And the coach of the year is ...
List of best efforts to date starts with Tuberville, Meyer and Tedford
Posted: Tuesday November 16, 2004 7:37PM; Updated: Tuesday November 16, 2004 7:37PM
If there's one thing I've learned on this job, it's that people love lists (except, of course, the one the BCS compiles). So whenever a question comes in along the lines of, "Who are your top five (fill in subject here)," I know I can't go wrong.
Who are the most likely candidates for national coach of the year? Does Mike Price have a legitimate chance, or is UTEP's lack of national coverage too much to overcome?
If it were a lesser-known coach doing the same thing at UTEP (which is 7-2 following three straight two-win seasons), maybe he'd struggle for recognition, but anyone who follows the sport knows about Price, and what he's done so far in El Paso is nothing short of remarkable. The Miners trail only Boise State in the WAC standings, and enthusiasm for the team has never been higher. In fact just the other day I heard Beano Cook go on the radio and endorse Price as his coach of the year -- right before breaking down the Four Horsemen and right after a discussion of Joe Paterno's famed 1968 team.
Here are my top five candidates if the season were to end today:
1. Tommy Tuberville, Auburn: It's unbelievable to think that a year ago this week, Auburn's president and athletic director were taking a secret plane ride to Louisville to facilitate Tuberville's ouster. The Tigers have won 12 straight since then and play as consistently as any team I've seen.
2. Urban Meyer, Utah: It's not just that the Utes are 10-0 and sticking it to major-conference teams like Texas A&M and North Carolina. They're doing it with a unique offensive system that Meyer basically invented by studying other offensive innovators and blending the best elements of each.
3. Jeff Tedford, Cal: In three years' time, Tedford has managed to do what many felt impossible: Turn Cal into a football school. The Bears are the only team in the past two years to beat USC, and they almost did it again this season on the Trojans' home field.
4. Price. UTEP has had one winning season since 1989 -- and has finished with fewer than four wins 11 times in the past 15 years. But Price, with his trademark enthusiasm, got not only his team, but the entire community believing, and the players have fed off of the fans' energy.
5. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. Following a rough start (including a 44-7 loss at Arizona State), the Hawkeyes have won six straight, overcoming injuries to their top five running backs and what would seem to be a dearth of offensive playmakers, thanks to being yet again one of the nation's most disciplined teams.
Other possibilities: Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, Louisville's Bobby Petrino and Boise State's Dan Hawkins. Also, do they give out an award for worst coaching job of the year? Nebraska's Bill Callahan and Minnesota's Glen Mason could arm wrestle for it.
OK, so that's not exactly the type of list that elicits bar-room brawls and water-cooler shouting matches. However, you should know I'm already planning one for next week that you're not going to want to miss.
How's that for shameless?
Does Jason White's post-Heisman meltdown from last year hurt his chances this year? Won't some voters feel last year's Heisman can be his reward for this year's great performance?
Do you think that an NFL team will take a chance on White? If so, how well do you think that he would do in the NFL?
It would not surprise me if some Heisman voters are reluctant to pull the trigger on White because of what happened last year. I know there were a few people who wished they could have had their vote back after the Sugar Bowl, and perhaps they're afraid of getting burned again.
Personally, it will not be part of my consideration. If it's clear White has had the best season of the major contenders, then I will vote for him, period. Let's face it, last year was no fluke. He's gone out and done the exact same thing again. Also, injuries may have played at least some role in his late-season performances last year. But so, too, did Kansas State and LSU's defenses, which leads me to my only reservation about White. He's faced just one defense ranked among the nation's top 30, Texas, and that also happened to be his worst game of the season.
As for the NFL, someone will take a chance on him, sure. How could they not? The guy is a proven winner who makes all the right decisions. However, because of his age and injury history, he's not likely to be a high pick, which means whatever team does take him will by no means be grooming him as its quarterback of the future, like a Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning. Realistically, he'll have to bide his time as a backup and make the most out of whatever opportunity may arise. It worked for guys like Jake Delhomme and Kurt Warner, but they were the exceptions, not the norm.
You have probably been asked this question 500 times this week, so here is 501: Why does it seem that everybody assumes that USC has a free ride to the Orange Bowl? A strong case could be made that Oklahoma and Auburn are more deserving.
Yep, your question has been a pretty popular one this week, and I wish I had a logical explanation. In a perfect world, the pollsters would sit down at the end of the season, take a good, long look at all three, and pick the two they feel are the most deserving, regardless of where the teams started. We do not, however, live in a perfect world. If we did, chicken fingers would contain no cholesterol, I'd be dating Maria Menounos and the late NFL games on Fox would stop running late, thus causing my TiVO to miss half of Arrested Development. So aggravating, I tell ya.
The reality, though, is that the pollsters are not going to all of a sudden drop a team that ended last year No. 1, started this year No. 1 and hasn't lost in 19 games, from No. 1 to No. 3. And frankly, why should they? They're the defending champs until proven otherwise, and that hasn't happened.
Since Harvard is undefeated and has beaten Northeastern, which beat Hofstra, which beat Maine, which beat Mississippi State on the road, do you think Harvard should be invited to play Auburn in the Orange Bowl? After all, the Atlantic 10 is 1-0 against the SEC.
What do you think of the first season of the new ACC?
It's been the most competitive major conference in the country. As witnessed last week when Duke beat Clemson, or a couple of weeks before that when Maryland beat Florida State and North Carolina knocked off Miami, literally any team from 1 to 11 is capable of winning on any given week. And with Boston College, a current top-20 team, joining the mix next season, it's only going to get tougher.
What the conference lacks, however, that most of its peers don't, is a truly great team. Miami has the talent, but hasn't been able to put it all together. Florida State's defense is tremendous, but its offense is a mess. And Virginia showed potential for a breakthrough but, it turned out, wasn't there yet. The one team that could still change that perception is Virginia Tech, which, if it wins out, would be 9-2 with a victory over the 'Canes at the Orange Bowl. Turns out that performance against USC back in August was no fluke. But overall, while the conference is much deeper this year than its neighbors in the SEC, that conference, in my opinion, has three teams at the top, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia, that trump anything the ACC has to offer.
What's the deal with ABC's regional coverage of college football? Living in upstate New York, every week I have to pretend that I'm interested in another low-scoring Big Ten game when viewers in other parts of the country get to see near-upsets of Oklahoma and USC.
It's the same problem here in Manhattan, Rich, where ABC for some reason decided long ago that New York City was a Big Ten market (they must have spent too much time at Blondie's on the Upper West Side). That said, there's no excuse in this day and age why anyone should be relying on your local ABC affiliate for anything. Plop down the $89 for GamePlan -- it's man's most worthwhile investment since the riding lawnmower. In the event your cable company doesn't offer it (or, in the words of that DirecTV lady, you don't "have a view of the Southern sky"), find someone who does and invite yourself over.
The Ben Olson saga has Cougar Nation on pins and needles. Olson was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation when he came out of high school. He redshirted in 2002 and then left school on a Mormon mission. In one of his last interviews before leaving, he said that he would come back. Now as he shops around (recently visiting UCLA), many BYU fans feel jilted and deceived, not to mention the coaches, who didn't bother to recruit a QB last year based Olson's word that he would return. Obviously, there was no contractual obligation, so are BYU fans justified in feeling upset about this situation? Give me an outsider's opinion.
I can understand why BYU fans are upset, but I don't blame Olson in the slightest. For one, coaches break promises to recruits all the time without repercussion, so why should the players be bound to a higher standard? Secondly, a whole lot has changed since Olson originally signed with BYU. The Cougars were coming off a 12-win season and, with then first-year coach Gary Crowton known as something of a quarterback guru, it probably seemed like the perfect team for him. Since that time, BYU has gone 14-20. And finally, from what I understand, Olson's biggest concern is that Crowton, the coach who recruited him, may be out of a job soon (unless BYU upsets Utah on Saturday, it will finish with its third straight losing record). Players get stuck all the time in situations where the coach leaves or gets fired, but they can't go anywhere without sitting out a year. Olson is in the rare situation where he can actually do something about it, and you can't fault him for taking advantage of it.
Finally, my column from last week regarding the Ohio State scandals generated nearly 1,000 e-mails, many of them very impassioned -- and many of them not fit for print in a family publication. Below is a small sampling:
Your article about Ohio State is a hatchet job. Maurice Clarett has no credibility. The NCAA and Ohio State did an investigation, and Clarett's charges are bogus. As far as Jim O'Brien, as soon as [AD] Andy Geiger found out about his trangressions, he terminated him. What do you want Geiger to do, shoot him? The other players you mentioned all left the team for one reason or another, and if they were taking Basketweaving 101 and couldn't transfer the credits, shame on them. What did they think when they were taking those classes to begin with?
Get a grip, Mandel. If it weren't for a pathetic, egomaniacal street punk masquerading as a viable pro football prospect, there would be no issue with Ohio State athletics. If anything, the media that keeps lending credence to Maurice Clarett is just as hard up for news as he is.
I admire you for bringing up the most dreaded words in college football: the death penalty. Most sports writers avoid the term when allegations of serious wrongdoing surface, as is the case now with Ohio State. Or, if it is brought up, it is dismissed out of hand as a form of punishment, for reasons I've never been able to understand. SMU got what they (and others at the time) deserved. The NCAA will almost certainly never hand out the death penalty again, even if it turns out that Ohio State has repeated SMU's unethical actions to the letter. I'm sure that the "Colorado approach" will in fact be the course taken. Throw up a cloud of flak and draw out the investigation until no one outside the program cares anymore.
You are a clown for buying into Clarett's load of lies. He has shown time and again that he is a liar. Clown, I say.
As a graduate of The Ohio State University, I laugh at your recommendations. Everything that has happened at OSU has happened at every school in the Top 25, don't kid yourself, and my school will not take the fall. Clarett is a joke and everyone else involved knows he did this because he had an ax to grind and his future is bleak.
Are you a University of Michigan alumnus?
Congratulations on a gutsy, moral article. As a fan of big-time college football, I know that even the programs I care about are probably on thin ice. But a shakeup of OSU or any other school with similar issues (even one I'm a fan of) would be welcome in order to make a point that the college experience is first and foremost about academics.
Are you insane? Shut down the athletic department? You should be shot! Without the athletic program The Ohio State University has no identity. Ohio State football is viewed by most as the most important pastime in the state of Ohio, and to kill that just because of some lies spread by Maurice Clarett to help his draft status is absurd!
Are your comments regarding the Ohio State athletic department politically motivated due to Ohio's important role in propelling George W. Bush to another term as president?
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.