Tag Archives: Al Golden

The ACC’s Best Football Games of 2016

The ACC has been at the bottom of the Power 5 conferences barrel for years now, but at least has had some respectability thanks to the power at the top. Clemson’s rise towards the top of the college football world has made the yearly Seminoles-Tigers match-ups must see TV. But there are plenty of other games that will help shape the ACC in 2016. Here are the ten best games of 2016 that will feature a team from the Athletic Coast Conference.

10. North Carolina at Miami (Saturday, October 15th)

It’s one thing to get embarrassed by the national runner-up like Miami did against Clemson last year. It’s another thing to get blown out by a basketball school. Miami will look to get some revenge from that game, and the winner will take an early lead in the Coastal Division race.

9. Miami at Virginia Tech (Thursday, October 20th)

Like most of the past few years, this year looks to be a case where whoever takes the Atlantic Division (Clemson/Florida State) will run roughshod over its Coastal champion counterpart in the conference title game. The Coastal is more wide open this year than any, and not because there are a lot of great games. This will be a pivotal game for two new head coaches and besides, Thursday night games in Blacksburg are always fun tv.

8. North Carolina at Florida State (Saturday, October 1st)

Florida State-Clemson is the leader in the clubhouse for most exciting ACC game, but this one may be number two if you like points. Florida State’s defense hasn’t been very good since its outstanding 2013 campaign and North Carolina could trot out one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses this year. And we know how good their defense is.

7. Florida State versus Florida (Saturday, November 26th)

With recent conference shifts, each rivalry that withstands those changes becomes more important. Florida may not be up to Florida State’s talent level, particularly on offense, this game could give them a chance to end their rival’s playoff hopes in the Seminoles’ own home stadium.

6. Florida State at Miami (Saturday, October 8th)

It will also be interesting to see if Mark Richt can do what Al Golden could not, beat the Seminoles. As the Canes have toiled in mediocrity, it has made this game more and more important to their fans. Miami hasn’t beaten Florida State since 2009 and a win here by the Seminoles would match the longest win streak in the rivalry’s history.

5. Miami at Notre Dame (Saturday, October 29th)

It will be interesting to see if Mark Richt can turn Miami around and if so, how fast. He has the quarterback to do it, but he’ll need more than that if he’s going to go into South Bend (3:30 pm est, NBC) and beat a really talented Fighting Irish team. Regardless of the records, this game will be hyped up because of these programs’ histories.

4. Louisville at Clemson (Saturday, October 1st)

That aforementioned Cardinals defense better show up on this day. DeShaun Watson’s Heisman campaign will be full steam ahead by this point, and the Louisville defense will be one of the few on Clemson’s schedule that has a chance to even slow him down.

3. Florida State at Louisville (Saturday, September 17th)

Louisville was a bit of a disappointment last year, flaming out in the first month before putting together a string of wins when they were already out of contention. The Seminoles could be ranked in the top ten at this point but will have to survive a conference road game against maybe the best defense in the country (on ABCS at Noon).

2. Florida State versus Ole Miss (Monday, September 5th)

The Seminoles and Rebels each made a New Year’s Six bowl last year and return the talent to be a playoff contender in 2016. This Labor Day night (ESPN, 8:00 pm est) contest could end one of these squad’s playoff hopes after just one week of play.

1. Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, October 29th)

This has been the preeminent game in the ACC for a few years now, with the winner making it to the title game two of the last three years. Clemson’s defense lost a ton of talent to the NFL, and with every offensive starter back for the Seminoles, this could be a shootout and maybe the most exciting game of the season regardless of conference.

 

 

E-mail Jason at jason [dot] lindekugel [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Jason A G

 

2015 ACC Football: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2015 was a typical year for the ACC. By typical of course, I mean one team outclassing the rest and trying to remove itself as far as possible from the negative connotations that “ACC football team” brings. The ACC has long been considered the worst of the Power 5 football conferences and did little to dispel that notion this season. Clemson did its best by not only reaching the playoff, but dispatching Oklahoma and going toe-to-toe with Alabama in what may have been one of the three best title games of all time. Florida State and North Carolina each won double-digit games but I think many, myself included, would say that was more a byproduct of the conference’s weakness than the strength of those two football teams.

Today we’ll take a look at the Good, the Bad, and the downright Ugly for each ACC team in 2015. As far as the Atlantic Coast Conference itself? The good could really only come from the aforementioned Clemson. The bad was harder to choose if only because there were so many more options, but we’ll go with defense, something that will be a common theme throughout this piece. Ten of the conference’s fourteen teams ranked 43rd or worse in scoring defense. The ACC misery saved its best (the Ugly) for last. That would be bowl season, where ACC teams not named Clemson went 3-5. Even those wins weren’t a lot to hang their hat on. Duke defeated Indiana who had one of the worst defenses on college football. Virginia Tech beat Tulsa, giving up 52 points in the process. Then there’s Louisville, who scored a 27-21 victory over a Texas A&M team that had just seen its top two quarterbacks transfer.

This article would have been much easier if it was just “The Bad and the Ugly”. Can we find some good from the 2015 season for each team? I gave it my best shot.

Boston College Eagles

Good – I mentioned defense in the intro. Well Boston College was one of the four ACC teams not abysmal on that side of the ball. BC ranked fourth in the country, allowing just 15.3 points per game. This included giving up just 34 to Clemson, 14 to Florida State, and 19 to Notre Dame. Sure they shortened games by running the ball a ton on offense, but only three times all year did they give up more than 20 points in a game.

Bad – As stellar as the defense was, the offense was the complete opposite. After the first two games of the season against non-D1 schools, Boston College didn’t top 17 points even once the rest of the year. Spearheading this vaunted offense was a leading passer that only had 464 yards on the season.

Ugly – We’re staying with the offense here. In a time when offenses are upping the tempo and putting up 40s and 50s left and right, the Eagles would struggle to outscore the Red Sox. BC put up 76 points against Howard the second week of the season. They then proceeded to score just 73 points COMBINED in their eight conference games. The cherry on top of this offensive ineptitude sundae was an October contest where they ran the ball 54 times and didn’t even get to 200 yards, getting shut out at home by Wake Forest.

Clemson Tigers

Good – Does the whole season count? Clemson had its best season in recent memory, finding itself at the top spot every week of the playoff committee’s rankings. After losing most of the starters off college football’s top defense of 2014, the Tigers managed to have one of the best defenses again. DeShaun Watson, coming off a torn ACL, was a Heisman finalist in just his sophomore season and led the Tigers to the national title game. Though falling just short against the Alabama empire, Watson had a scintillating performance against the Tide defense that will propel him to be the Heisman favorite going into 2016.

Bad – It’s hard to find the bad for a team that started the year 14-0. In this spot we have to look at the defense, which might have to do more re-tooling for next year. Brent Venables did an incredible job in 2015 but it may take more next year. That’s because the Tigers may lose DE Shaq Lawson and CB Mackensie Alexander to the NFL draft, both of whom were stars of the Clemson defense. It always hurts to lose players early to the NFL, it hurts even worse when those players are just redshirt sophomores.

Ugly – The Tigers had every opportunity to win the championship on Monday night, but big plays allowed Alabama to stay in the game. They gave up a 50 yard touchdown run to Derrick Henry. Besides that long run, they held the Heisman winner to just 108 yards on 35 carries, barely over three yards per carry. The defense was also smothering QB Jacob Coker, but mental breakdowns allowed him to have a big second half. Blown coverages accounted for two 50+ yard touchdowns to OJ Howard, which also accounted for almost 1/3 of Coker’s passing yards. Then there was the back-breaking kickoff-return touchdown by Kenyan Drake. While Clemson’s offense consistently moved the ball on Alabama throughout the game, it felt the opposite for the Tide’s offense. Clemson shut down Alabama for longer stretches, but the coverage breakdowns allowed the Crimson Tide to not just stay in the game, but ultimately win it.

Duke Blue Devils

Good – While 2015 saw the fewest wins from the Duke football team in the last three years, it’s hard not to consider an 8-5 season a success for a basketball school. To top it off, they had the aforementioned bowl win against Indiana, a 44-41 OT thriller. It just so happened to be the first bowl win in 55 years.

Bad – The Blue Devils were riding high at one point, sitting at a stellar 6-1. Then the Miami game happened. And the last play lateral controversy happened. Duke didn’t handle the outcome of that ending well and it showed. They went on a slide that saw them lose three more games with the defense getting torched in all three.

Ugly – Duke had the unfortunate position of having to face a rival following that Miami game. Normally heading to Chapel Hill for a football game isn’t something you’d worry too much about, but this year happened to be the one wear Larry Fedora had the Tar Heels’ offense humming. The Blue Devils had their worst defensive performance in a year that was full of bad ones, giving up 66 points and over 700 yards in a game that was 38-10 at halftime.

Florida State Seminoles

Good – There are never really lowered expectations at Florida State, but after losing Jameis Winston and a plethora of defensive talent to the NFL, it’s hard not to consider the Seminole’s season a success considering the drop-off in QB play. Winning ten games in a down year tells you your program is in a good place. The brightest spot of the season had to be Dalvin Cook. Cook dazzled every time he was on the field and if not for a hamstring injury may have been a Heisman finalist.

Bad – Injuries. Cook’s injury was the biggest bummer for Seminoles fans. He only had 229 carries on the year (about 5 games for Alabama’s Derrick Henry) and basically missed two full games, robbing him of a shot at 2,000 yards. QB Sean Maguire’s injury in the bowl game was another tough one. While Maguire didn’t take over until the second half of the season and didn’t play all that great once he did, he was a reshirt junior who had waited a while for his chance. After waiting around another half of a season thanks to Everett Golson showing up, he was able to lead the Seminoles to a New Year’s Six bowl game but got hurt early on. He was able to finish the game but his play was clearly impacted by the injury.

Ugly – That bowl game. Maguire may have played injured, but that wasn’t the reason Florida State lost. Other aspects of the team were abysmal and it was clear Florida State was not nearly as amped up to be there as Houston. FSU rushed for just 16 yards and had five turnovers which were only partially to blame for giving up 38 points to an offense that had Greg Ward Jr. and not much else.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Good – Ugh..Umm. Can anybody help here? The Yellow Jackets had a dismal season from the start. One bright spot however was that Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack still resulted in the 7th most rushing yards per game in the country.

Bad – Here’s another team that more than struggled on the defensive side of the ball. The Yellow Jackets couldn’t put pressure on the quarterback (121st in sacks) or create turnovers (T-92nd in interceptions). The defense was at its worst during a five game mid-season stretch that saw them allow over 30 points in each game.

Ugly – This whole year couldn’t get over soon enough. Tech started the year in the Top 25 and after beating two doormats by a combined 134-16 to start the year it was hard to tell anything was wrong. After being ranked 14th heading into Week 3, the Yellow Jackets went 1-9 in their last ten games with their only win coming in improbable fashion, scoring a touchdown off a blocked field goal as time expired.

Louisville Cardinals

Good – The Cardinals began the year on some sleeper lists but that was quickly vanquished after starting 0-3. Though the opening season loss to Auburn isn’t exactly one to put on the resume, looking back the three-point losses to Houston and Clemson don’t look so bad. It would have been easy to fold after that start, but the Cardinals bounced back by finishing strong and winning eight of their last ten games.

Bad – You would expect teams to play worse on the road, but Louisville definitely underwhelmed away from home considering the talent level on the team. A couple of single-digit wins over NC State and Wake Forest hardly make up for getting crushed at Florida State and losing by 11 against Pitt.

Ugly – For a Bobby Petrino-led team, the offense was awfully hard to watch at times. Petrino couldn’t settle on a quarterback and it seemed like no matter if Lamar Jackson or Kyle Bolin were behind center, the offense could never find consistency. Jackson often dazzled as a runner, but was nowhere near good enough as a passer to provide the type of threat we’ve come accustomed to seeing out of Petrino passing attacks.

Miami Hurricanes

Good – The improvement of young offensive players. The Hurricanes started an incredibly young offensive line in its bowl game. Though the team lost, the line wasn’t a disaster and bodes well heading into next season. Sophomore RB Joe Yearby quietly surpassed 1,000 yards on almost five yards per carry and should grow with the offensive line. The brightest sign however was the improvement of sophomore QB Brad Kaaya. Kaaya improved his completion percentage and threw one less interception on 11 more throws.

Bad – Head Coach Al Golden was fired. While in the long run this was probably needed for the program, it’s a definite sign that things aren’t going well if the coach is getting fired.

Ugly – Part of the reason Golden got fired? How about a 58-0 loss to Clemson. At home. I don’t care who you’re playing, if you are a Power 5 conference team you shouldn’t lose by this much, especially at home. This game was embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing was Miami giving up 59 in a 38 point loss to North Carolina. Those two games put a dark cloud over an otherwise solid 8-4 regular season.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Good – The Tar Heels had one of the best seasons in school history, going 11-3 and not losing a conference game until the ACC Championship against title runner-up Clemson. It was led by a balanced and explosive offense that finished 11th in the country in scoring at 41 points per game.

Bad – Thanks to UNC’s loss to Clemson in the conference championship game, their opening season loss to South Carolina didn’t cost them an undefeated season and shot at the playoff. But man was that a bad loss. South Carolina went on to be a dumpster fire, with Steve Spurrier quitting in the middle of the year. Somehow that high-scoring Tar Heel offense was held to just 13 points by a team that’s only other wins on the year came against UCF and Vandy.

Ugly – UNC managed to one-up its opening season loss with its bowl performance, bookending its season with an equally embarrassing loss to Baylor. As good as the offense had been all year, the defense was just as bad if not worse in the bowl game. Going up against a team that had seemingly every offensive playmakers out and wasn’t a threat to pass, the Tar Heels allowed the Bears to rush for a bowl record 645 yards.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Good – NC State was a mediocre team, just as their 7-6 record would have you believe. But unlike other undermanned squads (ahem, Miami) the Wolfpack didn’t roll over against superior competition. NC State brought their A game when they had to, losing by a respectable 17 at Doak Campbell against Florida State, by 15 to Clemson, and just 11 to North Carolina after giving their rival a scare for much of that game.

Bad – Overall it was a disappointing year, but particularly for Jacoby Brissett. Brissett came out of high school as a somewhat highly regarded prospect and after transferring to NC State following two years at Florida, he put up 23 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions for the Wolfpack in 2014 while adding over 500 yards on the ground. Because of this, he came into 2015 with some deep sleeper Heisman buzz and high hopes for his team. It never came together for either as the senior QB saw a regression in almost every passing category.

Ugly – The kicking game. Teams like Florida have gotten more national attention for their kicking woes, but NC State was right there with them, resulting in the team attempting the 7th most 4th down conversions in the country. Nothing outside of 30 yards was a gimme, as just 6/9 field goals from 30-39 yards were converted and a grand total of zero field goals made from beyond 37 yards.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Good – The run game for the Panthers showed that it isn’t just a one-man show. Lead back James Conner went down in the first game after running for 1,700 yards and 26 touchdowns last year. With an iffy passing attack, it was fare to wonder how Pitt would score. But Qadre Ollison stepped in and was a nice surprise, leading the Panthers ground attack finishing with a more than respectable 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns on 5.3 ypc.

Bad – Pitt had a good regular season, going 8-4 and hovering around the fringe of the Top 25 for much of the year. That’s what made the team’s bowl performance so disappointing. Even with extra weeks to prepare for Navy’s triple option offense, the Panthers defense was trampled, giving up four touchdowns to Keenan Reynolds.

Ugly – As nice of a surprise as the running game was post-Conner, the passing “attack” was not a surprise. It was awful. Pitt finished 95th in passing yards per game, a number you’d expect to see from a team like Georgia Tech or Navy. Further illustrating how ineffective the passing game was, the Panthers threw for less than 200 yards in 8 of the team’s 13 games.

Syracuse Orangemen

Good – They say you need to defend home turf. Well as limited as Syracuse was talent wise, they did everything they could to give the hometown faithful something to cheer about. ‘Cuse went 4-3 at home with those three losses coming to Pittsburgh by just three, Clemson by just ten and LSU by just ten as well. That’s how you keep the Carrier Dome rockin’.

Bad – Ok maybe “rockin” wasn’t the right term for Syracuse home games. Though the Orangemen kept things close against good teams, it certainly wasn’t keeping the fans awake with an exciting offense. They struggled to score points and even though they ran the ball 139 more times than they passed it, they still only finished 76th in rushing yards per game.

Ugly – They must have spent all of their energy during home games, because Syracuse road games usually weren’t close. They lost all five contests away from home by an average of 18 points.

Virginia Cavaliers

Good – There wasn’t much to cheer about for Cavaliers fans in a season that resulted in the team hiring a new coach, but Taquan Mizzell was a lone bright spot. Mizzell showed play-making abilities that at least gave fans hopes of a big play when the ball was in his hands. A running back, Mizzell actually had more yards receiving (721) than rushing (671) but scored four times each via both methods.

Bad – Like most bad teams, they can usual salvage something at the end of a bad season by beating a rival. Virginia had that opportunity in the season finale against Virginia Tech in a game they had control of in the fourth quarter. A defensive meltdown and turnovers allowed the Hokies to take it to over time and get the comeback win. On top of it, it gave Frank Beamer the opportunity to do this.

Ugly – Usually for bad Power 5 teams, the offense or defense is at least average. This was not the case for Virginia, where there was little hope no matter what side of the ball was on the field. Their scoring offense finished 93rd in the nation. Not to be outdone, the defense was 96th.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Good – Virginia Tech has slid from ACC powerhouse to mediocrity for the last few years and 2015 was no different. Considering Frank Beamer basically built the program, it was nice for the Hokies to not only get that comeback win against rival Virginia, but also send Beamer into retirement with a win, notching a 55-52 victory in their bowl game.

Bad – Even though the Hokies haven’t been relevant on the national scene in a while, folks in Blacksburg could still always rely on the defense to be nasty and make difficult for even the best of the opponents. But even that slipped in Beamer’s final year where the Hokies had just the 47th best scoring defense.

UglyBeamer dabbing, again. And I’m not just one of those people who hates what “the kids are doing these days” but I can’t stand the Dab to begin with and Beamer’s rendition frankly makes me cringe.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Good – Wake Forest was probably the toughest team to find something good for. I think QB John Wolford did enough to give Demon Deacon fans some hope for the future. Given that he was just a sophomore, he did about as reasonably well as you could expect in a five-game stretch that included games at North Carolina, home to Louisville, at Notre Dame, and at Clemson.

Bad – Believe it or not, Wake was actually 3-3 at one point with their eyes on a potential bowl bid. Their wins weren’t anything to write home about but they also played tough against Indiana and Florida State. And then reality hit and the team lost their last six, most in ugly fashion.

Ugly – 120th in scoring, as a Power 5 team, is unacceptable. Oh and 33 PLAYERS had more rushing yards than Wake Forest had as a team all season.

 

 

Featured Image courtesy of Lauren Nelson

Miami’s Rays of Hope Snowed Out in El Paso

It was a dismal season for the Miami Hurricanes by most accounts. Two weeks after failing to beat rival Florida State for what would have been the first time in what has felt like decades, the season hit its low point. A 58-0 loss to Clemson that was never in doubt after the first few minutes. Nothing could save coach Al Golden after that, and he was fired. The remainder of the year already had the feel of a lost season, but it could have been worse. The Canes went 4-1 under interim Head Coach Larry Scott but refusing to go a month without any major negatives, that loss happened to be a 59-21 embarrassment to North Carolina. For a season that felt like a disaster, Miami still finished 8-4 and with a chance to head into the off-season with even more momentum after hiring Mark Richt as their new Head Coach.

The Hurricanes went head to head with Washington State in the Sun Bowl, which was anything but. It started snowing in the first half and save for a brief period after halftime, continued to do so throughout the game. The Canes and Cougars each scored on their opening possession. After forcing a Washington State punt, Miami continued rolling on offense. An endzone snag by Senior WR Rashawn Scott was a half-second short of being a touchdown, but was stripped out by a Cougars defender and tipped up for an interception. Instead of being up 14-7, it was still tied and it took Miami until the 4th quarter to recover. They turned the ball over on downs on their next possession before punting six straight times.

The defense, aided by the snowfall, was doing its part to keep Miami in the game. Miami trimmed the deficit to 20-14 but couldn’t take the lead, continuously shooting itself in the foot. The aforementioned Rashawn Scott dropped at least five passes, often drive-killing. With under five minutes to go and their best chance to retake the lead, RB Mark Walton fumbled away the ball on the Washington State five yard line. The offense probably didn’t expect another chance, but a shanked punt gave them the ball back at the Cougars 28. Then came the dagger in the hearts of Canes fans. A halfback pass resulted in Joe Yearby throwing an interception that never had a chance coming off his hand, wobbling worse than a 2015 Peyton Manning duck. It was hard enough passing in the heavy snow, but offensive coordinator James Coley somehow thought it would be a good idea to let his running back give it a try.

The Sun Bowl was a microcosm of everything that has plagued the Hurricanes over the last few years. One problem has been the play-calling, rearing its ugly head on the previously discussed halfback pass. The other has been discipline, both on and off the field. Miami committed nine penalties for 94 yards in this contest. One penalty called back a huge run when Miami was trying to make its second half comeback. A second called back what would have been the go-ahead touchdown on the drive that ultimately ended in the Mark Walton fumble. It felt like Miami outplayed Washington State, but the little things cost them the game, a common theme when looking back at the Al Golden era.

Miami will be looking for those things to change under new coach Mark Richt. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much would result from Miami’s next coaching hire. I didn’t think they had the money to lure a big name coach, and it’s not a good enough job right now to have persuaded a hot-shot assistant to make the jump. With Richt, they got lucky. Lucky that Georgia had become sick of not getting over the hump under Richt and lucky that he is a Miami alum. Considering my expectations heading into the coaching search, I was ecstatic upon hearing the news that the former Georgia Bulldogs leader would be heading down to Coral Cables.

Richt won 145 games in 15 seasons at Georgia, almost 10 wins per year. He also won two SEC titles in his time at Georgia. He brings a proven track record that Miami hasn’t seen in decades. Al Golden was successful at Temple, but a Power 5 conference is a different animal. Before that, you have to go back to 1989 to find the last time Miami hired a coach with head coach experience. The biggest difference is that unlike Golden, Richt will be taking a step down in competition. He will go from coaching in the best conference during its stretch of overall dominance, to the weaker division in maybe the weakest Power 5 conference. The hope is that if he could succeed in the challenging SEC, he can do it at one of the best jobs in a weak conference. Good news is that Richt isn’t allowing a honeymoon period at his alma mater, as he got to recruiting the day after his press conference.

The Hurricanes currently have a Top 25 recruiting class and with a proven coach like Richt, they should be able to keep that status. As far as the current players? The cupboard isn’t bare. Miami played a young offensive line, especially in the bowl game. They had two talented underclassmen in the backfield in Joe Yearby and Mark Walton. WR Stacy Coley has been disappointing since his electric freshman year, but played extremely well in the bowl game. To top it off, he’ll have one of the best young quarterbacks in the country in Brad Kaaya who will only be a true junior. Richt has had success with much less talented quarterbacks.

Miami certainly missed an opportunity to head into the off-season with some momentum with their bowl performance. On the other hand, this is the best spot the program has been in in years. When Golden was hired, there was still the NCAA investigation hanging over the program. Now the Canes head into 2016 with a talented roster, its best quarterback in years, and a highly successful coach. All of that in a down division with many teams also in coaching flux. Miami needs to get to the point where it is at least competing for a conference championship. With the current state of its division, there can’t be a grace period. Richt’s best chance may come in his first season, in 2016.

 

 

Feature image courtesy of Visit El Paso

Is the Miami Hurricane Program a Super Power or Just Another Middle of the Road Program?

As the game clock ticked to 0:00, the Rose Bowl crowd witnessed the Miami Hurricanes win the 2001 BCS National Championship. Their 37-14 victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers was the Hurricanes 5th national championship in the history of the program. This was also the final time Miami would play on a stage this large.

For many college football fans, The U and national championship games go hand-in-hand. The Hurricanes also seemed to have invented the swagger that college football players currently bring to the field and they are also credited with being the founding fathers of off the field swagger. The problems at Miami were systemic throughout the football program. At certain points in time, it was so bad that then head coach Jimmy Johnson hired a former criminal lawyer to be on his staff. Their mascot, Sebastian the Ibis, was even detained by the police. Remember, before P-Diddy was giving kettlebell tutorials, Miami had Luther Campbell.

In 2001 Larry Coker was promoted to Head Coach as he replaced Butch Davis. He also inherited that 2001 national championship. His championship team roster included Ken Dorsey, Andre Johnson, Ed Reed and Jonathan Vilma.

Coker was the head coach at Miami for 6 seasons. That was long enough to accumulate a record of 60-15. He was also the head coach as the program entered the ACC in 2004. His final year was 2006 and it was a rough one. The team finished 7-6, but worst of all was the widespread problems that continued to transpire.

In his final season, the Hurricanes took part in an on-field brawl with Florida International and saw the shooting death of Bryan Pata. Problems with the program were nothing new, however, the team’s 7-6 record was considered to be new and the off field problems gave university president Donna Shalala a convenient reason to fire Coker.

Miami was now ready to take their perceived rightful place back on the Mount Rushmore of college football. The coach tapped to restore Miami’s winning ways was former player and assistant coach Randy Shannon. Unlike Coker, Shannon did not inherit a championship and was also faced with the task of competing in a power conference. In the end his demise was a 28-22 record.

This leads us to current head coach Al Golden. As the team sits at 3-1, there appears to be discontent amongst the Hurricanes faithful followers. Remember, Coker was run off due to an overall record of 60-15. It is important to note that he was 35-3 in the team’s last 3 seasons in the Big East and was 25-12 in their first 3 seasons in the ACC. As for Golden’s tenure at Miami, he is currently 31-23.

Here’s the question that needs to be answered: Is Miami a super power or are they just another team that had a great run?

When I think of super powers in college football, I think of Alabama (15 championships), Michigan (11 championships), Notre Dame (11 championships) and USC (11 championships). You know who I don’t think of when I think super power? I don’t think of a team who has won less championships than Minnesota (7 championships) and that is precisely who Miami looks up to on the championship ladder. Unlike Beano Cook, I do not consider Miami to have been “the greatest dynasty since Caesar.”

When Miami was good they were DAMN good. From 1979-2003 they were a machine and for a short time they absolutely bulldozed their opponents. But it was for just that, a short time in the history of college football.

So what made 1979-2003 so profoundly different than 2004-present? In a word, it was competition.

The first 3 championships the Hurricanes won were while they were considered to be an Independent. As an Independent, Howard Schnellenberger had a record of 41-16 which includes an 11-1 record in his final year in Miami. Jimmy Johnson took over the program in 1984 and went 52-9. Again, this was as an Independent. Dennis Erickson accumulated a record of 73-11 as Miami competed as an Independent and then as a member of the Big East Conference.

Miami feasted on being an Independent and then being a member of a lousy conference once they decided to join the Big East. Once they joined the ACC, their luck quickly ran out. However, simply joining the competition of a legitimate conference is only half of the program’s undoing. Miami has won a total of 9 conference championships with each one coming as a member of the Big East. In the case of Miami, competition proved to be a two-headed coin.

You know who plays solid football in the state of Florida? The University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida. These are two smaller schools that were not legitimate threats to Miami during their wonder years.

Central Florida began playing football in 1979. Yes, they did exist while Miami was beginning to go on its dominating run, but UCF was not playing football in the Division I Football Subdivision (FBS) until 1996. Since Larry Coker’s last season at Miami (2006), UCF has gone 73-48. This is a program that has placed 36 players in the NFL. Not bad for a small, directional school.

Some of the notable players include Blake Bortles, Brandon Marshall, Breshad Perriman and Asante Samuel. During the glory years of Miami football, I would have expected these players to have gone to Miami. Of the players mentioned, only Perriman and Samuel were offered scholarships to play at Miami. This is based primarily on their Rivals’ profiles. The surprising thing about Perriman turning down his Miami offer was that his father, Brett Perriman, played at Miami. Recruiting certainly isn’t a science and hindsight tells us that Miami missed out big time on some players who chose to go to UCF.

As for the University of South Florida, they have existed for a mere 18 years. In their short time on the field, they have already placed 18 players in the NFL. This total is highlighted by Mike Jenkins and Jason Pierre-Paul. As was the case with the UCF players, neither Jenkins or Pierre-Paul had offers to play at Miami. Pierre-Paul’s road to USF included a stop at Fort Scott Community College. To add insult to injury, he did not have a Miami offer out of high school but he did have an offer from UCF.

While not on par with UCF or USF, Florida Atlantic has also had some success of their own. The Owls have been good enough to go to bowl games in 2007 and 2008 with wins in both games. They have also placed 6 players in the NFL. And would you like to take a guess as to who their head coach was from 2001-2011? Howard Schnellenberger. The same Schnellenberger who started Miami on their road to domination.

Here’s the thing with Miami; they caught lightning-in-a-bottle when they built their success. Once they entered a legitimate conference and had more in-state competition, they crumbled like most middle of the road programs would.

And that is what they really are. They are a borderline commuter school with middle of the road program. Historically speaking, the difference between Miami and other commuter schools with football programs is that Miami had a fertile recruiting base to pick players from.

Tulsa is another commuter school that has had relative success. The Golden Hurricane has played football for 108 years, yes, that’s right, longer than Miami. Like Miami, Tulsa started off as an Independent and has worked their way up to being members of the American Athletic Conference.

Tulsa has won 55.6% of their games while Miami has won 63.3% of their games. The golden years of Miami football were 1979-2006. Prior to that 27 year period, the program had won 55.7% of their games. To me, these 27 years were the outlier based on what the program was pre-1979 and post 2006.

So when Miami fans demand a coach who is able to manufacture more success than Randy Shannon and Al Golden, I can only say that they are being delusional. Face it Miami, you were Tulsa for all those years if Tulsa had a recruiting base and a coach who was willing to turn their program into The Longest Yard.

Mark Silverman: Five College Football Coaches on the 2015 Hot Seat

We’re less than three months away from the kickoff of the 2015 college football season and it’s time to look at the top-five coaches who are feeling the heat. Let the speculation begin.

1. Al Golden – Miami

Who could blame Al Golden for registering a 12-11 record through his first two seasons at Miami? The guy walked right into an NCAA investigation that he didn’t know was coming. However, the mood has changed in South Florida.

This is the U we are talking about. Golden seemed like he was destined to return the Hurricane program to elite status following a 9-4 campaign in 2013. After a near-upset against defending national champion Florida State last season, Golden and the Hurricanes plummeted to a 6-7 record and the Miami brain trust won’t stand for that going forward.

Miami is just 16-16 under Golden in an ACC Coastal Division that could be described as “pedestrian” at best. It’s hard to believe that the Hurricanes haven’t reached the ACC Championship Game since 2004 and Golden certainly has yet to prove he can halt the streak. Golden has plenty of chances to impress in 2015 with conference opponents Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech all traveling to Sun Life Stadium. Miami has been a stagnant program throughout Golden’s tenure and we shall see if the Hurricane swagger will return in 2015.

2. Tim Beckman – Illinois

While Illinois is miles away from reaching contender status in the Big Ten, Tim Beckman has managed to improve his win total in each of his first three seasons in Champaign. Following back-to-back two and four-win seasons, respectively, it would be difficult to not improve. Beckman led Illinois to a 6-7 record in 2014, which included a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. At the end of the day, Beckman is 4-20 in conference play and his job is in serious jeopardy if the Illini fail to reach at least seven or eight wins.

[Bach: Illinois and the Tim Beckman Problem]

If former Illinois coach Ron Zook can be fired following consecutive six-win seasons, then Beckman certainly can be. Even some of Beckman’s victories have raised an eyebrow. Last season, Illinois narrowly defeated Western Kentucky and Texas State at home. The margin of victory was a combined 15 points and along with their abysmal record in conference play under Beckman, Illinois flat out has to be better than that in 2015.

3. Darrell Hazell – Purdue

Just two games into the Darrell Hazell tenure at Purdue, you knew it was going to be awhile before the Boilermakers would ever become relevant. Hazell’s Boilermakers narrowly defeated the mighty Indiana State Sycamores 20-14 in what would be their lone victory of the season. Unfortunately, things haven’t gotten much better for Hazell. The third-year coach has compiled a 4-20 record in his first two seasons, which includes a 1-15 mark in Big Ten play.

Ouch.

Hazell’s lone victory came at Illinois last season with a 38-27 defeat of the Illini. Somebody had to win that game and it was thought to possibly be the beginning of a turnaround for Hazell and Purdue football. It wasn’t the case. Purdue dropped its final six games to finish the season at 3-9.

Hazell has a lot of work ahead of him if he wishes to be the head man in West Lafayette when 2016 rolls around. The upcoming season includes tough matchups at Marshall and at home against Virginia Tech prior to the Big Ten slate. The conference schedule won’t get any easier with the league much improved and road games at Michigan State and Wisconsin. On the bright side, Indiana State is back on the schedule.

4. Kirk Ferentz – Iowa

How long has Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz been on the hot seat? It seems like forever. Ferentz is paid like a top-15 coach but is not producing anything close to a top-15 program. Iowa hasn’t been ranked in the AP poll since 2010 and it could be the end of an era for the Hawkeyes if there isn’t drastic improvement in 2015. What could be saving Ferentz is his $13 million buyout as that would be a hefty price to pay for the Iowa brass.

Every five to six years, Ferentz usually produces a decent team that is amongst the thick of the Big Ten race. What you see is what you’re going to get from Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Who knows? Maybe 2015 is the year Iowa once again cracks the top-25 and plays Nebraska in the regular season finale for the right to go to the Big Ten Championship Game. The timing would be right for Ferentz as the leash on his job security is continuing to shorten. Ferentz has reached double-digit victories in a single-season just once over the last decade. The longest tenured coach in the Big Ten could finally be out if Ferentz can’t achieve a similar win total in 2015. We’re way past 2002 when the Hawkeyes finished 8-0 in the Big Ten and were unquestionably one of the top teams in the country.

5. Frank Beamer – Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and “Beamer Ball” were once considered untouchable following eight straight 10-win seasons which resulted in six BCS Bowl appearances.

My how the tables have turned.

Even when Beamer and the Hokies were having consistent success early in the BCS era, they couldn’t quite get over the hump and land a championship, while failing on the big stage many times. Now, the Hokies are just 22-17 since 2012 and Beamer’s job security isn’t so invincible. Virginia Tech isn’t among the college football big boys anymore and unless can compete in a somewhat lackluster ACC Coastal Division, a fresh face on the sidelines in 2016 wouldn’t be out of the question.

An upset victory in the 2015 season-opener to make it a clean sweep over the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes could put an immediate end to any job security speculation. That is, of course, considering the Hokies don’t implode like they did last season following their victory over Ohio State in Columbus. Virginia Tech lost six of their next nine games and finished the season at a mediocre 7-6.

Just like Texas had to make a tough decision and part ways with former coach Mack Brown, don’t be surprised if the same can be said for the legendary Beamer if things don’t improve quickly.

E-mail Mark at mark.silverman@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25.

Spring Keys for the Canes

It was a difficult year for Canes fans. The team went from nine wins in 2013 down to six in 2014. Yet despite that it still feels like there is more hope and optimism than you’d expect from a team that dropped three wins from the previous year and is coming off a bowl loss. I guess that’s a testament to the change in expectations when your top two quarterbacks on the depth chart get injured or kicked off the team before week one. Brad Kaaya did an amazing job given his situation and for the first time in a few years the defense wasn’t an embarrassment. But with that hope comes new expectations and certain things between now and the end of spring practice will determine if the 2015 Canes can build upon 2014.

The first step is also the first chronologically. National Signing Day is less than two weeks away and it could go really well or really poorly for Miami. They are currently sitting at 20th in the ESPN recruiting class rankings. So far the class is solid with numerous offensive linemen which will add depth, but aside from one receiver, the two impact players are running backs, which Miami already has two of good quality at that position. The school is still in the Top 3 or 4 on about five or six top end recruits. Snagging one or two could vault them to another Top 15 class and add playmakers to a defense that sorely needs them, but coming up empty would likely see them drop out of the Top 25. It’s an important day for Coach Al Golden, not just for the future but for the present as well.

One key element for Miami once spring rolls around is replacing Duke Johnson. You would think replacing the best running back in school history statistically would be quite the challenge, but it in all likelihood it’s the least of the Canes worries. Joe Yearby is almost a carbon copy of Duke Johnson at 5’9’’ and 190 pounds. It remains to be seen if he can come close to being the player Johnson was but his freshman year showed glimpses of a potential star, with Yearby going for over 500 yards on 5.9 ypc. If Yearby isn’t running around defenders, Gus Edwards (at 6’2’’ 230 lbs) will be running through them. He battled injury at the end of the year but rushed for six touchdowns and had 5.7 ypc. These two should give Miami a formidable 1-2 punch, softening the loss of Duke.

Going hand in hand with the running game will be a restructured offensive line. The team only returns one member of the line who started all season. The returning players are a mixed bunch who varied from a few starts to at least a few appearances. Having to find two new starters at tackle is rough, making potential 1st round pick LT Ereck Flowers’ early departure hurt that much more. It would be nice if both did, but at least one of Miami’s 2014 highly touted recruits needs to break through. Trevor Darling and KC McDermott both got playing time last year so they shouldn’t come into 2015 wide-eyed. Regardless of who ends up as the starting five, hopefully it will be settled by the end of spring. Competition is good and all, but continuity is also important, particularly on the o-line.

Sticking with the offense, the receivers are currently a mystery. Kaaya’s top three targets from a year ago are all gone, so multiple guys will need to step up. Herb Waters and Malcolm Lewis are veterans but likely offer little upside at this point. Braxton Berrios got a fair amount of playing time as a freshman and developed a decent rapport with Kaaya. Miami will have to hope JUCO TE Jerome Washington lives up to the hype to replace TE Clive Walford who was the team’s most reliable receiver. But the potential of the receiving corps really comes down to Stacy Coley. Coley was electrifying as a freshman, collecting 600 yards receiving to go with 7 touchdowns on 17.9 yards per catch while also recording touchdowns via rushing, punt return, and kick returns. Coley was mostly M.I.A. last season. He has good size to go with great speed and needs to have a breakout junior year for the offense to reach its full potential.

Don’t think I forgot about the defense, it certainly has areas of concern as well. One is replacing All-American and leader of the defense Denzel Perryman. Perryman was the rock of their defense and will be hard to replace from a leadership standpoint but there are talented guys ready to take their shot. Raphael Kirby may replace Perryman at middle linebacker but Jermaine Grace is the guy to look out for. One of the two needs to step up in the spring and take the reins of the front seven, if not the whole defense.

Many Canes fans have been clamoring for overall changes on defense as well. They seem to get little out of their talented defensive players and compound that with questionable game-day tactics. The defensive coaching needs to step up and figure out a way to get the most out of its players and not resort to playing what seems to be vanilla defenses time after time with little adjustments. One strategy could be to blitz more this year. A deep and experienced secondary should be the strong point of the 2015 Miami defense, which should allow them to take more chances going after the quarterback.

In the end however, the most important position in football is quarterback, so a lot of the team’s success (or failure) will be the result of Brad Kaaya’s development. Kaaya threw for 26 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions and averaged 8.46 yards per attempt as a true freshman. He was first in the conference in QBR, yards/attempt, and touchdowns. On the flip side, he only completed 58.5% of his passes. That contributed heavily to an offense that ranked 95th in the nation in 3rd down conversions and has to increase to over 60 this year, if not closer to 65%.

Nobody can expect the Hurricanes to contend for a playoff spot next season, but if they don’t improve to 8/9 wins Al Golden could be looking for another job. Golden has been putting together Top 10-15 recruiting classes but it hasn’t translated to on-field success. These steps are crucial to laying the groundwork for an improved Hurricane team. If they can successfully accomplish most of them, along with having arguably the best QB in the conference, they should compete for their first ACC championship in a year with no dominant team to stand in their way.

The Curious Case of Bo Pelini

In what was a shocker for just about anyone that follows not just the Big Ten but college football in general, Michigan’s Brady Hoke was not the first coach to be fired in the conference this year.  Instead despite finishing the regular season with a record of 9-3, Nebraska fired head coach Bo Pelini.

Pelini was possibly most well known for his temper and willingness to speak his mind, the latter of which made him unpopular with the decision makers at Nebraska but endeared him to the kids that played for him. He also won games and a lot of them. Since 2008, Nebraska won at least 10 games every year under Pelini. The only other schools to do that? Oregon and Alabama.

Pelini will finish at Nebraska with a record of 67-27 over 7 years and speaking as a fan from another program, I would kill for that kind of record. I mean, the man is 40 games over .500.  Sure he never won a conference title but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad coach.  He just happened to coach in the Big Ten when there were a number of loaded programs including Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

What really makes this move by Nebraska curious is that they gave Bo Pelini a contract extension after last season.  Despite there already being tension between Pelini and the people that pay him, they extended him through 2019.  He’s owed $7.65 million over that time and most of his assistants are signed through 2016 as well.  Why even bother extending him when it was pretty obvious that the union wasn’t going to work?

However, if I understand the legalese of the contract, Nebraska will be off the hook for Pelini’s money if he gets another job which he most certainly will. A number of players, former and current, have already expressed their displeasure with the firing. He has clearly made a favorable impression on a number of young men, including graduating a staggering number of seniors.  Not including this year’s group, Bo Pelini has graduated 122 of 132 seniors that have played for him. That’s pretty damned impressive.

Not only that but Pelini made himself into an internet legend. This isn’t relevant to anyone that might hire him but it should be. There is a twitter user by the name of Fake Bo Pelini who you can follow @fauxpelini and you totally should.  Fake Pelini has a profile picture of Bo Pelini holding a cat which everyone knows the internet loves.  Not only has the real Pelini acknowledged this account but he has interacted with it, given the cat credit for helping him recruit and even lead the team into the spring game while carrying the cat.

It’s rare to see a coach these days not only fully aware of social media but using it to his advantage in such a creative way.  Pelini joked about the cat helping him recruit but honestly, it probably did.  A powerful internet presence, even driven by a parody, carries much weight these days.

I’d play for a coach like that and I’d certainly hire one too.

Speaking of hiring, I fully expect Pelini to land a new head coaching gig once the axes finish falling for this season.  Pelini has a solid win resume and showed a knack for bringing top-tier talent to Nebraska which doesn’t have the same glitz and glamour as say, LSU.  Here’s a couple programs that Pelini could end up at.

Michigan

Probably less than two hours after word had spread of Pelini’s dismissal, a photoshopped image of him in Michigan gear appeared on the internet. He wouldn’t necessarily be a bad fit for the Wolverines either. They need to get away from the “Michigan Man” mantra and Bo Pelini fits that role. His willingness to say whatever he thinks instead of toeing the line of what he’s expected to say would also be a refreshing change.

Miami

Technically Al Golden hasn’t been fired yet but he’s on one of the hotter seats in the country. The U has always been known to have a bit of an attitude and Pelini would fit in there nicely. The recruiting would be easier as well since you have the actual sea instead of a sea of grain to entice recruits. The ACC does have some tough teams like defending champs Florida State but it might beat running the Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin gauntlet.

Arkansas

Bret Bielema has won exactly two SEC conference games in his two years of coaching at Arkansas. In the hyper competitive SEC, he will probably be ousted soon and the team will be looking for new leadership. Pelini has similar credentials to Bielema but without the Big Ten titles.  He would cost less than Bielema and Pelini would inherit substantial talent. It’s a win for everyone.

It might not be at one of those schools, but it will be somewhere. A record like that speaks for itself.  Bo Pelini and his cat will coach again soon.

screenshot-twitter.com 2014-12-01 09-53-06

Can Michigan Return to Greatness?

It’s been a long year for the University of Michigan football program.  A bad year always seems longer but it’s starting to become a theme.  It’s beginning to seem more and more like that 11-2 season in 2011 was an aberration, a fluke even.  With the exception of 2011, in the past ten years the Wolverines have only had 9 or more wins three times.  That’s not what this program and its fans have come to expect.

Fans remember and yearn for the old days when going 7-5 on the season was considered a failure instead of wishful thinking.  Younger fans don’t remember that at one point only a decade ago Michigan was routinely considered one of the best teams in the country.  They probably wonder why the crappy school in the Mitten State gets so much more attention than the one that’s actually doing good.  It’s because those doing the reporting and writing the stories do remember.  They remember the greatness.

But greatness is fleeting.

For 12 years the Maize and Blue were lead by Lloyd Carr who never failed to win more than seven games a season.  He always had a winning record, including 5 conference championships and 1 national title.  Stretches like that don’t come along that often, nor do they usually last that long.  Winning games is hard as Carr’s successors have come to find.  Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke combined to win 41 game in six seasons, not counting this current season.  Lloyd won 39 in his first four season.

The greatness may have gone but that doesn’t mean it can’t return.

There’s no reason why Michigan can’t be great again but it will not be an easy path.  Not only is there the recent losses to consider but also the reputation of the entire brand of Michigan was tarnished with the Shane Morris incident, the Dave Brandon situation and now the dismissal of Frank Clark for a domestic dispute.

The first step is to wipe that slate clean.

Two out of the three parts of that have already been taken care of.  Frank Clark has been booted from the team and will most likely only be talked about until season’s end.  Dave Brandon stepped down from his spot as athletic director, paving the way for a fresh face.  If he wasn’t from Michigan, I might actually think Shane Morris might not be at U of M next season but I don’t think he’ll leave.  He will be the one reminder of the ugliness of this season but even then he will only be there for two more years.

The only question left is who will be the one to lead Michigan back to the promised land.  Despite what appears to be a serious knack for recruiting, it will not be Brady Hoke.  Hoke will finish out this year and to no one’s surprise no longer be the head coach.  He will coach again but it will not be in Ann Arbor.

In finding the individual to bring in to lead the team is where Michigan’s old reputation still holds value.  Any established coach out there still remembers the old Michigan, the good Michigan.  The university will need to leverage that legacy to land a big name.  It’s time to move away from “Michigan Men” and get someone with name recognition.  Brady Hoke used to coach at Michigan?  Cool but that doesn’t make him a great head coach.

It won’t be the big name that anyone expects the school to land though.  It won’t be a Harbaugh or Les Miles.  Those guys aren’t going anywhere.  Neither are guys like Jon Gruden or anyone that’s currently in a studio.  Michigan needs to set its sights a little lower.  Bobby Petrino at Kentucky is one name that fans might want to start thinking about.  Or possibly University of Miami’s underappreciated Al Golden.  Petrino fell from grace and is trying to work his way back to the top and Golden took a Miami program rife with suspensions and violations and made them into a respectable team.  Todd Graham of Arizona State always seems to be looking to climb the next step to the top of the food chain, perhaps he’s on the short-list of interviewees.

What’s clear though is that the path back to greatness is not to cling to the past.  What’s in the past was great but it’s not going to help us now.  Those days and those traditions are gone and it’s time that we give those up.  Talking about championships last won a decade ago is not going to make one appear now.  Seriously, 2004 was Michigan’s last conference title.  That doesn’t impress recruits and neither does constantly lowering win totals.

Let it go.

Get an offensive minded coach to lure players that want to put up big stats.  Throw money at Will Muschamp who was a dang good defensive coordinator at Texas and get him to turn the defense into a lock-down unit.  Unless they somehow snag Les Miles, bring in someone that’s not a “Michigan Man”.  It’s time to pull the plug on that theory and just reboot the whole damn thing.

 

The Crossroads: The SEC East Needs to Improve Quickly

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Welcome to the calm before the storm. The only matchup of ranked teams takes place late Thursday night between two teams that could be starting backup quarterbacks. ESPN Gameday is at South Carolina, where Steve Spurrier has been ripping his team for three straight days. The SEC East could very well hang in the balance though. And the ABC primetime game features Syracuse, who just got whipped by Maryland.
Alas, good things come to those who wait since there are 6 Top 25 matchups next Saturday.
If you’re unfamiliar, this column looks as those under the most pressure this week:

Missouri

In my opinion, Indiana’s win over Missouri was the biggest upset of the season so far. It is so rare to see a high quality team lose at home to a big underdog. You can explain away games like USC losing at Boston College because of the road factor, but to lay an egg at home against a team that just lost to Bowling Green? How do you recover from that?
Well, fun for Missouri, they have the opportunity this Saturday. ESPN Gameday is showing up for reasons only they know – cough, cough SEC money cough, cough – and there’s a giant spotlight on the team. While a loss to Indiana would end the playoff hopes of nearly any team, Missouri plays in the right conference. Their margin of error is zero but if they win the SEC, they will likely make the playoff.
All they have to do now is travel to South Carolina and beat a Gamecock team that has been torn apart in the media by its coach. Yikes.

Mike Bobo

Rarely does one call in a game in September define a season, but that’s what happens when you don’t give the ball to the best running back in the country. Preseason Heisman favorite, Todd Gurley, needs to get the ball when his team is near the goal line. Bobo’s failure to do that cost Georgia a game they should have won. They are now under enormous pressure to win out. It still may not do them any good.
This week, Georgia gets a Tennessee team that put up a pretty good defensive effort against a high-powered Oklahoma team a few weeks back. All eyes will be on Bobo and the Georgia offense. The week 1 performance against Clemson looks a lot better following the Clemson effort against Florida State’s ground game. Georgia needs to run over Tennessee.

Tennessee’s offense

Tennessee lost badly to Oklahoma but the score obscured a pretty impressive performance by the defense, especially considering what we saw from the Sooners against West Virginia. The problem for Tennessee – in a reverse from previous years – was a poor offensive performance.
This week, Tennessee plays a Georgia team that has given up a ton of yards this year to Clemson and South Carolina. There was a lot of hype around Tennessee in the offseason about potentially returning to competitiveness against elite teams. They were at home last year. They were not on the road. Can they finally play a tough team close away from Neyland Stadium?

Texas Tech’s defense

The last time we saw Texas Tech, they were getting bludgeoned into submission by Arkansas. Since then, they had a week off and lost their defensive coordinator under bizarre circumstances. Now, they face Oklahoma State in Stillwater in an ESPN primetime matchup on Thursday. The college football world will be watching – it would behoove Kliff Kingsbury and company to not get blown out again.

North Carolina State

NC State is 4-0. They haven’t played anyone yet. On Saturday, they host Florida State. It would be unfair to say they are under pressure but their season is at a Crossroads in terms of how good it can be. They play Florida State, Clemson and Louisville in the next four weeks. The latter two seem very beatable. They have given FSU all kinds of trouble at home over the years, including an upset win in 2012.
Realistically, NC State will make a splash if it can stay close. If it can pull off the upset, then literally anything possible – that’s the nature of the ACC in 2014 if someone slays the dragon.

The AAC’s New Year’s Day hopes

The Group of Five (AAC, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Conference USA) gets one New Year’s Six bowl bid for the highest ranked conference champion. At this point, there figures to be two obvious front-runners – East Carolina and Boise State. The former already has two big wins while Boise State has BYU coming to town in addition to the easy Mountain West slate.
Can Cincinnati crash the party? If they can pull of the upset against Ohio State, it would likely give the AAC two Top 25 teams and force Boise State to run the table to have any chance of getting the bid.
In short – and it’s insane to think like this – a Cincinnati win could guarantee the AAC champion a New Year’s Six bowl bid. My head hurts.

Arkansas

Arkansas could go 6-6 and be a Top 25 caliber team. That’s what happens when all six of your division rivals are in the Top 20. The ridiculousness begins anew with a trip to JerryWorld to face Texas A&M. In the opener against Auburn, Arkansas hung close for a while before the defense wilted. Auburn has a much better defense than Texas A&M. Could Arkansas possibly pull of the miracle victory through ball control and smash-mouth football?
It is the most intriguing game of the week – could it be the biggest upset? Arkansas needs to win one of these tough games, or several of them, to bounce back after a few dismal seasons.

Chris Petersen

Welcome to the coach’s portion of the show, as Chris Petersen gets his first shot at a big win with Washington. The early results for Washington have been confusing – a one-point win over Hawaii, followed by giving up 50 to an FCS team and concluding with a 14-0 halftime deficit to Georgia State. Regardless, they are 4-0 and host Stanford. A win this Saturday could set them up for a huge season. A humbling loss could portend more trouble.

Brady Hoke

What is there to say? A loss at home to Minnesota could end the Brady Hoke era. The school is giving tickets away and the performance versus Utah was, in a word, pathetic.

Al Golden

What is there to say, part deux? A loss at home to Duke could end the Al Golden era. Duke is a much better team than Minnesota but Miami fans, those that are left, do not appreciate losing to any Duke football team. Losing to them two years in a row would be beyond unacceptable.
 

The Crossroads: Can Will Muschamp Win at Florida?

Before last week’s games, many were decrying the “weak” slate that featured only one matchup of ranked teams. Whenever that happens, you are almost guaranteed a crazy weekend of football. Sure enough, we received a slew of close finishes, a dose of controversial play-calling to discuss and a few massive upsets. This Saturday doesn’t seem to feature a great slate so you know what that means…
If you’re unfamiliar, this column looks as those under the most pressure this week:

Will Muschamp

Not really a surprise that Muschamp tops the list this week after his Florida Gators barely escaped after three overtimes at home versus Kentucky, in a game they should’ve lost. The 2012 Sugar Bowl season seems like more of a mirage by the day and the Gator faithful, who were willing to forgive 2013 on account of injuries, are growing restless.
The Gators and Muschamp do not have the best opponent either, as they must travel to Alabama and face an undefeated Alabama team facing questions of their own. But the questions aimed at Nick Saban are, “Why aren’t you winning by 50?” as opposed to Muschamp having to answer, “Why are you so bad?”
No one is expecting Florida to win at Alabama, which is sort of the problem.

Al Golden

Speaking of restless fan bases, the Miami Hurricanes! After the Labor Day night loss to Louisville, the Miami program was subject to criticism, as it has been every year since Larry Coker ran out of Butch Davis-recruited players to trot out. People see the “U” on the helmets and assume they’re going to be seeing a great team. Yet they aren’t. And they haven’t. And they might not for a while.
Was it really just a year ago that Miami rolled through September undefeated and crept into the Top 10? Time flies. On Saturday night, Miami travels to Nebraska to play a Cornhusker team that is undefeated if unimpressive. The Big Ten has been slaughtered from coast to coast for its pathetic non-conference performance. Nebraska faces pressure too but not like Al Golden feels right now, as he needs a big win in the worst way.

Jameis Winston

Rarely has a defending Heisman Trophy winner be subjected to so much negative publicity. Even when Johnny Football had his dealings with the NCAA last year, there was a large faction of college football fans who supported him and loved his antics. With Winston, it is the complete opposite. From the rape accusations to the shoplifting arrest to his unabashed bravado, there are many who would like Winston to fail.
Even after an opening night win in which Winston threw for 370 yards and produced a highlight reel touchdown run, everyone wanted to throw shade on the performance. ESPN Gameday returns for another Florida State game – a third trip is very likely when Notre Dame shows up next month – and that means the spotlight returns to Winston. He needs a really, really big game to silence the critics.

Kansas State’s defense

You can probably put any defense that has to face Auburn in this slot for the rest of the year. Auburn’s offense has been an unstoppable juggernaut since the LSU game a year ago. Kansas State gave up 28 first-half points to Iowa State before holding them scoreless in the second. It’s quite possibly the biggest ESPN Thursday night game of the year – a nice spot away from the cluttered Saturday primetime – and the whole country will be watching. No pressure or anything…

Kirk Ferentz

Since the 2009 Orange Bowl season, it seems like Iowa fans have been perpetually unhappy with Ferentz. It may have hit a nadir last week when Iowa blew a 14-3 lead at home to its in-state rival Iowa State, a loss punctuated by a terrible “icing the kicker” timeout by Ferentz. They now have to travel to face a Pitt team that many think is a sleeper ACC contender. Iowa can’t lose this game.

Maryland

A running theme here as, just like Iowa, Maryland is a Big Ten team that lost a heartbreaking game at home on a last-second field goal that must travel to play an improving ACC team. In the preseason, I thought Maryland could use the Big Ten move and become the next Texas A&M. A loss to Syracuse and you can politely discard that blog post to the trash heap of “stupid things I wrote.”

East Carolina

East Carolina gave South Carolina all they could handle in a valiant road defeat. They came back last week to shock Virginia Tech. They finish off their non-conference gauntlet with a home game against a North Carolina team that is inexplicably ranked in the Coaches Poll.
Regardless, East Carolina would effectively toss away all the goodwill with a loss this week. Remember, the non-power conferences have one New Year’s Day bowl berth guaranteed to them – East Carolina would become the clear front-runner for that with another win over an ACC team.

Mississippi State

If Mississippi State and Dan Mullen ever want to be a true power in the SEC, they have to win games like Saturday night at LSU. They probably won’t.

Michigan fans

Utah has to be the least-talked about undefeated team in the country, as they poured 50+ points on two terrible, terrible teams in Idaho State and Fresno State. They travel to face a Michigan team that got embarrassed by Notre Dame and scuffled with a Miami, Ohio team that is putrid.
What happens if Michigan finds itself in another close game or down in the second half? How will the fans – absurdly criticized by Brady Hoke – respond?

Virginia Tech & Georgia Tech

Some games are considered “must win” games. This is the ultra-rare “must not lose” game. Virginia Tech followed its upset at Ohio State with a home loss to East Carolina. Georgia Tech blew a 35-10 lead over Georgia Southern at home before escaping with a win.
The ACC Coastal Division is wide-open but the loser here finds itself quickly behind in a division where every single team – yes, all 7 – feel like they can win it. Of all the games Saturday, this one may have the biggest implication on what we see on Championship Saturday in December.