Is Nebraska's Bo Pelini on the hot seat?; more mail
More Mailbag (cont.)
Someone recently tweeted at me, "So you moved out west, but most of the questions chosen in your mailbag are still about the SEC? Why?" To which I had a simple answer: "That's who sends the questions." I know the SEC is basically college football's version of the National Football League, but rumor has it they still play football in other parts of the country. So this week I put out a call pleading for questions about topics other than SEC cross-divisional scheduling, Butch Jones' recruiting success or all-things Johnny Manziel.
Most fan bases in the nation would kill to know they could expect nine or 10 wins every year; unfortunately, Nebraska's is not one of them. I have personally been calling for Bo Pelini's job for more than a year now. It seems to me that he can coach, but he can't recruit (which, strangely, was the opposite problem of coach Bill Callahan before him). In my opinion, the Huskers have reached the apex of what they can be under Pelini. However, I seem to be in the minority on this one. Should Pelini be on the hot seat if he can't get Nebraska to a BCS game this year?
-- Ryan, Lincoln, Neb.
Ryan surely knows this joke already, but for those of you who don't know it: Have you heard they've changed the spelling of the Nebraska head coach's last name? It's now Bo PeLLLLini.
Pelini's case is truly unique. On one hand, his program is the model of consistency (it doesn't get much more consistent than 9-4, 10-4, 10-4, 9-4, 10-4 over the last five years), and it regularly competes for championships (three conference title game appearances in five seasons). Yet on the other, the Huskers have not taken that final step and actually won a trophy, and last year's 63-28 loss to Ohio State and, more notably, 70-31 Big Ten title game meltdown against Wisconsin sullied what otherwise should have been a commendable 10-2 regular season. The 2012 team did nothing to inspire confidence that the Pelini regime is making progress. In fact, it served as the latest reminder of just how far the once-vaunted Blackshirts have slipped since the spectacular Ndamukong Suh-led 2009 unit.
Nebraska is now the complete opposite of where it started under Pelini. Its offense, led by seemingly 18th-year quarterback Taylor Martinez, could well be the most explosive in the Big Ten this season. T-Magic quietly improved as a passer last season (62 percent completion rate, 2,871 passing yards), though he continued to be a turnover machine (20 combined interceptions and lost fumbles). He'll be surrounded by ample playmakers like receiver Kenny Bell and running back Ameer Abdullah. However, the defense, already so awful against the run last season (No. 90 nationally), returns just one starter up front. Pelini talked at Big Ten media days last week about his plans to utilize more three-man fronts and brought up juco defensive end Randy Gregory and several freshmen and redshirt freshmen as possible reinforcements. He's ever the optimist.
Nebraska is a legitimate conference title contender this year, and if the Huskers win the Big Ten, this whole topic becomes moot. However, if 2013 results in another nine-win, Capital One or Outback Bowl season, AD Shawn Eichorst may face a bit of a quandary. In most cases, a consistent nine-to-10 win coach should not be on the hot seat. Nebraska already made that mistake once with its handling of Frank Solich. Yet this is Nebraska -- as in, five-time national champion Nebraska. The Huskers are a consistent Top 25 team, but they're still well behind the national elite. The program's NFL output has gradually dipped during Pelini's tenure. Personally, I don't have much confidence that he will ever lead Nebraska to national glory. If it hasn't happened in five years, it probably never will. I suspect many Huskers fans feel the same way but aren't yet ready to give up on a guy who runs a clean program and wins 71 percent of his games. I don't blame them. Let's see where Pelini stands in four months.
Oklahoma has been quiet this offseason, something I personally believe fits Bob Stoops' persona. The "publicity" has mainly come from Stoops' comments about the SEC. Where do you think the Sooners stand as a Big 12 contender and, from a dark horse standpoint, as a national championship contender?
-- Jacob, Cedar Bluffs, Neb.
One should never count out Stoops in the Big 12, where he's won at least a share of a remarkable eight titles in 14 years. After years of being propped up in the preseason and then falling short of expectations, Stoops is probably thrilled that his team is flying under the radar this fall.
I believe that the conference, which has been the second-best nationally for at least the past two seasons, will not be as strong this year due to inexperienced quarterbacks and a dearth of proven playmakers. It's also completely wide open. Fans could make a valid argument for any of five teams -- Texas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor -- to win the league. While the Sooners are breaking in a new starting quarterback, Blake Bell, he'll have no shortage of talent surrounding him, particularly up front.
But no, I wouldn't put Oklahoma in the national title mix because, quite frankly, it no longer has national title-type talent. I wouldn't have said that as recently as two years ago. But over the past two seasons, even while going 10-3 both years, Oklahoma has experienced a noticeable drop-off in elite-level players, particularly on defense. Consider this: The Sooners lost seven defensive starters from last year's team, and only two were drafted -- in the sixth and seventh rounds. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched the Cotton Bowl, but it's certainly alarming for a program that used to churn out All-America defenders on an almost annual bais. Cornerback Aaron Colvin has that potential on this year's team, but in general, this unit might not be much better than last year's group that ranked 64th nationally. And that spells at least a couple of losses.
I know you've written about Brady Hoke's recruiting success before, so it may seem like old news when Michigan lands big commitments like it did this weekend. However, if all the verbal commits come to Ann Arbor, the 2015 Wolverines' offense could feature two former top-three running backs, two top-five receivers, a top-five quarterback and a top-tier offensive line. That's a pretty good haul. Is it possible that Michigan is getting a lot of these players because more and more of its competitors are going to spread-style/read-option schemes? Do players who view themselves as pro material want to play in a pro-style offense?
-- Ben, Grand Rapids, Mich.
The last part is a legitimate question, and I'll answer it in a second. But first ... can we stop and recognize the larger insanity behind this email? You didn't read that incorrectly; Ben is talking about 2015 recruits. The big commitment he speaks of came from George Campbell, the purported "No. 1 receiver for 2015." How on earth could anyone possibly know that? It's hard enough to project which 2013 recruits will best make the transition to college next month, much less kids who still have two years of high school remaining. In fact, there are probably kids in the class of 2015 who haven't even started a varsity game yet who will wind up becoming huge college stars. Nearly all programs now chase players who are sophomores or younger, but Michigan has become one of the most aggressive in that pursuit. Hoke and his staff better have impeccable evaluation skills, because they've even got the CEO of Twitter inordinately excited about these commitments.
As for its recruiting pitch, I'm sure Hoke's staff is selling the pro-ready notion hard, but Michigan itself is the biggest draw. The Big House, the winged helmets and the school's academic reputation should mostly sell themselves. Obviously, it's not that simple when dealing with kids who have offers from numerous elite programs. Hoke and his assistants are tremendous recruiters. Players from previous classes could not speak more positively about Hoke, a coach whose gruff demeanor with the media belies the fact that he's actually a warm, funny guy. Assistants like Greg Mattison and Fred Jackson are some of the best in the business at building relationships with prospects.
Stewart, like a number of your readers, I live overseas and desperately miss all of the games I get in the U.S. MLB and the NFL both have packages available which allow me to watch all of the games overseas. Where can I find live and/or tape-delayed college football games (legally) streaming on the internet?
-- Al Caniglia, Frankfurt, Germany
Good question. I've heard from several expats in Europe who are frustrated that ESPN America -- which was good for at least a few college games each Saturday -- is shutting down. I don't know the answer here, but are there any fellow transplanted readers who can help Al, and others like him, with this predicament?
If a new NCAA Division IV (by whatever name) ultimately becomes reality, will Notre Dame be forced to join a conference in football? The unified decision by the Power Five conferences to form a new division is for reasons completely unrelated to the Fighting Irish, but I think the conference commissioners and ADs would consider it an appropriate and beneficial "extra bonus" to finally force Notre Dame's hand: "Join a conference like all the rest of us, or stay behind. Your choice."
-- Kyle Hanser, Edmond, Okla.
I find it hilarious that the Power Five conferences, after years of decrying the fact that Notre Dame gets to play by a different set of rules, potentially want to do the same thing to the rest of college football.
-- Andrew, Fresno, Calif.
I find it hilarious that every new wave of realignment (or in this case, restructuring) inevitably leads back to a discussion about Notre Dame. I assure you, the perceived jealousy/anger about that school "playing by its own set of rules" is far more pervasive among college fans than actual college administrators. (SEC coaches are apparently an exception.) The Irish's continued independence is not harming them in any tangible way. And Notre Dame is certainly not getting left behind in any changing power structure.
I would encourage anyone interested in this subject to read Pete Thamel's story from last week about what the forthcoming Division I restructuring might look like. It's definitely significant and being driven by the Power Five, but it's not likely to have as drastic an effect as many initially envisioned (including me in last week's Mailbag). In fact, it sounds like the change might be largely imperceptible to the average fan. This is almost entirely about the NCAA legislative process. The big-money programs want to be able to provide scholarship stipends to their athletes (as one example) without the middle- or lower-tier revenue schools shooting the idea down. They want to be able to enact recruiting rules, for example, that are steeped in reality and don't need to be created to apply the same way to both field hockey and major college football. They want to create a division where it's not necessarily a requirement that everybody follow the exact same governance model, but schools can opt-in if they want.
So yes, the Power Five are proposing to quite literally play by a different set of rules.
I was disappointed by the lack of coverage for Penn State's John Urschel at Big Ten media days. His keynote address was an inspiring message often lost in today's sports world. Has sports media been reduced to ambulance chasers and police blotters? Do journalists only seek out negative stories in hopes of getting clicks?
-- Brian, Phoenix
You're being way too harsh, Brian. We're not ambulance chasers; we just wait for someone to post amateur video of a guy getting beer thrown at him and turn that into a big story in hopes of getting clicks.
I don't know why Urschel's speech didn't go viral like Kirk Cousins' and Denard Robinson's the two years before him, but Urschel is definitely a great story. The Penn State offensive lineman and fifth-year senior is a mathematics savant and 4.0 student who's currently embarking on his second master's degree.
As a Washington fan, my general belief is that Steve Sarkisian has to get over the seven-win hump this season or he should be gone. My question is this: Who do you see as potential hot coaches who could be on the market at the end of the year? Washington is a school with rich tradition, rabid fans willing to spend money and a new stadium that will likely be one of the best in the land. I want Sark to succeed as I like him, but I think history shows that if a coach isn't succeeding after five years, he probably won't get it done.
-- James, Inner West
There's an alarming amount of pessimism among this week's questions considering we're just days away from the start of camp. I agree that Sarkisian is on the hot seat, especially given the long-awaited reopening of renovated Husky Stadium. But you're already looking for replacements? It's tough to predict these things ahead of time; who would have guessed prior to last season that Dave Doeren, Mike MacIntyre and Darrell Hazell would land BCS-conference jobs? Or that Bret Bielema would jump to the SEC? Depending on how they fare this season, I could see the next wave of hot mid-major coaches including Louisiana-Lafayette's Mark Hudspeth, Ball State's Pete Lembo and Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter. Still, knowing Washington AD Scott Woodward, he'd likely make a run at someone with a bigger reputation. And there's one name you know will be hovering over all others come the coaching carousel in November: Bobby Petrino.
Seriously, though, focus on Keith Price, Bishop Sankey and the gang. This could be a big year for U-Dub.
Stewart, you can go to hell. You are shortsighted and cannot see values in a good coach. Do you really think all coaches should be like the ones at Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama -- that kind of school? You pander to the lowest level of reader and can shut it off, as far as I'm concerned. You're among the worst examples of the Eastern Elite and I would like you to shut up. Thank you.
-- John, Davenport, Iowa
Ah, yes, there's still one fan base rallying around its embattled coach.
Thank you for chiming in four weeks after the fact, John. This native Midwesterner now living in California shares your contempt for the Eastern Elite.
The last time a big preseason favorite won the Heisman was in 2006 with Troy Smith. Has the award fundamentally changed over the past six seasons, or is this run of relative surprise winners just a quirk of history?
-- David Wunderlich, Waukegan, Ill.
You've got two factors in play here. One is the impossibly high standard voters and the public set for incumbent winners and preseason favorites. Case in point: Matt Barkley was built up as the favorite for the entire offseason last year, then as soon as he lost to Stanford in Week 3, the consensus was that he was already out of the running. The year before, Andrew Luck had even more offseason momentum and in fact continued his stranglehold well into November. But once he slipped up against Oregon, voters went looking for someone else. Even the season David cites, I don't think he's remembering fully. Smith certainly had preseason hype, but the early favorite by far was Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn. Still, when Michigan routed the Irish in South Bend in Week 3, Smith, whose Buckeyes had won at defending champ Texas a week earlier, seized command of the race and never surrendered it in large part because his team never lost.
Meanwhile, it's never been easier for a previously unsung candidate, like Manziel last year, to jump into the race. Every game is on television, a million media outlets cover the sport and it's almost impossible for any outstanding performer to go unnoticed. Combine that with the volatile, week-to-week bandwagon nature of today's Heisman race and it's awfully hard to go wire-to-wire. The first time a candidate slips up, there are no shortage of alternatives for the media and the public to jump to. The best thing to hope for in the cases of Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater or any of the other presumptive 2013 favorites is that the inevitable bad game comes early enough to jump back to the top when the next flavor of the month eventually suffers his slip-up.
I've got one for your eighth-year senior team -- Matt Patchan. He was on Florida's 2008 national title team and will now finish his senior year at BOSTON COLLEGE after sitting out FOREVER with injuries.
-- Jeff Hostetler, Gainesville, Fla.
I think we can all agree that Jared Abbrederis should be a starting wide receiver on the eighth-year senior team. I swear I heard him play in Alvarez's last season.
-- David, Birmingham, Ala.
Well, technically he did play in Alvarez's last game.
I'm confused by the sarcasm in the Mailbag question and reply last week regarding Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. Rees played as a true freshman and is now entering his fourth year, as a senior on pace to graduate ahead of schedule. Let's not let the facts or research get in the way of cynicism.
-- Mike, Miami
Yeah, I can't really help you with that.