Tag Archives: AAC

There’s Nowhere To Go But Up For Rutgers Men’s Basketball

Rutgers basketball fans kept waiting to hit rock bottom.

In typical New Jersey fashion the university and it’s fans became impatient 10 years ago. Gary Waters had just led the Scarlet Knights to a 19-14 season, 7-9 in the Big East, when the Big East was still THE Big East. Kenpom had them as the 71st team in the nation– nothing to write home about, but respectable enough that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead of keeping Gary Water on the banks Rutgers turned its program over to Fred Hill, a man who had built his reputation as a recruiter. Quincy Douby, the last Rutgers player to be drafted into the NBA was gone — Rutgers finished 207th.

2008 brought highly coveted local recruit Corey Chandler, it didn’t work out — the team finished 11-20 overall and 3-15 in the Big East. 2009 brought in another highly touted local recruit in Mike Rosario, along with a talented big body in Gregory Echenique.

The 2009 team had a ton of talent, but for as much talent as they had, they possessed even less discipline. Rutgers finished 11-20 overall and 2-16 in conference and 159th in the nation.

In 2010, Dane Miller and Jonathan Mitchell came on board. Mitchell, a junior who had sat out the previous season after transferring from Florida was a do it all forward/wing. Dane Miller fit the same role, a slasher who ran on pure athleticism at times. Rutgers finished 15-17 overall, 5-13 in the Big East.

That would be Fred Hill’s last season as Rutgers head coach. As he departed so did Mike Rosario (transferred to Florida) and Greg Echenique (transferred to Creighton).

After going in the recruiting direction with the Fred Hill hire Rutgers turned to a hard working X’s and O’s guy in Mike Rice for 2011. He took the remaining talent and mixed in two freshman — a New York City guard in Mike Poole (would end up redshirting) and big man Gilvydas Biruta.

The result was the Scarlet Knights best campaign since Gary Waters’ final season. Rutgers finished just 5-13 in the Big East but 15-17 overall, good for a final KenPom ranking of 78th.

There was hope on the banks, the 2011 team played hard and was fun to watch. Mike Rice got the most from a team led by seniors Jonathan Mitchell, Mike Coburn and James Beatty.

Adding to the fans optimism was a 2012 recruiting class that infused the program with talent. Guard Myles Mack, Eli Carter and Jerome Seagers were joined by wing Malick Kone and big man Kadeem Jack.

Mack and Carter were local Paterson products, Kadeem Jack was from Queens. The Scarlet Knights had not only brought in talent, they had landed local talent. The team finished 14-18 overall and 6-12 in the Big East. The final KenPom ranking of 120 was a step back, but it was to be expected with such a young team.

After the 2012 season sophomore Gilvydus Biruta decided to transfer to Rhode Island (where former Rutgers assistants were now employed). At the time there wasn’t much concern, in hindsight it was a sign of things to come.

For the 2013 season, Rutgers would add Wally Judge who was now eligible after transferring from Kansas State. It helped ease the blow of losing Biruta the previous offseason. The Scarlet Knights now had talent which had gained valuable experience the year prior.

Half way through the season things started to get ugly. They finished the season 5-13 in the Big East and 15-16 overall — one Big East Tournament win away from their first .500 season since Gary Waters roamed the sidelines.

Then everything imploded.

Rutgers needed to do damage control, they went with program legend Eddie Jordan.

Jordan returned home with a NBA pedigree as he had both played and coached in the league. Many viewed it as a way to move past unfortunate recent events, while reminding both fans and potential recruits of Rutgers illustrious past.

In 2014, Rutgers would be playing in the American Athletic Conference, a one-year stop mover before their new home in the Big Ten. While expectations were low following a flood of transfers after the firing of Mike Rice, the AAC set Rutgers up with a softer conference schedule than the Big East they once competed in.

The team would finish 12-21 overall, 5-13 in conference. At the time it was easy to overlook, the program had just been through a lot. Talent had been lost and pieces needed to be plugged in last minute.

In hindsight there was still plenty of talent left in the program. Myles Mack, Jerome Seagers and Kadeem Jack were now all juniors. Rutgers had committed a fatal flaw when they handed the program over to Eddie Jordan — he had no idea how to run it.

College isn’t the NBA, in the NBA players are often as talented as they think they are– in college that’s rarely the case.

More than anything college players need to be broken down, their game dissected and torn apart before being rebuilt into a superior finished product. While John Calipari at Kentucky often has NBA level talent, he’s great at doing this.

Now in the Big Ten, Rutgers would finish the 2015 season with an overall record of 10-22 and a conference record of 2-16. Overall KenPom would have them ranked as the 198th team in the nation.

A team with talented seniors in Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack was getting blown out in non-conference play by 27 to George Washington and 18 to Saint Peter’s.

In 2016, now with both Mack and Jack gone, the Scarlet Knights would bring in talented playmaking guard Corey Sanders. Sanders would be joined by Deshawn Freeman and Jonathan Laurent, Rutgers was once again young but somewhat talented.

Poor play and injuries defined the 2016 season.

Rutgers would go on a 17 game losing streak, double digit conference blowouts were more likely than wins. There was a 22-point loss to Wisconsin, followed by a 25-point loss to Maryland, followed by a 34-point loss to Nebraska, followed by a 26-point loss to Ohio State, followed by a 50-point loss to Purdue

…followed by a…you get the point.

Rutgers finished last season 7-25 overall and 1-17 in Big Ten play. Their lone Big Ten win coming in their final conference game — at home over Minnesota.

KenPom had the Scarlet Knights ranked as the 279th best team in the country come seasons end. Their offense ranked 303rd, their defense ranked 235th. Rutgers would be labeled by most national media reporters covering college basketball as “the worst Power 5 program in the country”.

ROCK BOTTOM.

Now Steve Pikiell takes over — the UConn product who was able to build his previous universities program from the ground up (Stony Brook).

Here’s to digging our way out of this hole together.

E-mail Zak at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @playorbplayd.

Photo Courtesy of sheilnaik, Flickr

Predicted: New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff National Championship

This is the third and final part of my 2016 College Football Preview. The picks in this article directly reflect my first and second article, so check those out before reading this one.

Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND) 12/31/16

Miami (9-4) vs. LSU (10-2)

The Matchup: Miami will get the automatic ACC bid, as the Hurricanes are the best ACC team not in the CFP. LSU squeezes its way into the New Year’s Six over the likes of Notre Dame, the second team in line who just misses the New Year’s Six due to their indecisiveness at the QB position early in the season, which cost a few games. Other teams who are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Orange Bowl spot are Michigan State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but none of them finish over 9-3.

The Game: This is Leonard Fournette’s final game in an LSU jersey. He will eat up the Miami defense, which will have to deal with a bit of Les Miles madness. LSU will come out passing early and often, as the Miami defense gets weaker the further away from the line of scrimmage you go. Once the Tigers expose Miami’s pass defense, LSU will catch the Hurricanes on their heels by simply letting Fournette run over the competition. Fournette’s early season injury may keep him out of the Heisman Race, but he will sure look like a Heisman winner after this game is all said and done. LSU will simply put up too many points for the Hurricanes to keep up with.

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

Cotton Bowl (At-Large vs. At-Large) 1/2/17

Michigan (11-1) vs. UH (12-1)

The Matchup: Michigan is not happy to be here. The Wolverines believe that it belongs in the CFP. However, it ends up playing in Dallas facing off against a Houston Cougars squad whose excitement to be in this spotlight inversely mirrors the Wolverines.

The Game: The team’s respective enthusiasm for this particular game reflects into the matchup’s first half to a large degree. Michigan comes out uninterested and sluggish, which a Greg Ward, AAC player of the Year, powered Cougar offense heavily exploits. The First Half ends with the Cougars up 14-10. The Wolverines swing back in the second half, and take a three-point lead over UH with just over a minute left in the game. Greg Ward leads a final charge down the field into the red zone with time winding down. However, after two incomplete passes, Jabrill Peppers fools Ward, after Peppers fakes a blitz before dropping back into coverage. The strong Wolverine defensive line forces Ward to rush a decision, and he overlooks Peppers before throwing a pass which Peppers intercepts.

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) 1/2/17

Iowa (9-4) vs. Stanford (11-2)

The Matchup: Iowa, who lost the Big Ten championship to Ohio State, gets the automatic Rose Bowl bid. Stanford, meanwhile, wins the Pac-12 and because no Pac-12 team gets into the CFP, are the other automatic bid, which makes the 2017 Rose Bowl an identical matchup to the 2016 game.

The Game:  This game will have a similar outcome as the matchup the previous year. Stanford will let Christian McCaffrey run free, and he will single-handedly slaughter Iowa. Iowa, in all honesty, does not belong in the Rose Bowl, and once again, the game’s result shows that. This one is not even close.

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) 1/2/17

TCU (10-2) vs. Tennessee (10-3)

The Matchup: I’m going to be honest. Even though I picked them to be here, I would be surprised if Tennessee can win the SEC East and get the automatic bowl berth. The Volunteers’ inconsistency over the last several years makes I hard to believe that it can string together a solid season and take the East over Georgia and Florida. But, that’s what my mind believed when I wrote last week’s prediction article, so here we are. If the Volunteers manage to make it to the Sugar Bowl, it will face off against TCU, winners of the lackluster Big 12.

The Game: Despite the fact that I don’t think it will make it to this game, I think the SEC will prove too much for TCU. Tennessee, behind powerhouse running back Jalen Hurd and a Joshua Dobbs who develops into a great passer throughout the season, are able to out muster the Horned Frogs offensively. Tennessee’ defense, which nine starters, will shut down the Horned Frogs’ offense. This will be a defensive battle between these two teams, but the Volunteers prevail.

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)  12/31/16

#1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 FSU (11-1)

The Matchup: Ohio State, still riding off “The Game of the Century” Part 2, in which the Buckeyes beat #2 ranked Michigan, gets the #1 overall seed for the third annual College Football Playoff. FSU, meanwhile, campaigns hard for its spot, which the Seminoles fight Michigan, Stanford, TCU and Houston for. However, dominating wins late in the season after a close defeat to Clemson allow FSU to squeeze into its second College Football Playoff appearance.

The Game: Lead by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner, J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes get off to a quick start, scoring quickly on a pass over the middle against the weakest part of the Seminole defense. However, the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense will struggle to do anything to stop the Dalvin Cook Seminole offense, and FSU goes up by 10 heading into halftime. Coming out of the half, Dontre Wilson brings the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making the Buckeyes deficit only three. Both defenses then hunker down, with the likes of Raekwon McMillan and DeMarcus Walker dominating for the Buckeyes and Seminoles respectively. Late in the 4th, J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State down the field, but Urban Meyer has to settle for a field goal. However, with two minutes to work with, Dalvin Cook is able to take his time and rush the Seminoles into Field Goal position with only a few ticks left. Ricky Aguayo gets a perfect hold ad knocks home a 52-yard field goal as time expires to allow the Seminoles to win.

Final Score: Florida State Seminoles 23 – Ohio State Buckeyes 20

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) 12/31/16

#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-1)

The Matchup: Winners of the ACC and SEC respectively, Clemson and Alabama both come off monster season to qualify as the middle seeds for the College Football Playoff. Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, Clemson finished undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss came to Ole Miss early in the season.

The Game: This game will ultimately come down to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense. The Alabama offense will struggle with Cooper Bateman at the helm, but Clemson’s defense will not be nearly as dominant as years past, allowing the Crimson Tide to find holes to score both on the ground and in the air. However, the issue for Alabama is that Clemson’s offense simply has too many pieces, as if the passing game to wide outs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott struggles, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, both of whom were 1000 yard rushers in 2015, can simply push Alabama back behind the Tigers’ O-Line. Though Alabama remains in the game in the first half, Clemson comes out firing in the second and breaks the game wide open. Alabama, though talented, won’t have an answer for Clemson, and the Tigers win the game by a fairly wide margin. The Crimson Tide’s shot at returning to the College Football National Championship is cut one game short.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

 College Football Playoff National Championship 1/9/16 (Tampa, FL)

#2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles (12-1)

The Game: This game is going to be a rematch of possibly the best offensive matchup of the 2016 season. Earlier, Clemson beat out FSU in Tallahassee, and that is why the Tigers remained undefeated the entire year. The National Championship, featuring two teams less located less than 600 miles from the game’s location, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be an offensive bout the likes of which we haven’t seen in man years. While both teams have competent defenses, Clemson and FSU will look to win the National Championship with offensive firepower. This game will actually not be as much of a nail-biter as their first matchup, as Deshaun Watson, in his second straight title game, will come out firing on all cylinders. FSU will stay in the game, but the Clemson offense will prove to be too much, and keep a constant lead over the Seminoles the entire game. The Clemson Tigers will have its first National Title since 1981.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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Image Courtesy of Counse – Flickr

The Cartel and the Mid-Majors, Why Scheduling Matters

Imagine pulling for a team that can’t possibly win a championship, and not just because they aren’t good enough.  In College Football, it might literally be impossible to even qualify for a championship based on the company we keep.  Because of that, and that alone, it falls on the schedule-makers at Nobody U to make said program outside the Cartel relevant to the national conversation.

That’s not to say any of the participants from “non-qualifying” conferences ever really diluted the product, quite the opposite, in fact.

Boise State was the nation’s only unbeaten team from the 2006 season. The Broncos had to ‘settle’ for that historic Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.   Meanwhile, one-loss Florida took down Ohio State in the bigger game on that same field in Arizona a week later.  After Boise State’s 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma, their quarterback was asked if they deserved a title shot, and he said he thought so.  He wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t quite all-the-way right either.

That perfect Boise State squad scheduled Division I-AA Sacramento State, a 10-win Oregon State team, Wyoming, and Utah in a down year, out of conference. None of their Western Athletic Conference rivals were ranked at the time of their game against the Broncos or the end of the season, so it was very difficult to argue their body of work against that of Ohio State’s or Florida’s for a spot in the two-team playoff.  Being undefeated basically became the standard for the Broncos, but even non-league wins over Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Georgia were not enough for National Championship consideration.  Playing other mid-majors in 8 or 9 contests per year, it impresses no one.

What are the contenders in the American, Conference-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt doing to chase down more than just small conference glory? What type of 2016 schedule might qualify these nobodies for the very exclusive tournament that College Football uses to crown its champion?

American Athletic Conference

The geography of this league lends itself to some really good non-conference games, as SMU gets backyard games with TCU and Baylor, but the team with a schedule worthy of national consideration is Houston.  Sure, they’re playing Lamar, and I will not support any playing of FCS opponents by teams that want to be the best of the FBS, but I’ll let it go for Oklahoma and Louisville.  The Sooners and Cardinals will both play Houston in Houston, which should be good enough if they survive the AAC.

Conference USA

Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) is going to attract the big boys to the Alamo Dome, but they will usually have to reciprocate with a road game. This year, they host Arizona State in September and take a trip to College Station, where Texas A&M will host them in November.  Don’t expect competitive games.  I might like Marshall’s gauntlet of ACC adversaries, if they weren’t coming immediately after an opening slate of Morgan State and Akron. Like Marshall, Western Kentucky will be taking on Louisville, but we’re focused on their Week 2 matchup. They’ll tussle with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, so should there be a running of the table, the Hilltoppers may get to dance.

Mid-American Conference

There might be a case to be made for Northern Illinois, but Bowling Green accompanies their visit to Columbus to play Ohio State with solid mid-major matchups against Middle Tennessee State and Memphis. They’ll see both NIU and Toledo in conference play, games they need to win for anyone to take them seriously, especially if Ohio State doesn’t boat-race them in the opener.

Mountain West

Boise State will make headlines in some markets with their Pac-12 opponents, at home against Washington State and in Corvallis versus the Oregon State Beavers, but BYU may give them their biggest challenge. However, it is the much traveled Hawaii Rainbow Warriors that play Cal, Michigan, and Arizona.  Those are all long-ish to long road trips against 2016 teams that are much better than their 2015 counterparts.

Sun Belt

If I skipped this section or listed FCS schools in this paragraph, would you even notice?

On a serious note, Troy plays Clemson, which is cool, but it’s off-set it is by playing the dregs of the FBS in Idaho. Austin Peay and Southern Miss don’t move the needle for me either, looking at the Trojans schedule. However, our eye is on Appalachian State.  The team best known for upsetting Michigan in 2007 is going FCS-free in ‘16, visiting the best Tennessee Volunteers team anyone has seen in years, and they convinced The U to come to Boone, North Carolina. The Mountaineers have already won, if you ask me.

At the end of the day, if we’re talking about those four lines and those two semi-final games, to open our game’s championship up to the anyone outside of the Cartel, it’s probably Houston.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

(featured photo via Sporting News.com)

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The MAChelorette: Three Schools Courting the AAC

With news out of the Big 12 re-energizing the tectonics of a precarious college football landscape, America’s two favorite reality shows are upon us once again: conference realignment and the Bachelorette.

The Power 5 may add as many as four schools in this new round of expansion, beginning a domino effect that ultimately lands at the foot of the Mid-American Conference. The American Athletic Conference stands to lose members of its own to the Big 12, meaning it may look to conferences like the MAC to replenish its twelve team structure. Of course, this is all purely speculative, but what else is the preseason for?

Frankly, MAC teams should be desperate to improve their standing in an ever-changing college football world. These programs are desperate to find a loving marriage with a shiny, new conference, much like JoJo in the final episodes of ABC’s hit reality show.

Here we have three Mid-American Conference programs poised to join the ranks of the American Conference, hoping to receive a rose reciprocating their affections. Well, that and a $126 million TV deal.

Northern Illinois

A fringe contender for Big 12 expansion, the Huskies have their hearts set realistically on a romance with the American Athletic Conference. And why wouldn’t they? In the past twelve seasons, Northern Illinois has attended a remarkable 10 bowl games, including a berth in the 2012 Orange Bowl. The program struck gold with Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren, launching the program to a decade of mid-major success unrivaled by any MAC foes. From a purely football standpoint, Northern Illinois is a no-brainer. The problem is with NIU’s other athletic programs, which are, as a whole, consistently subpar.

With that being said, NIU athletic director Sean Frazier adds important credibility to the school’s expansion bid. Frazier, a hotshot AD rumored to be in consideration for recent openings at Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Illinois, and Minnesota, among others, should appeal to AAC leaders taking a gamble on programs of lesser prestige.

DeKalb, Illinois is certainly no Houston or Cincinnati, but NIU would stretch the AAC’s footprint further Midwest and towards Chicago. The university announced plans to renovate Huskie Stadium in 2014, expanding seating options and, hopefully for the Huskies, AAC appeal.

Northern Illinois is one of the hottest Group of 5 football programs in the country, but is it hot enough for the American Athletic Conference?

VERDICT: First-impression rose. Don’t overthink this, AAC. NIU is by far the sexiest football program in the room, and they’ve proven it on the gridiron. Don’t listen to the grumbling critics of Rod Carey, don’t worry about NIU’s wrestling team, or anything like that.  Choose the Huskies now, fall in love later.

Buffalo

Being the only MAC program that resides in a major media market, there’s reciprocal benefit to the Bulls joining the American. While Buffalo anticipates expansion beneath the umbrella of a $126 million TV deal, the conference reclaims a revenue-critical section of the Northeast it could be losing with the departure of Connecticut. (Does this sound like Temple? It should sound like Temple.)

Granted, after back-to-back losing seasons, Buffalo’s football pedigree certainly leaves a lot to be desired. But keep in mind, this is a conference featuring UCF, a team that turned in one of the FBS’ two winless seasons last year (looking at you, Kansas). Add that to Buffalo’s MAC championships in both men’s and women’s basketball, and suddenly the Bulls look adequately prepared to compete in an improved conference. Buffalo would also boost the AAC’s academic standing, an addition sure to make the hearts of Tulane and Navy swoon.

What’s not to love about the Bulls?

VERDICT: Buffalo receives a rose. What they lack in name brand and football prowess, they make up for in large-market attraction. College football is a material world.  Who says the American Athletic Conference can’t be a material girl?

Toledo

The Rockets represent a perfect mixture of Buffalo and NIU. Toledo boasts well-rounded athletics with a capable football program, an urban location, and access to Ohio’s fertile recruiting grounds- especially critical if the AAC loses Cincinnati. Their attendance ranked second in the conference last season as the Glass Bowl stands among the MAC’s finest stadiums.

Still, Toledo football hasn’t won a conference title since 2004. While they’ve competed in six bowl games since then- and won four of them-, the American Conference won’t be looking for above average MAC programs. They’ll be looking for the best, which Toledo simply hasn’t been. Furthermore, academics prove to be a struggle for Toledo, ranking near the bottom among current conference members.

Despite their flaws, do the Rockets have the moves to secure a date with the AAC?

VERDICT: No dice. Sorry Toledo, sometimes love hurts. The MAC prides itself on stability, and if it’s any consolation, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a stable girl. Pick yourself up and wipe those tears away- there’s #MACtion to be played.

E-mail Cole at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @cole_hankins.

Photo courtesy of Chad Cooper – Flickr

2015 AAC Championship: Tom Herman is Off and Running at Houston

Guess who won the Tom Herman 2016 coaching jackpot? Houston won it and the dividends began being paid out during the 2015 AAC championship game.

Temple faced off against Houston and was a legitimate foe. That did not matter to Herman and his Mensa mind. Herman consistently placed his Cougars in position to succeed on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
During the pregame show, ABC/ESPN offered a feature story on Temple linebacker, Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich has none of the measurables of a quality linebacker, but that did not hold him back from being the standout defensive player this year for Temple. What he lacked in measurables, he more than made up for in being “assignment sound.” Herman and his offensive gameplan didn’t receive that memo.

Houston’s offense went right at Matakevich and the Temple defensive front and the Cougars were rewarded. Greg Ward Jr. and Brandon Wilson gashed the Temple defensive front time and time again. Greg Ward’s success shouldn’t come as a surprise. But Wilson’s success? That should have come with a smidge of surprise. Herman and offensive coordinator, Major Applewhite, took a cornerback and used him to gash that Temple defensive front.

This is what a well-coached and well-formulated gameplan will do for a team. As I said before, Houston hit the jackpot with Houston. How long will Herman stick around is now the multi-million dollar question.
It is well known that Herman covets the Texas Longhorn coaching job. Throughout the season, Charlie Strong’s job security oscillated between strong and luke warm. Texas has been competitive against Baylor today and beat arch rival, Oklahoma earlier in the season. This means that Strong’s job security should be considered rock solid for the next year or so. Herman’s desire for a bigger job and specifically Texas, may or may not matter.

It may not matter due to the substantial contract that Houston inked Herman to. At $2.8 million per year, it is not a Texas sized contract but it does show the commitment that Houston has to Herman. This is a point that was also made by Chris Spielman and Shaun McDonough as they called the AAC championship game. Herman’s new contract may also be a harbinger of things to come for Houston.

Houston has been linked to rumors of potential Big 12 expansion. If this does indeed happen in the next 24 to 36 months, the football team certainly has a Power 5 type of coach. That $2.8 million salary could easily grow to over $3 million if Houston’s conference affiliation had a Power 5 relationship.

Prior to the AAC championship, Herman was in a great professional position regardless of what he chose to do in the future. With a dismantling of Temple, Herman’s value just got bigger. Yes, it is “only” an AAC championship but championships matter no matter which conference they are won in. Herman has proven that he has championship level coaching ability and to some schools that matters. Not only does it matter to some schools, but it also makes Houston even more attractive to any conference that may be contemplating expansion.

A successful Houston program is just what the Big 12 needs in its real or perceived fight with the SEC. A winning Houston program can battle for viewership in the Houston market with Texas A&M. And as the Aggies fizzle out time and time again, a Herman led Houston program may be the spear in the ground that the Big 12 needs.

Herman still has to prove that this season isn’t a one hit wonder for him, but all signs point to him being the real deal. Championships are difficult to win at any level and he has one in his first year as a head coach.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

The Not-So-Secret Recipe for the University of Houston’s Success

The Houston Cougars have been an interesting team to follow this season. Not too many people outside the state of Texas know much about them, but that could be changing in a few weeks.

As we stand, Houston is undefeated with two games left to play. But let’s not get carried away; their biggest opponents have been Memphis and Louisville. However, they have taken care of business with the schedule that they’ve been dealt.

The Cougars don’t have a strong enough schedule to be considered for the College Football Playoff, but we could be seeing them in a New Years bowl game as the best team outside of the Power 5 conferences. So why is Houston dominating this season after being an average team over the last few seasons?

The answer is simple: Tom Herman.

For those who don’t know, Herman is the first-year head coach of the Cougars after being Ohio State’s offensive coordinator for their championship run a year ago. He has always been a highly regarded coordinator, but now you can expect his name to be on a short list for teams looking for a head coach.

Herman has been successful in Houston because he has a lot of ties to the state of Texas. He coached for 10 years for different programs in Texas before spending time elsewhere. Now he is back in Texas and has picked up where he left off. And he just may have picked a coaching hotbed to propel his career.

Houston has been a starting point for several head coaches recently. The most notable coaches are Art Briles of Baylor and Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M. The common theme between those coaches is that they had success at Houston with offensive minds and now have been at their current jobs ever since. Herman could be going down that same path.

Assuming Herman wants to be a head coach in a Power 5 conference, he may want to stay where he’s at for a little while. He seems to have a good handle on recruiting in the state of Texas, so it’s probably best that he stays within the state for his next head coaching job. The only problem is, there aren’t many high profile Texas programs that are actively looking for a head coach right now.

An interesting fit for Herman would be at the University of Texas. The Longhorns have struggled under Charlie Strong, and the rumblings about him possibly leaving are starting to get louder. It’s unlikely that Strong will get fired at the end of this year, but that could be a different story if Texas has the same result next year.

Herman doesn’t have enough head coaching experience yet to inherit a team that is rebuilding. If he came into a situation like at Texas where Strong has been bringing in some solid recruits to work with, then Herman could hit the ground running and see success virtually overnight. But he has to have something to work with already.

Programs like USC, South Carolina and Miami likely won’t be courting Herman too strongly this offseason, so Houston fans can probably rest easy for now. Briles and Sumlin spent at least three years at Houston before moving on, so it actually may be in Herman’s best interest to wait for the right fit.

College football programs are becoming increasingly more impatient when it comes to their head coach. If Herman finishes this season undefeated and has success again at Houston for a couple more seasons, he will likely be able to cherry pick his next job. But if he starts hovering around a .500 season for a couple of years, then we could be talking about a completely different story with him.

I believe Herman is going to be successful at Houston during his tenure and he will land a high profile job in the near future. The only hope Houston fans have for keeping him is if some crazy realignment scenario happens where the Cougars end up in the Big XII or another Power 5 program. With the ways things are going, it doesn’t appear that will be likely over the next few years.

Readers of More Than A Fan need to remember Tom Herman’s name. Give it a few years and we could be talking about him being the head coach at a major college program and having some big time success. Unfortunately, it just won’t happen at the University of Houston.

Sorry UH fans.

Gary Pinkel Isn’t in Favor of Notre Dame, Independents Being Playoff Eligible

Let’s work through this together. Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel isn’t a fan of Independents in college football. He only really cares about Notre Dame – who is kind of in a conference – but there’s also Army and BYU. Navy joins the American Athletic Conference this year for football only. So, in that respect they’re kind of like Notre Dame. Partially in a conference and partially, well, not.

In fairness to Pinkel, I have no idea what the context was or where this conversation took place, but needless to say the Notre Dame people probably won’t take to kindly to this comment.

I’ll say this, as I said to Seth in our group chat on Slack, I think a lot of people overvalue their conferences. Last week, Mike and I had a discussion about the best conference in college football. Really those types of conversations are useless. Like, Ohio State won the championship and the Big Ten is barely better than Big 12.

Barely.

Ohio State winning the National Championship doesn’t mean the Big Ten is good. It isn’t. Alabama winning 15 National Championships doesn’t mean the Southeastern Conference is great.

Would I like to see Notre Dame and to a lesser degree Navy join a conference as full time members? Nah. I like that teams are independent. I’m not a fan of either being partial members. Notre Dame only joined the ACC because it wanted easier access to the playoff and Navy joins the AAC because it wants more money (who doesn’t?), but really both teams are being kind of disrespectful to the other members by not joining full time.

Now, back to Pinkel. He isn’t off the hook yet. Before he spouts off about Notre Dame (remember, I don’t know the context) he should consider dropping the FCS schools on his schedule and maybe not lose to Indiana. No knocking Indiana, but the Hoosiers did lose to Bowling Green last year. So using the transitive property (which I hate, but whatever), does that make Bowling Green better than Missouri?

In the specific case of Notre Dame vs. Missouri, Pinkel forgets or choses to ignore that Notre Dame’s schedule is consistently tougher than Missouri’s. For the sake of conversation, we’ll consider the five ACC games Notre Dame will play to be conference games. Again, only for the sake of conversation. Notre Dame will also play Boston College in Boston this year as part of its Shamrock Series.

Notre Dame’s “non-conference” schedule consists of Texas, UMass, Navy, USC, Temple, and Stanford. Easy to see the easiest games on their schedule are UMass and Temple, and in their conference schedule we can say Virginia and Wake Forest are probably the gimme games.

In comparison, Missouri battle Southeast Missouri and Arkansas State at the beginning of the season, which are FCS schools, by the way. The Tigers’ other two non-conference games pit them against UConn and BYU, which by the way are both home games. Yes, the BYU game is in Kansas City, but be real – that’s a home game.

I’d be willing to give Pinkel’s statements about Notre Dame, the other Independents and the Big 12 (no conference champion) some weight if his school didn’t schedule FCS teams, but the reality is that as long as the playoff committee doesn’t require potential playoff teams to be conference champions then there’s no need for Notre Dame to become a full member of any conference.

So, before Pinkel makes light of Notre Dame’s playoff eligibility, he should consider beefing up his non-conference schedule so that he is in fact faces somewhat equal competition on a weekly basis.

The Crossroads: The Season-Defining Games Have Arrived

The new college football playoff has changed the sport.

Last Saturday, from the moment the Notre Dame and Auburn games kicked off through the fourth quarter of the Oregon game, fans were treated to almost 10 straight hours of heart-racing, pulse-pounding action.

However, the increased attention on the playoff has removed interest in the other four New Year’s Six bowls. A year ago, we’d be focused on whether Michigan State or Notre Dame could still reach a BCS game. This year, I’ve heard no one discuss potential Fiesta Bowl matchups. We’ll see in January if people still tune in for these major non-playoff bowls. We’ll see this week if people still care.

You see, beyond the playoff, there are many, many seasons on the line this weekend. Sure, Florida/South Carolina may have no impact on the playoff but it will shape how both programs are perceived this year and next.

For this week’s Crossroads, we step away from the playoff – I’m sure many, many others will write about Alabama/Mississippi State – and look at a whole bunch of important games that may be off your radar.

The SEC East Title Race

I’ve always been fascinated by the SEC East because it wraps up so early. With Georgia, South Carolina and Florida ending with in-state, non-conference rivals, the division is usually decided weeks before others. This year could be no different. Or it could very different.

Who knew Florida/South Carolina could mean something? Yes, Florida has a very minute but still realistic chance of winning the division – they need 1 Georgia loss and 2 Missouri losses. Those two are both in play Saturday with Georgia playing Auburn and Missouri playing Texas A&M.

Or Georgia could win, Missouri could lose and the Bulldogs would wrap up the division. Or Georgia and Florida could lose and Missouri could essentially clinch. It will be one intriguing Saturday to see who will play in the SEC Title Game and play the role of ultimate spoiler.

East Carolina’s New Year’s Day hopes

Who will represent the Group of Five in a New Year’s Six bowl? The selection committee identified the five contenders, though it feels like Northern Illinois and Marshall just don’t have enough on the resume. Colorado State might be the best team and might have the best win, but its loss to Boise State means it may not even win its conference.

It feels like this will come down to Boise State and East Carolina. Both have tricky games down the stretch, though East Carolina faces maybe its toughest test left with a road game at Cincinnati. The Bearcats have been terrible on defense but can score points and are still in the thick of the AAC race. It would be a decent win for East Carolina and it’s a must-win.

Oregon State’s bowl dreams

There is no rational explanation for picking Oregon State against Arizona State. Except it’s a late-night Pac-12 game. Except that it’s in Corvallis. Except that it’s the biggest TRAP game you could possibly imagine. Except that Oregon State’s entire season is on the line.

The ACC’s Orange Bowl spot

As long as Florida State keeps winning, there will be an undeserving ACC team in the Orange Bowl. And it’s really stupid. But we have to accept it. So instead of a Top 10, say, Michigan State or Arizona playing in a big bowl game, an ACC team on the fringe of the rankings will be playing on New Year’s Eve.

So who will this team be? There’s a very, very good chance it will be the winner of the Clemson/Georgia Tech game on Saturday.

Minnesota’s potential

How good can Minnesota be? Their ceiling has always seemed to be 7 or 8 wins. Is this the year everything changes? The win over Iowa was an eye-opener, to say the least. This week, they get Ohio State in their building for an early start – an 11 a.m. local kick that the Gophers seem to do every week while the Buckeyes seem to only play at night.

No one will fault Minnesota if they lose this game. They are playing with house money. Teams playing with house money are always dangerous.

Bo Pelini

On the Big Ten Network this week, the analysts were flabbergasted Nebraska was ranked so low and had an honest-to-goodness debate about their playoff chances. Playoffs? We’re talking playoffs??

Nebraska has been stuck in four-loss hell for years and people seem to think Bo Pelini has finally shown he can win at Nebraska. Uh, what? Do you know what the Big Ten record is of the four teams Nebraska has beat? It’s 3-18. 3-18!! Nebraska plays Wisconsin in Camp Randall on Saturday. Let’s see if Nebraska is still ranked next week.

Michigan State’s program

Michigan State could win 10 games for the fourth time in five years. There is no doubt the program has become one of the Big Ten’s elite, essentially replacing Michigan at the top of the heap in the past five years. Elite programs bounce back from bad losses.

Simply put – can Michigan State re-focus and beat Maryland on the road Saturday night? The Spartans’ goals, from the Big Ten title to the playoffs to even a New Year’s Six bowl, may all be unreachable. They need to prove their greatness by disposing of what will be a fired up Terps teams.

Arkansas

The Razorbacks get LSU at home a week after the Tigers went toe-to-toe against Alabama in an epic, low-scoring, high-hitting overtime game. I don’t see a better opportunity for Arkansas to get its first SEC win in forever. They have to get over the hump and beat a ranked opponent.

Marshall’s undefeated season

Is Rice the toughest game left for Marshall? There is Louisiana Tech looming in the Conference USA Title Game but Rice might be the better team. Rice, if you don’t remember, is the defending conference champion that opened the season 0-3 following road trips to Notre Dame and Texas A&M, ouch. After a bad loss to Old Dominion, they have reeled off six wins in a row. They are 21-point underdogs and shouldn’t win, but they may be a live longshot.

Georgia Southern’ s dream season

What a bizarre situation – Georgia Southern is 8-2 and undefeated in the Sun Belt yet likely won’t play in a bowl due to its transistional status from FCS. Their only two losses were road nail-biters to ACC teams N.C. State and Georgia Tech, the latter of which is now a Top 25 team. Imagine if they had won that.

Instead, Georgia Southern must merely strive for a remarkable 10-win season. To do so, they must beat Navy on Saturday in a fascinating game between two options teams, which means it should run about two hours. You’ll probably be watching Alabama/Mississippi State Saturday afternoon – you should check in on this though.

Transitioning from a Fan of a Team to a Fan of a Conference

There are now four more weeks remaining in the college football season. Depending on who you cheer for, tough decisions may lay ahead. For Big Ten fans, the somewhat remote playoff possibilities now rest in the hands of Ohio State after the Buckeyes knocked off Michigan State in one of the marquee matchups this past Saturday. Ohio State has Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan remaining on their schedule while Michigan State’s remaining opponents are Maryland, Rutgers, and Penn State. Neither team has the high caliber opponents that will provide a legitimate boost to their strength of schedule. On paper, Ohio State should be able to win out and, with some key losses by top teams and a bit of luck with the way their early loss to Virginia Tech is viewed, can make a decent argument for being in the four team playoff.

After 11 weeks, it’s pretty obvious that Ohio State, Michigan State, and Nebraska are the class of the Big Ten. However, for fans of the rest of the Big Ten, it is difficult to flip the switch and begin hoping that Ohio State does well just so that the Big Ten has a fighting chance of being represented in the first ever college football playoff. Although having a Big Ten team in the final four would be great, what might be better for the conference would be to have no team make it into the 4 team playoff.

There are six “power conferences” (AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) and only four playoff spots which means that mathematically at least two will be left out. While not getting into the playoffs would be seen by the media and fans as a “failure,” it also creates a situation where the Big Ten conference can drastically minimize the criticism and media scrutiny that typically accompanies its poor postseason performance. The conference has become known for getting its teams into high profile games and then losing. Excluding the very unlikely possibility of having Ohio State get into the playoff and the even more improbable scenario of the Buckeyes winning it all, for the most part, having a team sneak into the college football playoff only to be promptly eliminated would be the worst possible scenario for the conference. When a Big Ten team is announced as having made it into the playoffs there will be outrage. How come (insert non-Big Ten school) didn’t make it?! This type of reaction is expected. After all, 68 teams get into the NCAA tournament in March and there are still debates about why the 69th and 70th teams were passed over.

The real issues occur after the Big Ten playoff representative has been eliminated. Then ESPN and other programs begin flashing up numbers about how the conference as a whole has fared in high-profile games and there are long discussions about the conference that will inevitably end with someone saying that the Big Ten is no longer one of the truly elite conferences. The next story will then be about how one or more of the teams that were “snubbed” by the selection committee had a dominant bowl performance and more media outrage and criticism will be added. To avoid this, Big Ten fans should hope that the conference ends up doing what teams like the Philadelphia 76ers seem to enjoy doing the past few season: tank and start anew. Avoid the negative media attention and scrutiny for a year and get a “fresh” start in 2015. Instead of being stuck in no man’s land and perpetuating the cycle of high-profile losses, it is best for the conference to not get the opportunity to have a gut wrenching loss. Don’t get into the playoff, endure the week or two of college analysts discussing how the conference is weak, and then go into the offseason. Like the NBA draft lottery, the offseason is a place for hope. Players who were unknown a year ago will become household names. Not too many people knew about Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott or TCU’s Trevone Boykin last year, but they have become infinitely more popular due to breakout seasons. In a few years (insert recruit name, like one of Ohio State’s top recruits Torrance Gibson), can turn (insert team) into a real contender ready to make a true run at a championship.

Especially in college sports, the phrase “success breeds success” is often true. The best programs get the top recruits. If this season has been any indicator, the recruits that happen to slip away from the top programs are pretty good as well. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are two examples of how taking what many considered the “leftover” recruits from SEC powers like Alabama and LSU can be very productive. Likewise, with a down year that can be cast as the “bottoming out” of the conference, the Big Ten as a whole can begin anew as opposed to struggling its way into bowl games, losing, getting negative media attention, and repeating the cycle. Recruits can be lured with the promise of restoring schools and the conference as a whole to its former prestige and possibly even with playing time. There is nothing more dangerous that a team that has nothing to lose, or, for that matter, a conference.

ECU Doing It The Right Way

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In reference to East Carolina’s 70 to 41 victory over UNC, a couple of song lyrics are useful in describing the situation. First, Carrie Underwood’s hit, “I Told You So” comes to mind. At the risk of sounding immodest, in an article entitled “Pirates Shoot Down the Hokies” I predicted a ten  point or better victory for the Pirates. Okay, I missed the margin of victory, but technically I was right, I said ten points or better.
Obviously, the Pirate victory was due to athletic skill, a good defensive scheme, and an explosive offense. However, I submit that the behavior standards and values to which the team is held are also reasons for the Pirates’ success. For example, Cam Worthy apparently had issues resulting from a verbal altercation that occurred during the summer and was suspended for two games. Big Terry Williams was suspended for several games last year and did what was necessary to earn his spot back on the team. Moreover, Williams made huge contributions in the wins over Virginia Tech and UNC. Anyone familiar with the Pirate program knows behaviors that occur at other schools often bring relatively minor sanctions, but are dealt with more severely at East Carolina.
The record indicates Coach McNeill will suspend a player regardless of the game situation. Before the game began, the loss of Cam Worthy looked big. Worthy was the leading receiver last week against Virginia Tech with over 200 receiving yards. The record also indicates Coach McNeill will give a young man the opportunity to correct his behavior and rejoin the team as Terry Williams did.
Football is about discipline and execution. A coach cannot expect a player to follow the game plan on Saturday if the coach covers up  a player’s behavior issues that occur off the field. The same discipline and more importantly, the same self-discipline, that is required to do what is necessary off the field is the same self-discipline that is needed on the field. The simple decision to get up, go to class and study when you are dog tired and everyone is telling you how great you played on Saturday takes self-discipline.  The decision to walk away from a negative situation and not being drawn into it takes self-discipline. This is the same self-discipline that is needed on Saturday when you are exhausted and you need to draw on the last reserve of energy and execute your assignment that was practiced during the week.
College football is about more than winning a game; at the end of the day, it has to be about education and preparing young men for life. However, winning football games and fulfilling the higher missions of a college are not incompatible; they are one and the same. The Pirates did not win in spite of an important player being suspended just before a big game; the Pirates won because at East Carolina  football players are expected to do the right thing by the coaches and school administration. Sometimes the right thing means suspending a young man for a football game. The goal is not to punish the offending player and cast him as a bad person, but rather that he learn and correct his behavior. Moreover, it tells the other players that behavior standards are important.  Those standards include pushing yourself to do better and to respect the rights of other people.  It also means taking responsibility for your mistakes and learning from them.  Those lessons apply to the football field, the classroom, or whatever endeavor one takes in life.
The second set of lyrics with relevance for the Pirates is, “The Future is So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” The Pirates are on the verge of an outstanding season. The reward could be a major New Years bowl bid. However, the Pirates must guard against complacency and not let the season become a “what could have been” season. To some extent that has already occurred with the loss to South Carolina.
Now Cincinnati and Central Florida are seen as the threats remaining on the schedule, but ECU has a big target on its back. Regardless of win-loss records and press clippings, the Pirates need to give their undivided attention to each team they play. The Pirates have the talent to run the table from here on out, but they had the talent to beat Tulane in 2013 and lost.
If the Pirates take care of business, great things are in the future. They have a bye week coming up and play SMU in Greenville on October 4. Bye weeks can be dangerous; bye weeks with a lot of positive press coverage are even more dangerous. The Pirates need to jump on the Mustangs out of the gate. The first quarter of ECU versus SMU could very well set the tone for that game and rest of the season.
Underwood’s hit, “I Told You So” comes to mind. At the risk of sounding immodest, in an article entitled “Pirates Shoot Down the Hokies” I predicted a ten points or better victory for the Pirates. Okay, I missed the margin of victory, but technically I was right, I said ten points or better.
Obviously, the Pirate victory was due to athletic skill, a good defensive scheme, and an explosive offense. However, I submit that the behavior standards and values to which the team is held are also reasons for the Pirates’ success. For example, Cam Worthy apparently had issues resulting from a verbal altercation that occurred during the summer and was suspended for two games. Big Terry Williams was suspended for several games last year and did what was necessary to earn his spot back onto the team. Moreover, Williams made huge contributions in the wins over Virginia Tech and UNC. Anyone familiar with the Pirate program knows behaviors that occur at other schools often bring relatively minor sanctions, but are dealt with more severely at East Carolina.
The record indicates Coach McNeill will suspend a player regardless of the game situation. Before the game began, the loss of Cam Worthy looked big. Worthy was the big dog receiver last week against Virginia Tech with over 200 receiving yards. The record also indicates Coach McNeill will give a young man the opportunity to correct his behavior and rejoin the team as Terry Williams did.
Football is about discipline and execution. A coach cannot expect a player to follow the game plan on Saturday and cover up behavior issues that occur off the field. The same discipline and more importantly, the same self-discipline, that is required to do what is necessary off the field is the same self-discipline that is needed on the field. The simple decision to get up, go to class and study when you are dog tired and everyone is telling you how great you played on Saturday takes self-discipline. The decision to walk away from a negative situation and not being drawn into it takes self-discipline. This is the same self-discipline that is needed on Saturday when you are exhausted and you need to draw on the last reserve of energy and execute your assignment that was practiced during the week.
College football is about more than winning a game; at the end of the day, it has to be about education and preparing young men for life. However, winning football games and fulfilling the higher missions of a college are not incompatible; they are one and the same. The Pirates did not win in spite of an important player being suspended just before a big game; the Pirates won because at East Carolina the football players are expected to do the right thing by the coaches and school administration. Sometimes the right thing means suspending a young man for a football game. The goal is not to punish the offending player and cast him as a bad person, but rather that he learn and correct his behavior. Moreover, it tells the other players that behavior standards are important.
The second set of lyrics with relevance for the Pirates is, “The Future is So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” The Pirates are on the verge of an outstanding season. The reward could be a major New Years bowl bid. However, the Pirates must guard against complacency and not let the season become a “what could have been” season. To some extent that has already occurred with the loss to South Carolina.
Now Cincinnati and Central Florida are seen as the threats remaining on the schedule, but ECU has a big target on its back. Regardless of win-loss records and press clippings, the Pirates need to give their undivided attention to each team they play. The Pirates have the talent to run the table from here on out, but they had the talent to beat Tulane in 2013 and lost.
If the Pirates take care of business, great things are in the future. They have a bye week coming up and play SMU in Greenville on October 4. Bye weeks can be dangerous; bye weeks with a lot of positive press coverage are even more dangerous. The Pirates need to jump on the Mustangs out of the gate. The first quarter of ECU versus SMU could very well set the tone for that game and rest of the season.