NCF Nation: Gary Barnett

1. The hiring of Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman by Houston reminds us that Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer has a solid record as a coachmaker, too. Herman is the 12th Meyer assistant to get his own gig. The list includes Dan Mullen of Mississippi State and Doc Holliday of Marshall, who will coach on Jan. 1., and Gary Andersen, who led Wisconsin to a Jan. 1 bowl before leaving for Oregon State. Not all 12 coaches went directly from Meyer's staff to a head coaching position. But the list proves Meyer can spot coaching talent as well as he does playing talent.

2. Making a Freshman All-America team has a lot to do with talent and a little to do with luck. Is there a hole that a freshman can fill? There are more holes on struggling teams, but those are the teams avoided by freshmen talented enough to become All-Americans. Four of ESPN's top-10 recruits from the Class of 2014 became freshmen A-As, and 16 of the 22 came from the ESPN Top 300. The lowest-rated recruit to become a Freshman All-American? BYU center Tejan Koroma, a Texan who added 25 pounds when he got to Provo and, at 6-1, 280, started every game. Bet he gets bigger -- and better.

3. We've got a CSU Saturday coming up. The Colorado State Rams play No. 22 Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at 3:30 p.m. ET. A half-hour later, the CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves play Minnesota State for the NCAA Division II title. Hey, even nostalgic Colorado fans may root for CSU-Pueblo. Several former members of Gary Barnett's Buff staff coach the Thunderwolves, including John Wristen, the head coach since the program restarted in 2008. Barnett keeps a hand in as advisor and booster. When the team stayed in a hotel the night before one playoff game, Barnett footed the bill.
As all great upsets go, this one started with a pregame speech that has only grown with time.

Gary Barnett's Northwestern team was a four-touchdown underdog as it entered Notre Dame Stadium for its 1995 opener. He knew his players could have a better season than most were expecting, but he doubled-down on them before taking the field, ordering them to act like they have been there when they win.

No carrying the coach off the field. No Gatorade shower. When they win, not if.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPat Fitzgerald has a win over Notre Dame as a Northwestern player. On Saturday, he'll try to nab one as the Wildcats' head coach.
"I was just trying to build confidence in our team," Barnett told "I was telling them that we all know we're going to win, and when we do win let's not act like this is the biggest win of the century; let's just act like we're used to doing this thing, and everybody needs to get used to us doing this sort of thing, and that's the message we'll send."

Did they ever. Nostalgia has been in the air this week as the Wildcats resume their rivalry Saturday with the Irish, the schools' first meeting on the gridiron since that fateful Sept. 2 matchup 19 years ago. The 17-15 stunner that propelled Northwestern to a Big Ten title that season is arguably the greatest Wildcats victory of them all, and one of its engineers will take center stage this weekend on that same visiting sideline in South Bend, Indiana.

"Contrary maybe to popular belief, I think we think that about every game," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, a linebacker on that 1995 team, said of Barnett's expectation to win. "Otherwise I don't know why you compete."

Fitzgerald recorded 11 tackles in that win, en route to the first of consecutive consensus All-America honors. An Orland Park, Illinois, native, Fitzgerald, naturally, grew up a fan of the Irish.

"I'm Catholic from the South Side -- you didn't have a choice," he cracked. "Absolutely. And then we had a great player from my high school, Jeff Alm, play. Unfortunately he's passed away, but Jeff was a great player at Notre Dame. He was an All-American. So he'd come back and work out, things of that nature, at Sandburg [High]."

How and why Fitzgerald did not end up in South Bend remains somewhat of a mystery, with the ninth-year Northwestern coach saying this week that he had attended a camp, but that he never took an official visit.

Notre Dame's loss ended up being Northwestern's gain, with Barnett just happy to land the prized linebacker regardless of how he fell into his lap.

"I think all along he wanted to go to Notre Dame and he was putting off committing to us, waiting to hear from Notre Dame, if they were going to offer him," Barnett said. "He was one of our last commitments, actually. So I'm not sure, he'll have to tell you how that all went down. And I didn't really care. We were recruiting him, we didn't care if Notre Dame turned him down or whatever. We wanted him on our football team, so we were fortunate that whatever happened, happened."

Barnett gets a kick out of how everything will have come full-circle for Fitzgerald this weekend. He recalled telling his assistants during training camp of Fitzgerald's sophomore year in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that they would be jockeying to hire Fitzgerald as an assistant if any of them ever took head coaching jobs down the line.

Ninth-ranked Notre Dame proved to be the first of several heavyweights Northwestern would take down in 1995, as the Wildcats won at No. 7 Michigan and beat No. 12 Penn State before falling to No. 17 USC in the Rose Bowl. Barnett looks at that campaign -- and, by extension, that Notre Dame game -- as the launching point for the past two decades of Northwestern football, as the program has gone from a conference bottom-feeder to one that went on to share two more Big Ten titles, and one that has reached five bowl games under Fitzgerald.

A loss at 7-2 Notre Dame on Saturday would make it consecutive seasons without a bowl for Northwestern. Still, bigger upsets have happened, as everyone from these teams' last meeting knows.

That 1995 tilt ended up being decided, in large part, on Irish quarterback Ron Powlus tripping during a two-point conversion. Two months before the game, sophomore defensive back Marcel Price was fatally shot while home in Nashville. His memory stuck with the Wildcats throughout their historic run.

"I remembered watching Powlus go back and slip, and somebody on the sideline said, 'Marcel made that tackle,'" Barnett said. "I think after we look back, it certainly is a big play. But at the time I don't recall thinking other than we just maintained our lead. That's what you're thinking at the time, and what do you do next."

3-point stance: Honoring Francis Peay

September, 25, 2013
1. The death of former Northwestern head coach Francis Peay at age 69 is a reminder that wins and losses shouldn’t be the sole judge of a coach’s impact. Peay went 13-51-2 in six seasons (1986-91) in Evanston. In his book, High Hopes, Gary Barnett wrote this about succeeding Peay: “What I did not take into account was that most of the kids, especially our 35 black kids, had come because of Francis Peay. They came to Northwestern because he was such a tremendous role model, and because he was a strong black man. And then all of a sudden, he’s yanked away from them.”

2. Georgia coach Mark Richt has signed three of the current starting quarterbacks in the SEC: Aaron Murray; LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, who will return home to Athens to play the Dawgs on Saturday, and Auburn’s Nick Marshall. The latter two started out at Georgia but Richt dismissed them for disciplinary reasons. “When they have to leave,” Richt said, “I just hope they can move forward and have great success….(I)t makes you feel good.” Some coaches bend their rules to win a game. Richt doesn’t. I bet he sleeps well at night.

3. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley -- the ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week after three sacks and a forced fumble against North Carolina State -- came out of August even with freshman Shaq Lawson for a starting spot. “If it is a tie, then tie goes to the veteran” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said at his press conference this week. “…It was really a tie between him and Vic coming out of practice, to be honest. I told Vic that, too. You have to go and perform. This big boy is on your heels right here.” Looks like Beasley listened.
Northwestern's recruiting wish list and sales pitch hasn't changed much in recent years.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff still seek a certain fit: an academically oriented player who clicks with the program's culture and recognizes the benefits of playing Big Ten football miles from the city limits of the nation's third largest market. Northwestern's coaches talk about "not only a four-year decision but a 40-year decision, the rest-of-your-life type decision," Matt MacPherson, the team's recruiting coordinator and running backs coach, recently told

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Tony DingPat Fitzgerald has the Northwestern football program headed in the positive direction, winning games and attracting quality student athletes.
Northwestern is still identifying and bringing players who fit, but more of its targets are higher-level prospects and more of its competitors are higher-level programs. The Wildcats are hitting their mark at an unprecedented rate, leading the Big Ten with 10 commitments for their 2014 class, which ranks 17th nationally in RecruitingNation's latest ratings.

Colleague Jared Shanker writes that Northwestern's recent success on the field has boosted its recruiting to the next level.
The Wildcats went 10-3 in 2012 and ended the season No. 17 in the final AP poll. It was the first time that Northwestern had won 10 games in a season since 1995, when it went 10-1 and appeared in the Rose Bowl. It also marked the first time Northwestern finished a season ranked since 1996.

Fitzgerald was a linebacker on those '95 and '96 teams. He was an ambassador for recruits who signed in the winter of '97, one of Northwestern best classes ever.

Northwestern landed several national recruits in that class, much like it is doing in the 2014 class. Craig Albrecht, Chris Jones and Sam Simmons were all highly sought-after recruits who signed with Northwestern out of high school. Fitzgerald said then-coach Gary Barnett never broke the mold of what he was looking for in a recruit to bring in the higher-profile prospects.

Now Fitzgerald is following a similar path.

"[The 2014 recruits] stayed true to what fits our program," Fitzgerald said. "We feel great about all the young men, feel great we recruited the right fit. We respect you if you do it differently, but we're more focused on the right fit and if he fits the culture of our locker room."

According to MacPherson, Northwestern's message to potential recruits remains the same, but the way they view the program has changed after five straight bowl appearances and, finally, a postseason win on Jan. 1 in the Gator Bowl.

"From what we do and how we do it, not a whole lot has changed," MacPherson said. "From the perception of where our program is, that's changed a bunch. People see us now as a perennial bowl team. ... You look at Northwestern and you talk about winning football games, a great education, being in Chicago. What's not to like? Tell me when that gets bad.

"There's always been the great education, there’s always been the great city of Chicago. Now you throw the football success on top of that, and it's just a great package that opens a lot of people's eyes."

Northwestern's coaches also are talking up a new $220 million on-campus facility, announced in September, that will house the football program along the shores of Lake Michigan. Athletic director Jim Phillips said last week that $70-80 million has been raised toward the project, and ground could be broken this fall.

Fitzgerald talked with Shanker about the "great momentum" currently around the program. MacPherson sees it on the recruiting trail.

"We are getting in some battles with some different programs than we have in the past," he said. "Obviously, that's a good thing. But at the end fo the day, you still have to do your evaluation and those guys you bring into your program have to be valuable players and be productive players for you. Is it great for our profile and be competing against teams that you see in the Rivals and the ESPN Insider ratings? Yeah, that's great. But it'll always go back to production once you get 'em on your team."

B1G coach turnover most in two decades

December, 18, 2012
The Big Ten used to be the league of coaching stability.

Rewind to the 2005 season, and the Big Ten featured seven coaches -- Penn State's Joe Paterno, Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez, Michigan's Lloyd Carr, Minnesota's Glen Mason, Purdue's Joe Tiller, Northwestern's Randy Walker and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz -- who had been in their jobs for at least seven seasons. Paterno obviously had been at Penn State for a lot longer than that, but Alvarez was in his 16th and final season with the Badgers and Carr was in his 11th with the Wolverines.

Look at the Big Ten coaching landscape right now. Only one of those coaches, Ferentz, remains. The next longest-tenured is Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, who took over following Walker's death in 2006. Indiana's Kevin Wilson, who just completed his second season, will be the longest-tenured coach in the Leaders Division in 2013. Eight of the Big Ten's 12 coaches will be in their first, second or third seasons next fall.

When was the last time the Big Ten had this type of coach turnover?

You have to look to the early 1990s to find similar results. Six Big Ten teams made coaching changes between 1989-92: Illinois (after 1991 season), Michigan (after 1989 season), Minnesota (after 1991 season), Northwestern (after 1991 season), Purdue (after 1990 season) and Wisconsin (after 1989 season). The league had 10 teams until 1993, so the 60 percent turnover rate in a three-year stretch certainly was significant.

The bad news is the Big Ten's national profile struggled during that time, much like it is now. The league went 4-9-1 in bowl games between 1990-92 and had just two teams in the final rankings in both 1991 and 1992. The good news is things improved the next few seasons, as the Big Ten posted winning bowl marks in 1993 and 1994 and won three consecutive Rose Bowls. Several coaching hires made between 1989-92 worked out well, namely Alvarez at Wisconsin and Gary Barnett at Northwestern.

The Big Ten hopes history repeats itself in the coming years.
Most Big Ten coaches label their jobs with a capital D for destination. When a head coach arrives on a Big Ten campus, he usually isn't looking for his next stop. Big Ten fans take pride in this.

The league has been largely immune from the wandering-eye coaches who leave programs at inopportune times for the next big thing. Even the Big Ten programs that could be classified as stepping stones haven't been left in the lurch very often in recent years. While it's not shocking that a Big Ten coach hasn't jumped to a different college job, it's a bit of a surprise that the NFL hasn't plucked one away.

[+] EnlargeTressel
Icon SMIJim Tressel resigned after his involvement in the Ohio State tattoo/memorabilia scandal.
The last Big Ten coach to voluntarily leave his team at a less-than ideal time was Nick Saban, who ditched Michigan State for LSU on Nov. 30, 1999. Saban had led the Spartans to a 9-2 record, a No. 10 national ranking and berth in the Florida Citrus Bowl. Although then-Michigan State athletic director Clarence Underwood praised Saban for putting the program "back on solid ground," Saban's departure put the school in a tough situation. Less than a week after Saban's departure, Michigan State promoted longtime assistant Bobby Williams to head coach, a decision that didn't turn out well.

After flirting with several bigger-name programs during his time at Northwestern, Gary Barnett finally left to take the Colorado job on Jan. 20, 1999, just weeks before national signing day. Although Northwestern immediately named Barnett's replacement, Randy Walker, the drawn-out saga wasn't much fun, given what Barnett had meant to the school.

But since Saban and Barnett, the Big Ten hasn't had any coaches voluntarily leave at bad times. There have been some midseason firings (Tim Brewster at Minnesota, Williams at Michigan State) and some late firings (Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, Glen Mason at Minnesota), but in those cases the schools, not the coaches, made decisions that put themselves in tough situations.

The most recent instances of coaches leaving Big Ten programs in tough spots involved two men who certainly didn't walk away on their own terms.

After months of scrutiny stemming from the tattoo/memorabilia scandal and his attempted cover-up, Jim Tressel resigned his post as Ohio State's coach on Memorial Day of 2011. Tressel stepped down just three months before the season and with spring practice all wrapped up. Ohio State knew it would be without Tressel for the first five games of the 2011 season, but his resignation under pressure left the program scrambling.

The school named 37-year-old assistant Luke Fickell, who had never been a head coach before, to the top job. After six consecutive seasons of Big Ten titles (won or shared), Ohio State went 6-7 under Fickell last fall, its first losing season since 1988 and its first seven-loss season since 1897. Ouch.

But the ugliest and most untimely departure was yet to come. Five days after former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child sex abuse charges, Penn State's board of trustees voted to fire longtime coach Joe Paterno. The date: Nov. 9. Penn State was 8-1 at the time, and 11 days earlier Paterno had recorded his 409th coaching victory, moving him past Eddie Robinson for the most wins in college football history. Hours before the board's decision, Paterno had announced he would retire following the season, his 46th as head coach. Instead, he was informed via telephone that his tenure was over, which triggered a backlash from Penn State students and fans.

The school promoted longtime assistant Tom Bradley to interim head coach. Bradley led the team during a hellish eight weeks that featured, among other things: a 1-3 record that knocked Penn State out of the Big Ten race; snubs by several bowl games who didn't want to deal with a p.r. nightmare; the announcement that Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer; a locker-room fight that left starting quarterback Matthew McGloin concussed and unable to play in the bowl; and a seemingly rudderless coaching search that took too long and put Bradley in an awkward situation.

In six months, two iconic Big Ten programs lost incredibly successful coaches under extremely messy circumstances.

A Big Ten coach bolting for an NFL job suddenly doesn't sound so bad.
Mark Dantonio and Pat Fitzgerald both took over programs in tough situations and elevated Michigan State and Northwestern, respectively, to historic levels of consistency.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Mike Carter/US PresswireMark Dantonio has led the Spartans to five consecutive bowl appearances.
Dantonio is the first coach to guide the Spartans to five consecutive bowl appearances. His 43 victories are the most by a Spartans coach in the first five seasons. Last year he guided Michigan State to a share of its first Big Ten championship in two decades, and this year the Spartans reached the inaugural Big Ten championship game. His teams have beaten archrival Michigan in each of the past four seasons, marking the Spartans' longest win streak in the series since 1959-62. When Michigan State in October beat Ohio State for the first time since 1998, it gave Dantonio wins against every Big Ten squad aside from new member Nebraska. He's 13-3 in November games.

Fitzgerald has guided Northwestern to four consecutive bowl appearances (the school never had reached more than two bowls in a row). The sixth-year coach already is second on Northwestern's all-time coaching wins list with 40. He has a 13-8 record in the month of November and, like Dantonio, has defeated all but one Big Ten school (Ohio State).

Both Dantonio and Fitzgerald have been awarded long-term contracts and both have become the faces of their respective programs.

Both also have one unchecked box on their coaching checklist: Neither has led his team to a bowl win.

Dantonio and Fitzgerald are a combined 0-7 in bowl games as head coaches at Michigan State and Northwestern, respectively. They've both come close, particularly Fitzgerald, who has two bowl losses in overtime and three by seven points or fewer.

Both men can break through in the coming days as Michigan State faces Georgia in the Outback Bowl and Northwestern takes on Texas A&M in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

"We've done a lot of things in five years here," Dantonio said. "The different wins against different people, the number of wins and things of that nature. Guys have set individual records as well. But the one thing we have not done collectively or individually is win our bowl game. We need to springboard for next season."

Both coaches say the bowl milestone means more for their players than themselves. Michigan State's seniors are the winningest class in team history (36 victories). The same holds true for Northwestern's seniors (30 victories).

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswirePat Fitzgerald has guided Northwestern to four consecutive bowl appearances.
Northwestern's bowl drought goes deeper than the current players and coaches. The team hasn't won a postseason game since the 1949 Rose Bowl. Fitzgerald was a star linebacker on Wildcats teams that lost bowls (1996 Rose and 1997 Citrus).

"It's the only negative left against our program," he said. "When Gary [Barnett] recruited me and the guys I had the privilege to play with, there were a lot of things used against us in recruiting. It's kind of the last negative hurdle to get over. To be a champion at anything is pretty special. It's on our goal board. It's been up there all year, to be bowl champions, to win a bowl game.

"This senior class wants to be that group."

Dantonio recently met with Michigan State's seniors and talked to them about their legacy.

"Our seniors have left a big thumbprint on this program in terms of what they've been able to do," he said. "With that being said, the final thing would be to send us into 2012 positively with a win and leave that final print by doing something that has not been done here in this time since I've been here as the head football coach.

"That's something we’re striving for."
One of the big misconceptions about Pat Fitzgerald is he took over a Northwestern program falling apart at the seams.

Yes, Fitzgerald became Northwestern's coach at a very difficult time after the sudden death of Randy Walker in June 2006. Yes, the 31-year-old wasn't ready for the job. But Northwestern had won six or more games in each of Walker's final three seasons, reaching two bowls and going 14-10 in Big Ten play. This wasn't the train wreck that Gary Barnett inherited and, thanks to players like Fitzgerald, brought out of the depths.

Fitzgerald deserves a ton of credit for stabilizing the program after an unexpected tragedy. He upgraded things in 2008 with a 9-4 campaign and followed with two more postseason appearances, making team history by making three consecutive bowl games.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
Reid Compton/US PresswirePat Fitzgerald made team history by making three consecutive bowl games, but Northwestern's win totals have dropped each season since 2008.
But Northwestern's wins total has declined since 2008, going to eight in 2009 and seven in 2010. This season has been a major disappointment, and, barring a late turnaround, the Wildcats won't make a bowl game. It's a significant step back for the program -- and for a coach who had been universally labeled as on the rise.

For Fitzgerald to turn things around -- and get Northwestern back to and beyond the good-but-not-great seasons it had for most of the past decade -- he must shape the program in his image. The most successful programs reflect their head coaches.

It's hard to say Northwestern completely reflects Pat Fitzgerald.

While many of his core values have been transmitted to the players, the bottom line is this: Fitzgerald is a former two-time National Defensive Player of the Year and a College Football Hall of Fame linebacker who coaches a team that has been anywhere from mediocre to poor on defense.

It doesn't add up.

Northwestern's identity under Fitzgerald is still a lot like it was under Walker. That's not entirely a bad thing. Walker's teams never gave up and won a bunch of close games. Until recently, Fitzgerald's teams also had excelled in close games.

Under Walker, Northwestern played many close, chaotic contests and relied on its dynamic spread offense. Walker was an offensive-minded coach, a former running back who mass-produced 1,000-yard rushers in Evanston.

Under Fitzgerald, Northwestern has continued to find itself in wild, back-and-forth games. It still relies on its offense, and produces strong quarterbacks like C.J. Bacher, Mike Kafka and Dan Persa.

Under Walker, Northwestern's defense struggled mightily, ranking no higher than 68th nationally and 81st or worse in six of seven seasons.

Under Fitzgerald, Northwestern's defense hasn't been quite as porous, ranking in the top 50 nationally in both 2008 and 2009. But the Wildcats slipped to 97th last year and currently rank 92nd.

The defensive decline has been dramatic this season, as Northwestern already has surrendered 20 plays of 30 yards or longer, the most of any Big Ten team. Although the secondary has been a major weakness, Northwestern hasn't generated much of a pass rush (11 sacks). The linebacker position, a strength under Walker and during Fitzgerald's early years, has underperformed the last year and a half.

Fitzgerald has attributed the defense's struggles to a few very bad plays in each game. Cornerback Demetrius Dugar said after a Week 7 loss to Iowa that defensive backs weren't always sure whether they were in man or zone coverage.

"When those breakdowns in communication have happened this year, they have been disastrous," Fitzgerald said after the Iowa game. "It starts with us as coaches. Why are they confused?"

Fitzgerald has remained mostly optimistic publicly, but the defensive struggles have to be eating him up. It's not like he doesn't know what a good defense looks like. As a player, he led great defenses at Northwestern in 1995 and 1996.

Most FBS coaches take on a CEO role, and Fitzgerald is no exception. But the defense must be his primary focus the rest of this year and into a crucial offseason. From the scheme to the coaches to the players to recruiting, everything should be evaluated. While overall recruiting has been on the uptick at Northwestern, player development on defense has to be a concern after the past year and a half.

Fitzgerald has succeeded in continuing what Walker started. But to get Northwestern back on track and on a sustainable path to success, his teams need to be playing how he did.

Kish is doing things his way for Arizona

October, 26, 2011
Tim Kish's responsibilities at Arizona are: "Interim Head Coach, Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers."

That's a lot of coaching hats. And work. And it's hard not to belabor the pyrrhic reward of "interim." But let's bracket off for a moment the circumstances and the uncertain future for a 57-year-old coaching lifer.

Here Kish is: A head coach for the first time. And he and Stanford's David Shaw give the Pac-12 two undefeated head coaches, something no other conference can boast.

Kish, easygoing and mellow, is almost an exact opposite of the man he replaced, the hyper-intense Mike Stoops. His first goal after taking over, he said, was to make football fun again for the Wildcats, who were mired in a 10-game losing streak against FBS foes when Stoops was fired. The second was accountability. The remainder of the season would only be what Arizona -- players and coaches -- made of it.

[+] EnlargeTim Kish
Chris Morrison/US PresswireIn his debut as head coach at Arizona, Tim Kish's wildcats set a record by scoring 42 points in the first half.
"The pride thing I thought was a given. It really wasn't addressed," he said. "We tried to block out all the noise and the distractions and asked the seniors to take ownership of this team. In the big picture, all we had was each other. That was the message. That's been the mantra going forward."

That mantra worked in Game 1: an impressive and dominant 48-12 whipping of UCLA.

Further, Kish was willing to improvise on the fly.

He gave the offensive coaches complete control of their unit, and they handed over some play-calling responsibility to quarterback Nick Foles. All that did was produce 42 points in the first half, a program record against a conference foe. He handed over the kicking duties -- a position that had been horrible for two years -- to walk-on John Bonano, who didn't miss a kick. And he changed the Wildcats' defensive scheme, adopting the old double-eagle flex the program used during the glory days of the Desert Swarm in the 1990s. UCLA, which entered the game averaging 194.5 yards rushing per game, produced 37 and just 1.5 yards per carry.

Kish said he and assistant Jeff Hammerschmidt, a former Wildcats defensive back and assistant coach during the Desert Swarm era under Dick Tomey, liked the idea of using a defense that was more aggressive and required less thinking.

"It doesn't have all the rules and regulations a lot of standard defenses have," he said. "It gave our guys a little boost."

Of course, a season isn't one game. The Wildcats know that as well as anybody. Further, they head to Washington on Saturday with major personnel issues they didn't have last week: Four players are suspended for their role in a brawl with UCLA just before halftime. All four are from a secondary that already lost two starters to injury. Cornerback Shaquille Richardson and nickelback Jourdon Grandon are suspended for the entire game; cornerback Lyle Brown and strong safety Mark Watley are suspended for the first half.

While Richardson is the only starter, things are still going to be tough against a Huskies passing offense led by quarterback Keith Price and a deep crew of receivers. Price leads the Pac-12 with 22 touchdown passes and ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency.

Kish called the suspensions "justified," but they are a major blow to a unit that ranks last in the conference in pass efficiency defense.

"We're not sure how it's all going to fit together on Saturday," he said.

But what if it does fit together? What if Kish leads the Wildcats to a major turnaround after a 1-5 start and, perhaps, a bowl game? Does that put him in position to have the "interim" removed from his title?

Probably not. Kish doesn't have any illusions of where he likely stands in athletic director Greg Byrne's coaching search.

"I knew what my place was when I was hired to take over this position," Kish said. "My patented answer to everybody who asks that question is I am not auditioning for the head coaching job."

If that's the case, then he and the rest of the staff face an uncertain future in December. While a couple of assistants might be retained, if Byrne hires a veteran or "name" head coach, he'll likely have a pretty good idea how he'll fill out his nine-man staff.

In other words: Merry Christmas! You're fired.

And this is undoubtedly a distraction. Kish and his assistants are coaching and recruiting -- work that demands long hours -- but they've also got to prepare their résumés and renew old coaching contacts in anticipation of shortly needing a new job.

"That's always tough. This situation pulls at a lot of heartstrings," Kish said. "That somewhere down the road will need to be addressed. But I've asked them to keep engaged with our players and keep the focus on the game plan."

This isn't Kish's first square dance. He's been a coach 36 years -- 34 in college, two in high school -- and worked at eight different programs before landing at Arizona in 2004 when Stoops hired him as linebackers coach. He's worked for, among others, Jim Young, Gary Barnett and Gerry DiNardo, each of whom had success and failure as head coaches. He's been a good soldier, a players' coach. And he's shown a lot of grace by repeatedly paying tribute to the positive things Stoops accomplished -- which is plenty, by the way -- instead of tweaking him.

But the "grieving" period -- his term -- has ended. Kish has too much to do to spend time looking back.

"It's a scar that lasts, but we needed to put it to rest," he said. "We needed to put that first half of the season to rest as well."

Buffs, Cougs trying to rediscover winning

September, 27, 2011
A string of losing seasons? It wasn't always like this for Colorado and Washington State.

Sure, the Buffaloes haven't posted a winning season since 2005, which wasn't such a great year considering then-coach Gary Barnett was fired before the bowl game of a 7-6 finish. But they split a national title in 1990 and won the Big 12 in 2001.

Sure, the Cougars haven't posted a winning season since 2003. But that was the third of three consecutive 10-win seasons, and the Cougs played in the Rose Bowl after the 1997 and 2002 seasons.

[+] EnlargeMarshall Lobbestael
AP Photo/Chris ParkSaturday's match may hinge on Marshall Lobbestael and Washington State's passing game.
Both programs are trying to crawl out of the dumps, but both fan bases can recall what it's like to be on top. And they're ready to start climbing in a positive direction again.

And it's likely that when Buffs and Cougs fans went through the 2011 schedule in the preseason and registered in their mind's eyes most likely spots to record wins, both wrote a W by Oct. 1, when Washington State visits Colorado for the first Pac-12 conference game in Folsom Field (the California game, again, was a nonconference game and doesn't count in the Pac-12 standings).

Obviously, one team is going to be disappointed, and probably for good reason. It's hard to imagine the loser earning bowl eligibility.

While the Buffs have suffered, and they did go 2-10 in 2006, their fall was not as precipitous as Washington State's. Colorado has won 13 games over the past three years. The Cougars have won five over the same span. Still, new coach Jon Embree almost seems amused with the notion that his players might overlook the Cougs.

"First off, we've only won one game so we can't take anybody lightly," he said. "When I watch them on tape, I see how explosive they are on offense. I really felt like coming into this year, them and Arizona State would be the two most improved teams."

That's fair. While beating Idaho State and UNLV, as Washington State did before losing at San Diego State, doesn't announce a team as a Pac-12 contender, it's worth noting UNLV beat Hawaii by 20 points. That's the same Hawaii team that beat Colorado 34-17 in the season opener.

Last year, the Cougs transformed from grade-A FBS patsy to a competitive team. Now, in order for coach Paul Wulff to keep his job into 2012, the program needs to take the next step, which means winning some games.

"All the parts have improved but we are still nowhere near where we can be and we've got to keep growing," Wulff said.

That growth is best demonstrated by the Cougars not folding after starting quarterback Jeff Tuel went down in the opener with a broken collarbone. Senior Marshall Lobbestael has come off the bench and played well, ranking sixth in the nation in passing efficiency.

Said Embree, "That's a testament to Coach Wulff and him getting this program back to where he wants it."

Lobbestael and the Cougars deep receiving corps could be where the game turns. Entering the season, Colorado's biggest question was its secondary. That unit has been adequate, probably better than expected, even with some key injuries. But part of that is not playing good passing teams. While the Buffs haven't given up many passing yards -- 183.5 yards per game is the fewest in the conference -- they also rank only 10th in pass efficiency defense.

The Cougs rank No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency.

That said, the Buffs front seven will challenge the Cougars offensive line. Colorado leads the conference with 14 sacks. It's likely Lobbestael will need to unload quickly, and it would helpful if he gets some production from his running game.

Speaking of running games, Colorado would prefer not to. Only miserable Arizona has prevented the Buffs from ranking last in rushing in the conference.

Playing at home should make things easier for that offense. In its only other home game so far -- against Cal -- Colorado rolled up 582 yards, including 108 yards rushing.

"If we are going to have any kind of successful season, we have to win home games," Embree said.

The opposite could prove true for Washington State: It must win on the road because a vast majority of its most winnable games on paper -- Colorado, UCLA, Oregon State (in Seattle), California and Washington -- are on the road. That list once included San Diego State, a game in which the Cougs imploded in the fourth quarter.

Washington State has had a bye week to shake off that loss and game plan for the Buffs. It's not melodramatic to say a lot is on the line for Wulff.

The Buffs and Cougs were the preseason picks to finish at the bottom of the South and North Divisions, respectively. The winner Saturday has a much better chance of avoiding that fate.

So, forget about the past, there's plenty of present urgency.

New Pac-12 coaches

August, 11, 2011
A quick look at the two new coaches in the Pac-12: Colorado's Jon Embree and Stanford's David Shaw.

Embree and Shaw share some similarities. Both are first-time head coaches. Both played for the program they now coach. Both coached in the NFL. Both say they want to retire in their present job instead of climbing the coaching ladder. And, yes, both are black, the fourth and fifth black head football coaches in conference -- Pac-8 to Pac-10 to Pac-12 -- history.

Here's a quick look at the new guys.

Jon Embree, Colorado

Replaces? Dan Hawkins, who never posted a winning season in five years in Boulder.

Where was Embree last year? He was the tight ends coach for the Washington Redskins.

What's he bring to the table that's different? Embree is a hardnosed old school coach -- Hawkins was decidedly new school -- who is from the area and played for Colorado under the revered Bill McCartney. He's spent 10 of his 18 seasons in coaching at Colorado, working from 1993-2002 as a Buffs assistant under three different head coaches: Bill McCartney (1993-94), Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002). He has repeatedly said that Colorado is his dream job, not a stepping stone. His singular focus is restoring a program that was once a national power.

What else? Embree, 45, is the first black head football coach at Colorado and the fourth black head coach in Pac-12 history (Stanford's Dennis Green (1989-91), Stanford's Tyrone Willingham (1995-2001), UCLA's Karl Dorrell (2003-07) and Willingham at Washington (2004-08). Shaw became the fifth in January)... Embree earned a communications degree from Colorado in 1988... He was a member of McCartney's first recruiting class... In 1984, he earned first-team All-Big 8 honors and set school single-season records for receptions (51) and receiving yards (680)... He was a sixth-round selection by the Los Angeles Rams in 1987. He played two seasons with the Rams before suffering a career-ending elbow injury in 1989 while a member of the Seattle Seahawks... His original plan after the NFL was to get into TV news, but he took a job as a volunteer assistant with McCartney and was immediately bitten by the coaching bug... He is married to the former Natalyn Grubb and they have three children, a daughter and two sons. Eldest son Taylor, is a receiver at UCLA, while Connor is a receiver at UNLV.

David Shaw, Stanford

Replaces: Jim Harbaugh, who rebuilt the program into a national power before being hired away by the San Francisco 49ers.

Where was Shaw last year: He was Stanford's offensive coordinator.

What's he bring to the table that's different: Where Harbaugh was boisterous, often eccentric and sometimes prickly, Shaw is mellow, polished and accommodating. That said, he's repeatedly insisted that doesn't mean the competitive fire doesn't burn just as hot. He certainly knows Stanford. His father coached there and he's a 1984 graduate. He returned to Stanford in 2007 when Harbaugh arrived -- they were together at San Diego -- so he's seen the Cardinal renaissance firsthand. And, just like Embree, he says that Stanford is his destination job and that he's not looking to move on or up in the coaching profession.

What else? Shaw is the fifth Stanford alum to become head football coach, joining Charles Fickert (1901), Carl Clemans (1902), Chuck Taylor (1951-57) and Paul Wiggin (1980-83)... He was a member of Stanford's 1991 Aloha Bowl team coached by Dennis Green that finished 8-4. He was also on the Cardinal's 1992 Blockbuster Bowl-winning squad coached by Bill Walsh that went 10-3. He finished his Stanford career with 57 receptions for 664 yards and five touchdowns... He started his coaching career in 1995 at Western Washington. He's also coached for the Philadelphia Eagles, Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Ravens... He's coached quarterbacks, receivers and running backs in his career... Shaw's offense ranked ninth in the nation in scoring last fall (40.3 ppg) and it amassed a school-record 6,142 yards, averaging a notably balanced 213.8 on the ground and 258.7 yards through the air... His father, Willie, had two separate coaching stints at Stanford (1974-76; 1989-91) during his 33-year coaching career, which was mostly spent in the NFL... His bachelor's degree from Stanford is in sociology... He was born in San Diego. He and his wife Kori have three children, Keegan, Carter and Gavin.

Embree is Colorado to the core

February, 18, 2011
Jon EmbreeAP Photo/Jack DempseyNew Colorado coach Jon Embree is hoping to return the program to the prominence he remembers.
When you talk to new Colorado coach Jon Embree, two things stand out. First, as a former player and coach, his connection to the Buffaloes runs deep. Second, not unlike Colorado fans who feel a powerful affinity for the program -- those who remember the glory years under Bill McCartney -- the malaise of recent seasons eats at him on a visceral level.

Embree didn't negotiate the tricky coaching ladder just to become a head coach. He climbed it to become Colorado's head coach. As a competitor, he's always wanted to win, of course, whether he was at UCLA or the Kansas City Chiefs or the Washington Redskins. But Buffs fans should know this: Winning at Colorado is personal for Embree. Whatever he lacks in head-coaching experience, he may well make up for with a singular commitment to restoring football in Boulder.

"The plan was always to be back here," he said. "That was always the plan. This is the only job I've ever wanted."

There also may be an additional edge to Embree's drive to rebuild Colorado. Consider his résumé.

As a touted local recruit in 1983, he bought into what McCartney was selling and became an impact player as a true freshman tight end. In his final season, 1986, the Buffaloes overcame a 0-4 start to finish 6-6. Then it was off to a brief NFL career.

In 1991, he joined McCartney's staff as a volunteer assistant. In 1993, after a year as a high school assistant, he came back to Boulder with a full-time job, coaching tight ends, and he remained with the Buffaloes until 2002, sticking around to work for both Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002).

OK. This is boring. What's the point? Ah, glad you asked. Embree was in Boulder for 15 years as a player and coach from 1983-2002. What key years are missing? Correct: 1989 and 1990, when the Buffs won back-to-back Big Eight championships, went 22-2-1 and split the 1990 national title with Georgia Tech.

Embree signed with Colorado in 1983 because "I believed in the vision that Bill McCartney had for the program and where this place could go and how it could be special. It was really all Bill McCartney." And he experienced the highs and lows of a rebuilding program, including a 1-10 finish in 1984. But he wasn't there when Colorado reached the pinnacle, as a player or coach. Perhaps that's an itch that he'd like to scratch.

"I felt like we were always close," he said. "We were always right there. We were close. But we just couldn't get over the hump."

(Read full post)

Spring transforms conference into Pac-12

February, 17, 2011
The Pac-10 doesn't become the Pac-12 officially until July 1, but with the advent of spring practices -- Stanford gets an early jump on Feb. 21 -- the reality sets in: It's going to be different this fall.

It's not just about Utah and Colorado joining the "old" Pac-10, which has been stable since adding Arizona and Arizona State in 1978. It's about a massive transformation.

For one, there will be two divisions: North (California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington and Washington State) and South (Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, UCLA, USC and Utah). Teams will still play nine conference games, but the round-robin format adopted in 2006 is over. With 12 teams, every team can't play every other on an annual basis, which affects not only rivalries but also recruiting.

Divisions also bring a conference championship game, which will be played at the home stadium of the team with the best conference record on Dec. 3. The winner of that game, even if it's just, say, 8-5, will be crowned Pac-12 champion and go to the Rose Bowl, if it's not selected for the national title game.

Divisions change the dynamic. In Pac-10 play, every game mattered. In Pac-12 play, divisional games matter a little more.

While some Pac-10 coaches, particularly in the Northwest, weren't terribly excited about expansion and North and South divisions -- Oregon State's always-pleasant Mike Riley was on record as being slightly sour on the idea -- there's no turning back. For the lack of a better phrase, it is what it is.

"It's not really a focal point for us as we head into spring practice," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "Our focus for us is on us, trying to get better."

Said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, "Whether there are eight teams in the conference or 18 teams in the conference, it has no effect on us ... I don't care how they split the divisions -- I don't get caught up in that. I don't know why anyone would .... They don't ask us our opinion on that. And it's not that I want that. I don't worry about things I don't have control over."

[+] EnlargeJon Embree
AP Photo/Jack DempseyNew Colorado coach Jon Embree believes the Pac-12 is a better conference for Colorado than the Big 12.
For Utah, coming from the Mountain West Conference -- a solid league but a non-automatic qualifying one -- the move was a no-brainer. For Colorado, leaving the Big 12 was a more complicated proposition. But new Buffaloes coach Jon Embree admits he has a West Coast bias.

"When they were forming the Big 12 [in 1994], it looked like we might go to the Pac-10 at the time, and I was really hoping that would happen for the university as opposed to the Big 12 conference," he said. "I always felt like that conference was a better fit for us."

Embree played high school football in Colorado, went to Colorado and coached there for 10 seasons under Bill McCartney (1993-94), Rick Neuheisel (1995-98) and Gary Barnett (1999-2002). He's a Colorado guy. But his parents are from Los Angeles, he was born in L.A., he spent plenty of time in Southern California growing up and he coached at UCLA. He even played for the L.A. Rams for two seasons (1987-88).

He's got plenty of West Coast in him, just as Colorado's and Utah's rosters are already laden with players from California, as well as a smattering from other Pac-10 states. The transition for both probably will be fairly easy.

And, of course, none of this has much to do with spring practices, which for all 12 programs will be business as usual: Filling voids, fostering competition, breaking in new coaches and tweaking schemes.

On the football side of things, Embree is the only new coach who arrived after a termination. His predecessor, Dan Hawkins, never posted a winning season in five years. At Stanford, Jim Harbaugh bolted for the San Francisco 49ers after leading the Cardinal to their best season of the modern era. David Shaw was promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Harbaugh.

That's it for coaching transitions, though it's fair to say that a number of coaches enter spring practices facing win-or-else seasons, particularly UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel, Washington State's Paul Wulff and Arizona State's Dennis Erickson.

Seven teams enter spring with stability at quarterback, including four with legitimate All-America candidates behind center: Stanford's Andrew Luck, Oregon's Darron Thomas, USC's Matt Barkley and Arizona's Nick Foles. Conversely, three teams appear to have wide-open competitions at the position: California, UCLA and Washington.

UCLA replaced both coordinators, which notably ended up landing Norm Chow at Utah. California and Arizona also had some significant staff turnover, with Bears coach Jeff Tedford stating he planned to work extensively with his quarterbacks this spring.

At Oregon, the Ducks begin earnest preparations to defend their consecutive conference titles needing to rebuild their offensive line and defensive front seven. Arizona, California, Stanford and USC also have questions on their offensive lines, while Oregon State must address the early departure of running back Jacquizz Rodgers and issues on its defensive line. Arizona State, with a conference-high 19 starters back, needs to square things away at quarterback and prepare for being the favorite in the Pac-12 South. Newbies Colorado and Utah have vacancies in the secondary, which should be worrisome in a conference of quarterbacks.

So it's really about football this spring, not transformation. Because you know what every coach will tell you when asked for his thoughts on heading into the first year of Pac-12 play?

"It's just line 'em up and tell me who to play," Embree said.

Iowa tries to overcome NU nemesis

November, 11, 2010
Some trends in the Big Ten seem to defy explanation, and Iowa finds itself on opposite sides of two of them.

The Hawkeyes have won eight of their last nine meetings against Penn State, including each of the past three contests. Iowa derailed Penn State's national title hopes in 2008, reshuffled the Big Ten race with a win in Happy Valley last fall and held Penn State without a touchdown in a dominating win Oct. 2.

Joe Paterno has lost more games to Iowa (11) than any other team in his head-coaching career except for Ohio State (13).

Kirk Ferentz
Stephen Mally/Icon SMIIowa is 4-5 against Northwestern with Kirk Ferentz as the head coach.
But it has been a very different story for Iowa against Northwestern. The Wildcats have won four of the teams' past five meetings, including three at Kinnick Stadium, where Iowa is 49-10 since 2002. Northwestern ended Iowa's perfect season in 2009 with a 17-10 come-from-behind win at Kinnick. Kirk Ferentz is just 4-5 against Northwestern as Iowa's coach.

"I really couldn't tell you why we've had so much success against Penn State and not so much against Northwestern," Iowa senior guard Julian Vandervelde said this week. "I really do think it comes down to the little details, the mistakes, the fundamentals and the basics. Year in and year out, we're able to execute against Penn State and not so much against Northwestern."

Iowa needs a polished performance Saturday as it visits Northwestern. The 13th-ranked Hawkeyes remain very much in the Big Ten title race, but they can't afford to slip up, especially as next week's home showdown against No. 9 Ohio State looms.

By most accounts, Saturday's game is one Iowa should win. The Hawkeyes are more experienced on both sides of the ball. Iowa's biggest strengths (the play-action pass and a pressuring defensive line) match up well against two of Northwestern's weaknesses (the secondary and the offensive line). Iowa has more at stake and should have no trouble getting motivated after the struggles.

But the Hawkeyes know what should happen and what does happen are two different things, especially in this series.

Many have tried to explain Northwestern's recent success, even pointing to the Hayden Fry-Gary Barnett exchange after the 1994 Iowa beatdown of Northwestern as the start of a shift (Northwestern is 8-5 against Iowa since 1995).

Iowa has dealt with key injuries in the last two losses -- running back Shonn Greene in 2008 and quarterback Ricky Stanzi in 2009 -- but Northwestern also played most of last year's game without star quarterback Mike Kafka. Northwestern running back Adonis Smith was quoted this week as saying coach Pat Fitzgerald "hates Iowa," but does that matter on the field?

The real explanation, according to Ferentz, is pretty simple.

"They have done a good job of playing the way you're supposed to play and we haven't," he said. "I think we have had nine turnovers and they have had two in two years. ... On top of that, we screwed up on special teams, several times, a couple years ago. To me, that's been the story of it. You've got two even teams. One team played clean, played really well and the other team didn't and it's pretty academic who is going to win or lose."

Iowa has looked uncharacteristically sloppy against NU, but Vandervelde says there's no mental block against playing the Wildcats.

"People don't expect them, for some reason, to come out and swing as much as they do and hit as hard as they do," he said. "Sometimes it catches people by surprise, I think. They're smart guys, they're going to watch tape and figure out what you do, so you really can't make mistakes. You have to be ready for everything they're going to bring.

"Having played them for a couple of years now, I'm well versed in their style of play and I won't be surprised by anything, hopefully."

The Big 12's programs of the decade

January, 21, 2010
The arrival of Mack Brown and Bob Stoops late in the 1990s helped rejuvenate dormant programs at Texas and Oklahoma. By the end of the following decade, both traditional powers were clearly the Big 12's top two programs and among the nation’s best.

The return of Bo Pelini to Nebraska helped the Cornhuskers close the decade strongly and claim a spot just below the Big 12's "Big Two." Texas Tech has been among the nation's most consistent teams of the decade. North teams like Colorado, Kansas State and Missouri all popped up to make at least two appearances in the Big 12 title game.

But Oklahoma and Texas have been the Big 12's behemoths during the recent decade. Here's how I rank the programs ranked based on their accomplishments in the last decade.

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners earn a slight edge over Texas despite the same number of victories in the decade because Bob Stoops took them to six Big 12 titles. The earlier teams depended more on defense, while Stoops’ more recent squads have been offensive juggernauts to reflect the overall change in the Big 12.

2. Texas: A victory in the BCS title game earlier this month might have catapulted Texas into the top slot. Mack Brown has pushed his program into parity with Oklahoma after struggling with the Sooner dynasty built by Stoops earlier in the decade.

3. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers withstood more tumult in the last decade than in any era since Bob Devaney turned the program in 1962. Even with two coaching changes, Bo Pelini has the Cornhuskers steered to the top of the North Division and poised for much more heading into the new decade.

4. Texas Tech: Mike Leach took the Red Raiders to an 84-43 record during the decade, with another victory added by Ruffin McNeill in the Valero Alamo Bowl for third place among Big 12 teams in victories. They fall behind Nebraska because they still have never advanced to the Big 12 title game or claimed a BCS bowl berth. That will be Tommy Tuberville’s task to change the culture and break that ceiling for the program.

5. Kansas State: The program was at its best during the early part of the decade when Bill Snyder took the Wildcats to the last title by a North Division team in 2003. The program dipped under Ron Prince, but could be poised to make another step forward after confounding prognosticators by remaining in the North Division title hunt until the last game in 2009.

6. Missouri: Gary Pinkel has the program humming with two title-game berths, strong incoming talent and a reputation as the conference’s foremost developers of unheralded recruiting talent. Pinkel's growth has been strong, but he still needs to take them another step where they start winning conference championships and appearing in BCS bowl games.

7. Oklahoma State: The infusion of T. Boone Pickens’ money has helped make the Cowboys’ facilities as good as most in college football. That growth has helped pick up recruiting as Mike Gundy’s program has made a bowl trip in four of his five years coaching the Cowboys.

8. Colorado: Gary Barnett had the Buffaloes as the North Division’s most consistent program with four championship game appearances in five seasons, including the 2001 Big 12 title. They haven’t been nearly as successful since Dan Hawkins took over with one bowl trip, no bowl victories or trips to the championship game.

9. Texas A&M: The Aggies still have the elements that could return them to prominence with rich tradition, strong facilities and an ideal recruiting location. But it’s tougher for them to challenge in the South Division with Oklahoma and Texas at the highest levels in recent history and growing programs at Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and even Baylor.

10. Kansas: Mark Mangino has awakened football interest here, but it will be up to Turner Gill to build on that growth. The North Division looks open, but Gill will be challenged to match Mangino’s achievements early in his coaching tenure without an immediate replacement for Todd Reesing at quarterback.

11. Iowa State: Dan McCarney's turnaround of this program in the early part of the decade is one of the more underrated building projects in recent college football history after taking the Cyclones to five bowls in the first six seasons of the decade. Included in that run were two near-misses where the Cyclones legitimately could have made a championship-game appearance with more consistent kicking. Athletic director Jamie Pollard went for the sizzle when he hired Gene Chizik to replace McCarney. He now appears to have found a McCarney clone with steady Paul Rhoads in charge.

12. Baylor: The last decade will be marked by an incredible series of building projects at Baylor, but still no bowl game. The Bears appeared poised in 2009 before Robert Griffin's unfortunate season-ending knee injury. Art Briles turned down a couple of intriguing possibilities to remain at Baylor and try to stem the bowl drought, currently at 15 seasons and counting.