NCF Nation: John Mackovic

Best case/worst case: Pac-12 bowls

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
9:00
AM ET
Our assignment is to pose a best-case and a worst-case scenario for every Pac-12 bowl team.

So here goes.

Arizona

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, N.M., Dec. 15: Arizona (7-5) vs. Nevada (7-5), 1 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Arizona rolls 40-28, as quarterback Matt Scott goes out with a bang that raises NFL eyebrows, and running back Ka'Deem Carey rushes for 195 yards to sew up the national rushing title.

Worst case: Scott gets knocked out of the game early and backup B.J. Denker looks overwhelmed, raising questions about the future at QB. Carey rushes for 35 yards and loses the rushing title as Nevada rolls 42-21. Michigan fans hit the message boards with a litany of "I told you so" about Rich Rodriguez.

Washington

MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Dec. 22: Washington (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-2), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: In a "Welcome back!" performance, QB Keith Price throws for 295 yards and three touchdowns -- matching the total TD passes the Broncos have yielded all season -- and runs for another score as the Huskies end 2012 with a statement victory that bodes well for 2013. The Huskies' hot offseason topic is how high the preseason ranking will be.

Worst case: Washington starts slowly as it has much of the season, then gives up a double-digit fourth-quarter lead as Price throws multiple interceptions. Boise State wins going away 38-17, and the Huskies' hot offseason topic is whether coach Steve Sarkisian has plateaued.

UCLA

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, San Diego, Dec. 27: UCLA (9-4) vs. Baylor (7-5), 9:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: That the Bruins score 45 points is not unexpected. That Baylor is held to just 17 points is unexpected. UCLA dominates on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Brett Hundley looks like a budding Heisman Trophy candidate. After the game, linebacker Anthony Barr and guard Xavier Su'a-Filo both announce they are returning for the 2013 season. Says Barr, "Unfinished business? Naaah. I just like playing with these guys."

Worst case: Baylor rolls over UCLA in a 55-30 win, as the Bruins' defense can do nothing to slow the Bears, while Hundley throws three picks. Barr and Su'a-Filo opt to leave for the NFL, as does coach Jim Mora, who is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Oregon State

Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, Dec. 29: Oregon State (9-3) vs. Texas (8-4), 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon State throttles the Longhorns 31-13 with stifling defense, but the big story is Cody Mannion -- or is it Sean Vaz? -- throwing four touchdown passes and making a strong case to be the 2013 starter.

Worst case: The Beavers become the only team that couldn't run on Texas this year, and Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz both throw two interceptions in a 30-10 defeat. Meanwhile, Oregon State makes both Case McCoy and David Ash look like superstars. "Well," say all the national commentators. "This makes a strong case for the Big 12's superiority over the Pac-12. But we've still got to see the Fiesta Bowl."

Arizona State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco, Dec. 29: Arizona State (7-5) vs. Navy (7-4), 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Best case: Arizona State uses its superior speed on both sides of the ball to throttle Navy 48-17. After the game, consensus All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton announces he's returning for his senior year.

Worst case: Navy's triple option wears down the Sun Devils in a 28-17 victory. Even worse, the Sun Devils turn the ball over five times and commit 12 penalties for 105 yards, including two personal fouls. They look like the 2011 team, not the 2012 version under new coach Todd Graham.

USC

Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, Texas, Dec. 31: USC (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (6-7), 2 p.m. ET, CBS

Best case: Matt Barkley looks like, well, Matt Barkley, throwing five touchdown passes as the Trojans roll 40-10. As for the defense, coordinator Monte Kiffin goes out in style, with the Trojans holding Georgia Tech's option to just 225 total yards. Head coach Lane Kiffin announces after the game that he has hired Bob Diaco away from Notre Dame to be his defensive coordinator.

Worst case: Barkley tries to play but reinjures his shoulder, and the Trojans fold thereafter, ending a horribly disappointing season with a 38-17 loss. After the game, receiver Robert Woods, running back Silas Redd and cornerback Nickell Robey announce they will enter the NFL draft. Lane Kiffin also announces the hiring of Nick Holt to run the Trojans' defense.

Stanford

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1: Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5), 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Stanford dominates on both sides of the ball in a 30-10 victory, holding the Badgers to just 79 yards rushing and 210 total yards. Quarterback Kevin Hogan throws two touchdown passes and runs for another, while running back Stepfan Taylor rushes for 145 yards and a score. After the game, linebacker Shayne Skov, defensive end Ben Gardner and tight end Zach Ertz announce they will be returning for their senior seasons.

Worst case: Montee Ball rushes for 197 yards and two scores as Wisconsin pushes the Cardinal around in a 24-17 win. The Badgers sack Hogan four times, overwhelming the Cardinal's offensive line. After the game, Skov, Gardner and Ertz announce they will enter the NFL draft. Coach David Shaw is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles, and Walt Harris is rehired.

Oregon

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, Ariz., Jan. 3: Oregon (11-1) vs. Kansas State (11-1), 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Best case: Oregon starts fast and never lets up in a 51-20 blowout, with running back Kenjon Barner rushing for 187 yards and two scores and quarterback Marcus Mariota throwing for three TDs. The Ducks sack Collin Klein five times and grab two interceptions. "I'm sure glad we didn't play them in the regular season," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder says afterward. Shortly after the game, Ducks coach Chip Kelly signs a lifetime contract, opens practices and promises to be more patient with hypotheticals and other sorts of irritating questions.

Worst case: The Kansas State defense throttles the Ducks' offense, and Klein throws three TD passes in a 30-13 victory. The Ducks rush for only 101 yards. "Oregon struggles in these big games," say the national commentators afterward. "And this really makes the Pac-12 look bad." Kelly is hired by the Philadelphia Eagles. Mariota quits football to become a professional surfer. John Mackovic is hired to replace Kelly.
UCLA was 0-2. Texas, the defending Big 12 champion, was ranked. When they met in Austin, no one could have predicted the outcome.

66-3.

UCLA.

"Last time they were here it wasn't good for us," Texas coach Mack Brown said, recalling the historic defeat in 1997 that was the cornerstone of Texas firing John Mackovic and luring Brown away from North Carolina.

Is there a chance of history repeating itself when the 1-2 Bruins visit No. 7 Texas, the defending Big 12 champions, on Saturday?

[+] EnlargeRick Neuheisel
Harry How/Getty ImagesRick Neuheisel's Bruins team has to play a mistake-free game if they hope to upend Texas.
The odds are probably close to zero, but Brown is taking the game seriously. He called the matchup "dangerous," particularly with the possibility that some of his players might be looking ahead to the red letter date with Oklahoma on Oct. 2. But the Longhorns profess respect for the Bruins.

"You just say UCLA, and people’s eyes kind of open," Texas safety Blake Gideon said. "So it will be fun, and it will be a challenge. It will be a blast playing against guys like that."

UCLA certainly seems like a different team than it did a week ago when it was coming off a 35-0 drubbing vs. Stanford at home. That change is due to a 31-13 whipping of No. 23 Houston, which included 266 yards rushing from an offense that had been sputtering.

Of course, that newly potent running game will be severely tested by the Longhorns, who rank No. 1 in the nation in run defense (44 yards per game) and second in total defense (206.67).

It's not just the run defense, though. Texas may have the nation's best secondary. It completely bottled up Texas Tech last weekend. Just let Brown list the ways.

"We forced three turnovers and had a fourth down stop," he said. "They were 3-of-14 on third down situations, 8-of-23 on first down situations. We had 14 hits on the quarterback, ten three-and-outs, five sacks and we handled sudden change 100 percent. We only had three missed tackles for 33 yards."

So this is a heck of a unit to test the Bruins newfound confidence.

The biggest boost UCLA got last week was getting a full week of practice from quarterback Kevin Prince, who'd battled injuries all of fall camp and over the first two weeks. That certainly helped the offensive rhythm. Still, the passing game, despite what looks like a deep and talented receiving corps, is sputtering.

"We're getting closer, there's no question," UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We're not where we want to be yet, especially with the throwing game, and mixing and matching that to the run."

Speaking of running, that is an interesting matchup on the other side of the ball. Texas has struggled to find its running game for a couple of years and it presently ranks 65th in the nation with 152.33 yards per game. Moreover, its running backs are banged up and the offensive line has been inconsistent.

The Bruins would love to stop the run and force new starting QB Garrett Gilbert to beat them by throwing into a highly skilled secondary led by safety Rahim Moore. The only problem is UCLA ranks 105th in the nation in run defense, yielding 210.67 yards per game. So who wins? The movable object or the resistible force?

UCLA doesn't have a prayer if it continues to be sloppy with the football. See: 10 turnovers in three games, which is twice as many as any other Pac-10 team.

"We can't do anything to help them beat us," Neuheisel said.

UCLA has won two in a row from Texas. The year after the drubbing in Austin, Brown and the Longhorns lost 49-31 in the Rose Bowl, but what Brown most remembers was his fans cheering a tough second-half effort after his team trailed 35-3 at halftime.

That Texas team was rebuilding, as the Bruins presently are, though at a deliberate pace that has some fans grumbling.

Brown, however, took a moment to give Neuheisel a vote of confidence.

"Rick is really bringing UCLA back," he said. "I think you will see them back on the map soon."

Just don't expect a case of 66-3 deja vu.
The house of pain is in effect y'all
I say the house of pain is in effect
You know the house of pain is in effect y'all
And anyone that steps up is gettin' wrecked


And, with those poetic lines from Everlast, we enter the Big Ten's House of Pain. All week at ESPN.com, we're exploring the most-painful losses in a team's history. What constitutes pain? First, the game has to be significant. A rough loss in a going-nowhere year doesn't sting as much as one that prevented a team from reaching its ultimate goals.

Painful losses often happen against rivals. Painful losses often have especially painful endings. Painful losses often take place at the worst possible times. Although blowout defeats certainly can qualify as painful, losses that culminate with crunch-time turnovers, field goal makes or misses or generally bizarre plays usually stick out more.

The most important criteria: painful losses linger for you, the fans.

Trust me, this wasn't easy, and I know many of you will disagree with the choices. But I only got to pick one game for each Big Ten team. A special thanks to the Big Ten sports information staffs for helping me with the project.

Here goes ...

ILLINOIS
Date:
Nov. 3, 1990
Opponent: Iowa
Site: Memorial Stadium (Champaign, Ill.)
Final score: Iowa 54, Illinois 28

After winning a Citrus Bowl championship the previous January, Illinois entered the 1990 season with raised expectations. The Illini lost the opener but won their next six, rising to No. 5 in the national rankings. They had big dreams, but rival Iowa changed everything by crushing them in front of their own fans at Memorial Stadium. John Mackovic's team had no answer for Iowa's Nick Bell, who rushed for 168 yards. After allowing one touchdown in its opponents' previous 49 possessions, Illinois watched Iowa reach the end zone on its first five drives. Illinois' 2000 loss to Michigan deserves honorable mention.

INDIANA
Date:
Nov. 7, 1988
Opponent: Illinois
Site: Memorial Stadium (Champaign, Ill.)
Final score: Illinois 21, Indiana 20

Indiana went to Champaign ranked No. 20 nationally and boasting a 4-1 mark in Big Ten play after a win against Iowa. The Hoosiers seemingly had the game in hand, up 20-9 with less than four minutes remaining. But Illinois quarterback Jeff George, an Indianapolis native who attended Indiana's archrival Purdue before transferring, led the comeback and fired a touchdown pass with 21 seconds left. Illinois' drive came after Indiana quarterback Dave Schnell fumbled on a bootleg. The loss took Indiana out of the race for the Big Ten championship. Indiana's most painful moment came against Anthony Carter and Michigan in 1979.

IOWA
Date:
Jan. 1, 1986
Opponent: UCLA
Site: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)
Final Score: UCLA 45, Iowa 28

Iowa felt the pain both for what happened during the game and what happened soon afterward. Maxwell Award winner Chuck Long led the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes into Pasadena, but he was sacked four times by the Bruins. Tailback Ronnie Harmon had a miserable day, fumbling four times after doing so just once all season and dropping a wide-open touchdown pass. Some believed Harmon threw the game. An Iowa win could have led to a national championship after No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Miami both lost in their bowl games.

MICHIGAN
Date:
Nov. 24, 1973
Opponent: Ohio State
Site: Michigan Stadium (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Final score: Ohio State 10, Michigan 10

Michigan has had its share of painful losses -- Appalachian State, Ohio State in 2006, Colorado in 1994 -- but this tie with the hated Buckeyes really stung the Maize and Blue. The game featured its share of pain, as Michigan rallied from a 10-0 deficit to tie things up, but missed two field goals in the closing moments. The controversy really started afterward, as Big Ten athletic directors voted that Ohio State should play in the Rose Bowl ahead of Michigan. The Big Ten's no-repeat rule had been scrapped just two years earlier. Michigan coach Bo Schembechler called the decision "an embarrassment to the Big Ten Conference" and stewed about it until his death in 2006.

MICHIGAN STATE
Date:
Jan. 1, 1966
Opponent: UCLA
Site: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)
Final score: UCLA 14, Michigan State 12

The Spartans came to Pasadena undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country. UCLA jumped ahead as the Spartans coughed up the ball four times in the first half. Still, Michigan State had a chance and outgained UCLA 314-212 in the game. The Spartans rallied and scored with less than a minute left, setting up a potential tying two-point conversion attempt. But fullback Bob Apisa was stopped short of the goal line by UCLA's Bob Stiles, who knocked himself out making the tackle. Alabama was awarded the AP national title. Michigan State's 2006 loss to Notre Dame and 1966 tie against the Irish deserve honorable mention.

MINNESOTA
Date:
Oct. 10, 2003
Opponent: Michigan
Site: Metrodome (Minneapolis)
Final score: Michigan 38, Minnesota 35

Minnesota was 6-0 and entered the Little Brown Jug rivalry ranked No. 17 nationally. Led by tailbacks Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney, Minnesota led 28-7 after three quarters and 35-21 with 11:11 left. But Michigan couldn't be stopped in the fourth quarter and scored 31 points in the final 15 minutes, capped by Garrett Rivas' field goal with 47 seconds left. Minnesota rushed for 424 yards but still felt short. The Gophers arguably have never been the same. No Big Ten team has more painful losses than Minny.

NORTHWESTERN
Date:
Nov. 11, 2000
Opponent: Iowa
Site: Kinnick Stadium
Final score: Iowa 27, Northwestern 17

Northwestern has seen huge leads evaporate (Michigan State in 2006), suffered shocking early losses (Miami University in 1995) and come very close to ending its bowl drought the past two seasons. But Rose Bowl opportunities don't come around too often for the Wildcats, and they squandered one by falling to Iowa. A week after an unforgettable win against Michigan and ranked No. 12 nationally, Northwestern was totally outplayed by a Hawkeyes team that went 3-9. On a day when Purdue opened a path to Pasadena with a loss to Michigan State, the Wildcats stumbled on the doorstep.

OHIO STATE
Date:
Nov. 22, 1969
Opponent: Michigan
Site: Michigan Stadium (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Final score: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12

The Buckeyes brought one of their greatest teams ever to "that state up North" to face a Michigan team regaining respectability under first-year coach Bo Schembechler. Although Michigan played at home and carried a four-game win streak into The Game, Ohio State was a 17-point favorite. The Buckeyes scored a quick touchdown but never really recovered, as a Michigan team inspired by Schembechler and a 50-14 loss the year before shut down Rex Kern and Co. Ohio State committed seven turnovers and suffered one of the biggest upsets in college football history. It also spawned the Ten-Year War between Schembechler and Woody Hayes. Ohio State's 1998 loss to Michigan State merits honorable mention.

PENN STATE
Date:
Nov. 6, 1999
Opponent: Minnesota
Site: Beaver Stadium (State College, Pa.)
Final score: Minnesota 24, Penn State 23

Undefeated Penn State looked every bit like a national championship team, rising to No. 2 in the polls behind freakish defenders like LaVar Arrington and Courtney Brown. The Nittany Lions held a two-point advantage when Joe Paterno decided to punt rather than attempt a long field goal try in the closing minutes, trusting his dominant defense. Minnesota began the game's decisive drive with a Hail Mary pass from Billy Cockerham to Ron Johnson. Moments later, the Gophers converted a fourth-and-16 to set up the game-winning field goal by freshman kicker Dan Nystrom. Penn State lost its final two regular-season games. The Lions' 1979 Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama and their 2005 loss to Michigan gain honorable mention.

PURDUE
Date:
Oct. 16, 2004
Opponent: Wisconsin
Site: Ross-Ade Stadium (West Lafayette, Ind.)
Final score: Wisconsin 20, Purdue 17

Purdue's program hasn't been the same since The Fumble. The Boilers came in 5-0 and ranked fifth nationally, while quarterback Kyle Orton had established himself as the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Purdue led 17-7 with eight minutes left and had a three-point advantage and the ball with 2:49 remaining. On third-and-3, Orton scrambled and made a lunge for the first down, only to have the ball knocked loose. Wisconsin's Scott Starks scooped it up and raced 40 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 2:36 left. Purdue lost its next three games and backslid to the Sun Bowl, where it fell to Arizona State.

WISCONSIN
Date:
Oct. 23, 1993
Opponent: Minnesota
Site: Metrodome (Minneapolis)
Final score: Minnesota 28, Wisconsin 21

Wisconsin might have celebrated a national championship had it found a way to beat the rival Golden Gophers. The Badgers were 6-0 heading to the Metrodome but fell behind 21-0 to a Minnesota team that went 4-7 that fall. Wisconsin closed to within 21-14 and reached the Minnesota 8-yard line before Brent Moss was stuffed on fourth-and-1. The Badgers went on to share a Big Ten championship and reach the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1963, but they were so close to winning it all. Honorable mentions include 1999 against Cincinnati, 1998 against Michigan and 2005 against Iowa in Barry Alvarez's final game.

Cornhuskers looking to match UT's stunning 1996 title game upset

November, 30, 2009
11/30/09
10:40
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Texas and Nebraska are two programs inexorably linked in the Big 12’s young history.

Saturday’s championship game in Arlington, Texas, will represent the third time the two traditional superpowers have played for the Big 12 title. Those rivals have played against each other for the title more than any other two teams in Big 12 history with each team winning one of the championship games.

Texas is a heavy favorite this year after a 12-0 regular season that has placed it on the cusp of a second national championship game berth in five seasons. Nebraska claimed the North title this season, but is a huge early underdog against the Longhorns.

[+] EnlargeBrown
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesQuarterback James Brown predicted a Texas win in the first Big 12 championship game in 1996.
It’s a complete role reversal from the first championship game in the conference’s history. The Cornhuskers were ranked No. 3 and seemingly on their way to a national championship during that first Big 12 title game in St. Louis in 1996. Texas had come along late to earn the Big 12 South title, but was presumed by most prognosticators to have little chance with the mighty Cornhuskers.

“It kind of struck me a little unusual because of the matchup and how it’s playing out,” former Texas wide receiver Wane McGarity said. “It’s almost the exact opposite of what happened that first time around.”

That game became even more storied after Texas quarterback James Brown predicted a huge victory for the Longhorns and then backed it up with a stunning 37-27 upset that knocked the Cornhuskers out of the national title hunt.

The first Big 12 championship represented much more than merely a football game that would decide the conference’s first representative into the old Bowl Coalition.

Nebraska was the dominant power in the old Big Eight Conference. Texas was considered to be one of the strongest among the four teams that joined the reconstituted Big 12 from the Southwest Conference.

The two schools battled on practically every item in the formative stages of the Big 12. Nebraska wanted the conference offices to remain in Kansas City. Texas wanted them moved to Dallas. Texas won that argument.

Nebraska wanted each team in the conference to be able to keep a certain number of partial qualifiers on the roster. Texas was against that. Texas won that argument.

Nebraska wanted former Kansas athletic director Bob Frederick as the conference’s first commissioner. Texas wanted Southwest Conference commissioner Steve Hatchell. Texas won that argument.

Those off-the-field skirmishes made the first actual game between the two schools in the conference seem that much bigger.

Nebraska came into the game the two-time defending national champion. After losing early in the season at Arizona State, the Cornhuskers reeled off nine straight victories. Coming into the championship game, Nebraska had won 46 of its last 48 games.

Texas struggled with nonconference losses to Notre Dame and Virginia early in the season. John Mackovic’s team fell into an early hole in the conference race after back-to-back losses to Oklahoma and Colorado left it at 3-4.

But Texas rebounded to win its final four regular-season games to finish strongly, including a 51-15 beatdown of Texas A&M. Still, most observers didn’t give it much hope.

Nebraska was a three-touchdown favorite coming into the game. That status galled Brown, who predicted several days before the game that the Longhorns would win the game by three touchdowns.

“We weren’t intimidated by them,” McGarity said. “James made the comment we might win by 21 points. It just started it off and we all rallied behind him.”

Like Nebraska heading into Saturday’s game, that Texas team was hot after playing well down the stretch.

“We were the underdogs and people didn’t think we had a chance,” McGarity said. “But we weren’t intimidated in the least by them. We thought we had a good chance to win once the game started. And we played like it.”

That game is remembered by the stunning fourth-and-inches gamble made by Mackovic late in the game with his team nursing a slim 30-27 lead. Brown faked a handoff and then hit reserve tight end Derek Lewis on a 61-yard pass to the Nebraska 11. Priest Holmes scored his third touchdown on the next play to wrap up the victory and account for the only rushing touchdowns scored on Nebraska’s first-team defense all season.

It’s gone down in history as one of the biggest upsets in recent college football history.

Most observers aren’t giving Nebraska much hope against Texas in this year's conference championship.

But if the Cornhuskers can duplicate the Longhorns’ stunning triumph on Saturday, it will be every bit as large as the earlier Texas victory in the first conference championship game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

My guess is this will be a heck of a conversation starter.

Thou art a villain!

Now and forever!

Who is Public Enemy No. 1 of your program? Who beat you, ruined you, annoyed you?

Here's a list.  

But know that we are completely aware of this unavoidable fact: We only observe and speculate. You feel.

If you have additions, gripes or different takes, feel free to respond. We want to know who really gets your goat.

Arizona

Current villain: John Mackovic. Mackovic went 10-19 before getting canned midway through the 2003 season after a player revolt. His prickly and pompous personality didn't go over well in Tucson and he left the program bereft of talent.

All-time villain: Frank Kush. Kush led Arizona State to national prominence and was 16-6 vs. the Wildcats, winning 13 of his final 15 matchups.

Arizona State

Current villain: Joe Germaine. The Ohio State quarterback, who played high school football in Mesa, Ariz., led a last-minute touchdown drive in the 1997 Rose Bowl, denying the previously unbeaten Sun Devils a share of the national title.

All-time villain: Kevin Rutledge. The former Sun Devils punter accused legendary coach Frank Kush of punching and harassing him and in 1979 sued the school for $1.1 million, which directly led to Kush's midseason termination.

California

Current villain: Mack Brown. The Texas coach vociferously -- and with little justification -- lobbied to be promoted in the national polls past California so the Longhorns could earn a BCS bowl berth. A number of voters listened, changed their voting patterns and denied the Bears their first Rose Bowl invitation since 1959. Dispirited, Cal sleepwalked through a Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech.

All-time villain: Tyrone Willingham. Willingham? Well, while Stanford's coach from 1995-2001, Willingham went 7-0 in Big Games. How can that not be incredibly annoying to Cal fans, even more so today, considering the trajectory of Willingham's coaching career?

Oregon

Current villain: Dennis Dixon's ACL. Dixon looked like he was on his way to the Heisman Trophy and his Ducks to the national title game when his knee gave way with four games remaining in the 2007 season.

All-time villain: Washington. The hate between the schools started in 1948 when Washington broke ranks with the Northwest schools and voted California into the Rose Bowl instead of Oregon -- and convinced Montana to do the same -- after the Bears and Ducks tied for the best record in the conference.

Oregon State

Current villain: Larry Tripplett. In the 2000 game at Husky Stadium, the Washington defensive tackle caught Ken Simonton for a three-yard loss on second-and-1 from the Huskies 26-yard line with 42 seconds left and Washington leading 33-30. The Beavers mistakenly spiked the ball -- they had a time out left -- and then Ryan Cesca missed a 46-yard field goal to tie. It was the Beavers only loss of the season; they crushed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. They would have played Oklahoma for the national title if they had prevailed.

All-time villain: 1971-1998. During that 28-year span, the Beavers never posted a winning record. What's more, they averaged just 2.32 wins a season. It's one of the great streaks of consistent losing in college football history.

Stanford

Current villain: Jeff Tedford. Since Tedford took over at California, the Beavers have won six of the past seven Big Games.

All-time villain: Kevin Moen. Moen is the Cal player who ran through the Stanford band and knocked over trombone player Gary Tyrrell in the endzone to complete "The Play" in the 1982 Big Game.

UCLA

Current villain: Pete Carroll. Honestly, does this need explanation? He's 7-1 vs. the Bruins since starting USC on its unprecedented run.

All-time villain: Bill Hayhoe. Though the Bruins' classic 1967 showdown with USC is most remembered for O.J. Simpson's 64-yard touchdown run, UCLA fans surely recall that kicker Zenon Andrusyshyn missed three field-goal attempts and an extra point in the 21-20 defeat. The 6-foot-8 Hayhoe blocked two of those field goals and the PAT. The Bruins entered the game ranked No. 1 and the defeat cost them a shot at the Rose Bowl and the national championship. USC went on the win both.  

USC

Current villain: The BCS. Who knows how many national titles USC would have won during Pete Carroll's tenure had a playoff been in place. Certainly more than two. Maybe as many as five. Moreover, the BCS has kept the Trojans out of the "national title" game a number of times, which has been a great boon to the SEC, which hasn't had to prove itself vs. the Trojans.

All-time villain: Lou Holtz. Holtz went 9-2 vs. USC while Notre Dame's coach, including the 1988 game when the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish whipped unbeaten No. 2-ranked USC 27-10 in the Coliseum. The Trojans then lost the Rose Bowl to Michigan, while Notre Dame went on to win the national title. Ouch.

Washington

Current villain: Tyrone Willingham. Tough call here between Willingham and Rick Neuheisel as to who Huskies fans blame the most for the program's current state. But our guess is memories of Neuheisel's victory in the 2001 Rose Bowl earns him a break, while the Willingham-led 0-12 disaster is still very, very fresh.

All-time villain: William Gerberding. While school president, he alienated highly respected and successful athletic director Mike Lude and then -- the whopper -- enraged revered football coach Don James, who resigned in 1993 because he felt Gerberding mishandled an NCAA and Pac-10 investigation into the football program. Gerberding also hired Barbara Hedges, whose leadership is often cited as the point A for the football program's downturn as well as the current sorry state of Husky Stadium.

Washington State

Current villain: Bill Doba. Nicest guy in the world. Did a great job as Mike Price's defensive coordinator. Led a winning effort against Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl. But the lack of talent on the Washington State roster in 2008 and at present falls almost entirely on him.

All-time villain: Rick Neuheisel. While Don James led a period of Washington dominance in the Apple Cup rivalry -- he was 13-5 vs. the Cougars -- there was always a grudging respect for James. Not so for Neuheisel, who went 4-0 vs. the Cougars and was reviled in Pullman. The unranked Huskies triple-overtime victory over the then-third-ranked Cougars in 2002 ended with Washington State fans littering the field with bottles and other trash.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We're here for the 13th edition of the Big 12 championship game, something most coaches still aren't exactly excited to be playing in the first place.

Coaches went on record before the conference was even formed that they weren't crazy about the addition of an extra game after the regular season ended. The vote was 11-0, with then-Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum unable to attend. He's said he would have voted against it as well if he had gotten the chance.

Most have remained adamant about not wanting the game, but it's done little good. The extra money provided to cash-strapped athletic departments has become an expected revenue source. For better or worse, the title game has become a part of the Big 12's landscape.

That's not to say we haven't had some memorable moments over the years. Take a look at some of stunning upsets in which teams in AP's top 3 have lost in the Big 12 title game.

  • 1996 -- A gutsy fourth-down pass from deep in his own territory helped John Mackovic and Texas claim a 37-27 stunner over No. 3 Nebraska.
  • 1998 -- Texas A&M's wild 36-33 double-overtime victory over No. 2 Kansas State denied the Wildcats a chance to play in the national championship game.
  • 2001 -- Colorado took advantage of a rash of early mistakes by Chris Simms and withstood a furious late comeback rally by Major Applewhite to dash the No. 3 Longhorns' BCS hopes in a 39-37 victory.
  • 2003 -- Many were calling No. 1 Oklahoma one of the best teams of all time before they ran into Darren Sproles and Kansas State. Sproles gashed them for 235 yards to key a 35-7 upset that remains Bob Stoops' only Big 12 title game loss.
  • 2007 -- Curtis Lofton keyed a second-half run with a pivotal interception, sparking Oklahoma's 38-17 upset over No. 1 Missouri.

And games like those are precisely why the title game is such a good idea. It focuses national attention on the conference and has sparked some intriguing games over the years.

Sure, the games has become one-sided since that Kansas State victory in 2003. Big 12 South teams have won the last four games by a combined core of 171-30 and have trailed for a grand total of 3 minutes, 22 seconds during that 240-minute span.

But who knows what could happen Saturday night at Arrowhead Stadium? Maybe Derrick Washington morphs into a version of Sproles on a similarly icy field.

Or Jeremy Maclin erupts for a huge game, slicing through Oklahoma's much-maligned special teams like so many other kick returners have done this season.

Or Sam Bradford leads the Sooners to a convincing victory to put an exclamation mark on his Heisman Trophy bid.

I'm just glad the coaches got outvoted way back when. The Big 12 has benefitted from having the title game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Oklahoma State and Texas will renew a fierce rivalry Saturday involving two of the top six teams in the country. An entire nation will be watching a game with Bowl Championship Series and Big 12 title ramifications.

And even though the competition between the two schools will be fierce, there's a connection between the two schools that goes much deeper than any football game.

San Antonio Express-News columnist David Flores writes about how Texas coach Mack Brown and his wife, Sally, helped start the Rise School of Stillwater, a school for special-needs children. The idea came after Oklahoma State director of football operations Jimmy Gonzales' daughter, Mya, was born with Down Syndrome in 2005.

Gonzales was the director of football operations at Texas under John Mackovic. And although Brown brought his own person to fill the job after the coaching change, he has maintained a close relationship with Gonzales over the years.

Soon after their daughter was born, Gonzales told Brown about Mya's diagnosis. Brown told him about his family's work in starting the Rise School of Austin, a school modeled along the lines of the Rise School, a nationally recognized early childhood program at the University of Alabama for children with disabilities.

The University of Alabama Rise School-Tuscaloosa is housed in the Stallings Center, named after the late Johnny Stallings, the son of former Alabama football coach Gene Stallings.

The Browns, along with the Gonzales family, have played active roles in the start of the Stillwater center that opened last October.

The facility celebrated its grand opening the following week, coinciding with last season's Texas-OSU football game. Sally Brown came early to attend the festivities.

"I went to the airport to pick her up," Gonzales told the Express-News. "Even though we had a big game with Texas the next day, it was neat to have her share that occasion with us because we found out about the Rise School through her and Mack."

The following day, Gonzales met with Brown on the field before the game between the Cowboys and Longhorns.

"Mack shook my hand and gave me a hug, and then he said, 'How's Mya?'" Gonzales told Flores.

That's why tomorrow's game between the Cowboys and Longhorns would be special, even if the attention for the game wasn't nearly as high as it is.

More information about the Mya Gonzales Foundation, a non-profit organization created for families of children with Down Syndrome and other special needs, can be obtained here.

And here are some other links from across the Big 12 for your edification. Enjoy them.

  • The Denver Post's John Henderson isn't buying the Big 12 as the nation's best for one main reason -- lack of defense. Henderson determined that all but one team that made the BCS title game in its history had a defense ranked 23rd or better nationally. Nine of the top 24 teams in the country are from the SEC. And the Big 12's best defense this season is Oklahoma at No. 34.
  • The Des Moines Register's Andrew Logue profiles Texas A&M freshman wide receiver Ryan Tannehill, who has emerged as the Aggies' top receiver despite starting the season as a backup quarterback.
  • With Missouri struggling and Kansas facing a difficult upcoming schedule, the Lincoln Journal-Star's Brian Christopherson says that Nebraska could be poised to win the North Division with a few breaks.
  • The Dallas Morning News' Kate Hairopoulos writes a touching story about how Texas running back Chris Ogbonnoya has overcome several family tragedies to emerge as one of the Longhorns' key players this season.
  • Oklahoma State will bring a roster heavily stacked with Texas natives to meet the Longhorns, Scott Wright of the Oklahoman writes.
  • With his red-tinted contact lenses and Mohawk hairstyle, the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner says Baylor free safety Jordan Lake looks like a crazy man in cleats. Lake's father says his son watches a DVD "The NFL's 100 Hardest Hits" to psyche himself up before games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Only a few weeks ago, Matt Williams was watching Texas Tech games from the stadium and wondering where he and his friends would be heading for post-game parties.

But after winning a kicking contest during the Texas Tech's Sept. 20 game against Massachusetts with an impressive showing, Williams now could be kicking for the Red Raiders in their game Saturday at Kansas.

Talk about a wild few weeks for Williams. He attempted to become a walk-on kicker at Tarleton State but quit without appearing in a game.

He caught the attention of Tech coach Mike Leach when he drilled a 30-yard field goal in the in-game promotion, winning free rent for the month from a Lubbock apartment complex. But Williams has turned down that prize because it would have been a violation of NCAA rules, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Tech officials told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that Williams was granted a one-time exception to the NCAA transfer rule because he was neither recruited by nor ever on scholarship at Tarleton. When that information was found out earlier this week, Williams become immediately eligible. Tech officials received the confirmation in writing and cleared Williams on Monday.

His arrival comes after kickers Donnie Carona and Cory Fowler have slumped miserably in the last several games. Tech kickers have had seven kicks blocked so far this season. Leach said (not facetiously) he might consider going for two points after every touchdown because of his team's struggles with placements.

Tech special teams coach Clay Maguire told the Avalanche-Journal that either Carona or Williams will be kicking for the Red Raiders Saturday against Kansas, depending on how they perform at practice this week.

Kansas coach Mark Mangino chortled when he learned of Williams' emergence.

"Hey, in this profession, you gotta do what you gotta do," Mangino told the Kansas City Star. "If there are a couple of guys running around our stadium here that could cover (Texas Tech's Michael) Crabtree, we would like them to come down. I think that's great. That's vintage Mike Leach there."

Tech's kicking saga adds another layer of intrigue to what should be one of the most interesting games in the country on Saturday.

Until then, here are a few links from around the Big 12 to get you ready for Saturday.

  • Texas' roster is dotted by many key players who have bounced back from subpar 2007 seasons, according to Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
  • Mad Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star's latest video leaves little doubt about when Colorado and Missouri will be playing on Saturday.
  • The Kansas student newspaper has recommended two new options for a school chant at football games. The school has taken unprecedented steps to do away with an explicit chant that had been popular at games this season that was lifted from the movie "The Waterboy."
  • Oklahoma State's much-maligned secondary has given itself a nickname "D-Block" to build camaraderie, the Oklahoman's Andrea Cohen writes. But that togetherness will be supremely tested Saturday by Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
  • Despite NFL talent analysts tripping over themselves to hype his draft standing, Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford tells Jake Trotter of the Oklahoman that he's not thinking about declaring early for the NFL draft.
  • John Mackovic of the La Quinta (Calif.) Desert Sun -- yes, that John Mackovic -- writes that Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy has caught his attention for one of the most underrated coaching jobs in college football this season. Mackovic writes that he advised Gundy to go back to calling his own plays after watching the Cowboys struggle offensively earlier in Gundy's coaching career.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
 Bob Stoops is one half of the Red River Rivalry, making it one of the most anticipated games on the college football calendar.

DALLAS -- Tomorrow amongst the ferris wheels and corn dogs, we'll celebrate the kind of coaching rivalry that used to mark college football.

In the Big Ten, the legendary "Ten-Year War" involved Woody Hayes vs. Bo Schembechler. Barry Switzer vs. Tom Osborne was almost as big as the Big Eight Conference itself. The SEC had Bear Bryant against Shug Jordan. And the Southwest Conference celebrated the annual grudge game between good friends Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles.

But after surveying the landscape of college football today, those matchups look about as quaint as dollar-a-gallon gasoline. We likely won't see many like those again.

That's what makes tomorrow's game at the Cotton Bowl so special and intriguing.

Mack Brown and Bob Stoops are that rare breed today of rock stars with coaching whistles, arguably bigger than their respective programs. Both have won national championships and are headed towards induction one day in the College Football Hall of Fame.

And their yearly battles in the Red River Rivalry will one day be remembered as one of the greatest coaching rivalries in college football history.

Saturday's game will be the 10th time that Stoops and Brown have hooked up. Stoops holds a 6-3 edge, including a five-game winning streak from 2000-04. But Brown has claimed two of the last three games between the two South Division rivals.

When each arrived at their respective schools, both programs were perceived to be downtrodden dinosaurs that had seen better days. Just look back to the coaching tenures of John Blake and John Mackovic and remember how far both schools have risen since their swoons a decade ago.

After their arrivals, Brown and Stoops elevated the stature of both programs, turning them into two of a handful of national powers who are national championship threats almost every season in the new millennium.

Since Stoops arrived in 1999, either Oklahoma or Texas has won the Big 12 South Division championship every year. The Sooners have accounted for five Big 12 titles and the Longhorns one during the nine-year period. During that same period, every Big 12 North team has claimed at least a share of the title.

Brown realizes how the Big 12 has changed the dynamics of their rivalry.

"I remember when we got here, everybody said the luster was gone," Brown said. "This game wasn't important anymore and nobody really cared about it and it wasn't even a national TV game and it was so sad that the Texas-OU game was unimportant.

"It was important to the players, it was important to the coaches, but it's back now to where it has national implications, and that's been fun."

The Stoops-Brown rivalry might not be as bitter as some of those other coaching matchups. But that doesn't mean that either coach doesn't want to beat the pants off his coaching rival tomorrow afternoon.

Stoops said he might run into Brown three or four times a year -- including their 3 -hour yearly shindig at the Cotton Bowl.

Brown has always spoken reverently about his respect for Stoops.

"What I've gotten is a great respect for Bob and what he's done over the last 10 years," he said. "He'll be remembered like Barry Switzer and (former Oklahoma coach Bud) Wilkinson. He's done exactly for them what they've asked him to do.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- It's Big Ten preview day, so check back for updates about the league's top stories this season. If my flight to O'Hare arrives relatively on time -- famous last words -- I'll be chatting today at 4 p.m. My opening act is Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, who chats at 1:15 p.m. ET. He'll do. After finishing up a few things in Bloomington, I'm on to Ohio State tomorrow, where Beanie Wells, Brian Robiskie and others will be available. 

Let's link:

  • Illinois coach Ron Zook thinks Williams can complete 70 percent of his passes this fall, CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd writes. The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen hands out his Camp Rantoul awards for Illinois. Wideout Chris Duvalt takes home MVP honors.
  • Investigators in the sexual assault case involving two former Iowa football players questioned the alleged victim and her family, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. The Hawkeyes' receiving corps is healthy and deep, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times.
  • Indiana's depth at the skill positions has kept expectations high, LaMond Pope writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
  • Michigan offensive lineman Elliott Mealer is struggling to regain a sense of normalcy after the car crash that killed his father and girlfriend and seriously injured his brother last Christmas Eve, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Guard Cory Zirbel's injury has prompted John Ferrara to move from defense to offense, John Heuser writes in the Ann Arbor News. Wideout Terrance Robinson is also out for several weeks with an injury.
  • Greg Jones is Michigan State's best linebacker, but which spot will he occupy this season? The Spartans are still figuring it out, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal. Michigan State got a wonderful surprise Wednesday as Arthur Ray Jr., the offensive lineman who battled cancer last season and is still working his way back, visited practice, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
  • Playing college football is all in the family for the Tow-Arnett brothers at Minnesota, Dennis Brackin writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Quad injuries have dogged Ben Kuznia, but the Gophers wideout now finds himself running with the 1's, Scott Thoma writes in the West Central Tribune.
  • Northwestern hopes for a defensive resurgence with Malcolm (Arrington) in the middle, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. Arrington will replace standout Adam Kadela, who still stings from missing a bowl game last season.
  • Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith sent a letter to fans lamenting Time Warner's decision not to pick up the Big Ten Network and asking subscribers to switch their cable providers, Jeffrey Sheban writes in the Columbus Dispatch. Here's Smith's letter. Turning back to the field, the Buckeyes hope to regain their trademark excellence on special teams, Matt Markey writes in The (Toledo) Blade. Former Texas and Arizona coach John Mackovic picks Ohio State to knock off USC.
  • Special teams is also on the brain at Penn State, which struggled on kickoff coverage last year, Ben Brigandi writes in The Altoona Mirror. Lions coach Joe Paterno is looking for a leader at linebacker. Todd Sponsler of the 50-yard Lion blog reveals his preseason Top 25, which includes Penn State at No. 14. Bleacher Report ranks its top 12 surprise blowouts in college football history, and Penn State's 48-14 trouncing of No. 1 Pitt in 1981 tops the list.
  • Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller weighs in on the NCAA's decision to ban horse-collar tackles.
  • Allan Evridge is Wisconsin's starting quarterback, but the No. 2 job remains open, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Wisconsin fullback Chris Pressley welcomes the responsibility of being a captain this fall, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt can't wait to suit up for the Badgers, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Ron Prince told me earlier this week he had no doubts he would be receiving a contract extension. But I wonder if he realized it would happen as quickly as it did.

Prince's new, five-year deal is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2008 and will extend through the end of the 2012 season. It will boost his yearly package to about $1.1 million per season and provide the potential to earn an additional $950,000 per year if he achieves some performance-based achievements.

"I am very appreciative of the commitment that the university has shown to our organization," Prince said. "The administration has proven its long-term commitment to us as a program as evident in the current facility expansion and other projects that are essential for sustained success.

"We feel that we are on schedule with our plan of building a fast, tough, strong and disciplined program and are looking forward to this season and many seasons to come."

Prince took his team to a bowl game in his first season with the Wildcats. They beat Texas in each of his first two seasons in a pair of statement victories.

His program is in good shape in the classroom, where it had a record number of players picked to the conference's honor roll. His APR score is going up and 39 players have earned their degrees in his first two seasons.

Those factors were impressive enough to convince athletic director Bob Krause for the extension.

Even with the Wildcats' late defensive collapse last season, it would be hard to imagine Prince being jettisoned after only two or three years.

The contract extension shows the school has some faith in him. But it won't make his building job any easier this season.

A young defense, the inconsistent play of quarterback Josh Freeman and the lack of established skill-position players on offense will make it a big challenge for Prince. He will be tested to reach last season's 5-7 record.

He's added 19 players to help bridge a talent gap that was apparent late last season. And he's building for next season when Chase Daniel will be gone from Missouri, Freeman will be a senior and the junior-college class will have another year of experience.

And while the contract extension is a sign of stability, it's not a universal one.

If Prince should struggle this season, he could soon follow in the footsteps of Big 12 predecessors John Mackovic and Bill Callahan, who were both fired less than a year after receiving lengthy contract extensions.

Mackovic and Callahan both had won division titles in the previous season before their extensions. Mackovic even won the Big 12 title with Texas in 1996.

Prince hasn't come close to doing either. But he convinced school officials that his program is moving forward, despite a 12-13 record after two seasons.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 Kansas State Athletics
 Ron Prince's Wildcats withered down the stretch last year, giving up at least 500 yards in three of their final six games.

Ron Prince didn't inherit the easiest situation for his first head-coaching position.

Coming to Kansas State brought him to a program familiar with BCS bowls and conference championships. And it also brought him to a place where his predecessor, Bill Snyder, remains a certifiable coaching legend -- even down to having the stadium named after him -- and is still a formidable presence around the program.

Prince has tried to establish his own coaching identity in Snyder's shadow. After two seasons, it hasn't been easy.

The Wildcats tied for second in his first season coaching there in 2006, notching big wins at Colorado and over Texas to fuel a trip to the Texas Bowl. But their 37-10 loss to Rutgers in that game snuffed any real momentum he could claim coming out of the postseason action.

Last year, KSU played strongly at Auburn in their opener, manhandled Texas in their conference opener and were sitting in strong bowl contention with a 5-3 record.

But a late-season defensive slump saw them torched for 198 points in four losses to finish the season. It was the most points that KSU had ever allowed in a four-game period. The defense was blistered for at least 500 yards in three of their final six games.

Those late defeats have placed Prince and his program in the cross hairs heading into the 2008 season.

To shore up his program, he picked up 19 junior-college transfers with most of them targeted to provide immediate defensive help. But most of them didn't arrive in time for spring practice, meaning they will learn as they go while preparing for the upcoming season.

The Wildcats return only 12 starters from last season. They will face a killer schedule that includes Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Oklahoma from the South Division. Quarterback Josh Freeman, Prince's most ballyhooed recruit, has been mistake-prone during his first two seasons as a starter.

Two other factors are in place that weigh against Prince. He's coaching at KSU while archrival Kansas is undergoing a football renaissance under Mark Mangino. Prince is 0-2 against the Jayhawks, including a home loss last year that was KSU's first to the Jayhawks in Manhattan since 1989.

It's not hard for KSU fans to think back to the success that Snyder once had against the Jayhawks. After losing three of his first four games to Kansas, Snyder ran off an 11-game winning streak and won 13 of his last 14 games against Kansas.

The hiring of university administrator Bob Krause as KSU's new athletic director earlier this year could be viewed as a negative for Prince's long-term security, considering that Krause didn't originally hire him.

Krause has acknowledged that he's working on a contract extension for Prince and could have one soon. Prince is currently paid $760,000 per season, making him the Big 12's lowest-paid coach.

But those deals don't always mean much. Just ask former Texas coach John Mackovic or former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan, who were both let go less than a year after they signed similar extensions.

The Wildcats dropped a game against Fresno State and replaced it with a contest against FCS program Montana State for the upcoming season. The move should make it easier to reach six wins and qualify for a bowl trip.

And Prince is clearly pointing for next season. Freeman will be a senior and the defense should be settled with more experience from the junior-college class.

That team could be his best. But it remains to be seen whether Prince will be around to make his own lasting imprint on the KSU program.

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

 
  Tom Hauck/Getty Images
 Mike Stoops is 17-31 in four seasons at Arizona.

It's not a game of chicken or, really, any type of direct competition between Mike Stoops and Tyrone Willingham, but it's not hard to imagine the embattled Arizona and Washington coaches eyeball-to-eyeball trying to outlast the other as their respective seats get hotter and hotter.


And hotter.


It's a toss-up between these two as to whose seat is the hottest in the Pac-10 heading into the 2008 season. It's hard to imagine, considering they almost certainly need bowl berths to survive, that both will be back in 2009.


It's the nature of the business. Win or your butt gets burned.


Both acknowledge their situation, though neither is excited about talking about it. What can they say? They know the score, and they can only hope it doesn't distract their team.


"Our young people are a part of the community, a part of the world, so it's sort of hard to restrict the things that they see, hear and read, the things that people are saying around them," Willingham said. "The key for anybody that wants to be able to achieve is your ability to focus on your task and not let outside influences dictate your mind-set, your thinking and your ability to get things done."


Stoops was greeted in 2004 as a potential savior after the disastrous tenure of John Mackovic. The former Oklahoma defensive coordinator had coaching pedigree -- his brother Bob had rebuilt the Sooners into a national power -- and he was expected to restore the glory days of the "Desert Swarm."


But Stoops, despite flashes of promise and solid recruiting, is only 17-31 in four seasons and has yet to earn a bowl invitation.


In 2005, Willingham was greeted by more muted enthusiasm at Washington, where some boosters wondered if picking up a Notre Dame cast off -- whatever the dubious circumstances -- would generate the positive momentum the program was looking for with its fourth coach in eight years.

 
 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 Tyrone Willingham has gone 11-25 during his first three seasons in Washington.


And after Willingham went 11-25 his first three seasons, the frustrated fan base split down the middle over whether he should be back in 2008.


These two also have history in their brief tenures. Washington's only Pac-10 victory in 2005 came at Arizona, an embarrassing 38-14 blowout for Stoops.


The following season, the Huskies won again in Tucson and improved to 4-1, inspiring hope in the fan base -- before reversing course and dropping six in a row when quarterback Isaiah Stanback suffered a season-ending injury.


Finally, Arizona overcame a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit last year to win at Washington 48-41, the first of three consecutive victories that generated some positive momentum heading into 2008.

Curiously, the Huskies responded to their sixth consecutive defeat by winning two of their next three, demonstrating that Willingham hadn't lost his locker room.

So whose seat is the hottest?

Consider this:

Arizona's first three games are Idaho, Toledo and a visit to New Mexico.

Washington? It opens at No. 20 Oregon, then plays host to No. 17 BYU and No. 4 Oklahoma.

Hot enough for you?

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