Putting some games in our spring

CFF.com finished up some vacation time this past weekend visiting two college campuses to get a taste for some teams we’ll see play in 2014.  On Friday night past, we ventured to Byrd stadium in College Park, Maryland to see the Terrapins, one of the two newest members of the Big Ten Conference, scrimmage in their Red-White game.  We stayed for the first “half”, but most of our interest was meeting up with fellow Boonton High School classmate George Farrand whose son, Cole, has been a starting LB the last two years for the Terps. Cole enters his senior season.  Recovering from shoulder injuries the last few years, Cole enters the 2014 season as a top rated LB in the Big Ten.

Most of the time while I was catching up with George, Maryland spent time with 7 on 7 drills.  Maryland DBs played aggressively and made some great plays, but in the end the receiving corps seemed to get the upper hand as returning CJ Brown threw effectively during his play (16 of 24, 157 yards). The defense picked off several passes, one on a spectacular takeaway from the receiver.  Maryland played four other back-up QBs during the evening as well.   RB Brandon Ross made the big play late in the first half with a 75-yard TD burst up the middle to break things open.  DB AJ Hendy intercepted a Brown pass and returned it 55 yards for a defensive score before the second quarter came to an end.  The Maryland scrimmage showed strengths and weaknesses on both sides, but aside from Ross’s big run, I saw nothing where one side seemed to totally dominate the other.  HC Randy Edsall said in his post-game conference that he was “looking for the guys who can make plays.”  If that’s what he wanted, it looks like he came away with some good input from both offense and defense.

When I sent this photo of Byrd Stadium to John Massimilla, he remembered that this is about where we sat during the 1980 game we attended between Maryland and Clemson.  Read about our experience in "Tales form the Tailgate."

When I sent this photo of Byrd Stadium to John Massimilla, he remembered that this is about where we sat during the 1980 game we attended between Maryland and Clemson. Read about our experience in “Tales from the Tailgate.”

Later that evening I met up with John and Kelle Massimilla to stay at their house. The next morning, John and I drove up to State College to see what progress was being made at Penn state under new HC James Franklin.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon for which an estimated 72,000 showed up (The estimate at Maryland was just over 8,000).  John predicted last season that this would probably PSU’s toughest season among the four under sanction for the Sandusky debacle.

There seemed to be a big drop off in the difference after the first team, especially on offense. We came away thinking that the offensive line needs work and that there’s not a lot of depth beyond the first team. Two O-line starters sat out due to injuries. Two more got hurt during the Blue-White game, and there were constant changes among the alignment of those that were healthy.  It looks like a lot of experimentation is still taking place.  For a Penn State offensive line, they don’t look physically big.  I noted two significant differences regarding the play I saw this year as opposed to last season’s scrimmage under Bill O’Brien’s staff.  The intensity of play seemed toned down, and the off-season weight training program results were not as notable this year as I recall last year. Last year’s scrimmage indicated the team was on a mission despite the odds stacked against them for the upcoming season.

Blue -White action at Beaver Stadium.

Blue -White action at Beaver Stadium.

The PSU defense returns some key starters and experience, and seems to be a work in progress that will play in the tradition of good, tough Penn State defenses.   The offense did not play a lot with a lot of the skill position players we think we will see in the fall.  Christian Hackenberg played sparingly which provided needed reps for some inexperienced QBs being evaluated.  One of note is red-shirt freshman Austin Whipple. His Dad, as we noted in a previous write-up is the current and returning Head Coach at UMass.  The Nittany Lions will host UMass on September 20 (we will skip that one).   Returning RBs Zach Zwinak never carried and Bill Belton unofficially carried once from what we saw.  The workhorse for today’s Blue-White game was sophomore RB Cole Chiappialle.  He ran well and was the most effective runner on several wild cat plays called. Junior LB T.J. Rhattigan’s name was called often early in the scrimmage playing for the second team defense.   He seems ready to step things up to get some playing time this fall. Overall, John and I came away feeling that there’s a lot of work to be done ahead to get the Lions ready for the 2014 season.

Another difference in this year’s spring game was that there was no live action for the kicking games. We realize that injuries are a concern at this time, but there was no pressure on punters and there were no blockers for the kick returners, so most of the action was moot.  Last season, it was two-hand touch on the returners, but everyone was getting a look at for their special teams play.  HC James Franklin gave a 30-second speech to thank the crowd and start up the “We are…Penn State!” cheers. After the scrimmage, he and his squad sang the alma mater with the Blue Band in front to the student section.  In my conversation with George Farrand at the Maryland Red-White game, he had mentioned that his son Cole was recruited at U of M by Ralph Friedgen’s staff which included James Franklin.  Shortly before Cole committed to Maryland, Friedgen was replaced by new HC Randy Edsall.  Though disappointed, Cole was committed to Maryland and stayed. George said that PSU got a great coach with James Franklin in place. He was a primary recruiter when Cole was deciding on Maryland.  We are hoping to see Cole playing up at State College against the Lions when the two collide on November 1.  We’re looking forward to seeing both teams play and tailgating with the Farrands and Massimillas at the same time.  George, John, and I hung out together for a while when we were all starting up early in our careers after college back in Boonton, NJ.

Next week, our spring flings will continue when we head up to West Point to see how Army is progressing under new HC Jeff Moncken.  And speaking of former Maryland HC Ralph Friedgen, we’ll see him at Rutgers in two weeks when we attend the Scarlet-White game at Rutgers.  “The Fridge” is now the offensive coordinator for Kyle Flood’s Scarlet Knights.

Penn State HC James Franklin, the new man in charge at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State HC James Franklin, the new man in charge at Beaver Stadium.

Minutemen’s time is up in the MAC

It’ll be basically four years and out for the UMass Minutemen, who stepped into the Football Bowl Subdivision as a member of the Mid American Conference (MAC) in 2012. Their entry up to the highest level has been dismal to say the least with a 2-22 recorded in two years.  Though the record may have something to do with it, the school in Amherst, Mass doesn’t see a viable future for all 21 varsity sports to join the MAC alter 2015. That was the option given when it joined the FBS Conference that extended them a welcome, but now it will take the option to end its football relationship with the conference and seek a more plausible membership from a better geographic standpoint. The question is “where?”  Will the Minutemen be able to survive going the independent route?  More such schools are joining conferences including Navy which joins the American Athletic Conference in 2015 and Notre Dame who is committed to playing five ACC schools annually, so scheduling flexibility becomes even more limited for them.  Navy’s membership in the AAC makes that conference an even 12 teams. Would the AAC entertain UMass as a member if they brought someone else along to play two divisions of seven teams?  Who else is available? UMass would fit in nicely with a northern division consist of Connecticut, Navy, and Temple for their purposes.  We don’t see the ACC expanding, but UMass might be a more compatible member for basketball than it is for football.  Another longshot is Conference USA which like the MAC, is  more geographically spread out if all Minutemen sports teams were committed to playing in that league.  UMass has its work cut out to find themselves a new FBS home. This season, it released its former HC Charlie Molnar, the former OC at Notre Dame, and replaced him with former UMass HC Greg Whipple.  In 1998 during his first year at Amherst as HC, Whipple led the Minutemen to the Division 1AA National Championship taking over after a 2-9 season.  He left UMass with a six year record of 49-26. Stops since leaving UMass included the Miami Hurricanes and Cleveland Browns.   He has his work cut out for him and needs to turn the corner quickly at UMass to keep the program at this level.  One thing that could help is returning a half a slate of their home games back to  their campus confines of McGuirk Stadium (capacity 17,000).  Until now, all their FBS games have been played at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro,  home of the New England Patriots. We saw them lose their first game there at FBS play in a 41-7 loss to Indiana, and the game was not that close.  In 2014, Bowling Green, Ball State, and Buffalo will visit Amherst while Boston College, Colorado, and Eastern Michigan will meet the Minutemen in Foxboro.   If things don’t work out, we know a pretty good FCS contingent probably willing to take them back right where they probably belong, the Colonial Athletic Conference.

Springing into 2014

Navy still has not announced if it will hold a spring game on Friday April 11, but Maryland will be holding theirs at Byrd Stadium at 7 pm that evening.  We’ll check out the time as we’ll be heading up to Pennsylvania that evening the night before the PSU spring game to see what new Nittany Lion HC James Franklin is up to. Last year, it snowed during the Blue-White game. Hopefully we’ll have a true spring this season.  Speaking of Penn State, the coaching PSU Coaching Caravan will be in Whippany, NJ on May 15 from 11:30 to 1:00 pm featuring James Franklin and some of his coaches speak to the local fans.  Might have to leave for lunch a little early that day.

Put “college” back in college football

Maryland HC Randy Edsall spoke up this past week and proposed some changes that we agree with, particularly in the area of recruiting.  College football has gone too far in appeasing and becoming subservient to professional football.  College football was the bigger game nationally before the pros started forming teams comprised of the best players that college football had to offer back in the early part of the 2oth century.  The founders of pro football saw the big college crowds and media notoriety surrounding the big game on campus and saw the opportunity to make money for themselves. That opportunity has grown into a billion dollar industry to say the least.  More power to them!  Well, times have changed.  Professional football is the goal of many young athletes.  Physically and mentally, 18-year olds are more ready than ever to step into play at that level.   So rather than bend the rules to get unacademically qualified players into college who have no inclination to receive a college education to catapult an extremely small percentage of players preparing  for the next level, let the pros take them into their draft right out of high school.  Let them make the investments with their millions of dollars and take the risk if those players will make the grade at that level or not.   Major League baseball has done that forever.

Some rule changes proposed by Edsall address this, and with a little tweaking from our side, these changes would allow the pros take who they want without putting the burden on the colleges to continue to be the de facto minor league system for professional football.  Look at the recent release of DeSean Jackson by the Philadelphia Eagles.  Alleged gang connections have the Eagles letting him go in line with vague NFL policy to distance themselves from such shenanigans. On the other hand, colleges overlook poor grades and questionable social discrepancies to get players on to their rosters for football skills alone depriving other students, both athletes and non-athletes, from the benefit of a lower cost education that they desire more than many scholarship athletes based on more well-rounded criteria established for financial aid.  We’re not ignorant to the fact that these highly-skilled athletes bring a lot of money into their schools’ war chests.  However, if the two teams on the field represent State U.  and its cross-state rival wearing their school colors with sights set on a conference or national championship, those built-in school or regional loyalties are not going away.  The throngs of alumni, fans, family, and friends of the school are still going to fill stadiums and turn on the TV to watch State U. face State Tech or their neighboring state rival on a fall Saturday.  The Pros will still make their money, and the average age of the players might drop a couple of years, but they’ll get what they want and the players will make their quick money and go on from there.  If they are smart, they might want to save some of the bucks they make to pay their own way through school after their short-lived football careers are over.

What Edsall proposes is reforming the recruiting process.  Schools cannot make written offers of scholarships until September 1 of all players’ senior years.  Schools would weigh players’ junior year grade transcripts and ACT/SAT scores.  Currently, written offers are not allowed until August 1, but verbally coaches are making offers to 8th and 9th graders before a kid’s even played high school varsity football.  They’ve not been evaluated on film, against better competition, given time to mature, taken a high school class, taken a college admissions test, spoken to a college coach, or even been asked if they want to go to college.  Kids, at this point anymore, hardly even have a chance to be kids any more.  Adults envision scholarships to go to college to punch a ticket to their big contract at the pro level even when kids enter the pee-wee level.  Edsall’s proposal cuts out the middleman (college football) who shoulders most of the risk. Let the pros take the players that have excelled more than everybody else right out of high school.  The early offers have created other problems in college football.  The recent union movement is going to thrive on this.  Early offers force others off the team.  Injuries and lack of playing time have coaches looking to see who can be axed from the current roster and open the scholarship quota to make room for their next group of Heisman Trophy candidates.  Sitting on second or third team with a scholarship with slightly better players in front of you?  Players are now looking over their shoulders, too.

Here’s where we’ll take Edsall’s proposal a step further.  This is where the NCAA earns its money and improves the integrity of college football.  Establish a true national clearing house.  Any high school athlete who desires to play collegiate football should apply for scholarship eligibility through the NCAA.  Colleges cannot make offers directly to anyone until the date prescribed in Edsall’s plan.  Players have to meet the criteria established by the NCAA.  These not only include the submission of grades and test scores, but health, criminal background checks, and drug testing as well.  If approved by the NCAA clearing house, the player is eligible to be offered college football scholarships.  May the best school for that applicant win.  If a player is not qualified to play in college, he can still get drafted by the pros if they think he’s qualified and they see the opportunity to develop that player in their own program whether it is a taxi-squad, minor league team, or however else the pros feel is the best way to invest in the development of these young players.  Meeting the criteria of college scholarship quotas equal for all FBS schools, FCS schools, and D2 schools offering scholarships, the scholarships would be offered to any of the qualified athletes identified by the NCAA. To quell the drive for unionization, the offers should be for four years and only withdrawn if a player does not meet the academic standards of the school or decides to leave for another reason.  The scholarship should be retained if a player can no longer perform due to injury, but should be given the opportunity to continue to be part of the program in some other aspect. If the pros can’t wait for four years for a particular player, they pay the school a refund for the scholarship money invested in that player.  They should help fund the developmental services offered to them by the schools which has been at no cost thus far to the NFL.

In 2016, the NCAA will require a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.3 and 10 of 16 core courses completed for college entrance.  Are kids going to work harder to get academically qualified or are schools going to try to find ways around this?  The heck with that, if they want to play football, let the pros have them if they don’t meet the criteria to be established by college football.  The clearing house will separate the collegiately qualified players from the ones who aren’t who can still pursue an opportunity to play football at the professional level.  In the end, it’s all about the money for the big time programs, but it’s supposed to be about the student-athletes (don’t laugh).  Implement these changes, and college athletics will eliminate a lot of its problems that exist today by seeking kids who want to get an education and play the best game on earth in the most spirited atmosphere at the highest level possible for their capabilities.  Let the pros take who they want to develop them as football players, and let the colleges take those that meet their standards academically and athletically to pursue their dream off the playing fields as well as on.

Don’t recognize us here at collegefootballfan.com?

Welcome to our new look! – And let us know how you like it.  Our graphics will be much improved. Our permanent tracking pages still show our Tentative 2014 schedule, our Game History, our Playoff proposal, and a link to check out our book, Tales from the Tailgate; From the Fan who’s seen ‘em all!  We’re still updating our Team History pages and our CFF Records that we’ll update and add as soon as they’re ready.    Once in a while, you may see some new graphics now that we have a new host with the latest and greatest in technology.  We still have a lot to learn, however, to make this site more exciting and entertaining.  Most important to us is going to be our capability to report more timely about what’s happening in the great game of college football – the news and our slant on it.   Our new software through our new web host, Justhost.com, enables us to be more nimble in reporting on the latest. When you log on to collegefootballfan.com,  the home page is going to show you the latest updates whether it’s “Steve’s Salvos”, our latest “Game Review”, an upcoming radio interview, or a preview of some upcoming game plans.  Updating pictures and graphics will be easier and quicker for us. Let us know what you think directly by responding to our specific blogs and reviews.  We will continue to keep you up to date with the latest regarding our 2014 plans, news on the teams we will be watching this season,  and our specific input about the latest in college football as we fire off our “Salvos”.  We hope you’ll enjoy our new enhanced site and that you’ll invite your fellow college football fan friends to check out collegefootballfan.com!  We’re already getting fired up for college football season and the NCAA basketball tournament (which we love) is just tipping off. Check us out during March Madness as we get ready for some football in the spring.

“Offensive” coordinator

How can Nick Saban, of all coaches, hire Lane Kiffin, a scourge of college football?  We’re not Alabama fans, but we do have respect for Saban as a great coach who can not only recruit but can teach and put together strong, well organized  programs as he’s proven over the years with integrity, so we thought.  So how can he hire a despicable, spoiled boy like Kiffin who’s  bended recruiting rules, put programs he’s led in jeopardy of sanctions, coached a position player he coached whose violations cost him his Heisman trophy, changed players’ jerseys to deceive during games,  abused his voting privileges in the polling system, etc., etc?   This “kid” couldn’t win consistently despite recruiting top talent though under the guise of questionable recruiting tactics?  He’s been handed jobs that he couldn’t live up to.  Why does he deserve any chance to learn from and coach under a mentor who you would think could find somebody with experience as a winner with some class to fill in his OC position?  The entire scenario does not escalate Kiffin’s reputation because he’s playing under a supposed, reputable coach like Saban, but it does degrade Saban’s reputation as a coach we thought respected the integrity of college football.  Guess we were wrong to begin with.  The saying goes, “you are the company you keep.”  Let’s see what scandal eventually gets exposed in Tuscaloosa.  Guess who will be at the forefront?

Clemson countdown?

Clemson has already started its countdown to the hour (though the kickoff time has not
been announced yet) that they will meet their instate rival, South Carolina, on November 29.  We are planning to get there and visit Clemson for the first time now that our daughter, Alex, will be cheering for the Gamecocks as a student during her senior year in Columbia in 2014.  As you probably know, the respective head coaches Dabo Swinney of Clemson and the Old Ball Coach Spurrier like to trade barbs in the media.  In their verbal spar, this pares down to a battle between the “only team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS game” against the “Palmetto State champs” who have taken the last five straight in the series though led by the Tigers 65-42-4 in the second longest consecutive rivalry being played at the Division 1A level. Before the Tigers host the Gamecocks in the last regular season game of 2014, maybe they should set their alarm clocks for a few other games before they start think about their bitter rival.  Another bitter rival looking for revenge hosts them in Athens when they
meet the Georgia Bulldogs.  Two weeks later, they travel to Tallahassee to play 2013 National Champion Florida State who cleaned their clocks last season.   Heisman QB Jameis Winston returns unlike the Tigers’ four-year starter Tajh Boyd who will probably be on somebody’s roster on Sundays when this game takes place.  Long-ball receiving threat Sammy Watkins decided to join the pro ranks a year early. As for the Gamecocks, QB Connor Shaw is gone, but experienced back-up Dylan Thompson returns for a fifth year with RB Mike Davis, an experienced receiving corps, and the entire starting offensive line all back from a 11-2 season, a final ranking at No. 4, and their fifth straight “state championship”.  Aside from DE Jadaveon Clowney who played like a no-show any way in 2013 and game DE Chaz Sutton, the Gamecocks D is lining up together for the second year in a row.  No doubt this is a bitter rivalry, but the Tigers need to get some things in order before they start looking forward to challenging to reclaim the Palmetto State Championship.

Waiting for ship to come in

We  have plans to attend three spring games in April – Penn State on April 12, Army
on April 19, and Rutgers on April 26.  Navy’s spring session may finish up with a Blue-Gold scrimmage on Friday night April 11, but it hasn’t been confirmed yet.  If they play, we’ll be there.  If not, the Orioles are home that evening.  We’ll be flexible this time of year.

Jersey Bounce

The New Jersey Athletic Conference is shaking up its membership as Division 3 teams align along geographical lines while others align to assure that they will maintain or gain a shot at an automatic bid to the D3 post-season championship. New York NJAC affiliates Brockport, Buffalo State, Cortland, and Morrisville will join the Empire 8, a good conference with Alfred, Hartwick, Ithaca, St. John Fischer, and Utica intact.  Alfred State is a provisional D3 school who could turn this into a ten team league in 2015.  To compensate for the loss of the first four teams to the E8, the NJAC turned south.  Christopher Newport (VA), Frostburg  (MD) State, Salisbury (MD) State, and perennial powerhouse Wesley of Delaware joins Rowan, Montclair State, The College of New Jersey, William Paterson,  and Kean  U to combine for what should be a very competitive conference. Southern Virginia will join next season as provisional D3, but this gives them a full conference schedule that works better for them geographically than did the original membership.  We like to fill in our Friday nights when we can with some competitive games at Montclair, Kean, and Willy Pat.  We hope some of these games will be competitive to add to our future schedules on some Saturdays as well as Fridays.

Who’s who of who we’ve seen

We enjoy being able to say
we knew Penn State’s new HC James Franklin long before many fans knew he even
existed.  I saw him play in East Stroudsburg’s season opener back in 1994 as
starting QB when the Warriors defeated Southern Connecticut State, 15-10. Also
playing that day for the opposing Owls was offensive lineman Joe Abbruzzi who
not only went on to play for the world champion New England Patriots, but was
featured in stories about his NYC fireman brothers after the despicable attack
there on 9/11.  As we also perused the list of new members of Franklin’s
coaching staff at PSU, we have a history of seeing most of them somewhere going
into our 35th year of attending college football games almost
weekly.  They make up a virtual Who’s who among players and coaches we’ve seen
in action over our history. OC John Donovan held that same position at Maryland
when we saw the Terps defeat Miami in its opener in 2011, 32-24.  It was
downhill after that for the Terps finishing 2-10.  He was also coaching QBs
there in 2007 when we saw the Terps beat Florida International when we added the
Panthers to our goal to see ‘em all! (It’s documented in Tales from the
).  WR coach John Gattis was a grad assistant at UNC when we watched
the Tar Heels beat Rutgers, 17-13, in 2010.  OL Coach Herb Hand was on hand at
Tulsa in 2007 when we saw his team defeated 62-21 at Skelly Stadium when we
added the Oklahoma Sooners for the first time (check out Tales) thanks to
a will-call ticket from UT WR Tyler Pistoia.  DC/LB coach Brent Pry was coaching
as an assistant at East Stroudsburg when we saw Franklin there under center.
The Altoona, PA native was on the Virginia Tech sidelines back in 1997 when we
saw his team lose on the last play of the game at Syracuse in our chapter in
Tales entitled, “Greatest Game Ever.”  He was also at UL-Lafayette at
another one of our featured games in Tales when two 0-6 teams battled for
the “Bottom of the Barrel” in a 45-42 loss to UL-Monroe.  He coached the
safeties at Georgia Southern in 2010 when we saw the Eagles fall to Delaware in
an FCS playoff game (bad pattern here is starting to scare me). New QB coach
Ricky Rahne, a Cornell grad, coached RBs at Kansas State, another first timer
for us in 2007 when they fell in the waning minutes at Auburn, 23-13.  We
actually saw Bob Shoop play in “The Game” back in 1985 when we saw him and his
Yale teammates defeat Harvard, 17-6.  In 2008, he was the DC at William and Mary
when we went to see them defeat VMI in Williamsburg, 52-17.  Finally, DB coach
Terry Smith played three years for the Lions as one for their leading receivers
along with OJ McDuffie.  Among the wins in 1991, we watched him and the Lions
defeat Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Notre Dame on the way to a No. 3
ranking at the end of the season.  Over the years, this group was among many
memorable games we attended.  We hope as a coaching staff they bring us some
many more memorable moments on the winning side for the Lions, of course.  We
are looking forward to the Spring game on April 12 to check up on the new
excitement embracing State College.