Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Catching up is tingly with anticipation

Texas A&M officially ready to go: What's been known for a month was made official on Wednesday, as Texas A&M informed the Big 12 that it's applying to an "unspecified conference" (hmmm, I wonder which one) and will leave by June 30 of next year if the application is approved.

Translation: If the SEC wants us, we be gone.

The SEC's informal vote a few weeks ago didn't come out in A&M's favor, but that wasn't official, and the conference's official statement via Florida president Bernie Machen said they were "open" to expanding in the future (I suppose three weeks is technically "the future"). According to ESPN, the SEC hasn't actually received an application yet; once that happens, A&M needs nine votes out of 12 for acceptance.

Back before that first vote, I said this:
I have a hard time believing that the SEC would shoot this thing down after extensive behind-closed-door negotiations that led to A&M burning a whole bunch of fragile bridges.
I'm not so sure anymore. Common sense leads me to believe A&M wouldn't do all this so publicly if it hadn't already been decided that there's a 100 percent chance of acceptance, but common sense was thrown out the window a long time ago. There still hasn't been any talk of a 14th team (which I think is what led to the not-so-supportive vote last time), so I don't see what will be any different this time around other than A&M having a more concrete exit plan in place. Maybe the negotiations that have reportedly been ongoing for the past three weeks allowed the people in power at the SEC to feel some level of comfort with A&M's move and the timeline it would allow for finding another team to bring in next offseason. We'll find out whenever the application is filed, which should be soon since A&M will want time to negotiate an exit fee and whatnot.

As for the Big 12, always-in-limbo commissioner Don Beebe said this:
"As previously stated, the conference will move forward aggressively exploring its membership options."
The obvious candidates are Houston, BYU and maybe SMU, although SMU's candidacy is based more on self-promotion than logical fit. For what it's worth (which is nothing), Houston and BYU both came out with the standard, "We have had no discussions but are always looking for the best opportunity blah blah blah" statements.

Texas names a quarterback: Mack Brown surprised nobody (except maybe Case McCoy) on Monday by naming Garrett Gilbert the starter for the season opener against Rice. There was talk in spring that McCoy -- a sophomore and the brother of that other McCoy guy from Texas -- was making a legitimate push to take the job, but Gilbert did enough in fall camp to retain his spot.

In case you've forgotten, Gilbert was pretty bad last year as a sophomore: He threw 10 touchdowns and a national-worst 17 picks while completing about 59 percent of his passes, which doesn't seem bad but isn't good in Texas' dink-and-dunk offense. How much of that was Gilbert and how much of it was since-departed and much-reviled offensive coordinator Greg Davis is a matter of debate, but an 8-of-17, one-interception, no-touchdown performance in the spring game wasn't exactly convincing evidence of a breakthrough under new OC Bryan Harsin (formerly of Boise State).

Still, Gilbert is the only guy with experience and is unquestionably talented, and it'll be a shock if the offense as a whole doesn't take a significant step forward under Harsin. The play-calling alone should make Gilbert noticeably better; if he's not, he won't be starting for long. Mack Brown has said in nicer words that there'll be a short leash ...
"Last year, we didn't make some changes we should have. We won't do that this year."
... so McCoy may very well get a shot. Fortunately for Gilbert, the schedule gives him plenty of chances to impress early: The first four games are Rice, BYU, at UCLA and at Iowa State. Of that group, only BYU (at 32nd) finished in the top 80 last year in pass-efficiency defense.

Ohio State goes with the senior: Luke Fickell announced Monday that fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman will "probably take the first snap" at quarterback against Akron on Saturday. The qualifier is necessary because freshman Braxton Miller, the obvious QB of the future who's listed as an "or" starter on the depth chart, is expected to rotate in for an undetermined amount of playing time throughout the game. Fickell's comment:
"Again, the whole idea is we want to continue to create competition and to make sure that those guys understand that by saying 'or' that we need both."
There are a lot of quotes with the standard stuff on experience and senior leadership, but the fact of the matter is that Bauserman is only slightly more experienced than Miller in game settings: He's thrown 47 career passes (about two games' worth), and not a single one of them was meaningful. His only real game experience came last year on the road against Illinois when Terrelle Pryor got dinged up for a series. Bauserman came in and threw two passes; the second was intercepted, and Pryor immediately came back in to hand off for the rest of the game as OSU held on. So ... it's safe to assume he knows the playbook, but he's not particularly mobile and may or may not be a good passer.

Miller is the athletic guy being groomed for the starting job, and the guess here is that his path will mirror Pryor's back when he was a freshman: He'll got sporadic time until either the starter looks terrible or he looks too good to keep off the field, and then he'll be the long-term guy. Whether that happens this year is anybody's guess. Either way, Ohio State's quarterback play will probably be decent but not at the level its typically been at for the past decade.

South Carolina to play two QBs: It's like the good ol' days for Steve Spurrier, as South Carolina plans to play both 17th-year senior Stephen Garcia and sophomore Connor Shaw in Saturday's potentially interesting opener against East Carolina. It's been assumed (by me and pretty much everybody else) that Garcia's return from his fifth suspension (lol) meant he'd be thrust back into the starting job, but that apparently hasn't been determined. Spurrier said he plans to rotate the two to throughout at least the first half of the first game:

Spurrier said it doesn't matter who starts, because both players will play for a few possessions in the first half.

"I don't know how you can say one guy is the quarterback for the year when you've got two that are pretty close and one of them is struggling," said Spurrier, referring to the five interceptions Garcia threw in the final two games last season. "I don't know how you tell the other guy he's not going to have a chance."

It's unclear whether Shaw has actually played enough to earn a shot or if Garcia has just been his typical interception-happy self in fall camp. According to Spurrier, Shaw has been better in scrimmages while Garcia has been better in practices (although "better" is purely a relative term). Garcia's experience presumably plays a not-insignificant role in the decision.

Honestly, I'm skeptical that the rotation will continue very long in a year in which an SEC East championship is pretty much the baseline -- this isn't a season for experimentation. Spurrier is the one guy we know can win with two quarterbacks, but the key to that is having both guys actually playing consistently well ... or Marcus Lattimore running for a billion yards and the defense being dominant. That'd work too.

UCLA agrees with South Carolina on the multiple-QB thing: The never-ending quarterback battle at UCLA will just keep on rolling right into the season: Rick Neuheisel announced Wednesday that Kevin Prince will start, Richard Brehaut will play in a non-starting role and Brett Hundley might see time in a "small offensive package" (perfect spot for "that's what she said" reference).

Given Hundley's offseason injury and mediocre spring performance, it's highly unlikely that he'll start at any point this year unless the other guys are a cumulative disaster; his time is 2012. As for Prince and Brehaut, they were equally mediocre last year (50-ish percent with slightly more interceptions than touchdowns) but are now in the Pistol offense, which would seem to give the more mobile Prince the edge ... if he can actually stay healthy for once. Completing more than 45 percent of his passes is gonna be a necessity, though. Brehaut can do that.

Unlike Spurrier, Neuheisel is on the 3,000-degree hot seat and might be willing to just shuffle his quarterbacks in and out based on whims and conversations with his visor. Prince should get the majority of the snaps as long as the offense looks better than it did last year, but again, completing passes is important.

The Big Ten has a championship trophy: Here it is:

Dr. Saturday hits the nail on the head when he calls it "a derivative of other trophies resting a silver football on top of an oddly shaped silver platform," but that's fine. It looks like a championship trophy.

And after the dumb divisional names, the attempt to placate every important conference figure ever with the trophy names and the brief-and-fortunately-overruled discussion about moving the Michigan-Ohio State game to midseason, I'm cool with anything the Big Ten does that's not head-shakingly embarrassing. The bar is set pretty low.

Oklahoma to honor Austin Box: As you might recall, Oklahoma middle linebacker Austin Box overdosed on painkillers in May and died at the age of 22. Sadness and all that.

Some sort of helmet decal and a first-game moment of silence would be the norm, but the OU players have come up with a more dynamic way of remembering a reputed leader who'd have been entering his senior year:

The top-ranked Sooners plan to honor late linebacker Austin Box this season by allowing a defensive player to wear his No. 12 jersey for each game. Landry Jones wears the same number on offense and says he asked Box's parents for permission to keep it.

Coach Bob Stoops said the team will announce each Friday who will wear Box's jersey for the upcoming game. Defensive captain Travis Lewis, who played alongside Box at linebacker the past three seasons, will handle much of the decision-making on who gets the honor, along with Jones.

Very cool.

Kansas State unveils the worst mascot in history: Since one mascot apparently wasn't enough, Kansas State felt the need to give Willie the Wildcat a sidekick -- an environmentally friendly one, of course -- and announced it on Wednesday. The result is called "EcoKat" and is a mind-boggling, horrific, WTF-inducing abomination:

Uhhh ... what? According to the school's official and totally necessary explanation, EcoKat is "played by a K-State student who auditioned for the role ... outfitted in a costume made of 90 percent repurposed materials."

I'm speechless.

This won't surprise you at all: According to Packers beat writer Bob McGinn, Terrelle Pryor scored a 7 on his Wonderlic. Pryor later tweeted that he scored a 22, but according to Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert (who administered the test), that score came on his second try after scoring "significantly" lower on the first attempt.

Yes, I realize that the Wonderlic means nothing and is completely pointless, but the fact that Pryor couldn't hit double digits still makes me laugh.


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