Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Football [Print without images]

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
A turf war in college sports

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

This week's top 20:

20. The Big 14 (and counting)

Ever play "Risk?" It's a board game (remember those?) where the object is to conquer the world. It's a lesson in strategy, geography and choosing your battles.

The Big Ten looked at the college football (and basketball) map and realized it was in danger of being outflanked. So it rolled the bones and added Maryland on Monday and Rutgers on Tuesday.

The Terrapins and Scarlet Knights aren't sexy choices, but they're effective ones. True, there is nothing Midwestern about the two newest members of the Big Ten. They're the plaid shirt to the Big Ten's striped pants.

But this wasn't about finding the perfect eHarmony date. It was about finding the perfect safe harbor. Rutgers and Maryland give the Big Ten geographical protection. They give the conference entry into the New York and mid-Atlantic cable markets.

19. The Big 14 (and counting), Part II

Think of the Big Ten as Five Guys. It just opened a franchise directly across the street from McDonald's (the ACC) and Burger King (the Big East).

In essence, the Big Ten just told the ACC, "You want to brawl, we'll brawl." It told the Big East, "We didn't start this, but we'll finish it if we have to."

The expansion and realignment arms race has begun again. The Big Ten had watched the ACC use the Big East as its own personal chop shop and decided it had to act. It couldn't allow Penn State to be isolated by ACC members Boston College, Pittsburgh and Syracuse (and maybe UConn soon enough).

The ACC's alliance with Notre Dame certainly had an effect on the Big Ten's strategy, as did the collapse of the Big Ten/Pac-12 collaboration.

There's a turf war going on in college sports. It is survival of the fittest and right now, the Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Pac-12 and, OK, the Big 12 look pretty healthy.

The Big East? On its last legs.

18. Vote of confidence

USC has lost three of its past four. It just got full nelsoned at the Rose Bowl by UCLA, 38-28. Trojans coach Lane Kiffin is in all sorts of Barney, right?

Lane Kiffin
Lane Kiffin could lose five games this season after starting the year off at No. 1 in the AP poll.

Actually, no.

The Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke got some quality phone time with USC athletic director Pat Haden, who recently confirmed that Kiffin is as safe as a kitten for now.

"Lane is my head coach, 150 percent, now and hopefully for a long time," Haden told Plaschke. "I see the future. I see the potential. I know what he's been fighting through and I like what he's done."

And then this from Haden:

"Were our expectations too high? Maybe. But I see a lot of positives, a lot of things to build on, and I hope Lane and I are together a long time."

And this:

"Coaches live and die with wins, but athletic directors look at everything. Lane has graduated 83 percent of his seniors so far. He has committed no NCAA infractions. He's recruited tremendously. He's been fantastic in many ways."

The Trojans are 7-4 and unranked. They began the season No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. Fantastic is not a word you'd use to describe USC's season.

Maybe that's why Haden mentioned that Kiffin is going to "evaluate" his coaching staff. In other words, Kiffin's dad, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, might not be DC next year. Or maybe he's gone altogether.

17. Heisman Trophy race

Seated in the front row at Best Buy Theater:

Braxton Miller
Braxton Miller will look to improve upon his fifth-place finish in the 2012 Heisman voting.

• Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller -- You think a big game against Michigan on national television might help his chances? And just think if the Buckeyes win to finish the regular season undefeated.

• Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel -- Johnny Football is going to be Johnny Times Square if he keeps this up.

• USC wide receiver Marqise Lee -- It's not his fault the Trojans haven't won more games. Not even quilts can cover him.

Keep a coat and tie handy:

• Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o -- The ND-USC game will give voters the perfect excuse to fall in love with Te'o and the idea of a defensive player winning the trophy.

• Wisconsin running back Montee Ball -- Have you seen how hard this guy is running the ball? Did you see he nearly had 200 rushing yards against Ohio State? Did you see that he needs only one more touchdown run to break the all-time major college record?

• Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein -- From Heisman favorite to clinging to Heisman life.

• Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch -- Take a minute and go look at his season numbers. Wow.

Thanks for stopping by the booth:

• Oregon running back Kenjon Barner -- Blame Stanford, not me.

• Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota -- Next year, buddy.

• USC quarterback Matt Barkley -- A senior year to forget.

16. The picks

Not only didn't I see Stanford over Oregon or Baylor over Kansas State, I didn't see UCLA over USC, Utah State over La. Tech, Mississippi State over Arkansas, or Vandy over Tennessee.

Gruesomely bad week for BMOC prognosticating.

This week's choices:

Mississippi State over Ole Miss, Texas over TCU, Kent State over Ohio, Syracuse over Temple, Arizona over Arizona State, Tennessee over Kentucky, Georgia over Georgia Tech, Ohio State over Michigan, Oregon over Oregon State, Florida State over Florida, Oklahoma over Oklahoma State, Stanford over UCLA, Texas A&M over Missouri, South Carolina over Clemson, Notre Dame over USC, San Jose State over La. Tech.

(Last week's record: 11-6. Overall: 148-50.)

15. Why Vegas sends a limo for me

As Oklahoma's Bob Stoops says in that AT&T commercial, "Hello."

Hello to a few long shot picks that panned out. Hello to respectability (for one week). Hello to this week's picks.

Just so you know, I took San Jose State over BYU and won. I took Ohio State over Wisconsin and somehow snuck away with an OT victory there. And I took Texas Tech over Oklahoma State, which just goes to show why you should never make picks after getting stuck behind the diesel fumes of a school bus.

This week I thought hard about:

Wisconsin over Penn State (taking a flier on the Badgers being able to bounce back on the road after OT loss to Ohio State) … Iowa State over West Virginia (if it happens, the Mountaineers will still be bowl ineligible after a 5-0 start) … Texas Tech over Baylor (because I'm nuts) … Indiana over Purdue (absolutely no reason why).

Went with: Going for the foursome.

(Last week's record: 2-1. Overall: 5-11.)

14. Flop of the week

The finalists:

-- Kansas State.

It wasn't just that the then-No. 1 Wildcats lost, but that they lost to unranked Baylor. And not by a little, but by a lot (52-24).

-- Oregon.

Actually, I don't think the Ducks did a belly flop -- at least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, I think Stanford had a clever and well-executed game plan. I also think that Oregon tightened up when it became apparent that Stanford wasn't going anywhere.

-- Tennessee.

Vanderbilt 41, Tennessee 18.

--Texas Tech.

Another game against Oklahoma State, another blowout loss.

-- USC.

The Trojans lose to former crosstown nonfactor UCLA. And they lose Barkley too.

And the flopper is … Kansas State.

I was pulling for the purple lugs, but there's no way around it: K-State played like a team that felt the pressure of No. 1.

13. Coach of the week

Art Briles
Art Briles pulled off the upset of the weekend when his Baylor team beat Kansas State.

The finalists:

-- Stanford's David Shaw.

In a profession filled with its share of egos, Shaw is a refreshing alternative. I'm not saying he doesn't have an ego, but when you introduce yourself to him, he says, "Hi, I'm David." Some coaches expect you to genuflect. His work against Oregon was top drawer.

-- Baylor's Art Briles.

K-State still doesn't know what hit it. But go figure: Briles lost to the Wildcats last season with RG3.

-- UCLA's Jim Mora.

The Bruins are going to the Pac-12 championship game and maybe the Rose Bowl. Mora's nine wins are the most by a first-year UCLA coach since 1976. And he's only the third Bruins coach to beat USC in his first season in Westwood.

-- Ohio State's Urban Meyer.

It's no accident that the Buckeyes win all these close games. The latest: the OT victory at Wisconsin.

-- San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre.

Because the 9-2 Spartans deserve love too, especially after the win against BYU.

And the winner is … Briles.

12. Player of the week

The finalists:

-- Temple running back Montel Harris.

I know Army isn't Alabama, but still: 351 rushing yards and seven touchdowns? Is that possible?

-- Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd.

An ACC-record eight touchdowns (five passing, three running) in the win against North Carolina State. Boyd passed for 426 yards and rushed for 103.

-- Northern Illinois's Lynch.

In the win against Toledo, which extended NIU's home winning streak to an FBS-best 21 games, Lynch threw for 407 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 162 yards. I don't even drive my car that far.

-- Stanford's defense.

Ask Oregon about it.

And the winner is … Harris.

11. Ohio vs. that team up north

Just got back from Columbus, where The Ohio State's players, coaches and staff are working their way into a Defcon 1 state of readiness for Saturday's game against The Michigan.

Urban Meyer
Urban Meyer remembers clearly and fondly a win at Northwestern while at Bowling Green

Walk down any hallway of the Buckeyes' football facility and you'll see sign after poster board-sized sign heralding the football rivalry between the two programs. Except that on every sign, the M-word (Michigan) has been blacked out or covered in athletic training tape. In it's place is the handwritten, That Team Up North.

There is a NASA-like countdown clock at the end of one hallway, measuring the days, hours, minutes and seconds to the noon kickoff at Ohio Stadium. There is another countdown clock in the Buckeyes' massive weightroom, as well as rivalry banners on the second-floor railings. Every plasma screen in the weightroom has Michigan-Ohio State programming on a continuous loop.

See Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler scowl. See stadium tunnel dust-ups. See black-and-white footage of old-timers. See crushing tackles that make your teeth hurt. See anger, football hatred and, yes, respect.

"I just knew since the day I was born in the state of Ohio, it was made very clear who the enemy was," said Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer. "The enemy's up north, a little bit west."

This isn't a 2 percent milk rivalry. There's nothing diluted about the way the Buckeyes feel about the Wolverines, and the Wolverines feel about the Buckeyes. They won't even speak each other's name. In fact, I'm not sure Meyer will let his team see the remake of "Red Dawn." (Why? The freedom fighting heroes call themselves "Wolverines.")

On Monday I saw Meyer semi-playfully (I think) question a TV producer's choice of shirt color.

The producer was wearing blue -- one of Michigan's colors.

"It's the best rivalry in all of sports," said Buckeyes linebacker Etienne Sabino.

This rivalry has a mean streak to it, but not poison-a-tree kind of meanness. There isn't an absolute out-of-whack viciousness to it that, say, Auburn-Alabama has.

Don't get me wrong -- I love that Bama-Auburn rivalry. But there's nothing healthy about it. It's a guilty pleasure, like washing down large fries with a chocolate shake while watching a Judge Judy marathon.

10. Ohio vs. that team up north, Part II

It is only right that Michigan is the team that separates Ohio State from an undefeated season and, who knows, a chance at a split national championship.

There is a lot to like about these Wolverines, especially their talent and their resolve. But no team in the country has shown the kind of resolve that Ohio State has. (Check that -- Penn State has.)

Because of NCAA sanctions (how'd that cover-up work out, Jim Tressel?), the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason. They got Leaders Division champion hats and T-shirts (whooee!) and Meyer says they're getting rings too.

But no BCS standings. No BCS bowl. No possibility of a Notre Dame versus Ohio State national championship game.

This is Ohio State's bowl game. It's Ohio State's everything for 2012. To go undefeated under these circumstances -- and to win that final game against your archrival -- would make it impossible not to have Meyer on the shortest list of Coach of the Year candidates.

Just for the record, Michigan has ended Ohio State unbeaten seasons in 1969, 1973, 1993, 1995 and 1996.

"All year you work every game, you want to win every game," said Sabino. "But in the back of your mind you know you have that team up north that you need to play at at the end of the season. To beat them, it makes your season."

And if you lose?

"It will haunt you all year," he said.

9. Quote of the week

"Just so you know, I'm proud of those men. How fricking easy it would have been to say, 'It's their night.' How f------ easy. Excuse my language.

"A spectacular group of men! You go find them, you throw your arms around them and you give them a big kiss on the mouth -- if you're a girl.

"Wow, what a game! Are you kidding me?"

--LSU coach Les Miles (who else could it be?) during his stream of consciousness postgame news conference after the Tigers scored 21 fourth-quarter points to overcome Ole Miss at Death Valley 41-35. The truth is, we ought to retire this category to the Mad Hatter. Or name it after him.

8. Quote of the week runners-up

"We beat the socks off these guys."

-- Baylor defensive back Ahmad Dixon (to the Waco Tribune's John Werner) after the unranked Bears upset No. 1 Kansas State.

"I went up to him and put my arms around him, I looked him right in the eye and said, 'It's time to grow up. I don't want to talk anymore about how talented you are -- make the kicks."

-- Stanford's Shaw (to the Eugene Register-Guard) on what he told Jordan Williamson shortly after the Cardinal place-kicker missed a 43-yarder that would have cut Oregon's fourth quarter lead to 14-10. Williamson is the same guy who missed a pair of field goals in the Fiesta Bowl overtime loss to Oklahoma State last season.

"I wasn't praying Jordan would make the kick. I was praying about everything Jordan's been through. He's such a sweet kid and everything that happened at the Fiesta Bowl, and all that. I prayed to God, thanking him for bringing Jordan through all the turmoil the way the kid came through it."

-- Stanford's Shaw (to Portland Oregonian columnist John Canzano) on what he was doing just before Williamson converted the game-winning 37-yarder in overtime to beat the No. 2 Ducks.

7. Quote of the week honorable mention

"I was on the bench talking to somebody and I heard the crowd go crazy and I thought, 'Am I missing something on the field?"'

-- Oregon State coach Mike Riley (to the Oregonian) on the reaction from the Beavers' home crowd when news of Stanford's upset of the Ducks was shown on the Reser Stadium jumbo screen.

6. In

Notre Dame ... Syracuse (bowl eligible for only the second time in eight seasons) ... Bill O'Brien's Penn State offense (have you seen how he's transformed quarterback Matthew McGloin?) ... Todd Gurley (first Georgia true freshman since Herschel Walker in 1980 to rush for 1,000 yards) ... Rivalry games (Florida vs. Florida State, Auburn vs. Alabama, Clemson vs. South Carolina, Michigan vs. Ohio State, Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State, Georgia Tech vs. Georgia, Notre Dame vs. USC, Oklahoma State vs. Oklahoma, Arizona vs. Arizona State, Oregon vs. Oregon State, Purdue vs. Indiana, Virginia vs. Virginia Tech, Tulane vs. Houston (just seeing if you were paying attention) ... The poignant, heart-searing story of Wake Forest assistant coach Tom Elrod and his family's seven-day love affair with his infant son who died of a brain tumor (producer Sarah Burlingham's College GameDay piece is a must-see) ... Football weather ... Heisman drama ... Les Miles and YouTube ... Big Ten expansion ... the chances of other conferences following the Big Ten's lead ... the chances of Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick sending Baylor's Briles and Stanford's Shaw a basket of fine meats and cheeses ... the chances of Bama, Georgia, FSU doing the same thing ... really good redshirt freshmen quarterbacks ... Clemson's Boyd (hello, New York?) ... Northwestern winning a close one.

5. Out

Kansas State and Oregon ... Derek Dooley at Tennessee ... Jeff Tedford at Cal ... Les Miles' mind ... USC owning L.A. ... Johnny Football kicking PATs in blowouts (don't do that -- it's a bit disrespectful) ... Maryland and the ACC, Rutgers and the Big East ... Warm and fuzzy postgame handshakes between Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Ohio State's Meyer (don't get me wrong, they were professional at midfield, but ...) ... Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron's NCAA-record streak of 445 passes without an interception comes to an end in 48-41 OT loss to Utah State ... De'Anthony Thomas as a downfield blocker ... Southern Mississippi (0-11, with one last chance at a win: at 3-8 Memphis Saturday) ... UTEP coach Mike Price (announced his retirement Monday) ... All that midseason mojo about Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have lost three of their past four (and yet I keep picking them), face Baylor at home and are fresh from another hellish experience against Oklahoma State (the Cowboys have beaten Tech by a combined 125-27 during the last two meetings) ... Big Ten security leaks. Man, those guys can keep a secret. They almost pulled this off without anybody finding out before the big announcement.

4. Rocky days on Rocky Top

It isn't an exaggeration to say that Tennessee is about to make perhaps the most important coaching hire in the history of the school. Screw this one up and the Vols' program could become a football dust bowl.

Derek Dooley
Derek Dooley won just four SEC games in his three years in Knoxville.

Tennessee was once a national and SEC superpower. Now it's Belgium. It scares no one.

Phillip Fulmer had his flaws, especially late in his coaching tenure there, but he cared about his alma mater, about the tradition of the place and about winning championships. He won a national title in 1998, but was eventually forced out in 2008, only a year removed from a 10-4 record. Fulmer won as many games in his last two seasons at UT as the recently canned Derek Dooley did in almost three complete seasons (Dooley isn't coaching Saturday's game against Kentucky).

If you're doing the tick-tock of Tennessee's football demise, start the clock with the hiring of Mike Hamilton as athletic director in 2003. That was the first mistake.

The second mistake was giving him the power to fire and hire coaches. Hamilton was a gifted fundraiser, but a lousy personnel evaluator. He hired Lane Kiffin as Fulmer's successor and did so for all the appropriate reasons (Kiffin could recruit, Kiffin could run an offense, Kiffin could bring his old man Monte along as defensive coordinator).

But Hamilton forgot to ask Kiffin a simple question before he hired him: "What happens if USC calls?"

USC called at the end of Kiffin's spectacularly bizarre first and only season (7-6) in Knoxville. Kiffin was gone faster than you can spell U-T.

Then Hamilton hired Dooley, who was so far in over his head that he needed a snorkel. Dooley's numbers were more gross than Smokey's jowl drool: 15-21 overall record, 4-19 vs. SEC teams, 0-15 vs. Top 25 opponents. And did I mention that Dooley presided over the Vols' first loss to Kentucky in 26 years, and that his final game was fittingly a 41-18 loss to the University of Buster Olney (Vanderbilt)? It was the first time Tennessee had lost to Vandy in Nashville since 1982.

3. Rocky days on Rocky Top, Part II

Anyway, Hamilton resigned in July 2011. He is a nice enough man who has since become president of a nonprofit dedicated to addressing water crises and HIV/AIDS in Africa.

But when it came to hiring football coaches, Hamilton was a disaster area. A guy selling hair extensions at a shopping mall kiosk could have done better.

Anyway, Fulmer is gone. Kiffin is gone. Hamilton is gone. And now Dooley is gone.

Dooley actually leaves the program in better condition than he found it, but that's only because it was at ground zero after Kiffin's departure. Not even Dooley's most loyal supporters could make a compelling argument for a fourth year.

So he's history. And Tennessee football will be too if it doesn't get this one right. Athletic director Dave Hart surely has a wish list prepared. And here's guessing back-channel inquiries already have been made.

If I'm making the calls, I contact Jon Gruden first. If he says no, he says no. But you've got to at least try.

I'd call Stanford's Shaw. He has IT. And, by the way, Stanford isn't known for breaking the bank for coaches.

I'd call Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, though you probably don't want to get into a money-whipping contest with OSU patriarch T. Boone Pickens.

And even though it makes absolutely no sense on about 100 different levels, I'd call Mike Holmgren. Hey, Bill Walsh went from the San Francisco 49ers to Stanford, so there's precedence.

That's my short list.

As much as I admire the job Jim Mora has done at UCLA, it would be hypocritical to rip Kiffin for leaving after one season and then endorse a plan that would ask Mora to do the same to UCLA.

Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is someone to think long and hard about, as is Baylor's Briles, Louisville's Charlie Strong, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and, wait for it, Vandy's James Franklin. And just watch, somebody is going to hire Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury. He's a keeper.

2. If there were a playoff

(And there will be in two more years …)

Shoulder Pad Bracket:

Notre Dame vs. Oregon.

For this game, the Ducks would break out their new see-through helmets and day-glo green cleats that actually quack as the runner nears the goal line.

Chin Strap Bracket:

Ohio State vs. Georgia.

When he was at Florida, Urban Meyer was 5-1 vs. the Bulldogs.

1. The BMOC Top 10

No. 10: Florida (10-1)
Next: at Florida State.
The Gators' offense is a work in progress. The Gators' defense is a work of art.

No. 9: Florida State (10-1)
Next: Florida.
The Seminoles need to beat an SEC team (the Gators) to make their ACC season mean something. Win in Tallytown on Saturday and FSU still has an outside chance at a BCS Championship spot.

No. 8: LSU (9-2)
Next: at Arkansas on Friday.
Do the BCS computers include SOPPC -- Strength of Postgame Press Conference -- in their calculations? If so, Les Miles is ranked No. 1. The Tigers could have lost to Ole Miss, but Odell Beckham channeled his inner Billy Cannon.

No. 7: Texas A&M (9-2)
Next: Missouri.
A wonderful week for the Aggies: they find AWOL freshman wide receiver Thomas Johnson safe and sound, and they cruise past No. 3-ranked FCS member Sam Houston State (up 47-0 late in the third quarter).

David Shaw
David Shaw has his Stanford squad in line for a Rose Bowl bid.

No. 6: Stanford (9-2)
Next: at UCLA.
Did you hear that primal noise late Saturday night? That was Cardinal alum and podcast bro Ivan Maisel cursing the football gods that I covered Stanford win over Oregon and he was in Waco for The Other Upset That Shook The World. Or maybe he was just clearing his throat. Anyway, the Cardinal defense was remarkable, especially when it came to funneling Oregon's Big Three (Barner, Thomas and Mariota) inside. The Ducks gained only 29 yards running outside the tackles, compared with a 103.4-yard average outside the tackles in their previous 10 games.

No. 5: Alabama (10-1)
Next: Auburn.
I am now going to list all the reasons how Auburn can upset Bama at home:

No. 4: Oregon (10-1)
Next: at Oregon State.
The injury-depleted Ducks lost at home to then-No. 13 Stanford in overtime. Bama lost at home to then-No. 15 Texas A&M by five. So that's why I've got Oregon ahead of the Tide. The difference is that Bama has a much better chance of over-tipping the BCS bouncer and squeezing past the velvet ropes to Miami. Meanwhile, the Ducks don't even control their Pac-12 North destiny (Stanford does). Go figure.

No. 3: Georgia (10-1)
Next: Georgia Tech.
The Hairy Dawgs were sitting there minding their own business when suddenly they became a BCS National Championship contestant again. Chances are they'll have a chip in the big game if they beat Georgia Tech at home and then beat presumed SEC West entry Alabama in the SEC championship -- and UGA-friendly Atlanta-- on Dec. 1.

No. 2: Ohio State (11-0)
Next: Michigan.
Undefeated? Check. Ineligible for postseason play? Check. A shame that we can't have a BCS title game between two unbeaten Mt. Rushmore programs (Brutus vs. ND's leprechaun guy)? Check. The Buckeyes are 11-0 for the first time since 2006. Five of those wins have been by seven points or fewer, including two victories in OT.

No. 1: Notre Dame (11-0)
Next: at USC.
Amaze your friends. Impress your It's Just Brunch blind date. Win money from perfect strangers. How? Simply ask them to name the last time Notre Dame was No. 1 in the BCS standings. And because you're a super-nice person, you'll even give a one-year cushion either way -- but only if they give you odds. It's a sucker bet, of course. The Irish have been the BCS No. 1 exactly zero times. In fact, they hadn't been No. 1 in the Associated Press poll since 1993 and hadn't finished a season unbeaten at home since 1989. If ND hopes to stay at No. 1 longer than K-State did (one whole week), it had better prepare for USC's best shot.

(Five on the fringe: Kansas State, Clemson, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon State.)