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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.

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College Football Week 8 Awards October 19, 2014

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FSU-NotreDame2014(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 8] unless otherwise noted.)

COACHES
Wish I were him: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

Glad I’m not him: Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Lucky guy: Jerry Kill, Minnesota

Poor guy: Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Desperately seeking a wake-up clue: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Art Briles, Baylor
Desperately seeking … anything: Will Muschamp, Florida

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 8 Michigan State (defeated Indiana 56-17)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Louisville (defeated North Carolina State 30-18)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Colorado (lost to No. 22 USC 56-28)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Kansas (lost to Texas Tech 34-21)

Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 7 Alabama (defeated No. 21 Texas A&M 59-0)

Dang, they’re good: Alabama
Dang, they’re bad: SMU

You know, they’re not so bad: Minnesota
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Baylor

Did the season start? Texas A&M
Can the season end? Georgia State
Can the season never end? Florida State

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 2 Florida State 31, No. 5 Notre Dame, 27

Play this again, too: No. 20 Utah 29, Oregon State 23
Never play this again: South Carolina 41, Furman 10

What? Nevada 42, BYU 35

Huh? No. 14 Kansas State 31, No. 11 Oklahoma 30
Are you kidding me? No. 7 Alabama 59, No. 21 Texas A&M 0 (the shear blowout)

Oh – my – God: West Virginia 41, No. 4 Baylor 27

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 8, pre-week 9)
Ticket to die for: No. 3 Ole Miss @ No. 24 LSU

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: (none, notwithstanding the “Why Are They Playing” entry)

Best non-Power Five matchup: Temple @ Central Florida

Upset alert: Texas @ No. 11 Kansas State

Must win: No. 22 West Virginia @ Oklahoma State

Offensive explosion: No. 15 Arizona @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Miami @ Virginia Tech
Great game no one is talking about: BYU @ Boise State

Intriguing coaching matchup: Urban Meyer of Ohio State vs. James Franklin of Penn State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 1 Mississippi State @ Kentucky (also:  UConn @ No. 18 East Carolina)

Why are they playing? UAB @ Arkansas

Plenty of good seats remaining: UTEP @ UTSA

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Florida Atlantic @ No. 23 Marshall

 

Week 8 Random Thoughts:

  • While Michigan State is a solid choice for the “Thought you’d kick butt, you did” weekly award, the truth is, a number of teams ended up kicking butt, that in hindsight made sense that they would. Start with South Carolina (see: last week’s “Why are they playing?” nod), who beat relatively hapless Furman 41-10. In hindsight, a resurgent Ohio State team against a Rutgers team still learning to navigate the terrain of the Big Ten was also a clear would-be drubbing (result: 56-17). Even more obvious was the Colorado @ USC match-up. The Buffaloes still cannot get things together, while Steve Sarkesian is slowly building the Trojans back to national prominence. The 56-28 result, therefore, came as not surprise.
  • While Alabama could not be a more obvious choice for the weekly “Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did” award (59-0 over Texas A&M, their biggest lopsided shutout in 35 years), other games would have been decent choices as well. Start with Marshall’s butt-kicking of Florida International, 45-13. Even more of a surprise, though, was TCU’s drubbing of Oklahoma State, 42-9. On paper, these were closely-matched teams (No. 12 vs. No. 15, respectively). Turns out that in reality, they were not that close in terms of competitive prowess after all. Further down the food chain, Appalachian State – a newcomer to the FCS – beat up on Troy unexpectedly, 53-14. Sounds like the latter is a “Can the season end?” candidate. Stay tuned.
  • Last night’s Notre Dame @ Florida State slugfest is already an instant classic. Clearly one of the biggest, best games of the season thus far, it wins the “Play this again” award hands down. That said, despite some lop-sided victories in football this past weekend, plenty other games merit a second look nevertheless. Start with the late Thursday night game on the West Coast, Utah @ Oregon State. The Utes went into Reser Stadium, took the Beavers into overtime, and walked out victorious. Speaking of the West Coast, take a look at the final score between UCLA @ Cal (spoiler alert: 36-34). Consider that you have the Bruins vs. Golden Bears, and two different shades of blue and gold going head-to-head, in the same conference, no less. With such similarities, such a score result is only fitting. In the Big Ten, one was able to enjoy an interesting matchup between Minnesota and Purdue. On one hand, the Golden Gophers have quietly risen to the top of their division in the conference, while Purdue has quietly improved from their doldrums. Indeed, the Boilers almost won on the road.
  • Notre Dame remains an enigma. After so many close calls against inferior teams, surely they would not have played No. 2 Florida State as closely as they did on the road. Not when having to result to strokes of luck to win against Stanford. Not when allowing Purdue to play them as closely as they did in Indianapolis. Yet on Saturday night, they played in Tallahassee like they deserved to be the 5th-ranked team in the nation. Further monitoring of the team will be in order to make sense of this inconsistent behavior. Fortunately, the schedule is such that it will allow for further clarity to be reached as it plays out. The Fighting Irish journey to Tempe, Ariz., to play Arizona State in three weeks, followed by Northwestern and then Louisville at home. Then, they cap off the season in Los Angeles against USC. One takes any one of those teams lightly at his own peril (translation: if the Irish fail to bring their A-game to any one of these matchups, they’re doomed).
  • As an aside, part of Ole Miss now being taken seriously in the national rankings (No. 3, currently), is that their defense is given plenty of respect with an up-and-coming brand: the “land shark” defense. One must admit, that has a nice ring to it!

College Football Week 2 Awards September 8, 2014

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Yes, we’re back.  After having missed handing out last week’s awards due to travels abroad (having visited two, count ’em, TWO different continents in the Eastern Hemisphere!), we’re back, and as Little Richard would say, we’re ready-ready-ready to rock n’ roll!

(Note: All rankings are current AP [week 2] unless otherwise noted.)

 

COACHES
Wish I were him: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Glad I’m not him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State
Lucky guy: Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Poor guy: David Shaw, Stanford
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Dan Enos, Central Michigan

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Charlie Strong, Texas
Desperately seeking … anything: Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 9 Texas A&M (defeated Lamar 73-3)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: No. 19 Nebraska (defeated McNeese State 31-24)
Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: San Jose State (lost to No. 5 Auburn 59-13)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t: Memphis (lost to No. 11 UCLA 42-35)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did: No. 15 Ole Miss (defeated Vanderbilt, 41-3)

Dang, they’re good: Texas A&M
Dang, they’re bad: SMU
Can’t Stand Prosperity: Texas

Did the season start? Ohio State
Can the season end? Miami (Ohio)
Can the season never end? Oregon

GAMES
Play this again:  No. 14 USC 13, No. 13 Stanford 10
Never play this again: No. 23 Clemson 73, South Carolina State 7

What? Eastern Kentucky 17, Miami (Ohio) 10

Huh? No. 16 Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0
Are you kidding me? Virginia Tech 35, No. 8 Ohio State 21
Oh – my – God: BYU 41, Texas 7

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 2, pre-week 3)
Ticket to die for: No. 6 Georgia @ No. 21 South Carolina

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: Nebraska @ Fresno State
Best non-Power Five matchup: New Mexico State @ UTEP

Upset alert: Tennessee @ No. 4 Oklahoma

Must win: No. 12 UCLA vs Texas

Offensive explosion: Louisiana Tech @ North Texas
Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Rutgers
Great game no one is talking about: No. 21 Louisville @ Virginia

Intriguing coaching matchup: Bret Bielema of Arkansas vs. Kliff Kingsbury of Texas Tech

Who’s bringing the body bags? Wyoming @ No. 2 Oregon

Why are they playing? No. 8 Baylor @ Buffalo

Plenty of good seats remaining: Eastern Michigan @ Old Dominion

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Boise State @ UConn

 

Week 2 Take-aways:

This week’s results do NOT bode well for the Big Ten! Where to begin?

  • For starters, Illinois had to squeak by Western Kentucky, 42-34.
  • Then there was Nebraska having to score a last-minute touchdown to beat lowly McNeese State at home, 31-24. Way to live up to that No. 19 ranking, Cornhuskers!
  • Cracks in the proverbial damn truly became evident with Purdue’s ignominious loss at home to Central Michigan – a team that the Boilermakers have historically owned – 38-17.
  • Of course, Wisconsin was supposed to make mincemeat of Western Illinois, so nothing to see there: moving on.
  • Iowa slowly plodded to victory over Ball State, 17-13; hardly an impressive win.
  • Penn State seemed to allow Akron to make a game of it, 21-3.
  • Middle Tennessee seemed to provide some challenge to Minnesota, losing to the Golden Gophers only 35-24.
  • Northern Illinois actually did beat a well-coached Northwestern team, 23-15.

The best part (“best” being used facetiously) was that it got worse as the day progressed.

  • In the evening, Notre Dame undressed Michigan, 31-0
  • Then-unranked Virginia Tech came into the Horseshoe to upset then-No 8 Ohio State in a very embarrassing way, 35-21. Are the Buckeyes that crippled without Braxton Miller?
  • At least then-No. 7 Michigan State had a valid excuse, losing late in the game, on the road, (heck, on the West Coast) to current-No. 2 Oregon. Moreover, in further defense of the Spartans, they made a good game of it for more than half of the match-up. Still, a loss is a loss.

Yes, this will really bolster the conference’s credibility with the selection committee come season’s end.

In other news, it appears as though Charlie Strong truly does have his work cut out for him at Texas. The problem with the flagship program of the Lone Star State was that it lost its intensity, that things had become both stale and too synthetic under previous head coach Mack Brown. Strong had proven that he could restore the intensity of one program already at the University of Louisville: the powers started to think that he could do the same thing at Texas. Well, evidently he has not restored enough intensity to that program. Either that, or BYU just has the Longhorns’ number, but I doubt it.

Some thoughts on the Bowls as of Dec. 28 December 29, 2012

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From azstarnet.com; try to ignore the Arizona player bumping into the ref and instead, focus on how cool their unis look, along the with the awesome color contrast between Arizona’s and Nevada’s helmets!

The New Mexico Bowl kicked off the season to a surprisingly auspicious beginning.  I say “surprisingly,” because let’s be honest; nobody thought that the first bowl game of the year would be that swell, and moreover,  it seemed as though Nevada had the game well in hand by the end of the 3rd quarter before Arizona managed to make a pretty good game out of things yet and scored 18 unanswered points to pull ahead at the end, 49-48.  And to think that I predicted that the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 would be the bowl season’s “offensive explosion,” yet so far, the results of the New Mexico Bowl have fit that distinction more than any other of the 2012-2013 bowl span.

But wait, there’s more!  As more teams unveil special bowl game helmets (read: Cincinnati, Virginia Tech), the jury will still be out until Jan. 7 to decide this ultimately, but thus far, the Arizona-Nevada matchup is definitely the “most aesthetically pleasing helmet contrast,” with the Wolfpack sporting their dark blue helmets on one side, and the Wildcats sporting their special red domes on the other!

Moreover, it will be very difficult for any other team to top the Wildcats for the “sartorial splendor” award, as they have set a new precedent.  Normally, if a team has dark blue and red for their colors (technically, Cardinal and Navy Blue, as is the case for both Arizona and Ole Miss), the modern precedents have been something along the lines of 1) dark blue helmets, dark blue jerseys, and either white or gray pants, or white helmets, or 2) white helmets and pants with dark blue jerseys, or 3), dark blue helmets, red jerseys, and white or gray pants.  What Arizona did was break through normal precedents and set a whole new one with red helmets, dark blue jerseys, and red pants.  It does not get much better than that!

Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of good games, this year’s MAACO Bowl of Las Vegas turned out to be a ‘dandy’ of a game, folks!  There are times when you swear that ESPN does actually have a crystal ball in some secret location on their Bristol, Conn., campus, because they sent their front-line crew of Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit to call the game, reflecting on the fact in real time that it was worth tuning in to see!  Either that, or it was an elaborate rouse to get Musburger in touch with Chan Lo and the Chinese Triads to settle his gambling debts:  who knows?  That having been said, what on Earth was Boise State doing wearing those god-awful matte black helmets instead of their pretty metallic blue domes?  Sometimes it pays to leave well enough alone; such is what Washington did with their tasteful combination of metallic gold helms, white jerseys and purple pants.

A-WLvUxCQAEkjOO.jpg large

Of all places, this pic came from Bengals.com!

The Belk Bowl also exceeded expectations in terms of a competitive, watchable game.  Only two things overshadowed Duke’s first bowl game since the mid-1990s:  1), Cincinnati’s garish, red, carbon fibre-colored helmets, a first in football helmet decor, and 2), the Bearcats ultimately won.  Still, it was nice that the Blue Devils wore their tasteful royal blue helmets instead of their generic-looking white ones, which overall made for a nice helmet contrast between the two teams as they played each other in Charlotte.  Moreover, keep in mind that the Bearcats pulled off the win with basically a five-man coaching staff (for purposes of comparison, college teams usually have about 10 coaches on staff, not including graduate assistants).

Another very interesting teams’ helmets contrast took place on Dec. 28 in the Russell Athletic Bowl, formerly the Champs Sports Bowl, formerly the reincarnated Tangerine Bowl (basically, the other bowl game they play in the Citrus Bowl before the real Citrus Bowl game, which is now called the Capital One Bowl.  Got all that?).  Rutgers put up one heckuva fight against Virginia Tech, but came up a field goal short in overtime of tying the Hokies after the first round in overtime.  But the contrast was nevertheless unique in that the Scarlet Knights had their newly characteristic chrome shells, while the Hokies sported new, matte maroon helmets with an orange decal of a “Hokie,” which, from what us fans can deduce, is basically a turkey bird on a roid rage.  Virginia Tech has undertaken numerous helmet styling experiments during the 2012 season, some kind of interesting, some downright head-scratching.  The white helmets with turkey feet clearly belonged in the latter category!

Oh, and the guys at EDSBS, you boys have some ‘splainin’ to do!  You ranked the Meinecke Car Care Bowl of Texas last among your list of the 35 bowls for this season.  In the words of Musburger, the game turned out to be a real ‘dandy.’  Thanks to the realignment of bowls, this Texas Bowl is about the only B1G vs Big XII matchup we have to look forward to, as the Alamo Bowl no longer affords us that luxury.  The game did not disappoint, as Minnesota and Texas Tech butted heads in dramatic form practically from the whistle giving the green light for kickoff.  The game remained close and competitive for the whole 60 minutes, though a turning point came when a Red Raider receiver pancaked a Golden Gopher defensive back in the end zone and walloped him — right in front of the back judge.  That led to the player, No. 22, to be summarily ejected from the game (and due to an arcane NCAA rule, he shall also have to sit out the opening game next year, too).  LeGarrette Blunt would no doubt be proud.  A third and goal near the one became a third and goal at about the fifteen.  The next play was botched, leading to a field goal.  Minnesota called a timeout just as the ball was snapped, and on the next, true snap, the Gophers blocked the kick!  A sure TD was reduced to, well, nothing.  Yes, in the end, the Red Raiders won on a last-second field goal.  Still, the game was riveting from the opening kickoff to the very last play, and that’s all we fans can ask for in any of these bowl games.

In all frankness and honesty, the 2012-2013 bowl season has been overall underwhelming this far.  The Little Caesars Bowl and the Independence Bowl (oh, my, have the mighty fallen!) have been nothing about which to write home, and similar things can be said for most of the other bowls up to this point.  But having said all that, it is worth pointing out that there have been some high points thus far, and odds are, it can only get better from here.  After all, Ronald Reagan himself was known to joke that if one searches through enough mounds of manure, sooner or later one is bound to find the pony!