A star college quarterback who loves to share his Christian faith, prides himself on being a leader and does his best not to use profane language. Sound familiar? For Oklahoma's Trevor Knight, the comparisons to Tim Tebow are an honor.
"Tim Tebow is second to none in the way he proclaims his faith, the way he plays and his competitiveness," Knight said. "He's a leader. You can see that. A lot of people give him a hard time for maybe not being the best quarterback, but he's a winner and conducts himself with class and honor."
College football fans will get to know Knight a lot better this season. In January, he led the Sooners to a stunning 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl with a career best 348 passing yards and four touchdowns. Get used to hearing buzz about Knight, as suddenly rejuvenated Oklahoma figures to contend for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. If that happens, the 6-foot-1, 196-pound redshirt sophomore is poised to be a Heisman contender.
"He's just different than you and me," Sooners co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said of Knight.
What a difference the last few months have been for Knight. Before the Sugar Bowl, he had completed just 47-of-90 passes for 471 yards and five TDs, with four interceptions. He had also lost his starting job to redshirt senior Blake Bell. Now Bell has moved to tight end and another signal-caller, Kendal Thompson, has transferred to Utah. "I went from one of the youngest guys on campus to now the oldest QB on campus," Knight said with a laugh.
That's made Knight a much more vocal leader, which Heupel wanted. Knight directed Oklahoma's winter 7-on-7 sessions and team drills, and was the first to arrive and last to leave. "I'm going to be the hardest worker on the field," Knight said. "Guys are going to follow. Sometimes, you'll be tired, but you've got to fake it until you make it."
Knight also isn't shy about mentioning two words Sooners fans haven't heard in a while: national championship. "You come to Oklahoma to play in big games like that," Knight said. "Anything short of that is kind of a disappointment."
Off the field, Knight is still getting accustomed to his newfound stardom. Students laud him, photo requests are frequent and he recently judged a fraternity pageant in which a contestant donned an American flag Speedo. Yet Knight's favorite part about his fame are the increased opportunities to share his Christian faith, which he usually does at least once a week. Most recently he used the bible verse of Mark 10:45. It centers on the adversity he has faced, particularly his father's diagnosis with throat cancer (now in remission) several years ago and the ups and downs of last season.
"I want to serve others," Knight said, "and be that example."
Sounds a lot like another evangelistic quarterback.
1. Cutcliffe, Duke, building off 10-win season
The latest tangible sign of the Duke football revival will require some urban planning on campus. In late February, as students shivered in Krzyzewskiville -- the area where they camp out for tickets to Blue Devils basketball games -- an impromptu housing development went up a few hundred yards from Cameron Indoor Stadium.
A handful of Duke students staked two tents outside Wallace Wade Stadium in anticipation of the Blue Devils' spring game on March 1. They called their development Cutsboro, in honor of coach David Cutcliffe. The @cutsboro Twitter handle pithily sums up the mission: "Duke Football? Hell Yes Duke Football."
Bring a sleeping bag to Cutsboro and get in line. The Blue Devils, coming off a 10-win season and consecutive bowl bids, are in the midst of an impressive transformation, from a program aspiring to win to one expecting to win.
"Trying to gain legitimacy may be gone to some degree," Cutcliffe said recently in his office. "We are relevant. We are legitimate."
Duke went 10-4 last season, losing narrowly to Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Blue Devils return seven All-ACC players and boast one of the country's most favorable schedules. A confluence of savvy administrative maneuverings and ACC serendipity has them poised for another season of double-digit wins. Duke's non-league schedule is among the softest in the country -- Elon, at Troy, Kansas, Tulane. Even more eye-opening is the Blue Devils' ACC schedule, which does not include Florida State, Clemson or Louisville.
Last spring, Cutcliffe told SI.com that Duke could beat every team on its schedule, and then added, "When's the last time you could say that without really being laughed at at Duke?"
No one is laughing this year. One year after beating Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina on the way to the ACC Coastal Division championship, the Blue Devils could be considered favorites in 10 of their 12 games next season. "No one talks about Duke and all they did was win 10 games last year and take Texas A&M to the final seconds," said North Carolina coach Larry Fedora."
Cutcliffe says that the embers of the Blue Devils' revival have turned into a "dang flame." It's burning up to the NFL as well, as Atlanta's selection of former Duke quarterback Sean Renfree last year made him the first Blue Devils player drafted since 2004. Duke has four players in the NFL, a number that should double by 2015.
At least three of the Blue Devils' current seniors -- guard Laken Tomlinson, receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Braxton Deaver -- are considered sure-fire draft selections for 2015. A handful of other players also loom as NFL prospects, including senior quarterback Anthony Boone, who passed for 427 yards in an epic duel with Johnny Manziel in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Confidence abounds among the Duke seniors -- 16 of them have started a combined 242 games. Along the way, Blue Devils football has evolved from a punch line to an ACC contender. "We're going to try and win every game on our schedule," Boone said. "It's not outlandish or ridiculous. It's something that's real in our minds and something that's very possible if we play at a high level and play Duke football."
The Blue Devils began spring practice early in order to carry over the momentum from last season. The early start gives Duke an entire spring and summer to improve, both in the weight room and in team-led summer practices. Cutcliffe's biggest worry will be who will emerge as leaders among the seniors, holding the team accountable and making sure the team's work ethic matches the expectations.
"That's the biggest issue we have," Cutcliffe said of the leadership. "Who is going to serve that role?"
For a program that hasn't won a bowl game since 1961, that's a decisively first-world problem.
2. NCAA looking into Malik McDowell saga
The curious recruiting saga of Malik McDowell, one of the Class of 2014's top recruits, finally concluded late on Tuesday, with McDowell submitting a letter-of-intent to Michigan State, less than an hour before the deadline.
The Southfield (Mich.) High star defensive end had until the end of the day on April 1 to submit his letter-of-intent or he would have also needed to submit a Big Ten tender for the Spartans to put him on scholarship before the first day of fall classes. McDowell's mother, Joya Crowe, signed the letter-of-intent, which she had previously declined to do, even though her son announced on signing day that he had chosen the Spartans.
It ended a nearly two-month stalemate between Crowe and her son, a standoff which had garnered the attention of the NCAA. Last month, an NCAA investigator conducted an in-person interview with McDowell about the circumstances surrounding his recruitment, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Prior to that, a source familiar with the impasse between McDowell and his mother had told SI.com that there was "some fishy stuff going on," and wondered when the NCAA would look into the matter. In the days leading up to signing day, Crowe and McDowell's father, who are divorced, both publicly said that they did not want their son to attend Michigan State, citing the school's social scene.
Crowe said that her son could attend Michigan, but she and McDowell's father also said that they preferred Malik play out of state, either for Ohio State or Florida State. McDowell's father later changed his mind and said he supported his son's decision to attend Michigan State.
The NCAA does not comment on current, pending or potential investigations.
3. Arkansas winning in one area -- recruiting
Arkansas is struggling everywhere but on the recruiting trail. Credit that to tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr., who came to Bret Bielema's staff from Bentonville (Ark.) High last year. Lunney's fingerprints are all over a class that's ranked in the top 10 and includes commitments from four of the state's top prospects. The class is highlighted by Ty Storey, a pro-style quarterback from Charleston, and a top 75 recruit nationally. The Razorbacks also landed strong-side defensive end Jamario Bell, a top 120 recruit from Junction City.
Lunney brings plenty of college experience, having called plays at San Jose State in 2004 as a 29-year-old assistant. His meteoric rise came crashing down after that season when coach Fitz Hill resigned. Lunney returned to work for his father, Barry Lunney Sr., the coach at Bentonville. It was meant to be a pit stop for Lunney, but he ended up staying eight years. He and his father won two state titles before the younger Lunney joined Bielema's staff early last year.
And now all that high school experience is helping Lunney become a valuable college assistant at the right time.
How good is the talent in Arkansas? Generally, five to seven recruits in the state receive scholarship offers from major conferences. The 2015 class already has nearly 10 players with offers, including Pine Bluff tight end Will Gragg and North Little Rock wide receiver K.J. Hill. In addition to Arkansas, both players have offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn and Notre Dame.
It's a pivotal recruiting year for Bielema, who will be entering what could be an all-important third season when the class arrives on campus. His 3-9 record in his inaugural campaign, including a winless mark in conference play, didn't endear him to Hogs fans. The coach's reputation took a bigger hit this offseason with all the controversy surrounding his support for the tabled 10-second defensive substitution rule.
Bielema needs Lunney to continue his recruiting magic because Arkansas' best teams in recent years have had a common theme: stars from in-state.
• New Bowling Green coach Dino Babers likes to tease star quarterback Matt Johnson about his lack of hair. "He talks about how it's hard for things to grow on surfaces that are always moving," Babers said with a laugh.
If that's the case, expect Johnson's hairline to continue receding, as Babers and Johnson are pushing the Falcons' offense forward. Their new offense is based on Baylor's up-tempo spread system, which Babers learned as an assistant under Art Briles from 2008 to '11. "It's the most aggressive offensive system you've ever seen," said Babers.
Babers comes to Bowling Green after two seasons as the head coach at Eastern Illinois, which he jokingly calls the "Baylor junior varsity." As the Panthers broke all kinds of records, star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo emerged as a rising prospect in next month's NFL draft.
Babers was hired by Bowling Green in December after Dave Clawson left for Wake Forest. Babers inherited Johnson, a redshirt junior who led the Falcons to the MAC championship last season. Johnson threw for 393 yards and five touchdowns in the MAC title game, outplaying Northern Illinois quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch. Ideally, Babers likes to run at least 90 offensive plays per game. According to research by Bowling Green, Babers snapped the ball every 14 seconds at Eastern Illinois last season.
Johnson threw for 3,467 yards and 29 touchdowns, with just two interceptions, last season. It's scary to imagine his potential in an offense in which Garoppolo threw for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns, and the Panthers led the FCS is scoring (48.2 ppg).
Babers said things are moving along quickly so far for the Falcons, but added that it will be a year until the offense is in full sync. "We'll be good and people will think we're fast, but that's not fast," Babers said. "It normally takes a year. It's not so much about Matt as it is about the offensive line, receivers and running backs. We can only go as fast as those other parts allow us to go."
Johnson will have plenty of weapons around him, as Bowling Green returns star tailback Travis Greene among its seven offensive starters. Johnson will have the perfect opportunity to emerge as a darkhorse Heisman candidate when the Falcons play at Wisconsin on Sept. 20.
In nearly four months together, Johnson has shown the right temperament to run Babers' offense. "He's got a lighter side and that's what you really need to have when you're running this type of offense," Babers said. "You look at the personalities of guys who have run this offense like Jimmy Garoppolo, Robert Griffin, Case Keenum, Kevin Kolb, and his is very similar. All were extremely serious, but had that lighter side to them that they need to have to deal with all the solutions to some of the questions that come up in this offense."
Now if only Johnson could solve male pattern baldness.
• Texas quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson sees the job of returning the Longhorns to national prominence as "a retool, not a rebuild." And as a new era begins in Austin, one of the biggest questions is at quarterback. Senior David Ash and sophomore Tyrone Swoopes are battling for the starting job in spring ball, with much of the race depending on Ash's recovery from concussion issues that cost him 10 games last season.
So far both have been inundated with film and stories about Teddy Bridgewater, Watson's prized protégée at Louisville. Watson and Bridgewater grew close through countless hours of film and study sessions. Now the Texas quarterbacks are studying Bridgewater. "They've marveled at what he does," said Watson. "I've used him as an example. He let himself be coached. He had the skill set, don't get me wrong. But he listened to the message."
• Wake Forest is coming off five consecutive losing seasons. As first-year coach Dave Clawson heads into the spring, Demon Deacons fans can take solace in the fact that Clawson can evaluate quarterbacks. While Clawson's one season as Tennessee's offensive coordinator isn't remembered fondly in Knoxville, he showed a knack for quarterback evaluation. In his only full recruiting cycle, Clawson landed commitments from both Tajh Boyd and Bryce Petty.
Boyd was a consensus Top 100 recruit from Hampton, Va., who ended up rewriting the record book at Clemson. That was a no-brainer. But Petty chose the Volunteers after his only other offers came from New Mexico State and Portland State. Petty eventually ended up at Baylor, where he enters his senior season as a Heisman favorite and potential first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. So what did Clawson see in Petty that others didn't? Clawson vividly recalls the day at Midlothian High in the Dallas area when he saw Petty throw in a stiff Texas wind.
"It was one of those days, you assume the kid is going to throw with the wind," Clawson said. "He threw with and against the wind, and his ball just cut through the wind."
Petty went to Tennessee camp that summer and showed the requisite intangibles -- toughness, leadership and competitiveness. The Vols offered soon after. "A lot of times evaluations are confirmed by other offers," Clawson said. "That one, we offered because we liked him and thought he could be a really good player."
Clawson ended up being correct. After Phillip Fulmer's staff got pushed out in 2008, Lane Kiffin took over and cut both Petty and Boyd loose. An article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel soon after ripped Tennessee's staff for even offering Petty. "In retrospect, why did former UT offensive coordinator Dave Clawson offer Petty a scholarship?" the author wrote. "The Texas standout was considered a pedestrian prospect."
(To show the groupthink that prevails in recruiting, the story went on to give Kiffin's recruiting class an A+ for landing guys like Bryce Brown, David Oku and Nu'Keese Richardson, none of whom made significant contributions to the program.)
Clawson became the head coach at Bowling Green soon after leaving Knoxville. He immediately called Petty and tried to lure him to Northwest Ohio.
"He said, 'Thanks but no thanks, coach,'" Clawson recalled with a chuckle.
Things seem to have worked out well for both.
• West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is glad to have senior wide receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford going through their first spring practices. The two junior college transfers didn't arrive until August last year and it showed. There were glimpses of their NFL potential, but Holgorsen expects them to be much improved this season. "It's not easy to step in and be ballers," Holgorsen said.
The 6-3, 208-pound White had 35 catches for 507 yards and five touchdowns last season, but much of that damage came in a mid-season loss to Baylor (7 catches, 130 yards, 2 TDs). "You look at him," Holgorsen said, "and he looks like Larry Fitzgerald."
Most of Alford's production (27 catches, 552 yards and 2 TDs) last year also came in one game, a season-ending loss to Iowa State in which he had eight catches for 215 yards and a touchdown. Holgorsen compares the 5-8, 174-pound Alford to former Baylor wide receiver Tevin Reese, an expected mid-to-late round pick in next month's NFL draft. "He's got that kind of speed and ability to break games open," Holgorsen said.
Now Holgorsen just needs to find a starting quarterback, a dilemma that torpedoed last season. He'll have to do it quickly: his team opens the season vs. Alabama in Atlanta.
• Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury may have found his prototypical quarterback -- Jarrett Stidham of Stephenville (Texas) High, the top dual-threat signal caller in the Class of 2015 according to some recruiting services. Stidham, who committed to the Red Raiders last month, has been compared to another Kingsbury pupil -- Johnny Manziel. The 6-2, 183-pound Stidham rushed for 821 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, but is not as dynamic of a runner as Manziel. However, Stidham is a better fundamental passer with a stronger arm -- at least at this point in his career. Last season, he threw for 2,613 yards and 30 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
And like Johnny Football, Stidham has plenty of confidence. He had offers from several powers, including Alabama, Ohio State and Texas A&M, but was determined to blaze his own trail with Kingsbury.
With Stidham, the Red Raiders' offense is likely to evolve to include more run options and rollouts for the quarterback. It's expected to be similar to what Kingsbury employed as Texas A&M's offensive coordinator in 2012, when Manziel won the Heisman Trophy.
In the meantime, Stidham's commitment is a game-changer in Kingsbury's efforts to make Texas Tech a destination for elite recruits. But even more importantly, Stidham has been wooing other 2015 prospects coveted by the Red Raiders, including wide receiver Ryan Newsome (Aledo, Texas), one of the state's best, and highly touted tight end Chris Clark (Avon, Conn.), who has committed to North Carolina.
Q&A with Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford
New Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford is back. Not just on the Forty Acres, where he played for the Longhorns from 1977-81, but also in the state where he was born and raised. The former Louisville defensive coordinator is tasked with trying to fix an inconsistent defense that gave up at least 30 points in each of Texas' five losses last season, costing Mack Brown his job. It's a tough chore in the scoreboard-breaking Big 12.
SI.com: The Texas defense was much maligned at times last season. What did you make of its performance?
Bedford: When we went back and looked at all the games from this past season, they played good defense here and there. People looked at one game, the Brigham Young game, and said they were awful ... but that didn't account for the whole season. That's just one bad game out of 13. Overall, they played some pretty good defense ... I like what we have here. We just have to find some leadership and find out who we are as a defense. We want to be physical. We're going to practice that way and hopefully you'll see that when we start the season.
SI.com: What do you think you have inherited?
Bedford: We think that we have a pretty good football team, especially up front on the defensive line. I like some of those guys and the way they've worked out for [head strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer]. They've got size, athleticism and pretty good speed. Our corners are going to be pretty good this year just watching those guys run around in the off-season program. Our best linebackers right now have been injured so it's hard to say what they're going to be like.
SI.com: You and new head coach Charlie Strong's trademark is aggressive defense. What's the plan defensively?
Bedford: We're going to start off the same way we did [at Louisville] with [a 4-3] and from there we're going to work some 3-4. We're going to play what fits our guys. I think that's what's important. Play to their strengths ... and then go and recruit guys that fit the defense we want to run at the end of the day.
SI.com: You're a native of Beaumont, Texas, but had only been back to Austin once since your playing days. What is the Texas you remember?
Bedford: It was the university. You talk about Michigan, Notre Dame and USC, those type of schools, Texas was right there with them. Right now, you go around the state and people talk about Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They don't talk about Texas in that vein like they did 20, 25 years ago. If you leave the state of Texas, people look at Texas still as the big university, but in the state, they don't look at it that way, which I don't understand ... We've got to get back to that attitude here where people look at this place as where you want to be. Don't go to Alabama, USC. I want to go to the University of Texas and win a national championship for my home state. That's how it was when I came out.
SI.com: You obviously understand the importance of recruiting well in-state. But at one point, this staff had offered scholarships to more out-of-state recruits than those in-state for 2015. Why?
Bedford: We're coming from a place where we already knew those [out-of-state] kids. If you know guys and have relationships with them already, of course you're going to offer those guys, but our bread and butter is going to be here at home, in-state ... Right now, we're trying to build relationships with the high school coaches and players. We've had two junior days. We're going to get out in the spring and get to know people. Ninety-five percent of the guys on this football team need to be from the state of Texas. We need to win with Texas kids and then go out-of-state to supplement what maybe they don't have in the state. For defensive linemen in 2015, there's not a lot of depth at that position. Therefore, you've got to go out of state to recruit defensive lineman to fill a need that everybody's looking for. At the end of the day, we want to fill this roster with Texas kids. That's our goal.
SI.com: You've expressed a desire for Texas to resume its rivalry with Texas A&M. The Aggies coaching staff hasn't been as vocal. What gives?
Bedford: I have no idea. You've got to understand that I played back in the seventies. That was a big game for us. You look at Clemson-South Carolina, Florida-Florida State. I think it's just a fun thing for the state of Texas to talk about ... The guys that have played in that game had a lot of fun. You had bragging rights for the state of Texas. But otherwise, we have a great schedule already. If A&M is somehow in the near future back on the schedule, that would be great. If not, it's no big deal. It's just how things fall sometimes.
SI.com: You're known for your fiery, colorful demeanor, a stark contrast from Strong's soft-spoken, calm personality. How does that dynamic work?
Bedford: We work well together. Coach Strong is consistent all the time. He gets after it pretty good because he's a very intense guy. With me, I'm fiery and running around. That's just my personality. We play to the strengths of our personalities. I'm a fun-loving guy. I coach that same way. I run around after guys and have a lot of energy. That's what I expect for the players to have. Coach Strong is intense, but in a different way. It's been a lot of fun the past six years.
SI.com: Based on your Twitter, you're seemingly a barbecue connoisseur. How's the fare in Texas treating you?
Bedford: Being from Texas, I have to be honest: I love barbecue. When I first went to Louisville, I was looking for a barbecue place and put that on Twitter. My Twitter just blew up about where to go. Since I've been here, one night I went and got some barbecue and it was OK. I put that on my Twitter and all of the sudden my Twitter blew up again. People were telling me I went to the wrong place. Everybody told me to go to The Salt Lick. I stopped by there [recently] and [said] it was OK and again my Twitter blew up. I'm not a critic. I have my likes and dislikes. For example on ribs, you sometimes don't need to put barbecue sauce on them if they're cooked just the right way with good flavor and taste. If I have to put barbecue sauce on it, then you know what, I'm trying to mask something.
• Once a year, Miami coach Al Golden used to visit local powerhouse Booker T. Washington High and make the same recruiting pitch to coach Tim "Ice" Harris: join my staff. After three years of listening, Harris finally said yes. With Harris winning a mythical national championship last season after capturing back-to-back state titles, there was nothing left for him to accomplish at the high school level.
He comes to Miami as assistant director of football operations, with an emphasis on high school and community relations. It's a major coup for Golden as he attempts to deepen the Hurricanes' roots in Miami. "We're ecstatic," Golden said. "We're glad that he's back."
The move not only taps into Harris' invaluable relationships in the ever-fertile recruiting hotbed of South Florida, but it also seems to have finally given Golden a much-needed seal of approval from Miami's most respected high school coach. The hiring squashes Harris' public displeasure with Golden and his coaching staff's handling of scholarship offers in recent years.
Harris had been a special assistant to Golden's predecessor, Randy Shannon, from 2008 to '10, and had declined an offer from Golden to join the Hurricanes' staff. Harris instead returned as coach of Booker T. Washington, a position he held for four years before leaving for The U after winning his first state title in 2007.
Another factor in Harris' return to the Hurricanes was the chance to reunite with offensive coordinator James Coley, whom Harris had coached at Miami Senior High. "He's an expert on Miami," Golden said of Harris. "He's got great relationships in the city and he's a winner. He believes in the same things we believe in terms of discipline, teaching life skills through football and developing young people not just on the field, but in the classroom and community. It's a great fit."
Harris, 48, plans to finish his bachelor's degree in business at Miami in May 2015, and intends to become a college assistant, a highly sought after one, once he graduates. In the meantime, he's made an impact discipline-wise with players less than a month into his new job, according to Golden.
"We can already see a difference," Golden said. "It's paying dividends for us."
• West Virginia running backs and tight ends coach JaJuan Seider learned to recruit South Florida from one of the best. He was taught by Marshall coach Doc Holliday, who has recruited the area for three decades. And thanks in large part to Seider's efforts in South Florida, the Mountaineers have the second-most commitments in the nation for 2015. Of their 10 commitments, Seider has reeled in six, five of whom are from the Miami metro area. They include Hollywood, Fla., safety Kendrell McFadden and Miami wide receiver Jovon Durante.
West Virginia's recruiting class is ranked as high as fifth nationally by one recruiting service, trailing the likes of Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU. That's heady company for team that missed a bowl last season and lost seven of its final nine games. "Now, we have to hang on to those guys," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Seider, 36, who was hired by Holgorsen last spring, was once a South Florida recruit who headed north to West Virginia. A star quarterback at powerhouse Belle Glades Central High, Seider signed with Mountaineers in 1995 after being courted by Holliday, then an assistant at the school. Unable to beat out Marc Bulger, Seider transferred as a senior to Florida A&M, where he starred and ended up being a sixth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers in the 2000 NFL draft. He started coaching high school football in South Florida the next season, and Holliday hired him as Marshall's running backs coach in 2010, after two years as a graduate assistant at West Virginia.
During his three years with the Thundering Herd, Seider signed nearly 20 recruits from South Florida, the brightest of which is current star quarterback Rakeem Cato, a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate.
"He's as connected in South Florida as maybe anybody," Holgorsen said of Seider. "He's not just a recruiter, though. He's got a bright future."
• After Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper left for Florida, a new lead voice has risen in the Blue Devils' offensive staff meeting room. Actually, it's an old voice. Coach David Cutcliffe elevated former Duke star receiver Scottie Montgomery to associate head coach, offensive coordinator and play-caller. The presence of Montgomery on Cutcliffe's staff is indicative of why the Blue Devils have vaulted forward as a program. They lured Montgomery back to Durham from the Pittsburgh Steelers prior to last season. The 35-year-old Montgomery went from coaching Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Hines Ward to Duke, something no coach would have likely considered a decade ago. (And no Blue Devils coach had ever had as talented a receiver as NFL-bound senior Jamison Crowder, who broke the ACC single-season reception record last year with 108 catches.)
Cutcliffe, 59, has shown no signs of slowing down. But it's reasonable to speculate that Montgomery's promotion to associate head coach would make him a leading candidate to replace Cutcliffe in a few years. In the short term, the players have responded.
"He's a lot more energetic," senior quarterback Brandon Connette said. "He brings a different kind of energy. He's always walking around the meeting room, talking and trying to get you to converse with him."
Duke averaged 32.8 points per game last year. Where does Montgomery see the Blue Devils going? "I see no limits," he said.
• New Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly worked his way through football outposts like Jacksonville State, Henderson State and Nicholls State the past two decades. Through all the bus trips, home visits and two-a-days, Kelly yearned for a shot at the highest level. Now, he's finally getting his first full-time shot on the big stage. The biggest stage.
Don't expect the 46-year-old Kelly to make any philosophical changes to the Seminoles' aggressive 3-4 defense. Instead, consistency will be the buzzword for Kelly, who was promoted from linebackers coach and special teams coordinator after defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left for Georgia.
The Seminoles opened spring practice last week, and Kelly must replace several departed stars, including defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive back LaMarcus Joyner, all of whom will be NFL draft picks in May. But Florida State still returns six starters from a unit that ranked first nationally in scoring defense (12.1 points per game) in 2013. The biggest key could be the continued development of junior defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who showed flashes of dominance in the national title game with three tackles for loss.
Junior cornerback P.J. Williams, who had a critical interception in the national title game and was the defensive MVP, will also be counted on more. So will redshirt junior linebacker Terrance Smith, who started 10 games. It's will take some time for the defense to adjust to Kelly, just like it did for Pruitt last season. But Kelly has shown that he's got plenty of patience and if he can get the consistency he wants, he might just get another national title too.
Up-close with Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt
New Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was unhappy with the play calling. He had just finished watching his father's team at Plainville (Ala.) High lose a game in which it unsuccessfully ran the same deep pass play a half dozen or so times.
So when his father and staff met after the game to discuss what they could have done differently, Pruitt sarcastically spoke up. "If you ran that play one more time," Pruitt said, "it might have had a chance."
That's hardly what the elder Pruitt wanted to hear from his then-fourth-grade son, who he proceeded to spank with a belt in front of his coaching staff.
"I guess I've always had a passion for football," Pruitt said with a laugh.
These days opposing offenses aren't laughing much about the relentlessly energetic Pruitt, who has become one of college football's hottest and highest paid assistant coaches. In his first year as a collegiate defensive coordinator, Florida State won the national championship last season.
Less than two weeks later, he shocked many by leaving to reunite with longtime friend and offensive line coach Will Friend at Georgia, where he will try to resuscitate a Bulldogs' defense that was among the worst in the SEC last season.
And he will use the same aggressive approach that has taken him from the high school ranks in Alabama to between the hedges in less than a decade. "If you're going to do something and do it well, you've got to have some passion for it," Pruitt said.
There was a point in Pruitt's life where he only envisioned being a high school coach like his father, Dale, who has more than 200 career wins in Alabama. That was after playing defensive back at Middle Tennessee and being a walk-on at Alabama, where he was also a student coach in 1997.
After college Pruitt returned to work for his father at Plainview High in his native Rainsville, Ala. (population 4,948), where the elder Pruitt is in second stint as coach. "I never really thought about coaching in college," said Pruitt, 39. "I thought the best coach in the world was the high school football coach."
Pruitt spent a season as an assistant at West Alabama in 1999, but quickly returned to the high school ranks. He then landed a job as an assistant at Hoover (Ala.) High in 2004, where he won two state titles and was a star of Two-A-Days, a MTV reality series about the team.
Along the way, Pruitt realized that he wanted to coach in college again. He got a break in 2007 when Alabama's Nick Saban hired him as director of player development, a job he says that helped him learn the "heartbeat" of college football. Three years later, Pruitt was promoted to defensive backs coach before leaving for Florida State, where he ran an aggressive 3-4 scheme that ranked first nationally in scoring defense.
"I just don't feel like you need to sit there on your heels," Pruitt said. "You kind of want to dictate a little bit to the offense."
Pruitt knows many still question why he left the defending national champions for a Georgia team that lost five games last season. He cites the challenge of the SEC and the opportunity to work for Bulldogs coach Mark Richt. But he insists the real reason is to be closer to his family, especially his son, Jayse, who plays for Dale Pruitt father at Plainview High. In May, Jeremy and his fiancé, Casey East, are getting married in Montgomery, Ala., but there will be no honeymoon for the couple. "We're coming back to Athens and getting to work," Pruitt said.
Now that's passion for football.
Miami coach Al Golden is a loyal customer at Christy's Restaurant, an independently-owned steakhouse in Coral Gables, Fla. The elegant New York-style chophouse, a local institution dating back to 1978, is known for a Caesar salad that is considered by some to be the best in South Florida. "We're loyal customers," Golden said. "It's a quaint, quiet place. Everybody's real respectful. It's good that way. They give you privacy."
A Christy's regular since being hired at Miami in late 2010, Golden always starts his meal with the black bean soup, along with a bottle of cabernet. "The beans are actually pureed," Golden said.
For an entrée, Golden goes with the 20-ounce rib eye cooked medium rare that is aged six weeks. The steak comes with the legendary Caesar salad, which Golden gets with anchovies. The coach doesn't eat sweets much, but said that the key lime pie with whipped cream is delicious. The menu can be pricey and Golden recommends reservations; the dress is business casual.
"It's not on the tourist track," Golden said. "It's locals who have been loyal for years."