Ten trends that will define this decade (cont.)
In 2000, the average fan had never heard of Notre Dame receivers coach Urban Meyer. He or she probably hadn't heard of Oregon receivers coach Chris Petersen or Green Bay Packers linebackers coach Bo Pelini, either.
Now, the head coaches at Florida, Boise State and Nebraska are universally recognized as some of the brightest minds in the game. So which coaches currently toiling as assistants will enjoy a similar ascension during the next 10 years? Here are a few guesses.
Justin Wilcox, defensive coordinator, Tennessee: Wilcox, 33, spent the past four seasons as Boise State's defensive coordinator. During that span, the Broncos went 49-4. Now, Wilcox takes over a Tennessee unit that must rebuild after two head-coaching changes in two years. If Wilcox can make a decent SEC defense out of the parts he inherited, he'll simply reinforce the notion that his star is on the rise.
Bryan Harsin, offensive coordinator, Boise State: Petersen knows bright young minds when he sees them. Upon taking the Broncos head coaching job in 2006, Petersen promoted Harsin from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator. At the time, Harsin was 29. The one-time drag-racer might be best known for an arsenal of trick plays, but his base offense works just fine. In 2009, the Broncos ranked first in the nation in scoring (42.2 points a game).
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama: Smart, 34, turned down alma mater Georgia and received big bucks ($750,000 a year) to stay in Tuscaloosa. Eventually, the coach of the defense that led the Crimson Tide to the BCS title will get offered bigger bucks to run his own program. Like college teammate Will Muschamp (the coach-in-waiting at Texas), Smart can afford to be picky about where he coaches next.
Manny Diaz, co-defensive coordinator, Mississippi State: Diaz, a former ESPN production assistant whose father was mayor of Miami, loves to bring pressure from unexpected places. During his time at Middle Tennessee State, this resulted in big plays. Last year, the Blue Raiders finished second in the nation in tackles for loss, sixth in sacks, eighth in turnovers gained and 12th in interceptions. Diaz, 36, seems plenty capable of handling the p.r. duties required of a head coach, and he could always ask his dad for tips on how to be the CEO of a large, complex organization.
In the past 10 years, some intelligent folks finally figured out that people love college football and will watch it pretty much anytime it appears on television. Most of those people work at ESPN, so the Worldwide Leader scooped up a huge chunk of the television rights for college football. But not all. And with ESPN at critical mass until it finally launches the Ocho, expect other networks to snap up the remaining rights as the decade chugs along.
After their disastrous coverage of the BCS -- more band shots, anyone? -- the folks at Fox have finally realized an all-season commitment to college football could bring in a pile of money. They tried and failed to secure the ACC in a bidding war with ESPN, but all is not lost. The soon-to-be Pac-12, with its huge TV markets and handful of name-brand programs, will become a free agent next year. The Big East is up for grabs in 2012, and the Big 12 -- assuming it still exists -- has one media deal expiring next year and another expiring in 2016. In fact, it was the likelihood of a large bid from Fox -- plus an agreement with ESPN to pay the same amount for a smaller league -- that helped Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe keep the conference together.
"Conversations with Fox indicate their bullishness about competing in the future for our rights, and they have already made overtures about their willingness to pay exponentially higher rights fees than those in our current agreements," Beebe wrote in a white paper distributed to Big 12 presidents this spring. "A primary driver of higher rights fees are competitors for the rights and all information is that there are more serious bidders about to enter the marketplace."
Besides Fox, Comcast-owned NBC is on the prowl for more college football to supplement its Notre Dame package. Turner, which shares a parent company with SI, could also be in the mix. Turner teamed with CBS for the new NCAA basketball tournament rights deal, and it has an ESPN-like infrastructure -- with TBS, TNT and TruTV -- that could allow multiple games to be shown at once. That means leagues itching for more money and more exposure will get their wishes. It also means fans might have to buy a TV that features picture-in-picture-in-picture-in-picture.
Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas and USC recently resuscitated themselves following a decade or more of mediocrity. Several traditional powers that struggled in the 2000s should do the same this decade. Why not UCLA and Tennessee?
The Bruins have several factors working in their favor entering their third season under Rick Neuheisel. Most notably, their cross-town rival just got hit with heavy NCAA sanctions (10 docked scholarships each of the next three seasons) that, at the very least, will benefit UCLA in head-to-head recruiting. But the Bruins weren't exactly struggling in that arena: Even coming off a 7-6 season, they landed Rivals.com's No. 8 class last spring.
"I think we're right on the cusp of being there," said Neuheisel. "The last three years, we've gotten great recruiting classes. We've done our R&D. Now we need to execute the business plan."
If UCLA, which enters preseason camp with just one projected senior starter, struggles this fall, it could spark grumblings about Neuheisel. But by then the foundation should be in place for either him or a successor to instigate a breakthrough right around the time USC feels the brunt of its sanctions. Remember, the Trojans started the 2000s with 5-7 and 6-6 seasons.
Tennessee faces a longer climb back to preeminence due to the state of disarray caused by coaching changes each of the past two seasons and the fact that several of Lane Kiffin's top 2009 signees (running back Bryce Brown, defensive back Darren Myles and receiver Nu'keese Richardson) have already washed out. But new coach Derek Dooley -- son of legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley -- signed another top 10 class last winter and should get some leeway from normally impatient fans.
Tennessee's big break, however, will come a few years down the road when Florida coach Urban Meyer prematurely retires (again) and Alabama's Nick Saban returns to the NFL (again).
It made a lot more sense that an SEC replay official missed an obvious interception by LSU's Patrick Peterson against Alabama last season once when we learned the official had access to the same television definition we did when we watched original-run episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard. Shortly after that game, The Birmingham News learned from SEC director of officials Rogers Redding that none of the replay booths were equipped with high-definition monitors. In other words, most fans had a better view of the giant, in-bounds divot Peterson's foot removed than the replay official did.
As it turned out, none of the conferences had HD replay setups. After the inevitable backlash, all six BCS conferences upgraded to HD for the 2010 season -- just in time for the consumer electronics industrial complex to unveil the gadget that might render HD obsolete.
So enjoy the next two or three years of HD replay, because by 2014, we'll probably be complaining that the conferences haven't yet upgraded to 3-D replay.