College Football Overtime (cont.)
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany knows well the jokes that were circulating in the aftermath of his conference's embarrassing 0-for-5 New Year's Day bowl showing. He's even willing to join in the fray himself. "We didn't produce any legends yesterday," said Delany when reached at the airport on his way out of Los Angeles on Sunday morning.
I've always cautioned against reading too much into bowl records, and as Delany pointed out, the Big Ten wasn't favored in any of those games. But there's no question both the 0-fer and the lopsided scores in the Capital One (Alabama beating co-champ Michigan State 49-7) and Gator (Mississippi State crushing Michigan 52-14) were a blow for a league that has spent four years trying to overcome the backlash that first ensued after Ohio State's 41-14 loss to Florida in that year's championship game. That loss marked the beginning of an unofficial rivalry between fans of the SEC and Big Ten, and the former league only reinforced its superiority over the latter with three head-to-head wins on Saturday.
"The SEC has demonstrated over a period of time that they're the strongest conference," Delany said. "The rest of us are looking to close the gap, but we've still got a little ways to go. ... We got beat pretty good by Alabama, but that's not a shock. The one thing I knew for sure was that Alabama was not the 15th-ranked team in the country."
Bowl season is often a double-edged sword for the Big Ten, which with its large fan followings and TV draws lands more high-profile bowl matchups than most leagues (it added the Gator Bowl as a third Big Ten-SEC New Year's game this year), but does so with the added risk of falling on its face like it did Saturday. After all, the leagues with the most bowl wins so far are the ACC and Mountain West (four apiece), but many of those wins came against the likes of six-win teams like East Carolina, UTEP and Tennessee in obscure December time slots.
"It may be a strength, it may be a weakness, but I'm always looking for the best game," said Delany. "I push our people to play the ACC in basketball, the SEC in football. The risk is when you're not up to snuff, it means you're not going to go 8-2."
The league gets one last notable chance to redeem itself in Tuesday night's Ohio State-Arkansas Sugar Bowl, a game that has garnered added intrigue due to the controversy surrounding the delayed suspensions of Terrelle Pryor and four other Buckeyes. "It's more important now than if we were 7-0 [in the bowls]," said Delany.
As for the oft-mocked Legends and Leaders division labels, it doesn't sound like the commissioner is relenting on his creations. "People have the right to agree or disagree, but they honor the objective of what we're trying to do," Delany said. "We had a rough day, but when you consider what we're trying to do with the concept of leaders -- I think everyone has to pick themselves up and move on with your life. If you can't do that, then you really haven't learned anything about what it means to be a leader."
Congratulations, Maryland. You win the award for strangest coaching search of the season. Having forced out reigning ACC Coach of the year Ralph Friedgen in part because the Terps were having trouble filling seats, the school passed on perceived front-runner Mike Leach at the 11th hour Sunday in favor of Connecticut's Randy Edsall.
Edsall is without a doubt a great coach, and the eccentric Leach isn't for everyone. But did Maryland even make an upgrade here? Did Edsall? A source with knowledge of the search told The Washington Post that the school got cold feet about Leach. "They wanted to make the conservative, safe, non-confrontational hire," the source said. "That's the bottom line."
Hmm. Conservative, safe and non-confrontational. Sounds a lot like ... Ralph Friedgen.
The surprise over the Edsall hire can't compare to the shockwaves that reverberated through the sport this weekend over the news that polarizing former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis is returning to college -- to be Will Muschamp's offensive coordinator at Florida. Wowsers.
Weis' acumen as an offensive coach is unquestioned, but the one consensus following his failed stint in South Bend was that he's first and foremost an NFL guy. He returned to the league this season as Todd Haley's coordinator in Kansas City and helped the Chiefs improve from 4-12 to 10-6 and playoff bound. If anything, Weis seemed destined to eventually become an NFL head coach.
Weis confirmed to the Kansas City Star that the move is more about family than football. He's told friends he got to spend more time with family as a college coach than as an NFL coach, and he'll get to do so even more now that his son Charlie Jr., a high school senior and aspiring football coach himself, is set to enroll at Florida and work in the football program. The family also bought a home in Jupiter, Fla., several years ago with the intent of eventually relocating there.
"This opportunity is one of those unique situations where I can go to a great institution where my son goes to matriculate and be able to spend the next bunch of years watching my son grow," Weis told the paper.
As for the Florida side of things? Muschamp, like mentor Nick Saban, is a staunch proponent of the pro-style offense, and Weis is unquestionably a pro-style guy. If nothing else, he should be able to lure elite drop-back quarterback recruits to Gainesville.
But I remain extremely skeptical that this is the right direction for Florida. Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer fit well in Gainesville because they were college guys. Weis' hire signals that Muschamp intends to turn the program into an NFL training factory -- exactly the kind of approach that ultimately doomed Weis at Notre Dame.
The unexpected opening at Pittsburgh coupled with Rodriguez's forthcoming firing at Michigan prompted speculation over a wild and downright juicy possibility: Why doesn't West Virginia's archrival hire Rich Rod? After all, who knows the Big East and the Backyard Brawl better? Fans on both sides would love it. How nasty would the atmosphere be the first time Rodriguez returned to Morgantown?
However, I'm told it's highly unlikely. After the mess Haywood left behind, Pitt AD Steve Pederson figures to be extremely cautious this time around. Rodriguez's West Virginia ties don't matter nearly as much as the considerable baggage he accrued over the past three years. There's no telling who Pitt will land next, only that Pederson, according to the school's statement, will explore a "wider pool of candidates" -- i.e., not just sitting head coaches this time around.