Big 12: Pat Fitzgerald
Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)
Texas A&M take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Aggies are in a state of turmoil. They have no coach and the players are understandably shaken up about it. Mike Sherman was loved around College Station, and his super classy exit press conference showed all the reasons why. Ultimately, Texas A&M's much-ballyhooed second-half failures ended Sherman's tenure as the head Aggie. The numbers are well-known by now, but still staggering. They tell the story of how a preseason top 10 team with as much talent as any in the Big 12 ends up at 6-6. Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas. All were losses.
That doesn't change the talent on the field. Running back Cyrus Gray will likely return from injury, as will quarterback Ryan Tannehill with top targets Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller. They'll play with an offensive line that has some legit NFL talent, a credit to Sherman's recruiting acumen as a coach with an offensive line background. Texas A&M is already assured of leaving the Big 12 with a bitter taste en route to the SEC next season, but a bowl win might help ... if only a little bit.
Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern will play in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive year, but the Wildcats are still looking for that elusive postseason win after a disappointing 2011 campaign.
As players and coaches often are reminded, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose. The Wildcats have come close the past three seasons, particularly in the 2010 Outback Bowl, but they’ve fallen short each time. While Texas A&M’s motivation might be a question mark after its recent coaching change, Northwestern will be geared up.
The good news is that unlike last year, Northwestern will have top quarterback Dan Persa on the field for its bowl. Although Persa didn’t look nearly as dominant this season as he did in 2010, he still led the Big Ten in passing (240.3 ypg) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions. Persa and the offense will need to put up points as Northwestern’s defense has struggled mightily this season and in the recent bowl losses. The Wildcats will be without top cornerback Jordan Mabin against Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.
This will be a virtual road game for Northwestern in Houston, as Texas A&M fans will pack Reliant Stadium. But Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.
I couldn’t jump into the recruiting hubbub, however, without taking care of some Tuesday afternoon correspondence.
Richard Sylvester from Houston writes: Tim, love your blog. Thanks for all of the diligent hard work you’re cranking out day after day. I read it every morning and throughout the day.
My question is whether you’ve been reading an excellent set of posts from Frank the Tank’s Slant about a potential move by Texas to the Big Ten. It lays out several well-researched reasons why the ultimate big fish out there – bigger than Missouri, bigger than Syracuse and way bigger than Notre Dame – is Texas.
Could you envision a scenario where the Longhorns would ever leave the Big 12 behind and jump to the Big Ten?
Tim Griffin; I have been reading Frank’s interesting posts on the subject. And he raises some interesting points about how much money the Longhorns could ultimately make by joining the Big Ten in one of his most recent missives.
Obviously, the Big Ten is one of the most tradition-rich conferences in the nation, if not the most. Adding Texas would give them, like Frank writes the ultimate free agent in terms of college sports.
Texas matches the research qualities that members of the Big Ten’s academia would demand when a new conference partner would be added.
And it would deliver a huge potential market for the fledgling Big Ten cable television network if the state of Texas would be added. Some estimates are that the population for the states in the Big 12 would account for more than 90 million people if Texas was added to the Big Ten.
It would also conservatively mean the Longhorns would make at least $10 million in new athletic revenue because of the new revenue sources the Big Ten’s whopping television network provides, compared with the Big 12's current deal.
But whether they would leave the traditional rivals from the Southwest Conference and the new ones from the Big 12 is debatable. The travel costs would be huge in all sports and the Longhorns would be jumping into a cauldron of potential new opponents like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Iowa among others.
Texas would have to agree to a revenue sharing deal in place in the Big Ten that is different from the Big 12’s where the teams that appear in the most television games and make the most NCAA basketball tournament appearances earn more money.
And remember how the Texas Legislature became involved with news leaked that Texas was leaving for the Big 12 Conference. It basically paved the way for Baylor and Texas Tech to tag along with Texas and Texas A&M. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Texas announced it wanted to go to the Big Ten by itself.
The Big 12 has been good for Texas. Virtually every sports program is at a level where the Longhorns can legitimately contend for a national championship. It has an intriguing mix of local and regional rivals.
It makes for some fanciful thinking and has a lot of interesting points to think about Texas leaving the Big 12. But I just don’t see it happening – at least at this time -- because of so many obstacles that would exist in the move.
Meni of Manchester, N.H., writes: In regards to the link you had yesterday about the Oklahoma players who were likely first-round selections in the Class of 2011, the guy in College Football News listed Travis Lewis, DeMarco Murray, Quinton Carter and Dominique Franks on his list. I thought Franks declared for the NFL draft, didn’t he?
Tim Griffin: Meni, you are correct. Franks declared for the draft shortly before the deadline. Most draft analysts have him going in the third or fourth round. He’s a very determined player and I think his speed should help him make an NFL squad as a special-teams player, making him an intriguing sleeper pick.
Steve Sutton from Ozona, Texas, writes: Tim: Interesting story about players who exceeded recruiting expectations, showing how uncertain the recruiting process is. I was wondering if you might elaborate on some of the more celebrated misses during the time of your survey.
Tim Griffin: Steve, I hope I was able to showcase how inexact recruiting can actually be. But I think the player in the most celebrated Big 12 player in recent seasons who has failed to live up to expectations was Colorado running back Darrell Scott, who was the No. 2 running back in the nation in 2008 and had an 89 ranking by ESPNU. He played with the Buffaloes during his freshman season before leaving the team midway through the season in 2009. His next playing situation is unknown at this time.
Of course, the player ranked ahead of him at running back has been a bust as well. Jermie Calhoun of Oklahoma was the No. 1 running back in the 2008 class, but redshirted and then gained only 220 yards and scored a touchdown in his redshirt season. Calhoun had trouble getting a chance at playing time behind Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray last season. It will be interesting if he develops and gets more of a chance for a playing time in 2010 after Brown’s graduation.
Another player who hasn’t lived up to expectations has been Texas defensive end Eddie Jones, who had an 88 ranking and was the No. 2 defensive end in the nation in the 2006 class. He hasn’t started a game at Texas in his first three seasons, although he showed some flashes as a situational pass rusher with five sacks and seven tackles for losses in 2009.
Pete from Omaha, Neb., writes: Tim, great blog, I love reading every day. I noticed that ESPN Sports Nation did a poll that asked if recruiting or game planning was more important for a coach to succeed. The vote showed that most fans think recruiting is more important.
But I disagree.
Bill Callahan and Charlie Weis were great recruiters, but did they ultimately succeed? What about John Blake? Nope. Game planning is what wins. Take Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, Bo Pelini at Nebraska and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. All of them are good recruiters, but they never attract top-five classes. Yet they have their programs at a consistent level. What’s your take on the issue?
Tim Griffin: Pete, you raise an interesting question. I think you ultimately have to have a combination of both, but I would lean to game planning as being just as important as recruiting in developing a contending program.
Like you mentioned, coaches like Pelini and Ferentz get good players, but they take them to high competitive levels thanks to their teaching and game planning.
The old recruiting adage has always described college football as “not being about the Xs and Os, but about the Jimmys and the Joes.”
But I think that’s changing as there’s more parity across the nation. When good coaches get good players, that’s when programs the foundations for really good programs start being built.
Cecil Wilson of Plano, Texas, writes: With recruiting coming to an end, I just noticed that Texas did not get a commitment from a tight end. Looking at the Longhorns’ roster, they have several, but I have not seen or heard of any of them, except for Blaine Irby. What do you think the Horns will do about this position in the upcoming season? With a new quarterback, either Garrett Gilbert or Case McCoy, they are going to need all the options they can have. Thank you for all your hard work. Hook 'Em.
Tim Griffin: The tight end hasn’t been a position of much relevancy for the Longhorns since Jermichael Finley left after the 2007 season. Irby was injured early in the 2008 season and didn’t play last season.
That left the Longhorns utilizing four-receiver sets in many occasions for many occasions. Greg Smith, a 260-pounder was the primary blocking tight end for most of the season. He was backed up by Ahmard Howard. Wide receiver Dan Buckner emerged at the flex tight end spot early in the season, but struggled getting the ball late in the season and has elected to transfer to Arizona.
The status of Irby is unknown at this time as he recovers from his injury. I look for D.J. Grant to have the best shot of emerging during spring practice. Grant was declared academically ineligible at the start of the season, but should be ready to go.
The tight end position will be of vital importance as Gilbert uses it for checkdown receptions. The question will be who will ultimately be catching passes from that position.
Thanks again for all of the good questions this week. I’ll check back again on Friday.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
This is a big day across the country for college football fans as they scramble to set up their bowl picks before Saturday's first games.
While college football doesn't provide the neat symmetry of the NCAA's 65-team men's basketball bracket, it does have more bowl games than first-round basketball games. And a game has been developed to help build interest in the bowls.
It's called the confidence game and it's relatively easy. For each bowl pick, you provide a numeric value on how confident you are about that pick.
So with all of the bowl games, you would rank your picks in order from 1 through 34.
A lot of people across the country are involved in these pools. And they are fun because any of the 34 games may be vitally important. So it behooves you to watch all of the games to see how your picks turn out.
I'm not going to bore you with my picks from 1 through 34. It's a little like hearing my next-door-neighbor tell me about his third wide receiver dilemma every week for his fantasy team.
But since this is a Big 12 blog, I figure that most of my readers would be curious about how I rank the conference's seven bowls. I'll be glad to oblige with my picks on those and where I weighted them in comparison with the others that will play out over the next few weeks.
Here goes. May my luck be good this bowl season.
- Kansas over Minnesota, Insight Bowl, 33 points -- The Jayhawks are catching a slumping Gopher team at exactly the right time.
- Texas over Ohio State, Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, 31 points -- Being snubbed for the BCS championship game has made the Longhorns angry. They'll want to take it out on somebody.
- Texas Tech over Mississippi, AT&T Cotton Bowl, 29 points -- Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree will be finally healthy. Who knows, Mike Leach might have a contract by then.
- Missouri over Northwestern, Valero Alamo Bowl, 28 points -- Chase Daniel and Co. have too many offensive weapons for Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats, who can't get in a shootout with Missouri and expect to win.
- Florida over Oklahoma, FedEx BCS National Championship Game, 25 points -- The Sooners are dropping like flies with injuries and the game is still three weeks away.
- Oklahoma State over Oregon, Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, 12 points -- First team to 60 in this game will win. I'm betting it will be the Cowboys.
- Clemson over Nebraska, Konica Minolta Gator Bowl, 10 points -- This is a winnable game for Bo Pelini's team, but something just doesn't feel right. I don't know. Maybe the Curse of Dabo?
I'd be curious how readers have the games picked and what order they feel confident about their picks
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I feel a little remiss that we didn't celebrate Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's birthday last week in a suitable manner.
Pelini turned 41 on Saturday, a likely day for stoppage of mail and garbage delivery considering his early success with the Cornhuskers.
A rash of recent hirings of younger coaches has dropped Pelini to 13th among the youngest FBS head coaches. And his matchup with Clemson's Dabo Swinney in the Gator Bowl will be only the second time that Pelini has been older than his opposing coach. The only other time that happened was when he beat Ron Prince and Kansas State earlier this season.
And here's another way to place Pelini and Swinney's youth in perspective. Their combined ages at kickoff for the Jan. 1 game in Jacksonville will be 80 years, 1 month and 31 days. That total is far less than Penn State's Joe Paterno, who will be 82 years and 11 days old on that date.
Here's a look at the youngest FBS coaches in the nation. Coaches who have been hired since the end of the season to their new jobs are indicated with an asterisk.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin:
As much a part of holiday bowl games are the news conferences that take place several weeks before the games.
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Florida's Urban Meyer met in a casino in Hollywood, Fla., on Wednesday. Missouri's Gary Pinkel and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald are hooking up at a golf tournament in San Antonio today.
With many of the top Big 12 players in Orlando, Fla., tonight, for the Home Depot/ESPNU College Football Awards Show, here are some links to get you ready for those festivities.
- Bob Stoops indirectly helped lead Urban Meyer to Florida after Meyer called him four years ago asking about the positives of the Florida job, Kevin Brockway of the Gainesville Sun writes. Stoops was defensive coordinator at Florida from 1996-98.
- Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln-Journal Star weighs in on the approaching battle next season to replace starting quarterback Joe Ganz. Among the contenders are Cody Green, Kody Spano, Patrick Witt and Zac Lee.
- U.S. Rep Joe Barton (R-Texas) has no vested interests in the BCS considering he graduated from Texas A&M. And he still wants to do away with the current controversial method of settling college football's champion, according to Anna M. Tinsley of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- Former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione received the VIP treatment as he conducted his second interview with San Diego State officials about their vacant head coaching job, the San Diego Union-Tribune's Brent Schrotenboer writes. San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson declined to reveal whether he had talked about the vacancy to Franchione, his coach at TCU.
- Martin Manley of the Kansas City Star's fine blog, "Under Further Review," spells out the scenario where Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech could finish 1-2-3 in the final national polls after the bowl games.
- Kansas coaches are experimenting during bowl practice with switching Angus Quigley, the team's second leading rusher this season, to linebacker, Dugan Arnett of the Lawrence Journal-World reports.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
The ability to sit in the studio gave me the opportunity to watch a lot more football than I usually do when I'm sitting in a stadium watching a game. Heck, even more than when I'm at home and it seems like I forever have some household chore to do.
So being in Bristol gave me a chance to really watch football. Here are some things I noticed today.
1. Is anybody else surprised that East Carolina struggled before barely escaping New Orleans with a narrow victory over Tulane? How many times have we seen the BCS-buster du jour come up flat after a couple of wins against the big boys? And the Pirates better prepare for it every week as Conference USA play continues.
2. Who needs View-Masters to hype Missouri QB Chase Daniel for the Heisman? After three games, how about 10 touchdowns and one interception. His quarterback efficiency rating has been more than 250 in each of the last two weeks.
3. Injuries for coaches are a miserable time. But doesn't Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis look especially glum after he was leg-whipped by John Ryan along the sidelines late in the first half?
4. Seeing Dennis Quaid be such a prominent part of the Syracuse game-day experience today was somehow fitting as the Orange struggled through another disappointing loss. Remember, Quaid used to be "The Grey Ghost." And Syracuse used to be a place where running backs flocked.
5. Best story of the day was the emergence of Florida State WR Corey Surrency, who never played high school football. Surrency made his start playing in flag-football tournaments before going to El Camino Community College. He's simply emerged as Christian Ponder's go-to receiver.
6. Wonder how much moving Houston's game against Air Force to Dallas hurt the Cougars? Air Force jumped to a 31-7 lead before Houston stormed back to pull within 31-28 late. The Cougars have piled up 749 passing yards and 1,017 yards in their last two games. All they have to show for the offensive explosion are two losses.
7. Worst weekend this year goes to the Pac-10 for enduring humiliating losses (Baylor over Washington State, Maryland over California, TCU over Stanford, BYU over UCLA and Oregon's struggles with Purdue). But just like they've said over the last few years, thank goodness for USC.
8. Best finish of the day came at UB Stadium in Buffalo, where the Bulls eked out a narrow 30-28 victory over Temple thanks to a 35-yard pass from Drew Willy to Naaman Roosevelt with no time left. If I'm an athletic director at a struggling BCS school, I'm thinking about giving Buffalo coach Turner Gill a chance.
9. Seeing Michigan State RB Javon Ringer pick up a career-high 43 carries en route to 282 yards brings back memories of when Lorenzo White was toting the rock that much for the Spartans.
10. Sure, Northwestern has only beaten Syracuse, Duke and Southern Illinois this season. But coach Pat Fitzgerald's team has quietly fashioned a 3-0 record and is halfway to bowl eligibility.