Friday, May 27, 2011
Updated: May 30, 5:10 PM ET
Which BCS teams are on the rise or fall?
By Mark Schlabach
College football coaches like to say momentum is everything in their sport.
Momentum can change a team's fortunes in the fourth quarter of a game, during the final month of recruiting or even during the offseason, when players are either focused on getting better or they're not.
If a college football program isn't moving forward, it's either coasting or regressing.
Heading into the 2011 season, programs such as Florida State, Oklahoma State and Stanford are riding plenty of momentum. Conversely, traditional heavyweights such as Florida, Georgia, Penn State and Southern California seem to be stuck in neutral or are sliding downhill.
Which teams currently have momentum and which teams don't?
We used the following criteria to devise a health report for each team from a Bowl Championship Series:
5: Consistent winner with potential to be BCS bowl contender every season
4: Potential to join the sport's elite in the near future
3: Recent mediocre results but seems to be building momentum
2: Recent success but seems to be headed in wrong direction
1: Below-average program with little success in past or future
Here is an overall health report for each BCS team:
After an 11-3 finish behind star quarterback Matt Ryan in 2007, the Eagles' victory total has decreased in each of the last three seasons, from nine in '08 to eight in '09 to seven in '10. BC is isolated from the rest of the ACC and, fair or not, is an unattractive bowl selection because of its small fan base.
The Tigers haven't won a conference championship since 1991, although they came close to doing it in coach Dabo Swinney's second season in 2009. The Tigers slipped to 6-7 last season, putting a lot of pressure on Swinney in 2011. The Tigers' incoming top-10 recruiting class might help.
David Cutcliffe has done a nice job in three seasons at Duke and a bowl game might even be in the works in 2011. But the program's history suggests the Blue Devils' 5-7 finish in 2009 might be as good as it gets.
Perhaps no team will ever match FSU's amazing run during the 1990s, but the Seminoles' 10-4 finish in coach Jimbo Fisher's first season in 2010 gives their fans plenty of hope for the future. Fisher has stockpiled back-to-back top-five recruiting classes as well.
Can Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson build a consistent winner with his triple-option spread offense? After guiding Tech to an ACC title in 2009, Johnson's team slipped to 6-7 in 2010 and his recruiting efforts haven't been great.
A coaching change was probably inevitable, but former Connecticut coach Randy Edsall's conservative coaching style might not inject much enthusiasm into a Maryland program that could really use some new life.
Former Temple coach Al Golden built a winner in the most unlikely of places, but he'll have his hands full trying to resurrect Miami's program. The Canes lack great facilities and a big and generous fan base, which are two requirements in joining the sport's elite.
The Tar Heels' ongoing NCAA problems might end up preventing them from joining the sport's upper echelon of teams. Coach Butch Davis has done a tremendous job of upgrading UNC's talent; keeping his best players eligible has been another matter.
Did the Wolfpack finally turn the corner with a 9-4 record in 2010? Known for building consistent winners at Boston College, NC State coach Tom O'Brien failed to produce a winning campaign in each of his first three seasons in Raleigh.
The Cavaliers can only hope they hit rock bottom during the last three seasons, when they went a combined 6-18 against ACC foes. Coach Mike London is a great recruiter, but it might be a couple more seasons before he fields a really competitive team.
It's hard to find a more consistent team in the country. The Hokies claimed ACC titles in three of the last four seasons and won at least 10 games in each of the last seven.
The last two seasons proved how remarkable the Demon Deacons' 2006 ACC championship really was. After winning eight games or more in three straight seasons from 2006 to '08, Wake Forest went a combined 8-16 the past two seasons.
The Bears have a star quarterback (Robert Griffin III) and underrated coach (Art Briles), who guided them to their first bowl game in 16 years in 2010. Building a consistent winner will be Briles' biggest challenge.
The Cyclones can't seem to get over the hump, going 7-6 in 2009 and 5-7 in '10 in coach Paul Rhoads' first two seasons. At least Rhoads won seven more games than Gene Chizik did in his two seasons at Iowa State from 2007-08.
Turner Gill's first season as the Jayhawks' coach was an unmitigated disaster, as they limped to their second straight losing record at 3-9. Gill had a lot of success at Buffalo, but competing in the Big 12 might be a different animal.
Even legendary Wildcats coach Bill Snyder is having a hard time cleaning up the mess former KSU coach Ron Prince left behind. In Snyder's second go-around in Manhattan, the Wildcats are 13-12 in two seasons combined.
Gary Pinkel has guided the Tigers to unprecedented success, winning 40 games over the last four seasons and going to six straight bowl games. The only things missing: A Big 12 championship and BCS bowl game.
Even the sport's best teams suffer a mediocre season every once in a while (OU went 8-4 in 2005 and 8-5 in '09), but Bob Stoops has built one of the most consistent winners in the country. Under his watch, OU has won seven Big 12 titles and played in four BCS National Championship games since 2000.
The Pokes won 29 games during the last three seasons combined, including a school-best 11-2 record in 2010. Of course, in-state rival Oklahoma might be OSU's biggest obstacle in joining college football's upper crust.
The Longhorns have more talent, money and resources at their disposal than just about every other program in the country. That's what makes last season's 5-7 finish so perplexing. With a new coaching staff in place, it shouldn't take Mack Brown long to get UT back on track.
Mike Sherman led the Aggies to a 9-4 record in 2010, nearly equaling his victory total (10-15) from his first two seasons in College Station. Sherman has upgraded the Aggies' talent and has them in position to become a Big 12 challenger every season.
The Mike Leach fiasco seemed to suck life out of the Texas Tech program, but then former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville produced an 8-5 record in his first season in Lubbock. At least Tuberville is teaching the Red Raiders how to play defense.
Was former Bearcats coach Brian Kelly, who left for Notre Dame, the biggest reason for their success? Butch Jones, who was a big winner at Central Michigan, limped to a 4-8 record in his first season at Cincinnati.
The Huskies are coming off a Big East title and BCS bowl appearance, but losing former coach Randy Edsall to Maryland was a big blow. Hiring former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni wasn't much of a Band-Aid.
Former Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong guided the Cardinals to a bowl game in his first season, which rejuvenated the team's fan base. It won't be long before Louisville is back in the Big East title hunt.
Former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt couldn't guide his alma mater to a Big East championship, and the search for his replacement was bungled from the start. Former Tulsa coach Todd Graham inherits pretty good talent.
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 4-8 season in 2010, which makes their breakthrough season in 2006 seem like ages ago. Coach Greg Schiano isn't in trouble but needs to regain momentum quickly.
Skip Holtz's first season at South Florida produced so-so results, with the Bulls finishing 8-5 and defeating Clemson 31-26 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. It was needed relief after the school's nasty divorce with former coach Jim Leavitt.
Doug Marrone produced one of the best turnarounds in college football last season, leading the Orange to an 8-5 record. At least the Orange look like one of the country's best-coached teams.
Bill Stewart has guided the Mountaineers to three straight 9-4 campaigns, which is good but falls short of predecessor Rich Rodriguez's success. The fan base is excited about coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen, but he'll have to co-exist with Stewart this season.
It's still kind of hard to believe Ron Zook is entering his seventh season as Illinois' coach after leading the Illini to only two winning campaigns. How much more mileage can he get out of the 2007 Rose Bowl run?
Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson inherits a team that won only one Big Ten game in each of the last three seasons. Hopefully, Wilson will fare better than Indiana's previous 12 coaches, only one of whom -- Bill Mallory from 1984 to '96 -- won more than 40 percent of his games.
The Hawkeyes have won at least a share of two Big Ten titles and played in two BCS bowl games in the last 10 seasons, but why does it always seem as if they were capable of doing more? Kirk Ferentz is one of the most respected coaches in the country, but his teams have lost five games or more in four of the last six seasons.
Former San Diego State coach Brady Hoke isn't going to turn the Wolverines into winners again overnight, but the program seems headed back in the right direction. If nothing else, Hoke's teams will look more like Michigan teams of the past.
Mark Dantonio always seems to get the most out of his teams, but the Spartans are still fighting an uphill battle in the top-heavy Big Ten. If Hoke gets the Wolverines turned around, Dantonio's job will get a lot more difficult.
And Gophers fans thought 7-5 seasons under Glen Mason were bad. Former Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill takes over a Minnesota program that has produced one winning team (7-6 in 2008) in the last four seasons.
Bo Pelini has restored pride in Nebraska's once-proud program, after finishing at least tied for first in the Big 12 North standings in each of the last three seasons. After winning 29 games in his first three seasons as a head coach, Pelini might find even more success in the Big Ten.
The Wildcats have one of the country's best young coaches in Pat Fitzgerald, who has guided his teams to three straight bowl games for the first time in school history. A new 10-year contract will keep Fitzgerald at home.
An evolving NCAA scandal forced Jim Tressel to resign as coach Monday, and the Buckeyes will appear before the NCAA infractions committee in August. With how severely the NCAA hammered USC, the Buckeyes can't feel very good about their future.
Was Penn State's five-year run from 2005 to 2009, when it went 51-13 and played in two BCS bowls, the last hurrah for Joe Paterno? The Nittany Lions slipped to 7-6 last season and seem to be again falling behind the Big Ten's elite teams.
The jury is still out on Danny Hope, who was former Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller's handpicked successor. After going 5-7 in Hope's first season, the Boilermakers slipped to 4-8 last year.
It might be a little premature to call the Badgers one of the country's truly elite teams, but Bret Bielema seems ready to field a Big Ten contender every season. After a slow start under his watch, the Badgers have gone 21-5 the last two seasons combined.
The Wildcats have won 23 games and played in three bowl games since 2008, but you have to wonder if that's their ceiling in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils have really regressed under coach Dennis Erickson the past few seasons, but they enter the 2011 season as potential favorites in the Pac-12 South. Erickson needs to deliver a winner in 2011.
Remember when the Bears were within an eyelash of being ranked No. 1 in the country during the 2006 season? Cal has been nowhere near as good during the last four seasons, including a 5-7 mark in 2010.
The Buffaloes hope a new coach (former NFL assistant Jon Embree) and new conference (Pac-12) rejuvenates their football program, which fell flat under former coach Dan Hawkins.
With coach Chip Kelly's offense and Phil Knight's checkbook, it's hard to imagine the Ducks not staying ahead of USC and everyone else in the Pac-12.
Few coaches get more out of limited resources than Oregon State's Mike Riley, which makes last season's 5-7 finish only a blip on the radar.
We'll have to see if the Cardinal can maintain their momentum without coach Jim Harbaugh, who bolted for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. With quarterback Andrew Luck coming back to school, Stanford will be back in the Pac-12 title hunt for at least one more season.
Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel has struggled to produce a winning program at his alma mater, going 15-22 in three seasons. Worse, Neuheisel doesn't really seem to have a plan in place for doing it.
With the NCAA turning down USC's appeal of severe sanctions, the Trojans' dynasty is all but over. USC will lose 30 scholarships over the next three seasons, which will have a negative impact for years to come.
The Utes really enjoyed life as a BCS buster playing in the Mountain West Conference. They'll get a chance to prove their mettle on a bigger stage in the Pac-12.
The Huskies have shown improvement under coach Steve Sarkisian, going 12-13 in two seasons. If Sarkisian continues to recruit well, the Huskies might be the next Pac-12 team to challenge Oregon.
The Cougars have enjoyed success in the past, going to a pair of Rose Bowl games under former coach Mike Price. But those days seem like centuries ago, after the Cougars went 5-32 in coach Paul Wulff's first three seasons.
Few teams in the country could lose the talent the Crimson Tide have lost the last few seasons and still field a championship-caliber team. As long as Nick Saban is coaching the Crimson Tide, they'll be a BCS contender every season.
The Razorbacks don't have the recruiting advantages or tradition of other SEC heavyweights, but it only seems to be a matter of time before Bobby Petrino builds an SEC championship team. His explosive offense has transformed the Hogs into SEC contenders.
The defending BCS national champions might take a big step back in 2011, but Chizik is restocking his team's roster quickly. Keeping offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn at Auburn was a big coup.
The Gators struggled in former coach Urban Meyer's final season, and new coach Will Muschamp might not be able to turn things around immediately. But Florida has too much talent and too many built-in advantages to stay mediocre for very long.
The Bulldogs seem to be treading water in the rugged SEC, suffering their first losing season under coach Mark Richt at 6-7 in 2010. A top-10 recruiting class might inject new life into the UGA program.
Joker Phillips picked up where Rich Brooks left off at Kentucky, leading the Wildcats to a bowl game in his first season as coach. Odds are the Wildcats will never be a legitimate SEC title contender, but they're capable of knocking off anyone in any given season.
For all his apparent shortcomings on Saturdays, LSU coach Les Miles has built one of the best programs in the country. Then again, with LSU's fertile recruiting grounds and vast resources, it's hard not to win in Baton Rouge.
The Bulldogs improved from 5-7 to 9-4 in two seasons under coach Dan Mullen, knocking off Georgia and Florida in 2010. If MSU can keep Mullen in Starkville, its future seems pretty bright.
Rebels coach Houston Nutt is kind of like a flat Coke; he doesn't seem as good after the first few sips. After leading the Rebels to back-to-back 9-4 campaigns in 2008 and '09, they slipped to 4-8 last year.
The Gamecocks finally seemed to turn the corner under coach Steve Spurrier last season, winning their first SEC East title. Spurrier has vastly improved USC's recruiting, landing blue-chip recruits such as Marcus Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney in recent years.
Derek Dooley led the Volunteers to a 6-7 record and bowl game in his first season, which is a heck of an achievement, considering the mess Dooley inherited from former coach Lane Kiffin. But things might get worse in Knoxville before they get better.
New Commodores coach James Franklin is trying to pump some life and excitement into Vanderbilt's program. Competing in the SEC with Vanderbilt's academic requirements is a lot more difficult.
Brian Kelly seems to have the Fighting Irish headed back in the right direction. But remember this: We got really excited after Charlie Weis' first couple of seasons, too.
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.