The Pac-12 launches an exciting new sports network this fall just in time to coincide with the fresh faces and their wide-open philosophies that will make debuts in the conference. Mike Leach, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham, and Jim Mora need no introduction to the college football landscape, and each will have immediate impact inside the league with their differing styles and philosophies.
Leach, the passing guru extraordinaire has re-emerged at Washington State after two years out of the game. Leach, one of the most quotable, funny, and downright interesting individuals in sports today, will have the Cougars back up to speed competitively within the year. Six wins and a bowl bid are definitely possible.
He is long known for developing quarterbacks who consistently throw in the 400-500-yard range every game, has a starter in quarterback Jeff Tuel, who can follow suit. Tuel is coming back off injury and is now 100 percent going into the opener against BYU on August 30.
“He’s got to make good decisions; and the single most important thing a quarterback does is make everyone around him better,” said Leach. “He’s a guy that pulls the trigger and distributes the football and the better he distributes the football, the better everyone around him is going to be.”
Tuel, who became a student of the Leach system right away, says that the pass-happy scheme has been easy to learn.
“It’s learning what to do with the football and you want to get the ball off as quick as possible and that’s been my biggest learning curve,” explained Tuel.
In Tucson, Rodriguez comes to Arizona two years after the Michigan fiasco, where his spread offense was so radically different to the eyes of the Big Ten teams that league snobs took amazing exception. Rodriguez has re-acquainted most of his West Virginia staff in Tucson, including ultra-successful defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
“I think the scheme can fit anywhere and sometimes, I think schemes are overrated from the standpoint of does the scheme win you ball games or lose you ball games,” said Rodriguez, “You have to have good players executing and I think what we do will be a good fit in this league, but I think it’s a good fit in any league.”
Matt Scott will be the quarterback taking over Rodriguez’s version of the spread. He redshirted last season and will replace Nick Foles as the team’s starting quarterback.
“I had a lot of fun with this offense in high school,” Scott said. “I put up big numbers and I’m ready to do the same thing here.”
About an hour up I-10 — in Tempe — rests new Arizona State Sun Devils coach Todd Graham, an interesting study in himself. Graham has his own definition of the spread game and ruffled feathers in Pittsburgh upon leaving the Panthers in the middle of the night without so much as a team meeting. In fairness to Graham, a logistical issue occurred that involved the immediacy of the news conference at ASU.
One of Graham’s major issues is to find a quarterback to replace Brock Osweiler, who was drafted by the Denver Broncos. Graham will make a decision soon between sophomores Mike Bercovici and Taylor Kelly and freshman Michael Eubank.
“The great thing about our situation is the three guys we have, our players have a tremendous amount of respect for all three of those guys, and they’re all great character, great leader guys,” commented Graham. “But the one that’s going to play is not going to be the one that has the best physical skills. It’s going to be the one that will take care of the ball and manage the offense.”
Finally, Jim Mora leaves the air conditioned set of the NFL Network to walk the sidelines of the Rose Bowl on Saturday afternoons as the new coach of the UCLA Bruins. Mora’s main theme has been attention to detail with a Bruins team that surprisingly never got off the ground under alum Rick Neuheisel.
Mora has tried to implement three key intangibles since taking the job – toughness, discipline, and accountability. He noted that those three things may have been present before he came there, but he is selling his own definition as to what they are.
“We want to be a football team that plays with great discipline and toughness, and we are accountable to our team, and our school, and fan base, and student body,” Mora explained.
The new coach knows he has the paramount of those intangibles in Johnathan Franklin, who has rushed for 2,103 yards in starting 24 games in his career.
“As a leader, you have to look at the best in yourself and in the team, and all you can do is work hard. As a leader, you have to make everybody around you better and you have to be accountable, and we have to push each other,” said Franklin. “I feel like every day, if we come out and work hard, we will accomplish the things we want to.”