Around the AAC: Media day leftovers
NEWPORT, R.I. -- As quarterbacks go, it's the darndest depth chart Tommy Tuberville has seen. Cincinnati's veteran coach opens camp next month with arguably the nation's best quarterback never to take a collegiate snap, and a fledgling folk hero on his heels.
Well-traveled sophomore Gunner Kiel, once deemed the nation's top QB prospect coming out of high school, enjoyed a dazzling spring and is clearly the player to beat. But senior Munchie Legaux appears poised to push him less than 11 months after suffering what Tuberville called the worst injury he has ever seen.
"A Joe Theismann injury," Tuberville said.
Legaux, then the Bearcats' starter, tore a pair of ligaments in his left knee after being tackled low on a fourth-quarter pass at Illinois last September. He didn't play again in 2013 and Tuberville presumed his career was done. The presumption stood even after Legaux was granted an extra
year of eligibility by the NCAA.
"But in his heart he wants to play," Tuberville said at Tuesday's American Athletic Conference media day.
"So every day our trainer comes in like, 'Hey he's doing this, he's getting better at this.' I thought he'd be about 60 percent, might have a chance to take a few snaps during the year or later on in the year, but he's truly about 80 percent with two weeks to go before we start camp and then a month before we play our first game (Sept. 12). So he's got a legitimate chance to be a factor."
Still, unseating Kiel -- who de-committed from two major schools and spent a season at Notre Dame before transferring -- will be difficult. Kiel has followed his prolific spring effort by working with the No. 1 offensive skill players all summer.
"He's had a lot of notoriety for someone who's never played," Tuberville said.
By contrast, Legaux has -- and seems bent on playing again.
"Players respect him and I'd love to be able to run him out there in the early part of the year as a guy who's gonna be able to help us win games," Tuberville said.
UCONN DERBY: New UConn coach Bob Diaco was clear and concise when asked how much last year's performances by his trio of returning quarterbacks will weigh on his choice of a 2014 starter.
"Zero," he said.
The Huskies, 3-9 last season, return senior Chandler Whitmer (896 yards, five TDs, six INTs in '13) and sophomores Tim Boyle (621 yards, no TDs, eight INTs) and Casey Cochran (1,293 yards, 11 TDs, four INTs). Cochran (6-foot-1, 224 pounds) won three of his four starts at season's end, but will be engaged in an essential dead heat when the Huskies' camp commences Saturday.
"Chandler (6-0, 192) is working on his liabilities. Very few of his liabilities have to do with his tangible skill," Diaco said. "He's incredibly talented, he's fast. He's got an incredibly strong arm. He throws great on the move.
"Casey is your quintessential leader," Diaco added. "He's the moxie, he's the swagger, guts guy that's gonna will the group down the field. But he's got to work on his foot speed. He had to work on his body composition. He probably lost almost 30 pounds.
"And Timmy (6-3, 216), a young guy finding his way from a leadership standpoint, finding his way from a communication standpoint, finding his way as it relates to piecing together all the moving parts of an offense attacking the defense. But he possesses the total package as it relates to his tangible skill."
USFL, PART II? SMU coach June Jones evoked widespread scoffs recently when he suggested on a WDAE-620 AM radio interview the less-prominent FBS
conferences should consider competing in the spring to remain viable and distinctive.
But on Tuesday, Jones, who coached for two springs in the USFL, told the Tampa Bay Times he was simply trying to make a point.
"I said it from my own personal reasons that everybody needs to think out of the box a little bit," he said.
With autonomy imminent for the nation's five biggest conferences, whom some fear ultimately could branch into their own division, the other FBS conferences must carve, claw and innovate to remain relevant. American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco defiantly insisted his league warrants 'power' status also. Jones said he agrees, and believes another conference shake-up is near.
Meantime, distinguishing your product doesn't hurt, he indicated.
"I think that maybe by midseason or maybe at the end of the season there's going to be another shuffle. I think Mike's plan is correct in that if we do what we're supposed to do on the football field and on the basketball court and those other sports, we're the only one that has a chance to
be included (in the 'power' group).
"Everybody better start thinking out of the box."