Ten Storylines of the Week
1. Blake Barnett is raring to go at Arizona State, but the former Alabama quarterback took one last shot across Nick Saban’s bow this week. "A lot of backlash that I received from [the first game vs. USC] was that I came out nervous. I think you could ask just about every teammate and they'd agree that I wasn't. But a certain coach went out to the media and said that I was and so I got that negative reputation from it,” Barnett said.
Count me on Team Saban for this one. It looked very much like Cooper Bateman would open the season against the Trojans due to his veteran savvy. Barnett got the call at the last second instead and then proceeded to let that opportunity slip through his fingers into the waiting hands of Jalen Hurts. That Saban told Sam Ponder that Barnett was “nervous,” well, that’s Nick Saban for you. You kind of know what you’re getting when you walk to the crossroads at midnight.
Barnett, a former five-star prospect, enters the spring in a competition with Manny Wilkins at Arizona State and has received a waiver from the NCAA which will allow him to play immediately come the start of the 2017 season. The starting job shouldn't be considered his by default. Wilkins performed admirably at times during an injury-ravaged campaign.
2. During the 2016 campaign, LSU defensive lineman Arden Key wrecked the SEC with 55 tackles and 11 sacks, while forcing a pair of fumbles. Those 11 sacks are best in team history for a single season. And now it isn’t quite clear what his future holds. On Wednesday, the Tigers announced that the sack master was stepping away from the team for “personal reasons.” In a statement, head coach Ed Orgeron said, “We fully support Arden in his decision and look forward to welcoming him back home to the Tiger family at the appropriate time.”
Key’s father told The Baton Rouge Advocate that this is not a health-related issue and that his son is “fine” physically. Any absence that extended into the season would be a major blow to the Tigers, but on February 16, it is silly to speculate. Assuming he does return to the team, Key is a potential first-round selection for the 2018 draft.
3. Our thoughts with Kansas State legend Bill Snyder. Over the weekend, Snyder was hospitalized to receive treatment for an at-the-time unknown ailment. He revealed that he had throat cancer on Monday. “Both [treatment] ‘teams’ have projected a positive outcome and have worked out a schedule that allows me to be in Kansas City for my regular treatments and still be back in the office on a regular basis through the first week of March,” said Snyder in a statement. He thanked his assistant coaching staff for their support.
The Wildcats are coming off an 8-4 regular-season campaign and felled Texas A&M in bowl action. We like to think that the 77-year-old Snyder will just continue to devise traps for highly-lauded SEC teams through to the end of eternity.
4. News broke on Thursday that the FBS was going to welcome in a new baby member. Not Life or Pursuit of Happiness, but Liberty. Yeah. The Flames will begin their journey from the FCS larvae to full FBS butterfly starting in 2018. They won’t be eligible for bowl play during that season. Come 2019, though, party time. Liberty will play as an independent. As a result of the NCAA’s giving them the reclassification green light, they will not be eligible for the Big South title in the FCS ranks this season, nor will they be allowed to play in an FCS bowl game. That’s unfortunate, because they have won eight of the last 10 conference titles, including one this past season.
In a statement, university president Jerry Falwell was understandably beaming, so much as one can beam in statement form. Said Falwell, “Today is truly historic for Liberty University. This university aspired to compete at the highest levels of NCAA competition and began working toward that dream and vision from the day of its founding in 1971.”
5. Let us play a little blindfolded scouting report. NFL Media’s Nolan Nawrocki wrote of one small-school quarterback that he “[p]ossesses the physical tools to eventually earn an NFL starting job in a rhythm passing game with continued refinement but is more of a caretaker than a game changer and will require some patience adapting to the NFL game.”
Is that caretaker worth a first round pick? We might soon find out. Nawrocki jotted down this report about Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the 2014 draft. Charlie Casserly of NFL Network believes Garoppolo is better than any quarterback in the 2017 pool. “I'm not enamored with any of the quarterbacks in this draft, that's No. 1,” said the former NFL GM. “No. 2, Garoppolo today is better than any quarterback in this draft. Now, he's had three years of experience.”. In his first mock draft of the process, he speculated that the Browns would trade the No. 12 pick to the Patriots for the quarterback.
Maybe Bill Belichick can somehow brainwash the Browns' brain trust into surrendering that pick, but Cleveland also holds two picks in the second round and a second-rounder for Jimmy Garoppolo sounds far more reasonable than, say, pick No. 12.
One last blindfolded game: After three years developing on the bench, this quarterback threw for 3,693 yards with a 21/11 in his first year starting. Bright future ahead, no doubt. Get stoked for Matt Cassel? Tread carefully around quarterbacks who keep Tom Brady's seat warm.
6. So, a week and a half ago, Kyle Shanahan chose the worst possible time to just sort of not do his thing, helping the Falcons on their way to somehow scuttling the Super Bowl to the Patriots. Then he jetted off to the 49ers, which, good luck with that. Alabama offensive coordinator (just) Steve Sarkisian immediately sprinted for Shanahan’s Atlanta gig and left Nick Saban presumably just glowering in a corner. On Tuesday, FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman reported that the Tide were interviewing Patriots TE coach Brian Daboll. It looks like that is going to stick.
The Alabama coaching staff hasn’t exactly been on the most smooth ride this offseason. Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian might have made the biggest waves, but even beyond that pair, still lots of waves, just waves all over the place. Offensive line coach Mario Cristobal is joining Willie Taggart’s staff at Oregon. Wideouts coach Billy Napier is heading off to Arizona State (presumably to swap Nick Saban campfire stories with Blake Barnett). Even director of player development Freddie Roach is fleeing the Tide to join the Rebels as defensive line coach. This kind of turnover likely won’t hurt Alabama in either the short or the long term -- the blob swallows everything -- though it could cause a commitment or two to wonder.
7. Invitations to the NFL Scouting Combine were officially announced this week. CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler broke down the list by position and pointed to Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly, Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon, Grambling State WR Chad Williams and Oklahoma State TE Blake Jarwin as a few of the biggest snubs from the annual event in Indianapolis. All but Jarwin have previously had off-field concerns and incidents, making their omissions understandable enough. As for Jarwin, he simply didn’t touch the ball at Oklahoma State, logging a 41-615-5 receiving line for his Cowboys career. Brugler believes he has draftable athletic traits despite the dull numbers.
Speaking of troubled Combine non-invites, count Ole Miss wideout Damore'ea Stringfellow in there. He has been omitted due to his pleading guilty to assault in 2014, before he transferred from Seattle to Oxford.
8. Jim Harbaugh’s doing weird things again. Nothing is going to top him taking Michigan to Rome in a few weeks-- that’s the pinnacle of grandiosity -- but just like last year’s Florida trip morphed into a 2018 NCAA rule change that will prohibit such trips, this latest bit of Harbaugh being Harbaugh could well lead to another rule change at some point in time, too. So what’s he up to now? Well, Harbaugh has hired Michael Johnson Sr., head coach of The King’s Academy in California, to his staff in Ann Arbor. Johnson happens to be the father of the top dual-threat quarterback of the 2019 cycle, Michael Johnson Jr, who just so happens to attend The King’s Academy for high school. What a hearty chain of coincidences. We have seen these kinds of hearty chains of coincidences with Harbaugh and recruits before. Just a year ago, he brought Chris Partridge of Paramus Catholic on board. Just so happens that a Mr. Rashan Gary (the consensus No. 1 recruit for 2016) attended Paramus Catholic.
To be clear, Harbaugh isn’t actually breaking NCAA laws. Just bending them to his whims. We’ll see how long it takes before the ruling body says no mas.
Author's Note: In an about face, Johnson will now be joining Willie Taggart's staff at Oregon. The principle of the matter remains.
9. I’m all in for players who trot out to the field with injuries that would force me into the fetal position whilst I emitted a low groaning noise. That’s part of the reason that I love USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, who broke his hand in the autumn of 2015 and still did not miss a game. Longhorns running back and draft-hopeful D’Onta Foreman can relate to JuJu’s plight, as he revealed last Friday that he played the 2016 season with a broken paw of his own.
“There is always something you’ve got to work on, ball security and pass protection. I played during the season with a broken hand that nobody knew about. I just kept it under wraps,” he said in an interview with Houston-based radio hosts Ted Johnson and Rich Lord.
He did not specifically say when he broke it. Foreman missed one game -- not due to the hand -- this past season and when healthy (relatively speaking) he mopped up the competition with 2,028 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. That prolific campaign earned him Doak Walker Award honors. He could hear his name called in the middle rounds in the spring draft.
10. Former Tennessee back Jalen Hurd continues the quest to find his transfer home. Already, Ohio State, Cal and Oregon have been linked to him. He has reportedly visited the former two programs. You can add one more to that list, as on Thursday word surfaced that Hurd was visiting Louisville. He will most likely have to sit out the 2017 season due to transfer regulations, but patience is a virtue and Hurd’s addition could be worth a little patience. Prior to putting forth a rough 451-yard rushing campaign in 2016, one which finished collapsing in on itself when he finally opted to leave the team at the end of October, Hurd danced his way to 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2015.