Pac-12: Jim Tressel

Ohio State: What might have been?

December, 31, 2012
Ohio State posted one of the great "What might have been?" seasons in the history of college football this year.

Just imagine what might have happened had the unbeaten Buckeyes, say, anticipated oncoming NCAA sanctions and self-imposed a bowl ban last year, so they would have finished 6-6 instead of 6-7, thereby matching the most losses in school history.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Cal Sport MediaUrban Meyer remembers clearly and fondly a win at Northwestern while at Bowling Green
That might have completely transformed the 2012-13 postseason. It certainly would have made for a much better Rose Bowl, however things played out.


  • It's possible 12-0 Ohio State would be playing Notre Dame for the national title, instead of once-beaten Alabama. That would have ended the SEC's national title streak at six.
  • If the Buckeyes were headed to South Florida, the Rose Bowl would have had first pick among the remaining BCS bowl eligible teams. That probably would have given us a scintillating Florida-Stanford, SEC-Pac-12 matchup -- No. 3 vs. No. 6 -- instead of the Cardinal vs. five-loss, unranked Wisconsin.
  • Or, if the BCS standings still had Alabama ahead of Ohio State, which would have been highly controversial, Ohio State-Stanford would have been a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup between elite, highly rated teams.
Of course, this speculation includes the assumption that the NCAA would have been satisfied with the Buckeyes just sitting out the 2011 postseason. It rarely pays to assume what the NCAA will do. Based on wanting to make an example out of Ohio State for a scandal that included extra benefits violations involving memorabilia, tattoos and cash, as well as a cover-up by former coach Jim Tressel, the NCAA quite possibly still could have banned the Buckeyes from the 2012 postseason.

But you never know.

That is the excruciating discussion Ohio State fans have had among themselves all season as the wins piled up in coach Urban Meyer's first campaign. Many have dumped the blame on athletic director Gene Smith, who was admittedly -- and curiously -- surprised when the NCAA opted to ban the Buckeyes from the 2012 postseason.

It's apparently a sore subject around Columbus. Ohio State declined an interview request for this story, with spokesman Jerry Emig saying "A would of, should of, could of, wouldn't read well."

It probably would have read better than the Badgers' record, which features more losses than five other Big Ten teams.

Of course, the Rose Bowl and its participants are trying to grin through the curious circumstances that created a less-than-thrilling matchup. As could be expected, Stanford folks are going out of their way to not slight Wisconsin. The Cardinal, said coach David Shaw, won't take the Badgers lightly.

"We're not built like that," he said. "Our guys aren't built like that. We talk a lot about respecting the game. The game deserves our respect. Our opponent deserves our respect. We can't change how we play based on who we play. How we play never changes. We're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, we're going to play our style of football, and we don't take our foot off the gas pedal. Never, ever anyway. We're going to respect these guys. These guys have earned our respect. Watch the film, look at the scoreboard, and watch the film, and these guys will get your respect."

There is good news here, for Ohio State, for the Rose Bowl and for the Pac-12.

While the Big Ten has been on an extended swoon in terms of national perception, and one of its top teams, Penn State, has been wiped off the map by NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is clearly rising under Meyer. The Buckeyes will be national title contenders next fall. Or, failing that, they could become a worthy Rose Bowl foe.

As college football moves forward in 2014 with a four-team playoff, the Pac-12 needs the Big Ten to produce elite teams -- and vice versa -- or the continuing and evolving Rose Bowl partnership will suffer.

This "What Might Have Been Season" for Ohio State, which has broadly affected teams coast-to-coast, is almost certainly an anomaly.

That might not salve the immediate pain for the Buckeyes, or help make this year's Rose Bowl any better, but a hopeful glance toward the horizon is all we have for you.
There are a couple of ways to look at USC coach Lane Kiffin's decision to drop out of the coaches' poll.

First, he's taking his ball and going home in a fit of pique. Second, USA Today's gotcha moment in the name of the "poll's integrity" -- insert canned laughter there -- inspired him to drop one more frustration from his life and focus on his team.

It's probably a little of both.

The bottom line is a negative for Kiffin. There was no reason to fib, to tell reporters he wouldn't vote his team No. 1 when he did. And his explanation afterward that he was speaking about other voters, not himself, when he was saying he wouldn't vote the Trojans No. 1 smacked of a guy with a razor blade and a shaky hand going after a strand of hair.

Kiffin's reputation, terrible after controversial tenures with the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Volunteers, has experienced a renaissance this past year. And for good reason. He let his coaching and recruiting do most of his talking and the message that started to emerge was he was good at both. Further, those of us who've had a scattering of moments with him when he lets his guard down have experienced a guy who is insightful and pretty darn amusing.

This truly is a tempest in a teapot. While, if you are keeping score at home, this is a blip in the "Rehabilitated Kiffin" narrative. Kiffin haters, as frustrated and neutered a group of gadflies as you could find of late, now can again smear themselves with goat's blood and dance around their bonfires. So enjoy this 23 seconds in the news cycle.

On the other hand, some USC fans are going overboard with their conspiracy theories. Some seem to believe Kiffin was outed just because he's Lane Kiffin. While it is possible that a lesser-known coach's random comments wouldn't have registered, there is a precedent for USA Today's gotcha moment on Kiffin's dissembling. The same thing happened to former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel in 2006. And, yes, Ohio State completed a series of PR backflips to try to take the heat off Tressel.

This moment could have been avoided if Kiffin had just refused to say which team he voted No. 1 because his vote is -- was -- confidential. Or he could have said he voted his team No. 1, which would have been fine because his team very well might be the best in the land.

But since USA Today has gravely reiterated its so-serious task of protecting the coaches' poll integrity, perhaps it should actually take that job seriously by insisting the poll be transparent, with each voter's ballot published every week, as the AP poll does. We are talking about a news organization, not a "Hide Important Information From the Public" organization. The argument that coaches need confidentiality is devoid of merit. You win an argument over that point with a simple, "No, that's wrong. Hush."

Further, it should be more aggressive in policing voters whose ballots fail the integrity test. As the Pac-12 blog once pointed out, for years Howard Schnellenberger's ballot was often clueless and indefensible. Someone should have tracked down Schnellenberger and simply told him to re-vote or be kicked out of the poll.

Here's a guess that confidentiality has allowed more than a handful of coaches to vote in a way that is obviously self-interested and disingenuous. That is a far more serious issue than Lane Kiffin saying he didn't vote his team No. 1 when he did.

Coaches poll 'gotcha!' on Lane Kiffin

August, 10, 2012
Do not mess with the USA Today Coaches Poll because it is not afraid to narc on you.

USC coach Lane Kiffin stepped in it Tuesday when he told reporters he wouldn't vote the Trojans No. 1. That wasn't a smart thing to say, most particularly because he did vote USC No. 1 with his first-ever vote in the coaches' poll.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireIt has been revealed recently that Lane Kiffin voted his Trojans No. 1 in the coaches' poll.
He fibbed for the sake of a talking point. That's not terribly smart, even if he counted on the coaches poll upholding its policy to protect the privacy of its voters until the final poll.

This is an example of a coach over-thinking how he wants to present himself in the media. When asked about his vote in the poll, Kiffin had only two options: 1. Tell the truth; 2. Say his vote is confidential. But Kiffin wanted it both ways. He wanted to vote his team No. 1 and then "aw shucks" it about his team not being No. 1.

As for his vote, Kiffin knows that preseason perception matters. The coaches' poll matters, no matter how ridiculous and laden with conflicts of interest it is. USC's starting off at No. 3 in the coaches' poll is not as good for the Trojans as starting off as Nos. 1 or 2. Why? We are still using the BCS system, and USC folks know as well as any program how easily that system can screw over a program.

So Kiffin wanted to vote USC No. 1. But he also wanted to downplay his team, emphasizing its lack of numbers. Perhaps he also viewed his "We're not No. 1" comments as motivation for his locker room. Whatever his motivation, he told reporters something that wasn't true, which often will come back and bite a public figure on his rear end.

But, as bad as Kiffin looks, this again brings to light how silly the coaches' poll is. While many will enjoy this "gotcha" moment on Kiffin -- just as they did in 2006 when then Ohio State coach Jim Tressel did about the same thing -- the lack of transparency with the poll is indefensible.

With so much money at stake, and the coaches having a vested interest in how the poll stacks up, it's ludicrous that the public isn't made aware of how each coach votes every week. This whiny-baby thing of other coaches getting mad at them should churn your stomach.

Hey, guys? Man-up.

So we now know who Kiffin voted No. 1. Hooray.

What we need to know is how every coach stacked his top 25 and whether he did it in a reasonable, defensible way or if he only served his own interests.

Mailbag: Ohio State fan holiday wishes

December, 23, 2011
Other than USC fans celebrating the return of Matt Barkley, there was a lot of sourness in the pre-Christmas mailbag.

You can follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Mark Twinbridges, Mont., writes: Have you read the full NCAA report on the two schools [USC and Ohio State]? I cannot believe you would write such an inane piece if you had read the reports. Comparing the OSU situation to the USC violations is like comparing a dog to a rabid wolf. USC used impermissible benefits to recruit, that strikes at the very heart of NCAA rules. Then the university hindered the investigation at every turn.

Ted Miller: Yes, I have read both reports.

You wrote: "USC used impermissible benefits to recruit." Wrong.

You wrote: "Then the university hindered the investigation at every turn." Wrong.

You made two points. Both were wrong. And if you had read the USC report, or really any news stories about USC's NCAA violations, you would know that.

But I am sorry that you found my story "inane."

Interlude... (insert sigh).

Yes, the mailbag was inundated with angry rants from Ohio State fans this week. It was frustrating. Not because I was repeatedly called names. I've grown to enjoy that part of this job for some perhaps masochistic reason. No, it was because the amount of factually incorrect assertions was mind-numbing. Sure, a lot of it was Buckeyes fans who are of the "my school, wrong or right, I don't care about the truth, I just attack, attack, attack anyone who doesn't subscribe to my worldview" sort of fans. Every team has those, and they are part of the wonderful tapestry of college football.

But what bothered me was the number of seemingly intelligent folks who just don't know what they are talking about. Many of you may recall that some weeks ago, I wrote I was done dealing with the amount of ignorance surrounding USC's case with the NCAA. It was time to move on. I am so sick of writing about USC's NCAA case. I really, really wanted to move on. But, alas, I can not.

Jay from San Diego writes: At first I thought your article was meant in a joking manner. Then I realized you were actually being serious. I'm sure some of the people who follow you will eat your "piece" up but it appears blatantly misinformed & devoid of intelligence. The above link regards your article.

Ted Miller: First off, I like Eleven Warriors. Probably one of the best fan blogs out there. I even appreciate a mostly gentle touch while they ripped apart my article.

But here's the problem: The very first line of critique is factually incorrect. "A player getting over $X00,000 in impermissible benefits." No USC player got that. Reggie Bush's parents lived for free in a fancypants house in San Diego provided by would-be agents, but it's a matter of record that extra benefits provided to Bush didn't approach $100,000. A minor distinction? Well, the distinction between player and parent certainly worked out for Auburn and Cam Newton in 2010.

It is correct that I often used "patronizing closed door language." That is because the door is closed. When I wrote "everybody in college sports knows" USC was treated unfairly, it was an overstatement to make a clear point that just about everybody knows this. I've talked to many, many people who have a professional awareness of USC's case. I've talked to people who sat in the room with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions hearing with USC. Everybody thinks USC got screwed, not just USC folks. And, when I've talked to folks who might say differently, I've always been able to easily win the ensuing argument by stating the facts.

I don't intend that to sound arrogant. It's not brilliant rhetorical ability. It's the facts. Let me show you an example of facts.

Eleven Warriors includes this link, which is a comparison done by another Ohio State fan site of Ohio State's case with USC's and others before the NCAA.

Eleven Warriors writes this: "And 'impossible not to conclude Ohio State case was far more severe.'? USC's took four years to complete, largely in part because USC stifled the investigation. Ohio State's was done in under a year."

The link provided by Eleven Warriors, however, includes this: "While the mainstream media has been trying hard to push the 'USC fought the NCAA' meme, it's absolutely not true. USC’s former student athletes, and the agents and representatives therein, may not have worked with the NCAA, but the University absolutely did. That is even expressed (apparently) in the Notice of Allegations, where the NCAA thanked USC for their help and support. In fact, pages 56 and 57 of the NCAA Public Infractions Report."

So ... facts, you know?

How did the "USC didn't cooperate" storyline begin? Well, it likely emerged from a perception of USC's self-defense. USC administrators found it difficult to stomach the idea that they were supposed to know what was going on in San Diego with a player's parents and men who were: 1) unaffiliated with the school; 2) not even actual agents who might be known in the industry.

Yes, USC was not obsequious. Yes, USC, in fact, aggressively defended itself. Yes, USC, in fact, probably hurt it self by actually WINNING THE ARGUMENT.

From the link and written by an Ohio State fan: "For the most part, USC makes a fantastic case regarding the issues that it denied wrong doing..." and, "It is easy to believe that USC got hammered beyond what they deserved."

I'm not going to spend 1,500 words debating the particulars of the Ohio State case. After coach Jim Tressel was sacked, it seemed the sanctions the Buckeyes received were not unreasonable. My point was merely they made the ruling against USC even more unreasonable. And, yes, I think the Ohio State case was worse than USC's, and if you cleared a room of Buckeyes and Trojans fans and asked folks to make a ruling, I suspect they'd agree.

Let me share a story that will annoy USC fans but many will find interesting. During a flight delay last year, I was cornered at an airport by an administrator from a major program outside the Pac-12. He made fun of me as a "USC fanboy" because of my rants against the NCAA ruling against the Trojans. But we started talking. Turned out he agreed with just about all my points. (He just didn't like USC.)

He told me, after some small talk and off-the-record, that "everybody" thought USC got screwed. He said that he thought the NCAA was trying to scare everyone with the ruling, but subsequent major violations cases put it in a pickle.

Then he told me that USC was punished for its "USC-ness," that while many teams had closed down access -- to media, to fans, etc. -- USC under Pete Carroll was completely open, and that was widely resented. There was a widespread belief the national media fawned on USC because of this. Further, more than a few schools thought that the presence of big-time celebrities, such as Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell, at practices and at games constituted an unfair recruiting advantage for the Trojans.

It wasn't against the rules, but everyone hated it. This, as he assessed his own smell test, was a subtext of the so-called atmosphere of noncompliance that the NCAA referred to -- an atmosphere that oddly yielded very few instances of noncompliance around the football program even after a four-year NCAA investigation.

But you'll note that Snoop and Will are no longer hanging around USC, which now has strict access guidelines.

Another point people keeping making to me: USC's case involved three sports and involved a lack of institutional control. That is not an invalid point, but this is the Pac-12 football blog. It doesn't cover basketball or tennis. And the violations connected to the basketball recruitment of O.J. Mayo shouldn't have, say, cost USC an extra 15 football scholarships. That's not how the process works, based on NCAA policy.

Anyway. The pointlessness of debating moot points was supposed to be the gist of my original column. What's done is done; all this is academic. Some Ohio State fans will read this and go, "Oh, interesting." But many others will simply go, "Idiot." And that's fine.

But, Buckeyes fans, would it help if I just wished you a Merry Christmas?

Josh from Fairbury, Neb., writes: Hey Ted, big news for USC with Matt Barkley returning for his senior season. It's a little early, but how do you see the Heisman award situation panning out next year in the Pac-12? I've personally always considered Barkley to as good (if not better) than Andrew Luck. Who else from the Pac-12 conference might be a Heisman hopeful for 2012?

Ted Miller: Barkley is No. 1. If I were to crown a No. 2, it would be Oregon's do-everything offensive weapon De'Anthony Thomas.

It's entirely possible the player who wins the Trojans-Ducks matchup next fall will be headed to New York as a result.

Brian from Kent, Wash., writes: I am trying to find the Pac-12 record book for all passing stats and seeing how close Matt Barkley is to shattering all of them, can you help me out?

Ted Miller: Barkley set the Pac-12 single-season record for TD passes this year with 39, breaking Matt Leinart's mark of 38 set for USC in 2003.

Barkley has 80 career TD passes. He needs 20 in 2012 to break Leinart's conference record of 99 -- which is 14 more than anyone else before him.

Barkley has 9,054 career passing yards. He needs to throw for 2,765 yards to eclipse Carson Palmer's conference record of 11,818.

In other words, unless Barkley gets hurt, he's going to own just about every major career conference passing record by season's end.

Darryl from Oakland writes: I understand the "rah rah" aspect of the SEC, but in reality, shouldn't the USC Trojans be considered the #1 team in the country in the preseason polls for 2012?

Ted Miller: USC likely will get some No. 1 votes but my guess is LSU will be the preseason No. 1. The Tigers' defense has a chance to be even better in 2012 than this year.

And, yes, though it's preposterously early to project, an LSU-USC matchup would be great fun on many levels, including the "rivalry" that was based on LSU finishing No. 2 behind USC in 2003.

Ha! I know at least one head just exploded in Baton Rouge. Some might say that was a split national title.

Garen from Los Angeles writes: Dear Mr. Miller, For the last several years I have dealt with very difficult times in both my professional and personal life. Its hard to find the words to describe how much your blog has meant to me during these times, but it has become much more than just news and entertainment. Day after day, year after year, your blog has provided me with a constant source of escape and relief, and I cant begin to thank you enough for that. I look forward to reading your blog on a daily basis. Than you again for the wonderful job that you do. Happy Holidays and Go Bears!

Ted Miller: Thanks, Garen. You made my day.

The mailbag often highlights people who call the Pac-12 blog names, notes that typically are countered with snarky replies.

But with Christmas coming up this weekend, why not have a nice note to wind things up?
Breathe, USC fans, breathe.

In fact, I'd suggest you ignore what happened Tuesday with Ohio State and its slap on the wrist from the NCAA for a massive systemic breakdown and a coverup by head coach, Jim Tressel.

Yes, when you hold up the Ohio State case and the USC case, it's impossible not to conclude the Ohio State case was far more severe. It was, of course, without question. No informed, objective person believes differently.

[+] EnlargeUSC Trojans
Kirby Lee/US PresswireTrojans fans spell out the word playoffs, but there won't be any postseason play for USC this season.
But here's the thing: Being outraged will accomplish nothing. You will be unhappy and your team will still be docked 30 scholarships over the next three years for what one player secretly did while Ohio State will be down just nine scholarships over the same time period for the rule-breaking of five with full knowledge of their head coach. And your unhappiness will provide great joy to folks who don't like your team.

Adopting a placid pose — at least as best as you can — will be good practice for handling potentially more infuriation ahead. The NCAA also likely will give even worst upcoming cases — North Carolina and the University of Miami at Paul Dee — less severe penalties than it gave USC.

Why? Because the NCAA treated USC unfairly — everybody in college sports knows this — and it likely won't revisit such irrational harshness. In the end, the justification for such severe penalties, meted out in contrast to past precedent, was little more than "just because."

But the NCAA, an organization not endowed with a sense of self-awareness, failed to foresee when it curb-stomped USC that among the lawbreakers in college football, the Trojans were jaywalkers amid a mob of bank robbers. Ohio State's sanctions, in fact, represent a return to NCAA normalcy: Mostly toothless penalties that will have little effect on the program's prospects, other than a single-season bowl ban.

There we go again: Fretting the particulars and the injustice of it all.

The point is USC fans have been quite reasonably been shaking their fists at the heavens or, more accurately, the NCAA home office in Indianapolis for two years. That anger has accomplished nothing, other than emboldening taunts from opposing fans.

You know: Fans whose teams didn't finish 10-2 and ranked No. 5 in the nation.

And therein lies the ultimate revenge: Winning.

It's hard to imagine the next five years won't see a USC downturn. Losing 30 scholarships is a tough burden. Things could be particularly difficult in 2014 and 2015, when the true cumulative impact arrives. And it could be even more galling if Ohio State is back in the national title hunt those years. Maybe playing Miami in a Fiesta Bowl rematch!

But if the Trojans can somehow remain in the picture, perhaps playing in a Rose Bowl -- or two -- along the way that would be a heck of a panacea, wouldn't it?

It's a longshot, sure. But other than that, we've got nothing for you USC. Sorry.

Easy, now. Breathe, breathe. Happy place. Happy place.

Oh, no. That's exactly what we were trying to avoid.

The real work starts for Todd Graham

December, 15, 2011
There's the real world. There's the theoretical world. And there's the world of spin.

The real world: Todd Graham left Pittsburgh for Arizona State and didn't even get a notable raise on his $2 million salary because he'd rather be the head coach at Arizona State than Pittsburgh. His reasons? Really, it doesn't matter in Tempe. That's a question Pittsburgh should ask of itself, not Graham. It could be revealing.

[+] EnlargeTodd Graham
Garry Jones/AP PhotoFollowing one season at Pittsburgh, Todd Graham is now Arizona State's new football coach.
The theoretical world: Todd Graham should have stayed at Pittsburgh because he said it was his dream job and he talked to his players about commitment and told boosters about his commitment to the future and because a high-character person would honor commitment above all else. And he certainly wouldn't announce a breakup with a text message.

The world of spin: Todd Graham was Arizona State's first choice and everyone is thrilled. Graham feels horrible about the way he left Pittsburgh because he loves and respects everyone there. It just couldn't be helped.

You want absolutes of honor, character and integrity in college football? Two names: Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel. How are your absolutes doing now?

You believe in absolute honesty? When you last broke up with a girlfriend/boyfriend did you say: 1. It's not you, it's me; or, 2. You've gained 10 pounds since we started dating and your laugh drives me crazy. And I hate your friends. Except for the one I might ask out.

What did Todd Graham have to say about how he left Pittsburgh during his introductory news conference at Arizona State?
I want to first start and talk about my players from Pitt. The last few hours have been extremely gut wrenching for me, obviously for my family. I love those guys. I'm very proud of the growth that they had this year, both on the field, off the field, in the classroom and in the community. I'm very proud of them. You never want to leave a program, and I never dreamed that I would have to leave a program under these circumstances.

The timing of these processes are extremely rapid, and it did not allow for me to address the team, and that is very hurtful. I've never had to endure that, and I really regret that. I really regret that I didn't have the opportunity to do that. I reached out to them in the only way that I knew how, the only means that I had at my disposal because I absolutely did not want them to hear about this on the news. I wanted them to know first. The only other alternative I had was not to communicate at all, and that was just unacceptable to me.

I plan on my return to Pittsburgh to reach out to them and to communicate to them. Obviously my staff that's there has communicated, as well, and those young men, I just want them to know that I love them. Coaching and teaching is a passion to me, and that's something that's very, very important before I talk about anything else, that I want my players from Pitt to know that I love them and I'm proud of them.

You can believe it or not.

If Graham loved his Panthers and was proud of them, why did he not insist on delivering the news of his exit personally?
Well, obviously this transpired this morning in a rapid pace, and it was last night and this morning, and there wasn't an opportunity to have a team meeting and be able to meet with them.

Now, these processes move very quickly and very rapidly, and that's the tough thing about this business and about coaching. I've had experience with that before, and if there was anyway possible, again, that's — I never want to do that, and that's the greatest regret you can have, and it's the most horrible feeling that you have. But again, I reached out in the only way that I knew how because I absolutely was not going to just have them see this on the news.

In other words, Graham put what he termed "a gut-wrenching experience" in his left hand and the opportunity with Arizona State in his right and decided to endure the one because of the appeal of the other. He made a tough decision that many people make in the job market, only the news media wasn't Tweeting about it all day Wednesday. And there are, whether folks back East are willing to admit it or not, real world reasons why Arizona State held such great appeal to Graham.

ASU athletic director Lisa Love admitted she was aware of Graham's now even more justifiable reputation as a mercenary climber who constantly eyeballs better jobs.

Said Love: "I love the fact that [Graham's wife] Penny's parents are sitting right here and they drove up the road. I love the fact that Todd has family here. I love the fact that Desert Mountain was a place where they were investing and prepared to invest in property and believed him. I believed him. I can tell you that I saw that on job movement, but I believed him."

Trust. It's dangerous. But Love needed a coach after a muddled 17-day search that Wednesday's spin couldn't smooth over, and there was Graham -- eager, affordable and with a fairly solid resume. Ergo, leap of faith.

Of course, track records don't disappear. What if Georgia or Ohio State comes calling with $4 million a year? Why should Arizona State fans believe this is a better dream job than his last dream job, a phrase that the effervescent Graham throws around a lot.
Question: Because of your track record, how do you convince Sun Devil Nation, future recruits, the football team, everyone affiliated with ASU that you're here for the long haul?

COACH GRAHAM: I think the only way to respond to that is just being here. Obviously it was, like I said earlier in the remarks, that this is a dream opportunity for our family. It's obviously the first decision I've ever made that has actually benefited my wife and benefited our family. You know, I think that the only way you can do it is, like I said, I'm going to work hard to earn their trust, and I think trust is earned, so that's all I can do.

Right. Actions, ultimately, are real world tangible. Words are for worlds of theory and spin.

But words are all there are at present, and many of the words are going to be negative about Graham, and not completely without justification. Graham's perfect grasp of massaging talking points Wednesday evening often strained credulity. For example, he celebrated former Sun Devils greats Pat Tillman and Terrell Suggs. Suggs took a shot at him on Twitter, and Tillman, an absolutist on integrity in both word and deed, would not likely have been at the presser clapping for Graham had he not given his life for his country.

Graham also seemed to be unaware of the term "irony."
Question: When you get settled in, what's the first thing you do to get this program going in the Todd Graham way?

COACH GRAHAM: One word: Relationships. Start building relationships. That's a key component.

He's — officially — referring to the theoretical world. But he's — in reality — speaking of relationships of convenience. You do your best to get along with folks at your office whom you might not like. You talk as pleasantly as possible to annoying neighbors because, well, it seems smarter than telling them they are annoying gasbags. You nurture your world and love your family and friends.

A football coach enters relationships of convenience with a football program. He's got his AD. He's got his school president. He's got boosters who want to play golf with him. He's got to shake hands with lawyers who will offer unsolicited advice on using the tight end more and being more "attacking" on defense. He's got 85 scholarship players who need to be pushed, prodded and coddled in ways unique to their individuality. There is lots of talk of family but it ultimately is a business based on what the scoreboard says.

The real world will be more difficult for Graham because of his present standing in the theoretical world, and no spin can change that. He doesn't have a clean slate. Some will resist giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Relationships? What about those guys at Pitt?

But if Graham is who Love and school president Michael Crow say he is, "just being here" is a reasonable point A for hope. Point B be will be maintaining a recruiting class that seemed headed for a top-25 national ranking before Dennis Erickson was fired.

And the endgame? That's where the real world intrudes over all else: Winning, winning, winning.

Imagining the perfect coach

December, 13, 2011
PM ET senior national columnist Gene Wojciechowski asks a question many athletic directors -- and fans -- have been asking themselves over the past few weeks: What is a perfect coach?

Woj tries to come up with some ideas, and what he found is that many coaches have important elements of a perfect coach.

Here are five observations from the Pac-12:
  • The perfect coach is as good-natured as Oregon State's Mike Riley, who refuses to let the often cynical and harsh nature of his profession keep him from being -- and staying -- a genuinely nice guy.
  • The perfect coach has a sense of place -- like David Shaw, who finished high school near Palo Alto, played for Stanford, earned his degree from Stanford, was an offensive coordinator at Stanford (his dad was a former defensive coordinator on The Farm) and just completed an 11-1 regular season in his first season as Stanford's head coach.
  • The perfect coach is an innovator, such as Oregon's Chip Kelly, who won't be satisfied until the Ducks cause the play clock to explode.
  • The perfect coach can turn around a program like Jeff Tedford did at Cal (a .246 winning percentage in the previous five seasons before his arrival; a .627 winning percentage since) and Bob Stoops did at OU (Before: .410 winning percentage; after: .803).
  • The perfect coach learns from his mistakes, as USC's Lane Kiffin has.

All that said, Woj concludes: "The perfect coach … doesn't exist. And never will."

True. But the process of finding one has always fascinated me. If I had been an athletic director looking for a "perfect" coach, here's what I would have been asking, first and foremost.

What will his staff look like? This is the most underrated question of a coaching search. No head coach, no matter how good, does well with a mediocre or bad staff. And plenty of mediocre-to-bad head coaches do well with good staffs. It also says something important about a head coach if great assistants want to work for him. Smart assistants don't want to work for bad head coaches and they know through their networks who the good head coaches are. They want to go places where they sense success is coming in order to boost their own careers.

What's his recruiting aptitude? Not just in terms of recruiting rankings but in terms of backend -- read: NFL -- production? There are two stages to recruiting. One, can a coach bring in A-list recruiting talent? That's all those four- and five-star guys. It's nice to have a coach who can get lots of those. But there also this: How well does he evaluate? And how well does he develop talent? If a guy who regularly ranks 26-45 in the recruiting rankings rates 15-25 in terms of producing NFL draft picks, he's a better recruiter than the guy who regularly ranks in the top 10 in recruiting but falls short turning those guys into NFL players.

Is he organized? Just about every good head coach is organized. That sounds simple, eh? It's not. Some of the hot, young assistant coaches you always hear about are not organized. They are explosions of energy and charisma and can charm anyone, but they are not detail-oriented, linear thinkers. This is something I noticed about Kelly immediately at Oregon. He plans out his entire year. If you asked Kelly what he's doing on April 3, 2012, he can tell you.

How good are his social skills? There are plenty of good coaches who don't have good social skills. But it helps a lot to have them. It's a major benefit to have a coach who can talk to the media, to boosters and to administrators without building up ill will.

How does he react to failure? How does he react to success? Everyone loves the meteoric rise, but coaches who have been tested by adversity are more complete. And predictable. Further, there's something to be said for coaches of whom it can be said, "He's exactly the same guy," after a conference or national championship is won.

Does he fit here? Different schools have different cultures. Rich Rodriguez was not a good fit at Michigan. Jim Tressel would fail at USC. Kelly would be a much better fit at Florida than Auburn. I think the reason Chris Petersen keeps saying no to suitors is because he knows he's a great fit at Boise State and, so far, he hasn't felt he would be a good fit at places that pursued him.

What is his ultimate goal? This is a dangerous question because the goal is winning ASAP, not fretting about the long-term future. There are only 10 or so destination jobs in college football -- places where there really isn't a move up. If your school isn't one of them, you need to entertain potential reactions to best-case scenarios: What if this guy is gangbusters? Will he stay? Or does he bolt? There needs to be some forward thinking and a plan B. That involves lining up money to pay a guy who succeeds, as well as starting to visit the idea of who's next should he leave. That could specifically involve watching both coordinators very closely.

Ducks-Huskies: Nameless, faceless foes?

November, 3, 2011
We've got bad news. College football rivalries aren't really about the emotional roller coaster, the good guys versus bad guys of a Hollywood movie. Their fundamental essence is far more akin to those self-help books you see stacked high on the deeply discounted table at your corner bookstore.

While Oregon and Washington fans have spent a lot of time this week painting each other as inferior, uglier, stupider and enemies of all that is right and good, the Huskies' and Ducks' locker rooms have been talking about focusing on "things they can control" and about the "importance of preparation" and about "winning the day."

[+] EnlargeChris Polk
Steven Bisig/US PresswireWashington's Chris Polk remains friends with Oregon's LaMichael James despite the teams' rivalry.
Rivalry talk? It's for fans, not players.

"That stuff is so cool when you are on the outside," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "That's why I love this sport. But from the inside, the rivalry is not going to make us play better. It's our preparation."

On Monday, some Oregon fans probably will make up stories about being spit on in Husky Stadium, just like some Huskies fans probably made up stories about being spit on at Autzen Stadium in the past, as if spitting on people is more accepted as proper behavior in Seattle/Portland than in Portland/Seattle.

And Huskies running back Chris Polk will still be from California and Ducks running back LaMichael James will still be from Texas and they will continue to like each other, because the different colors of their jerseys don't hide the fact they have a lot in common.

"He's a real cool person," Polk said. "It just so happens that he's a Duck and I'm a Husky. I consider him a friend. I respect him as a player and a person."

Further, the bitter hate of this rivalry among fans apparently can be weened out of a young man if he should ever become a player in the game, either via coaching hypnosis, a magic ray beam set up in the locker room, or an untruth serum provided by a sports information department deeply paranoid about players saying anything inflammatory about the rivalry.

For example, Oregon defensive tackle Taylor Hart, a graduate of Tualatin (Ore.) High School, has this in his official bio: "Notable: Father is a UO graduate. Attended first Oregon game (against USC) when he was eight years old."

When asked about this, Hart acts as if he has little memory of it, other than admitting that, yes, he did root for Oregon growing up.

Asked if this game is special for him, he said: "We've been going into every game as the Ducks Super Bowl and that's worked for us. I feel like that's how we're going into this game."

Asked how his father, Doug, might feel about this game, Hart said: "I don't know how he feels."


This, of course, can be attributed to Ducks coach Chip Kelly's well-known mind-control techniques. While Kelly admits that he frequently hears from Ducks fans about their dislike of the Huskies -- "They bring it up. It's relevant to them," he said -- he also coaches by the mantra of playing a "nameless, faceless opponent" each week, and that each game is the equivalent of a "Super Bowl."

If you wish to mock this approach, please note that Kelly is 29-5 as the Ducks' head coach and is 22-1 in conference play.

"We don't get caught up in the 1923 game," Kelly said. "Or what happened in the '89 game or the '96 game. None of us were here. The only thing we can worry about is what we have an effect on. What we have an effect on is the game we're playing on Saturday."

By the way, the Huskies won 26-7 in 1923, 20-14 in 1989 and 33-14 in 1996. They, however, have lost seven in a row in the rivalry, each defeat by at least 20 points.

This "just another game" talk might feel like raining on a parade, but at least Ducks and Huskies are pretty good at handling rain.

Further, when taken as an observable social trend, this represents an interesting shift in thinking. Recall that some coaches celebrate rivalries and talk specifically about how rivalry games are more important than others. Jim Tressel was immediately embraced by Ohio State fans when he started trash talking Michigan before he'd even coached in the game.

And it wasn't too long ago that then-Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel and then-Ducks coach Mike Bellotti were trading barbs in the newspapers, players were openly taunting each other and Oregon players were wearing T-shirts that said, er, "Huck the Fuskies."

Now, instead, it's fairly clear that Sarkisian and Kelly like each other, at least as well as coaches in the same conference can.

"I think the world of Chip," Sarkisian said. "We've got a very good relationship. I probably communicate with Chip as much as any other coach in our conference in season or out of season."

Finally, the "nameless, faceless opponent" mantra makes sense. Shouldn't a team try to practice and play at its highest level every week? The whole "110 percent" cliche is mathematically impossible, after all, but giving just, say, 80 percent in practice and competition is something any coach or athlete would condemn. And the emotions of "We really hate these guys" can only last a few plays before the football part of football becomes most important: blocking, tackling, executing.

"I don't think you have the time or the energy to get up for one game more than another," Sarkisian said. "The preparation process is really more about us than about Oregon, and our ability to go out and play the best brand of football that we can."

Still, there is something there. Just as Kelly and Sarkisian admit that boosters frequently bring up the rivalry, Polk said he hears about Oregon "just about every day." Being that this is the last game in Husky Stadium before a massive renovation begins, and that former Huskies coach Don James and the 1991 national championship team will be on hand, there's an unmistakable gravitas to the approach of Saturday night.

Oh, and there's that whole Pac-12 North and Rose Bowl thing, too. Both teams have designs on those, the Ducks for a third consecutive time, the Huskies as a sign of program recovery from an extended downturn.

So the cumulative effect will be a game atmosphere that should feel more intense than, say, if either team were squaring off with Missouri State or Eastern Washington.

"There's definitely a sense of urgency," Polk said. "Win or lose, the most important thing is respect. Being that we've not really played our best game the last few times we've played them, and they kind of got in to us, we don't feel like they really respect us. They whole thing this weekend is to go out there and earn respect."

And the notion of earning respect works both as a self-help truism and as an us-vs-them cinematic plot point.

Podcast: Woj, Cook on recruiting scandals

July, 6, 2011
Ivan Maisel talks about team-building with Auburn coach Gene Chizik. Gene Wojciechowski and Beano Cook lament where the game has gone in light of more recruiting scandals.

Mailbag: Pac-12 culture vs. SEC culture

June, 24, 2011
Welcome to the last thing you must do before your weekend begins in earnest: Read the mailbag.

This is your brain. This is your brain if you follow me on Twitter. This is your brain if you don't.

To the notes.

Corey from San Francisco writes: So I watched the video about overtaking the SEC, and I find it sort of silly. Do you really think any conference will overtake the SEC any time soon? Will you at least admit the SEC is the best conference? And if so, I'd be curious about your explanation why.

Ted Miller: The SEC is the best conference during the BCS era. There is no way to argue the point: Five consecutive national championships and six different teams with BCS titles. No other conference boasts more than two.

Overtake the SEC? Hard to say. My first response is not anytime soon, at least not as college football is configured at present. If Larry Scott's grand vision of the Pac-16 had gone through, with Texas and Oklahoma among the Big 12 teams defecting to the Pac-10, things might feel very different today.

But this annual debate is a little redundant. So, Corey, I want to focus on the final part of your note: why?

I think it's about more than talent, fan frenzy and money. It's about culture. It's about the total buy-in at places where football is more important -- for better or worse -- than anything else.

There are a lot of good football teams out there as we head into 2011. Plenty of them are capable of winning every game. But the most challenging opponent for many top teams isn't the one on the opposite sideline. It's themselves. It's getting up for every game with maximum focus and preparation and not blowing one or two (or more) games to inferior foes.

My hypothesis is the football culture that surrounds SEC football, that most of the SEC players were raised in, provides that little extra bit of focus and dedication that helps a team avoid the Saturday brain cramp that turns a potential 12-0 team into an 11-1 team. Or a potential 11-1 team into a 9-3 team. Or worse.

The most obvious example in the Pac-10 would be the most successful program of the past decade: USC. The Trojans should have won more than its two national titles under Pete Carroll. In fact, the only defeat USC suffered from 2002-2008 in which you could say the Trojans weren't significant favorites was to Texas in the national title game after the 2005 season. And they were favored in that game. Go through the schedules yourself.

Further, I've also had numerous conversations with Pac-10 players through the years when they've talked about their team losing focus, taking a season for granted, partying too much, a locker room fracturing, etc. Those sorts of things happen everywhere in team sports, I just think they happen more in big city football out West than in the more insular enclaves in the Southeast. And I've lived long periods of time in both places, so I'm not just throwing mud at the wall here and hoping it becomes art.

Yet this cultural challenge -- some might offer that it's actually a healthy perspective -- is not insurmountable. Good coaches can create winning cultures. Let's start with something that might make you cynics roll your eyes: slogans and gimmicks.

The most important thing Chip Kelly brought to Oregon was not its up-tempo, spread option offense. It was this: "Win the day." Or, as the denizens of Autzen Stadium now know it, WTD.

And how many hokey things did Jim Harbaugh do and say at Stanford? "Enthusiasm unknown to mankind!" Gas station work shirts to demonstrate a blue collar attitude. Winning with "character and cruelty."

Even Carroll's "Win forever," was the endlessly repeated mantra of the USC dynasty.

That's why Cal fans may not want to mock coach Jeff Tedford's "Team matters" T-shirts this spring. It may prove to be a stroke of inspiration -- in multiple senses of the term.

You -- or players -- can be cynical about these sorts of things, or about an all-encompassing football culture, but how often does cynicism get cited as a foundational value of a successful venture? Other than a stand-up comedy.

The SEC has great talent, great coaches, big stadiums and lots of money. But its passionate football culture has played a role in the conference's rise.

Can the Pac-12 duplicate that? Probably not, top to bottom. But a program -- or programs -- can. They've just got to create their own obsessive, winning-is-the-only-thing-or-I-will-die, culture.

Ken from Bothell, Wash., writes: With the Pac 12 beginning to digest its new teams, what would be the next logical move for expansion? Obviously, a lot is likely to happen prior to the conference making a move, but do you see Mr. Scott trying to get into the Texas market again?

Ted Miller: Digest! Buffalo sounds tasty, but I'm not sure about Ute.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott believes there will be further conference expansion in the future, and his huge brain seems to be three steps ahead of everyone else, so I'm going to go ahead and agree with him.

In fact, he recently told John Henderson of the Denver Post this:
Do you see future expansion? “Long term I do. What I found in the process we went through, there were a lot more value for the schools that would be unlocked long term if there were further consolidation. I don’t think we’ll see anything in the next two years.”

Texas continues to be the big fish, but the Longhorns new network complicates its potential membership in the Pac-12. Still, the marketplace changes quickly. Who knows what the landscape will look like in 2020?

Tyrell from Salt Lake City writes: You were incorrect in regards to football profits last year for Utah. Utah was just shy of $5 million in profit (you can find the numbers from the same Sportsbiz website). That would have put them in ahead of a couple of PAC-10 schools, and considering they were receiving less than $2 million per year from the MTN West -- somewhat impressive. All that said, the new PAC-12 deal can't get here soon enough!

Ted Miller: Yeah, I messed that up -- didn't realize the list was only AQ schools and that's why Utah's numbers from the Mountain West were not included.

Sort of embarrassing because if I had considered it for a moment, there was no way that the Utes were running a $2 million-plus deficit in football. Dumb.

A number of notes on that oversight. Apologies.

Roger from The Woodlands, Texas writes: This was in Wednesday's lunch link regarding a [Publication name withheld] article: "Since the shakeout of last summer with Colorado and Nebraska's decisions to leave the Big 12 Conference, and subsequent frenzy that ultimately ended with only Utah joining CU in the Pac-10, word from several athletics administrators is that CU is having serious buyer's remorse. The splitting of divisions and even the playing of a league championship on home sites has been openly ridiculed within the new Pac-12. The conference in-fighting CU thinks it is leaving in the Big 12 has already ramped up at the Buffs' new home." Have you been hearing any of this? Are you holding out on us?

Ted Miller: It's notable that article is no longer posted. And didn't include a writer's name on it.

Have I heard anything like that? Nothing. Zero. Such sentiments do not exist.

If there is a person out there associated with Colorado experiencing buyers' remorse, please email me.

The only possible explanation would be that Colorado has to buy a new bank vault because its Big 12 version isn't big enough to store the soon-to-be incoming revenue from the RICHEST TV DEAL IN COLLEGE SPORTS HISTORY.

Or perhaps some are broken up about road trips to Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Phoenix, Tucson and Los Angeles instead of Lubbock, Waco, Norman, Manhattan and Ames?

L Wallace from Yuma, Ariz., writes: That stat about Wazzu being ranked ahead of 5 teams Utah played last yr was striking. I say the most underrated challenge for Utah will be the upgrade in Coaching. I think [Utah coach Kyle] Whittingham is the 3rd best Coach in the P12. However, he and [TCU coach Gary[ Patterson and [Boise State coach Chris] Petersen enjoy such a huge advantage over their peers in the MWC & WAC. In the P12 Utah will face OC's and DC's that are future HC's. They will face dozens of coaches with varying degrees of NFL and bigtime BCS experience. They will face programs that enjoy more resources, video, computer, scouting technology and tools. The "Schematic Advantage" that Whittingham enjoyed in the MWC will be severely tested in the P12.

Ted Miller: Interesting theory.

You would think that the richer programs in the Pac-12, which have more resources for preparation, including coaches who command better salaries, will present a more consistent strategic challenge on a week-to-week basis.

We shall shortly see, eh?

David from Beaverton, Ore., writes: Is it just me or do you notice college football fans start to emulate the characteristics of their team's coach over time? As a Beaver, I noticed Beav fans had a bit of a swagger when Erickson was our coach and for the most part, the fans are more even keeled with Mike Riley. At Oregon, Bellotti and Kelly can and have appeared, how should I put this "a little arrogant" at times and there is a large group of their fans that more than fall into that camp. Trojan fans seemed to have a confident swagger with Carroll, that previously was a quieter confidence in the McKay/Robinson eras.

Ted Miller: Hmm. My first reaction: What might have happened if Jim Harbaugh stuck around Stanford for another five years?

Maybe. But I don't know if I'm really feeling your theory. For one, I've never felt that Mike Bellotti seemed "arrogant." Not any more than any other successful coach.

Do a lot of Penn State fans look and act like Joe Paterno? Bobby Bowden was one of the true gentlemen in coaching; not sure if the Seminole fan base is known for the same. Just as Ohio State fans aren't really known for their senatorial bearing, like the coach formerly known as Jim Tressel was.

Are Arizona fans wound as tightly as Mike Stoops? Will Washington fans shortly adopt the California cool of Steve Sarkisian? How are Cal fans like Jeff Teford?

Or did you just want to drop in a tweak of Chip Kelly?
Here's some reaction to Oregon's release of documents on Monday that seem to fall woefully short of $25,000 worth of recruiting information paid to Willie Lyles.
  • Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, "The Price is Wrong, Ducks." Writes Staples: "If [coach Chip] Kelly or any of his coaches tried to pass off the booklet released Monday as legitimate, NCAA investigators might consider that a fib on the level of, say, claiming a recruit wasn't at a cookout at a coach's house when he actually was or, possibly, conveniently forgetting to mention that series of e-mails about the tattoo parlor. Ask former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl and former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel how those fibs turned out for them."
  • Writes Doc Saturday: "If this sounds too stupid to believe, well, that's because it probably is. The merely unflattering explanation is that Oregon was ripped off by a con man who stuck the Ducks with a shoddy product — embarrassing, maybe, but there's no NCAA rule against being gullible. The more cynical assumption is the same as it was when Lyles' name first slithered up from the gutter of the recruiting trail in the spring: That Oregon found a loophole in the system that allowed it to 'legally' funnel money to a middle man (Lyles) in exchange for access to certain recruits it already knew more than enough about."
  • Ken Goe of The Oregonian, "Documents released Monday by the University of Oregon raise more questions than they answer about the football program's association with a controversial scouting service."
  • The Eugene Register-Guard notes that one of the players on the list played against the Ducks -- and for Auburn -- in the national title game.

The guess here is many Ducks fans are slapping their foreheads to distract themselves from a sinking feeling in their gut. Others are shaking their fists at the messengers, because they really don't like what the message suggests.

The issue is fairly simple: Can Oregon sit in front of the NCAA and claim it got something of reasonable value from Lyles, who is known as a "street agent" by folks who speak ill of him. It doesn't have to be $25,000 worth of recruiting info. Oregon has a right to get ripped off. But there has to be at least an iota of legitimacy.

Otherwise, the Ducks could face some significant NCAA issues, even if the rules governing scouting services are murky.

There perhaps is space here for an explanation. Maybe Lyles was light on the book evaluations, heavy on the video, which hasn't been made available to the media. And if you don't hear from an Oregon spokesman immediately, that doesn't necessarily mean the Ducks are sunk. The process of an NCAA investigation typically yields information only begrudgingly.

Still, behind the yuck-yucks from reporters over the absurdity of Monday's revelations, there lies the potential for real consequences for a program that had stepped firmly into the void atop the Pac-12 after USC's tumble.

Colorado's visit to OSU no longer imposing

May, 31, 2011
Ohio State just suffered through the worst Memorial Day in program history. You can read about the details here -- coach Jim Tressel resigning and further grounds for major NCAA sanctions -- but that's not our focus on the Pac-12 blog.

Our focus, of course, is what it means for the Pac-12. And that is two things.

First, briefly, it's a good bet the conference champion will not be facing Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The loss of Tressel and a handful of player suspensions almost certainly will be too much to overcome to win the Big Ten.

Second, Colorado's visit to Columbus on Sept. 24, which once looked like a get-paid-for-a-pounding matchup, now looks winnable.

The Buckeyes, who will be led by interim coach Luke Fickell, at the very least will not have quarterback Terrelle Pryor, leading rusher Daniel "Boom" Herron, No. 2 wide receiver DeVier Posey, All-Big Ten offensive tackle Mike Adams and backup defensive end Solomon Thomas

The Buckeyes already were replacing several key players on defense: end Cameron Heyward, linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa. Still, the general feeling was the depth was there to keep winning.

But the plot might thicken, according to a Sports Illustrated report that alleges at least 28 players traded memorabilia or autographs for money and tattoos since 2002. Nine are on the current roster, including two returning starters on the defensive line, tackle John Simon and end Nathan Williams, as well as other players in the mix on the depth chart.

If these players are found to also have violated rules against receiving extra benefits, it's likely they, too, won't play against Colorado. Ohio State probably won't wait for the NCAA to hand out suspensions. It will try to be proactive, falling on its sword with hopes that will soften the eventual penalties.

There's depth, and then there's playing what amounts to a second unit against the Buffaloes, who welcome back 14 starters from a team that went 5-7 and was good enough to beat Georgia and Kansas State.

Colorado's first five games go like this: Hawaii, California, Colorado State, Ohio State and Washington State.

We are not ready to term this a prediction, Buffaloes fans, but it no longer is completely absurd to dream of heading to Stanford on Oct. 8 with a 5-0 record.
First things first. USC fans, you have a right to be outraged by the NCAA infractions appeals committee decision to uphold all penalties against the Trojans football program.

The sanctions -- two-year bowl ban, a 30-scholarship reduction over three years -- were not fair based on historical precedent. They weren't fair based on the flimsy evidence against the program. They weren't fair even if all the findings were true.

Said USC in a statement:
[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
AP Photo/Andy KingThe NCAA upheld a decision to dock Lane Kiffin and USC 30 scholarships over three years and inact a two-year bowl ban.
"We respectfully, but vehemently, disagree with the findings of the NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee. Our position was that the Committee on Infractions abused its discretion and imposed penalties last June that were excessive and inconsistent with established case precedent."

But it's time to get over it. Being angry isn't going to change anything. This, by the way, was expected. The appeals committee is set up to reject appeals. Another ridiculous part of the NCAA process? Absolutely. But as you might have told your child when he or she was ranting about some playground injustice: "Life isn't fair."

Recall this letter from athletic director Pat Haden:
During the period of our NCAA probation we won't wake up each morning with a "woe is me" attitude as a result of the sanctions. I have failed if I cannot create a positive, upbeat environment that cultivates success in spite of the sanctions.

Want some solace? You weren't Ohio State coach Jim Tressel when you got out of bed this morning. He might be the only person more unhappy with the NCAA ruling than USC fans. If the USC football program gets hammered like this for the Reggie Bush fiasco, what will Tressel face? The stocks for a year in Ann Arbor?

A second grounds for solace? It's over. The seemingly endless process is at an end. After the anger slows a bit, there at least will be clarity, even if the picture isn't rosy.

USC won't be eligible to compete for the first Pac-12 South Division title. Scholarship limits over the next three years will have a significant impact on competitiveness. It's unlikely the Trojans will rejoin the national title hunt within five years. (Pedro Moura does a nice job here speculating on the immediate scholarship situation).

A third grounds for solace? USC is a far better athletic program today under Haden than it was under the often bizarre leadership of Mike Garrett, whose adversarial handling of the NCAA investigation provided a firm foundation for the infractions committee to justify a fit of pique when the evidence didn't do so. (Chris Defresne does a nice job of explaining that here).

A final grounds for solace? USC was far from innocent. For all the winning the Pete Carroll Era produced, the program was a circus of opportunity for leaches and opportunists. Part of the NCAA's ire -- the justified part -- was the lack of organized and firm monitoring. That appears to have changed under Haden.

Who are the big winners today? The other 11 teams in the Pac-12, particularly the five teams in the Pac-12 South, and -- most particularly-- UCLA.

Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel is on the hot seat, yes, but if he can lead a successful season -- seven or eight wins -- he should survive and then have a banner year recruiting in Southern California almost by default. Some were surprised that didn't happen this past recruiting campaign, when Lane Kiffin surged and Neuheisel tanked. But the new reality is there are more than 15 elite recruits in the Los Angeles area and if they want to play football near home, they now have only one option in an AQ conference.

That won't make USC fans happy. But, Trojans, it's time to breathe. USC is a timeless football program. It will rise again.

Oh, one more grounds for solace: The NCAA has its own problems.

Which programs, conferences best develop talent?

May, 3, 2011
Who are the the best (and worst) college programs and conferences at developing recruits into NFL players?

That's an interesting question, and the Iowa football blog "Black Hearts, Gold Pants" decided to try and figure out some answers.
Good recruiting data across college football goes back to 2002. And we have draft information for every year. So, by matching between those two data sets, we can answer the questions above. We can identify the programs that do the best (and worst) job developing their players (at least over the past decade). Better yet, we can use this data to tell a prospective recruit exactly how much their NFL chances are affected by their choice of school. Whether this information is on the top of the recruiting packets or hidden from sight will depend on the school, but these are numbers every recruit should know before signing on that dotted line.

Enter the "Developmental Ratio."
The Development Ratio is a simple way to measure the effect of a program on player development: take the number of recruits a program turned into draft picks and divide that by the number that an average BCS program would have produced from the same recruiting classes.

The results? USC finished No. 1, Ohio State No. 2, Iowa No. 3 and California No. 4.
Ohio State and USC are huge names, attract great recruits, and turn out even better NFL prospects. These statistics come almost entirely from the Pete Carrol and Jim Tressel eras and they show that both coaches deserve the credit they get - they didn't just skate by on the higher talent level those programs attract on name, they got the best out of that talent.

Which conferences best develop talent? It must be the SEC, as that conference produces so many NFL players, right?

Nope. The best two is a Rose Bowl: The Big Ten was No. 1 and the Pac-12 was No. 2. Recruits that go to the Big Ten add 15 percent to their NFL chances, while Pac-12 recruits add 10 percent.

On the low end is the Big 12: "recruits to the Big 12 take almost a 20% hit to their NFL chances when they pick the conference."

So congrats Colorado.

Another surprising finding: The Pac-12 does a better job developing defensive players than offensive players, though it does well at the skill positions. The conference ranks fourth in terms of developing offensive players, second for defensive players and second for skill players.

There's a lot of interesting data in this article, and I'm sure some of you might poke a few holes in its methods. Definitely worth a look, though.

Podcast: ESPNU College Football

March, 9, 2011
Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach react to Ohio State's suspension of Jim Tressel. Plus, Maisel covers the Oregon allegations and assesses the state of recruiting with George Schroeder and Tom Luginbill.



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12