Posted: Sunday November 27, 2011 8:15PM ; Updated: Monday November 28, 2011 11:25AM
Stewart Mandel

College Football Overtime (cont.)

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Far-reaching coaching carousel heats up

Ron Zook was fired Sunday after his Illinois team finished 6-6 despite starting 6-0.
Ron Zook was fired Sunday after his Illinois team finished 6-6 despite starting 6-0.
Josh Holmberg/Cal Sport Media

It turns out Arizona AD Greg Byrne was ahead of the curve when he dismissed doomed coach Mike Stoops in the middle of the season. In so doing, Byrne, who last week announced the hiring of former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, was able to beat the pack in the hiring process, which will soon be commencing across his conference and the rest of the country.

The NFL has Black Monday, the day after the regular season when coaches are usually dismissed. There's no such distinction for college football, but the games had not even ended this weekend before the firing squad began en masse. Either gone or reportedly gone since Saturday: Illinois' Zook, Kansas' Turner Gill, Memphis' Larry Porter, UAB's Neil Callaway, Akron's Ianello, Washington State's Paul Wulff, Arizona State's Dennis Erickson and, albeit not for another week, UCLA's Neuheisel. Add in Arizona and at least one-third of the Pac-12 coaches will be different next season, including half of the South Division (where second-year USC coach Lane Kiffin will now be the second-longest tenured coach).

Three names figure to come up for some or all of the West Coast jobs: Mike Leach, Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Boise State's Chris Petersen. Leach may make the most sense in Pullman, where the Cougars' rare glory days in the late '90s/early 2000s came with Mike Price running his pass-friendly one-back offense and where Leach's baggage may be less of an issue than at, say, UCLA. Petersen, for his part, has turned down Pac-12 overtures before, from UCLA and Stanford, and may well be content to stay in Boise. But the recent dismissal of athletic director Gene Bleymaier and the school's awkward forthcoming move to the Big East may well change his thinking. Sumlin, working on a 12-0 season, figures to have his choice of destinations.

Meanwhile, there's no obvious candidate for Illinois (if it had canned Zook a year earlier, it could have landed an ideal fit, Jerry Kill, now at Minnesota) and no good read on new AD Mike Thomas, formerly at Cincinnati. Thomas would be smart to make a run at Sumlin, who was an assistant to Joe Tiller at Purdue. Like the Pac-12, the Big Ten is undergoing a massive overhaul with new coaches expected at Ohio State and Penn State as well, all coming just a year after Michigan's transition to Brady Hoke. Your guess is as good as mine as to who lands in State College.

And remember, there are openings already at North Carolina (where Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is considered a leading candidate) and Ole Miss (where Southern Miss' Larry Fedora and Arkansas State's Hugh Freeze keep coming up, but with no sign yet that either hiring is imminent).

It's shaping up to be one of the most far-reaching coaching carousels in recent memory -- and Byrne gets to sit back and watch it all as a spectator.

Smaller story, but I'm sure you're following it

If Michigan fans thought their seven-season drought against Ohio State was unbearable, they should imagine being a Kentucky fan every time the Wildcats face Tennessee. Starting in 1985, the Vols defeated their northerly neighbor 26 straight times ... until Saturday, when the Wildcats (5-7) sprang a 10-7 upset. And it took the unlikeliest of heroes to finally make it happen.

With top two quarterbacks Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith both sidelined by shoulder injuries, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders turned to senior wide receiver Matt Roark, moving him to a position he last played in high school six days before the game and installing a slimmed-down game plan for him that could basically be described thusly: Kentucky went Denver Broncos on Tennessee. Roark threw just six passes but ran 24 times for 124 yards, including runs of 24 and 26 yards on the Wildcats' lone touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter.

"We won the game with a wide receiver playing quarterback," said Sanders. "That's what we did."

According to the Lexington Herald Leader, Sanders gave Roark a wristband with 51 plays, and called them from one sheet rather than his usual six. Obviously, Kentucky's defense needed to do its part, which it did, limiting Vols quarterback Tyler Bray to 15-of-38 completions, intercepting him twice and forcing a fumble. Derek Dooley's team (5-7), which missed out on a bowl due to the loss, scored on a 53-yard Bray touchdown pass with 12:52 left, but never crossed its own 35-yard-line after that.

"Real bad ending to a real bad season," said Dooley, whose popularity in Knoxville is now far closer to Lane Kiffin territory than Phillip Fulmer.

That's not what they're saying in Lexington, where few teams could ever be more pleased with a 5-7 finish. Afterward, fans carried Roark off the field on their shoulders.

"I never expected to do anything like that," Roark said. "This is the memory that's going to be in my head for the rest of my life."

Looking ahead

Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:

LSU vs. Georgia, Saturday (4 p.m. ET): All the credit in the world to the Dawgs for reeling off 10 straight wins since dropping the first two -- but they haven't played a current Top 25 team since those first two. Quarterback Aaron Murray has been on fire lately, but this will be a significant step up in competition.

Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): The Cowboys have lost the last eight Bedlam meetings. This may be their best opportunity to topple the injury-ravaged Sooners, but their defense will need to produce turnovers and, more importantly, the Cowboys will need to avoid their own. First to 50 wins.

Wisconsin vs. Michigan State, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): The last one was decided by a Hail Mary. This one may be just as close, since the Spartans are the rare Big Ten defense capable of flustering Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson. But they'll have to slow down touchdown machine Montee Ball, too.

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