More Mailbag (cont.)
I'm assuming no non-AQ team will make it to the top 12, but if Boise State (or any other non-AQ) were to make it into the top 16 and be ranked ahead of every Big Ten team except for Ohio State, does that give them an automatic bid based on the sanctions against Ohio State?
-- Trent, Layton, Utah
Yes, there is a lot of football left, but you've brought up the prospect of Ohio in the BCS a couple of times. Which bowl game is most likely to get saddled with an outsider?
-- David L., Cincinnati
I hadn't thought about that notion, but yes, with the possible exception of Michigan (which reentered the AP Poll this week after making a mockery of my Upset Special), it seems unlikely any Big Ten team not named Ohio State will finish in the top 16, which means the conference will factor into a BCS rule usually associated with the Big East. (Side note: The Big East, with three undefeated teams, is not getting nearly enough credit this year. At the very least, it's better than the ACC, which has to be particularly pleasing to the folks in Providence.) The rule states that the highest-ranked non-AQ champion is guaranteed a berth if it finishes in the top 16 and ahead of the champion of an AQ league. Ohio State will not be the Big Ten's champion this year.
As for the second part, while I keep half-jokingly referring to 6-0 Ohio's BCS prospects, the Bobcats' chances aren't looking too bright. For one thing, they're still buried at No. 31 in the Coaches' Poll, but more notably, I don't like their chances of finishing undefeated after close calls against 0-6 UMass and 1-4 Buffalo. The more realistic candidates are Boise and, in particular, newly ranked Louisiana Tech, which has a huge game this week against Texas A&M. The Orange Bowl has last choice of at-large teams this year and thus would seem the most likely candidate to get "saddled with an outsider." But that might change if the team is undefeated Louisiana Tech, which consistently scores 50 points per game. The Sugar Bowl, with the second choice, would face tremendous pressure to take the in-state team.
So how many years in a row does the ACC have to disappoint before the preseason "ACC Will Be Good!" articles go away? The conference hasn't had a true national title contender in November since Florida State in 2003.
-- Sean, Washington D.C.
I must have missed the rash of "ACC will be good" articles this preseason. Were you exclusively reading www.theacc.com?
Stewart, in the West Virginia-Texas game, there were 10 fourth downs. WVU punted once. Texas punted once. WVU went for it five times, and Texas three. Is this the sign that the punt is not long for the college game? Could abandoning the punt (like Mike Leach often does) be the next evolution in football?
-- Bob Forrester, Lancaster, Pa.
Coaches becoming more aggressive on fourth down is definitely a growing trend. Last week against Northwestern, Penn State went for it on fourth down six times, converting five. Bill O'Brien has already attempted 20 fourth-down conversions in six games, USC has attempted 16, Missouri 15 and Oregon and Arizona 13. Mind you, many of these are decisions to forsake long field goals, not punts, but it fits with the larger trend I wrote about last week. The older generations of coaches who believed in playing it safe, conserving field position, trusting your defense, etc. (embodied by Jim Tressel, among others) is gradually giving way to coaches like Chip Kelly or Dana Holgorsen, whose whole philosophy is attack, attack, attack. Suddenly easing up on fourth-and-two from the 50-yard line doesn't jibe.
And in many cases, the decisions are statistically prudent. If an offense is averaging five or six yards per play, why wouldn't a coach have faith that he can pick up three yards on fourth down? Studies in the NFL have shown that coaches are far more risk averse on fourth down than the probabilities say they should be, presumably for fear of losing their job if a risky decision backfires. That's partially our fault as fans. Some of the perceived "gambles" coaches take on fourth down aren't actually gambles at all, statistically speaking. They're smart. But we're conditioned to view nearly every aggressive fourth-down call as something controversial. I don't anticipate college coaches unilaterally abandoning the punt, since risk does outweigh the reward for a large chunk of the field, but I expect to see more and more aggressive fourth-down management.
I love my Mountaineers and a sickening thought kept running through my head after the Texas game. In 2007, with the best team West Virginia had in years, one win away from playing for the national championship, WVU lost and subsequently lost its homegrown, hometown hero coach (Rich Rodriguez) to another school (Michigan). How likely is it that coach Holgorsen goes to another school (say Arkansas) if WVU does not make it to the BCS Championship Game? I really want to enjoy this year while I can, but I cannot help but feel -- even with the move to the Big 12 -- that WVU is still a stopping point for other jobs.
-- Dave, Beckley, W.Va.
Dave, you were obviously deeply scarred by the RichRod experience. And there's no question, Holgorsen could be quite sought after this offseason thanks to his offensive acumen. But a lot has changed since 2007. For one, West Virginia has gone from a Good Ol' Boy puppet of an athletic director (Ed Pastilong) to one of the savviest ADs in the entire country (Oliver Luck). Luck and Holgorsen have a great working relationship, and the former is going to do whatever it takes to keep the latter happy. Second, the move to the Big 12 is huge. As long as WVU remained in the Big East it would always be in danger of losing its coach. Now, there's no other conference that's an obvious step up from the one WVU is currently in. Arkansas may be able to pay more, but would Holgorsen's ability to compete for a conference and/or national championship greatly increase from where it is now? No. Furthermore, Holgorsen is comfortable in the Big 12. It's a league he knows well, with a recruiting base (Texas) he knows well.
When Mack Brown retires, then start panicking.
Your omission of even mentioning a significant Ohio State victory in a weekend review of college football -- a victory unusual in its scope because of the final score and the opponent -- seems like a journalistic statement in and of itself. I'm curious what that statement is.
-- Andrew, Cleveland
So, Charlie Weis, in all of his infinite wisdom, gave his seniors the day off from practice last Sunday to "develop younger players for the future." Is this the worst coaching move of the season? Or does Gene Chizik already have that honor locked up?
-- Tom, Princeton, N.J.
I will refrain from the absolutes (other than to specify that Chizik's worst decision of the year came last January), but Weis' move -- and the fact he advertised it -- just reinforces what I've believed for five years: The guy just doesn't get college football. He's too cerebral. On an intellectual level, his decision makes complete sense. This season is obviously a lost cause. Why not spend one harmless practice focusing on the younger guys? Because of the message it sends; that's why. They're college kids. They're not thinking about the future. They're thinking about winning the next game. But Weis is unabashedly telling them (and the media) that he's more concerned about the 2013 season than the 2012 campaign. That should really get their blood pumping. It's also a slap in the face to those seniors, even if they probably viewed the day off as a reward.
I don't blame Weis for continuing to return to the college game even though the NFL clearly suits him better. He obviously views it as a more desirable lifestyle for him and his family. The better question is, why do athletic directors like Kansas' Sheahon Zenger keep falling for the same trap? This phenomenon isn't exclusive to Weis. This week, Georgia Tech fired defensive coordinator Al Groh; this is the second time in four seasons he has been dismissed by an ACC school. Groh was an NFL head coach. He obviously knows his Xs and Os. But, like Weis, he seemed unable to connect with his college players.
While we're on the subject, Charlie, it's not the student paper's job to root, root, root for the home team -- though I understand your frustration. Not every school has as friendly a media partner as Notre Dame on NBC.
Ohio State hater. You need us more than we need you. Next year when we are at the top I hope Coach Meteor tells you to stick it. OSU national champions.
-- Jeff, Lima, Ohio
The one person I'm absolutely sure has not given thought to the amount of Ohio State coverage in College Football Overtime is Coach Meteor.