College Football Roundup: March 24

JD Yonke
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Kirk Ciarrocca

After one largely unsuccessful year as Penn State’s Offensive Coordinator, Kirk Ciarrocca joined West Virginia’s staff on Tuesday as an offensive analyst. Head coach Neal Brown cited the two’s time together on the Delaware staff back in the early aughts as a catalyst for the hire. It’s an inspired move by the Mountaineers — Ciarrocca certainly fits the bill as an overqualified offensive analyst.

I get the naysayers who have a bad taste in their mouths after his lone year in Happy Valley. He has mostly followed PJ Fleck around (at Western Michigan 2013-2016, Minnesota 2017-2019), and the one year he was without PJ, his offense floundered. But let’s take a closer look at his resume. Last year’s Penn State team was hammered by opt-outs, didn’t have a QB that was Big Ten starter caliber, and lost most of what was presumed to be an embarrassingly-loaded RB room. Plus, it was the guy’s first season and he had anything but a normal offseason to prepare. For the most part, I’m willing to give a one year pass to coaches due to the pandemic season — everything was different, and let’s not pretend otherwise.

Let’s look back further to get a clearer picture of his resume. The 2013 Western Michigan team was 1-11 before turning things around to 8-5 in 2013. I’m excluding 2013 since it was a rebuilding year — albeit a highly successful rebuild. From 2014-2016, his offenses averaged 37.1 points per game. Each season featured a 3000+ yard passer and a 1000+ yard rusher. 2017 at Minnesota was again a rebuilding year, but the 2018-2019 teams averaged 31.5 points per game while also having a 1000+ yard rusher and an efficient passing attack. It seems as though there’s a pattern here — one rebuilding year, followed by a few highly successful ones — and Penn State simply jettisoned Ciarrocca after the rebuilding year. Of course, one has to wonder how that “rebuild and destroy” pattern would play out sans Fleck, but unfortunately we never got to see the experiment run its full course in Happy Valley. They were not looking to rebuild, and the offense took a huge, unexpected step back.

Ciarrocca should fit in nicely in WVU. They run a balanced offensive attack and, in my opinion, he’s way overqualified as an offensive analyst.

George Pickens Tears His ACL

Star WR George Pickens tore his ACL on a non-contact play and will undergo surgery. It’s devastating news for Pickens, who was looking to bounce back after a rough sophomore slump in order to solidify his NFL draft capital. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last that we see of Pickens in a Georgia uniform, as his freshman breakout season ( 49-727-8) is likely enough to earn Day 2 draft stock. This certainly hurts UGA’s offensive outlook, and JT Daniels sees the biggest hit from a CFF standpoint. However, it may not be a total deathblow — we can see by Pickens’s 2020 numbers that Monken and company weren’t quite utilizing him as the alpha wideout that many think he can become. The main beneficiary is WR Jermaine Burton, who showed flashes last year as a freshman (27-404-3 on the season, 8-197-2 against Miss St) and could be in for a monster season. Buy stock now.

Missouri Spring Game

It’s that time of year again. Spring games have finally started to get underway, and I’ll be recapping them all either on my Twitter feed or in this column. In case you missed my Twitter thread, here are the takeaways that I had from Missouri’s spring game.

  • The main takeaway here is that the offense really struggled, and they were going against a defense that has a new DC, new DL coach, a new secondary coach, and only 12 days of practice to get it all together. I know it’s only spring, but no offense should struggle in those conditions.
  • Drinkwitz described his quarterbacks as “Blah” … which is pretty telling.
  • Connor Bazelak, who saw most of the run last year at QB last year, only threw more touchdowns than interceptions in one game all year. One! That’s not a typo — and it came early in the season against an LSU defense that was getting torched by any and all offenses. Not great, considering he was the primary QB for 10 games last fall.
  • Shawn Robinson, who transferred from TCU last year and began the season as the team’s starting QB, has donned the #12 and moved over to the defensive side of the ball, where he’ll be playing safety. He’s always been a freakish athlete.
  • Freshman QB Tyler Macon really caught my eye. He’s a 3-star dual-threat who showed poise and athleticism, highlighted by a rushing TD in the spring game. There’s opportunity for someone new to step up in this QB room, and Macon is definitely the one most intriguing to me at first glance. He impressed me with his intangibles and well-rounded tool box. As a senior in high school, he threw for 4200+ yards and 39 TDs while rushing for 800+ yards and 17 TDs while winning the Illinois 6A State Championship.
  • Mookie Cooper will be involved early at WR. The 4-star recruit made a few plays and will likely be utilized as an underneath option and on screens to breathe some fresh air into an offense that was mostly stale a year ago.

Cal Spring Game

There really wasn’t much to learn from this game, to be honest. None of the starting secondary was playing, and a few other starters were also missing

  • There were some puff pieces about how great Chase Garbers was — he was 5-5 passing for 71 yards and a touchdown — but he only played two drives. It seems like groundhog day where Garbers is hyped up every offseason as an underrated QB. I’d be wary of the hype — he’s a good, solid, veteran quarterback, but the scheme will limit him for CFF purposes. He’s only thrown for 300+ yards in a game twice in his career despite appearing in 24 games.
  • Christopher Brown Jr. is a beast. He’s hiding in plain sight as one the more unheralded RBs in the country.
  • Brown is listed at 6’1” 235lbs and has ran for 1127 yards and 10 TDs in his career while catching 31 balls for 214 yards and 4 TDs. He didn’t see the field much last year while battling through injury, but people seem to be overlooking a guy who is looking to build up his resume this year before hoping for a look in the NFL.
  • They return a lot of production (20th in the country per Bill Connelly), so improvements will likely come for an offense that had only 318 yards and 20.2 points per game a season ago. Whether or not the improvements are major or minor will be the difference.
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