It's huge. And they did it properly. They did it properly; they didn't rush it. Just look how smart they were in going from one division to another, to get to where they're at and being part of the Big East. And building that with a lot of wins, because wins is what helps recruit, in that state and every state. To jump right into it after a year or two and say, "We're going to go and be in the Big East" or what have you, it probably would have been more difficult because they weren't ready yet. Jim Leavitt and the administration there … I think it's a model to how people should go from nothing to where they're at. And, after 10 years, being in a bowl game.
How often do you recruit against them?
I've recruited against them. How often? I couldn't give you a figure, really. I really couldn't, because there's so many players in that state that go unnoticed by so many people, because it's so difficult to get around unless you are in the state—because you have your own state to take care of first. That's why I think every one of their players is from the state of Florida but maybe five? Three? I knew it was one of those odd numbers in the single digits. And you can see it on film. They have kids that just play really hard and fast.
I couldn't give you a [number] to how many times we've [gone] against them [in recruiting].
With the "Big Three," FIU and FAU eventually will get established … Is it getting crowding at all down there, recruiting-wise?
It might. I don't know; I don't have a crystal ball. Maybe you do; you can tell us. Add on top of that all the colleges in the country that go there—whether a guy goes there to recruit or get a suntan so he looks good when he brings kids into his place and tells them that the sun always shines, and there's two feet of snow out or not. I don't know if it's going to get too crowded; it's a very populated state.
Do you have tell DaJuan Morgan anything about what he needs to do when his brother [junior South Florida receiver Darren Haliburton] comes across the middle?
Hit him hard. Because his brother will hit him hard.
How different is the preparation from a regular-season game? Do you look back at all their game film or segments of the season, or what?
We look at every game. Unfortunately, we do the same thing during the season. We look at every game we get when we're in conference. For instance, the Maryland game, we got film from every game they played, so we looked at 10 games.
After you look at them, then you separate them to see who played a similar style of offense they had; see how a team is going to defend them that already has a similar defense that we have; how teams are going to attack them, for instance, in the kicking game. That just gives you more time to be able to do all that.
And it just adds to the confusion, because the more you look at the film, the more you say, "We ought to add that and we ought to add that and we ought to that." And then tomorrow, when you play the game with the coaches, it's, "We need to erase that, we need to erase that, we need to erase that, we need to erase that, we need to erase that." Because the word is K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Stupid. Because that's when you have too much. If we have third down and there's 15 calls … well, we're not going to get them in third down 15 times! The one we call the first time might work, and we'll use it again. And vice versa, when we get in that.
Do you have an advantage in that your players have been in bowl preparation before and South Florida's haven't?
Not at all. You have to understand this, now: Half the football players on my team have not been to a bowl.
South Florida doesn't have the name recognition of other schools. Was it hard to get your player's attention to get ready for this game?
When, at one point in the season, you're 2-4, you can get their attention real quick.
Marcus Stone pretty much got line-of-fire experience in the last five games. How much growth have you seen in him during practice, now that it's like an extended spring practice in preparing for the bowl?
How much growth? He's 6-7 now, he weighs 320.
Every day, you can see him becoming more of a general. And it's so much different than when the basic training is over and those bullets that are being shot at you are for real. And that's what separates the really great ones from the good ones, or the ones that can make it quick and the ones that need more time to do it. And I think only time will tell.
How does John McCargo look? Is he back to 100%?
By how much?
Pizza-heavy, or …?
Has he been involved in contact at all?
Yup. Yes, he has.
When you assess the whole season for Mario Williams and Manny Lawson, has it been a season of great individual games as opposed to a great season?
I think the first thing you said. I think both of them have had some great, outstanding games where they had a lot of "statistics." I think that they've had games that they had [some] statistics, but played truly great defense. And I think they had games that they didn't have any of them, and that's called consistency. That's called consistency.
But they've done a really good job … Again, as I told the team when I talk to them as a whole group, my standards are high and they're going to stay high. And if a young man plays 50 snaps in a game and he only played 48 of them A+ and he plays two of them Ds, I'm going to be upset. Because that's the only way I am; that's the only way I can be.
Do you see anything from either one of them that indicates that they won't be an excellent performer at the next level?
They're both capable of playing on the next level.
Have you and Mario talked about when you might have that discussion?
[Laughing] Have we talked about having a discussion? Well, if we talked, we already had a discussion.
We've talked, because we're on the field with each other every day and in meetings every day. No, we've had discussions, good discussions, just positive discussions. And anything we can do to help, help him making [a decision] … because whatever decision he makes is going to be the right decision.
And really, nobody has to make a decision when you're an underclassmen until January 15—or January 14 at 11:59. So why not see when all the cards are on the table? I don't know. I've mentioned that to him, but he's a mature person, and when the time is right, I'm sure he'll let everybody now. Right now, he's concentrating on beating South Florida.
Is there still a process of putting a name into the advisory board, and has he done that?
We've done that. And unfortunately, that thing takes forever.
Did anyone else put their names in there?
We always submit a lot of names, because you never know what youngsters are thinking. Why not? Can't hurt.
Have you kept up with Carl Franks since he went to South Florida, and do you think his familiarity with NC State will factor in at all?
Oh, there's no question. He coached against us for three years, four years, I think it was. And he knows me from when we coached against each other when he was at Florida and I was at Florida State. So he'll have input on the game. But they've got basic fundamentals and things that they do that have gotten them to this point, and they do trickery like everybody else does when it's a bowl, because a bowl is there to have some fun. So don't blink.
Is there attack similar to anyone inside or outside of the conference this year?
Well, everybody runs—I shouldn't say everybody—that inside-outside zone, a lot of one-back stuff, running the ball out of the shotgun, which is the new-millennium offense. Getting the quarterback and running the ball out of the shotgun, spreading that field, which just about everybody does, really.
We haven't heard much about South Florida and what do they do on offense and defense. What kind of challenges do they present?
Offensively, like I said, they're going to spread the field and they like to run the football with an outstanding running back in Andre Hall, an outstanding running back. And they run the quarterback and they do it in a spread offense. The quarterback is going to run it and they're going to run options out of the shotgun. They run plays with it when you don't know which one is going to run the ball, and they try to get people out of the box, which they do because you have to cover, and that's the whole promise behind it.
And defensively, they just are an aggressive defense. They're very fast on defense; very, very fast on defense—up front, the linebackers, everybody. They're extremely fast. They run the ball well, they're well-coached on both sides of the ball and the kicking game is just as good.
They're a good football team, and again, I said this a long time ago: anybody that holds Louisville to what, 14 points? 45-14? Anybody that holds a team that averages close to 50 points a game to 14 in 60 minutes, they're pretty salty on defense. I believe their defense is ranked ninth in the country, if I'm not mistaken. I could be wrong on that, but it's pretty high up there in both total defense and scoring defense, and you can see why when you watch them play.
What's your philosophy on bowl games? Is it hard to achieve that balance between having fun and winning?
It's not easy. Because if I stand in front of the players and say, "The bowl is a reward and it's fun for you, and OK, that being said, we're going to go practice and run 10 days of two-a-days. That's not even the worst part: this time when we have two-a-days, you're going to have so much clothes on to stay warm, whereas the other two-a-days, we had your bellies showing and everything else and getting water in your system."
It's not easy. But I believe everybody understands that. And this team is so happy to be going to a bowl; they're so happy they'd go to any bowl, and they're so happy to be going to one that's in this state. As we said before, a lot has to do with our fan support over the years … the people out there that run bowls know people will show up. That's a big thing. But our kids are excited. And like everybody else, they'll get more focused when we get down there than what they have been here, because we've been working on an awful lot of fundamentals here.
Are you going to get in one of the race cars?
Well, I don't know. Whatever they have planned to do, I'll do. I'll do whatever they have planned to do—except lay under a tire. Because you might be in the car and put it in the wrong gear and run over me.
How much will the weather factor in?
[Laughing] I don't think it's going to be a factor. The long forecast says it might be in the high 50s, which is great football weather. But that high 50s, you know what time of day that is? Game will be over. An 11 o'clock in the morning kickoff … we were out there this morning at 10:15 and it was down there, still 30 degrees out there. I said, "Men, we'll be going out and warming up." I hope the ground is not as frozen there as it is here when we went out this morning.
The elements are going to be on both sides of the field. When the game starts, everything goes out the window.
For an 11 o'clock start, what time is the pregame meal?
We wake them up at 6:30, pregame meal at 7 o'clock, four hours before kickoff. That is the magic number, four hours before kickoff pregame meal, which really doesn't do that much, I don't think. It's what they eat the night before.
Didn't you play at 11 in the morning at Texas Tech?
Was that 11 o'clock out there? I don't know. I don't think we had that … I know that when I was at Arizona, we had a 10:30 kickoff against UCLA, no, it was against Arizona State for TV, Because of the three-hour time difference back here. It might even have been 10. How would you like to get up at 5:30 and have your pregame meal at 6 or 6:30?
But you may very well be right. I didn't realize it was 11.
You play a lot of noon games, though.
Well, we're not real good at them. We played real good in that last noon game; that Maryland game was a noon game. But up to that, we have a hard time waking up everybody: the officials, players, coaches, fans. It's hard to get up.
I don't know if it's going to be of any consequence, but we've been getting them up early, we've been practicing early and we'll practice early down there as much as we can. Whether that makes a difference, I don't know.
What do you want for Christmas?
A win. A win, and a lot of time with my family, and a safe Christmas for everybody. It's being selfish to say a win. The best thing that could happen for Christmas is everybody in this world learns to get along—for our children. For our children.
Will we see any difference in the depth chart for the bowl game?
I don't foresee anything, unless somebody comes back too heavy. Everybody really left where they were supposed to be today, weight-wise. But now it's hard to compete with Santa Claus, as well know. And they may gain some weight, and if they come back too much, it could be a factor. But unless somebody gets hurt, right now, we're pretty much where we need to be.
Is everybody, other than McCargo, where they need to be weight-wise?
Well, I said McCargo was heavy. And I also just said that everybody was at the weight they're supposed to be at today on the practice field.
So McCargo is back to the right weight?
No, I didn't say that. He's still got a little bit to go, but so does everybody else … But that's normal; that's normal. Conditioning is so important in a bowl, and I think that's such an important thing, [with] tackling, kicking.
Can you talk a little more about embracing this bowl? You said the players were excited, but do you sense the spirit really is high?
Yeah. Yeah. And again, you're asking me after we've had 10 practices here in the last eight days, and that's like the 10th day of two-a-days. Not that we were in two-a-days all the time, but we had three of them. And it's good for them. They couldn't wait for that last gasser to be run this morning and go take a shower and head home.
But there's no doubt in my mind that they're excited about it, and I think we'll find that out as well when we get down there.
You all have a Merry Christmas, really. Have a good one. Be safe.