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Postseason College Football Awards 2019-2020 January 20, 2020

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Lucky guy: Dabo Swinney, Clemson (Fiesta Bowl) (hon. mention:  Mario Cristobal, Oregon)

Poor guy: Ryan Day, Ohio State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Sonny Dykes, SMU

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Notre Dame (defeated Iowa State 33-9)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Auburn (lost to No. 18 Minnesota 31-24)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Temple (lost to North Carolina 55-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Baylor (lost to No. 5 Georgia 26-14)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Texas (defeated No. 11 Utah 38-10)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Miami, FL

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

Did the season start?  Utah

Can the season end?  Miami, FL

Can the season never endLSU

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 3 Clemson 29, No. 2 Ohio State 23 (Fiesta)

Play this again, too:  No. 6 Oregon 28, No. 8 Wisconsin 27 (Rose)

Never play this again: No. 1 LSU 63, No. 4 Oklahoma 28 (Peach)

What?  No. 3 Clemson, No. 2 Ohio State 23 (Fiesta)

HuhLouisiana Tech 14, Miami (FL) 0 (Independence)

Are you kidding me??  Texas 38, No. 11 Utah 10 (Alamo)

Oh – my – GodNo. 18 Minnesota 31, No. 12 Auburn 24 (Outback)

Random Bowl Game Thoughts:

Fiesta Bowl:

What a game.  Too bad one of the teams had to lose.  Having said that, two thoughts come to mind.  One, if Ohio State and Clemson played each other 10 times, the series would likely by evenly split, 5-5.  Second, Ohio State should blame themselves.  They left lots of “money on the table”, so to speak, by not capitalizing on deep red zone advances in the first half.  Second, they gave up on what helped get them ahead initially, which was a fast-paced hurry up offense.

Outback Bowl:

On paper, Auburn should have crushed Minnesota.  Not to detract anything from the Gophers, for they are a good team in any case.  But Minnesota’s win over a superiorly-athletic team in Auburn is huge.  What’s one sign of a well-coached team?  That the team shows gradual improvement as the season progresses.  That the Gophers have done, in spades.  To offer further perspective, bowl games are funny like that.  In many cases, it is impossible to determine who will win and lose if there is a motivation mismatch (a team that really wants to be there versus a better team that is not that thrilled about being there).  Such a situation gives the underdog a golden opportunity for a huge upset, and we witnessed a sterling example of this in Tampa.

Peach Bowl:

In case the reader missed it, LSU gave Oklahoma an old-fashioned butt whipping (seriously, how else to describe it?), 63-28.  Throughout the regular season, the Sooners looked like they are a legit playoff contender.  Why the lopsided result against them?  The frank answer is that it’s a systemic problem with the Big XII, a conference built on speed, not power, and the former, not the latter, wins games in that conference.  The problem comes when they have to face stronger athletes over all against half the SEC, against Ohio State, or Clemson.  Then, this glaring weakness gets exposed.

Music City Bowl:

Louisville’s win over Mississippi State is nothing at which to sneeze, for a number of reasons.  The most basic reason is that an ACC team triumphed over an SEC team, the latter usually having stronger athletes.  For another, this was something of a revenge game for the Cardinals, since they lost the Gator Bowl to the Bulldogs just two years earlier.  Indeed, they are probably a stronger team even then under then-head coach Bobby Petrino.  Third, speaking of Petrino, one of his historic drawbacks is that his teams disintegrate after he leaves them (see:  Louisville starting in 2007, or Arkansas starting in 2012).  Something about his coaching style combined with the caliber of player he usually recruited required him to be present to keep a tight lid on Pandora’s Box.  Once he would leave, Pandora’s Box would open, and chaos would ensue.  Not so this time.  Scott Satterfield has done the Yeoman’s work in keeping the team together, to say nothing of turning around the team’s performance.  From going 1-11 the previous season, the Cardinals capped off the year with a bowl win to finish 8-5 for the year.  While more improvement remains necessary, this has been quite the turnaround indeed.

Alamo Bowl:

Texas, under head coach Tom Herman, has become something of an enigma.  Their 38-10 over formidable No. 11 Utah was impressive, even if it were a glorified home game (the Alamodome in San Antonio is only an hour-and-15-minute drive from the UT campus up I-35 in Austin).  After all, Utah was a Pac-12 championship win away for qualifying for the playoffs.  As it turned out prior to kickoff, the Utes we still respectfully ranked, whereas the Horns were unranked.  Moreover, Texas performance was all over the proverbial map.  They played like a legitimate top-10 team against eventual playoff teams LSU and Oklahoma, but then had to struggle to beat Kansas and even coughed it up on the road to under-performing TCU.  Yes, injuries took a huge toll for the Longhorns this year, especially and runningback and worse yet, on defense.  Perhaps the time off leading up to the Alamo Bowl allowed for Texas to heal up, regroup, and regain focus so as to get dialed in for [again] what amounted to an extended home game, and thus live up their true potential against a reasonably formidable opponent.

Gator Bowl:

Tennessee defeated Indiana 23-22.  So why would Jeremy Pruitt be “desperately seeking anything”?  Because their play was as erratic as it was inconsistent throughout the game.  Pruitt [thought he] had to suddenly switch quarterbacks in the middle game, for goodness sake.  Probably with good reason, for the initial starter kept missing the mark.  In the first three quarters, the Volunteers could only muster three field goals.  Only with the Tennessee defense stepping up in the 4th quarter with some key sacks, with their offense starting to complete some key passes, to say nothing of a decent running attack were the Volunteers able to finally score and thus come back.

The problem with Tennessee was not a lack of focus.  Both teams seemed equally glad/motivated to be there.  Rather, the problem was lousy coaching.  On paper, Tennessee should have shellacked IU.  Their talent supremacy over Indiana is greater in ratio than that of Auburn over Minnesota.  But in football, talent is only part of the equation when it comes to winning games.  The other part of said equation is coaching.  The coach has to know what to do with that talent, and Jeremy Pruitt seems to be at a loss.  The Volunteers were thus very lucky to walk away with a “W” in Jacksonville.

The Championship Game:

LSU knocked off undefeated and defending national title holder Clemson 42-25.  It was a convincing victory over a strong team.  The Bayou Bengals have now earned their fourth national championship in football, and college football fans can breathe a sigh of relief at the champion is somebody not named Clemson or Alabama.  Not so fast, however:  Clemson is not likely to go away anytime soon.  The Tigers return a ton of starters for next year, including QB Trevor Lawrence, who, as talented as he clearly is, has even further growth to demonstrate.  Still, what a great night for the LSU team and faithful.  The fact that it was in the Superdome was the proverbial icing on the proverbial cake.

College Football Awards, Week 11 (2019) November 11, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were himEd Orgeron, LSU (hon. mention:  P.J. Fleck, Minnesota)

Glad I’m not him: Nick Saban, Alabama

Lucky guy: Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma

Poor guy: Matt Campbell, Iowa State

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Scott Satterfield, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: James Franklin, Penn State

Desperately seeking … anything:  Chad Morris, Arkansas

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Ohio State (defeated Maryland 73-14)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Michigan State (lost to Illinois 37-34)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Vanderbilt (lost to No. 10 Florida 50-0)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Oregon State (lost to Washington 19-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Western Kentucky (defeated Arkansas 45-19)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  UMass

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Penn State

Did the season start?  TCU

Can the season end?  Northwestern

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 17 Minnesota 31, No. 4 Penn State 26

Never play this again: No. 1 Ohio State, Maryland 14

What?  Tulsa 34, UCF 31

HuhTexas 27, No. 16 Kansas State 24

Are you kidding me??  No. 2 LSU 46, No. 3 Alabama 41

Oh – my – GodNo. 17 Minnesota 31, No. 4 Penn State 26

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 11, pre-week 12)
Ticket to die for:  No. 5 Georgia @ No. 13 Auburn

Next-best game of the week:  No. 24 Indiana @ No. 11 Penn State

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

Best non-Power Five matchup: Tulane @ Temple

Upset alert: UCLA @ No. 8 Utah

Must win: No. 8 Oklahoma @ No. 10 Baylor

Offensive explosion: No. 18 Memphis @ Houston

Defensive struggle: Kentucky @ Vanderbilt

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

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Les Miles of Kansas vs Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State

Who’s bringing the body bags?  No. 2 Ohio State @ Rutgers

Why are they playing? Alabama State @ Florida State

Plenty of good seats remaining: UMass @ Northwestern

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  UIW @ New Mexico State

Week 11 Thoughts:

Alabama vs LSU

What more can be said about this dramatic and incredibly consequential game?  On paper, was it LSU’s victory really an upset?  They were ranked No. 2 in the polls ahead of Alabama at No. 3, after all.  So what made the Tigers’ win an upset?  Call it a mental block.  Call it a [proverbial] monkey on LSU’s back.  They had, after all, lost to the Crimson Tide eight straight times, often with national championship aspirations on the line.  This time, they finally won, and now, the Tigers control their own destiny to Atlanta and to the Playoffs as well.

Minnesota vs Penn State

The Golden Gophers have earned their biggest win in more than a decade.  They currently lead the Western Division of the Big Ten.  While they control their own destiny to the conference championship, they have a challenging road ahead if they want to make it to Indianapolis.  Their next game is at No. 18 Iowa, a border rivalry where they play for one of the most prominent trophies in college football, the Floyd of Rosedale.  After a respite against a down Northwestern, they close out the regular season at home against Wisconsin.  The Badgers alone are a tough out, and they usually are the perennial Western representative in the B1G championship.  Factor in the border rivalry and the fact that both teams play for the Paul Bunyan Axe (have you seen the size of that thing?), and one is apt to anticipate a high-stakes, high-drame showdown in Minneapolis come Nov. 30.  But first, the Gophers have to win their other remaining games, starting with Iowa, which is never easy these days, Floyd or no Floyd.

Florida vs Vanderbilt

This blowout only merits mention because the Commodores attempted a “sad field goal” and failed.  The definition of a “sad field goal” is if your team is down by more than two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and yet you go for a field goal anyhow.  That sounds sad just saying it, does it not?  Well, Vandy attempted the saddest of field goals as they were down 49-0 to Florida in The Swamp late in the 4th quarter.  Instead of going for it with nothing to lose, they attempted a sad field goal, which went wide left.  Like a train wreck, you can’t not watch.

Looking ahead:  Indiana at Penn State

When was the last time that Indiana was ranked in football?  Give up?  It was 1994.  Bill Mallory was the head coach at that time.  He built a decent program, too, winning the 1991 Copper Bowl.  But his labors went unnoticed because IU was more basketball-obsessed than it is today, which saying something.  Frankly, I don’t hold out much hope for the Hoosiers, but if they put up a fight against wounded Penn State, it should be an entertaining game.

 

 

College Football Awards, Week 9 (2019) October 27, 2019

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COACHES
Wish I were him: Jim Harbaugh, Michigan (hon. mention:  Ed Orgeron of LSU)

Glad I’m not him: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

Lucky guy: Sonny Dykes, SMU

Poor guy: Dana Holgorsen, Houston

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Lincoln Riley

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Josh Heupel, UCF

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Tom Herman, Texas

Desperately seeking … anything:  Steve Campbell, South Alabama

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Minnesota (defeated Maryland 52-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Texas A&M (defeated Mississippi State 49-30)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Boston College (lost to Clemson 59-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Illinois (defeated Purdue 24-6)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Michigan (defeated Notre Dame 45-14)

Dang, they’re good: LSU

Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Iowa State (hon. mention:  Oklahoma)

Did the season start?  Texas

Can the season end?  South Alabama

Can the season never endOhio State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 2 LSU 23, No 9 Auburn 20

Never play this again: No. 4 Clemson 59, Boston College 7

What?  UCLA 42, No. 24 Arizona State 32

HuhOklahoma State 34, No. 23 Iowa State 27

Double-Huh?  TCU 37, No. 15 Texas 27

Are you kidding me??  No. 19 Michigan 45, No. 7 Notre Dame 14

Oh – my – GodKansas State 48, No. 5 Oklahoma 41

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 9, pre-week 10)
Ticket to die for:  No. 8 Georgia vs No. 6 Florida in Jacksonville

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: UAB @ Tennessee

Best non-Power Five matchup: No. 16 SMU @ Memphis

Upset alert: No. 7 Oregon @ USC

Must win: Georgia vs. Florida (in Jacksonville)

Offensive explosion: SMU @ Memphis

Defensive struggle: Mississippi State @ Arkansas

Great game no one is talking about: Kansas State @ Kansas

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Mack Brown of North Carolina vs Bronco Mendenhall of Virginia

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 14 Michigan @ Maryland

Why are they playing? UTSA @ Texas A&M

Plenty of good seats remaining: Akron @ Bowling Green

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Wofford @ No. 4 Clemson

Week 9 Thoughts:

Am I the only one who has noticed that waaaaay too many teams have bye-weeks for upcoming week 10?

Kansas State vs Oklahoma

Oh, Kansas State.  What are we to do with you?  You play under your potential all season long, then, when folks least expect it, you unleash your top potential against the toughest opponent all year, and produce one of the biggest upsets of the year in the process.  Does this mean than the Wildcats are the new world-beaters of the Big XII?  Hardly.  One might expect a regression to the mean starting next week.  It is not inconceivable that KSU could lose three of their remaining five games.  Then again, it is not inconceivable that they could win out.

Kansas State has started to intrigue us to see if their sudden improvement is an anomaly, or if it’s here to stay.  Next week they play in-state rival Kansas, who also shows continued improvement.  The game’s outcome will be of little consequence in the grand scheme of things, but it shall be a “discovery game” all the same for both teams.  Who says one cannot continue to learn new things as the college football season progresses?

Texas vs. TCU

Texas losing to LSU is more than understandable.  Indeed, they acquitted themselves well.  Losing to OU was also excusable, given that the Sooners are on fire and one of the favored teams to make the playoffs at the time.  But losing to unranked TCU?  That was at least raise a few questions, right?  Actually, it raises fewer questions than one would think.  The Longhorns’ problem is that they were always a little more vulnerable to the pass than they were to the run.  It was LSU’s key to defeating them, after all.  But as the season wore on, Texas’ injuries on their defense kept piling up, especially in their secondary, making them even more vulnerable to the pass.

The bottom line for the Longhorns is that it is going to take an offseason for the injuries to heal up and for Tom Herman to bring in another solid recruiting class (especially some top-rated defensive backs).

LSU vs Auburn

Here we witnessed a hard-fought “discovery game” in which LSU passed another key test and Auburn proved they deserve to be a top-ten team, even with a close loss.  Note to Auburn fans and administration:  Gus Malzahn has proven he is a good coach.  Keep him and pay him.

Meanwhile, all the LSU faithful who doubted where Ed Orgeron was the right man for the job are now eating some serious crow.

Michigan vs Notre Dame

What to make of this outcome?  Many had left Jim Harbaugh for dead by now.  Then again, if Michigan had played all four quarters against No. 6 Penn State last week the way they played against them in the second half, they would have won that game, too.  Sure, the Wolverines started out ranked No. 5 only for their offense to sputter and for them to take a nose dive in the polls and in the esteem of fans.  Not anymore.  After thrashing the Fighting Irish at home in prime time, they appear to finally play like a team that belongs in the top ten.  What gives?  The most likely explanation is that it took this long for the team to finally gel.  These things sometimes happen it football it’s part of the game, and always yields new discoveries in the process.  We continue to learn new things as this college football season progresses.

Ohio State vs Wisconsin.

Personally, I predicted that the Buckeyes would beat the Badgers, maybe by two touchdowns, if that.  Instead, we witnessed a 38-7 thrashing of Wisconsin at the hands of Ohio State.  Is anybody going to contend that OSU should not be ranked No. 1 in the nation by now?

Two body bag games are up next for the Buckeyes (after a bye-week at that.  Maybe their QB’s lower back and can heal some during that time).  Then, Ohio State closes out the season with two solid challenges, first against Penn State, then against Michigan (now that the Wolverines are finally playing up to par).  We’ll see if their current roll continues strongly enough to steamroll over their last two worthy opponents.

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.

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.

CFB Recruiting Class Random Observations for 2019 February 8, 2019

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In the previous article, I made observations on the potentially changing competitive landscape in the SEC based on the recruiting class rankings this year.  But those observations in no way cover the entire intrigue that these recruiting class rankings offer to college football fans.

For example, it’s quite clear that the SEC teams have dominated these rankings.  But other teams merit attention, too.  Take Michigan, for example.  They are the lone Big Ten representative in the top ten of said rankings, at No. 8 this year, interestingly one ranking position ahead of Florida (No. 9), who, er, chomped the Wolverines 41-15 in the recent Peach Bowl.  Meanwhile, Ohio State, who have been the most dominant force in the conference during Urban Meyer’s six-season tenure, only made it to No. 14 in the rankings this year (down from No. 2 last year).  Certain programs have proven they can do more with less (Kentucky under Mark Stoops is a wonderful example of this).  New Buckeye head coach Ryan Day will be put to the test to see if he can do the same thing and continue to contend for the national title.

That said, defending national champion Clemson’s recruiting class is at No. 10 (their 2018 class was No. 8).  Yet they have a young quarterback with a transcendent talent that is sure to lead the Tigers to the Promised Land this year as well, so their king-of-the-hill status remains unthreatened, for now.

One of the most-improved recruiting classes is Purdue.  Ranked only No. 49 in 2018, they have jumped to the No. 25 class for 2019.  Perhaps this could portend further improvement in their performance, allowing Coach Jeff Brohm to do more than just employ smoke-and-mirrors, as he had no choice but to do with such a bare cupboard his first two years in West Lafayette.

An intriguing stat to share:  Purdue’s recruiting class for 2019, at No. 25, ranks ahead of Wisconsin (No. 27), Michigan State (No. 30), Indiana (No. 38), Iowa (No. 40), Minnesota (No. 42), and Northwestern (No. 50).  That said, do not underestimate Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (especially Fitzgerald!) or even Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck in their abilities to develop players.

Another interesting improvement in recruiting rankings is that of Oregon.  At a respectable No. 13 last year, this year’s recruiting class has merited a No. 7 ranking.  Meanwhile, Washington at No. 17 is clearly not going anywhere.  A reasonable prediction from these figures is that an interesting border rivalry between the Huskies and Ducks could quickly emerge.  Add a steadily-performing Stanford to the mix, and on can easily foresee an increasingly competitive Pac-12 North division.

Rounding out the top ten in recruiting rankings are two Big XII teams; Oklahoma at No. 6, and Texas at No. 3.  The latter is coming off huge momentum with their dominating upset over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.  Their quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, combines talent and grit for a winning synergy that could potentially help the Longhorns contend for the playoffs this upcoming season.  This No. 3 recruiting class certainly cannot hurt the Horns in this endeavor, and surely enforces the mantra that “Texas is back.”

Again, player development can sometimes compensate for lack of ranking in player recruitment.  Just ask Northwestern.  But also ask Alabama for Georgia (No’s 1 and 2, respectively) how their perennial top recruiting rankings work out for them to see the potential significance of said recruiting class rankings.  Such is the biggest reason why it’s so easy for college football fans to geek out about this subject!  It should add up to a more interesting college football season for 2019 compared to the one just concluded.

A Tale of Two Teams (for the middle of the 2018 season) October 21, 2018

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Upsets may have abounded last week (week 7), but this [eighth] week gave us one of the biggest upsets of the year thus far in Purdue not only defeating No. 2 Ohio State, but dominating them throughout the game.  At no time did the Buckeyes take the lead throughout the 60 minutes of regulation.  Given the nature of the college game, the win was of the highly emotional nature, and a celebratory crowd gathered on the field of Ross-Ade Stadium immediately afterward not seen in size and magnitude since the Boilers defeated Indiana to earn its Rose Bowl berth almost 18 years ago.

One takeaway from this is that is appears to be a recurring pattern for Ohio State to give us one embarrassing loss per year.  Last year it was Iowa trouncing them in Iowa City, and yesterday it was Purdue trouncing them in West Lafayette.  Such a huge loss last year turned out to be the deciding factor that kept the Buckeyes out of the playoffs, much to the detriment of the playoffs in terms of engagement with a national audience.  Does such a loss portend the same thing for Ohio State this season?

Maybe, maybe not.  Last year, Ohio State already had one loss (to Penn State, at home) headed into Iowa before sustaining such a stinging defeat.  This time around, the Bucks were undefeated and ranked No. 2 nationally in the AP Poll.  With Maryland and Nebraska remaining on their schedules, those are two easy wins with which to climb back up the polls.  Michigan State shall be a challenge, however, on Nov. 10, and of course, they cap off the regular season in “The Game” against sworn enemy Michigan, who is also in the top ten.  So, with help and a redoubled effort, there is still hope for Ohio State’s playoff aspirations.  After all, it’s not November yet, when such a wound is non-recoverable.

For Purdue, such a win could be a huge shot in the arm for a season that was already gaining in momentum after an inexplicable 0-3 start.  Since then, the team has shown increased improvement with each passing week.  It is crucial for Purdue that this pattern remains to keep up this newfound momentum.  Normally after highly emotional wins such as this, the victorious team likely comes out flat the following week.  We’re talking about 19 and 20 year-old college kids, after all, not seasoned pros who, through hard work and experience, have inoculated themselves from the emotional roller coaster.  No, college kids are still prone to it, sadly, which means the following week remains a head scratcher as to which team might show up, with some exceptions.

The primary cause for Purdue’s concern right now just so happens to be such an exception in Michigan State.  Mark Dantonio’s squad can be counted on to give a tough, consistent effort against its foes every week, no matter how outmatched the Spartans may be talent-wise.  Factor in further the fact that MSU just came off a tough loss to hated Michigan, and it is quite likely that the Spartans shall show up angry and anxious to take out their disappointment on visiting Purdue next week.

The bottom line for Purdue is that, as great a win as this was, it is still the middle of the season.  They now have to get back to work to ready themselves to take on another dangerous opponent.  If they successfully maintain the momentum they have methodically built up thus far, they could vie for the B1G championship game in early December.  The bottom line for Ohio State is that hope remains for them if they too get back to work and learn to put forth an effort where they more consistently play up to their potential, unlike this past Saturday night.  Should these optimal paths be taken by these respective teams, we could see a [high-stakes] rematch between them six weeks hence in Indianapolis.

 

Playoff scenarios based on the latest AP Polls (Week 8, 2018) October 18, 2018

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Week 7 in college football for the 2018 provided considerable thrills – and headaches – for fans, what with upsets abounding, especially near the top of the rankings.  Unranked Tennessee taking down then-No. 17 Auburn, and unranked Virginia beating then-No. 16 Miami (Fla.) are small potatoes compared to upsets elsewhere that week.

Indeed, no fewer than four AP top ten teams went down in defeat in Week 7 of 2018.  For starters, No. 17 Oregon outlasted then-No. 7 Washington, 30-27, in overtime.  Unranked Michigan State toppled No. 8 Penn State on the road, 21-17.  Iowa State leveraged their special night-time atmosphere to help them beat then-undefeated (and then-No. 6) West Virginia 30-14.  Even more significant was No. 13 LSU pommeling then-No. 2 Georgia 36-16.

As a result of these four key upsets, Washington fell from the No. 7 ranking to No. 15.  Penn State fell from No. 8 to No. 18.  West Virginia fell from No. 6 to No. 13, while Georgia fell from No. 2 to No. 8.

Last year, the Bulldogs made it to the national championship game.  Now, the prospect to return is in jeopardy.  At least it’s October and not November, meaning there is still time to recover.

Regardless, the current AP Top Ten now suggests some very intriguing playoff possibilities.  These are important for the health of college football.  An all-southern/all-SEC college football championship game my thrill the faithful in the southeastern region of the country, but it turns off the rest of the country.  That’s bad for business.  If your sport starts to be perceived as regional in its nature, that hurts your national image, and prevents you from engaging the markets you need to be interested in order to ensure its long-term strength and viability.  Alabama vs. Clemson and Alabama vs. Georgia thus saw a TV ratings decline, whereas Texas vs. USC (2005-’06) and Ohio State vs. Oregon (2014-’15) where perfect matchups to bring in robust, national audiences.  Ohio State vs. Florida (2006-’07), Ohio State vs. LSU (2007-’08) and especially Ohio State vs. Miami (2002-’03) were decent-to-great matchups as well for this purpose.  Alabama vs. Notre Dame (2012-’13) was good on paper, but the outcome of the game proved that it was a mismatch, with the Irish clearly being overrated at the time.

Start with a basic premise that it’s good for business when traditional powers do well.  If Georgia does well, that engages the Atlanta market, which is pretty big, in case you forgot.  If Notre Dame does well, it engages the Chicago and New York City markets.  If USC does well, it engages the Los Angeles market.  If Ohio State and Michigan do well (either or both), that engages much of the Midwestern markets, as well as the Big Ten alums who have left the Midwest for the East Coast, the South, or the West Coast.  If Texas does well, it engages the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston Markets.  You get the picture.

Now, back to the Week 8 Top Ten rankings from the AP poll.  At No. 1 remains Alabama.  Ok, fine.  With Georgia knocked out of the No. 2 spot (but still in the top ten), that allows for Ohio State to take over that position.  This is good for the sport.  Clemson has moved a spot to No. 3, while Notre Dame has quietly moved up to the No. 4 ranking.

Just by looking at these current top four spots, if these remain unchanged and translate directly into playoff rankings, one would have a great playoff scenario to engage a critical mass of the viewing public.  Alabama and Clemson would be there to keep the South’s fever pitch at maximum levels, while Ohio State and Notre Dame enjoy national audiences so as to include enough of the rest of the country as well.  The Fighting Irish’s ranking this time is no wishful thinking.  Thoughtful analysts concur that this 2018 ND team is much stronger and more athletic than its overrated 2012 counterpart.  Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd has gone so far as to observe that this is the best ND team since the Lou Holtz era.  As ESPN’s Lee Corso would exclaim, “Yo!”

While there is no west coast team in sight in these current rankings, that is not a deal-breaker, either.  There are enough Big Ten grads on the west coast to keep those markets engaged should Ohio State make it to the playoffs.   The Buckeyes, in this scenario, would represent the West Coast as well as the Midwest.

Naturally, much football remains to be played, and the remainder of the top ten shall make all efforts to crack their way into the playoffs as well.  Of those currently poised for such possibilities, some of them, too, offer intriguing engagement opportunities.  LSU sits at No. 5 after their ripping upset victory over the Bulldogs, and are destined for a major showdown with the Crimson Tide come Nov. 3, in Baton Rouge, no less.  Michigan sits at No. 6 after their big win over Wisconsin last night.  If they maintain their momentum, their Nov. 24 annual grudge match with the Buckeyes in Ann Arbor could be epic.

Meanwhile, Texas has survived another test and now sits at No. 7.  If QB Sam Ehlinger stays healthy, who knows how much further the Longhorns could continue to climb?  This is key to note because Texas in the playoffs engages a different market than the Southeast.  The beauty of Texas in the championship game is that they can theoretically engage two markets simultaneously, as a B1G team can do vis-à-vis both the Midwest and other regions.  In Texas’ case, not only can a Longhorn playoff appearance pique the interest of the DFW and Houston metro areas (San Antonio and Austin don’t hurt either, as that is another combined 4 million-plus people in that mini-megalopolis), but the Southeast could vicariously join in, too.

An Oklahoma (currently No. 9)  playoff appearance, while a different region than the Southeast, has a limited upside.  Yes, it engages the central plains, but there is not much major population there).  Best case scenario is that it will interest the OU grad transplants living in the major Texas markets.  The Longhorns, thankfully, have done their part, though, in making the more market-significant team better-poised for a playoff run at this point.

This is not a swipe at the SEC, or the fans therein, for a personally love southern football and identify with the South.  As someone who is concerned about the national and long-term health of college football, however, perspective must be maintained.  Fans in SEC country will watch the playoffs no matter who is playing.  Fans elsewhere, though, will only watch if they feel they have a stake in things; that they are being represented.  We have enjoyed such perfect or near-perfect matchups in the past, such as the aforementioned Texas-USC games and the Ohio State-Oregon games, for example.

Meanwhile, more big games remain, and the way things have gone thus far, more upsets are likely to occur.  Teams currently in the bottom half of the top ten could claw theyr way up with help from such theoretical upsets.  After all, we’re halfway to regular season’s end, and the stakes and urgency only intensify from here.  Let’s enjoy the ride, and cheer on the key wins that would help make for the best playoff matches with optimal, national appeal while we’re at it!

On the perils of trying to fire one’s way out of “Glen Mason Territory” October 15, 2018

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Last year, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly wrote about the perils to which average and above-average football programs expose themselves when they fire a coach who has been winning games, except that now he’s not winning enough games.  He dubbed this situation “Glen Mason Territory”.

What happens is that a team (typically, a 2nd-tier Power Five program) is in the doldrums, suffering from a string of losing seasons.  The university’s AD hires a new coach who then comes in and rights the ship.  Instead of losing season after losing season, the program now enjoys winning seasons.  The team starts going to bowl games, say, five over the course of seven years.  The fans are loving it.  They want more.  The boosters want more.  The athletics director wants more.

Except that the head coach cannot deliver more.  It’s usually not his fault.  There’s often a set of structural limitations in place, and despite the community’s clamoring, the coach, despite all he has done, cannot deliver on the expectations that have been unintentionally raised.  In other words, the coach did raise the bar of performance expectations, which was great for a while.  Now the fans and everyone else take this for grant, and want it raised even further, which is an impossible task.  Instead of accepting this frank fact of life, the fans call for the AD to do the feel-good thing, which is to fire the coach and replace him someone who (they think) deliver on these raised (often, unreasonable) expectations.

Let us briefly consider the namesake of “Glen Mason Territory” for a moment as an example.  Glen Mason was a former Ohio State coordinator who did an impressive salvage job at Kansas in the 1990s.  Minnesota hired him in 1997 for a similar turnaround.  Despite the Golden Gophers’ past tradition (having won multiple national titles in the 1930s and 1940s under Bernie Bierman), the program had been absent from the national conscious since most of the 1960s (having won the whole thing, oddly, in 1960).

Mason started to deliver in 1999, winning eight games that year, including a massive upset over then, No. 2 Penn State.  The following year, they sent Ohio State’s national title aspirations into an early death spiral, in the Horseshoe, no less.  As Bill Connelly tells it further:

“The Gophers would bowl again in 2000 and 2002, then surge in 2003. Behind the punishing combination of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney, they beat Penn State and Wisconsin on the way to a 9-3 regular season, then Oregon in a Sun Bowl thriller to reach 10 wins for the first time since 1905.

The problem: he never won 10 again. The Gophers started 2004 5-0 and reached 13th before losing five of six down the stretch and needing a bowl win to salvage 7-5. They went 7-5 again in 2005 and were on the doorstep of a third straight seven-win season in 2006 before blowing an enormous Insight Bowl lead to Texas Tech.

A year after a contract extension, Minnesota used the bowl collapse as impetus for panic. Despite seven bowls in eight years — for a program that had been almost absent from college football’s consciousness for nearly four decades — the school pushed Mason out.

The program had grown stale, you see, and needed young energy. “I believe the program needs a new vision to reignite fan enthusiasm,” said athletic director Joel Maturi.”

The question in the mind of many of the readers by now is, ‘why couldn’t Minnesota “got over the hump”, so to speak?’  One reason, at the time, was facilities.  If a Big Ten recruit went to, say, Michigan, Ohio State, or even Penn State on visits was able to take in the grandeur of their home stadia, they would be most unimpressed by seeing the Metrodome as their potential home stadium if they chose to don the Maroon & Gold.  Having been on the sidelines for a game there once, I personally can vouch for how sterile a place it is.  Despite the university’s best efforts to jazz it up with bunting and national championship banners in the school’s colors all over the place on game day, it remains sterile, even negatively inspiring.  As one of my fellow student managers at the time said so succinctly, “that place just sucks the life force out of you.”

Seeing things along those lines, one can appreciate the difficulties that Mason had to overcome in attaining the success his team enjoyed.  But in the end, it wasn’t good enough.  Why?  Answer: expectations that have been raised beyond reason.

Notice in Connelly’s writing how he cited then-AD Joel Maturi saying the program had “grown stale”.  Such wording is a symptom of the fallacious “this-is-who-we-now-are mentality”, when a program long in the doldrums all of a sudden enjoys a spate of success.  Pretty soon, the fan base starts to take this newfound success for granted, and becomes increasingly restless when the coach fails to deliver even more success, more than the program is structurally built to deliver under modern constraints.

Consider, again, Minnesota.  Sure, the Twin Cities might produce several players talented enough to compete at a high level, but much of the rest of the roster is made up of recruits from Ohio who were passed over by the Buckeyes.  In explicably, you’ll find a few players from Florida and Texas (e.g., Marion Barber III) in there, too.  But the immediate point is, there is not enough local talent from which to draw in order to build up a roster that can consistently vie for the national title.  The only team in such a predicament that has come close to such viability is Oregon (proving that there is always an exception to the rule), with maybe Washington to a lesser extent.

So Mason was already dealing with that structural roadblock to meeting unrealistic expectations, in addition to the stadium, which was a potential turn-off to recruits.  Not until 2009 did they open up TCF Bank Stadium on the school’s main campus.  Had Mason had this shiny new stadium at this disposal then, things might have been a little different (emphasis on ‘might have been’).

Consider weather, too.  Sure, Minnesota is a great school, and the Twin Cities are reasonably happening, but it’s also cold…very cold.  Most recruits might choose to brave the cold winters in Columbus, Ohio, or even State College, Pa., or even Ann Arbor, Mich., but they’ll draw the line at the next-level frigidity of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  Can one blame them?

Of course, asking the reasonable thing, which is for the fan base to take these structural obstacles into consideration to damper their unrealistic expectations is apparently too much to ask these days.  These unrealistic expectations lead to impatience, which leads to rash decisions.  So naturally they fired Mason.  They brought in Tim Brewster as his replacement.  Brewster promised to recruit, to be the ‘shot in the arm’ the program needed, etc., and proceeded to go 15-30.  For comparison, Mason went 64-57.  Will the Gopher faithful give charismatic young coach P.J. Fleck the chance to duplicate Mason’s efforts?  That all depends on if they learned anything from this experience.

Other fan bases seem not to be have learned, and have suffered the consequences as a result.  To wit:

Arizona State fired Todd Graham, despite his 7-5 regular season record in 2017.  The program had not been competitive consistently since the Frank Kush years of the 1970s.  Bruce Snyder did the best job in recent years, leading the Sun Devils to almost win the national title in 1996.  Snyder’s leadership proved that the Sun Devils are capable of high ceilings, but brief ones.  Arizona State has hired former NFL head coach Herm Edwards in his stead.  It remains to be seen if this risky hire will pan out, but at least it is an interesting hire.  One thing that ASU does have going for it is that it’s located in a geographical spot with an endless summer, a campus that sports tons of pretty co-eds, and the Phoenix area is a decent hotbed for good recruits.  Theoretically, the right coach could set the entire Pac-12 on notice, as Bruce Snyder did in the mid-to-late 1990s.

But as Bill Connelly wisely points out, schools without such advantages who nevertheless act on the impatience born of unrealistically raised expectations can suffer major consequences.

  • On the heels of 11- and nine-win seasons, Boston College pushed Jeff Jagodzinski out because he deigned to interview for other jobs. They were 2-10 four years later and haven’t reached nine wins since.

  • Ron Zook took Illinois to nine wins and a Rose Bowl in 2007, and after a two-year reset, got them back to 7-6 in both 2010 and 2011. He was fired. Illinois has averaged 3.7 wins per year since.

  • Dan McCarney won at least seven games five times in a six-year span at Iowa State but was let go after a 4-8 downturn in 2006. ISU has not topped seven wins since, though that could change with an upcoming bowl game.

To be sure, current ISU head coach Matt Campbell has made Jack Trice Stadium a perilous place to play for undefeated teams, as top-ten West Virginia just learned last night the hard way.

  • Ralph Friedgen took Maryland to seven bowls in 10 years, and after a two-win collapse in 2009, rebounded to nine wins in 2010. Maryland has averaged 4.7 wins per year since firing him.

  • NC State pushed Tom O’Brien out in 2012 after 24 wins in three years. Their best three-year win total since: 22.*

Dave Doeren has brought NC State back to respectability (and rankings), but it has taken the program several years to return to this spot.

  • David Cutcliffe won seven or more games for five straight years at Ole Miss, peaking with a 10-win campaign in 2003. But after a 4-7 reset in 2004, he was fired. The Rebels would top four wins twice in the next seven years.

  • Pitt pushed Dave Wannstedt out after after 26 wins in three years. The Panthers have averaged 6.6 wins since.

  • Despite seven ranked finishes in 11 years, Syracuse fired Paul Pasqualoni after he hit a dry spell. He went 4-8 in 2002 then rebounded to only 6-6 in 2003-04. Syracuse went 10-37 under replacement Greg Robinson and has averaged 4.4 wins since Pasqualoni.

Dino Babers has methodically built Syracuse into a better program, but consider that the hiatus between this decent year and Pasqualoni’s last season is 13 years.

  • Phil Fulmer took Tennessee to 15 bowls and five SEC championship games in 16 years. He won the national title in 1998 and won at least eight games 14 times. He fell to 5-6 in 2005 but rebounded back to 10 wins in 2007. After a second five-win reset in 2008, he was fired. The Vols have hit the eight-win mark twice in the nine years since.

But what about Georgia, you ask?  That’s really not an exception to the rule after all.  Mark Richt had been consistently winning at Georgia but failed to bring home a national championship trophy.  Nick Saban and others did have something to do with that, but again, it’s almost too much to expect folks to be reasonable, especially in SEC country, where “it just means…more”.  So, they fired Richt and brought in Alabama assistant coach Kirby Smart.  And he too, won games, even played his former team for the national title.  And lost, because Nick Saban’s Alabama these days is a consistent juggernaut.  Nevertheless, Smart succeeded where Richt failed.  So firing their way out of Glen Mason Territory has panned out for Georgia thus far, but that’s because they have access to tons of NFL-potential talent in Greater Atlanta, their own backyard.  So there.

The conclusion to which Connelly arrived in his article is that a school cannot simply fire-a-coach its way out of “Glen Mason Territory”.  Why?  Let us consider basic reality.  Football, unlike economics, is a zero-sum game.  When one team wins a game, that means that team’s opponent had to lose that game.  Not all teams can be championship-viable teams all the time.  It is simply impossible.  Furthermore, because of this zero-sum fact of life football (and most other sports), not everybody can be good all the time.  Even traditional powers have had down years (just look at Alabama in between the Mike Dubose and Nick Saban years).

Second, not all teams are built to be national-title contenders.  Again, one key factor is, does your state produce enough local talent to compete nationally?  In states like California, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, or Florida, (borderline case:  Arizona) that is a given.  Even Oklahoma does not produce the players it used to (to be sure, even during the glory days of Bud Wilkinson, OU has had to recruit Texas to be successful).  The only state north of the Sunbelt that can remotely compete on that scale is Ohio.  Everyone else has to recruit from those states just to be in a position to win games, period.

Also, unlike in the pros, where teams choose the players, in college, the players choose the programs.  That means that many blue chip recruits who have options are not going to flock to the Arctic climbs of Minnesota, or the isolated, wind-swept plains of Nebraska if they can land a scholarship at Georgia or LSU or even TCU instead.  Ohio State has managed to stay viable despite its cold winters due to the total commitment of the university, plus the community and state at large, to muster every last resource needed to attract the players necessary to compete at that level.

When a coach raises the bar of performance expectations but cannot raise it further, it’s usually not the coach’s fault.  It’s program history for one.  Georgia, for example, only has two national titles, one from 1942 and from 1980; the former being shared with Ohio State.  As discussed at some length, it’s also infrastructure (e.g., facilities and access to NFL-caliber talent), and program support.  But dealing with these issues ranges from difficult to impossible.  Instead of dealing with these realities like responsible people, too often people take the feel-good way out (in reality, a dead end) and kill the messenger by firing the very coach who improved the team’s standing and situation in the first place.

College Football Awards, Week 3 (2018) September 22, 2018

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As the saying goes, better late than never.  Various other projects took my attention away from blogging, but with college football season in full swing, it was time to come out of hiding.  Inspiration hit me in Week 4 to do a Week 3 retrospective awards, so here goes:

COACHES
Wish I were him: Ed Orgeron, LSU

Glad I’m not him: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Lucky guy: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Poor guy: Lovie Smith, Illinois

Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dino Babers, Syracuse

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Scott Frost, Nebraska

Desperately seeking … anything:  Jeff Brohm, Purdue

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Penn State (defeated Kent State 63-10)

Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated Western Kentucky 20-17)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Middle Tennessee (lost to Georgia 49-7)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Iowa State (lost to Oklahoma 37-27)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Kansas (yes, Kansas, who defeated Rutgers   55-14)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama

Dang, they’re bad:  Rutgers

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Wisconsin

Did the season start?  Florida State (honorable mention:  half the Big Ten)

Can the season end?  (too early to tell)

Can the season never endGeorgia

GAMES
Play this again:  LSU 22, Auburn 21

Never play this again: Penn State 63, Kent State 10

That will leave a mark:  Alabama 62, Ole Miss 7

What? Syracuse 30, Florida State 7

HuhNorth Texas 44, Arkansas 17

Double HuhAkron 39, Northwestern 34

Are you kidding me??  Troy 24, Nebraska 19 (in Lincoln, Neb., no less)

Oh – my – GodBYU 24, Wisconsin 21 (in Madison, Wis., no less)

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Best game of the week (first choice):  No. 7 Stanford @ No. 20 Oregon

Best game of the week (second choice):  No. 17 TCU @ Texas

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five  matchup: Akron @ Iowa State

Best non-Power Five matchup: Navy @ SMU

Upset alert: Arizona State @ No. 10 Washington

Must win: No. 23 Boston College @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: Nevada @ Toledo

Defensive struggle: Florida @ Tennessee

Great game no one is talking about: No. 14 Mississippi State @ Kentucky

Intriguing coaching matchup:  Chris Petersen of Washington vs. Herm Edwards of Arizona State

Who’s bringing the body bags? Tulane @ No. 4 Ohio State

Why are they playing? Army @ No. 5 Oklahoma

Plenty of good seats remaining: New Mexico State @ UTEP

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  McNeese @ No. 25 BYU

Week 3 Thoughts: 

(Holding off on those until Week 4 installment.)