Friday, November 30, 2012

All the coach-hiring muck that's fit to rake

Because it wouldn't be late November/early December without rumors of debatable veracity regarding every job opening everywhere.

Tennessee: Jon Gruden either is or isn't going to Tennessee, depending whom you believe (by which I mean he isn't). This was published by the seemingly credible Chattanooga Times Free Press late Thursday night:
The Chattanooga Times Free Press has learned from sources close to the process that Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden has been extended an offer to succeed Derek Dooley.

Sources confirmed that while details are still being negotiated, the university's offer is very lucrative and there is no firm deadline on a decision.

Gruden's decision likely will hinge on the money the school is willing to pay for his potential staff, the sources say.

"Right now, the money is there for him, but they aren't as close as he would like for his assistants," one source said. "It could happen as soon as this weekend or go into next week, but he's pretty firm where he is and has already spoken with the guys he wants to be on the staff with him."
OMG GRUDEN. And this was published by ESPN on Friday:
Tennessee's search for a new football coach is not focused on Jon Gruden, multiple sources close to the school's search process told on Friday.

There were discussions among the two sides late last week, but Gruden informed Tennessee officials after meeting with his family that it was a move he didn't want to make at this time, according to sources.

"Coach Gruden has let us know that he's not interested, and we're pursuing other candidates," a Tennessee official said.
Oh. Meanwhile, Spencer/Orson at EDSBS is MS Paint-ing furiously.

Colorado: Mark Mangino definitely interviewed at Colorado but definitely won't be going there:

That seems fairly explicit. Anyway, To my knowledge, Utah State coach Gary Anderson is the only other publicly known candidate; I assume he's now the frontrunner if he wasn't already. The Daily Camera in Boulder also reports the following guys as being of interest: Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and San Jose head coach Mike MacIntyre.

Auburn: Charlie Strong either interviewed or didn't interview with Auburn, depending whom you believe:
Auburn interviewed Louisville coach Charlie Strong this week to fill its head coach vacancy, according to a report by, though Strong later denied interviewing for the job.

The interview with a representative of the Auburn search committee took place in the past two days, reported, citing someone familiar with the process.
So Charlie Strong did not interview, according to Charlie Strong. Logical thinking leads me to conclude that there was unofficial contact that was an interview according to some people and not an interview according to Charlie Strong. Semantics.

Regardless, Strong might not even be a real candidate:
Auburn's search for a new football coach may be focused on three former assistants at the school: former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn. Also, TCU coach Gary Patterson remains a player in the search.

Petrino's interest in Auburn is high, and Fisher and Malzahn would listen to Auburn, according to people familiar with the situation. Petrino has not been contacted for an interview. The Auburn search committee, or people acting in its behalf, are calling people in athletics about Petrino, who was fired at Arkansas last April after admitting having an affair with a university employee.

Auburn is also taking a hard look at Patterson, who it interviewed in 2008 before hiring Gene Chizik. Though not addressing Auburn specifically, Patterson said Tuesday, "When someone calls, you should always listen, because it's the right thing to do."
I have no idea why people think Jimbo Fisher is leaving Florida State for a lesser and infinitely-harder-to-win-at program. Petrino and Malzahn could probably be had, though, and Patterson might be more gettable than initially believed based on that quote.

And then there's this, which is from EDSBS but does include actual newsy info:
The focus at Auburn is reportedly on Petrino, but the dark horse name in the search remains Jim Mora, a favorite of some boosters and someone with everything Auburn is reportedly looking for: NFL experience, an actual college head coaching tenure now, and the ability to develop NFL talent.
O RLY. Whether Mora's actually interested is an entirely different matter; he's not making a ton of money by SEC standards but could probably get it from UCLA, which undoubtedly has little interest in losing the guy everybody there is convinced is New Pete Carroll.

Arkansas: So Les Miles is out. reported that Gary Patterson was at one point the leading candidate; everything else out there is just weird stuff like this ...
A source informed me that multiple people close to Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian believe that Sark is definitely in the mix.

Sarkisian, 38, just finished his fourth year in Seattle.
... followed by this ...
Sources tell me that Steve Sarkisian will NOT be the next head coach at Arkansas.
... and that totally believable story from the beginning of the week that Chris Petersen had already agreed to take the job and would be announced as the new coach by Tuesday (the one three days ago):
Boise State coach Chris Petersen is poised to become the new coach at Arkansas, and athletics director Jeff Long is supposed to have a final answer Tuesday, but all indications are good, according to multiple sources.

Terms of the deal were not known Monday night.
Possible? I guess; it's not totally unreasonable to think Petersen might eventually be interested in going elsewhere for a billion dollars a year, and gettability does not seem to be one of Jeff Long's criteria. Plausible? Not so much.

NC State: There's something resembling clarity here thanks to actual information:
NC State officials, led by athletic director Debbie Yow, interviewed Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris earlier this week, according to published reports ... (but) Round 2 isn't expected to begin until after this weekend's conference championship games.

The reason for the break, say the sources, is because at least "two or three'' potential candidates will be coaching in those games. Those candidates include Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren and Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell.

"She wants to be thorough, so she wants to talk to more people,'' one source said. "But I think she has a choice in mind.''

Another source said that choice is Dykes.
Plausibility: high. It's actually kinda interesting that they're even bothering to wait for the MAC guys since Dykes is reportedly a candidate everywhere.

Boston College: There's far less to go on here. Basically all that's known is that Saints O-coordinator and B.C. alum Pete Carmichael Jr. is a candidate ...
Saints OC Pete Carmichael Jr., a BC graduate, is on radar of BC athletic dept. as a potential HC, per source.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 27, 2012
 ... as is a slightly lesser-known candidate:
Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio reported on Wednesday night that Saints offensive line coach/running game coordinator Aaron Kromer will interview for the position after New Orleans' Thursday night game against Atlanta.
FYI, Kromer was an assistant at Miami (Ohio) and Northwestern in the '90s; that's about the extent of his college experience. It seems unlikely that the Saints coaching staff comprises the entirety of Boston College's coaching pool, though -- Bruce Feldman has implied that 49ers O-coordinator (and former Stanford O-coordinator) Greg Roman is of interest -- so I'm guessing the lack of other names is just a combination of Brad Bates keeping things on the down low and Boston College being Boston College.

Purdue: Hammer and Rails has things pretty well covered on this front. The new-ish news:
Purdue will meet with Cincinnati's Butch Jones regarding their football coach position, according to Football Scoop. Earlier, Brandan Murphy of Boiler Radio reported Jones has been offered the job, but no other outlet is currently reporting the same thing.
It seems doubtful that Jones already has an offer given that he probably hasn't even officially interviewed since Cincinnati is still playing; that said, it wouldn't be a surprise if he were at or near the top of Purdue's list. A potentially confirming tweet from Indy radio host Jake Query:
#Purdue front runners: Butch Jones and Sonny Dykes in dead-heat.
See above. And then there's this from Tom Dienhart, which ... uhh ...
A name to watch for #Purdue job is Jim Caldwell. Fits Purdue's criteria on many levels. And remember: Bill Polian is "advising" Purdue.
... hmmm. Caldwell went 23-60 in eight years at Wake Forest in the mid-to-late '90s, was fortunate enough to be employed by the Colts Peyton Manning for a couple years before running the Colts into the ground and is now a quarterbacks coach for the Ravens. He's also about to turn 58. He'd really make no sense whatsoever except for his mustache, which is extant and thus makes him a viable candidate at Purdue.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Catching up is pursuing opportunities in the NFL

One Kiffin down: Oh I'm so surprised, USC:
USC assistant football coach Monte Kiffin will resign after the Trojans' upcoming bowl game in order to pursue opportunities in the NFL, he announced Thursday.

"I respect my father's decision and his desire to return to the NFL," Lane Kiffin said. "We are very appreciative of the hard work and effort that he put in at USC these past three years. He has a tremendous passion for coaching young men and he is a phenomenal recruiter. The timing of this allows us to move forward now in the hiring of a new coach."
Opportunities in the NFL. Yeah, that's the ticket. 

It seems reasonable to assume that The Older Kiffin leaving was a prerequisite for The Younger Kiffin to keep his job. And if so, that wasn't an unreasonable qualifier; in three years under Kiffin, the USC defense finished 84th, 54th and 62nd in yards allowed (despite USC not playing at a super-high tempo) and gave up 30 or more points in all but two of the team's 17 losses. For reference, the offense finished in the top 30 in yards all three years. Whether that was a game-passing-an-old-man-by thing or an NFL-to-college thing is hard to say; I'd categorize it as more of the latter considering that the defense was largely fine against pro-style-ish teams but a sieve against spread-ish teams (especially Oregon), but that's, like, my opinion, man. And it doesn't matter much now that he's gone. What matters is that USC find a legitimate D-coordinator, because that's basically been the difference between the Pete Carroll juggernauts and the Lane Kiffin Sun Bowl-caliber teams.

Considering that Kiffin is basically his own O-coordinator and hasn't actually had to hire a D-coordinator since leaving the Raiders, his ability to find one of those legitimate guys is unknowable. I assume there are guys who'd be interested since USC is still USC, but for those guys, the question might be whether being the defensive coordinator at USC is worth (a) working with Lane Kiffin and (b) potentially being unemployed in a year.

One and done for Ellis Johnson: Jon Embree's got nothin' on Ellis Johnson, whose tenure at Southern Miss lasted one year and included zero wins, which is to say none. Not any. Zilch. I don't know how else to summarize 0-12 in one word.
Southern Mississippi fired coach Ellis Johnson on Tuesday after one disastrous season that saw the program plummet from Conference USA champion to the worst record in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Athletic director Jeff Hammond announced the decision three days after a miserable 0-12 season ended with a loss to Memphis on Saturday.
"Plummet" seems like a reasonable word choice; as you may or may not recall, Southern Miss went 12-2 and obliterated previously unbeaten Houston in the Conference USA title game last year before Larry Fedora left for North Carolina. Going from 12-2 to 0-12 ... like ... I don't even know. It was by far the worst single-season drop-off in the history of the sport (I believe the previous record was a nine-game swing), which wow.

Even worse for Southern Miss:
The Southern Miss Golden Eagles have made a deal to move next season's opener — a long-anticipated matchup against Nebraska in Hattiesburg — to Nebraska instead. In a letter between the schools' athletic directors dated last week, which was viewed by Deadspin, Southern Miss agreed to sell home-field advantage to the Cornhuskers for $2,125,000, which is almost exactly the amount Southern Miss owes to its newly fired football coach. 
Ouch. Very ouch.

Anyway, basically everything I wrote about Embree could be duplicated here. Giving a guy one year would seem laughably unreasonable if not for the laughably awful results. Granted, the revolving-door quarterback situation and nonconference schedule weren't conducive to going to the Liberty Bowl again, but with 13 starters returning from a 12-2 team, winning a game (or six) shouldn't have been untenable, especially with a decently funded/stocked program that hadn't finished below .500 since 1993 (1993!). Getting to a bowl game with Southern Miss isn't that difficult.

It's worth noting that Johnson was a very good defensive coordinator at South Carolina (and Mississippi State before that and Clemson before that and Alabama before that) under Steve Spurrier; he won't have a hard time finding another D-coordinator job for one of the numerous new coaches in the SEC. He probably won't get another head coaching job, though, seeing as how he's 60 and in two stops (the other being at The Citadel in the early 2000s) has accumulated a collective record of 12-22.

Settle down, Arkansas: So ... Les Miles. Arkansas. A billion dollars.

Let's be realistic here: There was no chance Les Miles was gonna leave LSU for Arkansas given the two programs' situations right now. His explanation:
"I have great respect for the AD (Jeff Long), a college friend of mine," Miles said. "My talks were very preliminary. They fell far short of being serious."
By "preliminary" he obviously meant "raise-inducing"; it's not a coincidence that Miles hadn't gotten a raise since the Michigan situation but had one with about 12 hours of the Arkansas rumors hitting the interwebz. I mean, the guy might be crazy but isn't crazy stupid; he wanted more money/respect and got it by taking a couple phone calls and winking suggestively in the direction of Jeff Long and a state full of delusional fans.

A great line from Clay Travis:
Arkansas's fandom is a peculiar form of provincialism, it's as if nowhere else in the country exists. They really believe that Arkansas is the best job in the nation. It's like North Koreans believing their country is the best in the world.
So Arkansas = North Korea. Interesting.

Anyway, Long probably got used but definitely made it known that he's got a ginormous sack of cash. With that in mind, I can only assume that the next coach will be Nick Saban.

Commence Chris Petersen rabble: Chris Petersen is totally going to Cal. Or Arkansas. Or somewhere else. Anywhere but Boise State, basically.
Luring Chris Petersen away from Boise State might not be as far-fetched as some Bears fans think.

Jim Sochor, who coached Petersen at UC Davis and gave him his first coaching job, said Tuesday the changing landscape at Boise might tempt Petersen to make a move after years of resisting big offers.

"A lot of changes have taken place there," said Sochor, referring to the Broncos' scheduled move to the Big East Conference in 2014 and the arrival of a new athletic director last year. "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he's had maybe some change of heart. At some point I do believe he will go elsewhere."

An Arkansas website, HogCountryonline, posted a story suggesting the Razorbacks were close to a deal with Petersen, although no other media outlets were reporting it Tuesday evening.
Mmmkay. Insert wanking-motion gif here.

Also Jon Gruden rabble: Spencer/Orson at EDSBS got seriously drunk (I assume) and decided to do some reporting:

BRAKED: JOAN GRUBEN IS NEXT COLCH AT TENNASEE. Contart wil be billion of dolalr. ...

Halsom also give Gruben Clebelan. Worth thousamb dolors or mor. Need new roof an lectrical work, people cant live thurr.
 Remarkably, there's more. There's so much more, including MS Paint illustrations. You're welcome.

Trust this man: Charles Barkley lol:
NBC 38′s Christina Chambers spoke with Sir Charles Barkley Tuesday. He’s pushing hard for Petrino.

“I understand he has some baggage but he’s a hell of a coach, and we shouldn’t try to play judge and jury and moral judge. He made a mistake, he admitted to his mistake, we have to hire a guy who we know can win, and that’s him,” said Charles Barkley over the phone. “It’s unfortunate about what happened to Chizik, but it’s time for Auburn to move on,” he said.
Barkley was rabbling about racism for a year and half after Auburn hired Gene Chizik instead of Turner Gill, which ... uhhh ... yeah. Gill's now working at Liberty in the FCS.

To be fair, his argument has some logic to it, which is more than can usually be said for Charles Barkley's arguments. But there are a lot of people probably worth consulting about coaching hires, and the crazy guy Ernie Johnson has to monitor every night definitely isn't one of them.

Woo crappy bowl game: Georgia Tech will play in a bowl game even after the inevitable ACC championship game loss to Florida State and 6-7 finish:
The NCAA approved Georgia Tech's bowl waiver Thursday, allowing the Yellow Jackets to play in a bowl game even if they lose to FSU and finish 6-7.

Georgia Tech had filed a waiver after the NCAA board of directors passed a rule last summer, prohibiting bowls from picking a 6-7 team over an eligible 6-6 team.

The NCAA's decision to allow a team with a losing record in a bowl means a non-AQ team with a .500 record or better will not get a bowl bid.
Whatev. It should be noted that UCLA had its waiver request granted last year, with the argument being that they were only playing a 13th game (the Pac-12 title game) because USC was ineligible. Georgia Tech was in the exact same situation this year (Miami ruled itself ineligible for the ACC title game), so precedent mandated the same ruling.

I'm not a fan of 6-7 teams going to bowl games, but I'm not gonna lose any sleep over a .500 MAC team getting left out because what should have been a .500 ACC team ends up getting a spot in the Never Heart Of That Company Bowl.

Read this: Realignment is pointless and short-sighted. This is not debatable. According to a very-well-thought-out piece over at the Georgetown (?) SB Nation affiliate, it might also be a bubble:
We have increasing valuations despite slowing ad revenue and decreasing customer demand. New competition is quickly entering despite the fact that technological innovation is primed to transform the industry. And people in positions of very high power are making rash decisions based on information derived from past trends and not future outlooks. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
I highly recommend the rest of that piece; it's thought-provoking even if a little dramatic.

Impressive: I don't even know how this is possible:


Let's all reconfigure awkwardly

It took the ACC little time to find a replacement for (and debatably an upgrade to) Maryland:
Louisville will officially join the Atlantic Coast Conference, becoming the seventh former Big East school to leave for the ACC.

The ACC's presidents and chancellors voted Wednesday morning to add the Cardinals in place of Maryland, which will leave for the Big Ten in 2014. Louisville also is expected to join the ACC in 2014.
There was an assumption amid all of last year's ridiculousness that UConn was next on the ACC's hypothetical-but-not-hypothetical list given the conference's takeover of the Big East's Northeast Division (not a real thing). Apparently not; the thing about Louisville is that the football has actually been good for more than a year out of the last decade, and for a conference that's somewhat desperate to retain its relevance in the thing that makes money, that mattered more than anything else.

More from the ESPN story:
The ACC felt Louisville was the best choice because of its "aggressive approach" to success, including a commitment to "marquee athletics programs," a source told ESPN.
In other words, the ACC taking Louisville was the exact opposite of the Big Ten taking Maryland. The market size (a meh 50th nationally) and academics (Louisville is one notch above a juco) meant nothing; the football and basketball meant everything. Really, as long as Louisville can continue being at least pretty good in both sports (not a certainty given Charlie Strong's relatively tenuous status), the ACC will benefit from the general increase in meaningful games and accompanying interest. That's a strategy I'm entirely on board with given that it appears to be a long-term brand-strengthening one rather than an OMG-ALL-OF-THE-MONEY one.

That said, the ACC doesn't really have the leverage to get a school that offers any significant financial upgrade, hence the expansion possibilities being UConn and Louisville (and possibly Cincinnati). Given the choice between Pitt/Syracuse/Boston College/Louisville and Penn State/Nebraska/Rutgers/Maryland, the ACC probably would've taken the latter. Probably. At least it's close enough that the ACC is still a viable conference, which along with the massive buyout should mitigate the vulturing going forward.

The Big East can't really say the same because it is, at this point, The New Conference USA:
Tulane joined the Big East in all sports on Tuesday, becoming the latest addition to the rapidly rebuilding conference, with East Carolina also heading to the Big East as a football-only member. Both schools will join the league in 2014.
Guh. Remember when the Big East had Miami and Virginia Tech and Pitt and so on and so forth and was actually relevant? Yeah. Not so much anymore.

I mean ... Tulane? At least East Carolina has had a decent football program recently; I can't imagine that Tulane really has much pull in the New Orleans market, and there isn't even a Big East Network that would make New Orleans valuable in the way New York City is obviously valuable to the Big Ten. A says-it-all tweet from Brett McMurphy:
Tulane's last bowl game 2002; last NCAA trip 1995; this year's home football actual attendance vs. SMU 2,119
Again: guh.

As of 2015, the Big East will be comprised of the following: UConn, Cincinnati, South Florida, Boise State, Temple, Navy, San Diego State, Central Florida, SMU, Memphis, Houston, East Carolina and Tulane. Nine of those schools were formerly in Conference USA, FWIW, and none of the 15 other than Boise State has been relevant, like, ever.

And since the Big East is The New Conference USA (ESCAPE IF YOU CAN EXCEPT YOU CAN'T BECAUSE NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOU UNTIL THEY GET DESPERATE), that means Conference USA is The New WAC Belt:
Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State are leaving the Sun Belt Conference for Conference USA. An announcement was made by the conference Thursday.

FAU and Middle Tennessee will join Conference USA in July 2014. Conference USA added the schools to replace Tulane and East Carolina, which announced Tuesday they were joining the Big East.
There are also various reports out there that C-USA will be adding Western Kentucky from the Sun Belt and New Mexico State from nowhere (since New Mexico State is otherwise headed for the horrifying ether of independence upon the death of the WAC). Whatever. This warrants no real analysis since Conference USA is Conference USA.

What matters is that as the five legit conferences get larger/marginally better by skimming off the top of the no-longer-legit conferences, those conferences are replacing their tops by adding to their bottoms. In other words, the chasm between Real Football and Not Real Football is getting larger.

Here's somebody saying basically what everybody's thinking:
“I think, effectively, there are about four major football conferences right now,” University of Georgia president Michael Adams said. Adams said the four included the SEC, but he declined to say what the other major conferences were.
There's no real mystery about which four qualify as "major," although as mentioned above, the ACC should be able to hang around as a slightly-lesser-but-still-viable conference (at least as long as Florida State sticks around and Notre Dame keeps playing ACC teams).

Will that happen? I have no idea. Neither does anybody else. But I would kinda prefer to stop having to look up which teams are in the Big East and write reactionary posts about various and mostly meaningless (except for their tradition-ruining-ness) reconfigurations.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Coachpocalypse 2012: That's enough

So ... Jon Embree. Colorado surprised pretty much nobody other than Embree by firing him Sunday after a 1-11 season that could only have been worse in one way (that way should be obvious based on the record) and a two-year tenure featuring a cumulative record of 4-20. It didn't go well, and by "didn't go well" I mean "really couldn't have gone any worse."

And the problem wasn't really the lack of wins; the problem was that Colorado was terrible at literally everything to the extent that only a handful of games all year were even vaguely competitive, and one of those was a loss to an FCS team. The rest were just flat-out embarrassing: Oregon led 56-0 at the half, USC led 40-3 after three quarters, Fresno State (Fresno State!) led 55-7 at the half, Stanford led 45-0 after three quarters, etc. Colorado's average Pac-12 game this year was a 48-17 loss, and the only win required a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against a Washington State team that was similarly awful and ended the year with one conference win.

A great line from ESPN's Embree postmortem:
With Colorado trailing Stanford 48-0 in the fourth quarter, radio play-by-play man Mark Johnson, looking to fill time, sent it down to his sideline reporter, former Buffs linebacker and NFL veteran Chad Brown.

"My mother said if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," Brown reported. "Back to you in the booth."
Touche. The things to say/write are all terrible. Still, they exist.

Some more numbers: Colorado finished the season 116th in total offense, 116th in scoring offense, 108th in rushing offense, 118th in pass efficiency, 118th in total defense, 120th in scoring defense, 115th in rushing defense, 120th in pass-efficiency defense, 119th in turnover margin ... yeah. So Colorado was basically the worst BCS-conference team in literally every relevant statistical category. That is amazing.

The only comparable collection of awfulness I can find in recent history: the '09 Washington State team that didn't lose any conference game by fewer than 13 points, got collectively outscored 462-144 and got collectively outgained by 3,161 yards. To make that a little more interpretable, Washington State's "average" result that year was a 39-12 loss featuring a yardage differential of 512-249. Colorado's yardage numbers this year were slightly better; the score numbers were slightly worse, although Colorado did have a conference win and two conference games closer than 13 points. So this year's team might not have been the worst in recent Pac-12 history. Woo.

Last year's team was slightly better by default, going 3-9 and finishing 92nd in total offense, 109th in scoring offense, 102nd in total defense and and 109th in total defense. So still pretty bad; how Colorado managed to regress from that I will never know.

Embree's only plausible argument for sticking around wasn't a totally unreasonable one: Two years isn't a long time. And he took over a program that wasn't in super shape, having totaled 19 wins in four years under Dan Hawkins. Another line from the ESPN story:
When Embree arrived, he found only two quarterbacks, eight senior defensive linemen and a converted tackle for a tight end. Put it this way: Embree didn't start six true freshmen this season because he wanted to.
Eek. That said, even Hawkins managed to get that team to 5-7 in his last year, and this year's team added a couple viable quarterbacks in transfer Jordan Webb (a former Kansas starter) and transfer Connor Wood (a relatively big-time recruit who originally went to Texas). And even if the defensive line didn't exist, being able to coach around some personnel deficiencies enough to do better than 4-20 in two years doesn't seem like an unreasonable request. It's hard to get worse after winning 19 games over four years; Embree did so. Which makes this ...
Bill McCartney, Embree's coach at Colorado in the mid-1980s and a Buffs icon, pronounced that Embree didn't get the chance to complete the task of turning around Colorado because he is African-American.
... laughable. No. Just no. A responsive says-it-all quote from athletic director Mike Bohn:
''Jon's results were extremely revealing in a very short period of time, and the prowess of the Pac-12 conference revealed it a lot faster."
Revealing. Yes.

It's probably worth noting that Embree, formerly an NFL tight ends coach, had never been a head coach or coordinator at any level and hired two coordinators (Eric Bienemy on offense and Greg Brown on defense) who had never been full-control coordinators before, either. The results bore that out; again, Colorado did nothing better than anybody. If there was any single match that started the tire fire, that was it. It's hard to win with a staff of unprepared/not-really-capable assistants even if the personnel is good, which Colorado's definitely wasn't.

So it's mercifully over. The good news: There's nowhere to go but up. Seriously. The bad news: Having nowhere to go but up means the program currently is at rock bottom, as evidenced by Bohn's citation of a $2.6 million drop in ticket sales this year. Finding a legitimate coach (rather than another version of Embree) will require a lot more than the $700K Embree was making, but with the alternative being ticket revenue going further into the abyss, I'm willing to bet Bohn and/or some donors will find the money to make it happen. Accordingly, Bohn has gone on record as saying he expects the next coach's salary to be in the neighborhood of $2.5 million; that's serious money.

And there are already a couple names making the rounds on the interwebz, one of which is of the "O RLY" variety (via Tom Dienhart):
Talks between Colorado and Mark Mangino are continuing, a source close to the situation tells me. Parties expected to meet a second time.
O RLY? Considering what Mangino did at Kansas (taking a black hole of a program to an Orange Bowl in the span of six years), he'd make some sense as a put-the-pieces-back-together guy. BTW, he went 6-6 in his second year at Kansas, so it is possible to show some tangible signs of improvement in that amount of time.

The other name being cited by multiple national dudes: Gary Andersen, the Utah State coach who was Urban Meyer's D-coordinator at Utah before taking over a program that hadn't finished with a winning record in 15 years but has gone 17-8 over the last two years, with this year's team going 10-2 and winning the WAC. If the choice is between Mangino and Andersen, it's worth noting that Mangino is 56 whereas Andersen is 48.

An interesting tidbit from Colorado beat writer Kyle Ringo:
Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn says he has a favorite in mind for the job and it's a current college head coach.
Given that Mangino and Andersen are the only known candidates, that would imply that Andersen is (or at least was) the favorite. Beyond those guys, I'd assume Air Force coach Troy Calhoun would get a call since (IIRC) Colorado tried to interview him last time, and Colorado School of Mines coach Bob Stitt has won a ton of games in D-III while doing some Chip Kelly-like things offensively. Oh, and Jeff Tedford is out there; just sayin'.

As for Colorado, I'm not that old and can still remember when Kordell Stewart was awesome and Rashaan Salaam was winning the Heisman and Colorado was regularly finishing in the top 10. The Gary Barnett era had some, um, uncomfortableness but was pretty respectable on the field, at least kinda/sorta maintaining some of Bill McCartney's awesomeness; since then, Colorado has regressed from "meh" to "ugh" to "gack." But based on tradition and facilities and alumni support and all that infrastructure-type stuff, there's no reason Colorado shouldn't be at least competitive in the Pac-12. All it takes is finding a coach who can recruit without the Barnett-esque shenanigans and produce some wins.

When Embree got hired, the general consensus was that he got the job because nobody better wanted it; that seems doubtful in hindsight, especially if Mangino and/or Andersen are legitimately interested this time around despite the program being in worse shape than it was two years ago. Awful six-year stretch aside, it's still Colorado. Winning (maybe a lot) is possible, and if/when Chip Kelly leaves and Stanford regresses to its historical mean, being relevant in the Pac-12 North won't be that difficult.

With that in mind, finding a coach who can actually do so (like, now) would be a good idea, because another two/three/four years of awfulness would mean something like 15 years of big-picture irrelevance, and there's a point at which a program's continued irrelevance makes it less and less likely that a coach good enough to undo said irrelevance will be interested in trying.

Coachpocalypse 2012: No more Hope

Danny Hope was probably gone at halftime of the Minnesota game, when Purdue trailed 34-7 and had made it clear that getting above .500 was gonna be an impossibility; Purdue just made it official on Sunday, with the three straight wins at the end of the year meaning little since they were all against crappy teams and still only resulted in a whoop-de-doo 6-6 record.

And that was particularly problematic since 6-6 was Hope's best previous record in his entire tenure. Purdue's records over the last four years: 5-7, 4-8, 7-6 (with a bowl win) and 6-6. Granted, Purdue isn't Michigan, but Joe Tiller had all of of two sub-.500 seasons in 12 years; getting to middle-tier bowl games on a fairly regular basis wasn't/isn't an unreasonable expectation. So 22-27 wasn't gonna sell anybody on a fifth year.

To be fair, Purdue's injury situation under Hope was so absurd that it turned into a spectacular meme ...

... with Perry pretty thoroughly summarizing the careers of Robert Marve and Ralph Bolden and Rob Henry and various other guys who nominally played for Purdue but mostly just stood on the sideline with crutches and large knee braces and whatnot.

That injury situation was the main reason Hope got some leeway for Purdue's mediocrity over his first three years; the offense's blah-ness could largely be written off to the complete lack of stability at quarterback (and running back, to a lesser extent). This year was different, though, in that Purdue returned a bunch of legitimately good players on both sides of the ball and had both 2011 starter Caleb TerBush and a healthy-ish Marve at quarterback, hence Hope spending the spring and Big Ten media day telling everybody about how this was gonna be the year, man. This was gonna be the year for a division title (especially with Ohio State and Penn State irrelevant) and maybe a Big Ten title and a New Year's Day Bowl and all that good stuff. Except not so much. Going all "Big Ten championship game or bust" tends to lead to bad things when "bust" is the result.

As mentioned above, Purdue won three straight to end the year; those wins were against Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, three teams with a combined record of 10-26 and were by a combined eight points. Establishing that Purdue was still slightly better than the dregs of the Big Ten did little for Hope in terms of establishing any hope (no pun intended) for the future. A 22-27 record in four years + no signs of significant progress or upward movement in a relatively down Big Ten = meh.

So he's gone, which means Purdue is starting its first coaching search since Joe Tiller got hired away from Wyoming in 1997 (Hope was hired as O-coordinator and coach-in-waiting after previously working as Purdue's O-line coach and then head coach at Eastern Kentucky). The thing about Purdue is that there's somewhat of a chasm between recent success (under Tiller, I mean) and likely ability to bring in a legitimately good coach, with Bruce Feldman succinctly summarizing:
The issue is the school isn't going to pay all that much comparatively to the rest of the Big Ten. 
Boom. As of a year ago, Hope was making $900K, or barely half of what Mark Dantonio was making at Michigan State as the median-salaried coach in the Big Ten. A million bucks doesn't go that far; look at assistants' salaries in the SEC for some reference.

Burke also limited the field to some extent when he said at Hope's firing presser that Purdue is "about quarterbacks and offense," which would seem to eliminate Feldman's "hunch" candidate, Northern Illinois coach (and former Wisconsin D-coordinator) Dave Doeren, as well as possibly gettable Michigan State D-coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Notre Dame D-coordinator Bob Diaco. Whether those guys won't really be considered is unknowable at this point since I'm not Morgan Burke.

But assuming Burke's words mean anything, those guys won't be at the top of the list, which means somebody else will be. Possibilities: Sonny Dykes if he doesn't get hired for one of the other bajillion openings for which he's reportedly a candidate, Cincinnati coach Butch Jones (although going from Cincy to Purdue would be a mostly lateral move at this point) Kent State coach (and former Ohio State receivers coach) Darrell Hazell, Ball State coach Pete Lembo and maybe Illinois State coach Brock Spack, a longtime Purdue defensive coordinator who obviously isn't an offensive coach but worked under Joe Tiller forever and would presumably maintain the quarterbacks/offense thing (but ideally with a better defense).

Except it won't be any of those people since it will definitely be Jim Tressel. Mmmkay. In "things that have an actual chance of happening," Purdue site Hammer and Rails has Dykes and Jones as the two guys of legitimate interest and an "anyone but Brock Spack, please" disclaimer, although it probably will be Spack since he's the only guy on the list with the obligatory Purdue mustache.

If Purdue can scrounge up the cash for a competitive-ish salary, either of the aforementioned guys would probably be intrigued and would probably be able to generate the kind of offensive success Purdue hasn't had the last few years (Dykes, in particular, might be pretty much exactly what Joe Tiller was 15 years ago). It's not a bad job; it's just that the ceiling is relatively low. With Ohio State and Wisconsin being what they are, Purdue is no better than the third-best program in the conference, and that's to say nothing of having to go through Michigan or Nebraska or whoever in the Big Ten title game if the stars were to align for a division title at some point in foreseeable future. Tiller made a career out of going 8-4, and that's probably about all that can be expected unless the next Chip Kelly is somewhere out there looking longingly toward West Lafayette (he isn't).

That's obviously preferable to trying to maintain success at Louisiana Tech/Kent State/Ball State, though; there are worse things than being at a Big Ten program where 7-5 is fine and an occasional New Year's Day bowl game is even better. There are also better things, which is why nobody's ever really done better than the scenario laid out in the previous sentence. Purdue is Purdue; its enticing-ness is all relative (and will be until/unless somebody comes along and turns those occasional New Year's Day bowl games into regular ones).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Settle down, Kentucky

Kentucky's coaching search lasted all of three days past the end of the regular season and apparently was conducted entirely in Morse code since there was nothing and nothing and nothing and then this:
Mark Stoops was announced Tuesday as the new head football coach at the University of Kentucky. He replaces Joker Phillips, who was fired earlier this month following a 1-9 start to the Wildcats' season.

Stoops, 45, spent the past three years as the defensive coordinator at Florida State.
Oh. OK.

Somewhat surprisingly, Stoops' name had come up just about nowhere before that announcement despite his widely recognized status as one of the better D-coordinators in the country, his age (he just turned 45 a couple months ago) and his lineage. Maybe there was an assumption that he wouldn't be of much interest to the schools worth coaching given his lack of head coaching experience; I dunno. His resume lacks pretty much nothing else.

Here are some numbers (these are Florida State's rankings in total defense and scoring defense under Stoops, who took over after the disaster that was 2009, when FSU finished 108th and 94th in those two categories under Chuck Amato): 42nd and 20th in 2010, fourth and fourth in 2011, second and seventh in 2012. That's (a) a legit turnaround and (b) the biggest reason Florida State is Florida State again.

And going back a little further, Stoops was Arizona's defensive coordinator from 2003-09, pretty much directly coinciding with UA's respectability before a defensive implosion resulted in Mike Stoops getting fired. The defense gradually improved in yards allowed from 86th to 49th to 53rd to 24th and 25th in his last two years as D-coordinator before he got the job at Florida State, then regressed a little in 2010 (33rd) before going nuclear (111th) in 2011. Clearly (especially based on what's happened at Florida State), that wasn't a coincidence.

So yeah: There is no question at this point that Stoops is an elite defensive coach after 10 years of awesomeness at two BCS-conference schools. An interesting comment from not-homer-tastic Kentucky site A Sea of Blue:
... this was quite possibly as much of a "home run" hire as Kentucky would have been able to get. Stoops is essentially the ACC's version of Kirby Smart.
I hadn't thought about that before but can't really argue a whole lot with the comparison. FYI, Stoops is also pretty widely recognized as a very good recruiter, which isn't insignificant at place that doesn't necessarily sell itself. Getting good players is, um, good.

Also good: getting good assistants. Yahoo reported that Stoops is rumored to be bringing in Texas Tech O-coordinator Neal Brown, a Kentucky alum who would represent a pretty impressive hire considering that he was supposedly a candidate for the head coaching job and instead would be making a lateral move (at best). There's also a report out there that Florida State O-coordinator James Coley is taking the job, which seems even less plausible but hey newspapers journalistic credibility etcetera etcetera. If either one of those stories turns out to be accurate, Stoops will have made more progress toward competitiveness than Joker Phillips ever did (and will have gutted Jimbo Fisher's staff in the process).

So ... Mitch Barnhart: You done good, even if all the delusional people were hoping for Bobby Petrino and the not-so-delusional ones were hoping for Sonny Dykes or one of the various 40-points-a-game guys from Coordinator Land. Stoops definitely isn't one of those guys but is as good on one side of the ball as just about anybody in the country, and Kentucky doesn't usually have access to that level of coaching (basketball notwithstanding).

Actually winning games is another matter, though. Kentucky hasn't had a coach leave with a winning record or even finished a season above .500 in SEC play in my lifetime, which yikes. There are some massive inherent disadvantages at Kentucky; that's how the previous sentence is even possible. It's really hard to win with any consistency there. It's not that hard to be vaguely competitive, though, and Stoops -- especially with Brown/Coley as his offensive coordinator -- ought to be able to piece together a decent defense and a better-than-recent-offenses offense to the point that said vague competitiveness is a reasonable expectation.

This was my assessment when Phillips got fired a couple weeks ago, and it still holds true:
... what matters isn't as much philosophy (although scoring points Chip Kelly-style helps a little in terms of recruiting and selling tickets and all that useful stuff) as just winning some freakin' games. It can be done. The good news is it really can't get any worse; the bad news is it really can't get any worse. 
The bar is set pretty freakin' low right now after three years of regression culminated in unequivocal awfulness this year, and by "unequivocal awfulness" I mean "2-10 with no SEC wins and a loss to Western Kentucky." That's unequivocal awfulness.

I excerpted that thing from A Sea of Blue earlier that compared Stoops to Kirby Smart, but I think he might actually be more comparable to James Franklin, a relatively young guy known as a very good coordinator (albeit an offensive coordinator) and very good recruiter who took a seemingly awful SEC job at Vandy and is now 14-11 and en route to his second bowl game in two years.To be clear, I don't think Stoops will have Kentucky in a bowl game in each of the next two years; if that happens, he'll probably be gone because he'll have his choice of jobs just about anywhere in the country. But winning in the long term is what matters, and Stoops' resume includes a lot of data points that indicate that he can do so.

Really, the question isn't whether Mark Stoops made sense for Kentucky; that question was pretty thoroughly answered via the information above. The question is whether Kentucky made sense for Mark Stoops, who could've been the 2014 or '15 version of Bob Stoops/Will Muschamp/Mark Richt but apparently would prefer to be the 2013 version of James Franklin. I guess he's gonna find out one way or another, with his future and Kentucky's future (at least in the short term) both pretty heavily leveraged on "one way."

Coachpocalypse 2012: Spaz out

I called NC State's firing of Tom O'Brien "surprising-ish"; Boston College's firing of Frank Spaziani was pretty much exactly the opposite. Level of surprise on a scale of 1-10: -12.

The reason: Boston College, which had finished above .500 in all of the previous seven seasons under O'Brien and Jeff Jagodzinski before Spaziani got promoted from D-coordinator, gradually regressed over the last four years to the point of being not even vaguely competitive, going from 8-5 to 7-6 to 4-8 (the program's worst record in, like, a long time) to 2-10 this year. I know. Not good. Spaziani got canned with an overall record of 22-29 despite taking over a program that the two previous coaches had departed from with well-above-.600 winning percentages (and in a blah conference).

To be fair, there was never really much expectation that Spaziani was gonna be a very good head coach, even if he had been a pretty good defensive coordinator for about a decade. The general consensus was that Spaziani got the job in the name of loyalty and stability, which are nice qualities but not as nice as the ones that are, you know, relevant to winning games.

This quote from athletic director Bill Bates pretty much tells the story:
"It is with gratitude that we recognize the many contributions Coach Spaziani has made to Boston College during his 16 years in Chestnut Hill," Bates said. "He displayed unwavering dedication and loyalty to our institution and our football student-athletes, while consistently representing Boston College with class and dignity. 
So nice guy. In other words, he was Boston College's version of Bill Stewart except without the benefit of Pat White and Steve Slaton.

And the cratering was pretty thorough: The B.C. defense was still very good in 2009 and '10, hence the team's relative success at 15-11 overall, but the offense didn't finish in the top 100 in total yards in any of Spaziani's four seasons, a pretty remarkably pathetic accomplishment, and the defense dropped to 73rd overall last year and 100th this year. One of the worst offenses in the country + one of the worst defenses in the country = 2-10 with one win over an FBS team. Upshot: Boston College is not in particularly good shape right now.

There's really not a whole lot else to be said about the Spaz era. It started out OK but was an unmitigated disaster by the end; anything/anyone else will almost certainly be better.

What/who else can Boston College get? Ehhh ... hard to say. Dan Shaughnessy might be a tool but pretty accurately summarized The Boston College Dilemma in this column:
Boston College, the only Division 1 program in Greater Boston, fired its football coach on Sunday. After four disappointing seasons, bottoming out with this year’s 2-10 bomb, Frank Spaziani was relieved of his duties by new athletic director Brad Bates.

And nobody cares. BC firing its football coach is no different than the New England Revolution sacking their head coach. It’s a scrawny birch tree toppling in a forest of mighty oaks. It doesn’t matter. That is the state of college sports in our region.
Yep. And with a lack of interest comes a general lack of money (or at least a lack of money that can be spent on a coach); it's probably not a coincidence that Spaziani was making barely over a million bucks a year, about $200K less than Chad Morris made as Clemson's O-coordinator. Barring some pretty significant contributions from alumni and/or a commitment to spend a lot more money (and some is already being spent on Spaziani's buyout and the 2009 Jagodzinski firing), B.C. won't be swimming in the same pool with NC State and won't even be in the same ocean as the various SEC schools that have openings right now.

Still, Boston College is aiming (relatively) high: The two guys reportedly at the top of the list are Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco (HIRE THIS MAN IMMEDIATELY) and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, both of whom are among the very best in the country. Either would be a good get and would probably be able to consistently assemble at least a pretty good defense, which was what B.C. had a few years ago when the offense was terrible but bowl games were still doable. Adam Schefter also reported that Pete Carmichael Jr. has been contacted; Carmichael is a 41-year-old B.C. alum who's been passing-game coordinator/offensive coordinator for the Saints for the last six years. All things considered, he'd be a relatively impressive hire from a name/resume standpoint, although the lack of head coaching experience and lack of college experience of any meaningful type would have to be at least a little bit of a concern. Probably worth an interview regardless.

And then there are the other guys, among them Harvard coach Tim Murphy, Browns quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple (a former head coach at various I-AA schools in the Northeast, including UMass), New Hampshire coach (and former Chip Kelly employer) Sean McDonnell and maybe Kent State coach Darrell Hazell (a New Jersey native). There are also references all over the interwebz to potential mutual interest between Boston College and Al Golden, but ... I mean ... I don't think so. The threat of impending NCAA doom is basically the only plausible reason he'd leave Miami for any comparable job (and Boston College isn't even that), and Miami has already self-imposed and served a two-year bowl ban; even if the scholarship cuts are relatively severe, I don't know that it'll be any harder to win at Miami for the next few years than it will be to win at Boston College. So he'd be making a backwards career move and taking a pay cut just to avoid a couple years of NCAA stupidity; I don't see that happening. And if he's interested in leaving, he'd probably have options (Tennessee, perhaps) significantly more enticing than B.C., regardless of his alleged love for the Northeast in general and Boston College in particular (Golden was linebackers coach at B.C. from '97-99).

So the realistic candidates are good (debatably elite) coordinators and MAC/FCS coaches, with Carmichael being the one unknown. I guess that's to be expected given the program's decline over the last couple years, although before Spaziani turned it into a tire fire, Boston College was a pretty widely respected place; the previous three coaches were Tom Coughlin, Tom O'Brien and Jeff Jagodzinski, who was fired for interviewing for NFL head coaching jobs and promptly dropped off the face of the Earth. B.C. has some inherent deficiencies but isn't a terrible place/job. And really, just about any of the aforementioned guys would be an upgrade over Spaziani by default. That's the good news for Brad Bates.

The bad news: There's a big difference between finding an upgrade who can get B.C. to .500-ish and an occasional bowl game and finding a good coach who can make B.C. relevant again in the ACC. He needs to do the latter, stat, because three or four more years of whatever that was would be bad in a lot of obvious ways.

Coachpocalypse 2012: The surprising-ish one

So Tom O'Brien got fired Sunday, which was not a good day for coaches whose jobs were generally being brought into question but was also the day after NC State beat Boston College to finish 7-5, thus guaranteeing a third straight bowl berth. So O'Brien's firing was a relatively surprising one; consistently going a little above .500 at NC State seems, like, pretty decent.

That said, this season was pretty indicative of O'Brien's six-year tenure as a whole: NC State beat Florida State (in maybe the most inexplicable game of the year) and had no problems with middle-of-the-pack ACC teams Wake Forest and Maryland but also lost to a Tennessee team that went 1-8 in the SEC, gave up 149 points in losses to Miami, North Carolina and Clemson and got killed by a pretty bad version of Virginia to finish 4-4 in conference play. In other words, NC State was only consistent at being inconsistent enough to finish somewhere in the middle of the ACC, never terrible but never better than tied for second in the division.

O'Brien's records during his six-year tenure: 5-7, 6-7, 5-7, 9-4, 8-5, 7-5. His overall record: 40-35. So he was almost as exactly as mediocre as predecessor Chuck Amato, who went 49-37; the difference was really Philip Rivers, who took NC State to an 11-3 season and then left as the program cratered to 3-9 before Amato got fired. O'Brien didn't really have the highs or lows, instead consistently gravitating toward 7-5 overall, 4-4 in the ACC and a spot in the Blah Bowl.

One amazing state brought up by ESPN's Heather Dinich that pretty well encapsulates NC State's inability to sustain any kind of meaningful momentum: When they beat Maryland this year, it was their first road win under a divisional team since O'Brien took over. Think about that. It's pretty hard to win anything meaningful without being able to win any relevant games on the road.

There was also the Russell Wilson thing. Refresher: Wilson wanted to play baseball over the summer; NC State wasn't on board with that, and when he basically said, "I do what I want it's my hot body," NC State said "see ya" and released him from his scholarship a couple months before the start of his senior year. As you probably remember, Wilson ended up at Wisconsin, where he led the country in pass efficiency and played in the Rose Bowl; NC State ended up 8-5 and 94th nationally in total offense. So that kinda looked back ... but it wasn't the RABBLE RABBLE BIG DEAL a lot of people made it out to be. The reason: Mike Glennon, who was a relatively big-time recruit a few years ago and was really ready to be a starter regardless of what happened with Wilson. He proved as much in 2011, completing about 63 percent of his passes for 3,054 yards with 31 touchdowns and 12 picks. NC State's problems on offense weren't at quarterback last year and weren't at quarterback this year, when Glennon put up almost identical numbers in a similarly one-dimensional offense.

The problem: everything else. NC State's running game never finished higher than 87th nationally in O'Brien's six years, and the defense was above average in both yards and points allowed once, that being 2010, when NC State (not coincidentally) finished 9-4. Having a productive quarterback is swell; having a productive nothing else is problematic, hence consistent mediocrity despite five of O'Brien's six seasons featuring an All-ACC-ish quarterback.

The other problem wasn't so much a problem as just a reality of life: O'Brien is about to turn 60, and a guy who's shown few (if any) tangible signs of progress probably isn't worth keeping around into his (alleged) golden years.

I remember thinking at the time of O'Brien's hiring that going from Boston College to NC State seemed like a very lateral move from a competitive standpoint, and I might have been right. He went 75-45 at B.C. and left to take over a program that, as mentioned above, averaged 7-5 under Chuck Amato. Six years later, it's still averaging 7-5. NC State is basically the ACC version of Purdue/ASU.

The big difference between Purdue/ASU and NC State: the competition (or lack thereof). The ACC is imminently winnable as long as Florida State is the only elite-ish program. Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Maryland have been to BCS games in the last decade, which is pretty much all that needs to be said. Clemson and Virginia Tech are really the only other programs that fall into the "consistently above average" category, so there's obviously some opportunity to do better than 7-5 every year.

Whether NC State is a desirable job beyond the "plays in a hilariously mediocre conference" thing is debatable. This is from an ESPN Insider article that I can no longer find:
"Have you seen the facilities in Raleigh?" a West Coast coordinator asked. "If you were at that stadium 15 years ago and then you were there over the last year, then you can see how committed they are to the program. That fan base is a sleeping football giant. And there is a ton of talent in North Carolina that leaves every year. O'Brien is a good X's and O's guy, but he's never taken to recruiting. Get a real recruiter in there and he would mop up."

From the outside, the idea of taking an ACC job might seem like the wrong direction. But everyone I talked to said the opposite -- as long as it's the right ACC job. 
So ... yeah. Take that for what it's worth.

As for who might actually get/want the job, Vandy coach James Franklin became everybody's favorite candidate five seconds after O'Brien got fired since he had been named coach-in-waiting at Maryland when NC State athletic director Debbie Yow was there; he's reportedly declined interest, though, which has made Clemson O-coordinator Chad Morris the new favorite candidate.
I have learned that Clemson offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Chad Morris is a strong candidate to replace O'Brien. Morris is currently the highest paid assistant in college football, earning $1.3 million annually at Clemson.
FYI, Morris is basically Gus Malzahn: He was scorching the earth three years ago as a high school coach in Texas, got the O-coordinator job at Tulsa under Todd Graham, obliterated Conference USA in his first year and then went straight to Clemson, which improved massively on offense last year en route to the Orange Bowl and is gonna finish in the top 10 in both total offense and scoring offense this year en route to a second straight 10-win season. A lot of people (me included) think Morris is to Dabo Swinney what Malzahn was to Gene Chizik; NC State might be willing to find out.

Beyond that, Sonny Dykes might be available if he doesn't get one of the SEC jobs, and various reporter types have mentioned Kent State coach Darell Hazell (a former Ohio State assistant who would've been the interim coach last year if he hadn't left for a MAC job at a super-inconvenient time), Colorado School of Mines coach Bob Stitt (maybe the next Chip Kelly), Stanford O-coordinator Pep Hamilton and Notre Dame D-coordinator Bob Diaco, who inexplicably isn't being brought up for every job out there.

That isn't a totally awesome list of candidates but isn't a bad one, either, which is somewhat indicative of everything about NC State. It's hard to avoid the inevitability of 7-5; there are guys who can do it, but whether NC State (even given the above-referenced praise) can find and acquire one -- especially given the other vacancies that exist right now -- remains to be seen.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Week 13: Aaaaand that's that

Notre Dame something something glory something: So ... Notre Dame is going to the national title game, which will inevitably be a double-overtime win over Alabama since 2012 Notre Dame = 2002 Ohio State. It's science. Anyway, the USC game went pretty much exactly as expected: Notre Dame ran the ball with some regularity, got enough pressure on Max Wittek to force a lot of blah throws and generally didn't give up a whole lot of anything, especially in the red zone. Total yards: Notre Dame 439, USC 281. That's a pretty dominant road performance, albeit against a falling-apart team with a freshman quarterback and a crappy defense. Notre Dame's offense has reached the point where it's no longer a liability -- The Theo Riddick/Cierre Wood/Everett Golson run game provides some consistency in terms of first downs and whatnot, and Golson has improved from bad to competent as a passer, which is sufficient given the defense -- and that's pretty significant in terms of having a realistic chance to win it all (!!!). I know. I wrote this at the beginning of the year:
I think the best-case scenario is probably 8-4, and that means winning every single game other than the ones in which ND will be an underdog. Realistically, 7-5 is more likely, and that's counting on some of the close losses last year swinging the other way despite having a freshman at quarterback and nothing at cornerback. Anything better than either of those numbers should result in Brian Kelly being named Coach of the Year and Notre Dame getting a BCS berth.
I know. Brian Kelly for Coach of the Year. Bob Diaco for everything. In no way did I expect or even consider the possibility that Notre Dame would have arguably the best defense in the country and go the entire year allowing two rushing touchdowns, even if the schedule turned out to be not nearly as difficult as expected. Do I think Notre Dame is one of the two best teams in the country? No. Do I think Notre Dame has earned the chance to play for a title? Yeah. Can't really argue that. As for USC ... ummm ... gack. The offense was mostly fine (pass protection was an issue after Khaled Holmes went down, but that's understandable); the defense was really the problem. Three of the last four losses were games in which the offense did enough and the defense flat-out couldn't get a stop when it mattered, thus final rankings of 62nd in total defense and 46th in scoring defense and probably the end of Monte Kiffin's career. To be fair, USC's schedule ended up being kinda the opposite of Notre Dame's; Stanford, Arizona, UCLA and Notre Dame were all significantly better than expected. Still, Lane Kiffin is a bad year away from getting fired seeing as how a team that started the year No. 1 in at least one poll is gonna end it barely bowl-eligible and playing in one of the Pac-12's crappiest bowl games.

Settle down, Florida: I take back everything (or almost everything) I said about Florida's regression on offense. Dang. The first three quarters were more or less as expected since it was 20-13 Florida State heading into the fourth, with the go-ahead touchdown getting set up by a typical Jeff Driskel turnover. The fourth quarter was downright ridonkulous, with Florida running a total of nine plays and scoring three touchdowns, two of which came on short field following a fumble and a 50-yard punt return, respectively. So it went from 20-13 Florida State to 37-20 Florida in a span of 10 minutes (after having gone from 13-3 Florida to 20-13 Florida State in a span of six minutes in the third quarter). And it wasn't all turnovers/short fields; Florida finished with 394 yards against what had been the No. 1 defense in the country in yards allowed coming in. The turnovers just helped; at one point, Florida had run 18 of 19 plays from scrimmage sandwiched around a Florida State fumble on a kickoff and a Florida State "drive" that ended with a pick on the first play. Speaking of which, E.J. Manuel was downright awful: He finished 18 for 33 for 5.5 yards an attempt with a touchdown and three picks, and a good chunk of his rushing yards (and one of his two rushing touchdowns) came on a 22-yarder on the totally meaningless final play of the game. Given the turnovers, it's actually pretty impressive that FSU still finished with 26 points and about 300 yards against an elite defense, not that it mattered much. So Florida is gonna finish the year 11-1 and playing in a BCS game, most likely the Sugar Bowl as the SEC's replacement for the Alabama/Georgia winner since that team will go to the title game. Florida State is headed to the ACC title game to obliterate Georgia Tech (like Georgia just did) and then the Orange Bowl to obliterate a random undeserving team, which will be kind of an anticlimactic end to a year that could have been so much better if Manuel hadn't played his two worst games of the year at the two worst possible times.

Game of the Week: Oklahoma seems to feature here pretty regularly. This week's game is definitely deserving, though, since it went to overtime after OU went on an epic 6-minute, 14-second drive that ended like so on a fourth-and-3 in the final seconds:

WOWWWWW. Oklahoma won in overtime after Okie State kicked a field goal on the first possession, which probably wasn't gonna work out well in a game that was 48-48 at the end of regulation. Oklahoma State actually led by 17-3 early and then 38-27 at one point late in the third quarter; it was tied less than five minutes later. Landry Jones finished a ridiculous 46 of 71 (!) for 500 yards (!!!) with three touchdowns and a pick, and Oklahoma finished with 618 total yards plus an 81-yard punt return for a score by Jalen Saunders, who was one of OU's three 100-yard receivers. Wowza. So Oklahoma is probably headed to a BCS game assuming a win over TCU next week, which RABBLE RABBLE FIRE BOB STOOPS RABBLE. The guy is an automatic BCS game and would probably have OU sitting at third in the BCS if not for Blake Bell's goal-line fumble against Kansas State. Give that man his money credit. Same for Mike Gundy; Oklahoma State is probably gonna finish 8-4 (with all four losses to ranked-ish teams) despite spending the year trying to replace Brandon Weeden by throwing out whichever freshman quarterback was available/uninjured. Okie State is a legit program at this point.

Oregon wins but wins nothing: The headline-type thing says it all. Oregon pwned Oregon State in the same fashion in which Oregon pwned everybody other than Stanford this year to finish 11-1. Result: probably the Fiesta Bowl as an at-large pick since UCLA and Stanford will be rematching in the Pac-12 title game. As for the pwning, it was 20-17 Oregon midway through the third quarter and 48-17 about nine minutes later. Oregon finished with a typically absurd 430 rushing yards against a defense that had been in the top 20 nationally in rushing yards allowed (it's now 31st), with Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas combining for 320 yards and five touchdowns. Meh. It's worth noting that all of Oregon's 11 wins were by double digits (and the one loss was by literally inches) despite a not-that-easy schedule that included five teams ranked at the time of the game. What I'm saying is that, all things considered, I'm still pretty sure Oregon is one of the two best teams in the country; it won't matter because of the Stanford game, which is unfortunate since Georgia apparently got forgiven for the South Carolina debacle argh stupid rankings.

Keep up the good work, Texas: There's probably some quality schadenfreude to be found on the Texas-centric interwebz since Texas A&M might be going to a BCS game out of the SEC with a first-year coach and a freshman quarterback while Texas is headed for 8-4 again after losing to TCU, the team that replaced A&M as Texas' Thanksgiving opponent. For the third time this year, the offense was pretty much a tire fire, putting up 300 total yards and turning it over four times, with David Ash and Case McCoy collectively going 21 for 38 for 5.6 yards an attempt with no touchdowns and three picks. I just don't know, man. The offense is either great or terrible with no real consistency whereas the run defense is utterly awful with amazing consistency, which doesn't even make sense given that Texas had one of the best defenses in the country last year and still has both Manny Diaz and a lot of talent. Maybe that should be written off to weirdness to at least some extent; the same can't be said for the ongoing inability to find/develop a quality quarterback (Greg Davis' residue doesn't wash off easily). Here's an informative stat: Since Colt McCoy graduated, Texas has gone 11-13 in the Big 12 and 21-16 overall. Interpret that as you will. I have a feeling a lot of the people for whom "hook 'em" is a way of life are interpreting it by looking longingly toward Florida.

Some quality Friday night football: ASU and Arizona played a relatively entertaining game, although probably nobody outside the state actually paid attention since it was the first time since 1986 (!) that both teams came into the game with winning records. Anyway, Arizona went on a 17-0 run over the latter half of the third quarter to take a 10-point lead, then imploded with turnovers (blocked punt included) as ASU ran off 24 straight in a span of nine minutes of the fourth to basically put it away. Ka'Deem Carey was Ka'Deem Carey, which is to say one of the best running backs in the country: 25 carries, 172 yards and a touchdown despite sitting out a chunk of the third quarter with some undisclosed injury. The problem: Matt Scott, who threw three picks and fumbled while doing some nonsensical acrobatics on a zone-read keeper to set up ASU's touchdown at the start of that aforementioned 24-0 run (UA led by a touchdown at that point). It was a less-than-ideal way to end a career, obviously; he also finished 19 for 39. Still, RichRod did some work to get Arizona to 7-5 this year, especially considering the time it's usually taken him to get things going on offense. Arizona finished the year seventh in total offense, 19th in scoring offense, 15th in rushing offense and 29th in passing offense, and while Scott's gone after this year, Carey's only a sophomore, and the defense will unquestionably get better with Jeff Casteel running things. I don't have any doubt that Arizona will have a good/very good offense and be generally competitive in the Pac-12 South as long as Rodriguez sticks around. As for ASU, Todd Graham really needed that win (as much as a first-year coach can really need a win) and got it. I was relatively impressed with what he and Mike Norvell did this year, although the fact of the matter is that, other than the Arizona game, ASU beat only bad teams and lost by double-digits to every good team on the schedule. So ASU was an average team, thus magnetizing toward the inescapable historical norm for ASU. At least this year's historical norm included vague indications of progress in terms of balance on offense and fewer than a bajillion penalties a game. I'd rather have RichRod in the long term but gotta give Graham credit for taking what could've been a pretty bad team (with tons of losses from last year's senior-laden team that should've won the South) and getting it to respectability right away. It's a young team; there's hope for something better than 7-5 going forward and the same type of Pac-12 competitiveness I expect for Arizona (maybe more given the recruiting base and, um, qualities of Arizona State University).

Apple Cup LOLWUT: Washington State lost to Colorado six weeks ago (Colorado!) and hadn't won a single Pac-12 game this year before beating Washington in overtime to finish 3-9. Washington. The Washington that beat Stanford and Oregon State. The Washington that was 5-3 in the Pac-12 and ranked 25th. The Washington that was leading 28-10 going into the fourth quarter. I don't get it. And it wasn't even a fluke since Wazzu outgained Washington 369-269 and had four turnovers to U-Dub's one in regulation, although Washington did rack up an impressive 18 penalties (!), one of which was a false start one play before a could-have-won-the-game field-goal attempt on the last play of regulation. Crazy ... kind of; I guess that was the Washington State that was expected when Mike Leach took over a seemingly good offense that for some reason had cratered all year until Saturday.

Almost, Auburn: Yeesh. Washington State beating Washington was unlikely; Auburn beating Alabama was an impossibility based on talent/coaching/everything else. And that was borne out on the field since it was 14-0 Alabama after 10 minutes and 42-0 at the half. Alabama could've made it so, so much worse but chose not to for some reason (it couldn't have been since Nick Saban doesn't have emotions). Auburn finished with 163 total yards and got 71 passing yards from Jonathan Wallace, who went an awful 5 for 14 with two picks. Even more pathetic: At no point did Auburn have more first downs than Alabama had touchdowns (they finished with seven each). I don't even LOLWUT. Granted, some of that was just Alabama's awesomeness; not all of it. Auburn got outscored 150-21 in its last three SEC games and 272-81 (!) in SEC play over the course of the season. I mean ... wow. When I wrote this at the end of my Michigan retrospective-type thing ...
These are the good ol' days of "eh eight/nine wins whatever." I know because that's been basically the consensus reaction of the non-truckers who were emotionally invested in the outcome of The Game. And it could be worse; ohhhhh, it could be worse. 
... I was referring to Auburn. Obviously.

Catch of the Week: LSU's Jarvis Landry did this against Arkansas for what turned out to be a pretty significant touchdown.

Wow. That would warrant Catch of the Year consideration if that were a real thing.

ACC awesomeness: If Saturday had been given some kind of official title along the lines of ACC-SEC Challenge, the ACC would have lost. By a lot. Clemson lost by 10 at home to a Marcus Lattimore-less version of South Carolina that almost lost to Wofford last week, Georgia Tech got absolutely trucked by Georgia and Wake Forest (playing for bowl eligibility) lost at home by 31 to Vanderbilt -- and that's to say nothing of Florida State losing at home to Florida in the one game that could've validated FSU as something other than a creation of the ACC's awfulness. Not so much. The same goes for Clemson, which just verified that going 9-1 in the ACC isn't that hard and therefore probably shouldn't be given much credence until the ACC has more than two respectable teams. That said, Miami deserves some props for going out in what the school rendered a totally meaningless game and putting up 52 points and 646 yards in a road win over a decent Duke team to finish 7-5, which would've been good for the division title if not for, ya know, the NCAA stuff. I suppose that probably says more about the division than it says about Miami.

Impressive? Virginia Tech ended a weirdly meh season by beating a crappy version of Virginia with a field goal as time expired (after beating a terrible version of Boston College in overtime last week), thus a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility for the 20th straight year. Yay?

Woo Big East! So Louisville lost at home to a UConn team that had been 1-4 in the Big East (guh), meaning all Rutgers had to do to clinch the Big East title was beat a crappy Pitt team that also had been 1-4 in the Big East. Result: Pitt 27, Rutgers 6. Geez. Because of that, Rutgers and Louisville -- neither of which is now ranked -- will still be playing for the Big East's BCS spot Thursday night. Woo Big East!

Bill O'Brien FTW: Wisconsin is apparently really bad at winning in overtime after scoring a tying touchdown in the final seconds of regulation. That's bad for Wisconsin since what could've been 9-3 is instead 7-5; it's good for Penn State, which just finished the year 8-4 overall and 6-2 (!) in the Big Ten. Yeah: Penn State finished the year 6-2 in the Big Ten. They weren't particularly great at anything but were also a Sam Ficken missed field goal (or five) and an officiating hose job from being 10-2, which HEAD ASPLODE. I would nominate Bill O'Brien for ALL OF THE AWARDS if I hadn't already presented them to Brian Kelly/Bob Diaco. But what matters a lot more is whether O'Brien will be nominated for any NFL jobs; it's definitely plausible given his background, and it's not totally out of the realm of plausibility that he'd take one if offered seeing as how it's gonna be pretty hard to sustain any kind of legitimate success at a place that'll be fielding half a team in three years.

Uhhh Kent State? So Kent State is 11-1 and is gonna play Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game this week. Kent State is also 17th in the BCS, which means a win over NIU and a loss by anybody in the teens (which is likely since Stanford and UCLA play each other) would put Kent State in the BCS as a conference champ ranked higher than one of the BCS conference champs. Kent State. The team that lost to Kentucky by 33 points. Yeah. And as was pointed out by College Football News, that would mean Kent State's win over Rutgers last month might have actually featured two BCS teams. I have nothing more to add here.

Dang, Ole Miss: Ole Miss had to beat a pretty decent Mississippi State team Saturday to get bowl eligible and did so with authoritah. Total yards: Ole Miss 527, Mississippi State 333. Hugh Freeze really put together a pretty decent team without anybody noticing this year; Ole Miss lost by six to LSU, one to Vandy (which finished 8-4), three to Texas A&M and 19 to Alabama, which was Alabama's closest game before the LSU/A&M gauntlet. Given what Freeze did at Arkansas State, it's not unreasonable to think Ole Miss will be a respectable team in the SEC West over the next couple years, which means the SEC West will be ridiculously loaded if Auburn and Arkansas can find competent coaches.

Look Ma No Hands Interception of the Week: There's no replay here to confirm it, but Buffalo's Najja Johnson catches this pass entirely with his knees, which ... like ... how is that even possible with the ball going that fast?

I dunno.

Weather of the Week: Northern Illinois played Eastern Michigan in a game that you probably didn't/don't care about at all outside of the conditions the game was played in. Here's what the field looked like at the start of the game ...

... and here's what it looked like by the middle of the second quarter:


Post-Week 13 top 10: As mentioned at the top of this post, I've seen enough from Notre Dame's offense to think that (a) it's no longer a weakness, which is significant for a team with an elite defense, and (b) ND is basically the same team as Florida and therefore at least as good as everybody other than Alabama and Oregon. Speaking of which, I'm moving Florida back up ahead of LSU based on Florida remembering the value of points and LSU playing a couple straight less-than-impressive games against meh teams. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. And no, I'm not ignoring Ohio State; I just don't think Ohio State would beat any of the teams listed below.

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Notre Dame
4. Florida
5. LSU
6. Florida State
7. Texas A&M
8. Georgia
9. Kansas State
10. Oklahoma

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A great calamity

When I was 18 and about five months out of high school, I drove from Grand Rapids (where I was in school) to a friend's apartment in Canton for the weekend of The Game. That's about a two-hour drive; with The Game starting at noon Saturday, I drove over Friday afternoon after whatever my last class was, and upon my arrival, we started playing NFL 2K.

It's worth mentioning that I had never played NFL 2K before, and it was a freakin' revelation seeing as how it was about a decade ahead of its time and might have been (and might still be) the greatest football game ever made. So the NFL 2K engorgement lasted somewhere in the range of 12 hours; when it started getting light out, we decided it was probably time to stop and eat and maybe get outside for a few minutes since natural light is a nice thing to absorb every once in a while.

Clearly, there was no sleeping. The Game started. Drew Henson threw a ridiculous touchdown pass to David Terrell and then did it again a few minutes later since Drew Henson was Drew Henson and David Terrell was David Terrell. Julius Curry ran a pick back for a touchdown right about the time I started falling asleep. I don't really remember the end; I just remember that Michigan won in a game that wasn't particularly competitive in the fourth quarter.

I started driving back to Grand Rapids an hour or so later, fell asleep about 20 minutes after that and drove my car into a concrete barrier about five seconds after that. Derp. If you're thinking, "Wow, your time management skills were amazingly awful and stupid," (a) you're right and (b) keep in mind that I was a freshman in college who had just turned 18 and had never previously been away from home for any extended period of time.

So that was, like, a long time ago. That was also the last time Michigan won in Columbus.

It occurred to me at some point either Friday night or Saturday morning (it all kinda runs together now) that every version of The Game played in Columbus since that one (the awfulness of 2008 notwithstanding) has been exactly the same. Seriously. The coaches and records and various awesome players and everything else have been of little significance since there's always a large Ohio State guy running up the middle repeatedly for infuriatingly long distances and a Michigan quarterback having the ball in his hands with a couple minutes left and Michigan losing by some relatively-small-but inevitably-not-overcomeable amount and then AAARRRGHGH. Michigan always loses, except "loses" would not necessarily be the most accurate description of the biannual thing I'm referring to; "has its collective heart ripped out in the most excruciatingly devastating way possible" would be more appropriate.

. . . . .

The AAARRRGHGH part lasts, man. It lasts, especially after sitting there being too devastated to turn off the TV and thus being forced to watch Ohio State celebrate a stupid undefeated season with CheatyPants McSweatervest in the building and getting fellated by 100,000 morans via a standing ovation despite being the sole reason the aforementioned undefeated season didn't even mean anything.

Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled-up emotion.
You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair.

I tried to tell myself it didn't matter. But it was The Game, man. Of course it mattered. It mattered to me.
It is surely a great calamity for a human being to have no obsessions.
 Depends on the obsessions, Robert Bly.
. . . . .

So ... sigh. That pretty accurately encapsulates the many words that will come next.

Michigan had 21 points and 229 yards at the half and was basically having its way offensively thanks to Devin Gardner continuing to be The Superhuman Devin Gardner and Denard being Denard. Braxton Miller finished with 57 rushing yards at 2.6 a carry. Yay?

Not yay. Michigan had three first downs in the second half, finished with four turnovers, gave up about 6.3 yards a play (kneeldowns excluded) and got a cumulative -14 rushing yards from everybody other than Denard, who had one touch in the last 22 minutes of the game.

The obvious question: HOLY HELL WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OFFENSE? Again, Michigan had 21 points and 229 yards at the half by doing the things pretty much everybody expected: a lot of play-action, almost no actual under-center run plays and an assortment of looks/formations/plays that resulted in Denard getting the ball on the edge. If not for a Gardner fumble on a third-down strip sack on the first possession, Michigan would've had at least 24 points at the half; that's more than all but two teams had scored against Ohio State all year. Basically everything was working except the pass protection, which wasn't good but wasn't terrible. Gardner was only 5 for 10 but had 95 yards and a touchdown and a couple first-down-producing scrambles. Denard had six carries for 126 yards, one of which was this thing that was so, so sweet in so many ways:

Beautiful. I asked last week to see that just one last time; I did. And I had a happy.

So there was success in the form of first downs and points and whatnot. And then there was the second half. Guh. By my count, there was one play featuring Gardner and Denard on the field together in the second half, that a busted screen pass. Michigan had 60 total yards on five drives. There were three third-and-short plays, all of which were I-form handoffs to Vincent Smith or Thomas Rawls that produced a total of zero yards and no first downs. And those results weren't even remotely surprising since (a) Michigan didn't have an under-center running play all game go for more than two yards, (b) Vincent Smith has never in his career converted a third-and-short run play since he weighs 160 pounds and has no YAC ability and (c) Thomas Rawls came into the game averaging barely three yards a carry this year outside of one 60-yard run against Purdue.

Knowing those things ... I mean ... wha???

I can't find video of the play with Rawls; just know that it was essentially the same design and with the same result but on third-and-3 rather than third-and-1. It was also proceeded by Hoke inexplicably going for it (more on that momentarily) on fourth-and-3 from the Michigan 48. The playcall? A Denard iso over left guard that got absolutely nothing, which again was to be expected given the total inability of Michigan's interior line to block anybody.

Why call that instead of the pulling-guys sweep that got Denard a crapload of yards in the first half? No idea. Hoke indicated after the game that it was the same play, but Denard's angle and the blocking clearly indicate otherwise. Why did Denard have one touch in the fourth quarter, that a third-and-1 play that got the same playcall as the fourth-and-3 play and thus got the same result? No idea. Why were Gardner and Denard on the field together basically not at all over the last 30 minutes despite Ohio State's defense making it clear in the first half that Denard couldn't consistently be stopped but would still make everybody freak out? No idea.

For all the good stuff Michigan's passing game has done over the last four weeks, it's pretty hard to ignore some of the head-asplodingly inexplicable playcalls/personnel usages this year in the games in which the offense went through extended stretches of awfulness. The offensive coordinator should be able to, you know, recognize what his offense is good at and what it's terrible at and not call for the latter. Al Borges apparently is capable of doing so but is contractually mandated (or something) to not do so about once a month, hence last year's Michigan State and Iowa games and this year's Notre Dame and Nebraska and Ohio State games.

The thing about Borges is that I'm convinced he's an excellent play designer; Michigan does some pretty creative stuff in the passing game that gets guys open downfield on the regular. I'm also convinced that he's not a particularly good play caller in terms of doing things that play off other things during the course of the game and not being totally predictable with personnel/formation usage. That's a problem and will always be a problem against teams with decent defenses and/or defensive coordinators, thus the line outside Ann Arbor Torch and Pitchfork right now. I really don't know whether firing Borges is the answer; I do know that I again have little confidence that he's a guy capable of running a national-title-worthy offense, and that confidence diminishes a little more with just about every game against a good-ish defense since the same nonsensical things keep happening.

The run game has gotten so bad that it essentially won't even exist once Denard is gone, and that's gonna make the play-action passing game that's arguably his biggest selling point right now incrementally less effective. So I'm concerned. I'm similarly concerned about O-line coach Darrell Funk given the regression over the last couple years despite a line featuring three seniors on the interior and a junior at left tackle who's gonna be a top-15 pick in the draft. It shouldn't be that difficult to execute relatively straightforward assignments on relatively basic running plays, and if Borges is gonna call them, the line has to be able to execute them to some degree or else it's just a waste of a down (and sometimes a possession). There's a disconnect somewhere that will have to be addressed.

BTW, the line's inability to do anything right on the interior is maybe the biggest reason the veer/Denard iso stuff seems so effective: It eliminates the need to actually move large people out of holes by just letting them remove themselves from the play. It's nice that Borges was able/willing to implement something that would do that earlier in the year, but again, the lack of counters to that when Denard was healthy and the lack of any competently designed/executed running plays that required actual blocking after Denard went out collectively yield little hope for next year's running game being anything other than terrible.

Is it worth keeping Borges if it means a below-average running game, an above-average passing game and a collectively average offense going forward that will only score a touchdown in about half of its games against good-ish defenses? I don't know. I guess it depends if there's an obviously preferable and gettable alternative out there. I wish I wasn't debating this with myself right now. At least there's Gardner.

The thing that makes a firing seem more justifiable: Greg Mattison. There are some obvious personnel deficiencies on the D-line and in the secondary, and seeing Mattison take the guys who got trucked by Alabama and turn them into the 12th-ranked total defense and 20th-ranked scoring defense makes the offense's regression even more infuriating. Basically, one guy has taken a bunch of not-very-good or horrifyingly young players and produced literally unbelievable excellence consistently over the last two years; the other guy has taken a bunch of moderately talented players who are now more experienced and produced inconsistent results that have largely gotten worse over that same period of time.

Unfortunately for the defense, Ohio State was able to exploit the not-very-good stuff more regularly than anybody since Alabama. The defensive tackles -- Will Campbell, especially -- were pretty regularly removed three or four yards from the holes they were supposed to be consuming, with the result being 26 carries for 146 yards for north-south truck Carlos Hyde. Braxton Miller rarely got outside and was of little consequence in the run game, which ... uhhh ... OK. I'd have liked Michigan's chances if I'd have known that before the game but didn't envision both the defensive tackles and corners getting eaten alive. Speaking of the corners, Miller (a 58 percent passer coming in) finished 14 for 18 for 189 yards (10.5 an attempt) and a touchdown. The defensive philosophy wasn't significantly different from last year's: Bring Jordan Kovacs down, play a 4-4 up front with Cover 3 behind it and hope the corners don't get destroyed. For the second straight year, the corners basically got destroyed because Miller was far, far more accurate than he had been for the first 11 games of the season. That's one of those tip-of-the-cap things, IMO. If a guy like Miller (or Denard, for that matter) can hit the downfield stuff consistently, there's no way to stop it.

That said, if blame for the loss is getting passed around, the defense shouldn't get a ton of it. Ohio State had one good drive after the first quarter and got six second-half points despite starting three drives in Michigan territory (one of them at the Michigan 8). Going into the half with a lead and then allowing a total of six second-half points should produce a win. I mean, obviously.

It's unfortunate that Campbell couldn't hold up a little better early in the game and/or Thomas Gordon couldn't avoid sucking up on play action and getting torched by Devin Smith on the fourth play of the game; the defense by and large played well enough to win but, as mentioned above, still lacks the talent in a few areas to totally shut down a borderline-elite offense like Ohio State's, especially if Miller is throwing the ball with reasonable accuracy.

I'm still pretty optimistic going forward since the total losses this offseason will be as follows: Kenny Demens (Desmond Morgan will slide over to take his spot at middle linebacker and be replaced by James Ross, an uber athlete who rotated in regularly over the second half of the season), Craig Roh (Brennen Beyer likely will slide over from weakside end to strongside end and be replaced by co-starter type Frank Clark), Will Campbell (either rotational guy Jibreel Black or former megarecruit Ondre Pipkins will ascend from backup to starter), J.T. Floyd (sophomore Blake Countess was already a better cover corner before blowing out his knee in the Alabama game) and Jordan Kovacs (no obvious replacement since Kovacs was Michigan's best tackler and most consistent nothing-gets-past-me safety in forever).

With Kovacs' role probably going to one of three formerly highly touted recruits and becoming slightly less crucial anyway due to the decrease in plays actually getting to the safety level, I'll be surprised if Michigan's defense isn't as good or slightly better next year -- slightly better than top 20 in both yards and points allowed. Greg Mattison FTW.

I mean, this is a big-time play by Frank Clark (a former two-star recruit stolen from nobody):

So is this by Jake Ryan (who's an absolute animal at outside linebacker and is only a sophomore):

Really, there's nothing more optimism-inspiring at this point than Mattison being able to put together a good-to-great defense out of spare parts and three-star recruits, especially with the accompanying knowledge that Michigan's recruiting since Hoke took over has been absolutely ridonkulous. There will be absurd amounts of talent on this team in the next few years. Mattison will do great things with that talent, no question; the offense is much more of a question.

As for Hoke, there's little I've seen yet that's made me thing he's anything other than a good coach (pending some offensive coherence next season and respectable O-line play next year, which should be a priority given the losses the last two years). The fourth-down call was, to me, unnecessarily aggressive considering that Michigan was winning by a point and could've pinned Ohio State back somewhere between the goal line and the 20. That said, with Denard's short-yardage conversion awesomeness and with a 21-20 game in which both teams were moving the ball with some effectiveness, taking a chance that your best player can get a couple yards and maybe get you a pretty significant eight-point lead at least has some logic behind it. And it's probably worth noting that Michigan went on a fourth-and-a-long-1 just past midfield last year in the first quarter while leading 9-7; a fullback dive got the first, and a Denard touchdown four plays later turned out to be pretty freakin' significant in a six-point win.

If anything, Hoke has shown himself to be a Les Miles-style balls-out decision-maker with little concern for the worst-case scenario, probably because he cut his coaching teeth on 42-40 MAC games but now has the defense to make the worst-case scenario less likely than ever. After watching Iowa on numerous occasions, I can assure you that this aggressiveness-type stuff is far, far preferable to whatever Kirk Ferentz's brain is filled with.

It's also why I won't be surprised by a change at O-coordinator and am convinced at this point that Michigan will be good (to some yet-to-be-determined degree) for the foreseeable future. Hoke is 19-6 after two seasons (pending a bowl game) and is recruiting like a boss, thus eliminating the talent deficiencies that have contributed to the lack of consistent O-line play and the relatively few issues on defense; it's hard to see Michigan not getting better over the next few years.

I wrote this the other day:
I would like to cling to the idea that Urban Meyer is John Cooper. I would like to laugh at another awesome Ohio season becoming infinitely less awesome because of Michigan. I would like to think that Brady Hoke might own Ohio the way Jim Tressel owned Michigan (except without the CheatyPants McSweaterVest stuff). I would like to think that Michigan will have gotten back to the good ol' days of "eh nine wins whatever." I would like to hold onto my totally unrealistic hopes of a BCS at-large berth in the Fiesta Bowl, where I'd get to watch Denard be Denard one more time.
Only one of things is now true: These are the good ol' days of "eh eight/nine wins whatever." I know because that's been basically the consensus reaction of the non-truckers who were emotionally invested in the outcome of The Game. And it could be worse; ohhhhh, it could be worse. There won't be any two-season bowl-less streaks or entirety-of-a-senior-class losing streaks to Michigan State or generational losing streaks to Ohio State or any of that crap; there will be more good things than bad, and that's, um, good.

I like good things. For now, the Generic Corporately Sponsored Florida Bowl will have to suffice; it'll have to since that's all there is until next year (The Year Of Gardner And Many Home Games), which right now seems so, so far away.

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