NCF Nation: Skip Holtz

The exchange started with a silly (or stupid) joke about football, but not the kind that will be played in college stadiums around the country this weekend.

After Germany blasted FIFA World Cup host Brazil 7-1 on July 8, I joked on Twitter that the Brazilians must have hired former Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as a defensive consultant.

Within an hour, Diaz sent me a direct message on Twitter, asking me to call him the next day.

Our conversation the following day was cordial, and I thanked Diaz for reaching out. I apologized for the inconsiderate joke and told him it wasn't anything personal. I could have used a handful of coaches as the butt of the not-so-funny joke, but, for whatever reason, Diaz popped into my head.

The last time college football fans saw a Diaz-coached defense on the field, the Longhorns allowed a school-record 550 rushing yards in a 40-21 loss at BYU on Sept. 7, 2013.

Then-Texas coach Mack Brown fired Diaz the next day.

After largely spending the rest of the 2013 season in isolation, Diaz will return to the sideline as Louisiana Tech's defensive coordinator in Saturday’s game at No. 4 Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeManny Diaz
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesOn Saturday, Manny Diaz will coach his first game since being fired after Texas' loss to BYU last September.
For Diaz, it's his first shot at redemption, albeit against what is expected to be one of the country’s most prolific offenses.

"Everybody in this profession is at heart a competitor," Diaz said. "I'm super, super excited about the opportunity to get back out there and go at it again."

Diaz's fall from grace was nearly as stunning as his meteoric rise through the college coaching ranks. A former ESPN production assistant, Diaz started as a graduate assistant at Florida State in 1998 and was a defensive coordinator at an FBS school within eight years.

After spending four seasons at Middle Tennessee State from 2006-09, Diaz transformed Mississippi State’s defense into one of the country’s best in 2010. In 2011, Brown hired him to turn around Texas' defense.

The early results at Texas were good: The Longhorns led the Big 12 in total defense, rushing defense and pass defense in his first season. In 2012, the Longhorns allowed only 212 passing yards per game in the pass-happy Big 12 despite losing star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and linebacker Jordan Hicks to injuries.

Then, the wheels fell off at the start of the 2013 season. Nearly a year later, Diaz is reluctant to talk about what transpired at Texas. He has never criticized Brown or the decision to replace him with Greg Robinson only two games into the season.

"There's nothing to me that matters about what happened," Diaz said. "The issues there were multifaceted, and I think everybody involved, if they had a chance to go back, would change some things."

In the end, firing Diaz didn’t accomplish much. The Longhorns lost to Ole Miss 44-23 the next week before winning six games in a row, including a 36-20 upset of then-No. 12 Oklahoma. But the Longhorns lost three of their last four games, allowing 38 points against Oklahoma State, 30 against Baylor and 30 against Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Brown was forced to resign and coached the Longhorns for the final time in the bowl game. Brown, who had a 158-48 record in 16 seasons with the Longhorns and guided them to the 2005 national championship, now works as an analyst for ESPN.

Diaz, 40, spent much of last season coaching his sons' football teams. He consulted with a few teams but declined to name them because "Twitter would blow up."

Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz called him in January and offered him a job. Holtz wouldn't have had to go far to find out what really happened to Diaz at Texas last season. His son, Trey, is a sophomore walk-on quarterback with the Longhorns.

"I think Skip had an intimate knowledge of what was really happening behind the doors," Diaz said.

Diaz isn't the only coordinator looking for redemption this season. Former Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who resigned amid allegations that he abused his players, is Iowa State's new offensive coordinator. New Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder's past two college coaching stops, as Georgia Southern's head coach and then Auburn's defensive coordinator, were far from spectacular. New Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's defense at Georgia allowed a school-record 377 points last season.

But perhaps no coach has fallen as hard or fast as Diaz, who went from a wonder boy to, well, the butt of jokes in a matter of a couple of games.

"I think it's the nature of this profession," Diaz said. "I think you see it now more than ever. I think the game is more volatile than ever."

Diaz's career rehab will start near the bottom of FBS football. Last season, the Bulldogs went 4-8 in Holtz's first season. Louisiana Tech's victories came against FCS foe Lamar and FBS opponents UTEP, Florida International and Southern Miss, which combined to win four games in 2013. The Bulldogs lost consecutive games against Tulane, Kansas (which ended a 22-game losing streak to FBS foes) and Army in September.

Holtz hired Diaz to do what he did at every one of his previous stops -- make the defense better.

"I think Coach Diaz has done a phenomenal job with this defense and the things he has put in," Holtz said. "I think he makes it very complicated, but yet, at the same time, it is very simple for them to learn. It appears complicated, but I think he has really simplified it in terms of being user-friendly for the players to take it and embrace it."

The Bulldogs' first challenge is a daunting one, trying to slow down OU's high-powered attack. The Sooners had their way against Diaz's defenses in two previous meetings, outscoring the Longhorns 118-38 in victories in 2011 and '12.

"It's a program I have a lot of respect for," Diaz said. "They challenge the bond of your team. When I got here and found out we were playing Oklahoma, that's the first thing I told our players. It's what they do with their style of play and tempo. If you drop your gloves, they'll pound you."

The Bulldogs' defensive coordinator knows all too well about being knocked down. Will Diaz get back up?

3-point stance: Dressed for success

January, 22, 2014
1. In 1997, Under Armour outfitted its first college football team, Georgia Tech, which opened the season at Notre Dame. Under Armour made $110,000 in sales that year, which is why its founder, Kevin Plank, spent the night before the game in the Yellow Jacket locker room -- he couldn’t afford a hotel. On Tuesday, Plank and Notre Dame announced a 10-year deal, worth a reported $90 million, for Under Armour to outfit all Fighting Irish teams. That’s the quintessential American success story.

2. A longtime reader emailed me to complain about the price of the $2,000-and-up premium tickets for the College Football Playoff final next year. He worried that the grab for cash will prevent the father-and-son bonding that takes place on fall Saturdays at campuses across America. I think that ship sailed some time ago. Iron Bowl tickets went for $300 each on StubHub last November. Face value for Texas-Oklahoma last season: $110.

3. Manny Diaz, looking for a chance to coach, and maybe redeem his reputation after the flame-out as Texas defensive coordinator, has been hired for the same gig at Louisiana Tech, where Skip Holtz landed last year, looking for a chance to coach, and maybe redeem his rep after South Florida, etc, etc. Ruston might be the place: After Tony Franklin fizzled as Auburn offensive coordinator, he spent three seasons in the same job with the Bulldogs. Franklin left a year ago with Sonny Dykes for the Cal Bears, back among the big boys.
The hardest part for Aaron Lynch was not Notre Dame's sudden resurgence without him. The Fighting Irish did just fine after his departure -- they ran the regular-season table and making the BCS national title game -- but it did not really matter much to the ballyhooed South Florida defensive end.

But Lynch could not avoid the talk last season of what he was missing out on roughly 1,000 miles to the North -- be it from classmates on his new campus in Tampa, Fla., or from teammates inside the Bulls' locker room, where the televisions were always tuned to ESPN, inevitably serving as a talking point about what could have been.

[+] EnlargeAaron Lynch
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsAaron Lynch never looked back with regret on leaving Notre Dame, even as the Fighting Irish were making a run to the BCS title game.
"The only thing that was tough was always having to hear about it," Lynch told "People were always talking to you about it; that got annoying. I was like, 'You're the reason why I came here, and you need to understand that none of that really matters to me because I left that place for a reason.'

"If I was feeling a certain way about that then, I should have never left. People would be like, 'Why are you so mad?' That's all you guys talk about: 'Oh, you could've done this and done that.' I don't want to hear that, because if that's what I wanted, I would've stayed there."

A precocious pass-rusher who was out of his comfort zone two years ago at Notre Dame finds himself more at home now as a junior, some two hours away from his mother, Alice, who is now in Fort Myers. He had his long-awaited breakout for the Bulls in his last game, returning a fumble 44 yards for his team's only touchdown in a 13-10 win over UConn. He recorded his first sack in a USF uniform as well. Teddy Bridgewater and a Louisville team that -- for now, at least -- sports a worse league record than the 2-0 Bulls come to town this Saturday, a rare American Athletic Conference matchup that features two potential high first-round draft picks.

It is another contest that Lynch is just happy to be playing in after a frustrating year as a transfer. The sting of knowing he would not play in 2012 became too much to bear as the season approached, so he sat down with his fellow defensive linemen and then-coach Skip Holtz and asked if they would mind if he did not join them on the sideline for home games.

They granted his wish, with plenty of homework assignments accompanying his home viewings of the games.

"I was never like, 'Awww man, I can't believe this' -- I was more of a coach because that's what the D-line wanted," Lynch said of watching games from home. "They said if you're not going to be at the game, then we want to see how we're doing on TV so you can tell us what we need to do, or things that we don't see on the field that you do see that's off the field. You can pause and rewind and stuff like that.

"So that's what I did. That was really my job as a D-line brother and as a teammate. When I watched the game, I wasn't watching the game as if I was watching the Patriots and the Ravens go at it. I was watching it as if I was watching game film."

For a former freshman All-American who had 5.5 sacks in 2011 while causing as many headaches for his own team as he did his opponents, this was a different kind of challenge. Weight disappeared from what was a 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame at Notre Dame, with Lynch entering this season officially listed at 244 pounds. (He says he is currently around 250, with the hope of that number rising.) Adjusting socially, meanwhile, presented obstacles of its own on a campus with an undergraduate enrollment more than four times the size of Notre Dame's 8,000-plus student body.

That atmosphere, however, also allowed him to grow at his own leisure.

"I would say I matured more since I've left there, because when I got here I had to do a lot of things, I'd say, on my own in a way, because things were smaller there at Notre Dame; it was a smaller university, there wasn't a lot for me to get into," Lynch said. "When I got here, I feel like I matured more because there's so much more out there for me to get into and I kept myself from getting myself into those types of things.

"In other words, my freshman year I probably would've gotten into a lot more things than I do now."

Lynch cut his nearly out-of-control hair going into spring practice, a sign his new coach, Willie Taggart, has pointed to as a sign of his growth.

"To me when a guy does something like that, it's a sign of maturity, and a guy that's willing to change and make himself better," Taggart told this spring. "I know nowadays it's hard to do that when a lot of your peers are doing it and look at those guys. But for a guy like that to cut his hair off and get himself sharp and think about the way people look at him and want to represent himself the right way, it's really impressive."

A one-time aspiring poetry and literature major, Lynch has left those desires behind in South Bend. He still talks regularly with former Irish defensive line teammates Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III -- all three players could be first-round picks come May -- and he often utilizes the "Snapchat" application on his phone to exchange funny messages with running back Cierre Wood, who has since joined the Houston Texans.

Lynch now majors in interdisciplinary social science. As for social media, he has kept his distance from a world that ballooned his reputation as a can't-miss prospect before turning him into a virtual pinata once he decided Notre Dame was not for him.

He says he cannot even remember his Twitter password. His Facebook account received the ax after he left the Midwest.

"The way I blocked that out was really just being with my family, because that's what I was worried about most, because my mom had gotten threats from Notre Dame fans and things like that," Lynch said. "So having my family close to me, that's how I got through it. Just my mom -- she always had my back on everything, and if I knew I was with them and there was nothing wrong with them, then I never had nothing to worry about. The reason why I made the move from Notre Dame was, one, the environment, it wasn't me; and then two, I needed to be with my family, because my family is my everything."

3-point stance: More on Lane Kiffin

September, 30, 2013
1. Remember when bowls used to pick teams in October? That’s how we got the BCS. Firing coaches is happening earlier and earlier. But history says that USC athletic director Pat Haden is smart. He gets the jump on other schools in the annual coaching employment fair. In 2004, Florida fired Ron Zook in late October and beat Notre Dame to Urban Meyer. In 2011, Arizona fired Mike Stoops in mid-October and got to Rich Rodriguez before anyone else. Haden didn’t even wait until Oct. 1.

2. Whatever mistakes Kiffin made on the field, he didn’t help himself off the field. Faced with crippling scholarship sanctions, Kiffin didn’t do a very good job of explaining and selling the effects of those losses on his program. He fanned the hype of being a preseason No. 1 last season when the Trojans didn’t have the depth to withstand injuries. Contrast Kiffin to Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, who has made it clear to his fans and to the public that Penn State will fight hard, but they will fight uphill. Gene Wojciechowski said it: the worst thing Kiffin did was go 10-2 two years ago.

3. If Kiffin does nothing else, he provides Skip Holtz with an example of how things could be worse. A year ago, Holtz’s South Florida team was a preseason favorite in the Big East. The Bulls went 3-9, and instead of finishing in a BCS bowl, Holtz had to look for a job. He took over at Louisiana Tech, which lost 17 starters from last season’s 9-3 team (a reminder of why Sonny Dykes left for Cal). The Bulldogs are 0-4 against FBS opponents, none of them worldbeaters, and Holtz has lost 13 of his last 14 FBS games.

3-point stance: Year 1 under Rodriguez

December, 17, 2012
1. Arizona’s thrilling last-second victory over Nevada in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl capped a wild season of ups and downs in the first year under Rich Rodriguez. Arizona went 3-2 in games decided by three points or fewer or overtime and 4-2 in games decided by three touchdowns or more. The best news is that in Rodriguez's five stops as a head coach, Arizona is the first place in which he debuted with more than three wins.

2. Big Ten bloggers Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg played a fun game last week of what-if to show what the Big Ten bowls would look like if Ohio State and Penn State hadn’t been in NCAA jail. The lack of those two teams, North Carolina and Miami weakened the bowls. So did having six top-10 teams from the SEC and only two available BCS slots. I love the bowls but the system goes to great lengths not to provide the best matchups.

3. Louisiana Tech put out a 26-paragraph news release extolling the career and coaching ability of Skip Holtz. But the release doesn’t include Holtz’s win-loss record (88-71, .553). SID Malcolm Butler said it was an oversight, and he’s a veteran. But the release includes Holtz’s record at UConn (34-23) and not his record at South Florida (16-21). Louisiana Tech wouldn’t be the first school to apply Botox to the wrinkles in a coach’s record. But the absence of the numbers is more glaring than the numbers themselves.

As soon as USF fired coach Skip Holtz, one name surfaced as the clear-cut, no-brainer, perfect-fit choice for the Bulls.

Willie Taggart.

He has the hometown ties. He has the coaching pedigree, two times over. He has the on-the-field credentials. Bigger names like Houston Nutt and Butch Davis showed an interest. But USF did not need a failed or disgraced big-name coach.

It needed Taggart.

[+] EnlargeWillie Taggart
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesWillie Taggart, who coached under Jim Harbaugh and revived Western Kentucky's program, replaces Skip Holtz at South Florida.
This, my friends, is the best coaching fit among all the hires that have been made so far in college football.

It makes so much sense in so many ways.

Taggart grew up in nearby Palmetto, Fla., and played quarterback at Bradenton Manatee, a program that has been one of the best in the state, winning five championships and churning out prospects like Tommie Frazier.

He served under coaching heavies Jack Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh, learning the characteristics of toughness and relentlessness that best described his Stanford running backs and his Western Kentucky teams.

He performed a near miracle at Western Kentucky -- his alma mater -- turning a program that lost 20 straight games before his arrival into a bowl team. In fact, the Hilltoppers would be making their second straight bowl appearance, had they not been left without a spot in 2011 at 7-5.

Now how does this all translate into a smart coaching hire?

First and foremost, his recruiting ties to the area are huge. Western Kentucky has 33 players on the roster from the state of Florida -- 18 are from the Tampa Bay area. His biggest priority is to keep top-tier talent in Tampa Bay from leaving. I give you Exhibit A: UCF has been gaining ground on USF in its own backyard.

That is simply unacceptable, especially now that the schools are going to be playing under the same conference umbrella. His biggest priority must be securing a renewed commitment from four-star Winter Park, Fla., prospect Asiantii Woulard, the top dual-threat quarterback in the nation.

Secondly, USF has been a team that has lacked focus, discipline and toughness at times throughout the course of the past three seasons. That will change under Taggart, whose offenses have run the ball with authority and whose defenses have been aggressive -- leading the Sun Belt in total defense and sacks (31) in 2012.

USF has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Andre Hall in 2005. Western Kentucky has had a 1,000-yard rusher in each of Taggart's three seasons -- including Bobby Rainey, who was No. 2 in the nation in rushing in 2011, and No. 3 in 2010.

Finally, Taggart has the coaching chops. Interest in him was so high this week, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh put out a statement for those interested. Taggart served as his running backs coach at Stanford, and coached Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart for three seasons. Harbaugh said, "Any football program would be very lucky to have Willie Taggart as their head coach." Taggart also served under Harbaugh's father, Jack, at Western Kentucky.

There is hard work ahead to be done, but Taggart is inheriting a much better situation in Tampa than he did at Western Kentucky. USF has great facilities, is in a recruiting hotbed, and has talent on its roster. There is a reason people expect the Bulls to compete for the Big East championship every single season.

Taggart is now charged with making history in that regard. And right now, there is no better coach for the job.

Source: USF hires Willie Taggart

December, 7, 2012
South Florida has hired Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart, sources told Brett McMurphy of ESPN.

Taggart would replace Skip Holtz, fired after three seasons. Tampa radio station WDAE-AM first reported the hiring. Taggart led Western Kentucky to its first bowl appearance, and has strong ties to the Tampa Bay area, having attending high school at Manatee.
You guys had Temple coach Steve Addazio as the first coach to get hired away from the Big East this season, right?


The news that Addazio had packed his bags for Boston College on Tuesday might have come as a surprise, considering Cincinnati coach Butch Jones and Louisville coach Charlie Strong have gotten much bigger headlines in connection with other job openings. But the truth is, Big East fans have come to expect the coaching carousel to spin wildly in this league.

For the seventh time in eight seasons, at least one Big East coach has left for a job at another school or the NFL. Addazio only stuck around for two years with the Owls, and just one season in the Big East. Jones has reportedly received an offer from Colorado; Strong reportedly received strong interest from Tennessee.

Meanwhile, USF is looking for a new coach after firing Skip Holtz on Sunday. Pitt coach Paul Chryst had his name come up in connection with the open Wisconsin job after Bret Bielema left for Arkansas on Tuesday. Speculation reached such a fevered pitch Tuesday night, Chryst put out a statement affirming his commitment to the Panthers.

So that makes five programs out of eight that have had to deal with speculation, job offers, departing coaches or a coaching search in the past four days. Four days!

We all know this league has provided "stepping-stone" jobs for more than its fair share of coaches. Big East fans get upset that their league constantly gets trashed nationally, but their coaches get poached. I understand the frustration. There might be more of it in the future, given the instability surrounding the league.

You can shake your heads and wring your hands. But this, my friends, is just a way of life in the Big East.
The Skip Holtz era ended with a thud, an inglorious ending for a good man who was just not good enough in Tampa.

He was given a solid program, and he leaves behind a losing program. The most distressing part of that statement is there should be no such thing as a losing program at USF. Not with the facilities, resources and in-state talent readily available to contend for Big East trophies every single season.

USF dropped precipitously under Holtz, sitting behind Big East newcomer Temple at the end of this season -- the most disappointing in program history. We have rehashed the shortcomings of this team over and over, but the bottom line is this: Holtz was hired to win championships. Instead, he went 5-16 in Big East play, including back-to-back last-place finishes.

So now the Bulls move on, and have got to make a home-run hire. You could say the same about any program looking for a new coach, but I believe this is especially true in Tampa. USF cannot be wowed by every big-name coach who throws his hat into the ring. The Bulls need a tireless recruiter first and foremost, somebody with deep, rich ties to the Tampa community, who can keep top talent in the Bay area from leaving without so much as a passing glance at the Bulls.

You can say what you want about the way the Big East has fallen apart, and whether that makes the head coaching job and/or program less attractive. But USF remains a program with untapped potential. There is a reason folks expect more out of the Bulls every single season: because they have a wealth of talent sitting in their backyard, with brand new facilities and an NFL stadium to call home.

If Cincinnati and Louisville can win Big East championships with rosters stocked full of Florida prospects, surely a team inside the actual state can do so.

Though back-to-back losing seasons feels like a setback, and looks like a setback, I am not sure how damaging it is to the program overall. USF rose quickly when it made the transition from FBS and has some pretty big wins in its history. The changing Big East should allow USF to rise quickly once again. Boise State and Cincinnati have rich championship traditions, but nobody else does. USF should keep that in mind as it moves forward with this search.

This is no time to panic in Tampa. All the things the Bulls have going for them are still there, despite the disappointment of the last two seasons.

Big East weekend rewind: Week 14

December, 3, 2012
One last look back at the final regular-season weekend in the Big East:

[+] EnlargeWill Stein
AP Photo/Mel EvansLouisville will head to a BCS bowl as the Big East representative after its comeback win against Rutgers.
The good: Everybody's a champion! Well, almost everybody. Four of the Big East's eight teams can stake a claim to the "co-champions" label after a wild final two weeks, with Louisville securing the BCS bowl bid following its come-from-behind win Thursday night at Rutgers.

The bad: UConn's loss to Cincinnati means the Huskies will not be bowling in either of Paul Pasqualoni's first two years as head coach. Rutgers' dropping its final two games with a BCS bid on the line would qualify as bad, too.

The ugly: South Florida had 55 yards of total offense through three quarters against Pitt before finishing the game with a program single-game worst of 115.

So long: Skip Holtz is out at USF after three years and two consecutive 1-6 records in Big East play. The Bulls went through a program-worst 3-9 season after entering the campaign as the Big East's preseason No. 2 team.

So long?: Butch Jones is among the hottest names in the coaching industry after leading the Bearcats to consecutive shares of the Big East title. Whether he leaves for another job remains to be seen, but the publicness of his meeting with Purdue has to be at least a little alarming for Cincinnati fans.

Welcome back: West Virginia can return to Big East play … sort of. We'll see whether the high-scoring attack of the Mountaineers translates to the cold weather when they face Syracuse in the Dec. 29 Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The Orange crushed WVU last season at the Carrier Dome.

You again?: Louisville coach Charlie Strong returns to the scene of his final game as Florida's defensive coordinator … and will face Florida. Strong has accomplished much with the Cardinals in the three years since the Gators' Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati, and his new program's return to a BCS bowl is the highlight of his young head-coaching career.

Sources: Skip Holtz fired at USF

December, 2, 2012
USF coach Skip Holtz has been fired, sources told ESPN's Brett McMurphy on Sunday.

Holtz just finished a miserable 3-9 season, on the heels of a disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2011. He was asked after Sunday's 27-3 loss to Pitt whether he expected to return and said, "I'd certainly like to be. There's been a lot of hard work that has gone into this, through players, coaches. There's a lot of underclassmen on that field ... a lot of young talent on the field. I understand the hardened position we've put a lot of people in, with the record that we have. ... I understand the nature of this business is to win games."

USF was 2-14 in its last 16 games under Holtz, who is set to receive a $2.5 million buyout.
Time for our final regular-season installment of what we learned in the Big East.

1. Louisville is going to the BCS. And the most likely destination is the Orange Bowl. There is a chance, however, that No. 21 Northern Illinois jumps into the top 16 to take an automatic spot. If that happens, Northern Illinois would go to the Orange and Louisville to the Sugar Bowl. We will not know for certain until the final BCS standings are revealed tonight. If the Cards take their talents to South Beach, they will face future Atlantic Division rival Florida State on Jan. 1. If they are headed to New Orleans, coach Charlie Strong will face his former team in the Florida Gators on Jan. 2. Either way, Louisville got the BCS berth with an incredible 20-17 come-from-behind win over Rutgers on Thursday night, a victory that took just about everything out of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater -- playing with a broken wrist and sprained ankle. He was the hands-down story of the game, but it should be worth noting that Rutgers has this penchant for flopping on the biggest stage. The Scarlet Knights went 0-2 this season in trying to secure a BCS berth and 0-1 last season in trying to win a share of the Big East title. And back in 2006, they lost two Big East games after rising into the top 10 in the national standings. They did win a piece of the Big East this season, but that is little consolation to a team that had every opportunity to get to the BCS.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger via US PresswireA broken wrist and sprained ankle didn't stop Teddy Bridgewater from leading Louisville to victory.
2. Four teams can call themselves champs. Although Louisville is representing the Big East on the biggest stage, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Syracuse can call themselves champs, too. Each team finished 5-2 in Big East play -- and the league recognizes all as champions. Many expected Louisville and Rutgers to have a good shot at the crown. Cincinnati has won its share -- four in the past five years. The biggest surprise is Syracuse, a team that started the season 2-4. The Orange didn't even play this week but were the biggest beneficiary when Louisville won. It is tough deciding whether Doug Marrone or Butch Jones did the better coaching job this season. Sounds like a Take 2 post between Tuna and myself this week! Stay tuned.

3. Pitt is going bowling. Seriously, you guys, I am pretty sure the Panthers could have rolled their helmets onto the field and beaten South Florida on Saturday night. That was one of the worst offensive performances I have ever seen -- a new school-low 117 total yards and four turnovers. It was incredible to see tight end Evan Landi move the ball better than Matt Floyd when he had to take a few snaps from center late in the game. But back to Pitt -- the Panthers are headed to a bowl for the fifth consecutive year, and they really got there the hard way given all the ups and downs of the season. Yeah, they might be headed back to Birmingham, Ala., which would be a downer for many of the upperclassmen on the team. But getting these extra 15 practices in is extremely valuable for coach Paul Chryst and the returning players, since there will actually be stability in the offseason. And here is a note that might surprise you (it surprised me). Tino Sunseri passed for more than 3,000 yards this season, and Ray Graham ran for more than 1,000 -- the first time Pitt has ever had a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher. Now imagine the possibilities moving forward.

4. Skip Holtz and Paul Pasqualoni turned in the most disappointing seasons. Both fan bases are getting antsy with the men in charge of their programs, and for good reason. USF and Connecticut, respectively, are the only two teams in the Big East that have failed to go bowling in consecutive seasons. That is not encouraging, when you consider how generally competitive the Big East is from top to bottom. Holtz is on the hottest seat, after his team completed a school-worst 3-9 season with a 27-3 loss to Pitt. When asked following the game whether he expects to be back, Holtz said, "I'd certainly like to be. There's been a lot of hard work that has gone into this, through players, coaches. There's a lot of underclassmen on that field ... a lot of young talent on the field. I understand the hardened position we've put a lot of people in, with the record that we have. ... I understand the nature of this business is to win games."

Pitt routs USF, extends season

December, 1, 2012

Lose two, win two.

It has been the formula for Pitt all season long, and in the end it was enough for the Panthers to extend their campaign into bowl season for the fifth straight year.

Pitt was efficient throughout the night in Tampa, Fla., and South Florida simply wasn't, a big reason for the 27-3 Panthers win. Paul Chryst's squad has come a long way from as ugly an 0-2 season-opening start as possible, and now he gets 15 more practices and one more game with his squad. It was an up-and-down first year, beating Rutgers and USF in the final two weeks of the season to get to 6-6.

The future may not be as bright for the Bulls, who turned it over four times, netted just 6 rushing yards and -- once again -- kicked a field goal late with the game well out of reach. The boo birds were out in full force inside Raymond James Stadium, capping a program-worst 3-9 campaign and a second straight 1-6 Big East record, with questions about third-year coach Skip Holtz's job status continuing to mount.

Pitt, meanwhile, jelled offensively, with fifth-year quarterback Tino Sunseri earning himself one more collegiate start by completing 19 of 25 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. Ray Graham added 93 yards and two scores on the ground, and Mike Shanahan caught nine passes for 116 yards.

USF had just 55 yards of total offense entering the fourth quarter and finished with a program-worst 115 on the night, a fitting end to a lost season.

Cincinnati dominates South Florida

November, 23, 2012
The game between Cincinnati and South Florida turned out the way most anticipated it would before kickoff.

Without much on the line for either team, we were left with some pretty uninspired football at times. A first-half punt-fest eventually turned into a pretty dominating 27-10 win for the Bearcats on Friday night. And once again, two of the most pleasant surprises in the entire Big East led Cincinnati to the victory.

George Winn posted his fifth 100-yard game of the season, and Travis Kelce set the school single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. Winn had two touchdowns rushing and Kelce had one receiving as Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) was able to overcome a sluggish start on Senior Day.

As for USF, this is a team that has struggled to get any sort of offensive production or consistency going with B.J. Daniels on the sideline. The Bulls had gone 10 consecutive quarters without a touchdown, until Demetris Murray got into the end zone in the fourth quarter to break that streak. Before that score, the last time USF scored a touchdown was in the first quarter of its Nov. 3 victory over Connecticut -- when Daniels was still healthy.

Coach Skip Holtz's decision-making was called into question again following Murray's score. USF decided to go for the extra point to make it 27-10. Had USF (3-8, 1-5) gone for two and made it, the Bulls would have trailed by 16 points (or two scores).

Quarterback Matt Floyd struggled once again, though he was better in the second half. In the first half, USF only had 95 total yards and Floyd had five pass completions. He did better after halftime, but was not nearly as productive as a starting quarterback should be. He is missing several of his top playmakers, but he also had many playmakers out there -- including Andre Davis.

The Bulls had problems holding onto the football as well. They had EIGHT fumbles, though they only lost two. And now, they are the first USF team to ever lose eight games.

Big East power rankings

November, 19, 2012
Who is hot, and who is not in the Big East headed into Week 13?

1. Rutgers (9-1, 5-0). After the defensive performance we saw in a 10-3 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, I feel confident enough in saying I think the Scarlet Knights are now the favorites to win the Big East. I still think Louisville has a very strong team, but its defense must make major improvements quickly. I am still having flashbacks from that performance against Syracuse.

2. Louisville (9-1, 4-1). Getting a bye week after a loss has its pros and cons. Louisville got extra time to work on its mistakes, but it also had to sit on what was a pretty tough loss. And that is the lasting image folks have of this team as the final two weeks of the season approach. Teddy Bridgewater has been dynamic, but he won't be able to win the Big East title on his own.

3. Cincinnati (7-3, 3-2). I thought the Bearcats had an extremely disappointing performance against Rutgers. I expected way more out of that team, playing at home. The Bearcats had their opportunities time and again but were simply outplayed by a better team. Although another Big East title seems remote at this point, the Bearcats can still win 10 games for the fifth time in six seasons.

4. Syracuse (6-5, 4-2). I know there are plenty of "what-if" questions that haunt Orange fans, but just forget about them and enjoy getting back to a bowl game. Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon have been remarkable of late, and their performance at the end of the Missouri game was simply clutch.

5. Temple (4-6, 2-4). Seriously, throw teams 5-7 in a hat and your order is as good as mine. The Owls have been bad in Big East play of late but set school and Big East records in a win over Army on Saturday. They have wins over two of the three teams down below, so they get the nod in this space.

6. UConn (4-6, 1-4). The Huskies were off this week and are still getting the benefit of their last game out -- a win over Pitt.

7. Pitt (4-6, 1-4). The Panthers also were off, and getting hurt from their last game out -- a bad loss to UConn.

8. USF (3-7, 1-4). The Bulls have not been this bad since joining the Big East. Though they have had mixed results against their in-state rivals, at least they played respectably well. Not Saturday against Miami. The 40-9 loss was the worst under coach Skip Holtz.