December 08, 2010

Around the Nation: Pre Bowl College Football Thoughts

Not quite the dramatic weekend that we have become accustomed to, but the end result was that we are left with the National Championship game that most people want to see (more on that later.)   Ten thoughts as we embrace weekends without college football (Army-Navy notwithstanding this weekend.)

1.  All in all, probably best case scenario for Notre Dame going to play Miami in the Sun Bowl.  No matter what their record, Miami is still a team that has cache with young people, and playing and beating the U will garner attention that a win over Maryland or NC State would not have generated.  The fact that the bowl game sold out in less than 24 hours only gives credence that the Notre Dame brand is alive and well. 

Speaking of Miami, classy move by Randy Shannon writing handwritten goodbye letters to his players after his firing.  I think that Shannon would be a perfect fit at a place like Vanderbilt.  There is no denying that he can recruit, and although he obviously wouldn't have access to the talent base that Miami does, he could carve out a niche in the SEC. 

2.  With news that Everett Golson is in the fold, there appears to be strength in numbers at the QB position heading into 2011.  Tommy Rees will have a leg up given his experience this season, but many believe that he is not the most talented QB in his own class.  Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa will join the fray, along with Golson who will be on campus in January.  South Bend Tribune beat writer Eric Hansen has been adamant that Dayne Crist is not going to transfer, that he values Notre Dame and will compete to regain his starting job. 

It's too early to even begin the speculation on what will happen.  But much like the QB derby of 2007, I don't see how all of these bodies can stay and be happy.  There could be a really good QB, or a QB who led Notre Dame to a season ending four game winning streak, sitting at 4th or 5th on the depth chart.  That's why Brian Kelly gets paid the big bucks, and that will be question number one on everyone's minds come spring practices.

3.  Smaller story that seemed to be swept under the rug, but the final BCS standing were wrong!  Boise State was shortchanged a place because one of the computer rankings was wrong.  Not a huge deal I guess, but how many times has this happened before and never been caught?  Honestly, I've never really felt passionately about a playoff, but the whole BCS thing is just so phony.  You get a team like UConn playing in the Fiesta Bowl, you get TCU going to the Rose Bowl...The matchups this year aren't terrible, but still.

Plus the championship game seems like it gets pushed back further and further every year.  We really have to wait until January 10th for the championship game??  But still get spoonfed the garbage from the presidents and the NCAA that a playoff would be detrimental to the student athlete??  By January 10th, most football fans are in NFL playoff mode.  I know because of TV we will never go back to having New Years Day being a nonstop orgy of college football, but this schedule is ridiculous.  (Two interesting facts:  there are 6 bowl games on New Year's Day, and one of them is something called the TicketCity Bowl.  And also, every bowl game but two is being broadcast by ABC / ESPN.  Wow, that is shocking.  Fox has the Cotton Bowl and CBS has the Sun Bowl.  Does that mean ND gets Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson??  Sign me up for that!)

4.  WeIsND Heisman Ballot:
          1. Cam Newton
          2. Kellen Moore
          3. Andrew Luck
          4. LaMike James
          5. Julio Jones
          109 (tie)  Garrett Gilbert, John Brantley, Jacory Harris

5.  Always interesting to take a look at the coaches salaries from this past season.  In fact, there are so many interesting dollar figures within, that here is one man's opinion of the most over and under paid coaches in the country:

Get My Agent on the Phone - I Need A Raise!
1. Tom O'Brien, NC State - $632,950 - Ok, so O'Brien's tenure at NC State has taken a little longer to develop then many thought it would.  But this is a decent ACC job and he is making WAC money! Quick, someone tell me where Steve Fairchild coaches.  It's not FCS, I promise.  He is the head coach at Colorado State and he makes more money than Tom O'Brien.  So do other coaching (Larry) Legends Larry Chistensen, Larry Fedora and Larry Porter.  I didn't make those names up.  All three of them are Division One head coaches, and all make more money than O'Brien.

2. Al Golden, Temple - $513,867 - Football isn't exactly a huge revenue generator for Temple, but Golden has taken a program from absolute rock bottom to respectability.  They went 8-4 this year including a win over UConn, but were snubbed anyway.  Nevertheless, Golden is due a raise if Temple has any plans of keeping him around for long.

3. Bret Bielema, Wisconsin - $1.7 million - I'm sure Bielema will be angling for a raise, especially after this years BCS run.  He is being compensated in the same ballpark of guys like Tommy Tuberville, Mike Sherman, Skip Holtz and Greg Schiano.  Wisconsin is a step above those jobs.

4. Jim Tressel, Ohio State - $3.51 million - Maybe a controversial choice since he already makes enough to feed an African village for a year, but the Senator has the Bucks in the BCS every year and works for a university that spends more on college athletics than anyone in the country.  No reason he shouldn't be up in the Stoops, Saban, Mack Brown stratosphere.

5. In Memoriam - Steve Roberts, Arkansas State - $140,000 - He was fired last week, but come on Arkansas State.  The guy had coached there nine seasons and he was making about what Nick Saban makes a week.  He probably headed straight to the local post office or car dealer and picked up a job that pays more than he was making as a FBS head coach.

I'm Sending My Agent an Extra Special Christmas Gift
1. Jim Grobe, Wake Forest - $2.9 million - Woah!  Where did this come from?  Grobe earned about a million per win this year, and that's being kind and including that big win over Presbyterian in the total.  I know that Grobe is a nice coach and even better guy, but he's making more than guys like Frank Beamer, Steve Spurrier, Chip Kelly and Bo Pelini.  If only they would have thrown around some of those dollars when looking for a basketball coach.

2. Turner Gill, Kansas - $2.1 million - Maybe he'll turn it around, but I heard from several Jayhawks fans that he showed all the signs of being TWillie 2.0 this first year.  That's a lot of beans to have invested in an unproven coach like Gill. 

3. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland - $2.036 million - The Fridge must be living off of that dream '01-'02 Orange Bowl season, because since then he's been the definition of mediocre.  That big contract may be what saved his job after last seasons debacle, and to the big man's credit, he turned it around again this year.  It's good having one fat guy left to root for in college football since Mangini and Weis took their talents, girth and runny noses elsewhere.

4. Mike Locksley, New Mexico - $750,000 - How this guy is still employed is anyone's guess, but some of it may have to do with the Lobos refusal (or inability) to pay him this much to stay away.  His in-state rival DeWayne Walker makes exactly half of Locksley's salary, but that hasn't stopped him from beating the Lobos two straight years.

5. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa - $3.775 million - Coaches that are in the Top 5 salaries in the country shouldn't be throwing up stink bomb seasons as often as Ferentz has been.

6. Big East Basketball!  Shaping up to be a monster year in the best basketball conference in the country, with seven league teams still undefeated.  Of course, the Irish hope to keep the zero in the L column with a huge showdown against Big Blue.  UK has three first round freshman on the team, and on paper there are obvious mismatches up and down the rosters.  But this ND team has a commitment to defense and rebounding unlike anything that we've seen previously during the Brey regime.  I fully expect that Brey's "men", as he's so fond of calling them, will not be rattled playing a road game (don't give me this neutral site BS - the floor will be Kentucky blue). 

Big game for Eric Atkins, as he obviously hasn't seen anything like this in terms of atmosphere and opposing talent in his life.  Hopefully that game against Georgia and their 'athletes' aka black guys and brand of basketball will help get our feet under us early.

7. With the breaking news that Urban Meyer is stepping down, I think that Jeremy Foley should be on the phone right now to Dan Mullen.  Let's face it - Mississippi State stunk before he got there, and it was a nothing school in a nothing location with nothing to offer recruits.  Mullen took them from 4-8 (2-6) the year before he got there, to 5-7 (3-5) and now this year 8-4 (4-4) and playing in a New Year's Day bowl game.  Not only that, there is widespread chatter that it was just as much the loss of Mullen as it was Tebow that led to this year's Gator implosion.

Meyer said today that he wants to concentrate on his family life, and that is admirable.  But YOU KNOW that in a few years he's going to have the itch again.  Coaches just don't up and retire at his age.  Don't be shocked to see him resurface somewhere in a few years. 

8.  My thoughts on the Cam Newton saga.  Whether the NCAA acted shockingly quickly to save face, to preserve the matchups of undefeateds, or because they truly believe they have dug up enough info to clearly say that Cam Newton did not know what his father was doing, the fact of the matter is he is eligible.  So he clearly deserves the Heisman, whether it will be taken from him years from now or not.

This situation is similar to what Memphis went through when they had to vacate all 38 wins of their Final Four run with Derrick Rose.  Ask any Memphis fan if it was worth it, and all of them will say yes.  As fans, we live and die with the games and experience emotions that are probably way too unhealthy but nevertheless real.  Just because the NCAA says the Final Four never happened doesn't mean Memphis fans can't remember that season.  Same thing with Auburn.  As our born and bred Auburn man Madonia has chronicled the last month for us, this undefeated dream season has produced drama and suspense that will probably end up costing him a year off his life.  Whether or not Cam Newton is later found to have known about his dad's pay for play scheme doesn't diminish what has transpired on the field.

Do I think Cam Newton knew that his dad was selling him to the highest bidder?  Yeah, probably.  And the truth is, I don't really care.  I'm not an idiot, I know this sort of thing happens way more often than we ever find out about.  Hell, watching the outstanding documentary on Marcus Dupree, and the same shady antics were going on thirty years ago.  Why would it be any different today when college football is even bigger business and there is even more on the line for every win and loss.

9. End of the road for the Wannstache, and I can't say that I blame the Pitt administration.  There is no reason that Pitt shouldn't have won the awful Big East this year.  If they wanted to maintain status quo and win 7 or 8 games every year, then you keep the loyal Wanny around.  But if you want to create some buzz around the program that has to carve out a niche in a pro sports town, you've got to make a move.  I would try to go the young gun route and get some energy back into the program. 

While were at it, predictions for coaches to save their jobs.
Rich Rodriguez - FIRED - I think they should keep him another year, but a loss to Mississippi State dooms him. 

Ron Zook - FIRED - How can this guy keep his job?  He's probably thankful they played on Championship Saturday because it didn't generate any attention, but they lost on Saturday to Fresno State to finish 6-6, including that ugly loss to Minnesota.  He's gottsta go.

Dabo Swinney - RETAINED - I talked about this a little last week, but Clemson is the ultimate sleeping giant.  Everything about that program is SEC level, and yet they have NEVER won ten games in a season.  Ever.  Swinney is the dreaded interim guy who rallied the troops and got to keep the job and now appears over his head.  Those guys never seem to pan out.  And there would be no shortage of quality candidates lining up for a shot at this job.

Dennis Erickson - FIRED - Six wins this year, two against FCS, and a negative trendline during his run at ASU.  Maybe the rivalry game upset against UofA can save his job, but this program is going nowhere fast under Erickson.

Butch Davis - FIRED - You can't oversee the kind of lack of institutional control that has been documented at a place like UNC and expect to keep your job.  It's a shame, because Davis appeared on his way to big things in Chapel Thrill.

Paul Wulff - RETAINED - Hey, they won a Pac 10 game and almost won the Apple Cup.  That's grounds for a parade in Pullman.

10.  The BCS Championship game is going to be a blowout.  I'm not joking.  I would rather watch Auburn-Alabama the rematch, instead of Auburn-Oregon.  For that matter give me Auburn-LSU II and Auburn-Arkansas II before this game.  When is the rest of the country going to catch on that the SEC plays a different breed of football.  The athletes are bigger, faster, hungrier and paid more (maybe three of the four).  When Auburn wins, the SEC will have produced more championships than every other conference combined.  When Auburn wins, it will run the SEC's championship record to 7-0.  When Auburn wins, it will become the FIFTH different school from the SEC to win a championship.  That is insane. 

I know that people will say that this is a different Oregon team, but last year in the Rose Bowl they got pushed around and physically mauled by Ohio State.  The same Ohio State team this is the brunt of all jokes (I just had to look this up - I thought the expression was 'butt of all jokes...') about how they can't compete with the SEC!  Oregon has had to play one ranked team this year in Stanford, who in turn only played Oregon who ended up ranked.  I know that there has been a PAC 10 lovefest this year, but I am suggesting that both of these west coast teams are wildly overrated.  In his mailbag today, SI's Stewart Mandel had an interesting look at the schedule strength of Oregon and Auburn.  Since the BCS era, Oregon has the worst opponents' winning percetage of any title game participant, while Auburn has the third highest.  (Number One?  That '98 FSU team that played a nonconference schedule of 11-2 Texas A&M, 9-2 Florida, 8-3 Miami and 8-4 USC.  Good Lord!!!  Can you imagine a team playing that level of nonconference schedule today?  That FSU team may have had the most loaded collegiate wideout group ever:  Laveranues Coles, Peter Warrick, Marvin Snoop Minnis and Ron Dugans.)

What I'm saying is that Auburn is more battle tested having played road games in Tuscaloosa, an SEC Championship game, and home games against Clemson, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas.  They have the best player on the field on both sides of the ball in Cam and Fairley.  And they have that SEC mojo working for them.  There is a reason that Vegas opened the game with Oregon as a three point favorite, and within 24 hours it had shifted the other way 6 points. 

Finally, if you're an SEC homer like me, author/columnist Clay Travis on AOL Fanhouse is an entertaining read.  I strongly recommend his first book, Dixieland Delight: A Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference, where he follows the University of Tennesee around for a season in the SEC and irreverently and hilariously describes his experiences.  For those of us who have only dreamed of doing it and who believe that the SEC gameday experience is second to none, it's a great reaad.  In  his most recent book, he had inside access to what turned out to be the farewell tour for Phil Fulmer at Tennessee.  Just starting to read it now. 

Stay tuned for bowl picks from the WeisND crew...


Lord Huggington said...

There were some pretty tough schedules this year if you looked a bit further down the rankings:

San Jose State played: Bama (9-3), Wisconsin (11-1), Utah (10-2), Nevada (12-1), Boise State (11-1), Hawaii (10-3). Sure Utah was kind of a paper tiger and Nevada was kind of a fluke but Bama & UW as your OOC games? Yikes.

Minnesota had probably the roughest Big 10 schedule having to play Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State (the first two on the road) along with NIU & Penn State as well.

Then there are Texas A&M and Notre Dame. A&M played 5(!) 10 win teams - OkState, Arkansas, Mizzou, OU, and Nebraska. ND's overall schedule would up with opponent W/L% ~0.657 which is tops in FBS even if they didn't play as many 10 win teams.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, I think Oregon has a great chance. The key for them, IMO, will be can they score? They're not going to stop Auburn, or at least not shut them down. But if they can get theirs, then they can win this game IMO.

But you could be right. It's certainly no stretch or bold prediction to go with the undefeated SEC champ.

Oregon crushed Tennessee with triumphant ease. And while Tennessee is down, they're still a decent SEC team that played other SEC teams somewhat tough.

Oregon's not in over their heads in this one IMO. But, we'll see.