jump to navigation

2012-2013 Bowl Game Awards January 10, 2013

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

What, you’d think I’d be lying down on the job just because the regular season is over?

COACHES
Wish I were him:  Charlie Strong, Louisville

Wouldn’t be bad to be him, either:  Nick Saban, Alabama

Glad I’m not him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
Lucky guy:  Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Poor guy: Patrick Higgins, Purdue (interim coach)
Desperately seeking a clue (long-term, notwithstanding the win):  Mack Brown, Texas
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Bill Blankenship, Tulsa

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Lane Kiffin, USC

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: Texas A&M (beat No. 11 Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 4, 41-13)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Florida (see below)

(Dec. 15-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Purdue (see below)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Louisville (see below)
(Jan. 1-7)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Alabama

Thought you wouldn’t get your butt kicked, you did: Notre Dame

Dang, they’re good: Alabama (and Texas A&M!)
Dang, they’re bad:  Purdue

They can’t be that good:  Oklahoma State

Dang, they’re overrated:  Notre Dame

Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Mississippi State (lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl, Jan. 1, 34-20)

Did the season start? USC
Can the season end?  West Virginia
Can the season never end?  Louisville (or Clemson, though really, Louisville more so!)

GAMES
Play this again (Jan. 1-7):  Outback Bowl – No. 10 South Carolina 33, No. 18 Michigan 28

(Dec. 15-31)

Play this again:  Peach, I mean, Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

Also, play this again:  New Mexico Bowl – Arizona 49, Nevada 48
(All Bowls)

Never play this again: Heart of Dallas Bowl – Oklahoma State 58, Purdue 14
Don’t bother with this one again, eitherIdaho Potato Bowl – No. 22 Utah State 41, Toledo 15

What? Chick-Fil-A Bowl — No. 14 Clemson 25, No. 8 LSU 24

HuhHoliday Bowl — Baylor 49, No. 17 UCLA 26

Are you kidding me? Sun Bowl — Georgia Tech 21, USC 7

Oh – my – God: Sugar Bowl – No. 21 Louisville 33, No. 3 Florida 23

Wow, dudeBCS National Championship – erstwhile No. 2 Alabama 42, erstwhile No. 1 Notre Dame 14

nick_saban34_cr_400

Cal Sport Media / AP Images

That’s why you line them up and play.  My father repeated this mantra to me as I was growing up.  Going in to the BCS National Championship game, it seemed as though Notre Dame and Alabama were rather evenly matched on paper.  The Fighting Irish had some rather impressive wins on their resume this year, far more impressive than the mediocre schedule they had played in recent years.  Beating a tough Stanford squad at home, going on the road to humiliate Oklahoma, and then closing out the regular season on the west coast to beat USC, all in the same year, is no small feat.  With such a record, it looked like Notre Dame was back, ready to butt heads with the big boys for national prominence.

Moreover, it was supposed to be a down year for the SEC, remember?  Michigan played South Carolina down to the wire (though seriously, the overall outcome was as predicted, if not by a slightly truncated margin of error), and an underachieving Nebraska challenged a, well, underachieving Georgia squad.  Mississippi State, for what a great regular season had – by MSU standards, at least – came for naught when they coughed it up to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl.  The most striking example of building the case for a SEC down year was the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.  No way, under normal circumstances would LSU lose to Clemson, though to be sure, the ACC team has been known to pull one over on the SEC team in that bowl game (remember the 2001 Peach Bowl between Auburn and North Carolina?).  No. 3 Florida inexplicably losing to No. 21 Louisville can also add fuel to that fire (not that U of L’s win is something to be rued outside of SEC country!).

Forget that the SEC had three losses going into this game.  The conference was 5-3, to be exact; still a winning record.  Look at the Bama team itself.  They had graduated tons of talent to the NFL.  Quarterback A.J. McCarron was not a transcendent player at that position (as one often expects on a team that would be in the running for the national title).  The offensive line was young and inexperienced.  The Crimson Tide’s defense was not overwhelming, either, especially when compared to the smothering D’s of recent champion squads.  When paired up against the other team, one could readily predict some clearly potential mismatches.  After all, Notre Dame’s receiving corps was big and talented, and proved to be a game-winning factor throughout the season, as the Irish’s opponents had no answer for that part of their offense.

But there was more.  What gave the Irish the strong look of national viability was that Coach Brian Kelly had done an amazing job of massively upgrading the team’s defense.  At a school this is much more academically rigid as ND, certain recruiting restrictions tend to put the defensive side of the ball at a disadvantage.  One can recruit smart linemen, quarterbacks, tight ends, and receivers, after all, and they are out there.  Defense is another issue.  Never as well-choreographed as offensive, players on that side of the ball tend to be a bit more reckless, and often have to be to make key stops.  Making good grades and doing what defensive players have to do to succeed on the field is oftentimes an incompatibility.  Yet Kelly somehow made it work.

So how did things turn out they did?  Even yours truly predicted a close game, at least until some time in the 3rd quarter.  Turns out, in hindsight, we all made the same mistake we made going into the 2007 BCS game.  That year, Ohio State was the undefeated, No.1  team.  Florida got in the game almost as an afterthought.  Yet despite a touchdown by the Buckeyes on the opening kickoff, the Gators dominated from then on, leaving many viewers in a state of shock and disbelief, and also to ask each other:  how did we not see this coming?

The answer comes in two parts.  The simplest part is, they are SEC teams.  Florida then and Alabama this year played in the most brutal of all college football conferences.  Anybody who emerges as the conference champion is battle-hardened, battle tested, and ready and able to go toe-to-toe with anybody else in the country.  If one does not believe that the SEC, despite its down year this year, is still not the best conference in the country, you are both blind and detached from reality.  For one, SEC teams have won every national title since the 2006-’07 season; that’s seven consecutive years and counting.  But even more to the point, the NFL is the ultimate truth serum when it comes to who produces the best players in college football.  One NFL team general manager once observed that you could field a competitive team in the pros just by drafting players out of the Southeastern Conference.  Lots of money, along with people’s mortgages and livelihoods, rest on making such key decisions – think about that.

So Ohio State then, and Notre Dame this year, were frankly NOT consistently playing the same level of competition that SEC teams face week in and week out.  It’s fine for Notre Dame to beat Oklahoma on the road, but to turn right around the struggle at home to Pittsburgh the next game should have raised a few more eyebrows than it did.

The other part to explain how Bama ended up dominating Notre Dame is that Nick Saban is the best college coach in the business.  He learned his grinder’s work ethic from his father growing up in West Virginia, and learned how to be detail-oriented as an NFL assistant under Bill Belichick.  Being detail-oriented is a transferrable skill that works well at either the college or the pro level.  Saban knows how to prepare.  Alabama might have seemed relatively weak (compared to recent teams) having to go from one tough game to another (LSU then Texas A&M, for example).  But give Saban a full month to prepare, and the team’s true potential shines through.  Pay no attention to the Tide getting humiliated to Utah in the 2008 Sugar Bowl; pay attention to Saban’s, and the team’s, more recent body of work, that being three national titles out of the past four years.  They say that hindsight is 20-20, and in this case, it most certainly is:  Bama played better competition throughout the year, had even better overall athletes, and are guided by the best coach in the business.  Sometimes, you have to line them up and play just to be able to see those things with sufficient clarity.

Advertisements

Bobby Petrino’s Potential Next Job(s) October 19, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

The approximate half-way point in the college football regular season is upon us, and while many surprises and other developments surely await us fans, some coaches are already feeling the heat…the heat of the hotseat, that is!  Deny it as they might, certain fanbases are restless, and already talking about who might replace their failing current head coach.  One candidate that keeps emerging in water cooler conversation is none other than Bobby Petrino.

Yes, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, he is so mercenary as a coach that he gives other mercenaries a bad name, to borrow a line from Paul Freeman’s character in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  But he wins, and has proven to do so at Louisville (taking the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2006 season), and at Arkansas, making the program so strong as to merit a preseason top-ten ranking in the eyes of the voters.  Had he not exhibited a horrible lapse in judgment in putting his mistress on the department payroll – to say nothing of having a mistress in the first place while being a married man – there is no telling what sort of memorable season the Razorbacks would be having right now.

A coach that can win like that, despite his baggage and his less-than-loyal track record, will surely have offers by season’s end.  The teams that will likely extend that offer – the likelihood being of a considerable varying degree from team to team – are listed and explained as follows:

Kentucky:  Despite his denials at SEC Media Days earlier this summer – denials of him “not feeling any heat” — Joker Phillips, as decent a man as he may be, is clearly in over his head as the coach of Kentucky’s program.  Rich Brooks left the program in decent shape (actually, in very good shape by Kentucky’s standards), but Joker is a reminder of the inevitable program decay that follows when one promotes the long-time loyal assistant to the head man role instead of an ambitious outsider.  In two-and-a-half seasons as head coach, Phillips has only managed to go 12-20.  Given his geographical disadvantages (it is Kentucky, after all), and that UK plays in the SEC, any coach faces an uphill challenge.  But the fans nevertheless have been understandably grumbling, as the empty seats in Commonwealth Stadium attest.  Could Petrino be brought in to turn things around?

It’s Possible:  Given how mercenary Petrino is, he could very well coach against Louisville.  In a weird way, it would be somewhat fitting, given that his recruiting techniques were pioneered by Fran Curci, the head coach back in the late 1970s.  Petrino himself perfected the recruiting technique (recruiting talented athletes that are potentially, er, troubled) by adding a new layer to the approach with his own, patented system of keeping the potential troublemakers in line and on  a short leash.

It’s Impossible:  Joker’s current salary is $1.7 million a year.  Not bad, but Petrino would expect a lot more to make up for the fact that his team will take a back seat to basketball team due to the UK faithful’s perpetually misplaced priorities.  The bigger problem, though, is in Petrino’s skill set.  The program will be in something of a mess.  Some head coaches are skilled at being turnaround CEOs (think:  Steve Spurrier, or, more to the point, Howard Schnellenberger; in the pros, think:  Bill Parcells).  But turnaround CEOs do not always do well long-term because their skillset is turning a struggling program around into a respectable one, in good working order.  Petrino’s skillset is that of a caretaker CEO; taking programs that are already in decent working order and tweak them slightly to gradually make them better and better.  It is not proven that he can take a program struggling as badly as Kentucky is and take them to where Arkansas was prior to his sudden ouster.

Alabama:  Try not to laugh.  Yes, Nick Saban continues to solidify his bona fides as one of the best coaches in the business while the Crimson Tide is on course to vie for yet another national title.  But there is a potential drawback in this.  Saban is so good in part because he is highly aspirational, and highly aspirational people get bored very easily.  One more national championship, and it is quite likely that Saban will be looking for a new challenge, either another program to rehab, or a franchise if he chose to go back to the pros.  Keep in mind that he built his reputation as a capable coach under Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, before he left the defensive coordinator job there to become the new head coach of Michigan State back in 1995.  Not only might he get bored after winning yet another national title, but he could also be sick of dealing with the insane fans and boosters, having to recruit all the time, and not being able to go to the grocery store for fear of getting mobbed by a fanbase that has been known to love its program to death.  All these things ought to be kept in mind.

It Could Happen:  Timing, in this case, is everything.  If Saban leaves after this year, and Petrino does not have many more appealing choices, this could work.  Alabama has demonstrated they are willing to pay top dollar for the best coaching talent and will commit whatever resources the circumstances require to be a perennial championship contender.  It could work, if certain potential developments first occur.

It Ain’t Gonna Happen:  As ambitious as Petrino is, does he really want to coach in what has been acknowledged to be the biggest pressure cooker in all of football, college or pro?  His ambition would surely be put to the test with such a job.  Aside from that, the timing could be bad.  Saban might not leave for newer challenges after this year, assuming he does so at all any time soon.  Petrino is not going to hold his breath while other programs might come calling.

Auburn:  Don’t laugh.  Sure, Gene Chizik is only two seasons removed from winning the BCS national championship in a thrilling game against Oregon.  But he is only 1-5 thus far this season.  Football fans in the Yellowhammer State, either pro-Tide or pro-Tiger, will not stand for such a disgrace.  As Doug Gillett of EDSBS reminds us, Winston Churchill, one of history’s greatest statesmen, was given the pink slip by British voters just 58 days after the Allies’ victory over Nazi Germany.  Auburn already courted Petrino on the sly before while the mercenary coach did his stint at Louisville.  He was the offensive coordinator before deciding to lead the Cardinals starting in 2003.  His ties to the loveliest little village on the Plains is thus well-established.

It’s Possible:  Only if Chizik sets a new record for the quickest time a coach is fired after winning a national championship.  He already has been [ahem] ‘awarded’ as “Desperately seeking….ANYTHING” in the CFB Week 7 Awards.  The upcoming Vandy game is, at this rate, a toss-up, and Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama remain on the schedule.  Will the War Eagle faithful countenance a potential 4-8 year?  If not, guess whom they might call.

It’s not Possible:  Only if the above scenario of ousting Chizik after only two years when we won the whole darn thing does not come to fruition, and be mindful that it would set a new record/precedent if it did.

Texas:  Let’s face it; Mack Brown’s record against hated rival Oklahoma is spotty at best.  The Sooners have to recruit Texas in order to be successful.  This template dates back to the days of Bud Wilkinson (!).  The Longhorns have the built-in advantage of, well, already being there.  The University of Texas is THE flagship school/program of the biggest, best football state in the entire U.S. of A.  They have the pick of the litter; first dibs on the cream of the crop.  Yet they were given a 63-21 butt-whipping at the hand of Bob Stoops’ Sooner squad in the Cotton Bowl this past week.  Losing to a high-powered West Virginia team was one thing, but losing this badly to Oklahoma is too bitter a pill to swallow for the Texas fans, as thoroughly decent and gracious a man as he may be (indeed, on that front, one of the classiest acts in the business.)

It Could Happen:  If enough movers and shakers in Longhorn Nation think that the game has passed Mack Brown by, a vacancy will open.  If enough of said movers and shakers are committed to the idea of never allowing such a loss to Oklahoma to happen on their watch, guess whom they might call.  If they do, the potential upside is tremendous.  As things currently stand, the team is not a mess, just short on playmakers.  With Petrino at the helm, the Horns could become an overnight juggernaut that would give Stoops and Co. in Norman, Okla., more than cause for notice.

It Couldn’t Happen:  There is a great duality to Longhorns fans.  Yes, they care very, very deeply, but unlike the Alabama faithful, they have something called “lives.”  This gives them perspective on things that other devoted fans sometimes lack, and might not call for Mack Brown’s gentle ouster until things could get worse.  Again, as mentioned before, Petrino is not exactly a man to hold his breath, even for the best job in all of college football (along with USC).
(Addendum 10-21-21) Tennessee:  One reader very simply commented, “Tennessee?”  Such an obvious suggestion, and it makes me kick myself in the pants for not adding this [theoretical] possibility to the list in the first place.   So what about it?  The Volunteers are current 3-4, having just lost to Alabama, arguably their most hated rival in a conference that is certainly full of them, to varying degrees.  Earlier in the year, the Vols blew the game against Florida, seemingly a winnable contest at the time.  The loss to Georgia may be understandable, but losing to Mississippi State is still a hard one to swallow, no matter how much improved the Bulldogs are.  To say that Derek Dooley is on the hot seat is therefore an understatement, and it will not get any easier next week, as they must a South Carolina team looking to get well on them — in Columbia, no less!  Make no mistake about it, the Volunteer Nation is grumbling, and a potential 7-5 year will not necessarily pacify them.

It might happen:  Already plenty of Tennessee fans are calling for Dooley’s head on a plate, and let us not forget that he was essentially a stop-gap/default hire after Lane Kiffin’s sudden departure.  Of all the coaches in the SEC, Dooley might be on just as thin ice as Joker Phillips at Kentucky.  If the ice were to break, it is not much of a stretch of the imagination as to whom AD Dave Hart might call.  Tennessee has the resources to pay Petrino a competitive salary; the tradition, fan base, and resources are there to make it a “destination job,” and he would no doubt get the administrative support he would need.

It might not happen:  Only if the fan base and administration are happy with another [potential] 7-5 season and a  mediocre-to-lower tier bowl game.

Other (very) longshots:  Forget Arkansas; no way they will re-hire someone whom they fired for egregious indiscretions in the first place.  Florida might have been on people’s radar screens as a potential job opening, as the fans and media alike were not, for a while, sold on Will Muschamp as their guy.  But he seems to have righted the ship this year with a very stingy defense and improved QB play, meaning that he could be Gator Nation’s guy after all.  Organizationally, Petrino would be a good fit for Florida, and would kick butt like nobody’s business, but things are currently going fine in Gainesville, at least for this year.  If any of you dear readers would like to speculate on where else BP could end up, please offer your thoughts in the comment section!