Thursday, January 14, 2010

1/14: Tennessee Turmoil, Trojans Get Boner (Make That Bonehead), and more

Smokey, in brighter, better days

Tennessee Turmoil
Tennessee football will have it's third head coach in three years at some point within the next month or so. Knoxville has undergone entirely too much turnover at head coach in the past 14 months. A messy end to the Phil Fulmer Era at Tennessee was bad enough, but then the Volunteers went way outside their normal comfort zone to hire a brash, energetic Lane Kiffin. After one season, which it should be stated was a 7-6 season including a 4-4 SEC record and a thorough bowl thrashing at the hands of Virginia Tech, Kiffin is gone. I should state at this time that I thought Kiffin wouldn't last more than three seasons, but for entirely different reasons than what happened. Kiffin wasn't fired, his salary got doubled to coach the leading dynasty of the past decade in college football, Southern California. Tennessee, your hubby left for one of the other really hot women in town, even if it's the other side of town.
Any marriage counselor would have advised against the marriage. There were a number of reasons Tennessee shouldn't have hired Kiffin to begin with, and really the only good reason to hire Kiffin was the energy he brought and the resume his legendary father brought as defensive coordinator. The main problem is that Kiffin didn't really "love" Tennessee. That's not a problem for Arizona, Baylor, Kentucky, Maryland, Syracuse, or Washington State. It is a problem for Tennessee, a top ten program in college football. Tennessee shouldn't be hiring a coach who would leave for another college program so quickly. There will always be other interests for a coach from another region, but those interests shouldn't extend to a 14-month tenure and then furious exit. Tennessee simply has too much history, tradition, and facilities to be abandoned when most couples are still in the after-glow of the honeymoon.
While Kiffin never truly loved Tennessee it's the fans who got jilted. They tried much like a real relationship to see through the flaws and love him anyway, but instead he left them. Kiffin should have just said it in the press conference, "It's not you, it's me."
Tennessee's direction from here really is the biggest question mark in this entire situation.
- Reports circulated that Tennessee offered the job to Texas defensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp, a man with deep SEC connections, but he turned Tennessee down. It apepars Muschamp, a Georgia alum, is content to wait to become the head coach at Texas unless an opening were to happen in Athens.
- Suddenly the search centered on Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun, who was reportedly the second choice during the search the decided on Kiffin, but he also turned down the Tennessee brass.
- Right now there is no certainty involved. Reports are out that say Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is in negotiations. Those negotiations supposedly are hanging on Cutcliffe's insistence to have his entire Duke staff brought on to Knoxville. If the two sides cannot budge then names like Connecticut's Randy Edsall, Utah's Kyle Whittingham, Houston's Kevin Sumlin, or Louisiana Tech's Derek Dooley (yes, son of legendary Georgia head coach Vince Dooley).

Ok, but no promises about tomorrow, 14 months from here who knows?

Trojans Get Boner (Make That Bonehead)
Lane Kiffin was 5-15 as an NFL head coach and is currently 7-6 as a college head coach. That's 12-21 for those of you keeping score at home. So you'd think a guy with a .364 winning percentage would have a hard time keeping a job as a head coach, but you'd be wrong. In fact he went from a horrendous situation at the worst NFL franchise to a top ten college program coming from a period of decline to the dynasty of the past decade in college football. If I were him at this point I'd try going without pants and see if anything you can do would hurt you. He likely had more secondary violations than wins during his season in Knoxville, and certainly earned far more critics than allies. The only SEC school he didn't anger was Tennessee, but then he did that too when he darted across the country to take the Southern California job.
Kiffin will bring the beginnings of a good staff with him to Los Angeles. His father, the legend Monte Kiffin, will come with him. Former Ole Miss coach and former SoCal assistant Ed Orgeron will also come with Kiffin, he being a recruiter of the stuff legends are made of. It now appears the widely-circulated rumor of great offensive coordinator Norm Chow leaving UCLA to join Kiffin are false. In all reality that would have just been icing on the cake. I wonder why Southern Cal would have paid $4,000,000 just to listen to his dad call defense and Chow call the offense. I guess Lane would have been the water boy on that staff.
I doubt Kiffin will succeed at Southern California, but the looming investigation by the NCAA might give him the kind of pass he needs to last longer than he deserves. My personal prediction is eventually Kiffin will stick around somewhere long enough for someone to realize he's just not that good. If I am right we will all agree that no coach ever moved so quickly up the ladder with so little a resume of success.

Was Al Davis (right) actually correct? Suddenly he seems the smart one, the more stable one.

Skip for Joy in Tampa
Tomorrow at noon South Florida will introduce Skip Holtz as their second football coach in school history. It's been a long time coming for a coach who I think was actually hurt more by his time as his father's assistant at South Carolina than anything else. Lou Holtz threw his on under the proverbial bus during his tenure in Columbia. Skip Holtz did a wonderful job prior to that as head coach at Connecticut which was a D-IAA at the time, but success under his tenure included a first round play-off victory and the foundation of the later move to D-IA after Skip's departure. Most recently Skip Holtz guided the East Carolina Pirates of Conference USA for five seasons, including bowl appearances in each of the last four seasons. The records of his teams were 5-6, 7-6, 8-5, 9-5, and 9-5. Those last two years also included victories in the Conference USA Championship Game over Tulsa and 21st-ranked Houston respectively.
Skip will do good things at USF, and I for one will be cheering on his success. It is unlikely it seems that former USF coach Jim Leavitt could bring the Bulls to the level that they needed to be at given their natural advantages. South Florida is fertile recruiting ground, the fans in the community and alumni base are growing fast and passionately, and the summit of the Big East is not the impossible dream that other conferences would be. Look for success soon in Tampa.

"He's the best coach in the family" - Lou Holtz

I started out poorly with 0-2 on Saturday, but I rebounded nicely on Sunday for 2-2. Much like my Gamecocks, I struggle on Saturdays.
Cardinals (+7) looking very good, I like Warner to best Brees in the laser fight. 38-33
Ravens (+6.5) have the combo to beat the Colts, run ball and play D. 24-23
Vikings (-2.5) not getting much love, but not sure why Cowboys are as they had advantage over Eagles all year, beat struggling Saints (they also lost to Bucs!), and that's it. 31-17
Chargers (-8.5) aren't the Bengals, too much for offensively-challenged Jets. 27-14

and now your moment of zen

Friday, January 8, 2010

1/8: BCS Review, Predictions Revisited, NFL Play-Off Thoughts & More!

Alabama wins another title (8! No more you lipless in-breds)

On his fifth snap from center Colt McCoy's day was over on a relatively mild play that belied an awful end to a great career. Everything was in place for him to end his career with the stuff dreams are made of, but it was not to be. It also was coming together that the national championship was not going to elude McCoy like the Heisman had through his illustrious career. So Colt McCoy ends his time in college without any remaining eligibility, Heisman trophies, or national championship rings. It is a sad ending to a great career.

It's tough to really explain this game any further than to say that the Tide appeared to go completely into a prevent offense with a 24-6 halftime lead over Texas. Who could blame them? Texas had to settle for a freshman with only limited mop-up experience after McCoy went out with his shoulder injury. It was Alabama's game to win, but they almost lost it. Just as teams sometime become to complacent on defense with a big lead, Alabama was content to sit on a lead. They forgot that what the back-up lacked in experience he more than made up for in pure talent (he actually had more hype coming to Texas than McCoy did when he got to Austin).

The only true debate is if the Longhorns would have emerged victorious with four quarters from their senior quarterback. I would argue that it's impossible to know for sure. Alabama likely wouldn't have felt confident enough to recede into a prevent offense with McCoy taking snaps for Texas. It is equally likely that the lead would never have existed. It also seems certain that Alabama's major gaffes early on special teams would have cost them more had McCoy been able to lead the entirety of both drives, but he came out after a first down play on the Alabama 13 yard line. The drive started when Alabama tried a pass on a fake punt from deep in their own territory that was intercepted around the 30 yard line of Alabama, and it seemed headed for pay-dirt until McCoy went down. Instead Texas settled for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. The ensuing kick-off was short and so horribly covered by the Crimson Tide that they were unable to field it before Bevo's bunch pounced on it. Again Texas had merely 30 yards to cover, and again they settled for a field goal and a 6-0 lead. A disastrous remainder of the first half for back-up Texas QB Garrett Gilbert ended with an interception returned for a touchdown to make it 24-6 when teams hit the locker rooms.

That Gilbert would find his legs seemed anything but a certainty, but find them he did. Riding the dependable WR Jordan Shipley the back-up got it back to a three point deficit at 24-21. Alabama got a possession that reached midfield with around four minutes left and seemed to be ready to sink the final nail in the coffin, but it stalled and they had to punt Texas inside their own ten. It appeared that Alabama was unable to get back to playing the game for real. Could the Alabama defense save them? All of us collectively started to think maybe this was the fairy tale start for another potential star passer in Austin. Images danced in our heads of McCoy hugging Gilbert while they both basked in the glow of the crystal football. Then reality hit in the form a unopposed run, hit, and forced fumble by the vaunted Tide defense. As Alabama recovered the fumble inside the Texas five yard line it was over. Ball game. Some meaningless points were scored and a couple turnovers came as well, but the game was no longer in doubt.

The only doubt remains as to if Boise State would have beaten Alabama. I say that not because of McCoy's injury, but more because I think they might be that good. Texas Christian knows they'd have put up a better fight than the Longhorns sans-McCoy, but reality says Boise State remains the only team who can claim they deserve a shot. In this season a Texas-Boise State match-up would result in an undisputed champion, but we all know how that goes.

Keep it strong Boise, we're with you

Please read this if you're wondering about the varying number of national titles claimed by Alabama, because the real number is 8 now, no matter what they say.

Predictions Revisited
So it wasn't all bad. My Facebook Predictions vs Reality:

I had Georgia Tech over NC State for ACC Champ game
Reality had Georgia Tech over Clemson, not too far off even though NC State was bad
My dark horse Duke finished 5-7, if they had a mulligan on the opening loss to Richmond they might've been bowling

Big East
I had Rutgers winning the conference, but Cincinnati won (definitely missed on them)
I had Pittsburgh as my second choice, and they indeed finished second
I had Louisville as my dark horse, they finished 4-8, fired their coach, and hired Charlie Strong

Big Ten
I had Penn State winning, instead my second choice Ohio State won, but Lions were good
I had Minnesota as my dark horse, they finished 6-6 and went the Insight Bowl (not a good pick)
Definitely didn't have Iowa that high, so I missed on them

I had Texas over Nebraska in the Big XII Title Game, nice eh?
My dark horse Baylor finished 4-8 after losing their play-making QB in the first few games (mulligan)

I had California winning the conference, but instead Oregon won
I had Southern Cal as my second choice, but they finished more around 4th/5th
My dark horse UCLA needed Army losing in the last game of the year to go bowling at 6-6 (bad)

           TEAM        Predicted/Actual W-L     Predicted/Actual Bowl
East    Florida         12-0,8-0/12-0,8-0          NCG/Sugar
           Georgia        8-4,6-2/7-5,4-4             Outback/Independence
           S. Carolina   8-4,4-4/7-5,3-5             Peach/
           Tennessee    7-5,3-5/7-5,4-4             Liberty/Peach
           Kentucky     6-6,2-6/7-5,3-5             Independence/Music City
           Vanderbilt    4-8,1-7/2-10,0-8           None/None

West   LSU             11-1,7-1/9-3,5-3           Sugar/Citrus
           Ole Miss      10-2,6-2/8-4,4-4           Cotton/Cotton
           Alabama      10-2,6-2/12-0,8-0         Citrus/NCG
           Arkansas      8-4,4-4/7-5,3-5            Music City/Liberty
           Auburn         6-6,2-6/7-5,3-5  
           Miss St         4-8,0-8/5-7,3-5            None/None

So none of my SEC Picks were truly ugly, not a bad year all told.

BCS My Prediction Versus Reality
ROSE: I thought California vs Penn State, but really Oregon vs Ohio State
SUGAR: I thought LSU vs Southern Cal, but really Florida vs Cincinnati
FIESTA: I thought Boise State vs Oklahoma, but really Boise State vs TCU
ORANGE: I thought Georgia Tech vs Rutgers, but really Georgia Tech vs Iowa
NCG: I thought Texas over Florida 27-23, but really Alabama over Texas 37-21
Some of those weren't far off, but some were... *cough* rutgers *cough*

NFL Play-Off Thoughts (predictions)
I think the Bengals (-2.5) weren't going to give anything away last week and will beat the Jets 23-13
The Eagles (+3.5) will send Dallas home again without a play-off win 33-31
The Ravens (+3.5) will take advantage of a Welker-less and hobbled Brady to win 27-20
The Cardinals (PK) have the better defense and will defeat the Packers 31-20

Leavitt fired by South Florida? What's up with these kids getting coaches fired? Please start campaigning for USF to hire Mike Leach so that pirate can have his own ship..... Seahawks fire Jim Mora after one season sounds odd, but Pete Carrol finally heading back to the pros for the opening is the real story. Who would Southern Cal get as their coach? It's gonna be tough to get a good candidate right now..... No word yet out on the Texas Tech coaching search, but I have to believe Tuberville will get the call for his defensive background and that he's the all football all the time type that Leach wasn't..... Al Groh is gonna end up as an assistant somewhere, either to fix Georgia Tech as their defensive coordinator or he will get a job from his old boss Parcels as Miami's outside linebacker's coach.....

and now your moment of zen

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

1/6: Birmingham, Leach, Florida Shift, BCS Recap & more

There's a lot to get caught up on, so we'll just get to the most relevant topics of conversation.

Birmingham: Pittsburgh of the South, if Pittsburgh were Cleveland
The City
Birmingham has many different areas. We stayed at the Residence Inn in Hoover, just south of the city, and that was definitely a choice spot to stay. Hoover has a lot of restaurants and a good mall in which to waste some quality time. The downtown area where the pep rally was held was good, but it didn't appear to be a very big area of things to do. It appeared that there were a few places but nothing else. We didn't visit the Lakeview District which included the Official Gamecock areas, but that's because we were too cold to anything else on the night we had planned to check it out. The only really bad part of the city was...
The Stadium
Legion Field is first of all in the worst part of town. Having grown up a hour outside of Orlando I've made many trips to the Citrus Bowl which is noted to be in a bad part of town, highlighted by the illustrious Orange Blossom Trail (aka: OBT). The area surrounding the Citrus Bowl would be considered upscale compared to the area around Legion Field. The actual stadium is actually fairly well maintained given it's limited usage (currently only hosts UAB home games and this bowl game), but it does on the whole leave much to be desired.
The Game Itself
There's really little I can say other than it was just a pathetic overall experience in terms of Carolina Football. The defense played well except a few bad plays and a blow coverage which still needed a great play by the receiver for Connecticut's first score. Special teams didn't nothing spectacular, but also did nothing negative to hurt the rest of the team either. The real story was the offense.
Connecticut was noted for having a bad defense, one that was ranked in the 70s nationally and hadn't allowed less than 24 points to a D-IA opponent since the 19th of September against Baylor. The Gamecocks gained only 76 yards on the ground, 56 of which was from QB Stephen Garcia who also fumbled on one of those carries. The run game was abandoned early on when a few attempts didn't gain much. The Huskies ran the ball 48 times in the game versus just 26 for Carolina, and only threw it 22 times to Carolina's 38. Garcia only completed 16 of those 38 attempts, but that doesn't truly tell the story of the passing game. Of the 22 incomplete passes most were either not catchable or thrown directly into the hands of receivers who then flat-out dropped them. It is relevant that Connecticut didn't really obtain any type of insurmountable lead from which Carolina had to turn to a straight passing game to try to come back until late in the fourth quarter.
Really the only thing I can say is it was a terrible effort in a terrible cold. Also, one hell of a catch:

Mutiny on the SS Leach
Most of this story does not need to be recapped, but if you don't know about the public series of events that led to Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach being fired read this. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that the Adam James incident was not the lone or even main reason for Leach's dismissal, but if you need a hint just keep in mind that AD Gerald Myers hired Bobby Knight to coach basketball for the Red Raiders. Clearly Texas Tech administration wasn't chiefly concerned with player treatment, which means there were other reasons. The reasons appear to be that Myers, an former basketball coach, was much more focused on building that program on campus. Keep in mind a new arena was built and Bobby Knight hired, but still it was Leach's football program that drew the fans while the basketball program barely drew flies. Leach became more powerful amongst the media, fans, and alumni than anyone else in Lubbock. It is likely the Leach was aware and used this power to finally negotiate a big extension last year. Leach actually paid for the trip to interview for the University of Washington job last year in order to drive home a point of needing an extension and raise. Myers and the brass in Lubbock seemed at the time to reluctantly grant Leach a great extension and raise following a 11-1 regular season in which their only loss came to Big XII South Champion and national runner-up Oklahoma. It is clear now that with that extension came a trap, which the sometimes controversial but always entertaining Clay Travis wrote about in an article. What happened was that Myers & Company made sure they set the trap as they threw out the bait. That this all happened to the son of an ESPN analyst made the story explode nationally as the rope was pulled, tightening around Leach's ankle and raising in the air dangling from a limb.
For Texas Tech it will be difficult to keep the program on top, but rumors are circulating that former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville could end up with the job. It will be difficult to keep the kind of momentum going that Leach started. Leach actually won more bowl games in his ten seasons than the program had won total prior to his arrival. 10 years, 10 bowl games, tough to match for Tech.
For Leach things appear to be far better off. Next off-season Leach will get a job at a school needing a personality and an offense, think Indiana, Illinois, Washington State, or Stanford if Harbaugh is hired away from Palo Alto. This season he is likely to either take the year off or maybe take some of the usual analyst positions, which is what I'm hoping for as he'd provide a lot of entertainment. Keep your sword swinging Mike!

While the Urban's kind of away, the Jimbo will definitely play
On December 31, 2009 a highly-touted recruit de-committed from Florida and committed to Florida State. Matt Elam, a safety who is ranked the top recruit in the state of Florida and fourteenth in the nation, changed his mind undoubtedly because of Florida coach Urban Meyer's strange week prior to New Year's Eve. There is no certainty regarding Meyer's situation in Gainesville right now, but Florida State's new-found stability with Jimbo Fisher at the helm is an asset of certainty right now. It is unclear if this shift is just a blip or if it is a sign of things to come. You should keep your eye on recruiting for Florida now for who they lose, who they don't get, and if Florida State beats them out for some of those prized recruits. The shift will only have great impact if recruiting this year goes crazy or if the Meyer situation drags in to future seasons, the second being much more likely than the first.
We have to just sit and wait at this point, but what can Meyer and his staff be telling recruits that makes any sense to anyone? If you were a recruit or a recruit's parents would you believe Meyer if he said he'll be back? All good questions, no real answers.

4 BCS Bowls, 3 Thoughts Each
Rose Bowl
Ohio State still has plenty of pride, and was tired of the criticism.
Oregon has their off days, but needs to avoid them in January.
First Big Ten Champ vs Pac-10 Champ Rose bowl in a decade was cleansing to the college football soul.
Sugar Bowl
Departure of Tebow, Strong, and possibly Meyer didn't happen until after January 1st.
Cincinnati's defense was as advertised, but without Brian Kelly the offense couldn't compensate.
The smell was Cincinnati's football future burning in a blaze of glorious fail.
Fiesta Bowl
Boise State has a far better defense than anyone thought.
TCU's offense proved their downfall as they gave up a touchdown on a turnover and produced only 10 points.
It's important to not take from this that TCU was not national title worthy, but rather take that Boise is damn good.
Orange Bowl
Iowa is one heck of a bowl team, and the Big Ten completed their impressive bowl season.
Georgia Tech is a terrible bowl team, the ACC is awful, and that offense looked downright pitiful.
This game wasn't the best, but a vast improvement over recent editions of the bowl.

Wrapping It Up
I'll have a National Title review and some NFL Play-offs preview Friday or Saturday, until then...

Your moment of zen