College Football Overtime (cont.)
If I could get back one pick from our already outdated midseason Crystal Ball, it wouldn't be Oklahoma's title-game slot. It would be "Coach on the Hottest Seat." At least the Right Reverend's team showed signs of life in its near-upset of No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday (Ole Miss led by 17 before falling 29-24). Rick Neuheisel's team? Not so much.
There have been many, many lows in Neuheisel's four-year UCLA tenure -- a 59-0 loss to BYU in his second game, a 60-13 loss at Oregon last season -- but last Thursday was unquestionably a new level of humiliation. Arizona, 1-5, under the direction of interim coach Tim Kish and sporting one of the nation's statistically worst defenses, routed the Bruins 48-12, leaving Craig James and Jesse Palmer to spend roughly two hours trying to diagnose Neuheisel's problems. (Their grand conclusion: He just doesn't have good players.)
Amazingly, the Bruins (3-4) went into the game still entertaining hopes of winning the woeful Pac-12 South. At 2-1, with wins over Oregon State and Washington State, they were tied for first in the loss column with Arizona State. Perhaps the players were deflated by AD Dan Guerrero's comments foretelling their coach's almost certain dismissal. On the heels of his "day-to-day" line a week earlier, Guerrero analyzed the state of the program line-by-line in a blog post, indicating mere bowl eligibility would not be Neuheisel's saving grace.
Even that now seems out of the picture. Guerrero would be wise to go ahead and put the coach out of his misery, but instead he said after Thursday's game he would make no immediate decision. "My philosophy on early terminations may be different than some," said the same man who hired, then held on to, Karl Dorrell well past the point of obvious failure.
Now, Neuheisel will go into next week's Cal game severely shorthanded after the Pac-12 suspended four of his receivers (Embree, Randall Carroll, Shaq Evans and Ricky Marvay) as well as defensive tackle Cassius Marsh (two games) and guard Alberto Cid (half game) for their roles in the halftime brawl.
"My argument is I'm absolutely the right guy for the job," Neuheisel reiterated Thursday night. "I'm looking forward to continuing that quest."
Please, someone make it stop. It's too painful to watch.
Five years ago, Ron English first made a name for himself as the coordinator for a Michigan defense that started 11-0 and produced NFL standouts LaMarr Woodley, David Harris and Leon Hall. A year later, the Wolverines lost to Appalachian State and Lloyd Carr retired. English resurfaced at Louisville, then in 2009 took a head-coaching job that assured even more obscurity -- especially after his first team went 0-12.
Two years later, however, English is soon to be back on a lot of prominent athletic directors' radars. He has Eastern Michigan (5-3) off to its best start since 1995. On Saturday, Eastern beat Western Michigan, 14-10, which coupled with a win the week before over Central Michigan gave the Eagles the Michigan MAC Trophy (yes, this really exists).
Not surprisingly, the Eagles are doing it with defense. On Saturday they held Western's star receiver Jordan White -- who came in averaging more than 10 catches and 133 yards -- to seven catches for 70 yards. Imports Marlon Pollard (10 tackles), a UCLA transfer, and Lattarius Thomas (seven tackles), a Louisville transfer, helped lead the way.
And just like when he was at Michigan, English is not one for basking in praise.
"I think our defense ... really, we have a long ... we can be a good defense, we have some pieces," he said. "As a defensive guy it's hard to be real happy all the time because you're always nitpicking and nitpicking. I think the guys will be happy when they go home because they helped win the game."
Eastern Michigan has only played in one bowl game in school history -- the 1987 California Bowl against San Jose State -- but Little Ceasars Bowl executive director Ken Hoffman scouted the Eagles on Saturday. English would likely tell him they've still got a ways to go, but after winning two games over the past two seasons, English's team has already made significant strides.
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
Stanford at USC, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): The Trojans' lack of depth is most evident at the line of scrimmage, which is never a good sign against the physical Cardinal. But USC is gaining momentum, and Stanford hasn't played a tough road game. It's a lot like the lead-up to the Wisconsin-Michigan State game.
Oklahoma at Kansas State, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): The Bill Snyder comeback tour would reach unprecedented heights with K-State's first win over the Sooners since the 2003 Big 12 title game. Unfortunately, the Sooners' loss to Texas Tech was probably the worst thing that could have happened to the Wildcats. OU will be angry.
Florida vs. Georgia, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): It's a stretch to say Mark Richt is coaching for his job here, but he could really use the win, both to keep the Dawgs in the hunt for a trip to Atlanta, and because the Gators have been his constant tormentor. He's got to beat them when they've lost three straight.