Playoff Preview and Coaching Carousel ; Playoff Outlook

osu-ala

College Notebook
By Bruce Marshall
VegasInsider.com
PLAYOFF PREVIEW

“Wow, I wish college basketball would determine its national champion the way they do it in college football!”

We haven’t heard anyone say the above, except in jest, in decades. Nor do we expect to hear it seriously in the future, even as we enter the era of the College Football Playoff, which announced its four-team field (Alabama, Oregon Florida State, Ohio State) this past Sunday.

By its nature, there are always going to be controversies regarding not only the quartet of teams selected, but teams five, six and so forth that were bypassed. Just as teams 69, 70, and 71 feel jilted on Selection Sunday for “March Madness” when the NCAA Hoops Tourney announces its field. But after a quarter-century worth of railing on these pages for some kind of college football postseason tournament (as they do in all other college divisions), we’re thankful that we at least have something better than the old Bowl Alliance, BCS, or long-ago bowl system to determine a national champ. And, after a period of time wondering about the qualifications of some of the members of the CF Playoff Committee, which seemed to be crafted using the same “representative” casting philosophy of TV shows like the Amazing Race (was there really a football-related reason to put former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on the panel?), we stopped worrying about its composition, too. Including Ms. Rice, whose football acumen is probably better than many of the so-called experts we run into during the course of conducting our own business each autumn.

(The weekly CFP rankings, however, are a wasteful exercise and pure folly, nothing more than a hype vehicle for ESPN and Tuesday night ratings during the autumn. As was proven this season, when drastic shifts occurred for the final rankings, the only ones that mattered, and just released on Sunday.)

What still bothers us about the Playoff, however, is the same thing that bothers Dan Wetzel, who penned the excellent Death to the BCS book in 2010. There were no greater playoff proponents than Wetzel, but he was never caught doing any victory laps when the plans for the four-team playoff were eventually introduced not too long after the publishing of his book. That’s because much of the same bowl system that Death to the BCS suggested was self-serving and corrupt has been kept in place…even with the advent of the new playoff.

Wetzel has continued to address the issue in his frequent articles for Yahoo Sports, which often include the same sorts of things we have been saying for years about the bowl system. Among other ignominies, Wetzel contends that the upper level of the bowl industry fought hard to keep the playoff at four teams as a means of maintaining their status as, according to Wetzel, “outrageously compensated middle-men.”

Wetzel has also reminded readers, and we concur, that the new 30-and-40-somethings of athletic administration are more bottom-line driven than their predecessors and will increasingly view the “good ‘ol boy” bowl network as archaic and out-of-date. Especially when there is more money to be made from a bigger playoff. Thus, expect the four-team field to grow to eight, and perhaps bigger, in the near future. We are relatively sure that the massive fan base will fuel the demand for eventual expansion of the tournament.

Like us, Wetzel believes the four-team playoff is an improvement, however slight, over the BCS model. For the moment, we’ll worry down the road about getting more teams in the playoff.

THE SPINS OF THE COACHING CAROUSEL

The college coaching carousel has been spinning quickly the past couple of weeks, and more moves are likely to be made soon. As we went to press, there were still five openings, which we discuss at length below, with the possibility of further dominoes falling if head coaches move from elsewhere to one of the current openings. As always, the situation is fluid, and expect the carousel to continue spinning into the fast-approaching bowl season.

Following are the schools that have already made their coaching moves.

Florida…The biggest job on the market after the departure of Will Muschamp was filled last week when the Gators hired Colorado State HC Jim McElwain. Regional sources had noted a while ago that McElwain, represented by super agent Jimmy Sexton, was likely to move back to the SEC in the near future after resurrecting the Rams program, following four years on Nick Saban’s Alabama staff as offensive coordinator. Muschamp, by the way, has become the most in-demand defensive coordinator target on the market, with speculation already centering upon new SEC d.c. openings at Texas A&M and Auburn, and perhaps at South Carolina, where Lorenzo Ward is reportedly on thin ice with Steve Spurrier after a bumpy 2014, with a possible Muschamp hiring already causing the Gamecock “Twitter-verse” to go into overload).

Nebraska..The stunner (thus far) of the offseason was the hire of Oregon State’s Mike Riley last week to replace Bo Pelini, who was surprisingly dismissed shortly after the Cornhuskers beat Iowa in OT of their regular-season finale. The good-natured Riley is truly the “anti-Pelini” and will be warmly welcomed in Lincoln after his abrasive predecessor, though Bo’s dismissal was met with dismay by much of the current team and others who believed Pelini’s 9-3 record this season (and 67-27 mark as Husker HC) steered him clear of trouble. (Much like Will Muschamp, Pelini could also be an in-demand defensive coordinator candidate.)

Kansas…After a groundswell of support to give interim HC Clint Bowen the full-time assignment following Charlie Weis’ late-September dismissal, the Jayhawks instead opted for Texas A&M WR coach and recruiting coordinator David Beaty, whose ties to the Lone Star state are deep and could open a KU recruiting pipeline into Texas. At least they’re hoping as much in Lawrence.

SMU…The Mustangs avoided a winless 2014 when beating UConn 27-20 for interim HC Tom Mason last Saturday, but might have scored a bigger victory when tabbing well-regarded Clemson o.c. Chad Morris as their new coach earlier in the week. Morris, regarded one of the hot assistants in the country, has roots in Texas as a former HS coaching star in the state, and his offenses were avant-garde with the Tigers. This hire seems quite a coup for the Ponies.

Troy…Vet HC Larry Blakeney’s retirement opened the door for Kentucky o.c. Neal Brown, who before his stint in Lexington held the o.c. job at Texas Tech. Earlier, Brown had been o.c. at Troy and remolded the Trojan offense into the 21st century with a high-tech passing game, and that connection had much to do with his hiring.

Buffalo…The midseason dismissal of Jeff Quinn led to the eventual hiring of Wisconsin-Whitewater HC Lance Leipold, who went an incredible 106-6 at the Division III level, with five national titles in eight seasons. Midwest sources say Leipold’s pro-style offense could catch the spread-happy MAC off guard. Although Leipold is jumping from non-scholarship D-III into one of the tougher jobs in the country.

Following are updates on the jobs still open as we went to press…although some of these positions might be filled by the time you read this portion of the article!

Michigan…For the time being, the highest-profile opening in the country after Brady Hoke’s worst-kept-secret-in-college-football dismissal early last week. The Wolverines have dual openings right now both at head coach and AD, although at the moment have an interim appointment, Jim Hackett, for the latter after Dave Brandon’s (forced?) resignation last month. And sources within the region say Hackett is going to be the man conducting the coaching search and making the decision on Hoke’s successor.

Speculation has long centered upon a couple of Wolverine alums, current San Francisco 49ers HC Jim Harbaugh and current LSU HC Les Miles, as top candidates, but each has pulled out of consideration for the job in the past. Harbaugh, however, is looking as if he might be in play this year as his situation with the 49ers has deteriorated (his working relationship with GM Trent Baalke has never been smooth, and recent tweets by CEO Jed York after the Thanksgiving loss to the Seahawks suggest all might not be well with ownership, either). Though most Bay Area sources believe if Harbaugh is indeed going to be on the move, it will be to another job in the NFL, where he could have a number of possible suitors (perhaps the nearby Raiders, and Jets, among others).

As for Miles, he has also rejected past overtures from his alma mater, both after the Lloyd Carr and Rich Rodriguez regimes ran aground. But, as Scott Rabalais of the Baton Rouge Advocate wrote last week, now might be the time for the 61-year-old Big Blue alum to return to his football roots in Ann Arbor, where he played for Bo Schembechler between 1973-75, and coached for Bo and Gary Moeller between 1987-94. Where, also, he once had a teammate named Jim Hackett, the interim AD conducting the Wolverine coaching search. Rabalais noted that a large segment of the LSU fan base has never accepted Miles (beginning with the last-minute loss to Tennessee early in his first season of 2005, when the Gulf region was still reeling in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina). Michigan, however, was paying Hoke about $1.5 million per year less than what Miles is making (reportedly $4.3 mill per year) at LSU. Miles, one of a handful of SEC coaches not represented by Jimmy Sexton, will likely have his Dallas-based agent George Bass gauging interest in the coming weeks, but most in the region believe Miles isn’t going anywhere.

There is no shortage of other candidates in Ann Arbor, however. The has been some buzz surrounding Missouri HC Gary Pinkel, who pulled out of an interview with the Wolverines before the Hoke hiring four years ago and re-upped at Mizzou instead. And last year, Pinkel said he has no intention of leaving Columbia. Nonetheless, some sources say to keep an eye on the situation. Recent speculation has also centered upon Boston College HC Steve Addazio and Utah HC Kyle Whittingham, the latter reportedly targeted by the Wolverines in the past. Former NFL Tampa Bay Bucs and Rutgers HC Greg Schiano reportedly wants back on the sidelines and is apparently interested.

Big Ten sources also say watch both Oklahoma State HC Mike Gundy and Oklahoma HC Bob Stoops, as the former is more likely to be “in play” if reports that he and top Stillwater booster Boone Pickens are ready to “divorce” are indeed true (though after last Saturday’s upset win over OU, a happy Gundy said he is “100% committed” to OSU). As for Stoops, his name has popped up for various openings in the past, and his phone number has reportedly been on Jerry Jones’ speed dial in Dallas for several years; sources believe if Stoops, completing his 16th season with Oklahoma, is ever to move from Norman, it is likely to be to the NFL. Coaches such as Gundy and Stoops who are partial to spread offenses, however, might have another reason to balk at Michigan because the returning personnel does not fit that offensive philosophy, and any transition could be more time-consuming than desired.

Longshots at Michigan? Memphis’ Justin Fuente might be the most “upwardly mobile” head coach in the non-Big Five conferences, though regional insiders believe he could also become an immediate target at a place such as Ok State should Gundy leave. Arizona State’s Todd Graham has a history of jumping ship and could become involved in further speculation. Some also expect Mississippi State HC Dan Mullen to be contacted; though most SEC insiders believe Mullen stays in Starkville, he will probably be looking for a contract bump to approximate the raise that counterpart Hugh Freeze just received at Ole Miss (reportedly in the $4 mill per year range). A few sources even say that Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, whose star is beginning to fade at South Bend, might be the ultimate surprise candidate. Whatever, it looks like Michigan is shooting high for its new coach.

Oregon State…The surprise departure of HC Mike Riley to Nebraska (surprising because Riley seemed to be on the hot seat in Corvallis after a disappointing 5-7 campaign) has created the only likely opening in the Pac-12 in this spin of the coaching carousel. A name to recently surface is former Cal HC Jeff Tedford, who took a medical leave earlier this season from his job on the NFL Tampa Bay staff due to a heart procedure and then recently parted ways with the Bucs. Fully recovered, Tedford, who coached under Mike Bellotti at Oregon and posted an 82-57 record in eleven seasons with the Golden Bears between 2002-12, is reportedly interested. But there is no shortage of candidates in Corvallis, which also reportedly include former Beaver alum and current BYU HC Bronco Mendenhall, who (like many associated with BYU football these days) could be tiring of the recent independent status of Cougar football. Wildly successful Eastern Washington HC Beau Baldwin, plus Utah State HC Matt Wells, Wyoming HC Craig Bohl, Fresno State HC Tim DeRuyter, former Hawaii and SMU HC June Jones, Southern Cal d.c. Justin Wilcox (though an Oregon alum), Washington o.c. and former Beaver QB Jonathan Smith, UCLA o.c. Noel Mazzone, and Hoke have all been mentioned as candidates. There are also some Pac-12 sources who believe OSU AD Bob DeCarolis might consider going “back to the future” as the Beavers did when hiring Riley for a second tour of duty and consider the well-traveled Dennis Erickson, currently on the Utah staff but having led OSU to great heights as Beaver HC between 1999-2002, and San Diego State HC Rocky Long, who worked as the d.c. in Corvallis under Jerry Pettibone in the ’90s. Age, however, could work against both Erickson (now 67) and Long (now 65).

Colorado State…Jim McElwain’s departure has created an opening at CSU, where the Ram program is on the move, having not long ago completed an upgraded football facility and within the last week announcing a long-awaited go-ahead with construction of a new, on-campus stadium (current Hughes Stadium, in use since 1968, is located in the foothills several miles from campus). The target date for completion of the new football arena is the 2017 season. There has even been speculation in the region that CSU is dreaming about a future move into the Big 12, so they’re at least thinking bigger these days in Fort Collins. Whatever, this job now has some added appeal, and the candidate list intrigues, with none other than Brady Hoke surfacing as one of the early candidates. There is also sentiment to hire from within and promote o.c. Dave Baldwin, who will coach the Rams in their bowl game. Baldwin, a former HC at CS Northridge and San Jose State, where he turned around the Spartan program before leaving in a salary dispute following a successful 2000 season, would possibly head to Florida with McElwain if not offered the CSU job. Current co-defensive coordinator Marty English has also been mentioned, as has “fly sweep” guru and current Colorado School of Mines HC Bob Stitt, and several with past Ram connections, including alums Tony Alford (current Notre Dame RB coach), Billy Gonzalez (Mississippi State co-o.c.), and Matt Lubick (son of former CSU HC Sonny lubick and now Oregon’s WR coach). Another member of the current Oregon staff, o.c. Scott Frost, has been mentioned as another possibility.

UNLV…Nice guy Bobby Hauck’s resignation was not unexpected after the former Montana HC compiled a 15-49 mark with the Rebs, winning exactly two games in four of his five seasons in charge of one of the most daunting program-rebuild tasks in the college ranks. The buzz in Vegas is that the Rebs might be going the old Gerry Faust at Notre Dame (or, more recently, Todd Dodge at North Texas) route and will hire straight from the high school ranks, with wildly successful local Bishop Gorman HS coach Tony Sanchez rumored to be ready to make the jump. There are rumors of some fascinating strings attached to an appointment of Sanchez, who is apparently the favored candidate of the Fertitta family, owners of the Stations chain of hotel/casinos and the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). Speculation is that the hiring of Sanchez could be a condition to a major Fertitta cash infusion to the football program and athletic department, perhaps as much as $30 million for badly-needed gridiron facility and support staff upgrades. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Mark Anderson, there is also speculation that the Maloof family, local residents and former owners of the NBA Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings, and the Palms resort in Las Vegas, are championing ex-Hawaii and SMU HC June Jones. Local sources say that former Ole Miss and interim Southern Cal HC Ed Orgeron, former Boise State, Arkansas and Ole Miss HC Houston Nutt, and former Utah, NFL NY Giants, and UFL champion Las Vegas Locomotives HC Jim Fassel, also a local resident, have also been in contact with AD Tina Kunzer-Murphy about the opening.

As for Hauck, his former job at Montana (where Bobby fashioned an 80-17 mark) has opened due to Mick Delaney’s retirement. Hauck and another Griz alum, Washington Huskies o.c. (and former Boise State and Florida o.c.) Brent Pease, are considered frontrunners for the Grizzlies’ job.

Tulsa…The dismissal of Bill Blankenship, who had endured two very rough campaigns in a row with the Golden Hurricane, was not unexpected. The aforementioned Houston Nut, who was interested in the SMU opening, is reportedly pursuing this job, as might be Ed Orgeron, who was recently bypassed at Kansas. (Orgeron, according to sources, wants “back in” after cooling his heels in Louisiana this season, and might also resurface as a high-profile assistant, perhaps on Mike Riley’s new staff at Nebraska). Tulsa, however, has already interviewed 29-year-old Texas A&M o.c. Jake Spavital, with up-and-coming 34-year-old Auburn o.c. Rhett Lashlee and Utah State HC Matt Wells also likely on the Golden Hurricane radar. There are some very deep pockets among the big Tulsa boosters, who would be willing to give a current HC like Wells a nice salary bump should he make a move. A longshot, should Tulsa look to go the older-school route, is former Miami Hurricanes, Cleveland Browns, and North Carolina HC Butch Davis. One coach, according to the Tulsa World, who apparently is not interest in the job is TCU’s co-offensive coordinator Doug Meachem, who reportedly declined a request for an interview.

Houston…On Monday, UH, bound for the Armed Forces Bowl, confirmed the dismissal of HC Tony Levine. Early successor speculation has centered upon Georgia Southern HC Willie Fritz, who previously had great success at FCS Sam Houston State; Ohio State o.c. Tom Herman; SF 49ers assistant Jim Leavitt, also the former South Florida HC; Doug Meachem, TCU’s aforementioned o.c. who will be given the chance to turn down an interview for the Cougar job, as he did with Tulsa; and UH alum and longtime NFL HC and assistant Wade Phillips.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

ore vs ohi st

College Playoff Outlook

By Brian Edwards
VegasInsider.com
Whether it’s football or basketball, every Selection Sunday leaves a few teams disappointed in their fate. In the first College Football Playoff, the snubs include Baylor and TCU from out of the Big 12 Conference.

The Horned Frogs blasted Iowa St. 55-3 as 35-point home favorite in their regular-season finale this past weekend. Nevertheless, they fell from third to sixth in the committee’s rankings.

Gary Patterson’s team finished the regular season with an 11-1 straight-up record. TCU’s only loss came by three at Baylor in a game it led by 21 early in the fourth quarter. Since then, the Frogs have won seven in a row and their quality resume wins include scalps of Minnesota (30-7), Oklahoma (37-33), West Va. (31-30) and Kansas St. (41-20), not to mention a 48-10 win at Texas.

Baylor, ranked sixth last week, climbed one spot to fifth after beating Kansas St. 37-28 in Waco. The Bears also finish 11-1 with their lone defeat coming at West Va. They had quality wins vs. TCU (61-58), at Oklahoma (48-10) and vs. K-St. Yes, Art Briles’s team played an extremely weak non-conference slate, but its loss at West Virginia isn’t nearly as bad as Ohio State’s home loss to Virginia Tech (at home, by double digits).

But it’s hard to argue against Ohio State getting ‘in’ with the fourth seed after finishing so strong. I mean, with their third-string quarterback making his first career start, the Buckeyes smashed a quality Wisconsin team 59-0 at the Big Ten Championship Game. Since the loss to the Hokies, Urban Meyer’s squad has won 11 in a row, including a 49-37 win at Michigan St.

Ohio State will take on top-seeded Alabama on New Year’s Day at the Superdome in New Orleans. Most books opened the Crimson Tide as a 10-point ‘chalk.’ As of Monday afternoon, the number for the side was 9.5 and the total was 58.

Nick Saban’s team took care of business in Atlanta, coasting to a 42-13 win over Missouri as a 14.5-point favorite in the SEC Championship Game. The Tide has been No. 1 since beating previously-unbeaten Mississippi St. three weeks ago.

Saban hasn’t faced Meyer since ‘Bama trounced Florida 31-6 in 2010 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. In the previous meeting, the Tide thumped the Gators 32-13 at the Ga. Dome in Atlanta. Hours later, Meyer was rushed to the hospital after a fainting spell.

Although Meyer won’t acknowledge anything of the sort, you can make a strong case that Saban ran him out of the SEC. So there’s that storyline on top of all that’s already at stake in the first CFP.

The 2/3 game will take place at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. This contest will pit second-seeded Oregon against third-seeded and unbeaten Florida State Most spots have the Ducks favored by nine with a total of 71.

The Seminoles will be underdogs for the first time since early in the 2011 campaign when they lost 35-30 at Clemson as 2.5-point ‘dogs. Jimbo Fisher’s team hasn’t tasted defeat since a 2012 home loss to arch-rival Florida.

Since then, FSU has won 29 consecutive games, including last week’s 37-35 non-covering win over Georgia Tech at the ACC Championship Game. The ‘Noles failed to cover the number as four-point ‘chalk’ due to a late TD that gave the Yellow Jackets a backdoor cover. They went 3-10 ATS this year and are mired in a 3-11 ATS slump dating back to a non-cover vs. Auburn to win it all last season.

The next set of significant bowl games include Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech (Orange Bowl), Ole Miss vs. TCU (Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl), Baylor vs. Michigan State (Cotton Bowl) and Boise State vs. Arizona (Fiesta).

The Bulldogs are favored by seven over the Yellow Jackets, while the Rebels are three-point underdogs to the Horned Frogs. Baylor is a three-point favorite vs. the Spartans, while the Wildcats are four-point ‘chalk’ to the Broncos, who have a pair of Fiesta Bowl wins over TCU and Oklahoma over the last decade.

5Dimes has posted lines for the potential matchups in the CFP finals in Arlington at Jerry World. FSU is a three-point favorite over Ohio State, but the ‘Noles are 10-point underdogs vs. Alabama.

Oregon is favored by 9.5 (with a -125 price) vs. Ohio State (+9.5, -105), while the Ducks are 3.5-point underdogs to ‘Bama.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.