- This week's #DearAndy mailbag takes a closer look at which new SEC coordinators can make the biggest difference this fall, Scott Frost's first steps at Nebraska and the ripple effect of Lance Harbor's injury in Varsity Blues.
With spring practice underway at a few schools and about to begin in earnest, it’s time to discuss how some familiar names will perform in new roles....
From Mason in Athens (via text): With all the staff changes in the SEC, who do you see as the most impactful coordinators?
The one who could have the most impact is LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger, but we don’t yet know whether that impact will be negative or positive. Ed Orgeron was promoted from interim coach to full-time coach based on the promise that he would hire the best coordinators and let them do their jobs. So Ensminger, who had been the coordinator when Orgeron was the interim head coach, went back to tight ends coach and Matt Canada was hired from Pittsburgh.
Canada and Orgeron did not get along, and Orgeron’s choice to scrap the motion and shifts that make Canada’s offense what it is prior to the Troy game wound up handing LSU an embarrassing loss. Orgeron and Ensminger do get along, so that isn’t going to be an issue. The question is whether LSU’s offense will succeed. When Ensminger ran the offense in 2016, the Tigers rolled up points against bad defenses from Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M, but they averaged 2.5 yards a play against Alabama in a 10–0 loss at home and couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone against Florida on several occasions in a game the Tigers probably should have won. Those are the kind of games LSU needs to win for the Orgeron hire to be an upgrade over Les Miles.
Alabama, meanwhile, will be breaking in two new coordinators. Both Mike Locksley (offense) and Tosh Lupoi (defense) have been on the staff, so they know what is expected. Lupoi’s mandate should be quite clear because Nick Saban is so hands-on with the defense. Locksley, meanwhile, will have to manage the offseason’s most fascinating quarterback competition, as well as its aftermath. At some point, he’ll have to choose between quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts and then manage the aftermath of that choice. Both QBs’ families are savvy enough to keep either one from getting stuck in a bad situation, so don’t expect this to get dragged out too long. The reported addition of East Carolina graduate transfer Gardner Minshew is another hint that the Crimson Tide are preparing for the possibility that one of the top two quarterbacks will transfer.
From @themurth_: What’s the ceiling for Nebraska this year?
The excitement for Scott Frost’s return is understandable, but he’ll need some time to get the roster where he wants it. The schedule also will play a role. Nebraska plays Colorado and Troy in the non-conference. (Don’t sleep on Troy; the Trojans could be one of the best Group of Five teams in the country.) They get Ohio State and Michigan State from the Big Ten East. Nebraska should be better than 4–8, but division title contention could be at least a year away.
The quarterback situation is a huge question mark. Will Tristan Gebbia win the job as a redshirt freshman? Patrick O’Brien doesn’t seem like a fit for this offense, but he’ll get a chance. Frost seems very excited about true freshman Adrian Martinez, the Fresno, Calif., quarterback he flipped from Tennessee. “When I was evaluating quarterbacks for this class a long time ago, Adrian was my favorite guy in the country,” Frost said on a conference call in December. “We didn’t think we had a chance of getting him at our previous school, but now getting to Nebraska, he was interested.” This feels like the inverse of the McKenzie Milton situation. Frost knew how good Milton was, but Power 5 programs shied away from the Hawaiian high school star because of his size. That allowed Frost to sign Milton at UCF. Frost thought Martinez was a perfect fit for his offense, but Martinez had a ton of Power 5 interest and wasn’t going to consider UCF. When Frost got to Nebraska, he had no trouble convincing Martinez to come.
Nebraska fans hoping Martinez follows Milton’s path should remember that Milton wasn’t an instant success at UCF. In fact, at the end of his freshman season, fans booed Milton during a Cure Bowl loss to Arkansas State. Milton, who we now know was on the verge of great things, wasn’t to blame for lackluster results his freshman season. UCF’s line needed upgrading, and once it got more competitive, the Knights’ offense took off.
The success of whoever wins the quarterback job in Lincoln will depend largely on a line that is fairly experienced—because of mixing and matching forced by injuries last season—but not very accomplished. This group will have to get better before the Cornhuskers can have an offense that can score consistently against the likes of Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Defensively, Nebraska also needs quite a bit of work. As disastrous as Bob Diaco’s one season in Lincoln was (the Huskers ranked No. 112 in the nation in yards per play allowed), the switch to a 3–4 at least provided one recruiting cycle geared toward the same kind of personnel Frost and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander prefer on that side of the ball.
At UCF, Chinander and outside linebackers coach Jovan DeWitt found Shaquem Griffin languishing on the depth chart at safety and turned him into one of the nation’s best strongside linebackers. In today’s nickel-is-base world, that kind of player allows a team to disguise coverages and blitzes. Signee Caleb Tannor, a 6'3", 225-pounder from Miller Grove, Ga., may fit that bill.
From Cait: #DearAndy, on a scale from one to TEBOW ON MARS, how great was Jalen Ramsey’s burn of that Texas A&M recruiting poster?
Poor Tim Brewster. The Florida State-turned-Texas A&M assistant can’t seem to put anything on the Internet these days without getting roasted. We discussed his selling-the-SEC tweet and its backlash last week. This week, Brewster passed along a graphic highlighting the success of defensive backs who have played on Jimbo Fisher’s teams, and the guy who is perhaps the best of those DBs fired back quickly.
This may have something to do with the way Fisher left Florida State. Had it been under better circumstances, then former Seminoles might not take an issue with being used to recruit for Texas A&M.
From Emily: Can [college football] start tomorrow? Ha. But in all seriousness, can the Pac-12 get in to the national championship this year?
The Pac-12 has missed the playoff twice in the four years it has existed, and there is no obvious favorite from the league to make it this season. The same can be said of the Big 12 in the post-Baker Mayfield era, though.
In terms of personnel, Washington seems the best at recruiting the kind of line-of-scrimmage players necessary to make the playoff. Defensive tackle Vita Vea is gone, but fellow tackle Greg Gaines is back, and coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski always seems to have someone waiting in the wings. Offensively, the Huskies bring back tackles Trey Adams and guard Nick Harris to help protect Jake Browning. USC should be capable of this—to go along with a consistently good set of skill players—but the Trojans’ lack of defensive line depth was exposed last season by Notre Dame, and their offensive line was exposed by Ohio State. Porter Gustin is nominally a linebacker, but his primary duty is rushing the passer. If he can stay healthy, it could change the tone of USC’s defense.
Stanford will be an interesting team to watch. The return of Bryce Love gives the offense a home run threat, but the Cardinal won’t have their best quarterbacks on the field until preseason camp. Starter K.J. Costello and backup Davis Mills will miss the spring with injuries.
From Michael: Bigger impact on the college football landscape: Lance Harbor blowing out his knee and not going to FSU or Will Grier leaving UF and going to WVU?
This is an easy one. Even though it was fictional, the Lance Harbor injury absolutely made a bigger impact. Varsity Blues came out in January 1999, meaning it depicts the events of the 1998 season. Harbor was committed to Florida State but got dropped after injuring his knee against Greeneville (Texas) High. Signing Harbor wouldn't have kept Bobby Bowden from recruiting Pahokee (Fla.) High quarterback Anquan Boldin, but it may have affected the recruitment of Americus (Ga.) High quarterback Fabian Walker.
Had Harbor come to Florida State, he may have been able to save the Seminoles from the Lost Decade. Harbor would have been going into his redshirt sophomore season when Bowden elevated his son Jeff to replace departing offensive coordinator Mark Richt.
We know from Harbor’s senior season at West Canaan (Texas) High that he does not suffer inadequate coaching. Along with former backup—and future Ivy Leaguer—Jonathan Moxon, Harbor engineered a mutiny against Bud Kilmer, whose injury management tactics were endangering Harbor’s fellow Coyotes. After taking over play-calling duties from Kilmer at halftime of the Gilroy game, Harbor proved himself quite capable at that duty. Let’s assume Harbor never got hurt but still supplanted Kilmer, calling plays on the field and letting Moxon handle the sidelines. He would have had the experience to do what he needed to do as a fifth-year senior during the Orange Bowl against Miami. Though done for his career because of a knee injury, Harbor wouldn’t risk another game against the Hurricanes coming down to a kick.
After watching the offense slide for three seasons and fearing it might only get worse—like shut-out-at-home-by-Wake-Forest worse—Harbor would decide to lock Jeff Bowden in a bathroom at halftime. He would then grab Bowden’s headset and play sheet and help the Seminoles to a 27–16 win. Bobby Bowden, when presented with evidence that Harbor was the superior play-caller, would have the booster club fund a no-show job for Jeff. The Seminoles would go on to win the next three ACC titles. Harbor looked like a potential successor for Bowden, but Bowden couldn’t forgive the mutiny. So Harbor would leave after the 2006 season to replace Dirk Koetter as the head coach at Arizona State. He would then lead the Sun Devils to multiple Pac-10/12 titles. Bowden would replace Harbor with LSU offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher.