Big 12: Jeff Tedford
Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Cal take from Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: California overcame a horrible midseason lull and finished strong, which is why it's heading to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl to settle on old score.
The Bears will square off with Texas, which some might recall squeezed Cal out of the Rose Bowl in 2004 after coach Mack Brown openly politicked against the Bears.
As for the present state of Cal, it's much different than it was on Oct. 29, when an embarrassing 31-14 loss to UCLA had the Bears reeling, losers of four of five. They certainly didn't look like a bowl team, and quarterback Zach Maynard didn't look like a Pac-12 quarterback.
Then Cal, leaning on its running game and stout defense, pounded Washington State and Oregon State, allowing just 13 points in the two wins. That allowed Maynard to get his confidence -- and mechanics -- back into form. Though the Bears lost at rival Stanford, 31-28, it could be said that Maynard was every bit the match -- at least statistically -- of Andrew Luck.
Cal concluded its season with a strong 47-38 win at Arizona State, which was particularly satisfying based on how poorly the Bears have played on the road the past few seasons.
A 7-5 finish has taken some of the heat off coach Jeff Tedford. Beating Texas would make the Old Blues extremely happy.
Texas take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: For the Longhorns, it's good to be back. After winning 10 games for nine consecutive seasons, the Longhorns spent the holidays at home last year after going 5-7, their fate sealed by a home loss to rival Texas A&M. Not this year. Texas' 7-5 season is still not up to Longhorns' standards. Their defense was hampered by an offense that found its rhythm in midseason but then promptly suffered debilitating injuries. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were rarely healthy over the season's home stretch, when Texas lost three of its final four games.
Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the solid anchors of the defense as expected. A solid secondary that refused to give up big plays flanked the pair. It kept opposing offenses from throwing a touchdown pass of longer than 20 yards until Robert Griffin III threw two in the season finale. Nobody in college football went longer, and with the caliber of quarterbacks across the Big 12, that's an amazing feat.
Case McCoy and David Ash are still trading places at quarterback consistently, and McCoy threw the first three interceptions of his career against Baylor. Bowl practices before Texas takes the field again could be interesting, and play a big role in the future of the Longhorns.
Here's a representative example of some of the other missives I've received over the last few days.
Mike Heuertz of Iowa writes: Tim, even with Ndamukong Suh leaving Nebraska, as well as a couple other key defensive players, do you think the Blackshirts will be better next season? And what do you think Nebraska's record will be?
Tim Griffin: I talked with several Nebraska fans during my swing through the state last week who seemed almost giddy about the Cornhuskers’ chances next season.
That being said, the loss of Suh will be huge. I think he can be considered the arguably greatest defensive player in the history of the program. The Cornhuskers also will lose Barry Turner, Phillip Dillard, Larry Asante and the heart, grit and talent provided by Matt O’Hanlon.
Now I can see players like Prince Amukamara, Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Jared Crick getting a lot better gaining experience playing Bo Pelini’s defense. But it might be a little wishful thinking to hope for much improvement from this season -- considering the Cornhuskers’ big defensive personnel losses.
As far as their record, I would expect them to be one of the powers of the Big 12. They have a tricky game at Washington which will earn them a lot of national notoriety if they can win. Texas will be coming to Lincoln, as will Colorado and Missouri. A road game at Oklahoma State doesn’t look as daunting as it could be with the Cowboys breaking in a new quarterback. But an underrated challenge for the Cornhuskers might wait at Texas A&M with Jerrod Johnson and all of A&M’s strong returning offensive weapons back for next season.
Looking at that schedule, I’ll pick the Cornhuskers to go 10-2 and finish as the Big 12 North champion. Considering their returning talent and their schedule, I think that’s a relatively conservative pick.
But as far as next year's team being better than the 2009 version of the Blackshirts, that might be wishing for a little bit much -- even for the Pelinis.
Chris Henson from Salt Lake City, Utah, writes: Tim, a quick addition to the Texas A&M-Oklahoma State tidbit. The Red, White, and Blue Out in 2001 was organized by a group of students first and foremost as a fundraiser for the victims of 9/11. I appreciate you noting this event as it really shows what Texas A&M is all about.
Tim Griffin: Chris, thanks for the clarification. Like you wrote, it was truly an emotional event. There’s a picture of the stadium that is still hung in the press box at Kyle Field of the stadium bedecked for that game. It still gives me goose bumps when I see it.
Travis from Seattle writes: Tim, the players of the decade category has created quite a stir, with many saying, "...well how could X player be off the list." For the most part I agree with your list if you look at it being, who were great players, AND who did the most to influence their team's success, (thus why Graham Harrell is off, being a plug-and-play quarterback in that system although he did do a fine job).
But I propose a different category. Who were the best ATHLETES of the decade? And how about the best competitors, the ones who did everything to try to win. What are your thoughts?
Tim Griffin: You raise a good point about my list earlier being an all-around grouping of all qualities. As far as the best athletes of the decade in the Big 12 from the last decade, in no specific order I would include Ndamukong Suh, Eric Crouch, Robert Griffin, Chris Brown, Vince Young, Seneca Wallace, Dez Bryant, Dezmon Briscoe, Darren Sproles, Danario Alexander (before and after his injury), Brad Smith, Jeremy Maclin, Adrian Peterson, Brian Orakpo, Michael Huff, Earl Thomas, Reggie McNeal, Robert Ferguson, Sammy Davis and Michael Crabtree.
And among the top competitors I’ve seen include Stephen McGee, Crabtree, Colt McCoy, Roy Miller, Joe Pawelek, Jordan Lake, George Hypolite, Todd Reesing, Chase Daniel, Sean Weatherspoon, Matt O’Hanlon, Suh, Josh Fields, Brian Iwuh, Darrell Stuckey, Steven Sheffield, Wes Welker and Kliff Kingsbury. There are many others, but those are just some of the names that come to me off the top of my head. And the fact that Suh and Crabtree made both of those lists is pretty indicative of how exceptional they really were.
Fred Dodge of Annapolis, Md., writes: Tim, in reference to your top 10 jobs in college football. You have a good list, BUT the one caveat that I think goes with this list or any list is context. Most of these are still the "right-guy-for-the-right-place" jobs -- as are coaches. Being a Husker, I lean toward Bo Pelini and Nebraska as my first examples. Bo would not be a good fit for many of these jobs...I just can't see Bo fitting at USC or Florida for example; but I also can't see Lane Kiffin or Pete Carroll being successful in Lincoln. And in my opinion there are only a few guys who can shape a program around their personality. Nick Saban could coach anywhere, Urban Meyer probably could, and Jim Tressel could in most places. But I have a difficult time seeing Mack Brown outside the southeast or southwest and Bo Pelini outside the midwest. All of these guys could still coach, but I think they would struggle in fan support -- and so they would also in recruiting.
Tim Griffin: You make an interesting point, although I think that Pelini would work in more places than you might suspect. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool football coach and would succeed at most traditional powers, although I think his style best suits him at Nebraska. But I could see him being successful in the Southeastern Conference, in the Big Ten or even at Notre Dame. Anywhere they have a deep appreciation for football, I can see Pelini working out.
I think coaches like Bob Stoops, Saban, Meyer and Tressel would work most places. I also think you might include some underrated coaches out there like Mike Riley of Oregon State, Gary Patterson of TCU, Jeff Tedford of California and Chris Peterson of Boise State would be adaptable at almost any job in the country. But it does seem that the smart coaches are the ones who pick places where they are comfortable and have the best chance for success.
Kyle Zander of Fort Hood, Texas, writes: Will Chris Whaley and Desean Hales get playing time for Texas in 2010? I played against Hales in high school and the kid is the real deal, Texas needs to get him involved as soon as possible. And Whaley could help, too.
Tim Griffin: Texas needs to find some help for its running game. Whaley was hurt when he reported to practice last summer and never regained his form. If he’s willing to rededicate himself, there likely is a chance for him to earn some playing time this spring. He needs to have a big spring to get there.
Sales is in a similar situation. The Longhorns have wide receiving talent in players like senior-to-be John Chiles and James Kirkendoll. Malcolm Williams is a big strong receiver who will emerge in coming seasons and should be the team’s featured receiver in 2010. But there are catches – plenty of them -- available for Hales if he can force himself into the mix.
Brett Stamm from Keller, Texas, writes: Tim, love the blog! Keep up the good work! Has Mike Sherman, or will Mike Sherman, or why will Mike Sherman not, consider Dat Nguyen for defensive coordinator? Talk about a guy who has done an outstanding job in his current position and would bring some instant credibility with players and recruits in a program that has pretty much let a proud defensive tradition die with questionable and mediocre hires. This is a guy who was the face of and exemplified the "Wrecking Crew" tradition for four years! Your thoughts?
Tim Griffin: Brett, Dat Nguyen has been a key member of Wade Phillips’ staff as an assistant linebacker coach and defensive quality control assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. But I would suspect that Sherman probably would like for Nguyen to have a little more seasoning and experience calling defenses before he would give him the responsibility of serving as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator.
In a way, Nguyen reminds me a little of Major Applewhite as they develop in their coaching careers. It won’t surprise me if both become successful coordinators and eventually outstanding head coaches. But they need more experience to get there.
Nguyen seems like a natural to join the A&M coaching staff in the future. But I think it might be a stretch to see him as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator at this stage of his career.
That’s all the time I have for today. Thanks again for all of the good questions and keep the letters and e-mails coming. I’ll check back again on Friday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
While doing some research for another story, I developed this chart. I was curious which coaches in BCS-affiliated conferences had the longest tenures without making a BCS bowl trip.
- Jim Leavitt, USF: 13th season at job
- Randy Edsall, Connecticut: 11th season at job
- Mike Leach, Texas Tech: 10th season at job
- Gary Pinkel, Missouri: ninth season at job
- Al Groh, Virginia: ninth season at job
- Mike Riley, Oregon State: ninth season at job
- Greg Schiano, Rutgers: ninth season at job
- Jeff Tedford, California: eighth season at job
- Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt: eighth season at job
- Rich Brooks, Kentucky: seventh season at job
- Mike Stoops, Arizona: sixth season at job
I think the list highlights several interesting trends. The top two are coaches who have led their programs from the formative stages.
Then, it gets interesting. Leach consistently has been one of the outstanding coaches in the nation. But his program still has never taken the "next step" to a BCS game.
The same goes for Pinkel, Groh, Riley and Schiano -- all accomplished coaches who have repeatedly taken their programs to bowl games over the years. They just haven't been able to take their program to that "big game."
Of those on the list, I think that Tedford has the best opportunity to break that streak this season as the Bears might be in line to challenge USC in the Pac-10 and maybe be in contention for a BCS at-large berth.
But I thought it was very interesting that two coaches who qualified for a share of their respective divisions championships in the Big 12 rank so highly on a list for the lack of a BCS bowl appearance.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The hiring of Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was hailed as a personnel coup by many observers after he agreed to join Bill Snyder's staff at Kansas State.
Ludwig's offensive prowess was well known after his work leading the Utes to a 13-0 record after successful previous stops at Oregon and Fresno State.
In short, his arrival was an ideal hire for Snyder's staff as he attempts to change the culture at KSU.
But after spending less than two months at KSU, Ludwig accepted a job on Jeff Tedford's staff as California's new offensive coordinator.
Ludwig finally explained the reasons for his move in an interview with veteran KSU beat writer Mark Janssen of the Manhattan Mercury.
And his reasons are good, even if it might not necessarily make the KSU fans much happier.
Ludwig told Janssen that the move was a "family matter," necessitated by the fact that his mother, brother and sister all live in the East Bay area of San Francisco near the Berkeley campus.
"It was all about the positives of being at Cal professionally and personally, and nothing to do with getting away from the (KSU) situation I was in," Ludwig said.
The move to Tedford's staff comes with a salary hike. But so does the cost of living.
A coach with a $200,000 yearly salary in Manhattan would have to earn $342,206 for equal buying power in San Francisco, according to a CNNMoney.com web calculator. The survey also indicates that groceries will cost 32 percent more in the Bay area, housing 182 percent more, utilities 5 percent more, transportation 11 percent more and health care 35 percent more.
Ludwig also said he did not feel good about the departure, adding it was "an ugly deal, but something I had to do."
And his most telling answer -- and one that has baffled most observers -- was whether there was any potential rift with Snyder.
"Absolutely not, absolutely not," Ludwig said. "That had zero influence on this decision."
Snyder now will be working with familiar coaches in Del Miller and Dana Dimel to run his offense. Ludwig would have brought a fresh approach. It will be interesting to see whether the familiar strategies of Miller and Dimel will change with their new opportunity again working with the legendary KSU coach.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The end of the 2008 season is barely six weeks finished, but spring work begins this weekend, among other topics of interest across the Big 12.
Texas, which came only a fraction of a percentage point from contending for the national championship last season, will renew its work when the Longhorns start spring practice Friday in Austin. Coach Mack Brown will welcome a strong returning cast headed by Heisman Trophy runner-up Colt McCoy and pass-rushing specialist Sergio Kindle.
Other Big 12 coaches probably wish they were as fortunate to begin their on-the-field work.
Veteran Kansas State coach Bill Snyder had another roadblock tossed in his way after offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig accepted a similar position on Jeff Tedford's staff at California. Ludwig had been on Snyder's staff for only six weeks.
It means that Snyder will be sorting through resumes for a replacement as the Wildcats prepare for an April 6 start for spring practice. He does get a break in that the Wildcats' start will be the latest of any team in the conference, although Kansas State currently has only one offensive assistant in place.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel appears to have a replacement in hand after Matt Eberflus appears to be close to joining the Cleveland Browns as their linebackers coach. Eberflus' promotion hasn't been announced by his new employer, although he reportedly was working with Cleveland coaches over the weekend at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Pinkel appears set to name Dave Steckel to replace Eberflus, who would be Pinkel's second coordinator to leave since the end of the season. Earlier, former Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen assumed the head coaching position at Wyoming.
Texas Tech coach Mike Leach returns to work after settling a new five-year contract with the school last week. Leach's first responsibility will be filling in the vacancy on his staff when running backs coach Seth Littrell left to join the staff of Mike Stoops at Arizona two weeks ago.
Nebraska linebackers coach Mike Ekeler is in the mix for the vacant defensive coordinator position at South Florida after interviewing with USF coach Jim Leavitt last week.
And Baylor will wrap up its final week of offseason work before starting spring practice on March 3.