Predicting the future fortunes for Florida's Big Three; more mail
Florida, Miami and FSU are all beginning new eras, all well positioned to win
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany defends the league's new division names
Cam Newton's not doing himself any favors with his "no comment" approach
Recently, a couple of fan bases have dug up my old articles to remind me that some of my initial assessments of coaching hires have been a bit off the mark in recent years. Most notably, there was the infamous "Chizik has Zero Chance to Succeed" column, which I've now been e-mailed several hundred times from Auburn fans. (In my defense, I wonder how many of those same fans felt the same way at the time.) Last weekend, after Arkansas gave Bobby Petrino a contract extension that includes a $1 trillion buyout (actually $18 million, which is still remarkably high), a few Razorbacks fans came armed with this 2007 gem, which predicted Petrino would have fled town by now. (In my defense, he'd changed jobs twice in 11 months. Vegas would have given me 1:1 odds.)
Undaunted, folks keep asking me to stare into my crystal ball and predict the future fortunes or failures of coaches who've yet to even hire their first staff members -- and I'll keep indulging, because what fun would the Mailbag be without wild, ripe-for-future-mockery prognostication attempts?
The once and mighty former BIG 3 -- FSU, Florida and Miami -- all have their head coaches. Let's look ahead to 2013. Who in your opinion will be in better shape as a football program when that day comes?
-- Brad Sontag, Jacksonville, Fla.
Are you serious? I'd have a better chance of predicting the price of oil in 2013.
First thing's first: Florida (with Will Muschamp) and Miami (with Al Golden) both made excellent hires. The recruiting wars in that state are going to be epic over the next few years. FSU's Jimbo Fisher has a leg up as the sudden elder statesman of the group, but Muschamp and Golden won't take long to catch up. Muschamp's experience in the SEC at both LSU and Auburn will pay dividends, and Golden should be able to extend Miami's reach along the East Coast.
In the short term, FSU and Miami should take back state supremacy for the first time in nearly a decade. The 'Noles are already on the right track. They won their division this year and should be even better next year. Golden, meanwhile, is inheriting a ready-made winner in Coral Gables. How many coaches walk into a place boasting a three-year starting quarterback (Jacory Harris), his anointed successor (Stephen Morris) and a junior and senior class stocked with former four- and five-star recruits? The ACC may well get its long-awaited FSU-Miami title game next year.
Muschamp will have some rebuilding to do in Gainesville, but it won't take long. Lest we forget, Urban Meyer recruited the No. 1 class in the country last February. There's a lot of young talent in that program. I would be shocked if the Gators aren't back in the SEC Championship Game in two years, and I'd be shocked if they aren't in the thick of the national hunt in 2013. The national landscape has changed considerably since the FSU/Miami heyday. Florida has won two national titles in the last five years and plays in the most revered conference in the country. It has an inherent advantage over the other two. All three programs will be strong over the next several years, but by 2013, Florida should be the strongest.
Leaders and Legends??? Seriously???
-- Adam Pence, Kalamazoo, Mich.
Is there anything redeeming about the new Big Ten division names? I feel ridiculous saying them out loud and will do anything I can to avoid doing so. In my opinion, whatever they were trying to accomplish completely backfired.
-- Kevin, Cincinnati
Like most of you, I cringed -- both as a college football fan and a Big Ten alum -- when those names were uttered. My initial reaction: Could they come off any more condescending? Is the Big Ten the only league that produces legends and leaders? (Though it's nice to know I am a legend.) Then I started thinking about the potential ramifications for sportswriters: "Ohio State, the Big Ten Leaders Division co-leader..." So we have that to look forward to. But this clearly had Jim Delany's stamp all over it -- always looking to be a trendsetter, always with one eye on the marketing possibilities -- so I thought it fair to get reaction from the source himself.
"We were monitoring the blogs and media coverage from the get-go. I think we've got a good handle on where the criticism is," Delany told me Tuesday. "The area where we were most surprised was the very strong negative reaction on the divisional names. I guess it's like submitting a book to the publisher and hoping there were no red marks on the return."
Delany said the decisions on both the names and the new logo were made in-house ("Ultimately, I take full responsibility") and that he knows they're "risky." The league considered going the "safe" route and doing something geographical, but, "Because it's the Midwest, there's really only one Eastern institution [Penn State] and maybe two or three Western institutions. We could have done Lakes and Prairies, but some of our schools are in major metropolitan markets and some of our institutions don't border lakes." They also decided against the popularly theorized Bo/Woody or Grange/Kinnick variety, instead incorporating specific names into a bunch of new trophies.
Essentially, no obvious names jumped off the page after the initial decision to put competitive balance ahead of geography in dividing the teams. So the Big Ten went outside the box and opted for a thematic approach that matches a lot of its promotional programming. "We probably broke some rules, and when you break rules and don't conform to etiquette, you're going to get some pushback," said Delany. "But I hope we get the opportunity to experiment, and that people gives us a chance to do it."
From a purely football standpoint, I don't see how the names will be anything but confusing to fans both inside and outside the conference. It's going to be hard enough figuring out which teams are on which side. Then again, I'm the same guy who never imagined the Big Ten Network being successful. And I know a lot of people 20 years ago thought the idea of Penn State joining the league was certifiably crazy. If we can accept a 12-team league calling itself the Big Ten, maybe we'll eventually accept Legends and Leaders -- but not before at least three years' worth of punchlines. (For example, do you consider Iowa receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos a leader or a legend?)
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