Pac-12: Connecticut Huskies

Wins, not loyalty, will measure Graham

December, 14, 2011
12/14/11
3:46
PM ET

A glimpse at the future ...

On the evening of Jan. 17, an Arizona State pep rally broke out in the most unlikely of places -- at a basketball game.

With the Sun Devils cruising to a win over Northern Arizona, the Sun Devils' newly minted head football coach, Todd Graham, took the microphone at halftime.

"One of the things I can guarantee you is we will be blue collar, hard-nosed and physical," Graham told the spirited crowd. "We are going to restore the Best of the West!
We will work to bring Pac-12 championships, BCS bowl championships and a national championship to Arizona State!"


The above is plagiarism. Apologies. It's a paraphrase of Graham's introduction from his official bio on the website of the Pittsburgh Panthers, where Graham bolted Wednesday for Arizona State after just one 6-6 season.

College football is a crazy business. Sometimes it makes you want to take a shower. But to employ a hackneyed term that has become so because it's so convenient: It is what it is.

Graham is going to get hammered in Pittsburgh and all points outside -- and some points inside -- Tempe. Graham, for a second time in his career, is one-and-done. He previously bolted Rice for Tulsa after a single season in 2006. Not only did Graham suddenly leave the Panthers in the lurch, but he announced his decision to his players via a secondhand text message.

That won't play well with many folks. Panthers players are blistering him on Twitter. And it will stick to Graham for a while. It looks cowardly and reminds folks of the horrible transition for Randy Edsall from Connecticut to Maryland, where his first year was an absolute disaster. When the media comes calling this spring and next fall, it will be a central part of their "Meet Todd Graham at ASU" stories.

It will mostly be malarkey. But it will be everywhere, which is often how malarkey becomes accepted truth.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTodd Graham is leaving Pitt for Arizona State after one 6-6 season.
Look, folks: Being a college football coach is a job. It is not a charitable calling. Loyalty? There are going to be more than 25 coaching changes next fall. There are 120 FBS teams. The nature of the business is to get fired or to climb. It's best to do the latter.

Todd Graham wants to coach at Arizona State more than Pittsburgh. Most folks would. So instead of doing something he doesn't want to do, he's doing what he wants to. His only loyalty should be to his family and friends, not his bosses.

Some will throw around insults like "liar." They will say things like Graham told his players he was staying. Well, he was staying. Until he got a better offer. The lesson the players should learn from this is to be ambitious and to learn how the big-boy world works. In other words, Graham just helped them grow up.

By the way, this is not an inconsistent opinion from me. Some Arizona State fans might recall this about former Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson when he left Idaho.

Is this a ringing endorsement of ASU's hiring of Graham? No.

Understand: The only Pitt game I watched this season was the Panthers' home date with Utah. The Utes won 26-14, manhandling what looked to me like a feckless team with the worst offense in the history of the world.

That said, Graham has a solid track record. Sure, he bolted Rice after one season. But he did so after taking a 1-10 team to its first bowl game in 45 years and winning Conference USA Coach of the Year.

At Tulsa, he went 36-17 and 3-0 in bowl games. His final season, 2010, he won 28-27 at Notre Dame.

He's a defensive guy -- he got his start in big-time college coaching working for new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia -- who is known as much for potent offenses. To use his term, he likes "high-octane football." He's a longtime believer in the no-huddle, spread-option.

He had some clumsy media moments this past season. He's a fast talker who doesn't shy away from taking shots at players. But the general feeling among Pitt fans was positive. Until he left. Now he's the second coming of Lane Kiffin.

How's the third coming of Lane Kiffin going?

Still, it's impossible to ignore the reality that being a perceived mercenary climber brings baggage that will make Graham's job more difficult.

It's likely some Sun Devils will greet any early talk of "family" and "the Sun Devil way!" with eye rolls. Graham's reputation will make it more difficult for him to mend a fractured locker room. Selling loyalty and commitment to recruits will not be easy. It also will make it harder for school administrators to get boosters to open their wallets.

The first question some will ask: "What's his buyout?"

Here's a statement from Arizona State:

"Criteria for our head coach was established, and the word that was at the forefront of discussions was `energy'...energy towards promoting our program in the community and with former players. Energy towards instilling discipline, leadership and in recruiting. Energy towards representing our brand in every facet of the program," notes Love. "In Todd, we have not only hired a young and sitting head coach, but one with a history of success on the field and in hiring top-notch assistant coaches. For the first time in his career, he will be taking over a program with a strong nucleus at the beginning. We are excited to watch Coach Graham take over a very well-positioned program and elevate it to the next level."


So: boilerplate.

Arizona State's coaching search was sloppy. Graham was well down the list of top candidates. And the June Jones debacle -- no matter how the school has tried to spin it afterward -- was embarrassing.

But the ultimate measure of this coaching search is no different than the ultimate measure of Todd Graham. And it is devoid of sentimentality: wins and losses. Stay out of trouble with the NCAA. Graduate players who stay off the police blotter. Yes, in that order.
Nice graphic here from The Stanford Daily, which shows how BCS bowl teams made out financially.

Stanford says it broke even -- though the private school refuses to release official financial data -- in the Orange Bowl, while Oregon took a $312,437 loss from its appearance in the BCS national title game.

Auburn won the national championship by beating the Ducks, but it also lost nearly twice as much ($614,106).

Of course, no team got fleeced worse than Connecticut, which got smacked with a $1,757,998 deficit, in large part due to unsold tickets.

Ohio State was the big winner, pocketing $288,876 after expenses.

BCS announces its contenders

November, 23, 2010
11/23/10
4:52
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Oregon, Stanford and Arizona are on the list of 11 teams still contending for berths in BCS bowl games, the BCS announced Tuesday.

First, there are the contenders for AQ conference titles.

ACC: Florida State, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech

Big East: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia

Big Ten: Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin

Big 12: Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M

Pac-10: Oregon, Stanford

SEC: Auburn, South Carolina

A seventh spot will be reserved for the top-rated team from a non-AQ conference: Boise State or TCU. That means there will be three at-large invitations this year.

In addition to the aforementioned teams, the pool of teams remaining under consideration also includes (in alphabetical order): Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Boise State, LSU, Nevada, Utah, and TCU.

The final BCS standings will be compiled Sunday, Dec. 5. The BCS bowl pairings will be announced at 8:15 p.m. EST that evening on ESPN.

James, Luck are Walter Camp finalists

November, 18, 2010
11/18/10
11:36
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Oregon running back LaMichael James and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck are two of the "Players to Watch” for the Walter Camp Player of the Year award, the fourth-oldest college football award in the nation.

A list of five finalists will be announced on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

The 2010 Walter Camp Player of the Year recipient, who is voted on by the Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches and sports information directors, will be presented live on Dec. 9 during the 6 p.m. edition of ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Here's the complete list.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Da’Quan Bowers, DL, Clemson
Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Nick Fairley, DL, Auburn
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Kendall Hunter, RB, Oklahoma State
Colin Kaepernick, QB, Nevada
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas
Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
Jordan Todman, RB, Connecticut

Pac-10 Q&A: Washington State coach Paul Wulff

August, 27, 2010
8/27/10
3:00
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Washington State has won just one Pac-10 game over the past two seasons -- three overall -- and the Cougars are a consensus pick by media pundits to finish last in the conference in 2010.

That has many believing third-year coach Paul Wulff is on the hot seat, even though it's been widely acknowledged that he was handed a monumental rebuilding job in 2008 when he returned to his alma mater from Eastern Washington.

The expectations outside the program aren't just low: Many tweak the Cougars as among the worst BCS programs in the nation.

[+] EnlargePaul Wulff
Chris Williams/Icon SMICoach Paul Wulff identified running back as a prime area of competition on his football team.
It shouldn't be surprising that, in Pullman, the view is quite different. Wulff sees a strong offseason, improved recruiting and a more experienced depth chart. He sees potential.

What does he keep saying? "We're going to surprise some people."

The Cougars face a tough opener at Oklahoma State on Sept. 4, so it seemed like a good time to check in and see how the rebuilding is going on the Palouse.

The pundits have you guys pegged at 10th in the conference: How do you deal with that negative outlook when you address your team?

Paul Wulff: A lot of that is based on what happened in past years. It's a new year. We're a new team and we've changed a lot. The players know we've worked hard and we know we are getting better. The people predicting don't know what's happening in the offseason. But it is what it is. We probably deserve to be picked there. I don't know if that's a surprise. It doesn't mean that's where we're going to end up. We sure don't think so. We'll keep working hard. And we believe we will be able to put ourselves in position to surprise a lot of people and win a lot of ballgames and take that step to a bowl game.

I know we've talked about this before and I know you are tired of the topic but there's a general perception that you are on the proverbial coaching hot seat: What's your feeling on that perception?

PW: My feeling again is that's a natural thing for people on the outside that don't understand the situation to think when you have a major rebuilding job. It's never pretty. You go back to Mack Brown, who was 1-10 his first two years at North Carolina. There are a lot of examples: Randy Edsall and Connecticut. We [Eastern Washington] actually beat them as a I-AA school in 2001. We went back there and beat them. We've had to build something here, and like John Wooden says 'good things take time.' We're trying to build something special for the long haul. We're not trying to bring in a bunch of transfers and JC kids to try to win a few games one year. I'm not here to do that. I'm here to build a program that can compete for the Pac-10 title and be in the Rose Bowl and win one and put ourselves in position for a national title. Those programs in those situations didn't get there in one night. It's a five- to six-year building process. You've got to climb a ladder. I care about this university because it is my school. I came here to do that. If I have to take the bullets, as [former WSU basketball coach] Dick Bennett told me I would, I'm just going to have to do that. He was a guy who knew the situation. So I'm doing it and I'll continue to do it. But it's going to turn and when we turn we're going to be an awfully good football team.

On the football side of things: What is better about QB Jeff Tuel in Year 2 after he was forced into action as a true freshman?

PW: His comfort level with the offense and comfort level with some of the players who he's had the offseason to work with. There's a little better continuity there. He's making better decisions, he stronger. Things are happening at a quicker pace for him in his own brain. Obviously that helps our offense. We think highly of Jeff, but he's still got to prove lot of things in ballgames on a consistent basis. But there's no question in practice we see flashes of some really great things.

Where are some prime areas of competition on your team that have yet to be resolved?

PW: Running back is definitely one. We feel like a lot of guys are battling in there. We're hoping two or three really emerge come game day. Because we've got a lot of guys, no one has gotten a tremendous amount of reps. We're hoping that kind of sorts itself out in the first few games. At wide receiver, we're still battling through there, getting a lot of guys time, trying to see who's going to make the plays when the games are live. But we like the young nucleus we have. We think we have a couple special ones that are going to great players here the next four years.

The comeback of James Montgomery is pretty cool: How is he doing?

PW: He's doing great. I think it's got be one of the best stories in the country to do what he's done. He didn't just battle compartment syndrome. He battled a knee surgery that was a pretty extensive one. To do both and to come back and to perform where he is right now is impressive. He's not 100 percent, not in shape and as crisp, as sharp, as he's going to be. We're hoping by the time he gets to Game 3 or Game 4, he'll have caught back up with all that. But where he is today, he's a very good player. He's going to play and be our starter in the opening game and were hoping he progresses from there.

Who are your playmakers in the passing game?

PW: I think Jared Karstetter will be back -- there's no question we can rely on him. We're taking a hard look at Marquess Wilson, a true freshman. He's as dynamic a true freshman receiver as I've been around. Even coach [Mike] Levenseller, who's been here for 19 years, thinks Marquess is a special talent. I think Isaiah Barton and Gino Simone, our slot receivers, will make a difference, along with Jeffrey Solomon and Daniel Blackledge. Those guys will be good players for us. I'm excited to see how they will perform for us.

What have you seen out of your offensive line this spring? How close are they to breaking through as a quality unit?

PW: They're close. Coach [Steve Morton] has done a great job melding those guys together. We're getting better, no question. I'm excited. I think we have some raw talent. It's a relatively young unit -- we really have two seniors who will be contributors on a consistent basis. We have 15 others who are younger. If we can stay healthy there, we're going to surprise a lot of people with our production on the offensive front.

Let's look at defense: How are things stacking up at linebacker?

PW: The thing that's hurting us is two players who aren't playing this fall, who we have high hopes for, and that's Louis Bland, who we're going to redshirt, and Andre Barrington, a redshirt freshman for us, who is academically ineligible this fall. But I do like Alex Hoffman and Myron Beck, those guys have done well. Mike Ledgerwood, Hallston Higgins, Arthur Burns and CJ Mizell -- he's come along. We feel like we've got some makings there. It's a young unit from an experience standpoint, but I like our speed there. If we can stay healthy, it will be a big improvement from where we've been.

And the defensive line: Has tackle Brandon Rankin continued to impress?

PW: He has. He's a good player. He has a chance to show a lot of people what he's all about this fall. He's already doing things in practice that make it pretty obvious. We need him to have a big year. I think he's going to do extremely well. Bernard Wolfgramm is back and it's the first time he's healthy for us. Those two at defensive tackle are probably as athletic at pass rushing as we've had here in years. They will be quality pass-rushing D-tackles that you don't get a lot. They are not just pluggers, they're fairly active guys. I'm very encouraged about those two guys.

You guys are pretty salty on the defensive line. There's four pretty good players.

PW: I think our front four is right up there right now with most people in the Pac-10. We got two fifth-year seniors and a fourth-year junior in Brandon Rankin and a second-year kid, an excellent player, in end Travis Long. It's our most experienced group on our football team. It's probably the best unit we have right now. It goes back to having fifth- and fourth-year players in your program. When you have that consistently throughout, you have a chance to be pretty salty. Right now, if those guys can stay healthy, they give us the most experienced group on our football team.

Finally, the secondary: It sounds like there's some depth back there.

PW: It's been good -- good, healthy competition. It's a young, young group, but there's some really good football players. We've kind of been hit a little bit over the last couple of days with the injury bug. LeAndre Daniels is going to battle a neck issue that we're still working through. We don't know that he'll be healthy at safety. Nolan Washington has been a little nicked up with his hip at cornerback. If those guys can come back, I'm not sure, but I like our talent there. It's a young and green group but we have some kids who can run for the first time in a while. We need to stay relatively healthy because we're youthful back there. I like the group. Our team speed on defense is far and away faster than we've been. I think people are going to notice that pretty quickly.

What is your expectation for this team: What would be a successful season?

PW: I don't want to put any limitations on them. These guys have trained so hard since the end of last season. They've done everything right to get better. We finally got the culture changed to what we expect. So when you work that hard, I refuse to put a limitation on what they are capable of doing. Right now we truly are trying to take it just one game at a time. But we're going to break this thing up into four segments. We've got 12 games, with three games in each quarter. We're going to take it one quarter at a time. We're going to block it like that, and move our way up the chain. I think this team is capable of surprising a lot of football teams, a lot of people out there. I really believe people are going to see a much improved team from what you saw last year. How many wins that's going to equate to, I'm really not sure. It just depends on a few breaks here and there and staying healthy at the right spots.

Opening camp: USC

August, 4, 2010
8/04/10
11:24
AM ET
USC opens preseason camp today. Here's a quick look.

Who's back: Six starters on offense, six on defense and punter Jacob Harfman.

Big names: QB Matt Barkley, C Kristofer O'Dowd, DT Jurrell Casey

What's new: Everything? Pete Carroll is out; Lane Kiffin is in. The only holdover from Carroll's staff is receivers coach John Morton. The postseason is out; NCAA sanctions are in. AD Mike Garrett is out; Pat Haden is in. Defending Pac-10 champions is out; finishing with four conference losses is in. Certain dominance is out; questions about the future are in.

Key competition: There are lots of areas of intrigue, starting with returning starter Chris Galippo trying to hold onto the job at middle linebacker against converted end Devon Kennard. Who will replace the injured Christian Tupou at defensive tackle: Either DaJohn Harris or Hebron Fangupo. What's the pecking order behind Allen Bradford at tailback? And what about receiver, where freshmen Kyle Prater, Robert Woods and Markeith Ambles figure to challenge returning veterans. The only certainty in the rebuilt secondary is CB Shareece Wright. Oh, and freshman Kevin Graf is listed ahead of returning starter Butch Lewis at left guard.

Breaking out: Wright, O'Dowd, WR Ronald Johnson and DE Armond Armstead will be all-conference if they stay healthy. What will Barkley in Year 2 look like after starting as a true freshman? Kennard looks like a rising star. Freshman RB Dillon Baxter had folks whispering "Reggie Bush II" in spring practices. Hopefully without the greedy parents and accompanying parasites.

Quote: Kiffin on the team's strengths and weaknesses: “I feel good about our defensive line. Depth in general is going to be an issue. We have to be extremely intelligent and smart. Seven of our 10 coaches have NFL experience. We’re going to have to be NFL-oriented because of our situation.

Notes: The Trojans were picked second in the preseason media poll. They received 12 first-place votes compared to 15 for Oregon. It was the first time in seven polls USC hadn't been picked first. ... 13 returning starters is the second fewest in the conference. ... Players who left the program after NCAA sanctions were announced: safety Byron Moore (junior college), linebacker Jordan Campbell (Louisville), wide receiver Travon Patterson (Colorado), fullback D.J. Shoemate (Connecticut), defensive end Malik Jackson (Tennessee). Also, the Trojans released touted offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson (Miami) and linebacker signee Glen Stanley (Florida State) from their scholarship commitments.

Expansion? Pac-10 taking backseat to Big Ten

April, 20, 2010
4/20/10
10:42
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Will be heading south to Phoenix today to cover the start of the BCS meetings, and my chief focus will be ... not the Pac-10.

That's because the star of the show -- villain? -- will be Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany.

And that's because all of the national expansion talk centers on the Big Ten, which may reveal its expansion intentions this week, setting off a cataclysmic domino effect in college football.

The general feeling is the Big Ten not only will expand but it might add a handful of teams and become a "super conference" with perhaps has many as 16 members.

The Pac-10? There's not much chatter, in large part because the options are not nearly as plentiful and lucrative -- at least the ones that have been thrown about in recent weeks, chiefly Utah and Colorado.

What's on the table?

  • Will Notre Dame stay independent? Most indications of late are that it wants to -- but will that be financially wise in a changing marketplace?
  • Will the Big East survive? If the Big Ten grabs Rutgers, Connecticut, Syracuse and Pittsburgh, that seems unlikely.
  • If the Big Ten makes its move, how long before the SEC makes a play? Florida State? Clemson? Or will it go for Texas and Texas A&M?
  • So the ACC and Big 12 also are very interested in what the Big Ten might do. Those conferences likely are formulating a counter-strategy, either to retain membership or seek their own new programs.
Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott was hired a year ago in large part because he seemed like the sort of savvy thinker who could negotiate this sort of terrain. It stands to reason that Scott's aggressive restructuring of the conference at the administrative level points toward a more complicated future.

Scott faces two basic questions: 1. Can the Pac-10 survive as a 10-team league? 2. If it can't, what are the best -- and available -- options for expansion.

The answer to No. 1 is debatable but likely "probably not" if the Big Ten and SEC expand into super conferences. The obvious answer to No. 2 is to lure the Texas twins. And perhaps then go after Utah and Colorado, if super conferences become the rage.

Of course, making that happen won't be easy by any stretch. Lots of hoops to jump through. Lots of numbers to crunch. And lots of competition.

It seems certain that there are myriad options being discussed, and it's possible the endgame won't look like what anyone anticipated during the speculative phase.

What we can say for sure is that the next few weeks and months figure to be stressful for many programs, not to mention those of us who consider tradition a cornerstone of college football.

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