Big 12: Auburn Tigers
On a rare Thursday night game for both schools, Auburn travels to Kansas State where the Wildcats are expecting the largest crowd in program history. Gus Malzahn's squad is looking to gain national respect after reaching the national title game last year, while Bill Snyder would love to make another run of his own at a national championship.
The fifth-ranked Tigers are the highest-ranked nonconference opponent to play in the "Little Apple" since No. 2 Penn State visited in 1969.
Jake Trotter and Greg Ostendorf break down the Big 12-SEC showdown below:
How Auburn can control this game: It starts up front. Auburn has rushed for at least 200 yards in each of its last 13 games, the longest active streak in the FBS, and has gained more than 300 rushing yards in eight of its past 11 contests. No Tre Mason? No problem. Cameron Artis-Payne has 289 yards rushing and four touchdowns in the first two games. The strength of this Tigers' rushing attack is the offensive line, but the orchestrator is quarterback Nick Marshall. When he's running the show, it's nearly impossible to stop. Look for Auburn to impose its will early and wear down the Kansas State defense by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. – Ostendorf
How Kansas State can pull of upset: So far, Kansas State has been one of the nation's best teams at limiting opponents' yardage before contact. According to ESPN Stats & Info, only Alabama (20.3 yards) has allowed fewer yards before contact this season than the Wildcats (22.5). Snyder will have K-State in position to make tackles against Auburn's ferocious zone-read offense. But the only way the Wildcats will win this game is if they also make those tackles at the point of attack. – Trotter
Auburn's X factor: There have been a lot people who have doubted Marshall and questioned his ability as a passer, and after a game and a half, the Auburn quarterback hasn't done anything to prove them wrong. But he gets his favorite wide receiver Sammie Coates back Thursday, and the importance of that cannot be understated. Coates led the team last year with 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns. He and Marshall seemed to be in sync from the beginning. All the talk was on junior college transfer D'haquille Williams after Week 1, but don't be surprised if Marshall hooks up with his old pal for at least one big play against Kansas State. – Ostendorf
Kansas State's X factor: The Wildcats quietly have one of the better kickers in college football in junior Jack Cantele, who only missed two field goals last season. If this game goes down to the wire, it could come down to a kick. West Virginia and Iowa State showed last weekend that having a reliable kicker can be the difference in winning and losing. The Wildcats should feel good about their chances if it comes down to Cantele, who has the experience of booting a 41-yard game-winner to beat TCU last year. – Trotter
What a win would mean for the SEC: Despite Oklahoma's win over Tennessee last week, there aren't many folks who believe the Big 12 is better than the SEC. Taking that one step further, there aren't a lot of people picking Kansas State to win Thursday. So while an Auburn loss could hurt the SEC and its perception nationally, I don't think a win does much for the conference. However, it could mean a lot more for Auburn. Nobody's really talking about the Tigers right now as a legitimate national title contender, in part because they haven't had that signature win yet, but a win at Kansas State could change that. – Ostendorf
What a win would mean for the Big 12: It's been a solid, but hardly spectacular nonconference season so far for the Big 12. West Virginia and Oklahoma State played Alabama and Florida State tough on opening weekend. But neither Big 12 team actually won. Iowa State (Iowa), TCU (Minnesota), Oklahoma (Tennessee) and West Virginia (Maryland) landed the league four solid victories last weekend. But none of those opponents were ranked. K-State is the Big 12's final chance of securing the league marquee nonconference win. A Big 12 victory over the defending SEC champs would turn the heads of the playoff selection committee. – Trotter
It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.
If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.
So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.
Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.
"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."
Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?
"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."
It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.
And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.
Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."
Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.
So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.
"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."
Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.
"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.
As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.
Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.
Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.
"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."
Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.
Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.
"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."
Of course, it's more special to win one.
You know: The conference that can count!
But the Pac-12, which has, yes, 12 teams, and the Big 12, which has 10 teams (though it's often hard to keep up with which ones), play each other in three bowl games this holiday season.
Joy to the world.
So it seemed like a good time for the Pac-12 and Big 12 bloggers -- Ted Miller and David Ubben -- to say howdy and discuss all the coming fun.
Ted Miller: Ah, David, the bowl season. Pure bliss. Unless you’re the Pac-12, which is expected to get a whipping from your conference over the holidays. We have three Pac-12-Big 12 bowl games with the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State, the Valero Alamo with Baylor and Washington, and the Bridgepoint Education Holiday matching California and Texas. And the Big 12 is favored in all three!
Poor ole West Coast teams. What are we to do? It’s almost like the Big 12 is the SEC or something. Speaking of which, how are things with your Cowboys? Are they over not getting a shot at LSU for the national title? Are they excited about getting a shot at Andrew Luck and Stanford? We might as well start with that outstanding matchup in Glendale.
David Ubben: You know, I was actually a little surprised. I stuck around Stillwater for the BCS bowl selection show announcement, and the players took the news pretty well. They found out an hour before, but there wasn't a ton of down-in-the-dumpiness from the Pokes. When you've never been to this point before, it's a bit difficult to develop a sense of entitlement. If Oklahoma had OSU's record and was passed over by Alabama and sent to the Fiesta Bowl for the 17th time in the past six years, you might have had a different reaction.
But Oklahoma State's first trip to the BCS and first Big 12 title aren't being overlooked. These players are looking forward to this game. There's no doubt about that.
I know the Big 12 seems like the SEC, but I have a confession, Ted. I wasn't supposed to tell anybody, but I can't hold it in anymore. When the Big 12 began back in 1996 ... wow, I'm really going to do this ... then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer graciously allowed the league to keep two of his teams. The league made a similar arrangement with the Big Eight a century ago, and the Southwest Conference around the same time. Missouri and Texas A&M are really wolves in sheep's clothing: SEC teams just pretending to be in other leagues. So, that might explain the Big 12's recent dominance.
These should all be fun games, though. I ranked two of the matchups among the top three in my bowl rankings.
As for the big one, they say you learn more by losing than by winning. Stanford got its first BCS win. How do you think that experience plays into this year's game? I hate to ruin the surprise, but Oklahoma State's a bit better than the Virginia Tech team Stanford beat last season. OSU's loss to Iowa State this season is bad, but it's nothing like the Hokies' loss to James Madison last season.
But that's 2010. The difference this year is the season-ending knee injury to middle linebacker Shayne Skov, who was an All-American candidate, a slight step back on the offensive line and a lack of top-flight receivers. But if Oklahoma State fans are looking for something to worry about it is this: Stanford's running game.
The Pokes are bad against the run, and they haven't faced a team that is as physical and creative in the running game as Stanford. As much as folks talk about Luck's passing, it's his run checks that often ruin a defense's evening.
The Fiesta Bowl matchup looks like a great one, perhaps the best of the bowl season. But I’m excited to see Mr. Excitement Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl against Washington. Of course, I’m not sure that the Huskies, their fans and embattled Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt are as thrilled. First, tell us about what Washington should be most worried about with Griffin. Then tell us about Baylor in general. Such as: Can the Bears stop anyone?
David Ubben: Nope. Not really.
Oklahoma State's defense unfairly gets a bad rap. Baylor's bad rap is earned. This is the same team that won five consecutive games late in the season -- but became the first team ever to win four consecutive in a single season while giving up 30 points in each.
The man is a nightmare. Top to bottom, he's the most accurate passer in a quarterback-driven league. Then, you add in his athleticism, which he doesn't even really need to be extremely productive. It sets him apart, though, and forces defenses to account for it, and it buys him time in the pocket. How many guys break a 20-plus yard run before hitting a receiver for a game-winning 39-yard score to beat a team like Oklahoma for the first time?
How do you think Washington will try to slow him down? What has to happen for them to have some success?
Ted Miller: This game matches the 99th (Washington) and 109th (Baylor) scoring defenses. It has a 78-point over-under, the biggest of any bowl game. The offenses are going to score plenty, at least that's the conventional wisdom.
How does Washington stop RGIII? His name is Chris Polk. He's a running back. Baylor gives up 199 yards rushing per game. Polk right, left and up the middle is a good way to contain Griffin. The Huskies' best hope is to reduce Griffin's touches with ball control. It also needs to convert touchdowns, not field goals, in the redzone. The Huskies are pretty good at that, scoring 36 TDs in 45 visits to the red zone.
The Huskies also have a pretty good quarterback in Keith Price, who set a school record with 29 touchdown passes this year. He and a solid crew of receivers have prevented teams from ganging up against Polk. But Polk is the guy who burns the clock.
Should be a fun game. As should, by the way, the Holiday Bowl. David, Cal fans are still mad at Texas coach Mack Brown and his politicking the Longhorns into the Rose Bowl in 2004. Every team wants to win its bowl game, but the Old Blues really want to beat Brown.
Of course, neither team is what it was in 2004. Cal has an excuse. It's not a college football superpower. Sure you've been asked this before, but give me the CliffsNotes version of why the Longhorns have fallen so hard since playing for the national title in 2009.
David Ubben: Cal fans are still mad? Really? I'd suggest they get over themselves. What's anybody on that Cal team ever done anyway? It's not like the best player in the NFL missed out on a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Now, if that were the case, we might have a problem. But honestly, I don't think Tim Tebow cares all that much about the Rose Bowl.
As for Texas' struggles?
The easy answer is quarterback play. Texas relied on Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley more than anyone realized. When they were gone, Texas couldn't run the ball, and quarterback Garrett Gilbert never made it happen. Two seasons later, the Longhorns still don't have a quarterback.
The other big answer last season was turnover margin. Gilbert threw 17 interceptions and the Longhorns were minus-12 in turnovers, which ranked 115th nationally.
They were still only 90th this year, and without solid quarterback play in a Big 12 dominated by passers, they scored five, 13 and 17 points in three of their five losses. Texas keeps people from moving the ball and runs the ball better this year, but without a solid passing game and a defense that changes games, it's tough to rack up wins in the Big 12.
It's been awhile since Cal was in the mix for the BCS, even as USC has fallen. Oregon answered the call and rose, but what has prevented Cal from winning the Pac-10 and Super Pac-10 since the Trojans' swoon?
Ted Miller: You mention quarterback play. Cal fans ... any thoughts? You mention Aaron Rodgers. Cal fans? Oh, well, that's not very nice during this festive time of the year.
Cal has become a solid defensive team, but it's lost its offensive mojo, and that can be traced to a drop in quarterback play since Rodgers departed. The latest Bears quarterback, Zach Maynard, started fairly well, stumbled, but then seemed to catch on late in the season. It's reasonable to believe the team that gets better quarterback play -- mistake-free quarterback play -- is going to win this game.
Nice to cover a conference where quarterback play matters, eh David?
Speaking of quarterback play and winning, let's wind it up. Our specific predictions aren't coming on these games until after Christmas. But we can handicap the Big 12-Pac-12 side of things. We have a three-game series this bowl seasons.
I say the Pac-12, underdogs in all three games, goes 1-2. What say you?
David Ubben: And to think, before the season, all I heard was the Pac-12 had surpassed the Big 12 in quarterback play. Did somebody petition the NCAA for another year of eligibility for Jake Locker and/or clone Matt Barkley? You West Coast folk are geniuses; I figured you'd find a way. We can't all be Stanford alums ...
Clearing out all the tumbleweeds here in middle America, I'll go out on a limb for the Big 12 in this one. Every matchup is a good one, and I don't think Cal has seen a defense like Texas' and Washington hasn't seen an offense like Baylor's. People forget that, yeah, RG3 is outstanding, but the Bears also have the league's leading receiver and leading rusher.
Stanford-OSU is a toss-up, but I'll go with a perfect sweep for the Big 12. The Cowboys haven't played poorly on the big stage yet, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt in this one, and they clean up for the Big 12 against what was almost its new conference this fall.
Oh, what could have been. Ubben and Miller on the same blog? Divided ultimately by a little thing we call the Rockies.
Oklahoma State's spirits were at an all-time low Friday night while the Cowboys watched Iowa State storm the field after ruining their perfect season and — or so we thought — ending all hopes at a national title.
Additionally, the Cowboys fell to sixth in the coaches poll, which makes up one-third of the BCS standings; the Harris poll and the computer rankings each make up another third.
But don't turn the lights out just yet. Oklahoma State — by way of upset losses suffered by Oregon, Clemson and Oklahoma — fell just two spots to No. 4 in the latest BCS, released Sunday night, behind three teams from the SEC West. LSU, Alabama and Arkansas occupied the top three spots.
Computers love the Big 12. As I've referenced several times, its 27-3 record in nonconference play is paying off. Oklahoma State is still No. 2 in the computers and has a matchup in two weeks with No. 9 Oklahoma, which might also get a bump if teams lose next weekend. OSU ranks No. 2 in four of the computer polls and third in the other two.
For now, Oklahoma State must hope for SEC shenanigans or voter sentiment against an SEC rematch in the national title game. The top three teams in the SEC West have lost only to each other, and LSU hosts Arkansas on Friday. Alabama must also beat Auburn on Saturday. If the Crimson Tide lose and LSU beats Arkansas, you'd see LSU and Oklahoma State in the national title game after all.
Oklahoma State will sit and wait this weekend and hope for chaos that would buoy it back into the BCS driver's seat, but 48 hours after the most crushing loss in school history, there's reason to believe The Big Game is still within reach.
Other notes on the latest BCS standings:
- Oklahoma is No. 9 and No. 6 in the computers.
- Kansas State hopped to No. 11.
- Baylor is No. 18.
- Texas is still hanging on at No. 25.
Springfield, Mo., native Dorial Green-Beckham broke the national career receiving record on Friday night, and is the top receiver on ESPN's recruiting rankings.
The man they call DGB has been quiet about his process, but told ESPN's Brandon Parker that he's narrowed his selections.
Home state Missouri is out of the running for now, but two Big 12 schools made the cut:
"Arkansas and Oklahoma are the two schools that are high up in the running. I definitely plan on visiting those two," said Green-Beckham, who is ranked No. 3 overall in the ESPNU 150. "But I’m still open to considering other schools, too."
"Texas and Auburn are also possibilities, but me and my dad have to sit down and talk about those schools. We’ve talked about the negatives and positives and stuff like that, but we’ve still got time to figure out if I want to take visits there as well."
Beckham said he got a call from Texas coach Mack Brown on Friday to congratulate him for breaking the record.
See more here.
DGB will be fun to watch wherever he ends up, but it's pretty easy to see him being the next in a long line of great receivers in the Big 12.
Call it my own version of "Chicken Soup for the Big 12 Fan's Soul."
- The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Brent Schrotenboer reports that the financially strapped San Diego State athletic department will save $350,000 by having former coach Chuck Long work as Kansas’ offensive coordinator.
- Gary Pinkel tells the Kansas City Star’s Mike DeArmond about some fond memories of his late father, who passed away last week at the age of 83 in Columbus, Ohio.
- Lincoln Journal Star pundits Steve Sipple and Brian Christopherson report about Nebraska's emerging quarterback battle in spring practice.
- New Kansas quarterback Quinn Mecham tells the Lawrence Journal-World’s Tom Keegan that he’s not a very vocal leader, preferring to let his actions speak for themselves.
- The Sporting News Daily reports that defensive back Tramone Mickens has signed a letter of intent with Texas A&M as part of the Aggies’ 2010 class.
- Former Kansas co-defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will be introduced today as Western Kentucky’s new defensive coordinator, the Lawrence Journal-World’s Dugan Arnett reports.
- ESPN.com’s Bruce Feldman lists Texas Tech and Texas A&M among his 10 teams being overlooked heading into the 2010 season.
- Turner Gill speaks to Kansas students about integrity, Jenny Terrell of the Daily Kansan reports.
- Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn tells the Denver Post he hasn’t been contacted by the Pac-10 about the Buffaloes joining the conference.
- Mobile Register columnist Paul Finebaum blasts new Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, claiming his legacy has been “torched” by the strong recruiting job by Auburn coach Gene Chizik.
- Mark B. Evans of the Tucson Citizen lists Colorado among the teams the Pac-10 should consider for future expansion. And Phil Wallace of L.A. Observed mentions that the Pac-10’s expansion plans should begin with the Buffaloes.
- Richard Tijerina’s “Breakfast with Bevo” announces an Austin return by Quan Cosby that will benefit the Haitian relief efforts and David Thomas’ contributions for the world champion New Orleans Saints. And yes, it does seem a little weird for me typing those five words in succession.
- Tuberville tells CBS Sports.com's Dennis Dodd that his “fresh slate” approach stretches to everybody in the program – even Adam James.
The Red Raiders’ defense was a surprising strength last season, emerging from the shadows of Mike Leach’s offensive reputation to become a force in its own right. Tech’s defense ranked fourth nationally in sacks, 40th in turnovers produced and 41st in scoring defense in a 9-4 season.
“This defense was very good last year,” Willis said. “Some people may look at their record and kind of change things around, but these guys competed well.”
Willis, who arrives at Tech after one season serving as Alabama’s associate head coach and outside linebackers coach, was convinced of that success after studying film of the Red Raiders’ season after his arrival. The chance to work with his former coaching mentor Tommy Tuberville only made him more excited about the opportunity.
“I turned on the game film and watched them play against Texas and some other schools. They compete now. They get after you,” Willis said. “They’re hard-nosed, blue collar, and that’s what we’ll continue to be. We’ll be aggressive, fly around and get to the ball, that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
With the Big 12’s pass-heavy reputation, Willis promised an aggressive blitzing defense that will attack rival offenses.
“This conference is known for throwing the ball,” Willis said. “You turn on the film and you see a lot of points being scored and the defenses really trying to get after the team and slow them down some. We’ll do the same thing. We’re going to be aggressive, that’s what we do. That’s going to be our motto.”
Willis will face a difficult challenge with his players as he replaces the popular Ruffin McNeill, who helped transform the Red Raiders’ defense over the last 2 ½ seasons.
But Willis arrives at Tech with the reputation as one of the fastest rising defensive coaches in college football after his work at Alabama on Kirby Smart’s defensive staff.
“It was very hard to leave that place; it truly was, because I had a great time there,” Willis said. “Everybody talks about the bowl game and victory, but to me it wasn’t so much the victory and getting to the championship, it was the process and the road getting there.”
His association with Alabama coach Nick Saban prepared him for his chance as a coordinator, where he learned the building blocks of developing a strong program.
“I think my time with coach Saban and what I learned was, of course, the formula. I will try to do the same thing here and run the same type of program and the same attitude,” Willis said. “So, I’m excited to come here and for the opportunity and I think we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Before working at Alabama, Willis was a linebackers coach under Will Muschamp for two seasons in 2006-07 at his alma mater of Auburn on a staff where Tuberville was the head coach. After Muschamp left for the Texas job, Willis remained on the Tigers’ staff that was coordinated by current Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads the following season.
That familiarity and his relationship with Tuberville was what convinced him to come to Texas Tech.
“It’s huge because coach Tuberville and I go back a long way,” Willis said. “I started my coaching career under him as a graduate assistant. I spent about three years under him in that capacity. I wanted to be an assistant coach.”
Willis played college football at Auburn. He was drafted in the fifth round by Green Bay in the 1993 draft and also played for Philadelphia, Seattle and the Birmingham Thunderbolts of the defunct XFL.
After that league disbanded, Willis returned to Alabama to work on his degree. He began his work at Auburn as a student assistant in 2001 and became a graduate assistant two years later under Gene Chizik. He also had one-year stints with Rhode Island and Temple.
“I wanted to be an assistant coach and he sent me out to spread my wings a little bit and learn a little bit,” Willis said. “I coached at a few different spots before I came back to him when he hired me. He really let me grow as a coach, and that’s one thing about him, like players, he gives you the opportunity to grow. I’m grateful for that.”
Texas head coach designate Will Muschamp has emerged as the leading candidate for the vacancy at Tennessee, according to various sources across the South.
It might appear far-fetched that Muschamp would leave the Forty Acres for a shot at the Tennessee job, but there are other forces in play that make it seem like it could happen.
For all of the promise of replacing Mack Brown someday in the future, the shot at the Tennessee job might appeal to Muschamp.
First, by any measure, the Tennessee job is a good one. I would include it among the top 12 to 15 jobs in college football when fan support, facilities, conference affiliation and tradition are factored into the equation.
I'd say Texas is among the top three by that measurement. But Muschamp might have to wait several years until Brown retires for that job. The Tennessee job is available now.
Also, Muschamp knows the lay of the land in the Southeastern Conference after playing at Georgia and serving as an assistant at LSU and Auburn. He knows that Urban Meyer's uncertain status at Florida and Georgia's recent downturn make the SEC East winnable on a consistent basis for the Volunteers with the right coach.
Whether he leaves Austin will be determined in the next several days. I would be shocked if Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton doesn't try to talk to Muschamp about the job.
Hamilton needs to hit a home run in filling Kiffin's vacancy.
And Muschamp would provide the big splash the Volunteers so desperately need.
But I’m still a little surprised Tuberville took the job.
It surprised me, however, when Tuberville expressed his continued commitment to a wide-open passing attack.
When Tuberville has been most successful, his teams had a defense-first, offense-second mentality. It’s not surprising considering his own background as a defensive coach when he was coming up the circuit.
Tech’s current roster is heavily stacked to playing a wide-open passing offense. But it's surprising Tuberville so quickly and easily endorsed it.
Naysayers will remember that Tuberville tried to embrace some of the new offensive philosophies in his final season at Auburn. The results were disastrous, mainly because of philosophical differences among his coaching staff.
That should change after his arrival at Tech as he appears ready to keep many of Leach’s assistants on board. Tuberville hopes, in his own words, to keep Tech’s offense “exciting” and “versatile.”
“We’re going to air out. We’re going to keep the air raid,” Tuberville said. “I think it’s something that Tech has hit upon that gives them that identity to recruit and we all want to have.”
That idea was what Gerald Myers had in mind when he hired Leach after the 1999 season. Leach built his reputation as an offensive coordinator before getting his break at Tech.
Myers and the school’s other power brokers thought they needed a flashy offense when Leach replaced the venerable Spike Dykes after 14 years as coach.
As such, they scoured the nation for the nation’s top offensive minds. The other finalist when they settled on Leach was Rich Rodriguez, then the offensive coordinator at Clemson.
It’s hard to argue with their choice today. Leach has brought the school unexpected national attention -– from stories on "60 Minutes" and a cameo appearance on “Friday Night Lights” to a fawning cover story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about his quirky personality and offensive wizardry.
And his teams have played a little football too, considering they made bowl trips in each of his 10 seasons coaching the Red Raiders.
Tuberville is more of a traditionalist, although he said he likely will lean heavily on a defense with a three-man front and four linebackers.
“I believe in consistency,” Tuberville said. “If you look at the top teams in the country, they are all based on consistency. Not changing one week or one year. You change subtly.
“We’ll have a base offense. We’ll have a base defense, and we'll build from that each week. When we play on Saturday, we won't be complicated. We'll be simple in the fact in terms of what our players think. It will look a little bit more complicated in the naked eye.”
Tuberville represents the biggest football coaching fish attracted to Tech. He’s only four seasons removed from a 13-0 record and national coach of the year honors at Auburn.
But he’ll be facing challenges in the Big 12 South, which is universally considered one of the toughest divisions in college football. He’ll be tested to keep pace with big dogs Texas and Oklahoma, both at the apex of team strength since Mack Brown and Bob Stoops took over.
Oklahoma State has pumped millions into facilities and appears to be ready to become a serious challenger in the south. Baylor is still looking for its first bowl trip in 15 seasons, but has better facilities and the right coach to lead them into Big 12 South relevancy. Tuberville’s old school, Texas A&M, has the tradition and facilities and appears to need only the right coach to bring them back into contention.
It won’t be easy for Tuberville, but he appears to be uniquely qualified for the challenge of maintaining Tech’s recent success and maybe even building on it.
It won't make his job any easier. Tuberville still will have to follow the most legendary figure in the history of the school's football program.
But Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers and the others who arranged for Tuberville to return with the Red Raiders have made a significant splash as they try to replace Mike Leach.
There is a need to change the culture of the Tech program after Leach's dismissal last week. Tuberville may be the person to do it.
With Tuberville, who cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator, look for the Red Raiders to put more emphasis on the running game and on defense. His hiring will represent a 180-degree shift from the offense-first strategy favored by Leach, who came to the school after serving as an offensive coordinator at Kentucky and Oklahoma.
Tuberville's last stint as a defensive coordinator came at nearby Texas A&M, where he helped call the defenses on an Aggie team that went 10-0-1 in 1994. That gives him at least a cursory knowledge of Tech's recruiting area, along with potentially opening the Red Raiders into the Southeastern Conference area as well.
He's a proven commodity after earning national Coach of the Year honors after leading Auburn to a 13-0 record in 2004. And his media-friendly ways will be a big advantage as he replaces Leach.
James Willis, the associate head coach and outside linebackers coach at Alabama, has been mentioned to be his choice for defensive coordinator.
If Willis is brought on, his first immediate challenge will be to earn the trust of Tech players who were united under defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, the other finalist for the job. McNeill was the best recruiter on the staff and involved in getting together Tech's current recruiting class that is the best in the school's Big 12 history. It appears that McNeill won't be retained if Willis is coming. That will be a ticklish problem for Tuberville to circumvent with his new team.
But the biggest question with Tuberville will be how he can narrow the traditional gap that has existed between the Red Raiders and the dominant programs in the Big 12 South Division at Texas and Oklahoma.
Leach made the biggest inroads as the Red Raiders have split with the two programs in the last two seasons. Tech employed the victory over the Longhorns in 2008 to earn a three-way tie for the South Division title -- a first in Tech's Big 12 history.
But he never took the Red Raiders any higher than the Cotton Bowl in the Big 12's bowl arrangement. A trip to the Bowl Championship Series clearly is the next step and will be Tuberville's goal.
Tuberville, 55, might be the ideal person to challenge the Longhorns and Sooners, considering his track record at Auburn. While there, he beat Alabama seven of 10 times, including a streak of six straight seasons and has consistent success against the Southeastern Conference's top schools. He claimed nine of 15 games at Auburn against top 10 teams from 2004. He'll consistently face the same challenges against the Big 12's elite schools.
He's been successful before.
But Tech will provide some unique challenges that will make this the toughest job that Tuberville has ever faced.
Read these to keep your mind on Big 12 football while everybody else hogs the New Year's Day spotlight.
- Texas Tech inside receivers coach Lincoln Riley was a high school quarterback at Muleshoe, Texas, during Mike Leach’s first two seasons at the school. Now, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Don Williams reports, Riley will be calling the team’s plays Saturday night in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Michigan State.
- Austen Arnaud credited Iowa State’s defense for coming together to provide the Cyclones’ Insight Bowl victory over Minnesota, Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register reports. And the Register’s Sean Keeler opines that the Cyclones’ victory won’t earn many style points, but who’s complaining?
- Oklahoma’s first bowl victory since 2005 was an emotional statement for the Sooners, the Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel reports.
- Gary Pinkel tells the Kansas City Star’s Mike DeArmond that Missouri’s 35-13 thumping at the hands of Navy was the worst bowl-game performance in his head-coaching career. And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Bernie Miklasz details five reasons why the Midshipmen unexpectedly dominated the Tigers in the Texas Bowl.
- It was fitting that El Paso was the site of Landry Jones’ record-setting bowl passing performance for Oklahoma, according to the Tulsa World’s Dave Sittler.
- ESPN.com’s Ivan Maisel predicts that Oklahoma will return to the top 10 next season.
- Richmond defensive coordinator and former Baylor coach Vic Shealy will join Turner Gill’s staff at Kansas, Dugan Arnett of the Lawrence Journal-World reports.
- Brian Hamilton of Chicago Breaking Sports.com reports that former Kansas offensive coordinator Ed Warriner will join Brian Kelly’s staff at Notre Dame as an offensive line coach.
- The Associated Press’ Alan Scher Zagier reports that athletes including football players were 10 times as likely to get special admission exemptions at Baylor, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma than the general student population.
- The Tulsa World’s Bill Haisten writes about the personnel challenges that Zac Robinson has overcome to take Oklahoma State to a 9-3 record this season.
- The Birmingham News’ Kevin Scarbinsky thinks that Auburn made an astute move in avoiding Mike Leach.
- The Valero Alamo Bowl might be better suited for Court TV, according to the Detroit Free Press' Michael Rosenberg.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I've seen colleges emblazon their names on windbreakers and Snuggies, toilet seats and ice cream.
Heck, once at a party I was stunned when I wandered into an empty room and saw a friend had a lifelike 6-foot cutout figure of former Iowa coach Hayden Fry. He looked like he was about ready to roar at an official.
But unquestionably the weirdest sponsorship deal I've ever seen has been the introduction of Masik Fragrances for school-specific perfume products for Penn State, North Carolina and LSU.
The company also plans to introduce products for Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn later this year. A percentage of each bottle sold will go to the university's scholarship and athletic fund.
The development of a school-specific scent is a lot more complicated than I would have thought.
After campus visits, discussion with students and alumni and additional research, a school perfume is developed, the company reports. Among the characteristics considered include school colors, mascot spirit, traditions and history, landmarks and architectural style, campus trees and flowers, mission statements, college town character and themes in the school's alma mater and fight songs.
The Big 12 is missing out with this as each school and stadium has a specific scent that I could pick out if I closed my eyes and tried to imagine them.
Nothing, of course, matches the distinctive odor of a Texas-Oklahoma football game at the Cotton Bowl. The mixture of spilled beer, farm animals from the nearby State Fair of Texas and grease from the corny dog fryers waft to me as soon as I leave my car. It's hard to categorize, but something I instantly recognize each year.
Which Big 12 school will be the first to have its own fragrance?
I can't wait to see which one joins up first. I'd love to take a blind "smell test" to describe what the scent reminds me of.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
During the Big 12 media days last week, it was impossible not to notice the irony of the two teams that have been picked to finish in the cellars of their respective divisions.
Both Texas A&M and Iowa State finished in their respective divisional basements last season, although Texas A&M's was technically a tie. Baylor got the nod over the Aggies, however, after beating them late last season.
Most don't think there's much hope for either the Aggies or the Cyclones to escape that fate this season.
It wasn't always this way. Texas A&M was a certified national power under R.C. Slocum, making two trips to the Big 12 championship game in the first four seasons of the conference. The Aggies are the only South team to make a championship game appearance other than Texas and Oklahoma.
And Iowa State, which hasn't won conference title since claiming a share of the Missouri Valley Conference in 1912, nearly earned North Division titles in 2004 and 2005 under Dan McCarney. The Cyclones squandered shots at the Big 12 title game when they missed field goals late in regulation in eventual overtime losses in bitter regular-season finales.
Slocum and McCarney were a lot alike. Both were hard-nosed, defense-first coaches who never had much pizzazz in their offensive attacks. Both set records for longevity at their respective schools. Both hold the school records for victories.
And both lost their jobs when confidence eroded in both their programs -- perhaps after they were let go a little bit too early.
Slocum was fired after a 6-6 record in a 2002 season that ranks as his worst as a college coach. Slocum never had a losing record in 14 seasons with the Aggies and five times had 10 or more wins. He led the Aggies to three-straight Southwest Conference championships from 1991-93 and South Division titles in 1997 and 1998. Their stunning double-overtime victory over favored Kansas State in 1998 ranks as the biggest win the Aggies have posted in Big 12 play.
McCarney wasn't nearly as successful at Iowa State, but in his own way he carved himself a niche as the winningest coach in school history. The Cyclones had been to four bowl games in the previous 103-season history of the program when he arrived in 1995. He took the Cyclones to five bowls in a six-season span from 2000-05, including the only two bowl victories in school history.
After a 4-8 season in 2006 -- a year after the Cyclones nearly won the North title -- McCarney was let go. It didn't help him that his new boss, Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard, seemed intent on removing everything from McCarney's legacy with a splashy new hire.
There was excitement and almost giddiness when replacements for Slocum and McCarney were chosen. Texas A&M hired Dennis Franchione from Alabama, who arrived as one of the hottest coaches in the nation when he arrived. And Iowa State was similarly enthralled with Gene Chizik, the defensive guru of undefeated teams at Auburn and Texas before he arrived at his first head coaching job.
But despite all of the excitement about the new coaches, neither lived up to the promise of his ballyhooed arrival. Franchione endured a humiliating 77-0 loss to Oklahoma in his first season and was embarrassed after news surfaced about his selling state secrets in his program to prominent boosters in his last. He was fired after a 32-28 record in five seasons, never approaching the promise he arrived at Texas A&M with.
And Chizik, who was feted with a gold coin by a Des Moines-area bank before coaching his first game with the Cyclones, also struggled mightily. His two-season tenure ended with a 5-19 record and a .208 winning percentage that ranks as the worst for any Iowa State coach who directed the team more than one season. And for all of his supposed defensive wizardry, the Cyclones yielded at least 34 points in 14 of those 24 games and finished with a 10-game losing streak as he escaped for the head coaching job at Auburn after last season.
It's been interesting to watch who both teams hired to replace those coaches. Obviously, they couldn't hire Slocum and McCarney again, but they did the next best thing by hiring new coaches who were members of their staffs.
Texas A&M turned to Mike Sherman, who was a member of Slocum's staff for more than seven seasons. And Iowa State went for Paul Rhoads, who worked for McCarney from 1995 to 1999 and who was born in nearby Nevada, Iowa - only a 10-minute drive from Jack Trice Stadium.
In the North, Iowa State is at the bottom as teams like Kansas and Missouri have jumped past them into title contention.
And Texas A&M starts the season with the least preseason expectations for a season than any in my memory. The Aggies have been lapped by Texas Tech, which earned a share of the Big 12 South title last season for the first time in history. Oklahoma State is one breakout season from being able to accomplish that and the Cowboys could be poised for that this season.
Even Baylor, when underrated coach Art Briles and scintillating quarterback Robert Griffin appears to have a brighter future than the Aggies.
Can Iowa State and Texas A&M jump back into title contention again?
It will be a long, hard climb for both schools with competition more spirited in each division than ever before.
As we consider all of the grumbling that took place when McCarney and Slocum were coaching, fans of both schools would gladly trade those struggles for the problems they are now enduring.
Sometimes, you don't really miss somebody until they are gone.