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College Football Awards, Week 8 (2019) October 21, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: James Franklin, Penn State

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Tom Herman, Texas

Poor guy: Les Miles, Kansas

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Rhule, Baylor

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Desperately seeking … anything:  Tom Arth, Akron

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Northwestern 52-3)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas (defeated Kansas 50-48)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Arkansas (lost to Auburn 51-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Illinois (defeated Wisconsin 24-23)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Ball State (defeated Toledo 52-14)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

Did the season start?  Washington

Can the season end?  Arkansas

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 10 Penn State 28, No. 16 Michigan 20

Play this again, too:  No. 15 Texas 50, Kansas 48

Never play this again: No. 4 Ohio State 52, Northwestern 3

What?  Ball State 52, Toledo 14

HuhGeorgia Tech 28, Miami (Fla.) 21, OT

Double-Huh?  Vanderbilt 21, No. 22 Missouri 14

Are you kidding me??  BYU 28, No. 14 Boise State 25

Oh – my – GodIllinois 24, No. 6 Wisconsin 23

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for:  No. 13 Wisconsin @ No. 3 Ohio State

Next-best game of the week:  No. 9 Auburn @ No. 2 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Liberty @ Rutgers

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Navy

Upset alert: Kansas State @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Must win: No. 11 Auburn @ No. 2 LSU

Offensive explosion: No. 15 Texas @ TCU  (hon. mention:  WSU @ No. 11 Oregon)

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Cal @ No. 12 Utah

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Jim Harbaugh of Michigan vs Brian Kelly of Notre Dame

(honorable mention:  Herm Edwards of Arizona State vs Chip Kelly of UCLA)

Who’s bringing the body bags? Arkansas @ No. 1 Alabama

Why are they playing? Liberty @ Rutgers

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Northern Illinois

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Maryland @ No. 17 Minnesota

Week 8 Thoughts:

Two more undefeated teams bite the dust.  First No. 6 Wisconsin in the noon time slot, who went down to defeat at lowly Illinois on a last-second field goal.  Then, late at night, the second undefeated team lost today when No. 14 Boise State lost on the road to BYU.  The latter, however, is not nearly as massive as the former.

The shame of such an upset is that it takes some of the [proverbial] starch and the all-too-real excitement out of next week’s upcoming matchup between the Badgers and the Buckeyes.  But it will still be a great game.

Texas vs. Kansas

Texas had to score 50 points to beat Kansas.  Yes, Kansas.  Granted, Les Miles has the Jayhawks continually improving.  Still, this does not bode well for the Longhorns.  Clearly, injuries have depleted their defense, especially their secondary.  Any team with a good quarterback can thus score points on them.  The question becomes, can the Horns still stop the run?  Assuming they can, then they stand a chance yet against TCU next week.

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College Football Awards, Week 7 (2019) October 14, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma  (hon. mention:  Ed Orgeron, LSU)

Glad I’m not him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Lucky guy: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Poor guy: Clay Helton, USC

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

Desperately seeking … anything:  Scott Frost, Nebraska

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Utah (defeated Oregon State 52-7)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Georgia (lost to South Carolina 20-17 in 2OT)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: UConn (lost to Tulane 45-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Arkansas (lost to Kentucky 24-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Purdue (defeated Maryland 40-14)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia

Did the season start?  Washington State

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOklahoma  (honorable mention:  LSU)

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 6 Oklahoma 34, No. 11 Texas 27

Play this again, too:  No. 5 LSU 42, No. 7 Florida 28.

Never play this again: Louisiana Tech 69, UMass 21

What?  Bowling Green 20, Toledo 7

HuhTemple 30, No. 23 Memphis 28

Double-Huh?  Miami 17, No. 20 Virginia 9

Are you kidding me??  Louisville 62, No. 19 Wake Forest 59

Oh – my – GodSouth Carolina 20, No. 3 Georgia 17, 2OT

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 7, pre-week 8)
Best game of the week:  No. 16 Michigan @ No. 7 Penn State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: none

Best non-Power Five matchup: Temple @ No. 19 SMU

Upset alert: No. 5 Oklahoma @ West Virginia

Must win: No. 17 Arizona State @ No. 13 Utah

Offensive explosion: No. 25 Washington @ No.12 Oregon

Defensive struggle: Michigan @ Penn State

Great game no one is talking about: Duke @ Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Kyle Whittingham of Utah vs. Herm Edwards of ASU

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 3 Ohio State @ Northwestern

Why are they playing? Minnesota @ Rutgers

Plenty of good seats remaining: Buffalo @ Akron

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Missouri @ Vanderbilt

Week 7 Thoughts:

Oklahoma vs Texas

Rivalries are a funny thing.  On paper, the Sooners should have defeated the Longhorns by at least two touchdowns, given the disparity in ranking (No. 6 vs. No. 11).  Yet the Horns’ defense stepped up in a huge way, was able, at least some of the time to, to contain Jalen Hurts and the OU offense.

Louisville @ Wake Forest

Great win/upset for Louisville.  Yet the score concluded at 61 to 52.  Ever heard of defense, guys?

Florida @ LSU

The other game of the week (outside of the Red River Shootout in Dallas) was resurgent Florida @ LSU.  This game as well lived up to its hype, with big plays on both sides, and in the end, the Bayou Bengals triumphed over the Gators, 42-28.  In light of the massive development in Athens, Ga. (see below), expect LSU to move up a notch in the rankings.

Possible playoff scenario

Georgia lost in shocking fashion to rival South Carolina, at home, in double-overtime, 20-17.  In light of this huge development, here is a new, possible playoff scenario, should other current shadows remain unchanged:  Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU/Alabama, and Clemson.  The latter two are plausible placeholders for the perennial southern/southeastern representatives that have come to dominate the playoffs as of late.  But with the Buckeyes and the Sooners both in the picture, that would bring in a larger national audience, what with representation both from the Plains and, more importantly, the Midwest.  As a not-so-distant aside, Ohio State and Oklahoma alone would be a game we would all love to see, playoffs or no playoffs.

College Football Awards, Week 6 (2019) October 7, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Dan Mullen, Florida

Glad I’m not him: Guz Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Poor guy: Steve Addazio, Boston College

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Notre Dame (defeated Bowling Green 52-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Nebraska (defeated Northwestern 13-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Utah State (lost to No. 5 LSU 42-6)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Tulsa (lost to SMU 43-37)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Iowa State (defeated TCU 49-24)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Bowling Green

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Auburn

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  UCLA

Can the season never endSMU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 10 Florida 24, No. 7 Auburn 13

Never play this again: No. 9 Notre Dame 52, Bowling Green 0

What? No. 19 Michigan 10, No. 14 Iowa 3

Huh?  Texas Tech 45, No. 21 Oklahoma State 35

Double-Huh?  Cincinnati 27, No. 18 UCF 24

Are you kidding me??  Stanford 23, No. 15 Washington 13

Oh – my – GodNo. 10 Florida 24, No. 7 Auburn 13

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 6, pre-week 7)
Ticket to die for:  No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Texas in the Red River Shootout

 (Possible second choice):  No. 10 Florida @ No. 5 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: UNLV @ Vanderbilt

Best non-Power Five matchup: Cincinnati @ Houston (also:  Hawaii @ No. 16 Boise State)

Upset alert: No. 25 Michigan State @ No. 8 Wisconsin (also:  Florida @ LSU)

Must win: No. 15 Washington @ Arizona

Offensive explosion: (inconclusive)

Defensive struggle: No. 10 Florida @ No. 5 LSU

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ No. 22 Wake Forest  (also:  Penn State @ Iowa)

Intriguing coaching matchup:  P.J. Fleck of Minnesota vs Scott Frost of Nebraska

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 17 Utah @ Oregon State

Why are they playing? Rhode Island @ Virginia Tech

Plenty of good seats remaining: Kent State @ Akron

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UConn @ Tulane

Week 6 Thoughts:

Michigan vs. Iowa

Iowa came into the Big House ranked No. 14 to home team Michigan’s No. 19 ranking.  The game was a close one from start to finish, and in the end, Michigan triumphed in a defensive struggle, 10-3.  Under normal circumstances, when a team, ranked or otherwise, defeats a higher-ranked team, that is a good day, that is a good day for the lower-ranked team.

So why do I get the feeling that this win will not slake the bloodthirst of Jim Harbaugh’s critics?  I can think of two reasons.  The most obvious is that Michigan scored only 10 lousy points.  At home.  Granted, it was against Iowa, which is always a deceptively tough out, but in the end, scoring only 10 points borders on disturbing.

Keep in mind that Wisconsin is, theoretically, an even stronger defense, yet the Wolverines scored two touchdowns on them in a losing effort on the road.  Should such an abysmal offensive performance persist later in the season, how does one think that Michigan is to fare against, say, Penn State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, or even [shudder] archrival Ohio State?

The reason this win does not assuage concerns about Michigan’s direction was Iowa’s performance.  That the Hawkeyes’ offense kept sputtering when it reached the Wolverines’ 40 yard line is what saved the latter’s bacon.  To be sure, that is also a tribute to the Wolverines’ tough D.  Still, can one count on such defensive shut-downs against even more formidable opponents?  Most likely, not.

Bottom line:  Harbaugh needs to re-shuffle the proverbial deck for his offense, and do so right now.

SMU vs Tulsa

The Golden Hurricane played the Mustangs tough for the entire game, but a last-minute touchdown put SMU ahead of Tulsa for good.  The Mustangs are now undefeated at 6-0 for the first time since 1982 (back when Craig James was still playing for them).  Let that sink in for a moment.

Ohio State vs Michigan State

Speaking of stronger defenses than that of Iowa, Michigan State gave a maximum effort against Ohio State.  Even then, the Buckeyes still won, 34-10.  The Spartans’ aforementioned max effort from their own strong D was all that kept the game from becoming a blowout.

Can anyone in the conference take Ohio State?  It certainly does not seem so at this rate.  All that said, Oct. 26 could give us a preview of coming Big Ten Championship attractions when the Buckeyes play Wisconsin at home.  Once again, the Buckeyes are playing like a solid national championship contender.

Florida vs Auburn

Either Auburn is not quite as good as we thought they were (at No. 7), or Florida is better than we thought they were (at No. 10).  Whatever the case may be, if the Gators keep up these strong performances, it shall shape up to be a memorable matchup against Georgia in Jacksonville later this month.

College Football Awards, Week 5 (2019) September 29, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Ryan Day, Ohio State

Glad I’m not him: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Justin Wilcox, Cal

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Sonny Dykes, SMU

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Michigan (defeated Rutgers 52-0)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Clemson (defeated North Carolina 21-20)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Middle Tennessee (lost to No. 14 Iowa 48-3)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  North Carolina (lost to No. 1 Clemson 21-20)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  SMU (defeated USF 48-21)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Cal

Did the season start?  Purdue

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endOklahoma

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 1 Clemson 21, North Carolina 20

Play this again, too:  No. 23 Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 27

Never play this again: No. 12 Penn State 59, Maryland 0

What? Temple 24, Georgia Tech 2

HuhOklahoma State 26, No. 24 Kansas State 13

Are you kidding me??  Toledo 28, BYU 21

Oh – my – GodArizona State 24, No. 15 Cal 17

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 5, pre-week 6)
Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Auburn @ No. 10 Florida

 (Possible second choice):  No. 14 Iowa @ No. 19 Michigan

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Utah State @ No. 5 LSU

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Army

Upset alert: Michigan @ Iowa (also:  No. 15 Washington @ Stanford)

Must win: Boston College @ Louisville

Offensive explosion: Cal @ No. 13 Oregon

Defensive struggle: Northwestern @ Nebraska

Great game no one is talking about: TCU @ Iowa State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Justin Wilcox of Cal vs Mario Cristobal of Oregon

Who’s bringing the body bags? Purdue @ No. 12 Penn State

Why are they playing? Bowling Green @ No. 10 Notre Dame

Plenty of good seats remaining: Oregon State @ UCLA

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Kent State @ No. 8 Wisconsin

Week 5 Thoughts:

North Carolina vs Clemson

Mack Brown remains full of surprises.  Not the least of which was the stunning near-upset over previously-No. 1 Clemson, in which the Tigers escaped the Tarheels by only a point.  A botched [surprise] two-point attempt on the part of UNC allowed the escape.  Had such an attempt been successful, it would have set the college football rankings on fire.  As it is, nobody in their right mind should protest Brown’s surprise move at the end.  If they went for the tie with an extra point, then the game would have gone into overtime, where Clemson would quite likely have outlasted North Carolina.  The two-point attempt thus, after further analysis, remained the Tarheels’ best bet.

Time will tell if this valiant performance on North Carolina’s part is a harbinger of better football to come from this team.

Nebraska vs Ohio State

Ohio State drubbed Nebraska 48-7 in Lincoln.  It could have been even worse.  All but 10 of those 48 points were scored in the first half (meaning, the Buckeyes put in lots of backups in the second half).  This game and its outcome are a tale of two teams in two different directions.

For Ohio State, this is another key test the Buckeyes have passed in their assertion that they belong in the national conversation.  Indeed, this performance helped them supplant LSU as the No. 4 team in the nation, currently.  That has typically been good enough to make the playoffs, should such shadows remain unchanged.Will such shadows change?  After all, nothing is a given in the Big Ten.  Such was the case in its late-1990s glory days, and such is the case since roughly 2014 as well.  Next week the Buckeyes face an arguably tougher test when Michigan State comes to Columbus.  But the ultimate showdown in the conference is still likely when Wisconsin take on the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium on Oct. 26 in what could be one of the games of the year.  Why this fixation on OSU’s fortunes?  Because the more teams from more regions outside of the Southeast contend for the national title, the better it is for college football.

On the other side of the coin is Nebraska.  Head coach Scott Frost, one might recall, left a Central Florida program that he had built into arguably the strongest non-Power Five team in the land so he could coach his alma mater.  Last year’s campaign only resulted in a 4-8 finish.  Currently the Huskers stand at 3-2, and even some of those wins were struggles over South Alabama and Illinois.  What gives?

No, it would stand to reason that Frost has not forgotten how to coach.  Rather, the systemic problem of geography has come into play.  Frost had the advantage of being right in the middle of [embarrassingly] talent-rich Florida when he built up the UCF program.  Nebraska does not produce any top-caliber players, save for the possible offensive lineman or two.  Much of Nebraska’s unstoppable linemen during theTom Osborne (especially the latter era) came from much more lax standards  and screening mechanisms for steroid use.  Those days are now gone.

Also gone are the days of Prop-48 players, which gave Nebraska an easy pipeline to high-caliber talent without the normal barrier of NCAA eligibility standards found elsewhere.  Perhaps even more devastating, though, is that Nebraska prospered in the days when only a relative handful of teams were consistently on national television.  This made the program in Lincoln an attractive destination for top recruits despite its cold weather and geographic isolation.  That advantage, too, was nullified when cable channels greatly expanded college football coverage in the 2000s, giving prized recruits many more options than in earlier times.  Given this current environment, how is one to attract top recruits to this cold, isolated place?  Scott Frost has his work cut out for him.

On Gulf Coast Toads and the Changing of the Geni September 23, 2019

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IMG_4117_1

A Gulf Coast Toad hangs out on a rock in Fort Worth (photo by author).  Commonly found in a large part of Texas, it is emblematic of major taxonomical changes in the iconic toad family of Bufonidae.

On my bookshelf is a copy of the venerable Aububon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians (11th Printing, 1992).  I have had this copy since I was in junior high.  That was slightly more than a quarter-century ago.  Upon recently thumbing through the toad section, I found the photo entry for the Gulf Coast Toad.

My interest in this species was piqued because several weeks ago, I found the first one along my home here in the DFW Metroplex.  Last summer was the first time I had found (and photographed) one in the [sort-of] wild, having found one at the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens.  Naturally, I consider these “firsts” all kinds of cool, since this is a totally different species from the toads I grew up finding in southern Indiana.  There, the options were Fowler’s Toads and American Toads, mostly the former.  It’s a sign of finding different fauna in a different part of the country, which is something I find rather exhilarating.

Back to the Gulf Coast Toad entry in the Audubon Society Field Guide (entry 246):  on the explanatory pages (397-398), the species is listed as Bufo valliceps.  At this same time, the Fowler’s Toad was listed as B. fowleri, and the American Toad was B. americanus.  Indeed, the very genus of Bufo has been synonymous with toads themselves.

Not anymore.  The Bufo genus over the years had become a very cosmopolitan genus for toads.  Apparently, to a critical mass of taxonomists, the genus had become a little too cosmopolitan, and some species formerly within said genus have been spun off into their own geni.  For example, the Fowler’s and American Toads are now Anaxyrus fowleri and Anaxyrus americanus, respectively.  The Gulf Coast Toad now belongs to genus Incilius instead of Anaxyrus.  Since the species listed in the old Audubon field guide was B. valliceps, it would now logically be Incilius valliceps.

Except that it is not.  As it turns out, there are two types of Gulf Coast Toad:  to be more precise, two species that represent two different geographical populations.  I. valliceps, the ostensible representative of the Texas and Louisiana population (the northern population), is actually the species for the Mesoamerican population (that is, the southern population).  The Gulf Coast Toads found here in Texas are actually I. nebulifer.

All of this is a fairly recent development.  The northern population of Gulf Coast Toads went from Bufo valliceps to Incilius nebulifer in just 15 years.  Yes, many other toads found in North and Central America have also been reclassified into either Anaxyrus or Incilius.

Not to fret, though, Bufo fans:  the genus is still alive and well, and still represents 150 species within family Bufonidae.  The geni Anaxyrus and Incilius still belong to family Bufonidae as well.  Bufo also remains the genus for the largest known species of toad, the Marine Toad, a.k.a., the Cane Toad (B. marinus), which has become an invasive species in Florida (also found in extreme south Texas:  think McAllen and Brownsville).

In any case, it remains amazing to see how a species commonly found in much of Texas has had such a journey through taxonomical placement.  But the implications of these recent developments are potentially profound, for they serve as a reminder to all of us how nothing is static, and how little of science is actually “settled” science.

College Football Awards, Week 4 (2019) September 23, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Kirby Smart, Georgia

Glad I’m not him: Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

Lucky guy: Willie Taggert, Florida State

Poor guy: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Mack Brown, North Carolina

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Willie Fritz, Tulane

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking … anything:  Dana Holgorsen, Houston

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Miami, Ohio 76-5)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Georgia (defeated Notre Dame 23-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Charlotte (lost to Clemson 52-10)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  SMU (defeated TCU 41-38)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kent State (defeated Bowling Green 62-20)

Dang, they’re good: Ohio State

Dang, they’re bad:  Arkansas

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  TCU

Did the season start?  Stanford

Can the season end?  Tennessee

Can the season never endIowa State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Georgia 23, No. 7 Notre Dame 17

Play this again, too:  No. 12 Texas 36, Oklahoma State 30

Never play this again: No. 6 Ohio State 76, Miami, Ohio 5

That will leave a mark:  Iowa State 72, Louisiana-Monroe 20

What? Appalachian State 34, North Carolina 31

HuhSan Jose State 31, Arkansas 24

Double HuhUSC 30, No. 10 Utah 23

Are you kidding me??  SMU 41, No. 25 TCU 38

Oh – my – GodNo. 13 Wisconsin 35, No. 11 Michigan 14

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 4, pre-week 5)
Possible best game of the week:  No. 18 Virginia @ No. 10 Notre Dame

 (Possible second choice):  Nebraska @ No. 6 Ohio State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Northern Illinois @ Vanderbilt

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ Memphis

Upset alert: Maryland @ No. 13 Penn State

Must win: UCLA @ Arizona

Offensive explosion: Washington State @ No. 19 Utah

Defensive struggle: (inconclusive)

Great game no one is talking about: Kansas State @ Oklahoma State (also:  Iowa State @ Baylor)

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Les Miles of Kansas vs. Gary Patterson of TCU

Who’s bringing the body bags? Towson @ No. 9 Florida

Why are they playing? Delaware @ Pitt

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ UMass

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Middle Tennessee @ No. 18 Iowa

Week 4 Thoughts:

Week 4 has been arguably the best week for college football thus far in the 2019 season.  Friday started off the weekend with a bang with an engaging matchup between USC and Utah.  The following first time slot of Saturday (noon EDT) was great, at least on paper.  Michigan faced Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium, and left the game exposed for having severe weaknesses on offense that must be addressed or Jim Harbaugh’s future with his alma mater may be in doubt.

That said, two key games in the following time slot (Louisville at Florida State and Auburn at Texas A&M) lived up to their billing.  Louisville is clearly headed in the right direction as a program, but much improvement remains.  Perhaps it is unreasonable for Scott Satterfield to turn things around so quickly, given the mess that Bobby Petrino left in his wake.  Meanwhile, the Aggies fought the good fight at home, but came up short against a gradually but steadily ascendant Auburn.  Both were good game, regardless.

The evening time slot proved that the best was yet to come that day.  Oklahoma State came calling at Texas, for one.  The Longhorns had failed to beat the Cowboys the previous five seasons, so the urgency was clearly there to get that proverbial monkey off the Horns’ collective back.

Then, a half-hour later, the “ticket to die for” lived up to its billing as Notre Dame put up a strong fight against Georgia in Sanford Stadium.  The game was a close defensive struggle for three and a half quarters before the Bulldogs finally asserted themselves in accordance with their full potential.  In other words, in the latter half of the fourth quarter, the cream finally rose to the top.

With so much great football having been played on Sept. 21 from noon through 11 PM Eastern, such will be a very tough act for Week 5 to follow.  Case in point:  no game for Week 5 offers a “ticket to die for”, which is more the pity.

Bad Start for College Football in 2019 (And What to do About It) September 19, 2019

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While there have been several great matchups these past few weeks (e.g., Auburn vs. Oregon, LSU @ Texas, and this upcoming weekend, Notre Dame @ Georgia), there have been lots of dud contests.  Simply put, it is difficult to recall in recent memory where so many pointless “body bag” games have been scheduled.

The first week began with such dreck games as UCF playing Florida A&M; Arizona State played Kent State; Maryland played Howard; Nebraska played South Alabama; Temple played Bucknell; Penn State played Idaho; Tennessee played Georgia State…and lost…at home!  Moreover, Texas Tech played Montana State; Kansas State played Nicholls; Washington State played New Mexico State, and TCU played Arkansas Pine Bluff.

The only really good matchup for week 1 was Auburn playing Oregon.

Week 2 was better, but not by much.  Horrid matchups still prevailed with Arizona State playing Sacramento State; Kansas State played Bowling Green; South Carolina played Charleston Southern; Indiana played Eastern Illinois; Georgia played Murray State, while Alabama played New Mexico State; Oklahoma played South Dakota; Auburn played Tulane; you get the picture.

Ironically, what was a bad matchup on paper turned out to be a nail-biter, as Michigan had to struggle to beat Army.  That said, Texas A&M put up a strong, valiant fight against No. 1 Clemson, and LSU @ Texas proved to be the best game of the year thus far.  Though the Longhorns lost, they acquitted themselves in that they demonstrated that they’re still a legit top-10 team.  LSU, on the other hand, has a real quarterback and probably the most potent office since at least the 2007 team, if not since the 2003 team under Nick Saban.  Watch out, SEC; the Bayou Bengals are deadly this year.

Even in week 3, it did college football no service to put on body bag games like Miami (Fla.) playing Bethune-Cookman, Tennessee playing Chattanooga, or Texas A&M playing Lamar.  The majority of the games thus far have demonstrated the need for a college football commissioner like no other season beginning in memory.  Such a commissioner’s main job would be to ensure that good and decent teams played each other in the regular season to keep college football both interesting and engaging.  As Alabama has learned the hard way, even a team with devoted as fans as those of The Tide will be loathe to attend such boring games when they know that their team will walk away winning by at least four touchdowns.  If head coaches and their respective athletics directors are too timid to risk a loss by playing good teams, thus making for good, interesting games, then a college football commissioner shall have to force the issue for them.

No sport can flourish with hard-core fans along, (see:  Soccer, Major League).  Conversely, one of the biggest reasons why the NFL is the most popular sport league in America by far is because, in addition to its legions of hard-core fans, it’s practically everyone else’s second-favorite sport.

Over the past 25 years, we college football fans have witnessed dramatic growth in the game we love.  That prosperity is now potentially in peril when so many teams schedule boring, pointless, body bag games.  Want to slowly wither away into relative obscurity?  Start by turning off the casual fans with insufficiently engaging games.  The three stellar games I have already mentioned in this article are not enough to maintain that.

Yes, week 4 shall be an improvement, but much work needs to be done to prevent such a spate of pointless games from showing up on major teams’ schedules.  A commissioner of college football would be the quickest, most efficient, and most decisive instrument to ensure a critical mass of engaging matchups throughout the season.

To keep the game we love from dwindling into irrelevancy, more people in the sport need to be willing to take these necessary risks.  Lest we have to hold our collective breath before enough coaches and AD’s wise up to this, a college football commissioner could wise up for them and compel enough, er, compelling games to take place.  The question thus becomes, do the powers that be in the NCAA HQ recognize such urgency, and if not, why not?

 

College Football Awards, Week 3 (2019) September 19, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Glad I’m not him: Clay Helton, USC

Lucky guy: Dan Mullen, Florida

Poor guy: Mark Stoops, Kentucky

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Chris Klieman, Kansas State

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Notre Dame (defeated New Mexico 66-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Virginia Tech (defeated Furman 24-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Arkansas State (lost to Georgia 55-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Temple (defeated No. 21 Maryland 20-17)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Tennessee (defeated Chattanooga 45-0)

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma

Dang, they’re bad:  South Alabama (honorable mention: Indiana)

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Maryland

Did the season start?  Purdue

Can the season end?  Georgia Tech

Can the season never endLSU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 9 Florida 29, Kentucky 21

Play this again, too:  No. 18 Iowa 18, Iowa State 17

Never play this again: Louisiana 77, Texas Southern 6

That will leave a mark:  Miami 63, Bethune-Cookman 0

What? Kansas State 31, Mississippi State 24

HuhTemple 20, No. 17 Maryland 17

Double HuhCitadel 27, Georgia Tech 24

Are you kidding me??  BYU 30, No. 24 USC 27

Oh – my – GodArizona State 10, No. 18 Michigan State 7

NEXT WEEK                                                                                                                             (rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)

Ticket to die for:  No. 7 Notre Dame @ No. 3 Georgia

Best game of the week (second choice):  No. 8 Auburn @ No. 16 Texas A&M

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: No. 23 Washington @ BYU

Best non-Power Five matchup: Air Force @ No. 22 Boise State

Upset alert: No. 23 Washington @ BYU

Must win: No. 10 Michigan @ No. 14 Wisconsin

Offensive explosion: Oklahoma State @ No. 12 Texas

Defensive struggle: Boston College @ Rutgers

Great game no one is talking about: Louisville @ Florida State

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mario Cristobal of Oregon vs. David Shaw of Stanford

Who’s bringing the body bags? Charlotte @ No. 1 Clemson

Why are they playing? San Jose State @ Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ New Mexico

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Southern Illinois @ Arkansas State

Week 3 Thoughts:

Too many body-bag games to in the first three weeks for college football in 2019.  At least next week starts with a bang with Michigan vs. Wisconsin in the noon time slot, and we are treated to an early Big XII quasi-rivalry with Texas vs. Oklahoma State in the evening, which will be an intriguing distraction from the game of the week, in which the Notre Dame Fighting Irish venture down to Athens, Ga., to take on the Bulldogs “between the hedges”.  Oh, and Auburn plays Texas A&M in the 3:30 EDT time slot, so prepare for an engaging Saturday come the 21st!

Also, belated shout-out to an incredible game the previous week with LSU at Texas.  Had the Horns done a slightly better job of stopping the Tiger’s passing game, they might have triumphed.  As it is, LSU seems to be a top-flight QB this season, and, based on their stellar performance in Austin, could end up vying for the SEC West divisional title.  Mark you calendars for November 9 now.

“In the Mood” and the 1939 Context August 1, 2019

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August 1 of this year marks the 80th Anniversary of the recording of one of the most legendary records of all time.  Of course, I mean “In the Mood”, which Glenn Miller and his Orchestra cut on this day in 1939.  It would become the most famous record that this notable musician and his band would produce, and would also become part of American culture itself.

The song did not emerge out of a vacuum.  The iconic melody itself was based on a pre-Swing Era hit jazz instrumental by Wingy Joe Manone called “Tar Paper Stomp” from 1930 (re-released in 1935).  Arranger Joe Garland adapted that melody to the iconic one now famous for eight decades.  That said, Miller did not even produce the first version of “In the Mood”, which earned the new title from lyrics by Andy Razaf.  Rather, Edgar Hayes and his Orchestra released the first version of the song the year prior (1938).

But Miller’s version is the most famous by far of any versions, before or after.  Is it the most swinging record of all time?  Certainly not, but its pep and rhythm are enough to appeal to all ages throughout the decades.  Many jazz players and scholars have had problems with Miller’s overly cautious approach to swing, and one can feel a touch of this constraint even in this rather jumpy tune.

Nevertheless, there is an energy that is enough to give the record a timeless feel, constrained or not.  Moreover, dueling saxophone solos between Tex Beneke and Al Klink are one of the most famous duets of that era, followed not long afterwards by a memorable 16-bar trumpet solo by Clyde Hurley.  Then, Miller’s use of undulating volume, from a pianissimo chorus to a fortissimo at the end with a crescendo on the coda all lead to very satisfying, even triumphant finish.

The buying public certainly took well to the song.  Released in early 1940, it topped the charts for 13 straight weeks.  Not even Elvis Presley’s legendary single of “Hound Dog/Don’t Be Cruel” could match that in 1956 (11 weeks).

One irony of note was that RCA Bluebird stablemate Artie Shaw took an earlier crack at that tune, with Jerry Gray arranging.  But his version was over six minutes long, too long to fit on one side of a 78 RPM record, and the audience response was lackluster.  Nevertheless, Shaw did a produce fine, live version of the song which has been captured and thoroughly circulated among swing aficionados.

Though the song was recorded in 1939 and certainly belongs in that vintage, as noted earlier, it peaked in record sales the following year (1940).  That same year, Miller and his band starred in the movie Sun Valley Serenade, (released in 1941) where they perform a live rendition that’s even more energetic than the famous studio version.

To zoom the proverbial lens out further, though, 1939 itself was a banner year for big band and for American popular music as a whole.  For starters, little-known singer named Frank Sinatra made a strong debut with Harry James’ band, most notably with “All or Nothing at All”.  When James was not utilizing the young crooner for ballads, he was tearing up some hot swing music in his own right, with “Ciribirbin”, and, even better, “Two O’Clock Jump.”

Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, would cut one of his most famous records early that year with “And the Angels Sing”, a collaboration between his then-first chair trumpet player Ziggy Elman and exalted, legendary American lyricist Johnny Mercer.  It would also be one of the last records on which Martha Tilton would contribute her vocal talents.  Later that year, Goodman left RCA Victor to sign with Columbia, as his good friend, John Hammond, was the A&R man there (and, three years later, Hammond would also become Goodman’s brother-in-law), making 1939 nothing if not a very transitional year for His Majesty of Swing.

Meanwhile at RCA Victor, Goodman’s chief rival, Tommy Dorsey, made some fine contributions to that vintage, in very different ways.  One was with a two-side semi-upbeat instrumental ballad in “Lonesome Road”, which offers some very precise, refined reed section performances, among other things.  The other is the swinger “Stomp it Off”, a guaranteed toe-tapper.

Miller’s RCA Bluebird stablemates also made their contributions, such as Charlie Barnet, who cut his most famous record in “Cherokee” that year.  Bob Crosby — brother of Bing — and his Bobcats produced one of that band’s finest records that year, “Over the Rainbow” (tastefully cashing in on the Wizard of Oz hoopla).

Back to Artie Shaw;  although his best vintage was the previous year (1938), he made indelible contributions to the 1939 vintage that range from the powerful businessman’s bounces such as “Deep Purple” (with Helen Forrest, in her young prime, contributing the vocals) to the strong swingers like “Prosschai“, to the unfathomably energetic “Carioca” and “Traffic Jam”, the latter of which to this day, evokes imagery of cartoon characters Tom and Jerry tearing around the house with reckless abandon!

If “In the Mood” were not enough for Miller himself in 1939, earlier that year he recorded his own breakout hit with “Moonlight Serenade”, the record in which he allegedly discovered his own distinctive sound, that of the double-tenor sax lead on the clarinet.  That same year he also cut perennial favorites for his repertoire, such as Moonlight Serenade’s hit follow-up, “Sunrise Serenade” and also “Little Brown Jug”.  “Ain’tcha Comin’ Out” showcases both the vocals of Marion Hutton as well as his lead tenor sax player, Tex Benecke, and “Stairway to the Stars” proved to a breakout record for vocalist Ray Eberle, as well as one of the finest versions of this Tin Pan Alley standard.  Other fine records by the band in question that year include “Blue Evening”, “Pagan Love Song”, the appropriately upbeat “Runnin’ Wild”, and Miller’s take on the Hoagy Carmichael standard “Blue Orchids”.  All these and more add up to the conclusion that 1939, in addition to being a banner year for the Swing Era, was also, arguably, Glenn Miller’s finest vintage, too.

All this said, while Glenn Miller may have ‘owned’ “In the Mood” with his legendary version, he did not produce the swingingest.  That distinction belongs to Goodman, who performed his own rendition in November of ’39 on a Camel Caravan broadcast for NBC, and is yet further proof as to why he was the King of Swing.  If that is not enough, he also outdid Miller earlier that year on other Camel Caravan radio shows with peppier versions of “Moonlight Serenade”, and “Blue Orchids”, proving that whatever Miller could do, the King could do better.

All in all, 1939 proved to be a very fecund, banner year for Swing and thus for American culture.  It would also be the last of the high-energy years of the big band era, as recordings would transition into smoother, more polished-sounding tunes starting in 1940, but that is for another article at another time.  Suffice it to say in the meantime, though, that Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” was arguably the most iconic record of a key year/vintage in the high watermark of American culture.

An Open Letter to Coach Patric Morrison of Madison, Indiana, (and all other parties concerned) May 23, 2019

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Dear Coach Morrison and hiring committee:

                As a Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School football alumnus (Class of 1998), allow me to congratulate you on your recent promotion to associate athletics director.  I also wish to extend congratulations on a job well done as head football coach, within the context of that with which you and the community have had to contend.  You have shown good vision in your player development; you have demonstrated that you deeply cared for your players; you were also forward-thinking in your team-building measures, too.  In my day, for example, it would have been unheard of for a head coach at Madison or some place similar to take his team all the way up to Canton, Ohio to engage in some team-building/skills-building drills.  It remains a surprise to me that such creative measures did not translate better into the wins column come that season.

Be all that as it may, I have observed the progress from afar of Madison football off and on as any concerned alumnus would for his former team.  During my college years, I served for three seasons as a staff member on the Purdue football team, and I learned through working with Coach Joe Tiller and his able assistant coaches about what it takes to build a winning program.  Over time I have come to some conclusions with regard to the challenges the program continues to face and what sort of coach it would take to effectively address them.  This is to build on the firm foundation you, Coach Morrison, have diligently set in place.

As most of us are aware, Madison faces one systemic challenge of being the smallest school in the Hoosier Hills Conference.  Moreover, while some rival schools are in conferences with growing, more dynamic populations (e.g., Floyd Central and Jeffersonville), the town (pardon me, “city”) of Madison’s population has been stagnant, if not gradually declining, for the past two decades.  Bottom line:  our pool for talent is already limited compared to the competition.  Other environmental factors – too many, too complex to list for now — on top of that stack the proverbial deck even further against us.  Can we even win at all in such a situation?  I believe we still can.  Here’s what we need:

As is the case in college football, it all starts with the coach.  In the high school and college games, the coach plays an outsized role in program success compared to his factoring into success in the NFL (though the head coach is still vitally important there, too).  At those levels, players first have to want to play for the coach (indeed, in college, the players literally choose to play for him and his assistants).  Moreover, at the high school level (and yes, college, too), the coach, in addition to being sufficiently adept at the X’s and O’s, also needs to be the team’s spiritual leader, for lack of a better term.  That is, he must be ever-vigilant in keeping the team motivated and keeping its morale high.  Superior morale is an absolute must-have for Madison football.  The boys need to be amped-up and excited to take the field more so than the other team.  It is one of the few advantages they can leverage.

That means a coach capable of lighting a huge fire under the team’s collective arse.  It means giving extra-rousing motivational speeches in the locker room before kick-off and at the end of half-time.  That also means a coach who will encourage the guys on the team to celebrate on the sidelines during a successful series.  Not only will such things sustain good morale, but it will create a fun environment that everyone can see – including able-bodied male students in the stands who would come to realize they want to be a part of that, and contribute to the team in so doing.

MadisonFootballLogo

This logo, only several years old, is one befitting a good high school program.  What Madison [Ind.] Consolidated High School needs to do is find a coach to match; one who is sufficiently dynamic and has a singular vision to create a winning culture.

Snazzy uniforms also help for good morale at that level.  To that end, I must once again commend Coach Morrison, this time for the neat-looking uniform image he has crafted during his tenure (they’re light years better than the generic rags my teammates and I had to play in).  His successor must keep this good look going, and the only changes he should be making there, if any, should take things even further, provided they do not exceed the bounds of good taste (no need for the Oregon unis of 2007 with the anti-skid patterns on the knees and shoulders, please!).  Yes, that means it is important to press candidates on their uniform-styling philosophy.  If the potential new hire confesses in the interview that he is a “Penn State uniforms kind of guy”, that’s an automatic deal-breaker.  He’s gone; next candidate.  Period.  Why?  Because a predilection for such generic uniforms shows that he is unimaginative and rigid against change.  What we need is a coach who is the exact opposite – very imaginative and willing to pivot on a dime in terms of offensive or defensive strategy.  I know this from experience.  We failed to win a single game my junior-year season (1996) because the head coach and his staff were too inflexible to make changes that desperately needed to be made.  Such changes ranging from re-shuffling the offensive line to strategic offensive changes that would have played to the strengths that we had at the time would have minimized our weaknesses and actually would have put us in the position to win games, which is a coach’s number one job, lest we forget.

These two things would be a solid start.  But what about the deficit of talent?  With limited practice time, talent on the field often becomes the deciding factor, after all.  Herein thus lies the core challenge.  In addition to being good and keeping up team morale in all its facets, the next head coach at MCHS must have a combination of boundless energy and a Messianic complex where he is bent, in part, on maximizing the turnout within the school.  To accomplish this, he’ll need to win over the support of the community – not an easy task for a town susceptible to complacency.  He’ll have to attend every community function, every community festival (e.g., Old Court Days, the county fair, the Madison Regatta, etc.), every local church cookout, and spread the word about the new mission of the team.  He’ll have to kiss a hundred babies and shake thousands of hands as if he were running for high state-wide office.  In this process, he will have to sell as many folks as possible on his new, winning vision for the program, and how this new, winning vision will help put the town on the map.  Such is what it will take to win over supporters within the community and thus build up the support infrastructure – support that in turn will encourage an improvement, and ultimately, a maximization of turnout that the team desperately needs.

This aforementioned Messianic complex will also be necessary to withstand blowback from parents who might be incensed that their son would be utilized less or in a different way.  If you have to replace a drop-back QB for an option QB, for example, because therein lies the opportunity to start winning games, you’ll have to brush aside the ruckus raised by parents as so much background noise irrelevant to keeping everyone’s eyes on the prize of winning games.  Vince Lombardi was right:  winning isn’t everything, but it is the only thing.  Otherwise, why put in all the effort?  Yes, a more detailed exploration of this side-issue merits another article for another time.

The next step after that would be to continue the change in organizational culture.  All currently-available evidence shows that Coach Morrison made great strides in changing the team culture towards a supportive one.  The next head coach needs to take that and translate it into a winning one.  This is arguably the toughest challenge of them all – changing an organizational culture from a losing one to a winning one.  Where to begin?  Those in charge of hiring need to look at coaches who have turned around organizational cultures in the past.  A great example is what Barry Alvarez did at Wisconsin.  For years, they were a doormat of the Big Ten Conference.  Nowadays, they are perennial conference contenders and routinely win bowl games.  You and the hiring committee need to study what he did, then ask your coaching candidates if they would enact similar things.  You could also provide necessary guidance-as-support to ensure that you are on the same page and are pursuing the same goals together.

Lastly, it almost goes without saying that if you are truly committed to building a winning program at MCHS, you must consider what you need to do attract such a candidate, and make any accommodation necessary to bring him in. Given the unique dynamism that a head coach will have to exhibit at MCHS to build a winning culture, is the hiring committee willing to make the necessary accommodations to attract such a leader that the football program needs?  Are you willing to pay a little extra?  Are you willing to clear whatever path is necessary with regard to his teaching skill sets?  Are you willing to create an environment at school that gives the new head coach ample opportunity to interact with this players/students?  Shoving him off to the side as a junior high study hall monitor like you did with Coach Getts back 2001 is not going to cut it.

That might mean twisting a few arms and cajoling a few members of the school board to see it your way.  But this might be the only way to bring in the coach you need who will reliably win games.  This will take political competence and the power of persuasion on your part to accomplish, but it’s also important that you do so.  Sell them on the idea of this being the opportunity we’ve been looking for to put Madison “on the map”.  The last thing we need is for some narrow-minded warm body to foul things up because they cannot see past their own complacency.

                To summarize, here are the bottom-line guiding suggestions for Coach Morrison and all others who have a say in the hiring decision of his successor:

  1. Ensure the coach is proven to boost and maintain high morale on the team, within all facets of the game, from game-time celebrations to sufficiently-stylish uniforms (the latter of which is already headed in the right direction, and good on Coach Morrison for this).  Can he light a fire under the team and keep it lit all season-long?
  2. Ensure the coach is both imaginative and flexible.  Is he willing to change offensive strategies mid-season if that’s what it takes to win games?  Is he willing to think creatively in what that new offensive strategy might entail?
  3. Does the coach have the necessary tunnel vision to withstand or brush aside blowback and keep his, and the team’s, eyes on the proverbial prize?
  4. Gauge the level of the coach’s energy.  He will need maximum energy to campaign as if he is running for political office so as to maximize the team’s turnout.  Once hired, guide him on all possible opportunities in the community to spread his message and thus his vision.
  5. How good is the coach at changing organizational cultures?  More than anything, this could help him build a lasting legacy of program success.  Can he cite examples he knows of regarding what other coaches have done to convert losing cultures into winning ones (see:  Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin).
  6. Lastly, are you and the powers that be willing to do your parts in creating the environment the head coach needs to succeed in his mission?

Does this all sound like a tall order?  Initially, yes.  But the further one implements this list, the more doable it shall appear.  All of this is necessary to overcome the systemic challenges that Madison football faces.  If the hiring committee is not committed to the last point, then then they will fail in passing muster with the previous five points, for it shall prevent the attraction of the uniquely dynamic coach you need to properly build on what Coach Morrison has already put in place.  Either you are committed to doing what it takes to bring in this sort of head coach, or you’ll end up settling for some guy who seems nice enough and enjoy being a whipping boy of the HHC on a weekly basis in the fall.  The choice is yours.  Let’s choose to build on Coach Morrison’s supportive legacy and do what it takes to create a wining culture.