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Is Virginia Basketball the Bitcoin on the NCAA Basketball?

Has anyone but the most ardent Virginia basketball fan heard of Kihie Clark and Kody Strattmann? For those with better things to do, that is your UVa 2018 basketball recruiting class. Any guess where this recruiting class is ranked in the ACC? Don’t bother looking it up. It’s last. There is a chance Virginia could add a name or two to the ’18 class, but don’t bet a week’s pay on it. Worried? Don’t be.

If anyone is concerned about the future of Virginia basketball, please watch Devon Hall play this year. Hall is not only a a top statistical performer for the team, he is a floor leader, a general who knows what Coach Bennett wants at all times. He is like having an assistant coach running the offense and setting the defense in real time. Not many top programs have this type of player anymore. Virginia makes a living off of guys like this and will continue to do so in the future.

Let’s face the reality of Virginia basketball – Tony Bennett runs a different program compared to most of the other top tier teams in the country. Virginia’s defense grabs most of the headlines from the national media who generally are too simple-minded to appreciate the skill and teamwork of great defense. They want all icing & no cake, so when Virginia basketball fails to look like the mind-numbing NBA, they complain that they are bored. Too bad for them. Like good scotch, Virginia basketball is a taste worth acquiring.

However, where Tony Bennett really excels, where he is radically different in his program strategy, and where he makes his bones winning lots of basketball games is in his roster management and player development.

It is hard to argue with CTB’s results bringing Virginia back to the conversation of the elite teams in the country. It is just an unusual path. Like the value of bitcoin, fan confidence in the future success of the Virginia program is based on trust. And like bitcoin, there are likely to be spikes and crashes in the public perception of his roster management and his recruiting. The results to date are stellar however, so fans should trust his system, trust his eye for talent, and trust his ability to develop talent over a college career. Ahhh…. the multi-year college career. We don’t hear much about that anymore, with the exception of UVa and maybe Wisconsin & Villanova, but it is a crucial part of Tony Bennett’s strategy and Virginia’s success.

It is important to get two things out in the open that will not change for Virginia basketball:

  1. Virginia will never land top 15 recruits who are likely “one & done” players. Nor will Virginia land top 40 recruits who think they are one & done, but really aren’t. In Tony Bennett’s system, a top 40 recruit, pretending to be a college student for 6 months, who is not committed to intensely effective defense will sit on the bench. Think that is an attractive option to prima donna kids who think they are the next LeBron James?
  1. Malcolm Brogdon winning the NBA rookie of the year will do nothing to help Virginia’s recruiting with top 40 kids. Brogdon is the poster-child for Virginia athletics. Virginia fans love Malcolm Brogdon, but that carries no weight with high school kids looking for a basketball home. A true student-athlete, had he not made it in the NBA, Brogdon’s fall back was likely medical school. He went to college for 5 years and finished with 2 degrees. How appealing is that to hot-shot high school kids who have no real interest in 5 months of college education, much less 5 years and 2 degrees? Not very.

This is not to say that the Virginia program is void of ACC talent. Quite the contrary. It is just different than any other program in the ACC and most programs in the nation. CTB and his staff find the right “fits” for the program and develop that talent over time. London Perentes anyone? Joe Harris? Both of these recruits garnered collective yawns from the recruiting services and did little to boost the “ranking” of Virginia’s recruiting classes – yet both were All-ACC performers and are playing professionally in the NBA (Perentes making his debut with Cleveland last week)

The tough reality for Virginia fans is that recruiting for Tony Bennet is going to run in cycles.

Scan Virginia’s roster and you will find 5 active redshirt players (Devon Hall, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt, Jay Huff, & De’Andre Hunter), with a 6th (Francesco Bodocci) in progress. Intermixed with the redshirt players are talented recruits who have played since their arrival in Charlottesville.

A couple of interesting points about the redshirt strategy at Virginia besides the fact that I love it: First, if CTB can get kids with the maturity and foresight to see the advantages both athletically and academically of taking a redshirt year, Virginia is already ahead of the game. The second key point – not all of the redshirt players are off the radar “fliers”. Diakite, Huff, Hunter, and Hall were all top 40-100 recruits. In each of these instances, Tony Bennett has taken talented, highly recruited kids and taken their least productive years in Charlottesville as overwhelmed freshmen adjusting to the speed of the game and learning Virginia’s stifling pack-line defense and traded it for their most productive year as a 5th-year senior. Devon Hall is the classic example of why this is an outstanding strategy – if you can find the right kids.

The redshirt strategy is also why Virginia’s recruiting will run in maddening cycles. Top 40 kids with talent enough to crack any line-up in the nation aren’t coming to Virginia. Top 40-100 recruits in 2018 look at the Virginia roster and see it is packed with talented players, 4 of whom have a redshirt season under their belts and lots of eligibility remaining. From their view, Virginia might be a 2 year wait before they garner significant minutes. Is anyone shocked those kids have, thus far, decided to start their college careers elsewhere? So for his ’18 class, Coach Bennett made the best pitch he could for kids who would light up the recruiting rankings and missed. Top 100 recruits can look at a roster, watch the steady progression of current players, and decide if Virginia is the right fit for them. In 2018 they decided it wasn’t.

2019 will be a different story. Significant minutes will be up for grabs when Devon Hall, Nigel Johnson, and Isaiah Wilkins graduate. There might still be a wait (or hopefully a redshirt year) in the future for top 100 kids coming to Virginia in the 2019 class, but there are more routes to playing time and the wait for significant minutes might be one year away instead of two.

All of this is not to say there is not risk in Tony Bennett’s strategy. His last two recruiting classes are more “London Perentes” than “Kyle Guy”. Sometimes Bennett misses on a recruit – a player does not develop like we all hope or runs out of patience competing for playing time. From the 2017 & 2018 recruiting classes, I will be shocked if all 4 turn out to be strong ACC players. Maybe he has found the next Jared Reuter instead of the next Joe Harris. We just don’t know yet, but it is highly unlikely that CTB whiffs on all 4 players. It is more likely that CTB found at least 2 more London Perentes or Jack Salts who can help Virginia stay at or near the top of the toughest basketball conference in the nation.

The most important reality for Virginia fans is that there is not another path to basketball relevance. I have not spoken to any fans who want to play the one & done game. That space is already occupied. Kentucky, Duke, and uNC have sacrificed their academic integrity for the right to remain basketball blue bloods. I don’t fault them for it, but it is just the stark reality. Virginia does not have a history and a story to compete for top 15 recruits with these programs, so a head-2-head strategy to “out-Duke” Duke is doomed for failure. So CTB and his staff will compete for kids in the bottom half of the top 100, look for hidden gems, and redshirt as many as possible.

The 2017-18 season is just underway and Virginia has already climbed the polls based on their performance to date and history of quality play the past 6 years. Virginia’s ranking may be a little lofty this early in the season, but this team is packed with talented players many of whom have an extra year of development and maturity under their belts. When March madness rolls around, I expect Virginia to be in the thick of it again – playing maddening defense that will confound opponents and irk journalists. If Virginia is going to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament in March it will be on the backs of redshirt players augmenting the production of Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome.

Virginia won’t have as many NBA players on the roster in 2017-18 as Kentucky or uNC, but they might win as many or more games. Winning is the best and Virginia basketball does it a lot. Winning differently and I would argue in better fashion, is what makes Virginia a truly standout program. We can thank Tony Bennett and his staff for the return to the top of the basketball pyramid, but we have to endure the recruiting realities of being the different kid on the block. My best advice for Virginia fans, trust Coach Bennett, trust the system, trust the recruiting, and strap in, its a good ride – maybe not as good as the bitcoin ride, but it likely has a higher probability for sustained success.

Finally, Some Signs of Stability For Texas

In case you missed it, The University of Texas made what could be its most important hire in the last decade, and potentially the next several decades to come. Somehow, university President Greg Fenves was able to lure away TCU Athletic Director Chris Del Conte to hire him at the same position at UT.

Now I’ll admit, I don’t know the name of a good Athletic Director from a bad one, but it is obvious to me which athletic programs are on stable ground. And the fact that I actually know the name Chris Del Conte means he must have been doing something right to get my attention. He’s built quite the program at TCU, so the hope is high that he will do the same at Texas.

The reason this is a monumental hire in my opinion is because the Texas athletic department as a whole has been a complete mess ever since Deloss Dodds left in 2013. Steve Patterson was hired and fired within two years, and for very good reasons. Patterson is one of the main reasons why Texas athletics is in the poor shape it’s in right now, mainly because of the wholesale changes he made in order to transform the program into more of a professional sports franchise.

I’m not going to get into the disaster Patterson created, and the mess interim Athletic Director Mike Perrin inherited (and did a remarkable job of damage control), but you can read a local Austin media member’s account of the situation here. If you have any interest in Texas sports at all, take 10 minutes and read it. You will understand why the Texas program has been a dumpster fire for the last several years.

What the hiring of Del Conte as the permanent AD means is the program is finally on the right track for stability. Often times, the hiring of a new AD means changes will be made, particularly on coaching staffs. However, I can’t see that being the case here.

Let’s face it, for the better part of two decades, I only knew of three coaches and one AD as a Texas supporter. Mack Brown, Rick Barnes, Augie Garrido and Deloss Dodds were prominent figures and represented the stability of the program. When you look back at the stability, it’s really no surprise the success all three of the major programs at Texas had during their time.

Since 2013, there have been three Athletic Directors, two head football coaches and multiple staff changes among the three major programs. Shaka Smart is the longest tenured coach of the big three sports, and he was hired as the basketball coach in 2015.

Will Del Conte come in and immediately create a stable program? Time will tell. However, based on his track record during his nine years at TCU, I would say he knows a thing or two about stability. During his time there, TCU has become nationally relevant in football and is a constant participant in the College World Series. He hired a new basketball coach last year and now that program is rejuvenated and considered to be an above-average team in the Big 12.

The main issues I can see Del Conte having is dealing with the pressure from the fans, media and mostly the big money donors. Patience is not something that’s very common around UT fans and donors today, so every move Del Conte makes will be under the microscope. I have all the confidence that he will shake the hands that need to be shaken and get in good graces with the most important people involved with the university, though.

But as we saw with arguably the most stable group of people the university has ever seen, no one is safe if the results don’t match the expectations.

Signs of stability are good, since there hasn’t been much of it surrounding the athletic department in recent years. I personally think Del Conte is a homerun hire and just hope the pressures of being the Athletic Director at Texas doesn’t force him to alter what has worked for him in the past.

Photo: Wikimedia

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Kenny Carpenter Becomes the Offensive Force Cleveland State Needs

It’s been a rather interesting roller coaster ride for Cleveland State senior guard Kenny Carpenter. Having arrived in 2014, along with Terrelle Hales, he found himself in the shadows of what was then a strong rotation of upperclassmen.

As a consequence, he found himself in the shadows, playing limited minutes during his first year, with the noted exception of the last game of the season, a CIT match-up against NJIT. During that loss, fans saw a glimpse of what could be, with Carpenter racking up six points, three assists and grabbing a team-high seven boards.

But it seemed as if in the subsequent years, Carpenter continued to remain as a bit player for the Vikings. This was in spite of a sophomore year in which he got the starting nod eight times, averaged around 20 minutes per game and capped it off with a 24-point performance against UIC.

Head coach Gary Waters, by Carpenter’s junior year, began looking to other players in his backcourt, particularly Rob Edwards, Kash Thomas and Bobby Word. And Carpenter saw less playing time diminish and, in turn, his production.

You would have understood that the situation could have prompted Carpenter, like others during the Waters era, to seek life elsewhere. And you certainly wouldn’t have been surprised if he had decided to transfer upon the arrival of new head coach Dennis Felton.

But instead of working on finding a new opportunity, Carpenter decided to make a case to expound on his existing one. And as a result, he has become the primary scoring option for Cleveland State.

Even as the season started, most fans considered Carpenter as a bit of a wild card in terms of what he’d eventually contribute during the season. As it turns out, he’s leading the team in scoring with 14.4 points a game and in assists with three per game.

While his scoring and assists have gone up, so, too, has his shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. Carpenter currently ranks in the Top 10 in the Horizon League in both categories, with a field-goal percentage of 50.5 percent and notching a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Most importantly, during the shaky start for the Vikings, in which inconsistently has been a running theme, Carpenter has been one of the few certainties that Felton can rely on. In fact, Felton has gone out of his way to gush about the work that Carpenter has put into his game, speaking frequently about how he’s in the gym at least three times a day.

The strong work ethic off the court and sure footing on it has clearly provided a spark to the entire team. And Felton has looked to Carpenter as someone who can provide the leadership that will help Cleveland State in both the immediate and distant future, specifically as it relates to the freshman class that includes backcourt sensation Tyree Appleby.

As the team continues to work out the kinks in its game, one of which still appears to be closing out games (with Kent State and Western Michigan being recent examples), Carpenter will remain the primary source of CSU’s offense. And don’t be surprised if he ends up making a case for an all-conference nod, too.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Can You Blame Texas Players For Leaving Early For The NFL?

There’s been a lot of attrition around the Texas football program for several years. But this is the first time that I can remember where a good chunk of the attrition is coming from players leaving after their junior season to enter the NFL draft. Let’s take a look at who’s gone so far:

  • OT Connor Williams announced almost immediately following the Texas Tech game that he would forego his senior season and not participate in the upcoming bowl game. Williams is projected as a first-round draft pick, and potentially a top-10 pick overall. His decision should have been a no-brainer, and it appears that it was to him as well.
  • DB Holton Hill made a similar announcement recently. Hill’s situation is different because he was suspended for the last few games of the season. His stock was soaring as he was having the best year of his career. Most people expected him to bolt to the NFL anyway, but his suspension pretty much solidified the decision.
  • DB Deshon Elliott’s decision to enter the NFL draft came as somewhat of a surprise to me. Yes, he had a great year and was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist, but I don’t believe his stock is very high. He could potentially improve his stock with another solid year next year, but I guess you can’t blame him for striking while the iron is hot.

Other potential departures we are waiting on announcements from are Malik Jefferson, Kris Boyd, and Michael Dickson.

I fully expect Jefferson to leave, since he has the potential to be a first-round draft pick.

Boyd needs another year, plain and simple. He showed some good signs when he replaced Hill for the final three games, but has plenty of room to improve.

Dickson is a wild card. As a punter, you may not get drafted at all. However, being the Ray Guy award winner as the nation’s top punter will help his stock out. This decision likely just depends on whether Dickson is tired of school or not.

So now that we have the main list of candidates to think about, it’s time to have the discussion of whether they should leave or not.

In my opinion, Williams, Hill, and Jefferson should go. They have a chance to be first or second round picks, and it’s not worth coming back to Texas to risk injury. The only reason why they should even remotely consider coming back is if they have a chance to win a championship. Even the optimistic Longhorns fan knows that isn’t realistic at this point.

As for the rest of the players, can you actually blame them if they decide to leave? I mean, they can make the league minimum salary and still be in better shape than playing for free in college. Could they get better and make more money by being a higher draft pick after next season? Yes. Could they get hurt next season and end their career without making a dime playing football? Absolutely.

As a fan, you always want your best players to stick around for four years. But with the landscape of college football and the NFL changing, it’s hard for me to blame them for making money while they can.

The worst case scenario for them is they go undrafted, get signed as an undrafted free agent to a practice squad and then work their tails off to make the team. The best investment you can make is in yourself, so if you have the talent to play in the NFL, then go after it. These guys can always come back to school if the NFL doesn’t work out, but there’s only so many healthy years they have to play in the NFL.

With that being said, I hope this doesn’t become a trend where players skip out on bowl games if they are entering the NFL draft. The college bowl season is already losing the interest of fans enough as it is, so not having the best players on the field will diminish the relevance of each game even more. If the trend continues, college football as we know it will be changed drastically.

As for Texas players specifically, there’s really no reason for guys to play in the bowl game if they’re going to pursue a career in the NFL. There’s absolutely no value in playing in a mediocre bowl game as a 6-6 team. Yes, the team loyalty factor comes into play, but there are times when you have to look out for yourself as well. The chance to make hundreds of thousands of dollars at a minimum is one of those times, in my opinion.

Photo: Pixabay

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Don’t Expect The College Football Playoff To Change Before 2026

Our college football playoff includes Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama. That’s three conference champions and Alabama. This is something that really gets under the skin of most fans with Ohio State being the odd team out. Last year it was Penn State.

The topic of discussion is whether or not winning the conference should be a prerequisite to being in the playoff. It’s a question that is fair to ask. But is it a reasonable question to ask? I say no.

Now don’t interpret this to mean that I believe Alabama belongs in the championship field while relegating Ohio State. to the irrelevant field of bowl participants. Maybe Alabama is better than Ohio State. Maybe Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes are better than Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. We have no way of knowing the answer to this question because the selection process is more of a subjective process rather than objective process. The old computer-based rankings of the BCS don’t look so bad right now.

The subjective nature of the rankings creates an environment where perception is used to split hairs when comparing the likes of Alabama and Ohio State and Iowa and Wisconsin were used to split Ohio State’s hairs.

Ohio State giving up 55 points to Iowa is Exhibit A. The perception of Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa offense is that it’s averse to scoring points. It certainly didn’t help matters that Iowa also scored 56 points against a 4-8 Nebraska team. This created a lack of confidence in the consistency of the Ohio State defense.

Exhibit B used against Ohio State was Wisconsin and the perception of how good the Badgers were in 2017. All year long we were told that Wisconsin was the most overrated undefeated team in football. The Badgers hadn’t played a relevant team. Just wait until Wisconsin played a “real” team like Ohio State, we were told.

As the Big Ten Championship played out, the eyeball test told us that Ohio State was head-and-shoulders above Wisconsin. There was just one problem. The Buckeyes won 27-21. If Ohio State’s performance against Iowa put the Buckeyes in a playoff casket, then this meager 6-point win against “lowly” Wisconsin was the final nail in Ohio State’s playoff casket. Perception became reality when Ohio State was judged against what the experts considered Iowa and Wisconsin to be. Style points were demanded from the Buckeyes and Meyer’s team couldn’t deliver.

Talking about whether or not the playoffs should be expanded has been a hot-button topic since the first year of the playoff system. There will always be teams who feel passed over for a spot that is considered rightfully theirs. This will be the case whether there is a 4-team playoff or an 8-team playoff. But I do believe there is room for more than four teams in the playoff.

Expanding the playoffs is easier said than done. ESPN is currently in the middle of a playoff television contract that runs through 2025. That contract is worth $5.64 billion. With that many zeros in the contract, there won’t be a change to the playoffs until the 2026 contract is negotiated.

While I do believe there is room for the playoffs to be expanded, I can see both sides of the playoff expansion argument. 4-teams work. 8-teams would also work. But why not 10-teams? This is why the television contract will dictate what is done. How many teams the networks deem conducive to maximizing profits is the number of teams that will participate in the playoff. Period.

One thing is certain to me in all of this. With the SEC getting multiple teams in the playoff, people will start demanding change. Especially since everyone’s college football antagonist, Alabama, was the SEC team benefiting from this. Whether that means expanding the playoffs or dictating that winning your conference is a prerequisite to playoff participation, something will change once we get to 2026.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] 

Photo: Pixabay

 

Jimbo Fisher’s Impact on Texas

In case you missed it, Texas A&M emptied the bank recently by hiring former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher to a 10-year, $75 million deal, which is reportedly fully guaranteed. There’s no doubt this is a flashy hire the program needed, and time will tell whether Fisher earns his paycheck. Credit the Aggies…they needed a big hire like this and they swung for the fences and landed one of the top college coaches in the countries, and only one of four current coaches who have won a national championship.

So now that Fisher is going to be heavily recruiting the state of Texas, what does it mean for the Longhorns?

Things just got much more difficult on the recruiting trail, that’s for sure. Tom Herman hasn’t had a lot of difficulties getting the recruits he wants, and A&M was becoming less of a concern with every loss under former head coach Kevin Sumlin. But Fisher is going to be a different animal. The question isn’t going to be if, but rather, when?

I’d be lying if I said Fisher doesn’t have enough connections with Texas High School football coaches. He might or he might not, but since he has the A&M logo on his shirt now, he won’t have a hard time getting high school coaches on his side. I have no doubt Herman can still recruit with some of the best coaches in the country, but A&M not winning anything of significance recently has also helped tremendously.

Now, from an X’s and O’s standpoint, Fisher’s staff is going to be critical to his success on the recruiting trail and on the field. It sounds like Fisher burned every bridge possible as he was exiting Florida State, so there’s a good chance he will have to start from scratch when assembling his staff. This would be a great sign for Texas, as there’s one person on Fisher’s staff at Florida State who could be a difference-maker: Tim Brewster.

Brewster was a long-time coach under Mack Brown and was known for being an outstanding recruiter. He definitely played a huge role in assembling some of the great Texas teams from the mid-2000’s. Herman tried to pluck him away from Florida State when he was hired last year, but Brewster accepted a raise to stay in Tallahassee instead. Now that things may have gone sour with Fisher, is Texas back in play now if Herman wants to make a change or addition on his staff? I would think so, and hope so.

Honestly, though, the only way the Longhorns can counter the Aggies move of hiring Fisher is to win games. They will have recruiting momentum through the early signing period and maybe even through national signing day. But if A&M has a significantly better year on the field in 2018, then the momentum could shift dramatically.

Maybe this hire will be a good thing for Herman. Not that I don’t think he put every ounce of his energy into this season, but now there’s a much greater sense of urgency to win and win right now. It’s unfortunate that these two programs can’t play on the field to settle any arguments about who is better than the other, but that’s exactly what we have to deal with…recruiting battles.

Texas secured their coach for the future last year, and A&M just got theirs as well. The new energy will be good for the A&M program and their frustrated fan base, but Texas fans shouldn’t be nervous just yet. But if the Longhorns decide to lay another egg next season and put together a 6-6 campaign or worse, then you might as well sound the emergency signals in Austin.

Photo: Wikimedia

E-mail Chase at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @chaseholik88.

Scott Frost Is In Over His Head At Nebraska

I have respect for the success that now-retired coaches once had. That success can be looked back upon with a feeling of nostalgia. Having respect and nostalgic reverence for that success should not mean trying to recreate what Tom Osborne built at Nebraska. In chasing Scott Frost, that is precisely what the state of Nebraska is attempting to do.

When Shawn Eichorst and Mike Riley were each fired, the attitude that oozed out of Nebraska was that this was the state’s opportunity to go back to its nostalgic past. The self-proclaimed opportunity being presented was a chance for the program to go back to its rightful place of 1990s success.  Bill Moos was hired to replace Eichorst and his top priority was to replace Mike Riley with someone who “gets” Husker football. Whatever that means.

But let’s be honest. Anyone remotely close to the Nebraska program knows why Nebraska hired a relative no-name athletic director who had made a name for himself at Washington St. He is in place to be athletic director in title only. The person calling the shots for this football hire is Tom Osborne.

Frost’s name had been a hot commodity early on in the coaching market and Florida seemed like a reasonable destination for the young coach. But then Osborne called and told his protege that it was “time to come home.” And Frost reportedly “understood the message.” 

If this call to come home did in fact happen, it’s a troubling sign for Nebraska football. It’s troubling because it’s indicative of a search that wasn’t an actual search. In addition to that, it’s troubling because Frost and Moos will be seen as Osborne’s puppets. Hell, maybe that’s exactly what the state of Nebraska wants. If its 70 year old legend won’t put the headset on again – Bill Snyder is somewhere asking “why not”- then the next best coach is a person who was a contributor to that now nostalgic glory.

Frost is a solid coach. Many programs would be lucky to have him. Just ask the University of Central Florida. Frost engineered a magical turnaround, but Orlando isn’t Lincoln. The Knights are not the Huskers. The AAC isn’t the Big Ten. You get the point.

Omaha attorney Mike Fitzpatrick is front and center in the Scott Frost fan club. He’s gone as far as to print up coasters imprinted with “Hire Scott Frost Now!”  Fitzpatrick summed up the feelings of Nebraska fans everywhere with these prophetic words.

“Mr. Moos, not being from the state of Nebraska and only being here a short period of time, hasn’t had a chance to see the culture and how we do things in Nebraska. I’m convinced the only way Nebraska is going to gain prominence again is by having one of the guys who was there at the time we were (prominent).”

This would be a tough environment for any coach to win in. Short of undefeated seasons and national championships, nothing will pacify these fans. It’s simply too much for a talented, but young coach to handle.

Is Frost going to be seen as the same kind of true son home run hire as Jim Harbaugh was at Michigan? The question has been asked. Now that the comparison is in your mind, ask yourself this: Will the state of Nebraska accept 3rd and 4th-place finishes while never beating its rival? That’s what Harbaugh has accomplished at Michigan and he’s an experienced Power 5 coach.

It’s time for Nebraska to move on from the Osborne-era. Sure, look back on his won-loss record with the respect it deserves, but these are different times. Expecting Frost to recruit to Lincoln like it’s the 1990s isn’t realistic given the changing landscape of college football. The biggest difference between college football in the 21st-century and the 1990s is social media. When Lawrence Phillips broke into Frost’s apartment, fetched his former girlfriend and dragged her down three flights of stairs, he was allowed to stay on the team. Remember what Osborne said – He just needs football in his life. That attitude won’t stand up to the scrutiny of a 24/7 news cycle.

Frost will have to run a tighter ship than what Osborne ran. If he doesn’t, he may win a championship at Nebraska, but will wind up sacrificing his career in exchange for recreating that nostalgic glory. The state of Nebraska may consider that to be a fair trade-off but I doubt Frost will.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Phil Fulmer Is Set To Be “The Don” Of The VolNation Family

John Currie has been fired by Tennessee. With the soap opera coaching search that was underway at Tennessee, his firing shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But let’s be honest, Currie was in a precarious position from the beginning.

Currie’s job was a position that Phil Fulmer coveted. The former football coach left a storied past on the sidelines and he hoped to lead the program back to the top as A.D. He was a finalist for the position that Currie was ultimately selected for.

Fulmer received a consolation prize in place of the job he pined away for when the university hired him as a special advisor. That sort of thing happens a lot but, in this instance, it left Currie in a shaky position from day-1 on the job. All it would take is one real or perceived slip up for the hardcore Vol fans to get their wish. That slip up occurred when Currie attempted to hire Greg Schiano to replace Butch Jones.

It was all downhill from there for Currie and the writing was on the wall.

There are now reports that Fulmer has been sabotaging Currie’s coaching search in hopes of replacing the Rocky Top outsider. This isn’t a good look but if we’re being honest, it’s exactly what #VolNation has deeply desired all along.

#VolNation marched on Knoxville in protest of the attempted hiring of Schiano due to their high moral standards. Those fans couldn’t fathom the thought of a man like Schiano roaming the sidelines inside of Neyland Stadium. Under no circumstances could they have Schiano acting as the face of the program. And Currie was considered guilty by association.

But #VolNation is just fine with Fulmer.

Each year college football presents a laundry list of awards to players, coaches, and teams. Many are serious. Some are not. The Fulmer Cup is one of those parody awards.

The Fulmer Cup tracks player arrests. If your program had the most players arrested, you win the award. And why is it named The Fulmer Cup? Easy. Because Phil Fulmer ran a program whose arrest record rivaled its winning percentage. Ah yes. The good old days!

This is all well and good for #VolNation. You can run your program like Tony Soprano if you’re considered a True Vol. If you’re an outsider, like Currie and Schiano, then perceived moral improprieties will have you pushed off of Rocky Top.

With Fulmer lurking over his shoulder, Currie was placed in an impossible situation from his first day in Knoxville. All he had to do was give Fulmer and his fans a reason to hate him. Once that happened, Fulmer seems to have taken care of the rest.

All that’s left to do is for Tennessee to name Fulmer as A.D., name Peyton Manning as a special advisor to the program, and to bring Tee Martin in as head coach. Once the ’90s are reestablished in Knoxville, all will be right for #VolNation.

The thing is, I don’t know if we should call this Rocky Top family an athletic department or a syndicate. Rick Barnes better watch his back or Don DeVoe may be brought back to coach the basketball team.

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E-mail Seth at [email protected] 

Photo: Flickr

Hard Lessons in Learning How to Win for Cleveland State

Cleveland State might be forgiven for feeling its way through the non-conference schedule, given the new coaching staff and the need to have the new players and upperclassmen start gelling as a team. However, with the slate head coach Dennis Felton and company put together in the ramp-up to the Horizon League games, the Vikings have been dropped into the deep end of the pool and are asked to swim back to shore.

In the first six games, it’s clear that learning to win has been a lesson that has seen Cleveland State take steps forward and backward. Taking away the blowout at Rutgers, and you can see two, perhaps three games early on that could have been winnable for the Vikings.

But when you have a team with a new coach and whose veterans have suffered from back-to-back 20-loss seasons, the road to completing the final lessons in winning will be winding and, at times, full of potholes.

The primary lesson, at least in the early going, has been the ability to close out games. Against East Carolina and Central Connecticut State, Cleveland State was leading in the final minutes. And, in both cases, offensive outages, coupled with defensive lapses, proved to be too much to overcome at the end of both contests.

As frustrating as the losses have been (and you were all warned about this, by the way), you have gotten the sense that it was only a matter of time before the Vikings were finally able to get over the hump. And Wednesday’s match-up against Arkansas State was a sign that things were taking a turn in the right direction.

Sure, Cleveland State had kept letting the Red Wolves back into the game, as it had against ECU and CCSU. But this time, the Vikings hunkered down, and bolstered by a key block by Bobby Word and a defensive set that led to an unforced error by Arkansas State, CSU came through with the 75-72 victory.

“We talked about the first year and how important it is to build your culture and set a high standard of excellence,” Felton told The News-Herald after the win.

If any of this sounds familiar to longtime Cleveland State fans, that’s likely because the Vikings have been in this situation before. It was 11 years ago, to be exact when Gary Waters took over as the head coach after years of poor-to-middling teams capped by four straight 20-loss seasons.

That, as it seems, is where the similarities end. Waters, in his first year, was given the latitude to ease Cleveland State back on the winning track, bringing transfers like Cedric Jackson, Chris Moore and George Tandy into the mix, starting in Year Two.

Felton, on the other hand, has taken a different approach. First, he’s called on the senior holdovers from the Waters era, specifically Word, Kenny Carpenter and Anthony Wright, to step up in the starting rotation. In addition, lending to a sense of urgency, the new players he’s brought into the mix, freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby, along with Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith, have played big minutes so far this season.

While the Arkansas State win was a much-needed boost, the non-conference road doesn’t get any easier, which includes tough road contests against Top 25 teams Cincinnati and Michigan State. That said, the Vikings appear to be in a better position than preseason pundits saw them, and with the volatility of the Horizon League, don’t be surprised if they pull out some wins nobody expected.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The Biggest Disappointments in the Big Ten, 2017 Edition

It’s been a long and somewhat peculiar season but the Big Ten regular season is finally over. Rivalry games have been played the tickets punched to Indiana. There were some interesting twists and turns along the way but what about disappointments? What were the biggest disappointments of 2017 in the Big Ten?

Inconsistencies

Penn State started the season out looking like a potential College Football Playoff contender. The Nittany Lions even survived a night game at Iowa which most visiting teams do not. Then Penn State dropped two in a row to Ohio State. Ohio State, on the other hand, had an understandable loss to Oklahoma but got absolutely blown out by Iowa later in the season. Michigan State seemed like they’d turned things back around but then were beaten by Northwestern.

Just what could have the Playoff rankings looked like if just one of these programs had shown some consistency? If Ohio State hadn’t gone from looking like the best defense in the country to swiss cheese in alternating weeks, would the Buckeyes Playoff hopes still rest on the outcome of the Big Ten Championship game? Or if Saquon Barkley had kept pace, could the Big Ten have had its first Heisman Trophy winner since Troy Smith in 2006?

Regardless, the Big Ten came off as a much weaker conference for all its ups and downs for the season.

Minnesota

Man, was anyone not riding the PJ Fleck train after last season? Not a lot of guys could’ve gotten a random catchphrase at a MAC school to get such play and be so beloved by the nation. Fleck did just that and parlayed that into an offer from Minnesota and somehow a contract extension despite having just now completed his first season.

Instead of lighting the world on fire, Fleck lead the Golden Gophers to a 5-7 record which is their worst is a stark departure from the 8-4 season prior. Fleck didn’t even end the season on a high note. His team got blanked in a pair of 30-point losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin. Add on to that, Demry Croft the starting quarterback is planning to transfer.

Maybe PJ Fleck isn’t ready for the big times in the Big Ten. It’s not even the first time that I’ve wondered just that. Time will tell but at least for now, Minnesota ranks as one of the biggest disappointments for the Big Ten in 2017.

Michigan

I debated ranking this above Minnesota but for those of you that aren’t Michigan fans, let me explain:

There are two types of Michigan fans. The first type is the rationale fan that understands the limitations of the teams and has reasonable expectations. This type of fan is unfortunately quite uncommon in the Maize and Blue fanbase.

The second fan is the fan that believes that Michigan is a perennial contender for the National Championship despite any evidence contrary to the fact. These are the fans that believe John O’Korn who is not as good of a quarterback as an ear of corn would’ve beaten Michigan State if it hadn’t started to rain. This particular group of fans is, unfortunately, the vast majority of Michigan fans so just based on fan expectation, Michigan is the bigger disappointment than Minnesota.

I don’t know if there was another team that entered the season with as much hype and expectation as Michigan despite not really having a track record for, well, anything at this point. Jim Harbaugh has a massive reputation heaped on him by fans and the media and an 8-4 season doesn’t really meet those expectations. Given the level of quarterback play, 8-4 was a miracle but still a disappointment

Maybe the postseason will provide the Big Ten with some exciting successes but if the regular season is any indication, probably not.

Email Tim at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @tbach84.

Image courtesy Flickr

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