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Superlative backlash (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday July 5, 2005 12:23PM; Updated: Wednesday July 6, 2005 11:50AM
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How can you evaluate a college football coach, and implicitly his program, merely on his win/loss record? Shouldn't his team's graduation rate and frequency of NCAA sanctions and investigations weigh into the equation? On that note, it is incredibly short-sighted to list Jim Tressel on the list of "best" coaches. Any coach who runs a dirty program and ignores NCAA regulations could produce the records he has.
--Kristine, Washington

Kristine's sentiments were hardly unique. Judging by my e-mail, it appears that outside of Columbus, the once squeaky-clean Tressel is almost universally viewed as being dirty and corrupt. However, as you know, the NCAA to date has found only one infraction within his program. So while you, the fans, are free to make all the judgments you want based on hearsay, innuendo and good old-fashioned common sense, I, as a journalist, am constricted by an obligation to adhere to proven fact. And so, putting my own personal hunches aside, Tressel's high ranking is based almost entirely on his on-field track record, both at Ohio State and Youngstown State.

Nice list, with one glaring exception: Where's Steve Spurrier?
--Captain Obvious, Memphis, Tenn.

What an obvious question, and one that deserves an answer. While Spurrier certainly earned a reputation as one of the top coaches in the country at Florida, the fact is he's been out of the game for four years. Much has changed during that time, and to be honest, we have no idea whether his system will be successful at South Carolina. So, for the purposes of these rankings, I treated him as a brand-new coach, same as Charlie Weis or Ed Orgeron, and therefore incapable of being properly evaluated.

Believe it or not, there are other topics in college football besides the quality of respective coaches. Here's hoping we can address them together throughout the summer, starting with these ...

Starting now, which college has the best chance to win national titles in football and hoops in the same year?
--Hugh Pritchett, Indianapolis

Good question, and one that gives me an excuse to freshen up on the college hoops landscape, which, I must confess, I've pretty much ignored since the Final Four. I'll go with:

1. Louisville. The right coaches are in place in both sports (Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino), and by joining the Big East, the football team can now legitimately aspire to win the national title. The Cardinals' problem will be that a lack of respect for the conference (in football) may hold them back in the eyes of the pollsters.

2. Texas. The Longhorns have been to both a BCS bowl and a Final Four since 2003 and are consistent top-15 programs in both sports. Rick Barnes is fully capable of delivering a title in basketball; Brown, as was duly noted above, needs to beat Oklahoma first.

3. Oklahoma. Similar profile in both sports, although the Sooners' basketball program has taken some hits lately, and it may be awhile before Kelvin Sampson returns to the Final Four.

4. Ohio State. We already know football can do it, and I think Thad Matta is one of the best young coaches in the country. He's assembling one of the most impressive recruiting classes in recent memory (led by top overall prospect Greg Oden). He'll have to weather NCAA sanctions first, though.

5. Michigan. The Wolverines have come the closest to accomplishing it in the past, playing for the national title in basketball in 1992 and '93 while also playing in the Rose Bowl the same school years. Problem is, I don't think Tommy Amaker is the right guy to get the basketball program back to that same level.

We Kentucky football fans (quit laughing; we do exist) like to think of our football program as a sleeping giant, much like Purdue before Joe Tiller arrived. We play in the best conference in the land, have excellent facilities and a rabid fan base. What other schools out there would you classify as "sleeping giants"?
--Adam Potts, Louisville, Ky.

It's true, while most outsiders assume Kentucky is purely a basketball school, the Wildcats consistently draw 60,000-plus to their home football games even when the team is awful (which is the case more often than not). If they can ever get the right coach (read: not Rich Brooks. Hal Mumme had them on the right track until it turned out he was a big, big cheater), who knows?

South Carolina falls into the same category, and with Spurrier at the helm, you've got to think if the Gamecocks' day is ever supposed to come, it's now. Those are the two most obvious selections, though I'd also nominate Arizona (have you ever been to Tucson and/or Tempe? It's absolutely amazing that ASU and Arizona don't have top-10 recruiting classes every year in every sport), Connecticut (a relative newcomer, but one that's already made huge strides and has a passionate following) and Ole Miss (which has arguably the richest tradition of any program with such a lackluster history).

This love-fest for the "Smurf Turf" Boise State Broncos is bogus. They never play any road games! How many times have you watched them on ESPN playing home game -- every week? They did play one televised game on the road last year and almost got beat by a bad San Jose State team, and lost the Liberty Bowl to Louisville away from home. So lay off the love for the Broncos until they play some real teams and play on the road occasionally.
--T. Roberts, Raleigh, N.C.

Well "T," you're about to get your wish. Boise State opens its season at Georgia, a game in which both teams will likely be ranked in the top 20 but which many people probably assume the Bulldogs will win easily. Personally, I have no idea. The last time the Broncos played an SEC opponent on the road, two years ago, they lost 41-14 to Arkansas -- despite winning all their other games that season. Not exactly a strong endorsement of their ability to compete nationally. At the same time, they demolished an Oregon State team last season (albeit at home) that came within a missed extra point of winning at LSU the previous week. And Georgia, though it may well go on to a fourth straight 10-win season, figures to be vulnerable early, what with QB D.J. Shockley starting for the first time and several players sitting out the first week with suspensions. So we'll find out if the "love-fest" is legit soon enough.

What do you think about Les Miles? Some compare him to a Michigan State-era Nick Saban, in that both guys were at schools (Oklahoma State and MSU) that got the leftover talent from their state's "other" school. Everyone says Miles is an affable guy, and the players don't feel the intensity and pressure Saban exuded. Is LSU safe with Miles, or did it hire another Curly Hallman?
--Alvin Hunt, Lake Charles, La.

Miles and Saban truly are similar. They're both very intense. They both have NFL backgrounds. And Miles certainly showed he can coach while in Stillwater, taking a program that had been down for many years to three straight bowl games and twice knocking off superiorly talented Oklahoma teams. However, Saban came to Baton Rouge when the Tigers were also in rebuilding mode. Miles will face enormous pressure from day one, what with LSU barely removed from winning a national title and stocked full with Saban's numerous nationally acclaimed recruiting classes. My only reservation with Miles is, can a guy who's never lost less than three conference games in a season live up to such gargantuan expectations?

Hey man, I'm Mormon. What would be so shocking about having Lindsay Lohan join us? I could see that happening long before Arkansas beats USC. I think the Hogs upsetting the Trojans would be more like Marilyn Manson turning Mormon.
--Thomas Coyne, Detroit

Don't let the Disney movies fool you, Thomas. I'm no expert on the Mormon faith, but I do know that one of its tenets is no alcohol. If you've ever picked up a copy of People, US Weekly, In Touch, etc., and turned to the "nightlife photo" sections, you'd see that becoming a Mormon would put a severe damper on Lindsay's penchant for frequenting bars and nightclubs.

That's all for now. Tune in next week, when we'll discuss ... whatever you good folks happen to throw my way. So give me some good ones.


Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.

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