Crouch gives his take on upcoming season
Eric Crouch has a new option.
Eleven years after winning the Heisman Trophy, the former Nebraska quarterback joins FX's college football coverage as an analyst this fall. Crouch, who rushed for 3,434 yards during his time in Lincoln, led the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 championship in 1999 and became the school's third Heisman Trophy winner as a senior.
The versatile signal-caller earned 1,510 yards passing and 1,115 yards rushing -- both career highs -- in his final season while leading Nebraska to the BCS Championship Game. That year, the Cornhuskers' option attack contributed to six games with at least 41 points for the Big Red. Crouch's signature moment occurred when he cradled a 63-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Mike Stuntz to help topple Oklahoma -- then the defending national champion -- before a raucous crowd at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium.
Crouch spoke with FOX Sports Midwest on Friday about a variety of college football topics, including his favorites to win the Heisman Trophy and national championship in addition to thoughts on Charlie Weis and Missouri as it enters the Southeastern Conference.
FSMW: Is the four-team playoff that will go into effect in 2014 a positive development for college football?
CROUCH: I think it's a great thing. Now teams will have that ability to not only make that BCS game but also have the ability to be potentially playing in the national championship game if they can be one of those four teams. So it really keeps the hopes alive for not only just two teams but for four teams.... I think it would have benefitted us (Nebraska) a little bit, because if we would have been in a situation where we made it to one of those BCS games knowing that we could be playing again in a national championship, I think the attitude of our team would have been different.
FSMW: What does the recent rash of high-profile suspensions, such as Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers and former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, say about college football's current climate?
CROUCH: It tells you that there are a lot of young, immature kids who have been given great opportunities to not only get a free education -- but they pass up on an opportunity to go to the NFL. It makes it a lot harder once you are having trouble in college, because now these scouts are looking at those things. On draft day, they want to know if you have been in trouble before. They want to know if you have been suspended from your team and what those reasons were. I think it's just going to get harder and harder. Information is readily available all the time, and it's much harder for an athlete now than it was 10-15 years ago. If anybody knows (about trouble), they have a voice. And that voice can be heard now very easily.
FSMW: How much will Mathieu's absence hurt LSU?
CROUCH: At first, I really thought they would be. Then I starting thinking that he does come up with some big plays, but LSU is a place that has so many athletes. They're so deep, and they have been recruiting well, and they have been playing a lot of young players. I don't think they're going to miss a beat now that I've thought about it a little more. To be honest, it seems like he probably wasn't the leader that maybe we all thought he was for that team. They're going to do fine.... Obviously, he has an instinct to come up with some big plays and big turnovers, and his return game was second to none. But I do think they'll find people to fill his shoes quite easily.
FSMW: Will USC quarterback Matt Barkley live up to the preseason hype?
CROUCH: I think he's going to do really well this year. Being in the situation they are, having been on probation -- what they've been able to accomplish thus far is incredible. Him being a preseason favorite to win the Heisman is another incredible feat. Now whether he can do it or not remains to be seen. I think he has the best chance right now to get that done with the players he has. If you're at USC, there's a lot of expectation no matter what -- being in a big city, being in a big market, just being USC and being the quarterback for a team in which most of those guys are going to the NFL.... This is exactly how Matt Barkley envisioned his career. I think that's the main reason he stayed. I think he wants to win a national championship. He wants to win a Heisman Trophy. I think he's got the best chance to do that.
FSMW: How big of an impact will Urban Meyer make at Ohio State? Can he turnaround the Buckeyes?
CROUCH: I think Urban Meyer has proven himself as one of the better coaches around college football these days. What he did at Utah and Florida and now being at Ohio State, I think that it just speaks volumes to what Ohio State thinks of him as a coach. I think he's going to have a great turnaround this year. There's not a ton of pressure on Ohio State this year, so if he can get his team together and get his coaching staff together and get everybody on the same page relatively quickly, I think they're going to be competitive this year.... I think they're going to be a team that will surprise a lot of people in the Big Ten. They can't be playing in the (Big Ten) championship game. I understand that. But they're still going to have a winning record.
FSMW: Staying in the Big Ten, what will become of Penn State?
CROUCH: It's going to be a difficult year for them. They have had several players leave the program. All the new coaches who have been put in place -- it's going to be a tough road this year just to get everybody thinking football. Right now, they're thinking, "Hey, did I make the right decision to stay here? How is this going to play out?" There are so many things emotionally that will hurt that team and that university. Penn State is a program that, for the most part, has been on top for a long time. With Joe Paterno gone, I'm very interested to see how they do this year. I do think they're going to struggle, and they'll probably struggle to win half their games.
FSMW: Which conference will have the strongest season?
CROUCH: The SEC has proven itself to be the strongest conference in the last five years. But the conference I'm looking at right now to edge them out for the toughest conference is the Big 12. You've got Oklahoma, you've got Kansas State, you've got Oklahoma State, you've got TCU, you've got several Top 25 teams in the Big 12 right now that are looking to be competitive in flying under the radar. To me, for the start of the year, I think the Big 12 has probably got the strongest conference.
FSMW: How will TCU and West Virginia fit into the new-look Big 12?
CROUCH: I think both teams will do very well. They've got a lot of speed, and that's what they need joining the Big 12 -- especially on defense to be able to defend the high-flying pace. They're used to that. They've seen offenses like that. It's not like this is something new to everybody. I think defensive coordinators have had time to get the right players and the right type of personnel that they want in the game to defend fast-pace offenses like Oklahoma.... I think the Big 12 is going to be a conference that those two schools fit into well. I think both have made great decisions to join the Big 12, and I think both of them will be in the top-tier of that conference come the end of the year -- if not one of those new teams being on top.
FSMW: Which matchup are you most anticipating this year, either during the non-conference schedule or later in the fall?
CROUCH: I look to this first game of the year with Michigan and Alabama as being one of the most exciting games right now. Both are ranked very high. Michigan is coming off a great year, so their expectations are very high. Alabama is coming off a national championship year and wants to win two in a row. That game will project one of those two teams to start their year off very, very well.
FSMW: Who is your pick for coach of the year?
CROUCH: Will Muschamp with Florida. He's a guy who, if Florida has a great year -- and if they can turn things around offensively because they have got the defense -- he could very easily finish his team in the Top 5 or Top 10.
FSMW: Who is your Heisman Trophy pick?
CROUCH: I think it's hard to pass up Matt Barkley, with what he has been doing and what he's going to do this year with a team that can play for a national championship. He's got the team surrounding him to do it. He's got the preseason ranking. He's got the stats. This is the reason he came back. I think it would be a disappointment if he didn't win the Heisman Trophy. If you look at the picture after that, if Michigan has a good year, I think you're going to have Denard Robinson sitting in one of those seats in December. If South Carolina can get Marcus Lattimore back in the picture after his offseason (knee) surgery, there's no question in my mind that if things work out the right way and they can win their conference, that he could be a guy who could be giving you a Heisman Trophy as well. But I think it's Matt Barkley's to lose.
FSMW: What is your national championship pick?
CROUCH: I think there's an opportunity that Oklahoma could be playing USC in the championship game. If that's the case, I'm going to give the game to Oklahoma. The reason I say that is because -- although USC does have all the right tools -- I do think that if Oklahoma is in that game their defense is going to be a lot stronger than what USC is going to face in the Pac-12 Conference this year. They're used to the speed. They're used to seeing those offenses in the Big 12.
FSMW: Is there an "under-the-radar" team that will surprise this season?
CROUCH: I think that team is Florida. To be able to climb back into the Top 10, the Top 5, I've got a good feeling that can happen. They've got to beat Florida State, which is ranked high. They'll have a tough schedule. But their defense is going to help them out a lot this year. They have a lot of starters coming back. They had a strong defense that was ranked high last year, and I think they're going to do a lot of good things and help out their offense.
FSMW: How will Charlie Weis make the adjustment at Kansas?
CROUCH: His players right away have a tremendous amount of respect for him. It's not like he's going to have to come in and earn respect. The players know his history. They know he's a successful offensive mind. When he gets to a place, he has high expectations quickly. Those players are going to have to adapt and understand that. They'll execute, because I don't think Charlie Weis will stand for anything less. It's not going to be, "Oh, we need to rebuild." It's like, "We're going to win with what we've got. We're going to make it work, and this is the system we're going to use to do it." I think he's a demanding guy, but the players will have respect for him right away. I expect Kansas to do some good things in the Big 12. They have had a rough ride the last two years, but there are going to be some high expectations -- especially with having Charlie Weis as their head coach. I think the players will absorb that and show it on the field.
FSMW: How will Missouri fare in its first SEC season?
CROUCH: I'm not as optimistic for Missouri as I am for Kansas. They're joining a conference that has a lot of talent, and it's a very strong conference. You can argue all day long whether (the SEC) is the strongest. But for six years now they've won the national championship. I think they have the right to say that. They're joining a very strong conference. They're going to have to come out and prove themselves this year. If they come out and have a losing record, it's not going to fare well for them the next 2-4 years because teams are going to have this stigma about them that they're just not as good. Then the confidence level can get beat up. I think it's important for them to come in and make a statement right away in this conference -- try to win more games than you lose. The goal should be trying to play for that conference championship. That's why you play the games. Missouri comes from a competitive conference. They played up and down with Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State and Nebraska over the years, so they know how to compete. I do think it's important for them to come out and make a statement right away.