LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The College Football Notebook can almost smell the popcorn. Governor's Cup news conference last week. Big Ten Media Days are in the book. Big East Media clambake on deck this week. The Tennessee Football practice facility is not yet fully operational, shoe-drying room and all, but it's still perhaps the Eighth Wonder of College Football. Let's kick it off . . .
From last in the Big East to first in the nation?
Here's some good news that will be bad news for Louisville football coach Charlie Strong – at least in his efforts to reel in the considerable expectations that surround his third Cardinals' football team.
Athlon Sports, which publishes sports yearbooks and operates a sports website, has picked its six dark-horse teams to contend for the 2013 Bowl Championship Series title. (www.athlonsports.com.)
And U of L ranks fifth on the list, behind Texas, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin and Michigan State – and just ahead of Boise State.
WARNING: A year ago, Athlon picked Louisville to finish last in the Big East. Strong had a copy of that story turned into a poster. It was displayed on a wall outside the Cardinals' locker room.
The Notebook predicts this one will not be displayed as prominently. Here is what Athlon says about why the Cards will – and will not – be a dark-horse contender:
Why They Will: If you are looking for a team on the rise, look no further than Louisville. Sure, the Cardinals' record is just 14-12 in the last two years, but the program is on the right track under coach Charlie Strong. Louisville has also played a handful of young players over the last two seasons, including sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. As a freshman last year, Bridgewater threw for 2,129 yards and 14 touchdowns. He should only get better in 2012, especially with a talented group of young receivers returning. The defense should rank among the best in the conference, and the incoming recruiting class will bolster the depth and talent on each level, particularly at linebacker with Nick Dawson and Keith Brown. The Cardinals have some tricky games on the schedule but should be favored in each contest.
Why They Won't: Even if the Cardinals can navigate through the season with one loss or an undefeated record, it's a longshot they would climb high enough in the BCS standings to play for the national title. The Big East does not have a strong reputation right now, which will hurt Louisville in terms of national respect. In order for the Cardinals to make a run at the national title game, they need some help from their Big East foes. Getting Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and South Florida to make a run into the top 25 would help the conference's reputation and give Louisville a boost in schedule strength. The biggest personnel issue for Louisville is youth. Eleven sophomores could earn starting spots in the two-deep, while there's only six seniors expected to see significant snaps in 2012.
Gaines move to offense still needs final Strong seal of approval
Will Stein let slip to WDRB.com last week that talented redshirt freshman Charles Gaines has been working out with wide receivers this summer, sending ripples of anticipation through the fan base.
Chances are, that's where you'll see Gaines line up when camp opens on Aug. 3, but the certainty of that depends on whom you talk to.
"I made the move over, so the defense still wants him, so it's not complete that he's going over," Strong said. "It's going to depend on how the receivers do (in fall camp). He didn't even play last season, so we were just trying to find a spot. You ask on offensive coach and he's on offense. You ask a defensive coach he's on defense. I will break that tie when the time comes.
Strength and conditioning results: Strong waits for the field
Players get excited about the strength and conditioning numbers they put up in final workouts, but Strong said he reserves judgment on those.
"I don't really get into those numbers, because everybody's going to say guys are stronger, guys are bigger," Strong said. "So it's when you get on the field in practice that you really see it with a lot of guys."
Phillips looking for a few good fans
At the annual Kickoff Luncheon for the University of Kentucky football team, Joker Phillips once again made an impassioned plea for support. A Lexington Herald-Leader story this week showed UK football season ticket sales down 27 percent from last season's final number and 37 percent below the program's peak in 2009. A Herald-Leader open-records request showed that UK had sold 35,486 season tickets as of last week.
On Friday, Joker told fans at the Lexington Convention Center, his voice breaking at moments, "These players don't need everybody to believe in them. But they damn sure need somebody to. I expect you, the Big Blue Nation, to get behind this football team. Why? Because we are UK."
Tim Couch doesn't live here anymore
Joker Phillips doesn't have the same worries that Strong has about raging expectations. Not only is there little talk about what the Wildcats can achieve this season, there is also little talk about the UK players on the pre-season award lists.
It seems that www.al.com, a web site that serves several papers in Alabama, has ranked the Top 50 football players in the Southeastern Conference for the 2012 season. The Notebook is surprised they stopped at 50. There are at least 100 players deserving of love and attention.
Guess how many Wildcats made the list?
One – offensive lineman Larry Warford, who was ranked 33rd.
Here is the Top 10: 1. Barrett Jones, Alabama, offensive line; 2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, halfback; 3. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas, quarterback; 4. Jarvis Jones, Georgia, linebacker; 5. Tyrann Mathieu, Louisiana State, defensive back; 6. Knile Davis, halfback, Arkansas; 7. Sam Montgomery, Louisiana State, defensive line; 8. James Franklin, Missouri, quarterback; 9. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, defensive end; 10. Barkevious Mingo, LSU, defensive end.
How many ways can Kevin Wilson explain 1-11?
The more that Indiana football coach Kevin Wilson thinks about his debut with the Hoosiers a year ago, the more Wilson blushes.
And why wouldn't he?
The Hoosiers were not ahead for a single snap in the second half of any of their eight Big Ten games. Wilson has even dragged out the dreaded E-Word – embarrassed -- to talk about the Hoosiers' performance during a 1-11 season that saw IU lose to Ball State and North Texas.
"The record is not near where it can be," Wilson told Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune during Big Ten Media Days in downtown Chicago Thursday. Personally, I'm embarrassed. It starts with me. We're going to make some strides. We've worked like a team that's not 1-11."
Indiana opens camp for the 2012 season next week and will have its annual media day Thursday at Memorial Stadium. IU kicks off the season Sept. 1 when Indiana State visits. The Sycamores had long been one of the worst teams in FCS football, but they made Larry Bird proud last year, finishing 6-5 with a 44-16 victory over Western Kentucky.
Wilson was asked if Tre Roberson will retain the starting quarterback spot, even though the Hoosiers have added two quarterbacks to the mix. Roberson started IU's final five games as a true freshman last season, but Wilson was not pleased with Roberson's completion percentage (57) or that he threw six interceptions and only three touchdowns.
"When you are a 1-11 football team, there is no player set," Wilson told the Tribune. "Got to earn it every day. We're not going to be a good team in the Big Ten with average quarterback play."
Wilson: One key for defense -- play better offense
Wilson took several questions about his defense at Big Ten Media Days, as well he should. It gave up more than 240 yards per game on the ground. Wilson said the defense would be improved, but that the team's offense might be in position to make the bigger strides -- and might have to.
"When we get a team on schedule (defensively) -- there's a number of games last year where we had a team on schedule and a very manageable third and long that we gave up that we worked very, very hard in spring to understand the concepts of what we're trying to do and the type of routes and the schemes that offenses will do in situations to win a basketball game, get some stops.
"I think we'll be a lot better on defense, but we're not at a point physically and in year two to play lights-out great defense. We've got to score a lot more points, too. Everybody talks about our D struggling. We average 18.1 points. That's as poor an offense as I've been around since 1999.
"So we need to score points, because that will help our defense. We move the ball offensively. I think 59 percent of the time when we got to the 40 yard line, we scored points. So basically, three out of five times, we scored points at the 40 yard line when you're getting into that fringe score area."
Tennessee football facility called 'the gold standard'
Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said he considers a tour of the school's almost-complete 145,000-square foot football training facility a failure unless he hears the word, "Wow." His media tour of the facility this week was not a failure.
The UT weight room is referred to in a promotional video for the facility as a 22,000 square foot "multilevel thunderdome of power." It includes a nutrition bar and an MMA cage.
The weight room leads into the 7,000 square foot locker room with individual charging stations in each locker. The 3,600 square foot hydro therapy center has two underwater treadmills and a 40-foot lap pool. In addition to 15 meeting rooms, the facility also has a grand meeting room, with slanted ceiling and room for 165 players and coaches to sit in custom-designed chairs. It also houses a restaurant-style dining facility.
"Tennessee got behind," Dooley told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "We did some great things with our stadium, but where the players live . . . We didn't have what we needed."
Now, he says, Tennessee has surpassed even NFL teams in training facilities.
After incident, Dooley worried about QB Bray's accuracy
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray was in the news this week when a fellow tenant in his building accused him of throwing beer bottles and golf balls from his apartment balcony.
A victim, who's car was damaged, decided not to press charges when Bray offered to pay for the damages. When asked about the incident this week, Dooley told The Nashville Tennessean: "He's made some progress in a lot of areas, but that's just silly behavior. Any time we get a little negative publicity for our program, we take it seriously. . . . Obviously, his accuracy isn't where it needs to be. He missed the trash can."
Big East bashing, part 3,914
You expect people to take shots at Big East football. It happens every year. Always has. Always will. That's never going to change. In fact, it's probably going to escalate as conference affiliations continue to shift. It's as much a part of college football as Lee Corso and leftover potato salad.
What The Notebook did not expect, at least not this quickly, was this: Our friend, West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen, taking a shot at the Big East, his old league, before the Mountaineers have even played one game in their new league, the Big 12.
But he did.
Talking at Big 12 Media Days this week, Holgorsen had this to say about his program's new conference affiliation:
"What's awesome about the Big 12 as opposed to where we were last year is the national exposure."
For the record, The Notebook would like it noted that Holgorsen's team actually was "exposed" twice in the Big East last season – losing 49-23 at Syracuse and again at home, 38-35 to Louisville.
WVU center Joe Madsen had an excuse for USA Today:
"I hate to say it," the senior center said, "but we kind of put it in neutral in some games we played last year in the Big East. There were teams like Syracuse where you thought, 'OK, we beat them so many times.' "
San Diego State anticipates Big East exposure lift
At Mountain West Media Days, San Diego State coach Randy Long acknowledged that a move to the Big East might not get the Aztecs any closer to the college football championship structure.
"I don't think necessarily that this new plan is going to give us any more of a chance," he told UT-San Diego. "Now, you start talking about eight teams (in a playoff)? Then maybe someone from this conference has a legitimate chance of playing in the national championship."
But Long does expect the team's exposure to explode from the sometimes-forgotten Mountain West.
"I don't think the competition will be better," Long said. "I think more people will be able to watch it. You put all those Big East teams in there, those Florida schools, and the populations. All of a sudden, you're seen a lot more."
C-USA schools on track to pay exit fees on schedule
C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky told The Orlando Sentinel that the exit process for schools leaving his conference for the Big East has gone smoothly.
UCF, Houston, Memphis and SMU are leaving C-USA in June of next year.
"They've escrowed and created security in the amount of, I think, $6.5 million to accommodate any losses," Banowsky said.
It's in contrast to the legal wrangling the Big East experienced with West Virginia and Pittsburgh
"We buttoned up our business really well," Banowsky told The Sentinel. "All four of our departing members followed our bylaws, and that was good. It hasn't always happened that way. There are some conferences where they don't respect the prior agreements, but our conference has been good. So we'll see in the future how all that plays out."
2012 Heisman Trophy Front-Runners
1. Matt Barkley, Southern California, quarterback 2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina, running back 3. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas, quarterback 4. Denard Robinson, Michigan, quarterback 5. Landry Jones, Oklahoma, quarterback