Taggart looks to turn around Ducks program

Photo via Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard

Despite the Oregon Ducks being a dominating force for a good number of years, only missing out on one bowl game since 1997, they have not been good at football recently.

Rather, their basketball team is the talk of the town.

Ducks’ football went 4-8 this season with a conference record of 2-7, a stark contrast to the program’s history.

Going into the 2016 season, the hope was high that Oregon would be more than just competitive. They won their first two games and were ranked no. 22 by Week 3 and it seemed former Ducks coach Mark Helfrich had proved he could further the program’s domination.

However, that was far from the truth.

The Ducks’ defense could not stop anyone. For example, the Washington Huskies mopped the floor with them in a 70-21 win, and the Stanford Cardinal defeated them 52-27.

A surprise win over no. 11 Utah looked promising, but they never recovered from a slew of injuries that started the year.

The lack of success has cost Oregon seven committed players and Helfrich’s job.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich.jpg
former Ducks coach Mark Helfrich (Photo via 247 sports)

What should we expect of the Ducks going forward? 

The Ducks will rebound with the hiring of former South Florida coach Willie Taggart, who has a record of turning programs around.

Taggart revitalized the USF program turning them into a 10-win football team.

At his previous job, he was able to turn a two-win Western Kentucky team into a bowl eligible team in just one season.

Clearly, Taggart has mastered the art of rebuilding. He has also surrounded himself with capable assistant coaches and coordinators that will make the transition for the program much easier.

One promising hire is former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt from Colorado.

Leavitt has already had to rehabilitate another program, the Colorado Buffaloes. When he first arrived, Colorado had the no. 109 ranked defense. After last season, they were ranked as the no. 12 defense, per Football Outsiders. 

He switched the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, allowing the players more independence and flexibility. The defense included all sorts of tricks, and surprising blitz packages, but now teams should know what is coming.

It will be much more difficult now, but if anyone can do it, it is him.

This might prove to be the most important decision Taggart has made for the program. The Ducks desperately need veteran leadership to lead a new and improved defense.

Image result for scott pagano oregon
Photo via Steve Mitchell / USA Today Sports

Ducks recruiting

The Ducks have had some luck with recruiting in the past couple months, and although the results won’t show immediately, the future is bright.

Most impressively, Oregon landed former Clemson graduate defensive linemen Scott Pagano. He’s a 6-foot-4, 295-pound giant out of Clemson. Despite limited time on the field, he should be a powerful force for the Ducks’ D.

He had 93 tackles, eight for a loss, and 2.5 sacks in his 705 career snaps. In Oregon he’ll serve as a defensive anchor and will be a headache for opponents who rely on the run.

In the 2016 season, the Ducks only had one player to have more than 10 tackles for loss (Troy Dye), and they’re in sore need of more depth. Dye also had the most sacks with 5.5.

Also, the team was only able to force three fumbles all season.

The Ducks also snagged four-star cornerback Thomas Graham. Graham is ranked no. 6 in the nation at his position and no. 49 overall, according to the ESPN 300 rankings. He will provide help in the secondary, which Oregon desperately needs.

As a senior, Graham chalked up two interceptions (returned one for a touchdown), made 45 tackles, and had seven pass break-ups. The Under Armor All-American athlete also caught six touchdowns on 39 receptions for 490 yards in his last year.

As a team, the Ducks only had 10 interceptions during the entire 2016 season.

Three-star recruit Jordon Scott many also bolster the Ducks’ defensive. He is a 345-pound defensive tackle from Florida. Scott was ranked 51st in the nation at his position, per ESPN. During his senior season, he recorded 40 tackles with nine for loss and three sacks.

Oregon is looking for players with size, good instincts, and ability to put pressure on the quarterback. It seems Taggart may have found a few to help improve his new Oregon defense.

Four-star cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Jaylon Redd will make good compliments to the rest of the defense heavy recruiting class.

Lenoir had previously decommitted from Oregon, but Taggart was able to woo him back upon being hired. The 191-pound cornerback had 52 tackles and one interception in his 2016 season earning a no. 15 ranking at his position by ESPN.

However, Rivals has him ranked as the number one cornerback.

Jaylon Redd, who can also play wide receiver, adds a whole new element to an increasingly dynamic Ducks team. Rivals rates him as the no. 8 at his position (classifying him as an ‘athlete’).

These new hires and recruits should be enough to alter Oregon’s crash course to the bottom. However, it remains to be seen how Taggart will handle the pressure of being the man at Oregon.


 

A version of this article was posted to the JR report in December, entitled “What’s Wrong with the Oregon Ducks?” It was posted right before the 2016 bowl season, in which Oregon was painfully absent. Now, it is updated with additional information and thoughts.

MSU DE Auston Robertson charged in sexual assault case

Photo via Wescott Eberts/SB Nation

Michigan State Spartans defensive end Auston Robertson was charged with third-degree criminal sexual assault this morning, according to Detroit 4 news.

The Meridian Township Police Department has been investigating Robertson—19 years old—since last month. The assault allegedly occurred in January.

Three other players have been suspended for an unrelated case, and a staffer has been placed on paid leave for misconduct in an investigation. They have been suspended since February.

They have been removed from housing and are not allowed to practice with the team, but as of now, they remain unnamed because they have not been charged.

We will update everyone on more details as soon as they become available.

Kiffin taking a different approach to head coaching duties, calls out Saban

Photo via Wilfredo Lee/AP

Lane Kiffin is primed and ready to be a head coach once again. This time, it’ll be at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.

In a new interview with SiriusXM College Sports Nation, Kiffin made it clear that his tenure at FAU will have a much different tone than his last job. As offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Kiffin was famously chewed out by Alabama head coach Nick Saban on multiple occasions.

Kiffin was not a fan of Saban’s style.

‘I’m not really big on humiliating assistant coaches in front of everybody,’ Kiffin told XM SirusXM.

This is a direct dig on Saban, who’s style focuses on yelling at his coaching staff to get results.

The world of college football is interested in seeing what Kiffin can do with a young team like the Owls. Earlier this year, the JR Report wrote a piece on his new job in Boca. Now, with the season coming up, it’ll be interesting to see if he can follow through with the hype.

Kiffin said that instead of yelling at his coaches, “I write down notes. In the staff meeting, I explain what we want to get done.”

It remains to be seen whether his coaching style will yield the same kinds of results. Florida Atlantic hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2008—they haven’t even been above .500 since 2008—and Kiffin will have to fight an uphill battle to get them where he wants them to be.

Kiffin has already stirred up a small amount of controversy because of recruiting and hiring choices. He recruited quarterback De’Andre Johnson, who readers might remember from the scandal in 2015 when he was kicked off of the FSU team for assaulting a woman.

After his dismissal, he went on to play at Eastern Mississippi Community College, where he threw for 2,846 yards and rushed for 834.

Kiffin also hired Kendal Briles to be his offensive coordinator. Briles worked under his father at Baylor, who has been under serious scrutiny for sexual assault misconduct and violations. Kendal Briles has also been under fire since February because of supposed comments made towards recruits. 

According to a lawsuit, Briles once asked a recruit ”do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor and they love football players.” He also apparently brought recruits to strip clubs and offered them alcohol.

Kiffin isn’t a stranger to controversy, but he also isn’t afraid of making bold decisions. His coaching style may be different than Saban’s for the coming years. but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be more effective.

College football player profile: Florida State Seminoles S Derwin James

Photo via Greg Oyster/247Sports

Florida State safety Derwin James isn’t a name that you hear often in college football; he hasn’t been relevant since 2015.

In the 2015 season, the safety was named to the freshman all-american team by several news outlets after clocking 91 tackles with 9.5 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and 4.5 sacks. He looked to be on the upward trend for Heisman consideration by his sophomore year.

Early last season against Charleston Southern, James tore his meniscus forcing him to miss the last 11 games of the season.

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James after an injury in the Charleston Southern game (Photo via Showtime)

The Florida native is ready to play for the Seminoles this upcoming season and is already considered a Heisman candidate, according to Pro Football Focus.

He would be the first defensive player to win the Heisman since 1997, when Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won it. Woodson went on to play for the Oakland Raiders and the Green Bay Packers, before retiring in 2015.

After being out an extended period of time with the injury, James is excited to get back in the game, per his own twitter page.

James excels in every aspect on defense, making him a strong force for the 2017 season. Florida State is looking to prove that they deserve to be in the national title conversation again, after not having been to the championship since 2013.

Recently, The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook ranked FSU as the second most likely team to win the CFB title with odds of 7/1.

The Seminoles finished last season in the top 10. With many players returning, a strong recruiting class, and a returning James, Florida State will be a force to be reckoned with.

We’ll see how much of an impact James has against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the season opener, but the Tide would be smart to not throw in his direction if they want to win the game.

If they throw his way, and James gets an interception or two in the season opener, it would be a big resume builder for his 2017 Heisman trophy campaign.

Vegas releases updated college football title odds

Photo via getty images

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, one of the premier outlets for sports betting odds, released their newest board for the college football title today. Earlier today, ESPN’s David Payne Purdum tweeted out the following odds:

ESPN’s Brett McMurphy also tweeted this out:

Only two Big 10 teams were listed, leaving Penn State out. A total of four SEC teams made the cut. Alabama is dominant, while Clemson, interestingly, only has 15/1 odds.

New NCAA recruiting rules: What you need to know

Photo via Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

If you follow college sports, you’ve probably heard the buzz about the new NCAA recruiting rules. Here’s a quick breakdown.

Next month, these new rules will go before the NCAA Board of Directors to get approval to move forward. The new rules won’t be available in full on the NCAA website until they are passed.

Signing Period Moved to December: 

This is already a practice in a lot of other college sports, and football was just late to the party. A player who already knows where he wants to go and doesn’t feel like waiting can simply sign in December. Coaches resisted an attempt to move it much earlier to June, but this still gives time for new coaches to sort out the status of their teams and make any changes they feel are prudent.

Official Visits Legal in Junior Year: 

Now, schools can bring players on official visits as early as the end of Junior year of high school (specifically April to June). This overturns a rule that dictated that programs must wait until September of senior year. This helps with the early recruitment signing date, as well as helping schools that may be ‘off the beaten path’ and difficult to get to.

Limits on Satellite Camps:

This rule does a couple of different things. First, huge programs cannot host camps for months, and camps have to be held on college campuses. Smaller programs can have a fair chance at recruitment because they can work together with bigger schools near high-recruiting regions. Schools will now only be able to hold camps for 10 days in June and July. Also, schools may now talk to prospects at these camps (as if this didn’t happen before).

Number of Assistant Coaches: 

Starting around the new year, programs will now be able to add a 10th assistant coach. This is a welcome change for many programs who may want to stack on a second OC or a coordinator for special teams.

Limits on Hiring Individuals Associated with Prospects: 

This is already a rule in college basketball, but this pretty much means that programs cannot hire an old HS football coach or parent to a support role at the program for at least two years after the prospect has signed. (Support roles do not include head coaches or on-field assistants).

Crimson Tide’s Deionte Thompson wanted in assault case

Photo via Wescott Eberts/SB Nation

Alabama Crimson Tide redshirt freshman safety Deionte Thompson is wanted in a felony aggravated assault case, as well as three other suspects from his high school, West Orange-Stark High School.

The 18-year-old victim Noah Frillou was found severely beaten and unconscious over spring break, according to KBMT.

The victim had broken bones in his face and around his eyes, as well as a concussion.

Thompson was a 4-star prospect before signing with Alabama, and played 14 games last season.

At this rate, he will be lucky if he is playing next season.

Becca Longo on becoming first female to earn NCAA scholarship for football: “I’m not one to back down to anybody”

Photo via azcentral sports

Standing at 5-foot-11, Becca Longo seems like the average recruit for a kicker in college football, right? Wrong. She’s not a man.

Longo, a senior from Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, made history by signing a letter of intent to Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado. A Division II school in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Adams State finished 2-8 last season, just in front of New Mexico Highlands, the last-place team.

Longo will be the first woman to play football in college on a scholarship, but she’s not the first woman to play college football. KaLena Barnes punted for Nebraska, and April Goss was a placekicker at Kent State University. The list doesn’t end there. In total, 12 women have played collegiate-level football.

Longo seems ready to compete. She made 30 of her 33 extra point attempts in her senior season, and made her only field goal attempt.

Longo made it clear that she means business. “I’m going to go in, I’m going to be ready to compete,” Longo told CNN in an interview. “I’m not one to back down to anybody.”

Although she doesn’t have much experience in-game with field goals, she hit a 42 yarder during spring workouts last year. The Grizzlies haven’t had a winning season since 2013, but are hoping to turn things around next season with their newest team member.

 

Recent DoD Policy will Change the Way Military Academies Compete in College Football

Photo via Tommy Gilligan/USA SPORTS Sports Images

Before 2016, it was a requirement at all Military Academies to serve one’s country after graduation. This policy was the main turn-off for many high-achieving athletes during recruitment season, as a college athlete’s focus is often on the draft.

Only 84 military academy graduates subsequently played in the NFL, but this is about to change because of a new DoD policy. As of 2016, players at the Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, and West Point will have the option to join the reserves instead of completing two years of active duty. Students at the Coast Guard Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy will still have to complete active duty because they are not overseen by the DoD.

Under the new rule, there will be less agitation among high school athletes about recruitment to military schools. Now, a West Point, Air Force or Navy student can go pro right after college. We can’t discount military academies from the greater picture of college football any longer.

Navy, Air Force and Army aren’t seen as heavy-hitters in football, because many of the highest-caliber athletes would prefer to go to schools that get them drafted. Yet, Navy has had an impressive run the last few seasons. Navy led the AAC West with a 9-5 overall record last season, and that came after losing their last three games—mostly due to injury.

Navy held NCAA rank at several points during the season, and were considered a strong team. Army rounded out the season at 8-5, and Air Force ended the season with a 10-3 record after an impressive Arizona Bowl win against South Alabama.

With the recruitment change, all three teams will begin the ascent to NCAA relevance. Attending a military academy seems like a sweet deal, considering all expenses are paid (estimated at around a $400,000 value) by taxpayers and federal funding.

This change won’t happen overnight, though, as neither team is in a particularly strong conference (the AAC is on the up, with teams like USF, Houston, and Temple improving steadily). In order to build relevance they’ll need to build schedule strength. This will result in a tough couple of years as they re-adjust to playing more difficult teams.

The transition will be slow, but all three schools will slowly develop into more powerful programs—especially Navy. Just think: if Navy could do so well with only athletes who weren’t interested in the NFL, what will they be able to accomplish now that the mandatory service requirement is all but waived? Navy doesn’t have a single recruit over 3 stars. They’re not going to have 5-star recruits lining up to sign with them next year, but the potential will grow over time.

The new policy definitely has its critics, though. In a Washington Post editorial, retired Army Lt. Col. Tom Slear expressed his worry over the diminishing ethos of military academy service. “[Service academies] exist to instill young men and women with a mindset of selfless service to the country,” he said; by changing the requirement the value of the education diminishes.

I’m interested to see how this issue is debated, but the fact remains that the policy has changed. The world of college football needs to ready itself for the inevitable relevance of the military academies.

Will Tom Herman Succeed at Texas?

Photo via Max Olson, ESPN

Along with Oregon, the Texas Longhorns were one of 2016’s most disappointing teams. It doesn’t take a genius to see the program is worn out. Under head coach Charlie Strong, the Longhorns didn’t have a single winning season. The program is simply falling apart—the office was old and gaudy, the staff was lacking depth, and the locker rooms and training rooms simply weren’t up to snuff.

 

The Charlie Strong era was not the only rough patch; the Longhorns have been struggling for a while. They may have had winning seasons, but Texas hasn’t won 10 plus games in eight years. Both Strong and the famous Mack Brown weren’t able to deliver nearly as well as was hoped. It’s difficult to turn around a program after three straight losing seasons, but coach Tom Herman might be just the man for the job.

 

One only needs to look at Herman’s achievements during his tenure at Houston to see that he knows his stuff. He walked into a program that hadn’t won more than eight games in three years and immediately led them to a 13-1 campaign, beating Florida State University in the Peach Bowl. They also beat Louisville twice and had a win over Oklahoma. In his Herman’s second season, the Cougars went 9-4.

 

I don’t know how quickly Herman’s changes will affect the program, because there’s so much to be done. He’s (literally) ripping up the floors in Austin. He’s trying to change the culture, and he’s hiring the right people to help him do it.

 

It’s a tall order for Herman. The biggest problem he’ll run into is University of Texas’ complete lack of recruiting prowess. UT’s name has a fraction of the weight it used to carry, and a high-performance high school player isn’t going to want to commit to a losing program. Herman can make all the changes he wants, but without dedicated, talented players, he isn’t going to go anywhere fast. To make big time players come to his school, Herman needs to make it look infinitely more appealing.

 

This is the ultimate program overhaul, and it’s hard to imagine it getting fully off the ground anytime soon. Herman might not even be at Texas to see the finished product. He could take too long in realizing his goal and lose his spot at Texas—it’s happened at other programs.

 

Texas won’t be anywhere near their former strength in the next five years. It’s happened faster before, but I think the Longhorns are too deep in the hole to see noticeable changes anytime soon. We might see Texas get a few Top 25 votes and some surprising wins, but at best, they’ll barely break the .500 mark for the next two years or so.