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Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Can Grambling State afford football?

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

Unlike the BCS standings, the BMOC doesn't need computers to figure out what's what. Algorithms? We don't need no stinkin' algorithms.

PREGAME SPEECH

If it were a bank, you'd say Grambling State football is in default. It is a shadow of a shadow of itself.

The late, great Eddie Robinson, who built the program from near scratch, wouldn't recognize it. Doug Williams, who starred at Grambling, coached at Grambling and was fired from Grambling, has become persona non icon.

There are facts. There are questions.

The facts:

• There was a power struggle, a boycott and a classic 1960s-type Players vs. Establishment confrontation.

• There was a philosophical meltdown between the Grambling administration and Williams.

Grambling shoulder pads
A Grambling State player who asked to remain anonymous supplied this photo of what appears to be mold or mildew on equipment.

• There are health and safety concerns relative to the day-to-day operation of the football program -- all detailed in a letter sent to the administration by the Grambling/Grumbling players.

• There was a coup d'etat of sorts, in which the players helped force the administration to reassign Williams' replacement, George Ragsdale.

• There was a forfeited game against Jackson State.

• There was a negotiated resolution of sorts as the players returned to practice Monday and promised to complete the remainder of the Grambling schedule.

That's what we know for sure.

There were also questions in the wake of the players revolt. But too many of the questions revolved around the future of the remaining season. Or if the weight room tiles would be replaced. Or if there would be more long bus trips.

The real question is whether Grambling is living in the Robinson past. The real question is this: Can Grambling afford football?

Yes, of course, the health and safety of its players should be the administration's first concern. This is a given. If you're going to have a football program, it has to protect its players.

The players say Grambling's facilities are sub-standard. That the training equipment is sub-standard. That the uniform care is substandard. That the transportation is substandard. That the coaching staff is substandard. That the availability of Gatorade is substandard.

And the players demand upgrades. Now. Or else.

Or else, what? Lose more games by forfeit?

Grambling was 0-7 before it forfeited the game to Jackson State. It was 1-10 in 2012. So maybe the problem isn't that Grambling has Gatorade issues. Maybe the problem is Grambling can't afford football.

School president Frank Pogue says there will be a Tigers football program as long as he's at Grambling. Of course, Pogue is also the same guy who recently told SI.com that severe budget cuts have forced a state of "financial emergency.''

Eddie Robinson
Legendary coach Eddie Robinson fueled Grambling State's rise to national prominence.

Things happen. The Berlin Wall disappears. Enron disappears. Lehman Brothers disappears. So why can't a football institution like Grambling State football disappear too?

It can, and perhaps it should. If a university can't afford its football program -- and it appears that proud, tradition-rich Grambling can't -- then it's time to punt. Or, at the very least, downsize.

Grambling wasn't founded because of football. Football was founded because of Grambling. But its players have exposed a financial truth that can't be ignored: Grambling lacks significant television revenue, ticket revenue and alumni/booster revenue. Its financial model doesn't work. That's why the weight room floor is an embarrassment. And why there is mold on shoulder pads. And why the coaching staff is low on numbers.

As painful as it might be for the Grambling football purists, perhaps the administration should consider dropping the program to, say, Division III, or dropping the program altogether.

If you can't afford a program that awards football scholarships, then don't give them. There are dozens of lower division football programs that thrive on the same principle.

Grambling's players followed their consciences when they protested and boycotted. That is their right. Under the circumstances, you can't blame them for questioning Grambling's commitment to its football program.

But the power of their convictions brought Grambling football to its knees. And maybe to its senses. In short, Grambling football can't afford to be Grambling football anymore.

FIRST QUARTER

Presenting this week's edition of Yes … No … Maybe …

Or as Lana said in "Risky Business": "Joel, go to school. Go learn something."

Alabama is vulnerable. Missouri will never hold up. The SEC is cooked when it comes to the BCS National Championship. Right?''

No.

There are certain things and people you never bet against. You don't bet a bag of pork rinds against David Pollack when he tells you -- no, dares you -- to disagree with him when he says Stanford is going to crunch UCLA (Cardinal 24, Bruins 10).

You don't bet against the good karma that goes along with wearing pink helmets (Oregon 62, Washington State 38).

And you don't bet against Bama's Nick Saban.

I still have some reservations about Mizzou making it past the SEC West winner (hello, Bama). Then again, I had some reservations about Mizzou at Georgia and home against Florida. And guess what? Mizzou instructed where to stick my reservations.

Undefeated Fresno State and Northern Illinois don't get the respect they deserve.

Jordan Lynch
Jordan Lynch has carried NIU to a 7-0 start.

Maybe.

Northern Illinois has as many Big Ten wins this season as Michigan and Nebraska. And Fresno beat Rutgers and Boise State and likely would have beaten Colorado if their game against the Buffs hadn't been postponed because of catastrophic flooding.

NIU and Fresno play in non-automatic qualifying conferences (the MAC and the Mountain West) and their strength of schedules are on the Charmin side. That said, I can think of more than a few teams in the top 25 who wouldn't want to see the Huskies or the Bulldogs on their schedule, or NIU's Jordan Lynch and Fresno's Derek Carr on the field.

The best one-loss team in the country is still Clemson, Louisville or Auburn.

No.

Clemson still has lots of talent, but that win against then-No. 5 Georgia seems like a lonnnnnnggg time ago.

Louisville had its chance and blew it.

Auburn's only loss is a 14-point defeat at LSU, so it's not like I'm totally dismissing the Tigers from the equation.

But Stanford showed me something in the convincing win against UCLA. First of all, it showed me it's Stanford again. It ran the ball (192 yards on 50 rushes) and wore down the Bruins. It made a really good quarterback (Brett Hundley) look ordinary (UCLA was held to 266 total yards). And it played physical.

SECOND QUARTER

Gus Malzahn
Gus Malzahn has Auburn pointed in the right direction in his first year leading the Tigers.

At season's beginning, nobody thought much of Auburn's chances in the annual Iron Bowl. Well, nobody except Auburn fans who believe the Earth is square, that the Toomer's Corner trees didn't really die, and that Bear Bryant wore jorts.

But here we are in late October and first-year coach Gus Malzahn is suddenly looking at the very real possibility of a 10-1 record when the Tigers face Bama on Nov. 30. And unlike Bama, Auburn will have two weeks to prepare for the home game.

Auburn finished 3-9 last season, 0-8 in the SEC. Malzahn has doubled the win total (including wins against Ole Miss and at Texas A&M) and bumped the Tigers to 19th in the country in total offense.

Last year's Tigers were mostly unwatchable. But now they've scored as many points in their past two games (107) as they did in their first seven games of 2012.

A 10-1 record isn't a gimme. Auburn will beat Florida Atlantic at home, and going on the road to face a one-dimensional Arkansas team doesn't sound too daunting. The Nov. 9 game at Tennessee could be interesting. And a home game against Georgia, especially if Todd Gurley is up and running, won't be easy.

Still, it's hard not to include Malzahn in any discussion about coach of the year.

HALFTIME SPEECH

The first BCS standings were released Sunday and, as usual, they'll be analyzed like a bullet slug sent to the CSI lab.

But do we really know who's No. 1 right now? The answer is no. Just click here to find out why.

THIRD QUARTER

The number of Heisman House applicants got a haircut this week.

Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater? Well, Heisman life is cruel and the reality is this: You can't lose to unranked Central Florida … at home … on national TV … in what amounts to your biggest regular-season game of the year.

UCLA's Brett Hundley? I've been waving the Hundley pom-poms all season, but it's impossible to ignore his numbers in the loss at Stanford (192 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, a 59.7 QBR). A win at Oregon this week would put him right back on the list, though.

Clemson's Tajh Boyd? Twenty incompletions, 1 TD, 2 INTs, a 71.2 QBR and a lopsided home loss to FSU.

Washington's Bishop Sankey? Georgia's Aaron Murray? Miami's Stephen Morris? LSU's Jeremy Hill? Buh-bye.

Meanwhile, the remaining Heisman candidates get tossed around like a Cobb salad. Well, almost all of them.

Marcus Mariota
Marcus Mariota's running and passing make him a leading Heisman contender.

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Another 300-plus passing game with two TDs and no interceptions (though he lost two fumbles). And just for fun, Mariota added 67 rushing yards (including a 57-yard scoring run) in the win against slightly stubborn Wazzu.

2. Jameis Winston, Florida State. All he did was withstand the blast furnace noise of Death Valley, throw for 444 yards and three TDs, rush for a TD and beat Clemson at home on national TV. There hasn't been a redshirt freshman like this since …

3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M. If only he could play defense. Actually, he probably could. Or at least play it better than some of the guys starting for the Aggies.

4. Bryce Petty, Baylor. If you gave Heismans based on QBR, Petty would be delivering his acceptance speech right now.

5. AJ McCarron, Alabama. He's an Al Davis kind of guy: Just win, baby. His .941 winning percentage ranks him fourth all-time among FBS AQ quarterbacks with 30 or more starts.

6. Derek Carr, Fresno State. Carr completed six passes of 20 yards or more against a UNLV team that had given up just 13 20-yard-plus completions entering the game. Carr set the school record for most career TD passes and has thrown four or more TDs in four of Fresno's six games. He threw four in the win against Vegas.

7. Sean Mannion, Oregon State. No. 1 in points responsible per game. No. 1 in passing yards. No. 1 in passing yards per game. No. 1 in total offense.

8. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin. He's already rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He's tied for third in rushing touchdowns and is third in rushing yards per game.

(On the brink: Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois; Braxton Miller, Ohio State.)

FOURTH QUARTER

Two liners …

Not sure who should be more embarrassed: Miami for letting a creep like Nevin Shapiro infiltrate its football program, which led to the school being subjected to a 2 1/2-year death-by-a-thousand-NCAA-paper-cuts investigation and judgment, or the NCAA, which kneecapped whatever wisps of credibility it still had by conducting an investigation doused in compromising and unethical behavior. (And did we mention it takes less time for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on cases than it does the NCAA?) Miami lost two self-imposed bowl games and almost lost its mind during the long wait that resulted in Tuesday's official NCAA penalties announcement (a reduction of nine scholarships over three years), but the NCAA lost what was left of its reputation.

Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage told the Washington Post that hot seat occupant Mike London would return as UVA's head coach next year, no matter if the 2-5 Cavaliers don't win another game this season. Littlepage is smart enough to understand that, (A) UVA has only seven seniors and has started five true freshmen this season; (B) the coaching staff got a major reboot this year; (C) recruiting is going well; (D) it would cost a fortune in buyouts; (E) London is worth the patience.

Jameis Winston
FSU QB Jameis Winston can take a bow after his fast start.

If you're keeping track (and ESPN Stats & Information is), FSU's Winston has been responsible for 20 more touchdowns than turnovers this season. In case you're interested (and ESPN Stats & Information is), that's the same number that Manziel had last season through six games.

Nothing against interim coach Ed Orgeron and his "Let's eat bad food and watch movies'' philosophy of fun, but 4-3 USC still has the same problems it had before it fired Lane Kiffin. QB Cody Kessler has been inconsistent (20-of-34 for 201 yards and one interception in the loss at Notre Dame), WR Marqise Lee has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, penalties continue to be an issue and scholarship reductions have affected roster depth.

BMOC asked a longtime defensive coach of a top-25 team if he would watch film of how NFL teams are stopping Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles' offense (after all, Kelly brought Oregon offensive principles to Philly). The coach said no, partly because the hash marks in college are significantly different than in the pros (thus, allowing college teams to spread the ball with greater ease), and because he didn't think Kelly was running his true Ducks offense in Philly.

The BMOC doesn't condone gambling, but it is interesting sometimes to go back and look at the spreads. Louisville was a 12½-point favorite against UCF, Northwestern was the same against Minnesota, Texas A&M was a 13½-point fave against Auburn, South Carolina was a 7½-point favorite against Tennessee, LSU was 9 over Ole Miss, Florida 3 over Mizzou and Georgia 7 over Vandy.

FIFTH QUARTER

From the home office in Wheaton, Ill., comes this week's version of a four-team BCS playoff format.

No. 1 seed Oregon vs. No. 4 seed Ohio State. But Missouri and Baylor are closing fast on the Buckeyes' spot in the Final Four.

No. 2 seed Alabama vs. No. 3 seed Florida State. Bama has given up one touchdown since Sept. 14, but Saturday's shutout win against Arkansas cost them junior safety Vinnie Sunseri (knee injury). Not even the Tide's roster depth can keep absorbing these kinds of losses. Meanwhile, FSU looks like it could win the NFC East.

On the bubble:

Missouri Tigers
Missouri has jumped to the top of the SEC East standings and into the national discussion.

5. Missouri: As many of us predicted before the season began, the Tigers are undefeated and the prohibitive favorite to play Bama in the SEC Championship. Oh, wait -- we had them finishing fourth or fifth in the SEC East? Must have been a typo. Mizzou has already beaten two of the three teams trailing it closest in the standings (Florida and Georgia). This week the Tigers get South Carolina at home.

6. Baylor: Yes, the strength of schedule smells like something green flies would love. But for now, the Bears have earned BMOC's trust. They could lose it just as fast, depending on what happens beginning Nov. 7 (Oklahoma, followed by a neutral-site game against Texas Tech, then at Oklahoma State, at TCU and a home finale against Texas).

7. Miami: The Hurricanes could have/should have lost at North Carolina last week. But Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora and/or quarterback Bryn Renner forgot how to call a timeout (what you do is make a "T" sign with your hands just before the play clock hits zero) when it mattered most. The U took advantage of the screw up and recorded a comeback win. Impressive.

8. Stanford: It's hard to ignore Stanford's quality wins (UCLA, Arizona State, Washington). The Cardinal has a toughie this week at Oregon State, followed by a huge home game against Oregon on Nov. 7.

9. Clemson: Yes, Death Valley, indeed. The death of Tajh Boyd's Heisman hopes. And probably the death of Clemson's national title hopes. The Tigers played like they'd eaten too much brisket and banana pudding at the Smokin' Pig.

10. Texas Tech: Do I really think the Red Raiders are the 10th best team in the country. Uh … But they're unbeaten and fresh off a nice road win at West Virginia. So we'll throw them a rankings bone. If they want to stay No. 10 (or move higher), a win at Oklahoma on Saturday would be a good place to start.

Close, but not quite there: UCLA, LSU, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Central Florida.