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How Derek Mason will teach defense at Vanderbilt

For a moment, let's go back to 2007. The stock market hasn't crashed yet, you've never heard of Twitter or Facebook and, best of all, Justin Bieber is still some unknown adolescent in Canada. Times are good.

Now imagine how hilarious this sentence would sound to you then: To keep its vibrant football program churning, Vanderbilt has hired Stanford's defensive coordinator as head coach in hopes of slowing down all the hot-as-lava SEC offenses it faces week after week.

Seven years later, here we are.

Fox Sports' Coy Wire traveled to Nashville to pick the brain of Derek Mason, the new top Commodore, to study how Mason's brand of defense will allow them to withstand the offensive onslaught of Missouri, Kentucky, Auburn, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and the like. 

We're not going to spoil the whole thing (which is an excellent read), but here are some gems that help explain Mason's defensive philosophy.

On repping against no-huddle opponents - which Mason refers to as NASCAR - every week no matter the opponent: “Even if you’re playing Alabama – who does not run an up-tempo scheme – you have to have a period of practice that subjects the players to a fast pace. Over a period of time, you’ll create habits and muscle memory that will help you find success when you do face an up-tempo team.”

On preparing for no-huddle offenses in practice by throwing two separate offenses at the defense: “When we first started doing it, it looked like a cluster, but the more the players did it the more their mental capabilities grew. It started to become second nature to operate that fast. Eventually they could stay focused when they were tired and handle more responsibilities at a faster pace. Once each week, we would run 30 different plays at them in under 10 minutes, let them rest and then do it again.”

On getting your defenders exhausted - on purpose: “We push our players to the limit. We physically exhaust them, but then we train them to still be able to think and communicate after they have reached exhaustion.”

Read the full piece here.




Todd Hoffner, a Minnesota arbitrator and one very awkward situation

Remember back in August of 2012 when Todd Hoffner, the head coach at Minnesota State-Mankato (D-II) was suspended based on photos of his children that were misinterpreted? Hoffner was later cleared of all charges, and he landed the head coaching job at Minot State (D-II - ND) this off-season. 

To make matters even more interesting, an arbitrator handed down a ruling yesterday in favor of coach Hoffner, stating that he's not only due back pay, but he can also have his old job back if he wants it.

Wait, what? Go ahead and read that again.

Has anything like this ever happened before in the coaching profession? A coach has the opportunity to leave his current head coaching position for his old stomping grounds, no questions asked? 

Most people would probably assume that coach Hoffner would never go back to Mankato, call it bad blood or being unjustly accused, most people wouldn't want to go back to that kind of environment after the ordeal him and his family went through. 

However, the bottom line is that Mankato is a heck of a job, a great place to live, his family wouldn't have to uproot and move, and his wife wouldn't have to start a new job hunt in an unfamiliar town. Plus, Hoffner helped build the MSU-Mankato program to national relevance during his time there by going 34-13 in his four seasons, and winning multiple conference titles. Oh, and his wife stated yesterday that a return to Mankato is something that they're currently considering. This has the potential to be unprecedentedly awkward. 

If Hoffner does decide to come back to MSU-Mankato, what happens to current head coach Aaron Keen and the staff currently in place? They've done an outstanding job, going 24-2 over the past two seasons, including a trip to the D-II national semifinals in 2012, which qualifies as the best season in school history.

Too often in life, someone's entire life is unjustly broken and those responsible for breaking that life simply can't or won't put the pieces back together. Credit the arbitrator in this instance for trying to right this wrong. But no one, not the arbitrator and not Coach Hoffner, can stop the passage of time, and the simple fact that dozens of lives on each coaching staff will be affected by the decision Hoffner now faces. 

We'll keep you updated on how this one plays out. Either way, Hoffner is the one in the driver's seat, and that's the way that it should be when you consider what him and his family have gone through over the past two years.

Read more on yesterday's ruling here.




Here it is: Video of Texas Tech's dance-off featuring Kliff Kingsbury

The title is pretty much self-explanatory.

You should really watch the whole thing, but Kliff starts dancing around the 1:45 mark. 




Twenty-seven nuggets worth knowing about college football's 2014 schedule

I have poured through each and every of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision schedules for the 2014 season (now just 138 days away!) and pulled out 27 weird, wild and wacky nuggets worth knowing. 

Here goes nothing: 

1. Thursday, Aug. 28 is the celebrated opening date of college football's 2014 season but, in reality, the season kicks one day earlier, as ESPNU will televise Abilene Christian at Georgia State on Wednesday, Aug. 27. Thursday night as college football's opening kickoff only became a regular thing in 2005, and we could not find a year that kicked off on a Wednesday. If anyone has an example, we're all ears.

2. You may have heard something about South Carolina hosting Texas A&M on Thursday, Aug. 28 as the official kickoff event for SEC Network. This marks the South Carolina's seventh Thursday night opener since 2005; the Gamecocks have won each of their previous six Thursday night openers. 

3. Ohio State visits Navy to open the season, the Buckeyes' first road opener since visiting West Virginia to begin the 1998 season. 

4. Michigan State at Oregon. No note here except for that's a game that's really happening on Sept. 6. 

5. Cincinnati is the last team to begin its 2014, waiting until Friday, Sept. 12 to host Toledo. That's the 170th game of the season, 16 days after Abilene Christian and Georgia State get things going on Aug. 27. 

6. Louisiana Tech and Ohio win the award for latest home opener in college football. After visiting Oklahoma, Louisiana-Lafayette and North Texas to open the year, the Bulldogs won't play in Ruston until September 20. Ohio opens at Kent State, Kentucky and Marshall before finally hosting Idaho on Sept. 20. 

7. LSU has an incredibly front-loaded schedule. After facing Wisconsin in Houston on Aug. 30, LSU's next four games and seven of their next nine are in Tiger Stadium. The trade off, though, is that the Bayou Bengals have the earliest Senior Day in college football, Nov. 8 against Alabama. 

- Other home-friendly starts to the season:
- Central Florida: five of six at home in Oct. and Nov.
- Florida International: first four at home
- Oklahoma State: a neutral site game, then four straight at home
- South Florida: first four and five of first six at home
- Pittsburgh: five of six at home from late Sept. to early Nov.
- Syracuse (four of first six at home, plus a neutral site "home" game in New York City
- Vanderbilt: first four games all in Nashville
- Virginia: five of first six at home
- Wisconsin: one true road game before Nov. 1

8. Then there's Chuck Martin's poor Miami (Ohio) bunch. Coming off an 0-12 season, the RedHawks open with two straight at home and become college football's only team to play five of six on the road - all without an off week.

9. Kentucky also closes its home slate on Nov. 8, tied with LSU for the earliest in college football. 

10. On the flip side, Georgia doesn't leave Sanford Stadium after Nov. 8. Same for Duke. 

11. Seven clubs will make road trips to both coasts (or thereabouts) this year: BYU, Colorado, Idaho, Notre Dame, Rutgers, UCLA and USC. 

12. A handful of MAC teams do not play a single Saturday game in the month of November: Bowling Green, Buffalo, Northern Illinois and Toledo.

13. And then there's poor Central Michigan, the only MAC team to play every one of its conference games on a Saturday. 

14. Thanks to MACtion, we will be blessed with live football on television every night from Thursday, Oct. 30 through Monday, Dec. 1 except for Nov. 26, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Thirty-two out of 33 ain't bad.  

15. In what has to be a record, Ole Miss will play three consecutive games in NFL stadiums. The Rebels closed last season in the Tennessee Titans' LP Field for the Music City Bowl, open 2014 with Ole Miss in the Atlanta Falcons' Georgia Dome, and then return to LP Field to meet Vanderbilt. 

16. Massachusetts is the only team in college football to schedule all four of its non-conference games against Power Five foes. Mark Whipple's Minutemen open with Boston College and Colorado at home, and then visit Vanderbilt and Penn State. 

17. Most Sun Belt or MAC schools line up one payday game against a college football blue blood, but Florida Atlantic is the only school brave (or dumb, or desperate) enough to play two in a row. Charlie Partridge's Owls (who play in Conference USA now but scheduled these games while Sun Belt members) open 2014 at Nebraska, and then at Alabama. 

18. For the first time since joining the Big 12, West Virginia does not make trips to the heartland in two consecutive weeks. The downside, though, is that Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineers must visit Texas Tech on Oct. 11, host Baylor on Oct. 18, visit Oklahoma State on Oct. 25, host TCU on Nov. 1, and then visit Texas on Nov. 8. 

19. Texas Tech has already sold a school record 34,100 season tickets, and is on track to sell out the entire stadium for the season. The Red Raider faithful is obviously enthused about the direction of the program under Kliff Kingsbury, but the home schedule also deserves a chunk of credit. Texas Tech hosts Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas in the same season for the first time in school history. 

20. If ever there was a year to buy Florida State season tickets, this is it. There's obviously, you know, the defense of a national championship, but the Seminoles host an all-timer of a schedule with their ACC rivals (Clemson), their archrival (Florida) and everyone's favorite non-rival (Notre Dame) coming to Doak Campbell Stadium. 

21. June Jones has his work cut out for him. SMU opens with road trips to Baylor and North Texas, then host Texas A&M and TCU, visit East Carolina, and then return home to face Cincinnati. That's five returning bowl teams, plus a club that the Mustangs are 2-12 against since 1999. The Mustangs could easily be an improved bunch from 2013 and still not win a game until Oct. 25. 

22. After hosting Nicholls State on Sept. 6, Arkansas faces a grand total of one non-bowl team the rest of the season. The Razorbacks get Texas Tech, Northern Illinois, Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia, a one-week breather against UAB on Oct. 25, then close with Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri. By the way, Arkansas opens the season at Auburn. 

23. Florida is the only SEC East team saddled with the one-two punch of facing both LSU and Alabama. 

24. Utah draws the short stick among Pac-12 South members, hosting Oregon on Nov. 8 and then turning around to visit Stanford on Nov. 15. 

25. The folks that run game day operations at Oklahoma's Memorial Stadium might as well shut things down and take a nice long sabbatical this fall. In the eight weeks between the Sooners' Sept. 13 home date with Tennessee and their Nov. 8 game against Baylor, Oklahoma will play one home game. They'll go on the road to West Virginia, take a week off, visit TCU, head back to the Metroplex to face Texas in Dallas, host Kansas State, take another week off and then visit Iowa State before closing with three of their final four in Norman. 

26. John Swofford's new toys will meet for the first time ever, as Louisville makes a trip to Notre Dame on Nov. 22. 

27. The SEC's end-of-season rivalry match-ups have shuffled around a bit. Louisville-Kentucky moves to the end of the season for the first time since the rivalry was renewed in 1994, while the LSU-Arkansas year end tradition-that-wasn't-really-a-tradition comes to an end. LSU heads to Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night, and Arkansas visits Missouri two days later. 




Watch the Illinois coaching staff do some top notch trash talking

You can tell that the Illinois staff plans on having some fun with the orange and blue spring game tomorrow afternoon, and it's starting with some friendly staff trash talk.

A handful of these coaches can really bring it in the trash talking department, others could use a bit of guidance. Take these two coaches for example.

Blue squad coach Mike Bellamy: "Most of these coaches have their AARP cards," and "We'll stretch the game out and have it go past their nap time."

Orange squad coach Greg Colby: "Alex Golesh...I mean what can you say about Alex? Not much."

Seriously though, this is a fun, lighthearted way to promote their spring game, and looks like they had a lot of fun with it.




North Dakota State has made a film about the building of its dynasty

There was a time when North Dakota State was not the FCS version of mid-90's Nebraska. In fact, there was a time when the North Dakota State looked at moving to FCS with trepidation. That time was only a decade ago.

After claiming eight national titles and 26 conference championships, the Bison decided to leave Division II for FCS, then known as Division I-AA. At the time, the migration from Division II to Division I was not the sure thing it appeared to be. The road was littered with the corpses of programs that had attempted the move before. 

The school made the decision to move in August of 2002, and completed in time for the 2004 season. The Bison acquitted themselves well in the Great West Conference, posting a 35-9 record with one conference championship in their four seasons in the league. North Dakota State moved to the Missouri Valley in 2008, and immediately fell flat on their face, going 6-5 in 2008 and 3-8 in 2009.

You know what happened next.

The Bison reached the FCS Quarterfinals in 2010, and then claimed the next three FCS national titles and going 43-2 in the process.

And now the school has commemorated its rise with "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions". It goes on sale April 24, the day before the Bison's spring game. We'll let you know if a full version surfaces online. 




Mississippi State has some new commemorative unis

Mississippi State started off the week by hyping up their new uniforms with multiple teasers via Twitter.

However, before the University released anything official, a reporter leaked the first photos of the new uniforms yesterday. But only die-hard Bulldog fans (or uniform nuts) will notice the differences between these (which celebrate the 100 year history of Scott Field) and the uniforms that they wore last year.

Now we get to take a look at the real deal.

Hardcore Mississippi State fans will notice a few subtle changes, most notably the "Hail State" across the chest (which the University has also used in the form of hashtags in the endzones), and the stripes on the shoulders.  The team will wear these on September 30th. 




Les did it, Gary Patterson is doing it, will Bielema do it?

Fox Sports released an interesting article this morning on TCU's offensive overhaul. In the piece, Gary Patterson opens up about why he felt some changes to his offensive philosophy were needed, and it started with recruiting.

"I saw too many good players leave the state because they considered us a running team and play action." Patterson told Fox Sports Southwest.

Essentially, Patterson observed that players were giving TCU the cold shoulder to play in up tempo offenses at places like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas Tech, or West Virginia. Patterson decided enough was enough, and hired Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meachum to bring his fast paced offensive approach to help him stop the exodus of Texas' top play makers to outside programs.

While the main focus was bringing in a more potent offensive attack, Patterson explains there has been an interesting byproduct of the new approach this spring. To quote the article, "Patterson figures practicing at that speed will better prepare his defense to face offenses that operate at similar tempos."

That will prove to be very beneficial in the Big 12. Looking at their schedule, after their first two games against Samford and Minnesota, TCU faces six straight teams with an up tempo offensive approach (SMU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and West Virginia).

That got us to thinking, who else out there has a rough stretch when it comes to facing no huddle teams? You know where this is going, don't you...

Four of Arkansas' first five games are wicked. The Razorbacks open with Auburn, and then two weeks later face Texas Tech, Northern Illinois, and Texas A&M in consecutive weekends before eventually wrapping up the season with Ole Miss and Missouri back to back.

A front loaded schedule like that will certainly challenge the Razorbacks' stamina. I recall a few years ago when LSU opened up against Chip Kelly's Oregon team at JerryWorld. To prepare for the tempo Oregon played at, Les had two offensive scout teams run back to back...no breaks for the LSU defense as they tried to prepare for Oregon's attack. You might recall the result...a game in which LSU's defense stoned Oregon all night and Les' group won rather easily. After the game I recall LSU's defenders praising the fact that they faced tempo from the scout teams all through spring and August practice. Given his very public statements against unrelenting tempo, it will be interesting to see how hard Bret Bielema pushes his scout offense to simulate actual game speed that his defense will face in these early games.