During the fast approaching college football opening weekend, Herbstreit will call three games in five days, all in prime time, beginning with Ohio State at Indiana on Thursday, Aug. 31 (8 p.m., ET, ESPN), followed by ABC’s Saturday Night Football featuring Florida State versus Alabama on Saturday, Sept. 2 (8 p.m.), and concluding with Tennessee versus Georgia Tech on Monday, Sept. 4 (8 p.m., ESPN). The latter two games are part of the 2017 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game series. Herbstreit jumped on a call earlier today to answer questions about the upcoming season. For more on what to expect this season be sure to check out The Herbies Pre-Season Special tonight, August 23, at 10 p.m. ET.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us today for the preseason call with Kirk Herbstreit.
Q. Kirk, on the two L.A. quarterbacks, how hot are the expectations for Darnold coming off of that Rose Bowl, and what are your expectations for Rosen this season? Thank you.
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think anytime you perform on a stage the way Sam Darnold did in the Rose Bowl, there’s a lot of anticipation. I remember actually walking out of that stadium thinking, well, Sam Darnold and Saquon Barkley are probably going to be the face of the sport going into the ’17 season. And as we are finally here now, you can really see because not just great seasons they had, but I think by having that exclamation point, I think it gets you excited for what they can do after an entire off-season to get even better.
So I expect Sam Darnold, in fact, I have him as my preseason Heisman frontrunner to win the Heisman. I think SC’s going to have a good year, and I think he’s going to enjoy a really good year individually.
Josh Rosen is a bit of a wild card, as we all know. He kind of burst onto the scene a couple years ago, and as so often we see with some of these five-star Elite 11 quarterbacks, almost unrealistic expectations in his first year. And I think he showed some brilliance at times, and I think there were other times where maybe he’s trying to make too many things happen or whatever it might be. Then, of course, last year he had an injury. So I think there’s a big — there’s a lot of anticipation to see not only the kind of year he’s going to have, but I think also just his team in general with what his head coach is facing and with what he is facing because of his lofty expectations coming off a 4-8 year, and Jim Mora now in his sixth year.
I think they’re both going to have big years, but I would give the nod to Darnold, personally, because I think he’s got a chance to have the huge year.
Q. I wanted to ask a big-picture question about the issue of graduate transfers in football. Seems like more and more programs are kind of embracing that avenue to fill need. Do you like how that rule has been a boon to the game? Does it seem like it’s been more accepted maybe on the football side than the basketball side?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I can just speak from the football side. You know, when it first started to happen, I wondered how often we might see it, but as you said, I think now it’s starting to become something that’s more on a regular basis. Every off-season you see some of these guys move around. As long as they’re not bouncing around a couple times, some of those guys, you know, I know each individual case is unique and separate from other cases. You don’t want to use kind of a broad brush to look at them all. But I think it gives a player an opportunity if things didn’t work out at a certain school to maybe be able to go out one more season and try to find the right fit.
So if you’re getting things done in the classroom, and the NCAA wants to afford him that chance to move around and find a place where he feels more comfortable his last year, I personally have no issue with it. I think it’s great for the player and obviously great for the school that ends up inheriting a lot of these guys.
Q. Wanted to get your thoughts on Tom Herman stepping into the situation at Texas? How do you look at the fit so far with Tom at Texas, and what are the realistic expectations that you see for his first year in terms of on-the-field performance?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well, I think whether it’s his time at Ohio State or when he was a head coach at Houston for a couple years down there, anybody that’s ever met Tom Herman, that there’s an energy that kind of precedes him. So anybody that knew that, along with Texas and their rich tradition and their resources, I think anybody thought, wow, this has a chance to be really, really special.
I think on top of that, as much as people didn’t really appreciate Charlie Strong and the coaching maybe and the performance of the teams that he had there for those three years. I think at least Tom Herman is inheriting a team with some experience and a team that has some potential.
They’ve got some skill and they’ve got a defense where it’s virtually almost the entire defense is back. I think he brought a staff with him that has that same energy that Tom Herman has. I’ve got to put the Herbies out tonight, and I’ve put surprise teams out there. Texas is at the top of the list for me. I might be completely out in left field, but I think when you have the skill that you have, the system that will be put in place offensively, and as I said, I think the defense will be a lot better along with Tom Herman and the way he approaches his job and the way he’s going to change that culture and the energy, I think he hits the ground running.
I think nine wins is kind of a bar. But I think it’s within reach. We’ll see. But I think they’ve got a chance to not only this year but moving forward next year with the way they’re recruiting and the year after, I think Texas is going to get back to what their fan base expects them to be.
Q. One of the most interesting things about the Bama-Florida State match-up is the coaching match-up between Jimbo and his former boss Nick Saban. Do you see those two as being similar or different?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: You know, I think they’re similar. I was just with Coach Saban yesterday. When I say similar, I don’t know if anybody’s quite like Coach Saban and just his approach. But I do think any time you’re an assistant coach and a coordinator, you tend to pick up on some things. Then when you go off to become a head coach, you obviously maybe filter out a few things and maybe aren’t a natural fit to you and you go on and do your own thing.
But I’ve been around Jimbo and Florida State since he’s been a head coach probably as much as anybody from a national standpoint. When I’m around his team and the personality of his team, it definitely reminds you of an SEC, top-tier SEC or Alabama-type of program just the way they recruit, the demands they put on their players. Just a relentless approach to recruiting, relentless approach to coaching, competitive. I mean, if you put those two guys in a Cornhole game together for halftime entertainment, that might be as good as the actual game itself. I mean, they want to win and compete. I think that has a lot to do with why they both enjoy so much success.
Q. It seems that Kevin Sumlin is on the hot seat every year, and there are always questions about his performance and about his future. How do you see A&M shaping up in the SEC this year?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well, I think there for a while it was, you know, he was trending in a way that everybody thought he might leave A&M and go to the NFL, when they were in those glory years the first couple of years. Of course they’ve fallen on some hard times the last three years. What’s interesting to me when we went back and looked at it, you think of A&M’s starts these last three years, all three years 5-0, ranked up in the top 10 in the country. Then you look at the games after those 5-0 starts, and I think collectively in the three years they’re 9-15. So something is there. If that happens once, maybe a second time, but a third time, I’m sure that’s an area that he has felt that he’s had to address. You could put in drills and different things in the off-season and finishing, and here’s a fourth-quarter mat drill or whatever you might want to do. But when GameDay was there when they played Tennessee and they were No. 8 in the country at that time, they found a way to win that one in double overtime. They went all the way up to No. 6 before they played Alabama. Then it’s almost as if they lose a game and then it’s like, oh, well, there went that season. It just caves in emotionally.
I don’t know. His AD came out and was very vocal with, hey, we better do better than we are. I can’t sit here and talk to you and say, hey, he better win nine or he better win ten. I just think they can’t look the way they’ve looked the last three years. If they win 8 or 9 and they don’t collapse in the second half of the season, then I think that’s improvement and that would be a positive thing for Kevin Sumlin. But if they go through what they’ve been through the last three years where they collapse in the second half, then I’m sure they’d have to make a move.
Q. Just wanted your thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s encore this past season, and what you expect from him and Louisville as a team?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: He is still playing this year, huh? I’m blown away. I haven’t had a chance to really talk much until today. I’ve just been floored by — it’s as if Louisville isn’t playing this year and Lamar Jackson, I didn’t know if he went to the NFL. I didn’t know if he was still back. Turns out he is. I don’t know in the years I’ve been around this sport at a pretty high level and watching athletes, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy have a year that he enjoyed and then almost just be forgotten by the masses the following year. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I was there at Papa John’s Stadium watching what he did to a Florida State defense. I have images of that night watching. Nobody does that to a Florida State defense.
Now I know the team had their issues with the offensive line and they kind of really down the stretch against Houston, Kentucky and LSU, I don’t know how many times he got sacked, but it wasn’t pretty. To me they can’t help but be better on the offensive line. They have a new offensive line coach. The way Bobby Petrino recruits athletes, I’ve got great confidence that he’s going to find guys that are going to be able to be athletic and make plays around Lamar. Lamar’s had an entire off-season to get bigger and stronger and study tape. The notion that the guy can’t throw, I don’t know where it comes from. I have very, very, high expectations for him to kind of pick up where he left off. If they can help him at all with that offensive line, then I think it’s going to be another exciting year in Louisville.
Q. The other day Richard Lagow was talking about having the opportunity to meet with you in San Diego this spring. What was the impression he made upon you those couple days in San Diego? What were your takeaways from some of those interactions with him?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I was really fortunate to hang out with a few of the guys out there, and my youngest son went out there with me and we were visiting with George. I just had all the guys. I had a very favorable impression of them all. Richard to me is, I think, a great example of a guy that came in as a JC guy and was looking for a place to land. Kevin Wilson brought him in, and he came in, and I think he would be the one and he’s probably talked to you about this, just about how he was trying to just kind of figure out the system and figure out defenses at that level of football. I think his head was spinning a little bit. Meanwhile he was putting up decent numbers with the exception of the 17 interceptions.
I think now after going through that and leading them into a bowl game, I think you come back. Now it’s almost like he’s just a different guy. You know, he seems like he’s coming out of his shell a little bit more. He seems much more confident in not only his ability to make throws, but I think also more confident in knowing maybe the personnel, their strengths and their weaknesses. I don’t know. I think he is incredibly confident that this team has a chance to surprise a lot of people. That was probably the lasting impression that I had was he couldn’t wait for August 31st, and he couldn’t wait. Loves his teammates, just loves being a part of that program, and I think it’s a great story. I really look forward to watching him and the Hoosiers not only on the 31st, but to see the year that they have under Tom Allen, now in his first official year.
Q. Wanted to ask you about Penn State. Obviously the expectations at Happy Valley are sky high this year. I wanted to ask you two things: How difficult is it to duplicate a successful season like they had when they hadn’t done so in quite a while? The other thing, in what areas do you think they need to step it up?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well, I think first of all, you’re right. This program has endured. I’m talking about not all the stuff they had to deal with, I’m talking about the players that signed and stayed committed to the university. This group over the last few years, they’ve had to kind of have an us-against-the-world mentality. James Franklin comes in and tries to kind of right the ship and get these guys back to being Penn State.
You know, his first couple years were solid, considering what he was up against. Then last year obviously after the win against Ohio State — it’s amazing what confidence and belief can do. After they beat Ohio State last year they just found another gear. I think that along with bringing Joe Moorhead in as an offensive coordinator, I think it fit perfectly with what Trace McSorley’s strengths are as a quarterback, and of course, Saquon Barkley. I guess you could run any offense and it would fit him.
But the combination of safeties and defenses have to be very aware of Barkley and the power-running game. That leaves a lot of one-on-one opportunities for the receivers, and as we all know last year the second half and into the Rose Bowl, Trace McSorley and the receivers were able to come up with big plays.
So I’ve got to believe that even though they maybe lost their best receiver in Godwin, I think whoever is defending Penn State has got to deal with how are we going to stop, first and foremost, the best running back in the country? Are we going to have to put numbers up? If we do, we’re going to leave ourselves susceptible to the big play of McSorley. So I think that continues probably with a few wrinkles from Joe Moorhead this year.
So I think offensively they’re in a really good spot. I guess if there’s an area for me that is a question mark until you see it, because they have such experience coming back and in the back seven, it’s just they lost a couple of really good pass-rushers in Sickels and Schwan. I just want to see, even though we’ve seen Torrence Brown and Shareef Miller and Buchholz, we’ve seen these guys play, you’re going to have to now see them be the guy and see how they respond to being up there and getting consistently getting pressure on quarterbacks. Because the last couple years that’s been a real strength of their team is being able to get to the quarterback.
Will they be able to do that without having to blitz, I think, is something that I’m anxious to see as they get ready to start their season.
Q. What’s your take on a Heisman situation now that Joe Burrow’s indefinitely with a broken hand? How confident would you be that Dwayne Haskins could be the guy?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think from everybody I talked to, Joe in camp was just consistent. You probably know that. It was just his consistency. I think going in, to some of the people on the outside, they thought Dwayne Haskins might settle in there at that No. 2 spot. And Joe Burrow continues to show people, I don’t know a thing about his dad as a college coach and a defensive mind growing up in that house, you wonder how much Joe innately picked up, and how it’s impacted his game as he was growing up. But he was very, very consistent and looked like he was ready to be that guy.
With that being said, I don’t think it was a slam dunk. I do think Dwayne Haskins is still very capable. I think Ohio State when you compare them to some of the other teams that might be in the top 5 or 10 in the AP Poll, you bring up, oh, my gosh, what happens if Florida State Deondre Francois goes down, what do they do? Or what happens if Trace McSorley or whoever, you go through the list of teams, in Ohio State’s case, if J.T. Barrett were to go down, of course it’s a significant loss for them. But I do think Urban Meyer and Kevin Wilson and company, I think they’re pretty confident that even though Joe is lost, I do think they think that Dwayne Haskins can step in and still run this offense.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the Miami Hurricanes, what are your thoughts about them this season? And what do you think it could be in the ACC? I know Florida State’s the favorite, but your expectations of the Hurricanes?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yeah, I think it’s exciting to see the direction that they’re heading right now under Mark Richt. Just thinking about this program seems like for over a decade has just been — we’ve always been waiting for the Canes to come back to college football and be that team that they were not only back in the ’80s and ’90s, but some of those great teams they had in 2000, and 2001 and 2003. I think Mark Richt being an alum — I personally thought Mark Richt after Georgia probably would step down and go find some other things that are appealing to him beyond coaching. He’s such a humanitarian that I thought he might go that route. This was maybe three years ago. I just felt like maybe he was running out of a little bit of gas. Man, not only is it great for Miami, him going down there, it seems to have, in my opinion, given Mark Richt a second wind. He looks as young and energetic as I’ve seen him.
He looks excited about the challenge of trying to bring his old school back to the glory years. He has, from everybody I’ve talked to, the support, which is so important at that school, of the brotherhood and the Miami alums. So I think it’s exciting. Think about it, nine wins in his first year? Now they lose the quarterback who had such experience the last three years, and you lose some of the receivers and tight ends, but I think overall if they find a quarterback, which you know better than me if you’ve been out at practice, they’re going to be able to run the ball with Mark Walton. They’re going to be able to make plays with the receivers they have. It’s impossible to know how good they’re going to be at quarterback. Is it just going to be, hey, don’t lose the game? Or is it going to be a guy that can actually make plays? Because I think eventually to be able to compete on the road in Tallahassee, to be able to beat Notre Dame, to be able to go on the road in Chapel Hill and win some of these games, you need more — in this case, I think you need more than just a game manager.
I really can’t have a strong opinion about the Miami quarterback situation until we see them play probably the first few games. I know their third game is on the road in Tallahassee, that’s when we’ll obviously have an idea. But this defense is going to be outstanding. Last year they were great. Most of them are back this year.
So I think Miami’s going to end up winning their division, and I think they’ll end up playing Florida State in the ACC championship this year.
Q. Jim McElwain has been praised as a great offensive mind and was hired for that reason. Gator fans haven’t seen much of that so far. What are hallmarks from your vantage point of his offense? What do you expect from when things are going to start showing, I guess, in games on that side of the ball?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I think when I think of Jim McElwain and offenses, I think of teams that are able to control the line of scrimmage. Teams that always had not only one but two tailbacks that could rotate in. I think those two things were always there. He had a quarterback that was literally an extension of him into the huddle. He had a quarterback that he trusted. When you have a quarterback in your system that he trusts, even though you look back at Alabama and some of the quarterbacks that he had, they weren’t necessarily first picks in the NFL Draft, but they were very, very cerebral. They were very, very capable of being a high-percentage passers, avoided a disastrous play. But at the same time, if you gave them one-on-one, they were going to take advantage of it and make big plays.
I think it’s ironic that in his first couple years they’ve gotten to the SEC championship game and they’ve had offenses that have averaged 23 points a game. If he’s getting to Atlanta with averaging 23 points a game, if I were a Florida fan I would not think, wow, Jim McElwain’s forgotten how to coach offense. I would think, wow, we’ve got to keep believing in what he’s doing, defense with the athletes this he get on that side of the ball, the defense is going to keep them in a lot of games. But wait until he gets the linemen, and the backs and the quarterback that I think eventually he’ll get. That combination will become pretty dangerous for teams to deal with in the FC SEC.
Q. You mentioned that you were with Alabama this week. I was just wondering what you’ve seen out of the team are and the potential of this year’s division?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Well, I did call their spring game as well. Joey Galloway and Joe Tessitore did their spring game for ESPN. The unique perspective, every year I call that game for them and we do an analysis from the field standing right behind the offensive huddle. It gave me a pretty good perspective on some of the newer faces and some of the guys that are going to have to fill the shoes of Reuben Foster and Jonathan Allen and Tomlinson and Anderson and Humphrey. They lost so much. Tim Williams on the defensive side. I think initially there is that thought of it’s finally going to catch up to him. There’s no way you can lose who they’ve lost not just last year but the year before and not take a step back.
All I can tell you is the only thing I’m concerned about is the intangibles of the team. Physically, when people see a Quinnen Williams or Raekwon Davis or Da’Ron Payne. Jennings is a guy that stands out, Terrell Lewis, their front has the physical attributes to be very, very similar to what they’ve had. But, man, the leadership that they’ve lost, that’s the one area that you wonder who can step up and provide that. Because I think Shaun Dion Hamilton could be that guy. Rashaan Evans could be that guy. I think on the back end, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison could lead the back end. So I think there’s guys in place, but, again, until you see it in a big game in week one against Florida State you’re left kind of wondering if it’s as good as it’s been the last nine or ten years, because that’s kind of the secret sauce to me with Alabama. It’s not just Nick Saban. The culture that he creates is the older players police the team, and that’s a big part of why they practice as consistently as they do, why they never become complacent, is the older players buy in. I’m excited to see this next wave of older players and see if they can kind of continue that mantra that Rolando McClain and company started back in ’08 and ’09.
And then offensively I don’t know if the local media is still trying to create an issue with the quarterbacks, but it’s very clear to me that this is going into the season. It’s Jalen Hurts’ team. 15 games of starting experience under his belt, the guy looks very, very confident, throwing the ball well. I think right now he and Brian Daboll are a great fit, and it’s an embarrassment of riches in the back field in what they have. I think the receivers, some of the young ones, are going to come along just fine.
But this team is once again equipped to make another run to a playoff and potentially a National Championship if they get the leadership, and as I say, the intangibles to be able to step up to what they’ve come to expect.
Q. Next week College GameDay is going to be headed to Bloomington for the first time. I was wondering, what do you like most about first-time visits with your colleagues, and what are you looking forward to most about Bloomington and the coverage that ESPN will be doing from there next week?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I’m fired up. First of all, to get the season started like you are, just to be able to see football, to be able to see real games. I’ve been on the treadmill watching these classic type of games and you know you’ve got an issue when it’s the middle of August and you’re watching Pitt against Clemson for the third time. It’s like we need a new game to watch.
So I’m excited to kick the season off and in kind of grand fashion for game day, which is very rare, by the way, for us to get on the road on a Thursday night. How interesting to have an Ohio State on the road in a conference game against an Indiana team with a great deal of experience, and Indiana against their former head coach. There is just a lot there for an opening game on a Thursday night.
And Indiana, as you know from covering them, thinks very well of themselves to think that they can compete not only with Ohio State, but I think they can finally take that step to get over the hump and compete in the Big Ten East.
So I’m excited. I don’t know any of the sandwich places there, but I’m sure it’s a great place to grab a sandwich and get ready for an exciting couple days in Bloomington.
Q. Two very quick questions, although the second one is probably going to be a little tough to answer: First off, do you think the Alabama-Florida State game is the biggest opener that college football has ever seen? Second of all, how do you think college football would be different if Nick Saban had not gone to Alabama?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Okay. The first one, I can just go by my lifetime. I haven’t looked with our research department. I’ll have to get to the Bear on this to look it up, but I can’t recall a game that had 1 against 3 in the first week of the season. Have you looked that up? Do you know if you’ve come up with a game that rivals that?
Q. I’ve not had a chance to look at that.
KIRK HERBSTREIT: I’ll get to the Bear on that because it’s a great question. Off the top of my head, and I’ve called a lot of these games in Arlington down at Jerry Jones’ place, and the games in Atlanta to kind of kick off the season where there are teams from big conferences coming together. I can remember one year LSU played Oregon in the opening game, and I was really excited about that game. But I think this has a feel — I don’t know how you feel, but it almost feels like a National Championship game week one. I think what’s funny to me is if the game is competitive, and no matter who wins, the loser is going to drop one or two spots in the poll. They’re still right in position to do whatever they need to do. In fact, I have both of these teams in the playoff. Preseason ESPN asked me to pick who I kind of forecast to make it into the playoffs, and I think Alabama and Florida State both will end up making it despite playing in week one.
I kind of have a different spin on Nick Saban going to Alabama. I think him going to Alabama has been incredible for college football. I think having Alabama on, I think, about their tenth year of a dynasty has been outstanding to college football.
Now maybe not if you’re an Auburn or LSU or SEC fan competing against Alabama. But I think anytime you have a program that’s raising the bar and forcing other coaches and other programs to try to compete with them, I think it’s awesome. I think the fact they’re a traditional power, I think it kind of adds to the mystique of who they are and what they’re doing. I look forward to every week no matter who they’re playing, because Alabama never seems to take a week off, I look forward to seeing who they play and can they take Alabama’s best shot, and can somebody compete with Alabama? Can somebody sneak up and get Alabama? I think that’s not bad for football. I think it’s been great.
Q. Two quick things, both on quarterbacks: Obviously Hurts is getting a lot of talk, but you’ve got another quarterback over at Florida State coming into his sophomore year. How do you sense he will play in that opener? And second, another quarterback, Jarrett Stidham seems to be deemed the answer for Auburn. Just your thoughts on him as well?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: Yes, sir. I think first of all, I’m glad you touched on Deondre because last year I think I may have called four or five of his games. It seemed like every game he played he was on his back or he was throwing a touchdown pass. One or the other. He got pulverized in a number of games starting with the opener against Ole Miss. The thing that just blew me away was how he would just not go away. He just kept coming back. When you’ve got a guy like that, I don’t know if I can even put into words what that does to the offensive line and the running backs and the receivers when their quarterback is knocked down again and gets back up again. In fact, it impacts the defense. It impacts the coaches.
Just overall when you’ve got a quarterback that’s mentally tough like that, you just can’t put on paper how valuable that is. Because of that here they go against Alabama in the opener, because he’s under center, to me, this game is a whole different ballgame just because of Deondre Francois and because of the experience he gained last year. I’m assuming he’s going to be that same tough guy that led them a year ago.
I think that Jimbo Fisher after winning the championship in ’13, getting to the playoffs in ’14, the Jameis era kind of ended. I think in ’15 and ’16, they’ve been kind of putting the pieces back together with the hopes of maybe ’17 could be a year when they get back into the conversation. Yet in these two years they still got to ten wins each year, including a big win last year and a big bowl game in the Orange Bowl.
So I think the Noles are a very, very good opponent for Alabama, and the fact that they have Deondre Francois give them a legitimate chance to give Bama all they can handle on Saturday night.
As far as the Stidham kid, he’s a guy that I remember when Jeremy Johnson was coming in, and there were, I think, people before we really saw him play much, there are people that were talking about him maybe getting to a Heisman that year. Obviously it didn’t work out for him. I think there’s a little bit more evidence in my opinion with Stidham just because of what we saw him do at Baylor. Now this is a very, very different offense than what he ran at Baylor. All I can tell you is from calling a game of his when he was down there. The kid is very athletic, not only can he throw it. I always feel like when Gus has a guy who can run it like a legitimate threat to make defenses, be aware of what he can do running the ball. It just opens up every other aspect of their attack. I don’t know. I haven’t talked yet with Gus about how he’s progressing. But I know what the kid has, as far as his ability to run and throw, I think he fits in perfectly into that offense, and with the big backs that they have behind him with Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway, this offense has a chance to be the Gus Malzahn offense, when they’re scoring 35, 40 points a game.
So week two will be interesting on the road at Clemson. But I think Stidham ends up having a big year this year in that system.
Q. Alabama, Florida State, Wisconsin they were all successful last year with freshmen quarterbacks. Do you think that’s a coincidence, or is having a freshman quarterback no longer a reason to have concern or apprehension about your team?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: That’s a great, great observation and a good point. The game has changed so much. I think there’s a couple different reasons why you’re seeing it more now than maybe back in the ’80s, ’90s, even 15 years ago. The reason is I think the way quarterbacks train when they’re in middle school and high school is at a very, very different level now. You get a high-level athlete who has changed with a personal quarterback coach, and you get him ready for his senior year, by the time he leaves as a senior in high school, he is so much more polished, and so much more educated on the passing game and reading coverages. It’s leaps and bounds from what it used to be. So that’s the first thing.
The second thing, I think, a lot of these quarterbacks get in early. They graduate high school early. They get in for the winter. They go through winter conditioning when they’re supposed to be seniors in high school, getting ready for prom. They go through spring football. So by the time they get ready to come back in August, they’re truly, in my opinion at that point, almost a red-shirt freshman.
So, you take those two variables in my opinion, the development at a younger age, the fine tuning, the studying coverages, the ability to throw the ball, and you combine that with getting into school early and I think that puts a lot of these guys in position to be able to play and adjust to the speed of the game, which is usually the toughest thing. It’s those two things that have helped these guys do that.
Q. My question is about Clemson: Back-to-back College Football Playoff and National Championship game appearances. Has Dabo Swinney built the kind of program that they can make another run at it this year? Or do you see this as a bit of a transition year, even though the defense is still going to be pretty good?
KIRK HERBSTREIT: No, I don’t think it’s necessarily a transition year. Let’s face it, you get a quarterback like Deshaun Watson come through the program, and I love Tajh Boyd, and Tajh Boyd was a bad man when he played on that offense. But Deshaun Watson just did a few different things that you just don’t see very many quarterbacks do.
So I’m not going to say you’re never going to have another Deshaun Watson. But the year after Deshaun Watson leaves, and you’re looking around to see who might be the next guy, and it sounds like it’s going to be Kelly Bryant. You look at the game experience that Kelly has, and I think he attempted maybe nine passes last year. When you watch him throw, yeah, he’s got a good arm, he can run around, but until you see him play, you just don’t know what he can do. Can he be a Tajh Boyd? Can he be able to do some things that Deshaun did?
I think if you look around him, they’ve got athletes everywhere. Clemson’s recruiting now the last probably five years at a level that very few teams are in the whole country. It’s only going to get stronger with Dabo, the new facility. The brand right now has never been hotter. They’re capitalizing on it.
I don’t think it’s necessarily a transition year. I just think when you lose a player of that magnitude, and you take out Wayne Gallman, you take out Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett, that’s a lot of production to take away from an offense and expect the next group not to miss a beat.
I still think they’re going to be productive, because I think it’s an offense that allows them to be able to bring guys in and adjust to their strengths. I think their defense, as you said, their defensive line is probably as good as there is in the country.
But I think you’re dealing with being that team that won last year with the big target that everybody wants a piece of. The schedule I think is tougher with Auburn – they’re at Louisville, they’re at Virginia Tech this year. Even a game like at N.C. State, I just think I would not want to be quoted as saying it’s a transition year. I just think it’s going to be more of a challenge, obviously, for them this year. But I still think they’re a team that could still go out there and win 11 or 12 games this year.
Media Contact: Derek Volner at [email protected] or 860-766-8019 (@DerekVolner)