Tag Archives: Ed Orgeron

Not Another List of Big Games: Week 1 (Pt. 2)

Yesterday, I told you there are a lot of big games in Week 1.  Today, we keep it rolling.  Here are some notes on three more games you’ll be watching this holiday weekend: Continue reading Not Another List of Big Games: Week 1 (Pt. 2)

Nick Saban Has Nothing to Prove to High School Coaches

Louisiana high school football coaches have had a busy few weeks. First, there was the on-again/off-again boycott of Ed Orgeron’s LSU football program. Then, Parkway High School football coach, David Feaster, went nuclear when he banned Nick Saban and Alabama from his program. The tense situation between the New Orleans high schools and Ed Orgeron was quickly smoothed over. As for Feaster and Saban? Feaster soon found himself on the unemployment line as Parkway principal Waylon Bates fired the coach.

Feaster didn’t agree with what he considered to be Saban’s unethical recruiting tactics. The former Parkway head coach took particular issue with how Saban recruited Brandon Harris in the 2014 recruiting class.

Harris was a highly regarded dual-threat quarterback in that 2014 recruiting class. Alabama’s offensive assistant coaches believed that Harris would be a valuable asset to the Alabama offense. But no matter how good a recruit is, they don’t truly have an offer from Alabama until Saban says they have an offer from Alabama. For that to happen, Harris would need to attend a Crimson Tide football camp to prove himself to Saban.

Saban’s record at Alabama speaks for itself. The way in which he structures his recruiting process may seem harsh to some, but that structure has proven results. If you’re in charge of a high school program, you’re wise to play by Saban’s rules. If you don’t, it’s not going to harm Saban. It’s only going to be to the detriment of your high school recruits.

Now, as for Harris, his time as an LSU Tiger was anything but extraordinary. His career in Baton Rouge was spent between riding Les Miles’ bench and starting. He was ultimately benched in favor of Purdue transfer Danny Etling. Based on this, I’d say that Saban was correct to pass on the previously highly regarded quarterback recruit. Saban continues to sit on top of the SEC while Miles found himself fired mid-season.

There is a bigger picture in all of this. Those Louisiana football coaches were wrong for leading an albeit short boycott of LSU and Feaster was wrong for banning Alabama from his former program. Who high school recruits show interest in and where those recruits end up playing their college ball is up to the players. End of story.

These high school coaches can offer advice to their players but that’s where it has to end. Unless the college coaches who are recruiting the players are doing something illegal, they should be granted access to the recruits. If the recruit wants nothing to do with a particular college program, that’s their call. Otherwise, the only thing that these high school coaches are doing is limiting the potential opportunities for the recruits. And limiting the opportunities of the recruits is the last thing a high school coach should be doing.

Perhaps if Feaster would have given Saban the benefit of the doubt, Harris’ collegiate career would look considerably better than it does. Just imagine if Harris would have attended the Alabama camp, been offered a scholarship by Saban and enrolled at Alabama rather than LSU. A large part of the reason Miles was fired by LSU was due to his inability to develop a quarterback. And a large part of Saban’s success is his ability to develop a college level quarterback and place that quarterback in the best position to win.

Saban continues to win. Harris is looking to transfer. Miles is sitting at home. And Feaster was fired for what was considered to be insubordination.

 

E-mail Seth at  or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Five Way Too Early Predictions for SEC Football in 2017

I know we still have a while to go until we get our beloved SEC football Saturdays back, but I just can’t wait. SEC football is on my mind all the time. So here are just a few of my recurring thoughts about this coming season.

Georgia will be the team to beat in the East

Let’s be honest, Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens was a little underwhelming. The worst moment of the season for the Dawgs had to be that last-minute loss to the Vols at home. Just when Jacob Eason had led them down the field to take the lead, Josh Dobbs and Jauan Jennings connected for an unbelievable Hail Mary. I fully expect Georgia fans to be able to put that pain behind them next season. Eason will have more experience, the defense will have more experience, and coach Smart will also have more head coaching experience.

South Carolina will have more than one good upset win

This past season wasn’t particularly impressive for South Carolina in its first year under Will Muschamp. But, the Gamecocks did manage to get a pretty nice upset win over the Vols. They were a huge part of why Tennessee never made it to Atlanta. The Gamecocks showed promise in most games, even many of the losses. The only game they might want to erase from memory is that Clemson thrashing at the end of the season. But with another year under Muschamp’s guidance and with his recruits coming in, I anticipate two upset wins out of the Gamecocks this season.

Butch Jones will get run out of Knoxville

This call may be a little early. But with all his press conference clichés, I think this might be the year Tennessee fans grab their pitchforks and run Jones out of town. Heck, after that Vanderbilt loss to end the regular season my dad had decided not to renew his season tickets for 2017. Guess he doesn’t want to be part of another championship of life. Or maybe he just doesn’t have that five-star heart. All this being said, the Vols may be in trouble next season. Their defense is a huge question mark and now they have a question mark starting at quarterback too. Just ask the Gators how well that second question mark works out in the SEC.

Alabama will win the West…again

No other team was truly a tough match for Alabama in the West last year, with the biggest challenges coming from LSU and Ole Miss. Ole Miss later lost star quarterback Chad Kelly to injury and its season tanked. The Rebels were more of a pretender than an actual contender. LSU had a slow start, but ended up in some good games under then-interim (now head) coach Ed Orgeron. But at the end of the day, Alabama was still dominant in the SEC. Alabama dominated all the way until the national championship game that it lost to Clemson. That loss may sting, but with quarterback Jalen Hurts having more experience, I expect Alabama to be number one in the West and headed right back to Atlanta again in December. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Alabama still has Nick Saban.

But LSU will make it close

The LSU Tigers had arguably one of the most interesting seasons out of the entire SEC in 2016. Les Miles was fired and replaced on an interim basis by Defensive Line Coach Ed Orgeron. Orgeron led the team to a 5-2 finish (after starting the season 2-2 under Miles). Additionally, LSU dominated Louisville and its Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson in the Citrus Bowl. On top of all this, Orgeron put together a top ten recruiting class in his first time recruiting as LSU’s head coach. With Orgeron leading, talent returning, and talent coming in, the Tigers are poised to finish second in the SEC West and maybe even give the Crimson Tide a run for its money.

You can email Kristen at k[email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Image courtesy of Sean Davis, Flickr.

A Coach’s Guide to Keeping SEC Fans Happy

It seems like there are always coaching rumors out there. Between angry fan bases tired of their current coaches and fan bases hoping to hire a top candidate, coaches are always a hot topic. But what can coaches do in their current jobs to keep fans happy? More specifically, how can SEC coaches keep their fans happy?

We’ve said goodbye to a couple long-time coaches over the past year, Georgia’s Mark Richt and LSU’s Les Miles. Now, fans in the SEC East are displeased with a couple of coaches that really haven’t done anything except be pretty darn successful. The two coaches that come to mind are Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Florida’s Jim McElwain.

Using these four coaches, I’m going to set forth some simple guidelines that should help keep these finicky SEC fans happy.

1. Get top recruiting classes.

Butch Jones has done well recruiting while at Tennessee, with fans (like my dad) excited over many of the players he’s brought in. Jim McElwain has only brought in two classes, but has gained a name amongst fans because of all the three-star recruits he brings. Both Georgia and LSU averaged top ten classes over the past five years, but both Richt and Miles were fired. Okay, so maybe recruiting won’t save your job. But as McElwain knows, not recruiting the best players will make people mad at you even if you are successful.

2. Hire and/or fire the right coaches.

This one is big. McElwain brought in Doug Nussmeier to be his offensive coordinator at Florida. This hire has drawn all sorts of criticism from Gator fans since the Gator offense still looks pretty miserable. Even many of those who want to keep McElwain (and fans should want to keep him) are calling for him to get rid of Nussmeier. Jones, who is also drawing criticism from the fans, is getting heat for some of his coaching hires. After the way the defense has played this season, it seems like Bob Shoop as defensive coordinator may not have been the best hire for Jones even though he was touted as a “great get” for the Vols.

3. Keep your players out of trouble.

In some instances, this may not actually be a priority. Just look at all the Baylor fans that want former coach Art Briles back. But overall, keeping players out of trouble is important. If your team is making headlines because of the crimes the players commit off the field, then nobody is going to be able to pay attention to what the team does on the field. Keeping these young men out of trouble also gives them a much better shot of succeeding at the next level. As we’ve all seen with Johnny Manziel, bad behavior in college can turn into bad behavior once you’re a professional. And if things get bad enough, you can lose your job.

4. Don’t just win your division.

This is where I’m really looking at you, Gator fans. Jim McElwain came in to a pretty decent program with a solid defense but an abysmal offense. In both of his first two years at Florida, he has managed to navigate the Gators to the SEC Championship Game as the East Division Champions. In his first year, the Gators actually swept SEC East play. But apparently for some spoiled and/or delusional fans, just winning the division isn’t enough. And maybe it isn’t enough in the grand scheme of things, but in the first two years that kind of success is unprecedented. Literally.

5. Beat your rivals.

I cannot say this enough. Beating your rivals is possibly the most important goal to keep in mind as a head coach, aside from those big rings. But we’ll get to those. One thing Les Miles was struggling with lately was beating LSU’s biggest SEC West rival, Alabama. And maybe there isn’t a coach out there who could really beat Nick Saban. But fans were willing to try to find one. On the other hand, Jones finally beat two of Tennessee’s three biggest rivals this year. The Vols claimed their first victory over the Gators since 2004. The Vols also beat the Bulldogs for the second year in a row. So even with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, Jones did accomplish some goals this season. Beating Florida and Georgia may not have gotten them the SEC East Championship, but it did get the fans some bragging rights. And that is really Coach Jones’ saving grace after an otherwise disappointing season.

6. Win rings.

Miles and Richt are great examples of why this guideline matters. In his entire time at Georgia, Richt only had less than eight wins in one season. He won the SEC East and the SEC multiple times. But one big thing Richt could never do was taking home a big championship. As I’ve previously said of him, he’s always the bridesmaid but never the bride. Close but no cigar. Miles did bring a National Championship home to Baton Rouge once. And I’m sure Tiger fans will always be grateful for that. But he struggled to make it back to the big game once Saban emerged as the best coach in all of college football. And for the LSU football program, this was unforgivable. Miles was a consistently good coach, but the school let him go to try to find a coach great enough to give Saban a run for his money. Then LSU hired Ed Orgeron… Interesting choice given exactly why Miles was let go, but that’s another story for another day.

7. Don’t use clichés as staples in your pressers.

This last one is something that may not seem important to everyone, but the way a coach presents himself and represents the program at press conferences is extremely important. Most recently, Jones completely violated this guideline. And consequently, #VolTwitter exploded. Talking about his team a little over a week ago he said, “They’ve won the biggest championship—and that’s the championship of life.” Is he a motivational speaker or a head football coach? I get it—the young men did well for themselves. Amen! But you can’t use lines like this to avoid taking ownership of the fact that you have failed to bring a National Championship, SEC Championship or even SEC East Championship to the program. If you don’t accomplish your goals, acknowledge it instead of sugar-coating it. Show the players, fans and recruits that you still want to win actual championships.

 

Bonus: Beat Nick Saban.

This one needs no explanation. Just beat Nick Saban. Somebody, please do it.

 

This list is obviously not comprehensive, but in using two former and two current SEC coaches as examples, I would like to think I’ve pin-pointed some important guidelines for keeping fans happy. Some fans (Hi, Gators) may never be satisfied, but that doesn’t mean a coach can’t do everything in his power to try to appease them. Coaches Miles and Richt: I’m sorry the fans gave up on you because good wasn’t good enough. Coaches Jones and McElwain: I’m rooting for you. We’re all rooting for you.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Sean Davis, Flickr

LSU Is Bad and So Is Ed Orgeron’s Commerical

LSU, you are a mess. I don’t know how the Tigers are even functioning as a team right now.

First off, Les Miles was fired. It’s not that he should have kept his job or anything. Miles shouldn’t be coaching but he shouldn’t have been coaching at LSU this season in the first place. I mean, really? The administration tried to fire him last season and decided they’d rather not have the students riot. Clearly, the relationship wasn’t working out, so why bring him back at all? They should have cut him in the offseason and avoided all this nonsense.

What are you left with now? A head coach in Ed Orgeron who thinks it’s a good idea to try to change the offense before facing Florida, one of the best defensive teams in the SEC and the nation. The best part? The last time Orgeron was in the SEC, his last team at Ole Miss was pretty awful on offense. Ole Miss finished the season ranked #108 in scoring offense, #111 in total offense, and #112 in passing offense in 2006. Man, that’s who I want to be giving my team offensive advice.

If that doesn’t do it for you, he also appeared in a local car commercial. I’m not sure if there’s a pact with the devil you have to sign when you have a local car dealership but they have some of the worst commercials. This one’s no exception either. If you didn’t distrust him before, you definitely should now. Seriously, local car commercials are the worst.

But I digress. You’ve got a guy who was fired for having a terrible offense giving advice to your team that has a terrible offense. LSU is ranked 116th in passing yards per game and 98th in scoring. For the math majors out there, there are 128 teams which means… yeah, that’s real bad.

LSU already had to bench their quarterback, Brandon Harris, and are now starting a transfer from Purdue. In case you don’t follow the Big Ten or read my work regularly, Purdue is not very good. That’s me being nice to Purdue because I’ve been really mean to them lately.

A bad offense and a transfer quarterback who lost the starting job at Purdue, but at least LSU has Leonard Fournette, right?

Wait, wait, wait.

The best running back in the SEC isn’t even going to play? Come on, man. This isn’t even fun anymore. You’re just making it too easy, LSU.

Hey, at least the weather’s on LSU’s side! UCF has already canceled its game against Tulsa thanks to Hurricane Matthew. Georgia and South Carolina might be postponed as well, so LSU has a shot! You had a game changed from a road matchup to a home game against South Carolina last year, so maybe this one can be postponed or even canceled!

How sad is it that LSU probably has a better chance of getting this game canceled than actually winning? Florida is ranked 4th in points allowed, so if you factor in the current LSU offensive woes, how do you come to any other conclusion? If Miles were still there he’d pull something crazy out of his hat and the game would still be played.

LSU is a hot mess right now and is going to remain a hot mess until they can find a new coach. It won’t matter for this weekend, though. Miles might not be a great coach anymore but he had that weird “it” factor. Crazy things happened when he was on the sidelines. Orgeron doesn’t have that and it’s going to show this weekend. Well, that and the fact that LSU just isn’t very good this season.

E-mail Tim at [email protected].

Image courtesy Flickr via Creative Commons

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Grab Your Beer: We Have a Perfect Saturday Slate of SEC Football

I’m going to take you back to an article I wrote before the season got underway. I came up with the nightmarish scenario of only being able to watch one SEC football game per week. Then I picked the games I’d watch each week if that were the case.

Weeks 1-5, I was pretty much dead-on. Week 6 is where SEC football makes me feel a little silly.

That’s because it’s now Week 6 and there are three huge conference match-ups that I will watch. Ironically, the one that I initially picked over the others seems to be the one of least consequence here. And by that, I mean I picked the LSU Tigers visiting the Florida Gators as my one game to watch.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll definitely be watching the Tigers pay the Gators a visit. But if I had to choose just one game to watch, it might not be that game anymore.

Fortunately, my nightmare hasn’t come true and I do not have to pick only one game to watch. The schedule works out perfectly for the SEC football fan in me this week, as I get to watch three amazing games. So here’s a preview of what this perfect Saturday as SEC football fan will look like.

At noon on ESPN, the Tigers play the Gators. This game may not be the best of the weekend but it’s still intriguing in many ways.

LSU fired head coach Les Miles and left Ed Orgeron in charge for the time being. At the same time, star RB Leonard Fournette’s status is “day-by-day” with an ankle injury. Additionally, Danny Etling has taken over at quarterback instead of Brandon Harris. Yes, they beat the Missouri Tigers in convincing fashion, but that was at home against a team that was winless in SEC play. With or without Leonard Fournette, it’ll be interesting to see how this Tiger team handles a road game against a ranked opponent now that Miles is gone.

Florida has question marks, but for completely different reasons. The Gators seem to have caught the injury bug, with their whole starting defensive line suffering some kind of injury. Not to mention that their biggest hope for having a good quarterback, Luke Del Rio, injured his knee taking a low hit a couple weeks ago. It also seems like the coaching staff hasn’t really figured out an effective rotation for the running backs, as made evident by Jordan Scarlett’s absence on many snaps last game. On top of that, there are questions about Florida’s rushing defense after how they handled Ralph Webb. This group of defensive backs is always great, but can the whole defense rise to the occasion of defending someone like Derrius Guice or possibly even Fournette?

After that game, Tennessee takes on Texas A&M on CBS at 3:30. Regardless of where your loyalty lies, why wouldn’t you want to watch a battle of unbeatens?

The Vols to have destiny or the football gods or even just some good juju on their side so far this season. Josh Dobbs has come through in a clutch way, and his passing game has helped lead the Vols to some pretty great comeback wins. Unfortunately, the Vols have suffered some injuries on defense and still have some ground to make up there. And there’s also the question of whether or not this team can play a whole game of good football instead of just playing a great second half. But, with fate seemingly on their side, you just can’t count out this Vols team.

Texas A&M, once again, has gotten off to a 5-0 start this season. This is the third season in a row that they’ve gotten off to such a start. But will this be the first of those years that they also win Game 6? It very well could be. Trevor Knight has proven to be solid at quarterback, and a great supporting cast surrounds him. The Aggies are ranked in the top 50 FBS teams in passing yards, rushing yards, points for, and points against. No question marks about that.

At 7:00, flip back to ESPN to watch as Alabama pays Arkansas a visit. Alabama is always good, but Arkansas has been surprisingly good this season too. That makes this game the upset alert of the week.

Alabama, like Tennessee, has had some slow starts. Okay, their starts are like a jog to Tennessee’s walk. But they definitely can’t afford to be jogging this game. As I’ve said before, the Crimson Tide may not have a super strong quarterback this year, but that doesn’t matter. True freshman Jalen Hurts does enough to make the rest of the team shine. They actually don’t even have a go-to running back like Derrick Henry this season, and that weakness worries me. But even if Alabama wins this one, they go to Tennessee next and host Texas A&M after that.

I never know what to make of Arkansas. All I know is that at any given moment, they could pull off a borderline erotic upset win. I have my doubts after their loss to Texas A&M, but you just never know. They have a great quarterback in Austin Allen, but how will he handle an elite defense? And even more worrisome than that is the question of how the Razorback defense will handle Alabama’s potent offense. I’ll always give them the upset factor, but if they manage to pull this one off it might be just plain erotic for coach Bret Bielema.

Now I have just one request: Grab a beer (or six) and enjoy what will probably be an exciting day of SEC football.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Featured photo courtesy of Gainesville Apartments.

Fire All of the College Football Coaches

College football is a cut throat business. This is particularly true when talking about head coaches and job security. More often than not, college athletics directors and boosters take the attitude of “what have you done for me lately.” And if the head coach hasn’t done much lately, that coach will probably find himself on the hot seat, if not fired. Going into the 2016 season, the two of the highest profile SEC coaches most talked about in regards to being on the hot seat were LSU coach Les Miles and Auburn coach Gus Mulzahn. Once LSU seemingly gave the game away to Auburn, LSU’s athletics director Joe Alleva decided he had seen enough from Miles and did what he considered doing in the middle of the 2015 season. Alleva fired Miles.

Coaches at other schools have had the same amount of success that Miles had while at LSU and never get fired let alone find themselves on the hot seat. At least not that the public is made aware of. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops comes to mind when thinking about coaches who have had similar success as Miles while not being in danger of losing their job. And on the flip side of that coin, Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz comes to mind when thinking of coaches who have been solid but not great at their school while never being in danger of losing their job.

This leads me to ask this question – What is the anatomy of being fired? The answer to this question varies from team-to-team and conference to conference. The coaches and conferences who exemplify this contrasting nature of job security are Miles, Bob Stoops, the SEC and the Big 12.

As was previously stated, Miles was close to being fired in the middle of the 2015 season, yet was retained. He lasted until LSU lost to Auburn in tough luck style. While it is true that Miles seemed to prefer an old school offensive style, it is also true that Miles won a ton of games while at LSU. He won an SEC championship in 2011, won a national championship in 2007 and was the runner-up for the national championship in 2011. Needless to say, LSU’s athletics director, boosters, and fans didn’t have an issue with Miles’ old school offensive style during these championship years.

And while other coaches around the country have won-loss records with more ebb and flow, Miles’ teams never won less than eight games a year. He was consistent in how he ran his team and his teams were consistent on the field. But all of this was still a recipe for being fired in the middle of his 12th season at LSU.

Oklahoma has not fired Bob Stoops, but he has had his share of detractors in his now 18 years in Norman. To his benefit, these detractors do not include athletics director Joe Castiglione, the boosters or the fans. Stoops has won eight conference championships, won the 2000 national championship and was runner-up for the 2008 national championship.

Like Miles, Stoops is an accomplished coach. Stoops’ detractors refer to him as Not So Big Game Bob but this hasn’t rubbed off on the people that hold his job in their hands.

The difference in the fate of each of these coaches may be the circumstances that each coach finds themselves in. These circumstances have less to do with the individual coaches and more to do with the conferences that each of their teams are members of.

Perception isn’t always based on reality. Sure, there is a grain of truth to the foundation of what any given perception is built on, but perception is usually the result of snarky fans and the jealousy that those fans have for their rivals. And the perception of the SEC being the undisputed king of college football is one that carries a lot of weight. This perception of the SEC is so great that it most likely played a role in Miles being fired. This same perception may also help a coach like Bob Stoops keep his job in the Big 12.

Miles isn’t Nick Saban. No coach is. That isn’t a perception. That is a simple statement of fact. But that doesn’t stop other programs from demanding Saban like results. I truly believe that is a perception that holds true at LSU. It certainly doesn’t help matters that Saban was once at LSU and chose to move on to the NFL. And when he returned to the collegiate coaching ranks, he chose Alabama. He not only chose Alabama but he has created unprecedented success while in Tuscaloosa. And this is where the perception of the SEC comes into play for LSU.

I believe that every team in the SEC believes that it not only can, but should have a coach who has Saban like success. This perception becomes the catalyst for a school like LSU to push a coach out the door who won 71.9% of his games. Not only that but LSU won a national championship with Miles. But sure, LSU is in the SEC and people think that every coach in the conference should be winning multiple national championships. I’ll say this to LSU and every other school in the SEC when it comes to this mindset – Good luck.

This point about pining away for the success that Alabama has achieved was magnified during the SEC Network telecast of the Missouri vs. LSU game. Ed Orgeron is the interim coach and Brent Musberger was discussing Orgeron’s chances of being hired as the permanent head coach. In Musberger’s opinion, Orgeron would have to beat Alabama this year for that promotion to occur. LSU had better think twice before hiring a head coach based on one game.

Now Stoops is in an entirely different situation. Stoops coaches in the Big 12. This is a conference that has struggled to be viewed as a top notch Power 5 conference. The Big 12 is the constant punchline to jokes. In other words, the perception of the Big 12 is the complete opposite of the perception of the SEC.

Given what the perception is of the Big 12, any respect that a coach and his team can offer the conference is embraced. And when that coach has the resume that Stoops has at Oklahoma, there is no way that his athletics director would shove him out the door. Oklahoma wouldn’t have shoved Miles out the door if he had duplicated his LSU record at Oklahoma. To go a step further, I’ll say this – If Miles would have stayed at Oklahoma State and duplicated his LSU record, he’d have a statue built for him and T. Boone Pickens would chauffeur him around.

All of this is to say that firing a coach isn’t always based on reality. Just because a coach gets fired, it doesn’t mean he’s done a lousy job. Sometimes it’s about the circumstances and perceptions that the coach has created that reality in.

My advice to every athletics director, booster, and fan in the country is to not only enjoy whatever success your coach brings to the program but to embrace it. Unless your coach is struggling to win, just be happy with him. And winning nine games a year isn’t “struggling to win.”

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

Photo: flickr.com

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Do You Like a Great Storyline? Alabama, USC and Lane Kiffin Have it for Us

Wunderkind: someone who achieves success or shows great talent at a young age.

This is the definition you see when you open up your Merriam-Webster dictionary. There isn’t a profession in the world that doesn’t boast a list of people that are considered to be wunderkinds and the coaching profession is no exception to this statement.

Prior to the 2010 season kicking off, Pete Carroll left the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans high and dry. As Carroll raced up to Seattle to take the head coaching job with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, he left USC in the wake of NCAA sanctions. Who would be willing to take the USC job while knowing that the Trojans would be ineligible for post-season play, that their juniors and seniors would be eligible to transfer without having to sit out a year, and also knowing that there would be scholarship restrictions to manage?

That was easy. In what would be one of Mike Garrett’s final decisions as USC’s athletic director, he chose to hire college football’s 35-year-old wunderkind- Lane Kiffin.

Lane Kiffin’s 2010 team went 8-5 despite only having 71 scholarship players. With wins over conference rivals California and UCLA, the wunderkind’s future appeared to be bright in southern California.

The 2011 season was an even bigger on-field success for Kiffin as his Trojans went 10-2. However, due to the NCAA sanctions, USC was once again ineligible for postseason play and this included the Pac-12’s conference championship game. The 35-year-old USC wunderkind was proving his worth in the face of adversity.

USC hit a rough patch on the field in 2012. Kiffin posted a record of 7-6, however, it was a record breaking year; just not a record any coach would want to hold. The 2012 USC team was the first team since 1964 to start the year ranked No. 1 only to finish the season unranked. The wunderkind was losing his shine.

Things became interesting for Kiffin in 2013. After taking his team to play Arizona State, Kiffin boarded the team plane after a 62-41 loss to the Sun Devils. In what would become one of the more infamous firings in sports history, Pat Haden fired Kiffin at the Los Angeles International Airport. Pat Haden left Kiffin at the airport.

Teams across the country are now preparing for the 2016 college football season. Spring practices have begun, we’re about a month away from the spring games taking place and as fans we’re already looking forward to another exciting season of football. The excitement begins September 3 at AT&T Stadium when Alabama takes on USC.

If you like intriguing story lines, this game has it all. Alabama opens the season as the defending national champion and is considered to be a contender for the 2017 national championship. As for USC, they look to move on from the Pat Haden and Steve Sarkisian eras as Clay Helton sheds the title of interim head coach and begins his official head coaching duties against Nick Saban. Helton’s job of establishing consistency within the Trojan program will begin against a program that has become synonymous with the word “consistency.” And yes, let’s not forget that Lane Kiffin is now the offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m ready to kick this game off. Let’s roll(Tide)!

This will be the first time that Kiffin has coached against the program that left him stranded at the airport. Haden is no longer the USC athletic director, but USC can’t hold a fond place in the heart of Kiffin. Kiffin coaches his Alabama offense with all of the bravado one would expect. That bravado includes celebrating touchdown catches while the ball is still in the air. Simply put, Kiffin coaches with a swagger that we should expect to be full throttle on September 3.

If Kiffin’s association with USC wasn’t enough, there is also the association between Kiffin and Helton. In 2010, when Kiffin put his first USC coaching staff together, Helton was hired as his quarterbacks coach. And going into that infamous 2013 Trojan season, Kiffin promoted Helton to offensive coordinator. When Kiffin was fired mid-season, Ed Orgeron was named interim head coach and held that position until he quit prior to USC’s bowl game. Take a wild guess as to who coached that bowl game in Orgeron’s place? If you guessed Clay Helton, you would be correct.

Who knew that a wunderkind could have this kind of coaching tree?

Going into the game, I have one request of Nick Saban. Please coach Saban, I’m begging you, make Kiffin available to the media. College football needs the sound bites.

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

*Featured image courtesy of Neon Tommy/Flickr

Pac-12 Year In Review

David Shaw, Larry ScottIt’s nice to be able to come up for air, and that’s exactly how I feel after spending so much time focused on college football for four months. It isn’t to say that this gig suffocates me, but I for some reason feel the need to justify why it’s been so long since I last wrote.

We all tend to gripe about accountability at some point, and usually it’s directed at someone else, but I’m prepared to call myself to the carpet. Prediction pieces are difficult to write, because we’re asking ourselves to predict the future, so rarely does anyone ever re-visit those summer prognostications of an autumn sport, unless they turn out to somehow nail their picks.

Last week, on the College Football Roundtable podcast, we looked back at the Pac-12 in 2013, offered thoughts, and I handed out grades. A lot of it was based on pre-season assumptions, and it ultimately came down to whether teams met or exceeded expectations set before the season began, fair or not. It’s funny how the games could go mostly as expected, but how many surprises emerged for various awards after the games were played.

We can start with the things that aren’t necessarily important, work our way up to the wins and losses, the only thing that really means anything in the end. I broke my preview down into the Head Coach/Quarterback combo, defense wins (finish the sentence), player to watch, and games to circle. The league was broken down into the good, the bad, and the ugly, but the teams ended up being great, good, not quite there, and Cal.

Can I give anything lower than an F?

Cal was ugly. Sonny Dykes was bad. Still, a pair of Big Ten teams were just good enough to leave Strawberry Canyon with victories.

This team was able to fill up the stat sheet at times, making me feel good about considering Jared Goff for Freshman of the Year in the pre-season (before landing on Oregon’s Thomas Tyner), but he didn’t even keep his job the whole year. Brendan Bigelow demonstrated the ability to break an occasional big one, but his long run of the year was 32 yards, and save a single afternoon against Colorado, he was mostly invisible this season. If they truly did circle their opener against Northwestern, they could probably hang their hat on that one. They didn’t win that one, but they didn’t win against any FBS opponent, barely squeaking out a 7-point win over Portland State.

sonny-dykes-495x340

Dykes deserved to earn himself a Chudzinski after a year this bad.

At least there were worse teams in the state?

After Year 3, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Utah and Colorado may have been in over their head in jumping to the old Pac-10. On a good note, they both beat “State” in their openers; in the case of the Buffs, I determined that as their “circle game” because I thought it might be the only one they’d win, but they won four. Of course, they got a reprieve from the governor on Fresno State, with weather allowing them to back-fill that one with FCS competition, but they even got a conference win against hapless Cal.

Utah beat Stanford early, which ended being ammunition to slight the Cardinal more than it was a feather in Kyle Whittingham’s cap. It was a difficult season for the Utes, losing quarterback Travis Wilson to injury about half-way through, but they held serve at home for the most part. Wilson was designated as my player to watch, I admit low-haning fruit picking the quarterback, and I’d consider myself 2-for-2, with Paul Richardson being the lone sign of life in Boulder. Of course, things will get better for Sefo Liufao running Mike MacIntyre’s offense at Colorado with a few starts under his belt in what could have been considered a throw-away season.

Numbers Don’t Always Add Up

Had we known that Auburn was worth the time of day, we might have considered Washington State’s contest with them to have been a sign that Washington State was getting somewhere with Mike Leach, but we didn’t know what was what in September. Connor Halliday puts up monster numbers on the regular, but so did BJ Symons and Graham Harrell, Leach quarterbacks all earn themselves an asterisk, which isn’t a good thing for the individual, but it’s probably better than being locked in a boiler room, right? We might forget that Leach beat USC in September, because Lane Kiffin-coach USC deserves that same type of asterisk in 2013, but we all have the Cougars’ Gildan New Mexico Bowl collapse fresh on our minds. It’s unfortunate that they’ll have 8 months to remember that mess in Pullman.

Across the state in Seattle, we were all so focused on the quarterback Keith Price at Washington, but it was the running game and Bishop Sankey that deserved all of the attention. Washington defined themselves as “not ready for primetime” after a good start, including a September trouncing of Boise State, but you’ll need to forgive Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona State for not being impressed. Things ended on a good note on the field for the Huskies, a 31-16 win over BYU in San Francisco’s Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, but their world was rocked when Steve Sarkisian chose to return to LaLa Land to replace Ed Oregeron, who replaced Lane Kiffin earlier this year. Chris Peterson finally left Boise State to takeover the Washington program, which might have been an upgrade.

cooks

Down in Corvalis, Oregon State wore egg after a Week 1 loss to Eastern Washington, but they managed to bounce back quite nicely, reeling off six straight wins before they got into the meat and potatoes of their schedule. At that point, it all went downhill again. They lost their five regular season games to finish 6-6, but showed up for the Civil War, a game Oregon won by one, and took care of business against Boise State on Christmas Eve in Hawaii. In my preview, I mentioned that Brandin Cooks might be a player to watch; if you watched him, you saw him catch 128 passes for 1730 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Once teams were on to Cooks, he started drawing double and triple coverage. It’s hard to imagine how ridiculous the numbers might have been if opposing defenses never game him special attention.

The Greatest Trick the Devils Pulled

Who was USC supposed to be this year, two year removed from probation? Would Lane Kiffin find a new gear and turn the corner, or would it be more of what we saw from last season’s 7-5 team? No one was really sold on their trip to Hawaii, which saw them return to the mainland 1-0. A week later, the doubters were right; there was no justifying a 10-7 loss, even though the defense kept Mike Leach’s offense out of the endzone. As it turned out, Kiffin’s gut-check would come in a trip to Tempe, where his team was embarassed in 2011, and the 2013 wouldn’t be much different, a 62-41 loss. That one didn’t even earn him a ride home from the airport, upond the team’s return to LaLa Land. Interim Coach Ed Oregeron was 6-2 playing with house money, but the athletic department chose to go in a different direction, leading “Ed O” to be the opposite of Eric Wedge in the end, thus losing the respect of Damien Bowman. They won their bowl game, but fans and booster had likely checked out before booking a trip to the Vegas Bow.

Kiffin Gameday

I have to admit that I was pretty sold on Washington when they came to Tempe, despite back-to-back losses to best teams in the Pac-12 North. The Sun Devils, or perhaps the Huskies themselves, led me to regret that sentiment. This is typically where ASU proves to be more sizzle than substance, but they fried those puppies to a crisp on October 19th. Maybe Washington stunk, or I suppose it was possible that the home town team was legit. It was still tough to say.

You could have spent a good hour or two doubting what you thought you knew about UCLA coming into the year. Jim Mora finally found his gig, after a number years as a square peg in a round hole with various NFL jobs. Brett Hundley was, and still is the real deal. Anthony Barr is the best defensive player west of the Mississippi. They struggled for a half of football in Lincoln, Nebraska, but proved to be worthy of a national ranking the rest of the way. Games at Stanford and at Oregon proved they weren’t all the way there, but they were convincing enough in wins over Colorado, Arizona, and Washington for people in these parts to expect the other shoe to drop when the Sun Devils traveled to Pasadena for the de facto Pac-12 South Championship. Before we got there, Mora figured out that one of his best defensive weapons, Myles Jack, was also one of his best offenseive weapons. In his first game at running back, the freshman from Bellvue, Washington ran the ball 6 times for 120 yards and a touchdown at Arizona. A week later, he had 13 carries against Washington, 4 of them put six points on the board for the Bruins. He had a little more modest showing when ASU came to town, but still had five and a half yards per carry in a 38-33 loss. The Bruins didn’t really lose the game as much as ASU took it from them, in a game worthy of crowning a division champ.

Oregon v Arizona

They could have spoiled the fun, just a week earlier they spared Oregon the disappointment of another lame Rose Bowl. And, while they couldn’t do anything to keep their up-state rivals from playing in the Pac-12 Championship game, they were in a position to keep the game itself away from Sun Devil Stadium. After crusing through a relatively easy non-conference schedule, they had to leave Tucson for a few weeks, and the Pac-12 slate proved too much for the Cats. BJ Denker, named the starting quarterback at the 11th hour, about 9 minutes into their opener, was a pleasant surprise for Rich Rodriguez, but no one was surprised by the monster year from Junior running back Ka’Deem Carey, who put up 1885 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. The success in the running game didn’t automatically translate to wins though; there were three teams in the Pac-12 that weren’t bowl-eligible, those were the first three conference wins for Arizona, before that epic Oregon game on November 23rd. A 42-16 win knocked the Ducks out of league championship contention, clinching the spot for Stanford. You thought that might give them momentum for their rivalry game, but it didn’t; Arizona State trounced them by a count of 58-21 in Tempe. The Cats got their meow back in the AdvoCare100 Bowl, handing Boston College a 42-19 defeat.

Oregon Ducked, Taylor was Swift, and the Cardinal Ruled

We loved September Oregon, and the October Ducks did nothing to cause dissent. They could carry the Pac-12 flag into Pasadena on January 6th and end this historic SEC run, no problem. Did they play anyone of note? Not really, but I believe that speaks to what they were doing on the field; I could have been sold by that offense against air, which is what they rendered most of their opponents down to, but we must remember the month of November. That’s when the Ducks went south; we didn’t love November Oregon so much.

So, maybe beating 12th-ranked UCLA at Autzen Stadium 10 days earlier should have sold us, but a trip to Palo Alto for a Thursday night showdown was their call to the carpet. I had picked Stanford in the pre-season to win the whole damn thing, not just the Pac-12, but I’d been swayed; Stanford couldn’t slow down this Oregon team, no one could. A 17-0 halftime deficit suggested otherwise, and it was 26-0 before the Ducks got on the board. It took a crazy folly of errors to make this game look so close, but Stanford dominated this one. After the game, a few of their players spoke out of turn about settling for a consolation prize, like the Rose Bowl, and it upset some people. They got a break the next week, a 44-21 home win over Utah, but humiliated themselves in Tucson, a week after being granted new life in the conference race when USC upset Stanford. Their 30-7 win over Mack Brown and Texas and the Alamo Bowl is as underwhelming as it sounds, especially for a team with championship dreams. I pointed out that the transition from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich might mean something, and talent overcame that something for a while, but it showed in the end, when they ducked that travesty called the Rose Bowl.

Obviously, I spent a lot of time talking about Arizona State because I spent a lot of time watching Arizona State. I don’t want to gush over them too much, because they cashed in their goodwill with stinkers against Stanford in the conference championship and whatever you want to call their no-show in San Diego for the Holiday Bowl. One thing worth noting is how well quarterback Taylor Kelly led this offense; he didn’t just play well, he actually led, and it was noticeable, especially after star running back Marion Grice went down late in the year.

Taylor Kelly, Trent Murphy

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and the Cardinal finished with a loss in the Rose Bowl to a very good Michigan State team. No shame in that, and that’s the truth. The offensive line came as advertised, and the defense was stout, as expected. Devin Cajuste was a bit of a surprise in the receiving corps, but we figured someone would emerge, it was just difficult to tell who it would be. Ty Montgomery was a bit more of a gamebreaker than expected, especially in the return game, but again, no seismic shift caused by that news. The big shock from this team, and I’m not talking about the 27-21 loss to Utah, was how much Tyler Gaffney emerged as the go-to guy on offense, more so than Stepfan Taylor or even Toby Gerhart before him. Now, you do you need to credit the grown men up front blocking for him, but you also need to consider how much he pulled away from Anthony Wilkinson, his running mate on what was expected to be a running-back-by-committee approach. Gaffney’s success took a lot of pressure off of Kevin Hogan, who didn’t need to be outstanding for Stanford to get where they wanted to be, even though Hogan was much more than adequate.

You could break down X’s and O’s all day to explain Stanford’s success this season, but you could also keep it simple. They were just better, better than Oregon, better than a Notre Dame team that took down Arizona State, USC, and Michigan State, and better than the Sun Devils twice, regardless of the locale. So, I don’t think a review of their season would be complete without addressing the elephant in the room. How did they lose to Utah, the fact that it was at Utah be damned? Our 2-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year proved to be human; either that, or he forgot that he had Tyler Gaffney. You could argue that he forgot about him at USC too. Regardless of how the scoreboard read on the first day of 2014, they belonged in the same class with Michigan State. I am, however, left to wonder if they could have hung with the team from Tallahassee, so maybe they weren’t who I thought they were in August. Such is life.

Re-visiting Predicitions

Freshman of the Year Thomas Tyner, RB (Oregon)
Tyner didn’t have a bad year, but he was Oregon’s 4th-leading rusher with 261 yards. Myles Jack did that in four games, while starting and making an impact at linebacker in 11 of 12 games.

Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, DT (Arizona State)
Sutton actually did win the award, but I thought Anthony Barr did a lot more to earn it. Barr led the nation in forced fumbles, had 10 sacks, and 20 tackles for loss. Most importantly, he never seemed to disappear in big games.

Offensive Player of the Year Brett Hundley, QB (UCLA)
Hundley had a good year, but this was a bold prediction from the start. There’s still questions about his decision making. Ka’Deem Carey won the award, and rightfully so; he carried what might have been a bad football team without him.

Coach of the Year Jim Mora (UCLA)
Todd Graham wins, no argument here. This was a pretty obvious choice, but remember Ed Orgeron wasn’t a choice in August, but he wasn’t the Head Coach at the beginning or end of the Trojans season. That whole thing is weird. Mora probably finishes second, but would have won it if they’d defeated Arizona State.

Pac-12 Championship Stanford over Arizona State
Would you look at that? I was right.

Happy off-season, Pac-12 fans.