Saturday, January 31, 2009

Feel free to laugh

Barring an Urban Meyer-esque turnaround or a Mike Price-style scandal, it's pretty difficult to evaluate a coach after one year. From putting together a new staff of assistants to recruiting players who best fit the desired systems, it takes time for a new coach to get all the pieces in place to be successful. That's just common sense.

College Football News isn't on board with this logic, though, as indicated by Richard Cirminiello's rankings of last season's "rookie" head coaches.

Here are a few of my personal favorites:

4. Steve Fairchild, Colorado State
12. Bill Stewart, West Virginia
17. Paul Wulff, Washington State

And bringing up the rear ...

18. Rich Rodriguez, Michigan

I know Michigan had a rough season and all -- 3-9, missing a bowl game for the first time in 30 years, etc. -- but do you think West Virginia would rather have Rodriguez (ignoring the RAGE after his departure) or Stewart? That's a rhetorical question, by the way. With a top-10 recruiting class last year and another on the way this year, it's hard to view Rodriguez's first 13 months at Michigan as a complete failure (to say nothing of his impressive track record).

And if you think Michigan's season was bad, just look at what Wulff did at Washington State:
Things weren’t just bad in Pullman. They were hide-the-women-and-children bad. The Cougars never stood a chance, arguably authoring the worst season in Pac-10 history. Beating Washington in the Apple Cup helped, but couldn’t gloss over
finishing 118th nationally in both scoring offense and defense, and 2-11 overall. While it didn’t help losing quarterbacks like they were baby teeth, there’s no excusing a six-game stretch that saw five straight opponents ring up at least 58 points.
Rodriguez was worse than that??? And while Steve Fairchild did a nice job this year to get Colorado State back on track and into a bowl game, he was coaching at a traditionally successful program in a Mountain West that lacked much of anything behind the top three of Utah, TCU and BYU. Rating him ahead of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas and Rick Neuheisel at UCLA can only be justified based on his win-loss record in one season, which obviously is a little ridiculous.

I had to look no further than last year's rankings to prove my point:

2. Dennis Erickson, Arizona State
5. Bill Lynch, Indiana
11. Nick Saban, Alabama
22. Tim Brewster, Minnesota

I could be wrong, but I'm willing to bet that most Alabama fans are happier with Nick Saban than they would have been with Bill Lynch or Dennis Erickson.

I guess I'm just looking at this list a little differently than Cirminiello is -- his goal, I assume, was to rank each coach purely by his on-field success in his first season at his current school. But here's my question: Why?

A coach's job isn't to win the most possible games in his first season -- if that was the case, Nick Saban's top-ranked recruiting class last year and top-10 finish this year never would have happened, because he would have been fired after going 7-6 (including a loss to Louisiana-Monroe) in his first season. I could cite many more examples here, but the list of successful head coaches who struggled in their first year is endless, so I won't bother.

Recruiting matters. Developing players matters. Building for the future matters.

These rankings are either incredibly stupid and inaccurate (if based on an overall assessment of the hiring) or pointless (if based on a coach's on-field success in his first season).

Either way, College Football News -- which I once heard aptly described as "a mile wide and an inch deep" -- needs less of this crap and more out of its relationship with Scout, which led to this interesting two-part review of the five-star recruits from 2005 (a perfect example of letting some time pass in order to make a reasonable assessment).

Friday, January 30, 2009

Stop the insanity

I'm a little late on this (damn ISP), but rumor has it that the Mountain West commissioner and school presidents are attempting to schedule a meeting with BCS commissioner John Swofford in hopes of landing the seventh autobid into the BCS.

It's widely agreed that this won't happen, at least not for a few years (until the current BCS television contract expires in 2011), but there seems to be a groundswell of support for the conference based on its impressive showing this year -- Utah finishing No. 2, TCU No. 7 and BYU No. 25.

The common argument is this: the Mountain West is just as good as the Big East, particularly with the Big East struggling to field a top-tier team this season, so the Mountain West should be granted the same benefits.

Response: The Mountain West was better at the top this season, obviously. Cincinnati was far from an elite team, and West Virginia was a disappointment under Bill Stewart (owner of the awesome-est sad face ever).

But dig a little deeper and you'll see precisely why the Mountain West doesn't deserve an automatic bid.

First of all, let me explain: The whole point of an autobid is to declare that a conference is strong enough that the winner has, by definition, demonstrated itself worthy of entrance into the BCS.

Does the Mountain West meet that criteria? No, not by a long shot. Past the top three of Utah, TCU and BYU, the conference was not good. Yeah, Air Force had a nice season at 8-5, and Colorado State got to 7-6 with a win over a solid Fresno State team in the New Mexico Bowl. But when that's your middle tier, your conference just isn't that strong.

The Big East wasn't exactly loaded with great teams, of course, but all except the bottom two (Louisville and Syracuse) finished 8-5 or better. To be honest, I'm not sure the Big East deserves an autobid either -- with only eight teams, and none a consistent winner, I'd have no problem with theirs getting yanked -- but I can't buy the argument that the Mountain West is more deserving.

And let's not forget that the Mountain West is basing its case almost entirely on one season. Prior to Utah finishing No. 2 this year, the conference hadn't landed a team in the final AP top 10 since ... 2004, when Utah (led by Urban Meyer) went undefeated and beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

So the Mountain West has landed its best team in the final top 10 only twice in the last five years, and that team was Utah on both occasions (although TCU joined the party this season). In no other season would the conference's winner have been eligible for even an at-large bid, so why in the world would it deserve an automatic bid?

Let's summarize: The conference rarely produces an elite team and has little depth, with a service academy (Air Force) battling Colorado State and New Mexico for the top spot in the middle tier. Does this jump out to anyone as a group worthy of a guaranteed spot among college football's elite?

The Mountain West just doesn't stack up to any current BCS conference, and attempting to argue its worthiness based on one season or by pointing out the Big East's flaws is ignoring the bigger picture: The Mountain West is a relatively weak conference that simply isn't deserving of an autobid.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Butch Davis thinks he's Nick Saban

What's wrong with these recruiting rankings?

Team - Commits/Star average/Points
1. LSU - 20 / 3.90 / 2,520
2. Ohio State - 24 / 3.79 / 2,479
3. Texas - 20 / 3.85 / 2,375
4. Alabama - 20 / 3.70 / 2,189
5. USC - 17 / 3.88 / 2,153
6. North Carolina - 29 / 3.34 / 2,084
7. Georgia - 18 / 3.83 / 2,040
8. Michigan - 20 / 3.65 / 2,020
9. Florida - 16 / 3.88 / 1,890
10. Miami - 18 / 3.67 / 1,841

North Carolina seems a bit out of place, right? Especially considering that it has by far the lowest star average of any team in the top 10. But look again at the total number of commitments ...

That's right, the Tar Heels have 29 commitments. The maximum number of scholarships in any one class is 25, per NCAA bylaws. Now, there are ways around that limit -- early enrollees can count toward the previous class, while grayshirts (players who don't enroll until the following semester, which are rare) can count toward the following year's class.

However, there is also a total limit of 85 scholarships. North Carolina had only 12 scholarship seniors, while junior receiver Hakeem Nicks declared for the draft and backup QB Cameron Sexton announced that he will transfer.

So there are 14 players leaving (so far) and 29 coming in. Hmmmm ....

Obviously, this is unethical at best. Even if there are a few players who don't qualify academically (which is usually the reason cited for oversigning), you're still talking about having to find room for 12 or so players with no available scholarships.

There are only two options here:
1. Those players have their scholarship offers withdrawn, and are left scrambling to find another school with an open spot.
2. Players who are already on the team have their scholarships stripped, meaning they are now paying their own way or leaving school.

This is nothing new. Last year, Nick Saban was widely blasted for his absurd 32-player class. He blew it all off as a non-issue, and a few dismissals, transfers and non-qualifiers later, Alabama very conveniently managed to get just under the scholarship limit in time for the season.

Anyone who's a blogosphere regular is familiar with the heated debate between mgoblog -- which ripped Saban early on when it became clear that his class was getting ridiculously large -- and 'Bama fans everywhere, but there is no real debate. You can read all the justifications you want from various Alabama bloggers and message-board posters, but at the end of the day, a coach signing 10 or 12 extra players and hoping that spots will open up is just kind of dirty. And the only way you can justify cheating kids out of a scholarship is through blind allegiance.

A recent article in the Charlotte News-Observer breaks down the North Carolina situation a bit further and has a telling quote from someone familiar with the recruiting scene:

SuperPrep magazine editor Allen Wallace said that many coaches take more verbal commitments than they have scholarships slots because they want to upgrade immediately: "Programs are under a lot of pressure to fix things, and if you don't follow the draconian route of upgrading talent level immediately, it might not matter because you might not be there very long."
That pretty much says it all. There's no concern for the player, only for how the coach and how he can squeeze every available drop of talent onto his team. What it comes down to is this: If you're expecting enough players to fail (academically or legally) that you can significantly oversign, you're probably not overseeing your program very well. And if you're oversigning with the intention of pulling a scholarship from a current player (or yanking an offer), that's just wrong.

The NCAA needs to step in and end this before it gets out of control (although I would argue that with schools signing 30-32 players, or going 12 scholarships over the 85 limit, it's already out of control). When schools are putting themselves in a situation where 10-15 players need to be "removed" from the team, nothing good can come of that. The school has no incentive to help those players and every reason to jettison them aside.

On a side note, it'd be nice if the recruiting services would stop taking the size of these classes into account when doing their rankings. North Carolina can't possibly have 29 players in this class, so to include all of them is obviously inaccurate.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Throwing down the gauntlet

When Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin, there was some outcry about his salary being exorbitant for a first-time college head coach -- a little over $2 million a year. Based on this report from 2007, that would be somewhere around 10th nationally (although it's probably a little lower now).

But as Dr. Saturday pointed out in a post earlier this week, that's nothing compared to what the school will be dishing out for assistant coaches.

Lane's dad, Monte Kiffin, who was lured away from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to serve as defensive coordinator, will have the highest assistant's salary in the country at about $1.2 million. Former USC recruiting extraordinaire and Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron will make $650,00 as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. Those salaries combined -- at a little over $2 million -- exceed what Tennessee paid its entire staff of assistants last year.

On top of that, Alabama's top recruiter, Lance Thompson, will make $425,000 as Tennessee's new outside linebackers coach. And that doesn't include anyone on Kiffin's offensive staff, although it's believed that offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will make around $380,000.

This all seems ridiculous, right? Well, this is the really frightening part, courtesy of

But the total amount paid to the football staff - including the head coach -- will rank between third and fifth in the SEC, according to Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton, who I spoke with this week.

Hamilton said the pool for assistant coaches will not reach $4 million, but he would not put a definitive number of it. He also said the total for the entire staff would not reach $6 million, but he didn’t put a figure on that, either.
When someone says, "It won't be that much, but I won't tell you how much it will be," you can pretty much throw out the first half of that statement.

For comparison, Texas -- even with D-coordinator and coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp making $900,000 -- has a budget of around $2.3 million, the highest in the Big 12. And a recent university salary report had Michigan's total payout for assistant coaches at just under $1.9 million (likely around $2.2 million with the hiring of Greg Robinson as D-coordinator).

I realize that the competition in the SEC is pretty intense, but I never would have expected the salaries to be that far out of line with the rest of the country. Also, it's worth noting that the UT system is facing at least a $66 million budget shortfall:

In the fall, the athletic department asked staff to cut $2.5 million from the budget, "which we've done," Hamilton said.
It's nice that the athletic department is self-sustaining, but this still seems an inopportune time to increase your spending on assistant coaches by $2 million.

I'm a big believer that the biggest determinant of whether a coach will be successful is whom he surrounds himself with (in terms of assistants). In that regard, I give Lane Kiffin a lot of credit -- he's assembled an outstanding staff at Tennessee and apparently persuaded the university to up the ante in order to do so.

But I also agree with Dr. Saturday's take, which he targets at Tennessee but really should be applied to most of the coaches in the SEC:

With the money and accompanying influx of talent behind him (first on the staff; soon, no doubt, on the field), it seems Lane will have the deep-pocketed institutional firepower to whip anyone -- and no excuses if he doesn't.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Robinson headed to Ann Arbor

A name has finally been attached to Michigan's opening at defensive coordinator. Multiple sources indicated in the past two weeks that former Syracuse coach Greg Robinson had interviewed for the job, and Rivals is now reporting that a deal is done.

Robinson was a disaster at Syracuse, there's no question about it. His record was 10-37 in four years, and the Orange finished no higher than seventh in the eight-team Big East during that time.

His track record as a D-coordinator, though, is a bit more impressive, with a chunk of that time spent in the NFL. Robinson ran the defense for the New York Jets for a year before serving as D-coordinator for the Broncos' teams that won two Super Bowls (in 1997-98) during his six-year tenure, then moving onto the Kansas City Chiefs for three years. After being fired by the Chiefs following a 38-31 playoff loss to Indianapolis in which the defense failed to force a punt (to be fair, it was the second week in a row the Colts managed that feat), Robinson went to Texas as D-coordinator for one year before taking the job as Syracuse head coach.

Let's look at the numbers (scoring defense, total defense):

  • 1994 (N.Y. Jets) -- 14th, 22nd
  • 1995 (Denver) -- 17th, 15th
  • 1996 (Denver) -- 7th, 4th
  • 1997 (Denver) -- 6th, 5th
  • 1998 (Denver) -- 6th, 11th
  • 1999 (Denver) -- 11th, 7th
  • 2000 (Denver) -- 23rd, 24th
  • 2001 (Kansas City) -- 23rd, 23rd
  • 2002 (Kansas City) -- 28th, 32nd
  • 2003 (Kansas City) -- 20th, 29th
  • 2004 (Texas) -- 18th, 23rd
I'm putting little to no stock into his defensive numbers at Syracuse for one very basic reason: He wasn't the defensive coordinator. In his career as a D-coordinator, Robinson has ranged from average with the Jets to bad with the Chiefs to good with the Broncos and Texas.

I like the fact that in his one year at Texas, the Longhorns finished 18th nationally in scoring defense and 23rd in total defense. To me, Texas is by far a closer comparison to Michigan than anything else on his resume.

I also like that he's spent the last five years in the college game, meaning he's been recruiting and getting a feel for the shift toward spread offenses -- he even went against Rich Rodriguez's offenses at West Virginia during that time, so they obviously know each other. Yes, his recruiting at Syracuse was poor, but I think most people would agree that Michigan is a much bigger draw than Syracuse -- again, Texas is a more relevant comparison.

I think that what people sometimes forget is that being a good coordinator often has little or no bearing on being a good head coach, and vice versa. I won't bother naming the countless men who have failed as head coaches but are/were widely hailed as good coordinators, but Robinson certainly seems to be in that group.

I realize that the numbers aren't spectacular, I just believe that if you can win two Super Bowls, finish in the top seven defenses in the NFL three times and continue to be hired by coaches like Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil, Mack Brown and Rich Rodriguez, you're doing something right (although I'll defer to Three and Out for a more detailed analysis of Robinson's schemes).

Would he have been my first choice? No. Obviously, the last couple years can't be completely thrown out -- with Rodriguez being essentially the offensive coordinator as well as the head coach, he needs someone who can manage the defense AND recruit players for his system with minimal input, and I don't think Robinson is a sure thing in that regard.

But you also have to take into consideration the the alternative options. The names that were being thrown around by fans -- Rex Ryan, Mike Trgovac, Jim Herrmann, etc. -- were either depressing (Herrmann) or just completely unrealistic. While Michigan is still considered one of the better places to coach in college football, nobody with long-term success in the NFL or at another elite school is going to leave to be D-coordinator at Michigan, especially given the current state of the situation.

Rodriguez tried an up-and-coming D-coordinator (Scott Shafer) last year, and things didn't go well. He couldn't take that chance again, so he went out and found a guy with a solid -- not great, but solid -- track record as a coordinator.

I'm not expecting miracles, but I'm also fairly certain that a guy with as much experience as Robinson will be able to keep Michigan away from some of the disasters we've seen the last two seasons (48 points to Purdue, 42 to Ohio State, 34 to Appalachian State, 32 in the first half to Oregon, etc.).

I guess what I'm saying is that while I certainly don't think Robinson is a "home run" hire, I like this move a little more than most Michigan fans probably will.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'd almost forgotten about him

Arkansas announced on Friday that it had hired former Michigan State coach John L. Smith as special-teams coordinator. Razorbacks coach Bobby Petrino, if you may recall, served as offensive coordinator under Smith at both Utah State and Louisville, so it appears that he's throwing a bone to his old mentor.

Smith has been out of coaching since he was fired by Michigan State in 2006, primarily because he's known throughout the state for two things -- this:

... and this:

Yes, this post was pretty much an excuse to put up those videos. Smith is no Mike Gundy, but he's pretty entertaining.

A couple other coaching notes:

* Boston College offensive coordinator Steve Logan, who had come to BC with Jeff Jagodzinski after the two worked together at East Carolina, resigned on Friday. Logan's exit leaves the Eagles in a tough spot, as new coach (and former D-coordinator) Frank Spaziani will now be searching for two new coordinators.

* Tennessee hired St. Louis Rams offensive line/tight ends coach Jim Chaney as offensive coordinator. Strange hiring? Well, Chaney was also Purdue's offensive coordinator from 1998-2005, and obviously is considered somewhat of a passing-game guru. Between the hiring of Chaney and the complete disinterest in holding onto committed dual-threat QB Tajh Boyd, Lane Kiffin seems to be preparing to throw the ball -- a lot.

* In sad news for fans of one of the greatest names in the history of names, Tennessee graduate assistant Jim Bob Cooter has been dismissed.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Pete Carroll is not happy

Considering that he has five-star recruits coming out his ass and a song girl on each arm, Pete Carroll seemed awfully annoyed by Mark Sanchez's decision to enter the draft.
USC coach Pete Carroll then stepped up the microphone and, appearing agitated and speaking with the vigor of a leader who had just lost a hard-fought battle, made it clear that Sanchez was going against his advice.

"Mark is going against the grain and he knows that," Carroll said, "and he's OK with that."

In leaving with another year of eligibility still available to him, Carroll said, Sanchez was "challenging the process." Carroll noted that Sanchez started only 16 games in college -- his team going 14-2 -- and referred to "the plight of" other quarterbacks who failed in pro football after leaving college early.
Ouch. I think it's safe to say that Carroll isn't exactly throwing his support behind this decision. But really, what does he expect?

When you're churning out pro prospects the way USC is, some of them are going to leave early. And once Sam Bradford announced that he was coming back, it only made sense for Sanchez to declare. Matt Stafford is guaranteed a spot somewhere near the top of the first round, but other than that, the pickings are pretty thin at QB this year. Sanchez apparently learned a little about supply and demand in his time at USC.

Yeah, he probably should have gone back for another year -- he could have significantly improved his draft stock, obviously. But really, would he have been that much better off in the long run by returning to school and dominating a watered-down Pac-10 for another season? Probably not.

As for Carroll ... lighten up. You've got the top-rated quarterback in 2006 (Mitch Mustain) competing with the top-rated quarterback in 2008 (Matt Barkley) and a four-star recruit in 2007 (Aaron Corp) for the starting QB job next year, and you return everyone else on offense other than receiver Patrick Turner.

Oh, and you're the coach at freakin' USC. Enough said.

So long, farewell, adieu, etc.

The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft has come and gone, and the list is a big one -- in volume, anyway.

In star power, the damage was actually not as bad as originally feared. As mentioned in my previous post, all three Heisman trophy finalists as well as several of the nation's top defenders will be back next year, so the damage was somewhat limited.

The big losses were at running back and receiver: Beanie Wells, Knowshon Moreno, LeSean McCoy, Donald Brown, Shonn Greene, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Austin Collie, Kenny Britt, etc.

In all, four of the top 10 rushers and six of the top 14 receivers gave up at least one season of eligibility, and that doesn't include Moreno or Harvin.

But considering what we heard early on about possible defections, as well as who could have left early -- Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy, specifically, but also guys like C.J. Spiller, Charles Scott, Jermaine Gresham, Greg Hardy, Taylor Mays and Brandon Spikes -- I'm considering this offseason a net win.

Barring any late filers, there were 48 players who petitioned for early entry this year, five fewer than last year.

Here's the complete list, pending NFL verification:

Asher Allen, CB, Georgia
Chris Baker, DT, Hampton
Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers
Eben Britton, OT, Arizona
Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut
Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
Jairus Byrd, CB, Oregon
James Casey, TE, Rice
Jeremy Childs, WR, Boise State
Glen Coffee, RB, Alabama
Austin Collie, WR, BYU
Emanuel Cook, S, South Carolina
Jared Cook, TE, South Carolina
Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
Andrew Davie, TE, Arkansas
Nate Davis, QB, Ball State
Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
Maurice Evans, DE, Penn State
Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State
Shonn Greene, RB, Iowa
Brian Hartline, WR, Ohio State
Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
P.J. Hill, RB, Wisconsin
Greg Isdaner, G, West Virginia
Ricky Jean-Francois, DL, LSU
Paul Kruger, DE, Utah
Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
Sen'Derrick Marks, DL, Auburn
Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State
LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh
Gerald McRath, LB, Southern Mississippi
D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia
Captain Munnerlyn, CB, South Carolina
Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina
Kevin Ogletree, WR, Virginia
Jerraud Powers, DB, Auburn
Anthony Reddick, S, Miami
Mark Sanchez, QB, USC
Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
Sean Smith, DB, Utah
Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia
Donald Washington, CB, Ohio State
Chris "Beanie" Wells, RB, Ohio State
Brandon Williams, DE, Texas Tech
James Williams, CB, Southern Connecticut

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bradford, too

Sam Bradford confirmed Wednesday that he will return to Oklahoma for his junior year, meaning all three Heisman Trophy finalists will be back in school next year. In case you were wondering, this is only the second time in history (the other being 1945) that the top three Heisman vote-getters will all return for the following season.

Bradford was widely projected as the No. 1 pick in the draft if he he chose to leave early, but what was equally surprising was that tight end Jermaine Gresham and offensive lineman Trent Williams also decided to return, meaning a Sooners offense that looked like it'd be decimated by graudations and defections will actually be in pretty good shape.

Can Bradford improve on last year's numbers? Probably not, especially with the loss of his starting wide receivers and four offensive linemen. But I have to believe that the title game loss to Florida compelled a majority of the underclassmen to return, and along with DeMarco Murray, Chris Brown and sophomore-to-be receiver Ryan Broyles, as well as a defense that returns almost everybody, Oklahoma will still be pretty damn good.

About 1,000 miles to the west, Mark Sanchez saw the opportunity created by Bradford's return and jumped at it. Sanchez decided to pass up his senior season and enter the draft, meaning the USC quarterback position will likely be decided by a battle between former Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain (who went 8-0 as a freshman with the Razorbacks in 2007) and top incoming recruit Matt Barkley.

As usual, USC will once again have two (or more) five-star recruits fighting for a playing time, a problem the other 119 FBS schools only dream about. With the stable of running backs returning (Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson and C.J. Gable), as well as emerging receiver Damian Williams and the entire offensive line, the Trojans offense won't exactly be hurting, either.

And then there's Florida. While Percy Harvin is apparently set to enter the draft, linebacker Brandon Spikes announced Thursday that he will return to school, meaning the Gators will have all 11 starters back on defense. Good Lord ...

LeSean McCoy, on the other hand, is leaving Pitt and taking pretty much the entire offense with him. I suppose it's possible that junior-to-be Pat Bostick could have a breakout year, but his results so far haven't been pretty: Nine touchdowns, 17 interceptions in parts of two seasons. Eek.

It sounds like there was a legitimate debate going on within McCoy's family, but he'll be a first-round pick and, at least in my opinion, is just as talented as Chris Wells and Knowshon Moreno.

The deadline for underclassmen to declare is midnight Thursday, so I'll try to get up a late post with a complete summary of everyone who's leaving.

The only option

As expected, Boston College promoted longtime defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani to head coach on Tuesday.

You already know how I feel about this situation, but let me clarify my stance and point out that I think Spaziani has been a very good coordinator in his time at BC and has probably earned the chance to be a head coach.

The Eagles were rumored to have interest in East Carolina's Skip Holtz, Florida offensive coordinator (recently promoted from offensive line coach) Steve Addazio and Richmond head coach Mike London, but anyone with a working brain knew that there was no way anyone other than Spaziani or another BC assistant was going to get the job.

Why? Because if you're going to fire your head coach for interviewing with another organization, how could you possible justify doing the same thing to bring in your next coach?

I'll give some credit to BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo for sticking to his word, and several columnists have pointed out that the firing of Jeff Jagodzinski could be a good thing in terms of limiting the job-hopping that's become standard operating procedure in coaching.

But there comes a point when you have to realize that what's best for your program isn't always what's best for your personal image. Is there anyone out there who thinks that Holtz wouldn't have been a better fit? What about Brian Kelly, a Boston native who just led Cincinnati to the Big East title after impressive stints as head coach at Central Michigan and Grand Valley State?

Those coaches weren't options, though, because there's no way DeFilippo could have hired either one of them -- or anyone outside the BC circle, for that matter -- and looked like anything but a complete and utter hypocrite. He dug himself a hole by taking such a hard stance on the "gentleman's agreement" he supposedly had with Jagodzinski, and he left himself few options when it came time to name a replacement.

So Spaziani is the guy. Again, I certainly don't think he'll be a disaster, as there's something to be said for experience and stability. But he's 61 -- the oldest hire in the history of the ACC -- and I just don't see the long-term potential for improving the program with Spaziani at the helm. When you've been around for as long as Spaziani has and you've never been seriously considered for a head coaching job -- even being passed over by Boston College just two years ago after Tom O'Brien left for NC State -- there's probably a reason for that.

Maybe Boston College is satisfied with 7-9 wins each season, and if so, I respect DeFilippo for choosing principle over wins and losses. I just can't say that I'd make the same decision.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


There were no real surprises when several players confirmed reports of their impending departures on Tuesday, but this announcement was a shocker:

All-American safety Taylor Mays has decided to return to Southern California for his senior season rather than turn pro.

"There are a lot more things I want to accomplish as a player, a student and a person, things that I've dreamed about for a long time and that are big goals to me," Mays said in a statement issued by the school Tuesday.

Considering that Mays was widely projected as a top-15 pick if he decided to leave early, this is great news for college football fans and even greater news for Pete Carroll and the Trojans. I'm not sure exactly why he's coming back, but as Orson at EDSBS said, "Perhaps he is limited in his actions by the demands of Directive 4, which keeps him from turning on the engineers who built him or from bolting to the NFL until he absolutely has to." Or something like that.

Carroll also announced that running back C.J. Gable and safety Josh Pinkard will return for their senior seasons. Mark Sanchez has yet to announce his intentions.

Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Syracuse defensive tackle Arthur Jones and Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle also will return next season.

Players declaring for the draft Tuesday included Ball State QB Nate Davis (despite his public announcement that he would return), Boise State wide receiver Jeremy Childs, Texas Tech defensive end Brandon Williams, Georgia cornerback Asher Allen and Utah defensive end Paul Kruger and defensive back Sean Smith. Mississippi defensive end Greg Hardy, who had 18.5 sacks the past two seasons, was reportedly set to declare but will discuss the situation further with coach Houston Nutt before making a decision.

And in case you haven't heard the story of Florida State safety Myron Rolle, a five-star recruit in 2006 and a projected first-day draft pick, check it out. Rolle, who graduated in less than three years with a degree in pre-med, decided to put off entering the draft in favor of heading to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. There are millions of us normal people who can only imagine what it'd be like to have Rolle's physical OR mental gifts, let alone both.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

He'll be back

Tim Tebow announced Sunday that he'll stick around at Florida for his senior year in hopes of playing for a third national title.
" ... Let's do it again. I’m coming back,” Tebow said.

Tebow thrilled more than 40,000 at the school’s national championship celebration Sunday by announcing plans to return for his senior season.

"Overall, I just felt loyal to this place. ... I wanted to finish what I started and play another year.”
I wrote just a couple of days ago about the distressing number of big-time players jumping to the NFL this year, but considering that two of the three Heisman finalists (Tebow and McCoy) have announced their intentions to return -- with Sam Bradford apparently still undecided -- I can't complain too much.

Looking ahead, Tebow's return makes Florida the clear-cut No. 1 team going into next season. Not a single starter on defense was a senior, and while it's still possible that Brandon Spikes and Percy Harvin could declare for the draft, the only other losses on either side of the ball are offensive tackles Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins and receiver Louis Murphy.

In other words, barring some off-the-field shenanigans, your defending national champions will return a minimum of 17 starters, including a quarterback who will go down as one of the greatest in college football history. Yikes ...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Other notes

* Bobby Bowden will be back for his 34th season as Florida State coach, continuing his battle with Joe Paterno to see who will collapse on the sideline first.

* Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen, a redshirt junior who lost his starting job to Ricky Stanzi early in the season, will transfer to an undetermined school. This isn't a huge surprise, as Stanzi performed respectably and Christensen attempted only seven passes in the final eight games. He had no future at Iowa as anything other than a backup.

* USC promoted defensive backs coach Rocky Seto, who is 32 and has spent his entire career with the Trojans, to defensive coordinator. Linebackers coach Ken Norton was named assistant head coach for defense. Former USC receiver Vidal Hazelton, who was a five-star recruit in 2006 but left the Trojans in December, apparently is leaning toward transferring to an FCS school (although Western Michigan and Florida International are NOT in the FCS, as the article states).

* Clemson hired Alabama "defensive head coach" Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator. Steele was a top assistant at Florida State and with the Carolina Panthers before take the D-coordinator job at Alabama, so this seems like a bit of a steal for Tigers coach Dabo Swinney.

* UMass head coach Don Brown, who led the Minutemen to the I-AA title game in 2006, resigned to take over as Maryland's defensive coordinator.

* Former Miami quarterback Robert Marve, a redshirt freshman this season, is still looking for a home, but Miami isn't backing down much from the restrictions it set on Marve's transfer. He still won't be allowed to go to Florida, LSU or Tennessee.

* South Carolina quarterback Chris Smelley, who split time this season with redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia, will transfer. He apparently plans to focus on baseball. Smelley had lost his grip on the starting job by the end of the season, but Garcia wasn't exactly spectacular when given the opportunity and is now the only scholarship QB on the roster. Steve Spurrier will have his work cut out for him next year.

* Minnesota hired former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove to share the D-coordinator spot with Ronnie Lee, who was promoted from defensive backs coach. Cosgrove was a reasonably well-respected coordinator until Nebraska fell apart on defense toward the end of his tenure there, so it will be interesting to see what he can do with the Gophers.

Mass exodus

The onslaught has begun.

Michael Crabtree’s father says the Texas Tech receiver is going to the NFL, according to a newspaper report.

His father, also named Michael Crabtree, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on Friday that draft projections in the top 10 were too good to pass up. His dad says a nagging ankle problem in 2008 raised concerns about bigger injuries next season.

I can't blame Crabtree, of course. The guy will be a top-10 pick, and he's done pretty much all he can do -- in two years, he's won the Biletnikoff Award twice.

How about Jeremy Maclin, also a redshirt sophomore and probably the second-best receiver in the country?
Two-time All-American receiver Jeremy Maclin announced his widely expected decision to turn pro Friday—but not before breaking down in tears at the microphone before a crowd of reporters, grateful teammates and coaches.

“This decision hasn’t been easy,” Maclin said, adding that he didn’t completely make up his mind until 10 minutes before the news conference. “As much as I love you guys … I feel like I’m ready for the next level.”
Damn. Again, he's a two-time All-American with little more to prove. As a fan, though, it's always nice to see some of the big-time playmakers stick around and give us a few more thrills.

Also declaring for the draft this week were Georgia's Matt Stafford and Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State running back Chris Wells and Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin, all of whom are expected to be first-round picks, as well as Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill, Alabama running back Glen Coffee (projected as a mid-round pick by the draft advisory committee), UConn running back Donald Brown (the 14th 2,000-yard rusher in D-I history), BYU receiver Austin Collie (who led the nation in receiving yards), Maryland receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and West Virginia offensive lineman Greg Isdaner.

And if he decides to become a liar and declare for the draft, which appears to be a foregone conclusion, Pitt's LeSean McCoy would jump into the discussion with Wells and Moreno to be the top running back off the board.

Speaking of liars, don't do this:
"I'm not coming back," (Donald) Brown said. "I'm going to the NFL. I know I told you guys earlier that I was coming back, but that was to eliminate the distractions on our team. We had enough internal distractions going on and they didn't need that one as a burden as well, so I apologize for 'lying' for what I did to protect my team."
If you're thinking about declaring, just be honest -- we can handle it.

Back to the draft, though, the big name still out there is Sam Bradford. One recent report has him going pro, but that has yet to be corroborated by any of the major media outlets.

Bradford is only a redshirt sophomore, of course, but depending on tight end Jermaine Gresham's decision, it's possible that Bradford could lose his top three receivers as well as his entire offensive line, which should certainly factor into his decision.

The early-entry deadline is Thursday.

Friday, January 9, 2009

And so it is

Florida is your "official" national champion.

Was it ugly? Eh, depends which side you were rooting for, I suppose. The execution wasn't particularly sharp on either side, especially in the first half -- but what do you expect when your participants have a two-month layoff before the game?

The important thing is that when the clock hit 0:00, the Gators had a 10-point lead over the No. 2 team in the country.

Oklahoma was the better team in the first half, I don't think there's any question about that. The Sooners' offense -- at times, anyway -- didn't look to much different than the one we saw for most of the second half of the season, and Oklahoma would have been comfortably ahead going into the break if not for two drives that ended inside the Florida 5-yard line (one fourth-down stop at the 1, one interception at the 3 just before the half).

There were just a lot of little mistakes by the Sooners -- the missed block on the fourth-down play, a big sack taken by Sam Bradford when he could have unloaded the ball and kept the opening drive alive -- and it all added up to a 7-7 tie, despite Oklahoma looking like Oklahoma and Florida looking ... well, not very good.

But you could feel the tide turning in the third quarter, and when Percy Harvin took the direct snap and scored on a 2-yard run, you just had a feeling it was the Gators' night. From there on out, Florida looked like Florida -- Harvin ripping off a huge 52-yard run on the first play after Oklahoma had battled back to tie it, Tebow finding Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez on crucial third-down plays on the clinching drive -- this was the team we saw tearing apart SEC defenses all year.

Fittingly, it was Tebow's signature jump pass that completed the scoring, and when he plowed ahead for 9 yards on a third-and-2 to run out the clock, this image seemed so appropriate:

I'm not one for hyperbole, but I'm not sure we've ever seen anyone quite like Tebow in college football -- a player with Heisman talent who just seems to be able to will his team to victory with raw emotion.

On the Gators' final touchdown drive, Tebow was 6-for-6 for 76 yards, including the clinching 4-yard TD pass. Two of those six completions came on third-and-long situations, both of which were the direct result of a false-start penalty on Florida tackle Phil Trautwein.

Tebow reminds me a bit of the Bobby Hurleys and Christian Laettners that Duke seemed to regenerate on an annual basis during its dominating stretch in the early '90s. You probably don't like him a whole lot if you're not a fan, but you damn well know you'd want him on your team.

On the other sideline, there were some questionable calls that will only lead to more of the same criticism about Bob Stoops.

Yes, the fourth-and-goal running play was stuffed, and I said before the ball was snapped that in a close game, I think you take the points. But if the offensive line doesn't allow immediate penetration, Oklahoma may very well take control of the game right there and cruise to victory.

The 49-yard field-goal attempt also seemed a bit odd, considering that it was only fourth-and-5. In that situation, the odds of picking up a first down are probably better than making a field goal, especially with a passing game as good as Oklahoma's.

But I'll repeat what I've said before: Stoops is an excellent coach, and if you're going to point to his losses in national title games as an argument against that, you're missing the bigger picture.

I'll gladly take a coach who can get my team into the national championship game every other year -- which is what Stoops is averaging in his time at Oklahoma -- because regardless of all other factors, he's going to win some and he's going to lose some. He's already won one title, and I'm willing to bet that he'll win another.

But this year, the trophy belongs to Florida.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Don't read this ... unless I'm right

I generally try to avoid looking like an idiot, but I'll go ahead and throw myself out there for the biggest game of the year. Here's what I think about Florida and Oklahoma:

* I think that both defenses are underrated. While the offenses are flat-out terrifying (Florida on the ground, Oklahoma in the air), I just don't see the 52-48 shootout some are expecting.

* I think that I will want to punch Thom Brennaman in the face at some point during the evening (actually, I know I will).

* I think that Oklahoma has been the most impressive team this season, and if I had to vote right now, I'd put them at No. 1.

* I think that it will be hard for Sam Bradford and his receivers to maintain the timing they had late in the season after a two-month layoff, and that will give the Gators a much better shot than they would have had if this game had been played at the beginning of December.

* I think that Tim Tebow has a competitive streak like no other and Urban Meyer is a scary-good big-game coach, and that combination is making me extremely leery of picking the Sooners.

* I think that Florida will win 35-27.

As always, ignore Rick Reilly

It's only hours now until the "official" national champion will be crowned, and you've probably read at least 100 times in the past two weeks about the BCS being a stupid system.

We can all agree that the current method of determining a national champion is ridiculous, of course. But is there a good method?

I'm not going to break down my own hypothetical playoff format (which no one will care about, because everyone and their sister has a plan), nor am I going to explain in detail why I think that the BCS is actually a little better than the old format (matchups, basically).

All I will say is that in this particular season, there are at least five teams that "deserve" to be considered national champion, or at least take part in the discussion: Oklahoma, Florida, Texas, USC and Utah (in no particular order).

We'll never know which team is best, obviously. There are too few meaningful points of comparison, and until every elite teams plays all the others in some sort of round-robin duel to the death (keep dreaming), we'll never know for sure.

So please, try not to take things like Rick Reilly's dissertation on Utah being the "true" national champion seriously. He makes some rational points about the BCS, but the conclusion? Not so much.

We don't have a "true" national champion. We won't have one for the foreseeable future.

But that doesn't mean we won't have great games with brilliant coaches, Heisman-winning quarterbacks and more talent than you could find at The Library in Tempe. The winner of tonight's game will certainly be a "deserving" national champion, just like the other teams mentioned above.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The time is here

I hate to make this depressing post, but the time is here: today is basically Christmas Day for college football fans, the last glorious day to celebrate the season.

Once the BCS championship game wraps up tonight, it will be 233 days until the next college football game (no, the Senior Bowl doesn't count).

So when you settle into your warm woolen couches (or something like that) to watch Florida take on Oklahoma, let it all soak in, and try to take notice of all the little things that make college football so great -- you'll need those memories for the next eight months.

Hiring frenzy

I can barely keep up with all the noteworthy coordinators shifting allegiances, but a quick recap:

* Auburn hired Minnesota defensive coordinator Ted Roof to fill the spot vacated by Paul Rhoads, who took over as head coach at Iowa State. You may look at Minnesota's stats this year and say, "Meh, those numbers aren't that impressive." But look at the numbers from two years ago, then look again at what Roof did in his first year with the Gophers. He did the same thing at Duke when he took over as coach, although it didn't make much of a difference in the win-loss column. But all things considered, he's one of the best D-coordinators in the country and is another outstanding hire by Gene Chizik, who picked up Tulsa's Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator last week.

* Washington coach Steve Sarkisian lured defensive coordinator Nick Holt away from USC, apparently by showing him a briefcase with $100 billion in it (or $2.1 million, give or take $99.998 billion). It's not clear exactly how much authority Holt had in terms of playcalling, as Pete Carroll clearly had a hand (or an arm) in USC's defense, but Holt has been highly thought of for a few years now. After serving as linebackers coach at USC from 2000-03, he was head coach at Idaho for two years before resigning to take a position with the St. Louis Rams (although he never made it to St. Louis, as Carroll lured him back to USC with more money and the D-coordinator title). With Sarkisian being the supposed offensive mastermind, he did well to find a respected defensive coordinator to join him in Seattle, even if he did have to pay him handsomely (again, $2.1 million over three years). Of course, it never hurts to rip one of the top assistants away from a conference rival, either.

* Carroll wasted no time reconfiguring his staff, naming former assistant Carl Smith the QB coach and passing game coordinator and receivers coach Johnnie Morton the new offensive coordinator. It sounds as though they'll split play-calling and gameplanning duties, much like Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin did when they were on the Trojans' staff. Nothing has been announced yet regarding a replacement for Holt, but secondary coach Rocky Seto is believed to be a leading candidate. Carroll has never been one to go hunting for big-name coordinators, preferring to maintain continuity by promoting from within (and it's hard to argue with the results).

There should be a bit of a lull in this area in the next few weeks, as teams are typically hesitant to make too many staff changes with National Signing Day quickly approaching.

One big vacancy still out there is Michigan's defensive coordinator spot, which I'll be keeping a close eye on (obviously). While it's been surprisingly quiet on the names front, Rich Rodriguez did state in a radio interview on Monday that he intends to stick with a 4-3 or 3-4 base defense, which is in disagreement with the general consensus that Rodriguez is seeking a 3-3-5 disciple. Another interesting note from that interview is Rodriguez's admission that the NFL playoffs and the late bowl games have been a factor in the hiring delay -- considering that I had yet to hear an NFL assistant mentioned as a serious candidate, this brings an entirely new group into the fold.

I'm not sure who Rodriguez is planning on interviewing -- let alone hiring -- but he seems dead set on waiting for someone (or maybe a couple of someones) who either is still involved in the playoffs or has been involved with a late bowl game. If this person is an unspoken favorite, a sudden announcement wouldn't be surprising. But if Rodriguez is as undecided as he sounds to be, an extensive interview process is definitely possible, meaning it might be a while before we know anything.

He wasn't kidding

As expected, is reporting that Boston College will fire coach Jeff Jagodzinski for interviewing with the New York Jets.

To recap, athletic director Gene DeFilippo told Jagodzinski earlier in the week (after news of the Jets' interest surfaced) that he would be fired if he went through with the interview, and Jagodzinski essentially told him, "Sounds good," and went ahead as planned.

Like a lot of people, I thought that the AD was bluffing -- you just don't fire a 45-year-old coach who has won 20 games in his first two seasons. It's possible that Jagodzinski thought the same thing, but it also seems possible that he just wasn't very attached to coaching at Boston College.

The article unearths an interesting nugget:
Sources told the Globe that Jagodzinski has made multiple inquiries into returning to the NFL, where he was a coach for the eight seasons before taking over the head coaching job at BC. The newspaper reported that Jagodzinski has put out feelers for offensive coordinator positions as well as head coaching spots.
Assuming this is true, that would partially explain DeFilippo's seemingly insane decision. But even if Jagodzinski is looking around, and you're concerned that you're going to lose him at some point in the near future, why in the world would you voluntarily accelerate that departure?

It's obvious that DeFilippo felt somewhat jilted by the whole process, but I just don't understand how he feels that firing Jagodzinski is going to make his program better in the long run.

ESPN's ACC beat writer/blogger, Heather Dinich, makes an excellent point:
Athletic director Gene DeFilippo is naive if he thinks Boston College is the final destination for young, talented coaches with higher aspirations.
As foolish as he appears to be, I doubt that DeFilippo could be that naive -- he just watched Tom O'Brien dump him in favor of NC State two years ago. No, the only logical answer here is that he's going to ridiculous measures in what appears to be basically a jealous fit. Again, you just don't fire young, successful head coaches for no good reason -- and no, interviewing for an NFL head coaching job (about five steps above coaching at Boston College) does not qualify as a good reason to fire someone.

It's true that Jagodzinski should have been up-front with the administration and told them about the interview, rather than having them find out about it from a reporter two days before it was set to take place. But when was the last time you told your boss that you were interviewing for a promotion with another company? I mean, can you blame him?

And it's not like there are going to be replacements waiting in line for a chance to take over. Again, O'Brien left Boston College for NC State -- basically a lateral move -- and it's not like he had NFL teams beating his door down. The Eagles have always struggled to gain consistent fan support (it doesn't help when you have four major pro teams in the area), and are known as a team that's regularly passed over in the bowl pecking order because of the difficulty they have selling tickets.

In some ways, I'm sure that's part of the reason they were so sensitive about the possibility of losing Jagodzinski -- he's young, he's a good recruiter and he appears to have an excellent offensive mind.

According to the Boston Globe's website, it appears that longtime defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani is the favorite to replace Jagodzinski (I'm sure the copy editors there are wondering why the coach can't be named "Smith"). This should not be a surprise, as Spaziani was the interim coach for the team's 2005 bowl win over Navy after O'Brien had left for NC State.

If they're looking for loyalty, they've probably found their guy. But if they're looking for success, well ...

Jagodzinski is on his way back to the NFL eventually, he's made that much clear. If he's good enough to raise your program with him in the process, why is that a problem?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


No commentary needed.

Things and more things

* Monday night's Fiesta Bowl was one of the best games of the bowl season, and Colt McCoy stepped up big with everything on the line. He didn't play well for most of the first three quarters -- taking a couple of bad sacks, throwing a pick near the goal line at the end of the first half, etc. -- but with 2 minutes left to play and in need of a touchdown, he marched the Longhorns down the field with the accuracy and game management he showed all season. I'd call him the Heisman front-runner next season, but with the possibility that fellow finalists Tim Tebow AND Sam Bradford could be back next season, it could be a hell of a race. It's also worth noting that McCoy set BCS bowl records with 41 completions and 414 yards.

* On a related note, Ohio State represented itself surprisingly well. I honestly didn't think that the Buckeyes could hang with Texas' potent offense, but James Laurinaitis and company kept everything in front of them all night -- until the Quan Cosby touchdown, that is -- and hopefully silenced some of the Big 10 critics. I'm sure they'll still be there, of course (Tuesday's projected headline: "Big 10 collapses in big game once again"), but the Buckeyes have nothing to be ashamed of by losing on a last-minute TD to one of the best teams in the country. That said, the Longhorns have no real argument to finish No. 1 in the AP poll -- no more than they did before the game, anyway. There was some talk in the media that a dominating win over Ohio State followed by a close, not-so-spectacular Oklahoma victory in the BCS championship game could make for some controversy. That didn't happen, though, and while USC and Utah each might pick up a first-place vote or two (and Texas will get Mack Brown's vote, of course), the winner of the title game will be a near-unanimous No. 1.

* Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski, who is 45 years old, has coached two seasons and has a career record of 20-8, will apparently be fired for interviewing with the New York Jets for their vacant head coaching position. The question here: What is Boston College doing? I understand the concern, which is essentially not wanting to have your head coach looking around for other positions, but if he's doing so well that he's a legitimate candidate for bigger jobs, shouldn't you be grateful that he's been able to get your program to that level? Especially when you consider that BC's only option for a successor at this point, with all other noteworthy candidates off the market, is to promote an assistant who will in no way be prepared to take over a major ACC program? We'll see if athletic director Gene DeFilippo carries through with his threat, but this seems like a potentially huge mistake.

* I haven't been sold on Brady Hoke as a big-time head coach, considering that his record at Ball State coming into this season was 22-37 -- that's an average of 4.4 wins per season, slightly worse than his predecessor, Bill Lynch. But with the staff he's assembled so far at San Diego State, it'll be hard not to succeed. Hoke recently hired Al Borges (former O-coordinator at Auburn) as offensive coordinator and Rocky Long (former head coach of New Mexico) as defensive coordinator. One of the most important things for a guy like Hoke, who was never a college coordinator before becoming head coach at Ball State, is to surround yourself with quality assistants who can devise a gameplan, and that's exactly what he's done so far at San Diego State.

* Numerous players declared for the NFL draft this week, with the most noteworthy of those being Alabama tackle Andre Smith, Iowa running back Shonn Greene, Kansas State QB Josh Freeman, Rutgers receiver Kenny Britt, North Carolina receiver Hakeem Nicks and UConn running back Donald Brown. It's always nice to see guys stick it out for four years, as it only makes the game that much better (wink Tebow wink), but you can't blame the guys who are all but guaranteed a spot in the first two rounds. If put in the same situation, I'm not sure I could delay the chance to set myself up financially for the rest of my life.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Sugar shock

What happened Friday night in the Sugar Bowl?

The shocking part was not so much that Utah won -- the Utes are a veteran team, led by a fifth-year senior quarterback and a very good defense. There's a reason they finished undefeated. But Utah's defensive line physically dominated Alabama, sacking John Parker Wilson eight times, and Brian Johnson simply picked the Crimson Tide apart in the short passing game.

Was the loss of Andre Smith (suspended for alleged dealings with an agent) that significant? Maybe it was. It's hard to believe that Utah could have racked up eight sacks with Smith in the game. But the Utes came from everywhere on blitzes and stunts -- linebacker Stevenson Sylvester had three sacks -- so I'm not sure even Smith could have made that big of an impact in that area.

What really hurt the Crimson Tide was their inability to run the ball. There wasn't a game all season in which they had to rely on Wilson -- their running game made him mostly a role player. But Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram were held to 62 yards on 21 carries Friday, and I think that's where Smith's loss hurt the most. Once Alabama's running game had been mostly neutralized, the Crimson Tide really had nowhere to turn.

Utah coach Kyle Wittingham deserves a ton of credit, of course, for the gameplan on both sides of the ball. Defensively, as mentioned, Utah was able to control the line of scrimmage and hold the Alabama running game in check.

Offensively, the Utes' success can be traced directly to a brilliant decision by the coaching staff: They simply didn't try to run the ball. Utah attempted only 17 running plays, and 10 of those came in the fourth quarter while trying to run out the clock.

Alabama's defensive line, led by monstrous All-American nose tackle Terrence Cody, finished fourth in the country in rushing defense, so Wittingham knew that the Utes weren't going to be able to consistently move the ball on the ground. So he let his veteran QB -- with 33 career starts under his belt coming into the game -- take over, and Johnson came through with the game of his life. The first possession of the game told the story:
Johnson finished 27-of-41 for 336 yards with three touchdowns and, just as importantly, no interceptions.

He did fumble once, early in the third quarter, and Alabama responded with a quick touchdown that cut Utah's lead to 21-17. On the ensuing drive, the Utes went 71 yards in seven plays -- all passes -- capped off by a 28-yard TD throw from Johnson to David Reed that made it 28-17, and Alabama would get no closer.

I'm not going to be one of those people who tries to spin this into yet another example of why we need a playoff in college football, but I will say that Utah deserves all the credit it will get for being the only team in the FBS to finish 13-0. You can't do any better than that.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year

Yes, that's Les Miles photoshopped into a diaper and a top hat. And no, I don't have an explanation.