Just For Argument's Sake...

Updated: October 25, 2006, 6:03 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, here's a look at the hottest topics in college football.

1. Is there such a thing as a good bye-week coach?
On the front page of Florida's media release for the game Saturday against Georgia is the following note:

Including bowl games, bye weeks, mid-week games and season openers, Coach Meyer-led teams are 19-2 (.904) all-time when having more than one week to prepare for a game. Coach Meyer's teams are 6-1 following a bye week with victories in each of the last six.

Urban Meyer
John David Mercer/US Presswire
Urban Meyer's teams are 6-1 following a bye week.

Urban Meyer's overall record in six seasons at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida is 54-12 (.818), which means he is better with more time to prepare. If you analyze it too closely, though, your head begins to hurt. After all, how good are the opponents after a bye week? In these days of midweek games, how do you define a bye, anyway?

So here's what I did Tuesday morning: I pulled a muscle grabbing the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia off my bookshelf and started looking at the bye-week records of the top active coaches in the game. I did not include season-opening games or bowl games. If a team played a midweek game, I counted only one bye, i.e., from Saturday to the second Wednesday or Thursday was a bye week, but not from Wednesday or Thursday to the next game.

Why did I define a bye that way? I don't know. Openers and bowls are different animals from a midseason bye. It made sense to me.

Here's what I found.

Bobby Bowden career record: 363-110-4 (.765)
Bobby Bowden bye record: 39-20-1 (.658)
Note: Bowden is 11-11 against Florida and Miami after byes.

Joe Paterno career record: 359-120-3 (.748)
Joe Paterno bye record: 30-15 (.667)
Note: In the pre-Big 10 days, when Paterno had more control over his schedule, he arranged byes before archrival Pittsburgh (4-3), Alabama (1-2), Nebraska (1-0) and Notre Dame (0-1).

Pete Carroll career record: 60-10 (.857)
Pete Carroll bye record: 9-2 (.818)
USC's last Pac-10 loss, 34-31 to Cal in triple overtime in 2003, came after a bye. The Trojans have won eight straight since.

Bob Stoops career record: 80-18 (.816)
Bob Stoops bye record: 9-1 (.900)
Note: Stoops' first post-bye loss came this season, to Texas.

Mack Brown career record: 176-94-1 (.651)
Mack Brown bye record: 21-10-1 (.672)
Note: Brown was 0-5 after byes at Appalachian State and Tulane. He is 13-2 at Texas.

Conclusion: It might seem like a smart thing to schedule a bye week before a tough opponent, but it sure doesn't guarantee a win. In fact, the evidence here is that bye-week preparation doesn't appear to make all that much difference.

2. One coach has been fired. Will that open the floodgates?
It took John Bunting six long, hard seasons to finish first in something, and he won a race he had no desire to win. In the midst of North Carolina's worst season since Mack Brown went 1-10 in 1988 and 1989, Bunting became the first I-A head coach of the season to be fired.
John Bunting
Andy Mead/Icon SMI
North Carolina's John Bunting was the first I-A head coach fired in 2006.

Brown flipped that losing record before he left Chapel Hill for Austin after the 1997 season, going 10-2 and 10-1 in his last two years. Bunting, on the other hand, had his best record (8-5) in 2001, his first season with the Tar Heels (don't forget the middling Carl Torbush Era in between). Since then, North Carolina has gone 17-37.

Many of us have been saying for months that there will be a lot of firings in the coming months, simply because only 11 I-A jobs changed hands after last season.

That low turnover didn't happen because athletic directors became more patient. If anything, they are noticeably less patient.

History has shown that a low number of changeovers is followed by a higher number. In the past 20 years, there have been six seasons in which 14 or fewer jobs came open.

On four of those occasions, the number of jobs that came open increased by 10 the following year.

However, they are governed by won-loss records, which is why I'm not as confident anymore that a lot of furniture will be needed for this year's I-A Musical Chairs.

• Of the 62 teams in the six conferences that get automatic bids to the BCS, 48 already have at least four victories.

• Of the 14 coaches with three or fewer wins, six are in the first or second year at the school.

• At least two of the remaining eight, Mark Mangino of Kansas and Glen Mason of Minnesota, have received new contracts this year.

I think the permanent addition of the 12th game to the college schedule has given a break to coaches who otherwise might have been on the hot seat. The remaining weeks of the season, in which the three- and four-win teams will have to climb into bowl contention by winning conference games, might make some more coaches vulnerable. But the revolving door doesn't appear to be turning quite as fast as predicted.

3. How dark are the clouds at Alabama?
Alabama is 5-10 in Southeastern Conference road games in Mike Shula's four seasons. More important, to Tide fans' dismay and to the future of Shula at his alma mater, he is 0-7 at Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. Against the latter three, Alabama's biggest SEC rivals, Shula is 1-9 at any venue and will be an underdog to both LSU and Auburn in November.
Mike Shula
Jimmy DeFlippo/US Presswire
Alabama is 1-9 against Tennessee, LSU and Auburn under Mike Shula.

This Alabama team is young and, in a season in which four of the Tide's eight games have been decided by three or fewer points, learning some hard lessons. The Crimson Tide coughed up late-game leads at Arkansas and Tennessee and are 5-3 overall, 2-3 in the SEC.

This is also a team with only eight senior starters, as the bruise left by the NCAA penalties administered four years ago fades. That means Alabama should be very good next year.

"We need to win a game like this," Alabama athletic director Mal Moore said before the game Saturday. The way the Crimson Tide lost explains what he meant. The team is close to getting over the hump but a long way from where Alabama fans -- with long memories -- believe the team should be.

The Crimson Tide faithful are unhappy with Shula's anemic offense, which has scored only 11 touchdowns in 22 trips to the red zone. Twice Saturday at Tennessee, Alabama had first-and-goal and came away with field goals, including a fourth down from the 1 on which -- ouch -- Shula sent out field goal kicker Jamie Christensen.

Here's the deal, though. No coach at a major traditional power has had to climb farther uphill than Shula has. He took over a demoralized team in May 2003 that wouldn't get better soon because of NCAA penalties. Alabama fans don't want to hear about the handicaps under which their former coaches placed Shula. They don't want to hear that, based on talent, last year's Alabama team had no business finishing 10-2.

The future looks promising. Sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson has proved himself a tough kid who knows how to make a play. Talented wide receivers Keith Brown and D.J. Hall are only juniors.

Next year will be a critical year for Shula. He will have a veteran team that will play the majority of its toughest games (Georgia, Tennessee, LSU) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Shula has plenty of legitimate reasons Alabama has not moved back to the top of the SEC. His problem is that his fans are tired of hearing them.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com