense and Mangino can prove a few things.

West Virginia University

Yeah, West Virginia is in the Big 12, and if you look at a map, it still doesn't make sense. It's been difficult on their athletics programs to play most of their conference games a long distance away, but, so it is for the moment.

The Mountaineers have also had a hard time with football lately. Their last 10-win season was their last in the Big East; they are 11-14 since. The team had Geno Smith, at least, under center in 2012 and managed a 7-6 record, but there were problems at more positions last year (a 4-8 campaign) than are worth naming. The head coach, Dana Holgorsen, is a savvy air raid guy, but he hasn't shown an ability to maintain what his predecessors built (Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart managed 8 wins every season from 2002-2010).

There's reason to think they won't sink any further, as the defense is starting to find their footing and the running game looks healthy (even if the line or the rest of the offense is... well, never mind). They open against Alabama and face Maryland before heading into conference play, where F/+ rankings list them ahead of only Kansas and Iowa State. The team could improve... but it could also go 4-8 or worse and see a coaching search in the off-season. West Virginia - with its proud history (712 wins, 15 conference titles) and some recent success (if not for a loss to rival Pitt in 2007, a game in which Pat White was injured, they would have played for a national championship) - has lost its way under Holgorsen.

Hitting the Links Is Watching the NFL

Urban Meyer changing some of his coaching practices

Like Hoke and his emphasis on seniors, Meyer had put an emphasis on the 'power of the unit' - with nine units on a football team, trying to get 6 out of 9, 8 out of 9 units to be at peak performance will cause the best result. This was something he preached to his players, and it's certainly one way to see it. This hasn't worked at establishing a defensive togetherness, however.

SI's Iowa Preview

Ferentz even briefly alludes to the AIRBHG - that's a very dangerous thing to do.

Jacoby Jones 109-Yard Touchdown

There have been some terrific Super Bowls over the last ten years: the Giants over the Patriots, the Harbaugh Bowl and Peyton and Eli winning it in back-to-back years.

Devin Hester joins the fun vs. Peyton Manning's squad

In college, freshmen are often the most dynamic kick returners, before then settling in to the offense in some other way later on. Norfleet would fit that mold, but hopefully there is no shortage of speed on the Wolverines this season.

NFL's Best Offensive Lines

Both the Patriots and the Lions are high on this list, which features links to a number of other top ten position lists.

Early 2015 NFL Draft Board

This looks far into the future and casts a wide net for anyone to have much expertise, but it's a pretty good list. Draft boards are another way to stack up the talent in college football; they're an alternative to Heisman lists and probably less flawed. I wish there were just watch lists or something, though (hmmm...), because the association with NFL picks and predicting them is really where this gets problematic. For example, the writer is high on running backs when none were taken in the first round the last two years - but that doesn't mean running backs won't be vitally important this season.

Private quarterback coaches are gaining popularity

Football has gained popularity. News coverage of football has expanded, it's become more personal, and athletes are taking it seriously at a younger age. For quarterbacks who have potential to get to the next level, private tutoring is also becoming a part of the game.

Bill Belichick: The Beginning

I stumbled on this look back at Bill Belichick's rise to coaching supremacy. The man behind the mask.

Chip Kelly talks to Peter King

I have been critical of Oregon's style before, so it's only fair to show another side - Kelly is a very smart man and King, who I have a lot of respect for, likes what he hears. Nice quote about Tom Brady.

Saban's career, in retrospect

A man who reminds me of Belichick. Some coaches have seemed to get better as they age, and Saban is one of those. He was a better coach at LSU (48-16, 1 championship) than at Michigan State (34-24-1), and a better coach at Alabama (74-15, 3 championships) than he was at LSU. Les Miles was not spectacular while coaching Oklahoma State, and Pete Carroll has talked about his growth from his earlier NFL stints to his run of dominance at USC and now Seattle.

SI's Michigan Preview

At least they tried to approach it with a new angle, but much of this is a rehash, told through the career arc of Devin Gardner.

Bucky's 5th Quarter talks Wisconsin's quarterback battle and wide receivers

This sums up the QB battle at the moment and also gives an optimistic look at their wide receiver options.

David and Andrew Dowell de-commit

This has changed my mind about something a little bit. I have been supportive of the policy of Hoke's (and others) regarding soft commitments, and knew that Fitzgerald did something similar. I have also talked on here about the importance of recruiting for the Big Ten and transferring its model of development to more three- and four-star athletes. Reading Fitzgerald's abrasive comments after the four-star twins decided to look at other schools, it seems like a waste to me that he couldn't be more supportive of them while they were making sure they made a good decision. I'm not saying throw everyone under the bus in the name of a four-star athlete, and I've been on the side of the coaches and the program about this overall - but the Big Ten can absorb some of the recruiting approaches of the SEC without all that comes with it (oversigning, exaggerated promises, etc.). Recruiting does matter, it matters to Northwestern and the work that their staff has put in to scout and build relationships with these players should not go to waste.

Penn State lands borderline five-star athlete for 2016

Shane Simmons is a Maryland weakside defensive end.

Purdue's offense confident they can make some noise in 2014

If they have done a good job at player development, they certainly could. Darrell Hazell was the assistant head coach for Jim Tressel at Ohio State from 2005-10, and he has talked about getting Big Ten size in the trenches and length in the defensive backfield.

Gardner, Nussmeier growing their relationship

Another reason to be optimistic for this season.

Drew Brees is accurate...

And he has good footwork.

DeSean Jackson goes for a TD

Wait for the end.

Mean Joe Greene Highlights

Of course, the man from the classic Coca-Cola commercial. The Steelers will retire his #75 this season against the Ravens in honor of the four-time Super Bowl champion and last remaining living member of the Steel Curtain. The '69 Steelers went 1-13; their win total steadily grew until an 11-win year in 1972. They have had only 7 losing seasons in the 42 years since. The first 30 or 40 seconds of this clip are what I'd recommend most, but it's all a bunch of quarterbacks getting pummeled.

Adrian "All Day" Peterson

Some of these runs are just unbelievable.