Just For Argument's Sake...
Updated: October 25, 2006, 6:03 PM ETBy Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com
From nagging questions to soapbox moments to Heisman hype, here's a look at the hottest topics in college football.
3 Nagging Questions | Soapbox Moment | Whatever Happened To ... | Introducing
Just A Thought | How To | Heisman Hype | Power 16 | 3 Games Worth TiVo-ing
Just A Thought | How To | Heisman Hype | Power 16 | 3 Games Worth TiVo-ing
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Florida State alums in Palm Beach have written a letter to university president T.K. Wetherell asking him to force Bobby Bowden to retire.
I think the letter is a farce, for two reasons.
First of all, you have to believe that the average age of Seminoles alumni in Palm Beach County is high enough that they remember what Florida State football was before Bowden got there. Anyone who recalls the Darrell Mudra years of 1974-75, when Florida State lost 16 of the first 18 games coached by Mudra, wouldn't dare suggest that Bowden leave.
Anyone who remembers the Erector set that used to be Doak Campbell Stadium wouldn't suggest that the Man Who Built Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium (capacity: 82,300) be asked to pack up.
Second of all, even if the letter is not a farce, the suggestion itself is. The bottom has not fallen out. The Seminoles are 4-3 despite an incredible rash of injuries. There are noninjury issues, sure. Sophomore quarterback Drew Weatherford hasn't progressed as quickly as expected. The offensive line is young and thinly talented.
Most Florida State fans would give anything to see Bowden replace his offensive coordinator. But Bowden has made it clear that his son, offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden, isn't going anywhere. Hasn't Bowden put enough good will in the bank at Florida State to allow him to draw on it?
Penn State fans, after four losing seasons in five years, all but gave up on coach Joe Paterno before 2005. The Nittany Lions came within one play of an undefeated season. I don't think Bowden has forgotten how to coach, either. If you've won 300 games, never mind 363, you've earned the right to coach as long as you want.
Bowden is 23 games short of his 500th game as a head coach, which means he'll get there midway through 2008. He'll be on the Florida State sideline, as well he should be. If there are Florida State alumni who don't want him there, the school will miss them -- or not.
Baylor coach Guy Morriss set a bowl game as a goal for the Bears this season. Winning six games might be a disappointment on some campuses, but Baylor hasn't done it since going 7-4 in 1995, also the last season the Bears won more than two conference games.
They are 4-4, 3-1 in the Big 12 after their 36-35 comeback victory Saturday over Kansas. That makes their home game Saturday against No. 22 Texas A&M (7-1, 3-1) even more important, in part because the teams have gone into overtime in each of the past two seasons, splitting the games.
Make no mistake, however. This Baylor is very different from last season's. Morriss installed a spread passing game during the offseason, and the Bears have taken to it. Senior Shawn Bell threw three touchdown passes in the last 9:22 against the Jayhawks. He finished 33-of-55 for 394 yards and five touchdowns.
Brendan Maloney/US PRESSWIRE
Shawn Bell has passed the Bears to a 3-1 Big 12 start.
The yardage is a school record, but don't get too excited. The legacy of Baylor passing quarterbacks is not a great one. The last quarterback drafted was third-rounder Cody Carlson in 1987. The last quarterback drafted in the first round was Cotton Davidson, by the Baltimore Colts in 1954. Of course, we remember the quarterback who took the Colts to the NFL Championship four years later. He wasn't Davidson.
Morriss said before the season that he made the change in part because the Bears suffered in the red zone. Last season, they scored on 30 of 46 trips (.652), with 17 touchdowns, only seven of them via the pass.
"I think with this offense, because of the quick strike capabilities, you don't spend as much time in the red zone," Morriss said. "A lot of times, you're scoring from way outside of it, the red zone."
Check it out -- Baylor is 22-of-27 (.815) this season, with 16 touchdowns, 14 of them through the air. That's already twice as many passing scores in the red zone, and the Bears have four games to play.
Morriss said Monday that the comeback will deepen the team's respect for Bell, a fifth-year senior who has started 22 games in his career, including 17 of the Bears' last 19 dating to the beginning of the 2005 season. The game Saturday is critical to Baylor's getting to a bowl game. The Bears need to win two of the remaining four -- versus A&M, at Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State and versus Oklahoma.
"We're about where we thought we should be," Morriss said Monday, before adding, "The price of poker is going up. People are not satisfied with winning two or three games anymore."
Here's a story you can't help but like.
Louisiana Tech starting tailback Patrick Jackson, a sophomore, had a bad ankle. Coach Jack Bicknell III suspended junior Freddie Franklin last week after Franklin made a habit of skipping classes and workouts. So Bicknell turned to freshman Daniel Porter.
Daniel Porter ran for 178 yards vs. Utah St.
The Bulldogs signed three running backs in February. William Griffin, from Patterson, La., was considered a steal, one of the best running backs in a talent-rich state. Myke Compton, one of the best high school backs in Atlanta last fall, committed to the Bulldogs. Finally, on the day before signing day, Bicknell offered a scholarship to Porter, who is from Baton Rouge.
Porter rushed for 2,034 yards and 34 touchdowns last year at Istrouma High, but he's listed at 5-foot-9, 190 pounds. In other words, no one wanted to take a chance on him.
Bicknell signed him, and Porter began working his way up the depth chart. Griffin had some hamstring trouble. The coaches moved Compton to safety for a while. Porter rushed for 58 yards in garbage time against Clemson, and for 65 yards and a touchdown after Boise State had taken an insurmountable lead.
Last week, with Utah State coming in, and a sudden shortage of running backs, Bicknell turned to Porter. He rushed for 19 yards the first time he touched the ball, took another carry 43 yards in the first quarter and finished with 178 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries in Louisiana Tech's 48-35 victory.
"He was very impressive," Bicknell said in his news conference Tuesday. "He did a fantastic job. He works extremely hard. He's got great lower-body strength. For the most part, when he goes down, it's not going to be the first guy who brings him down. He's going to be an exciting player for years to come. He's going to have some fantastic runs during his career here. You can't believe he squirts out of the pile, but he does it because he never stops going."
Griffin, the heralded signee, saw his first action of the season Saturday and rushed for 37 yards on nine carries. But he didn't make nearly the splash Porter did. Jackson's ankle is improving; Franklin is suspended indefinitely; and Porter, the last-minute signee, has made sure every Bulldogs fan knows not to worry.
The Draddy Trophy, given out by the National Football Foundation, is one of my favorite college football awards because it celebrates the sport as idealists wish it were, not as it really is.
(Full disclosure -- I am a member of the foundation's Honors Court, which selects inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame.)
The Draddy, which began in 1990, is awarded to a player who combines achievement on the field and in the classroom. He must be in the final year of athletic eligibility and have a grade-point average of at least 3.0. Past winners have included 1996 Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel and two current starting quarterbacks in the NFL: Peyton Manning (1997) and Chad Pennington (1999). Tennessee offensive tackle Michael Munoz, the 2004 winner, is running for Township Trustee in Hamilton Township, Ohio, in next month's election.
As many as 15 players from among all NCAA divisions will be named winners Thursday of the NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards, each getting an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. From among those winners will come the winner of the Draddy, who will receive a $25,000 postgraduate scholarship.
The list of Draddy semifinalists, announced last week, includes 64 Division I-A players, among them some familiar names: Penn State All-American linebacker Paul Posluszny, Wisconsin All-American tackle Joe Thomas, Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard, Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko, Georgia defensive end Quentin Moses, Baylor quarterback Shawn Bell and Miami center Anthony Wollschlager.
Hey, give it up for a Hurricane doing something right.
Editor's note: Every week, Ivan Maisel will explain how to perform a task integral to college football. It might happen on the field. It might happen on the sideline. It might have to do with tradition, or preparation, or the band, or the managers. But you'll go inside the sport as you never have before. Here goes:
Dale Zanine/US Presswire
Practicing sideline catches pays off for Robert Meachem and the Volunteers.
Of all the plays great receivers make, none is more exacting or more impressive than getting that foot down on the good side of the sideline -- or, even better, the end zone. Tennessee wide receiver coach Trooper Taylor has one of the top three receiving tandems in Division I-A in Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain. They have combined to catch 46 passes for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"What we do with sideline catches is we work what we call the top of the route. Instead of making them go the whole distance and come to the sideline, we may work the last 5 yards, the 'top of the route.' We teach our guys to bring their eyes around to see the ball. People say, 'Bring your head around.' We teach, 'Bring your eyes,' because if you bring your eyes, your head is going to follow.
"We try to emphasize to catch the ball with your eyes first, your hands second. That's the most important part," Taylor said. "We want the referee to make a decision. If you don't catch it, he's not going to look to see if you got a foot inbounds. Coaches get caught up so much about the receiver's toe or his foot that they forget the the most important part: the catch.
"Then we teach them to draggg" -- Taylor dragged out the word for emphasis -- "their toe. What I mean by that is, we catch it, and if this is the sideline, I want the front foot in the air and I want to drag the back toe.
"It's just a pop-up drill. He comes out of his break. I want his eyes around and I'm throwing the football to him. He's picking the front foot up, and he's dragging the back foot."
Taylor teaches one technique and one technique only.
"You go to KFC, you're going to get what? Chicken," Taylor said. "They do chicken well. We don't give them other techniques. We give them one drill to do. Everybody on the Tennessee football team is going to drag their toe the same way. That way, there's no misconception. 'I should have done this. I should have tried this technique.' You don't want to give them four or five flavors. You give them that one and make sure that they do it right."
Taylor, 36, said he learned the drill from Chicago Bears wide receiver coach Darryl Drake, with whom he worked at Baylor. Taylor played defensive back for Grant Teaff at Baylor from 1988 to 1991 and began his coaching career there as well. Taylor uses this drill at least twice a week. He throws the short pass to his receivers from one side of the sideline. They then cross over and approach the sideline from the other side to work both feet in both roles. It is a drill they use before the entire team practices together.
"I don't implement it in practice," Taylor said. "But when we do throw to the sideline during practice, they know I'm going to critique that really hard on film if they didn't pop that front foot up and drag that back foot. Coach Cut [offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe] will script it into practice where it has to be a sideline pass off a scramble drill to make sure we get it emphasized."
1. Troy Smith, Ohio State, QB: The only way he loses it is if he falls flat against Michigan. (A) That's a remote possibility. (B) That might not be enough to stop him anyway.
2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia, RB: He's not putting up the spectacular numbers he needs for this race. But with him and quarterback Pat White, the Mountaineers are doing just fine.
3. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame QB: His numbers still aren't the best, but what he showed against UCLA is worthy of celebration.
4. Ray Rice, Rutgers, RB: How successful would he be without Brian Leonard clearing the road for him? Don't mean anything by it. Just asking.
5. P.J. Hill, Wisconsin, RB: The Badgers' freshman is one of the most pleasant surprises of the season.
1. Ohio State (1 last week): The Buckeyes' remaining three opponents before Michigan are a combined 7-17 overall, 1-11 in the Big Ten.
2. West Virginia (2): Looked sharper in its 37-11 defeat of UConn than Louisville did in its 28-13 victory at Syracuse.
3. Michigan (3): The Wolverines are beginning to look like the best defense in the nation. So who hires coordinator Ron English as a head coach?
4. USC (4): No team needed an off week more than the banged-up Trojans. Watch out: Oregon State, after early struggles has won two straight Pac-10 games on the road.
5. Texas (5): The Longhorns needed a turnover. Corner Aaron Ross produced it. A novice kicker prevailed in terrible weather conditions. That pretty much defines "knowing how to win."
6. Louisville (6): You can't underestimate how big the West Virginia game is in Louisville. Think Kentucky Derby in October.
7. Tennessee (7): The Vols could use a running game. But the defense is strong, the kicking game underappreciated and the coaching staff much improved.
8. Arkansas (12): You have to like how the Razorbacks took care of Ole Miss with dispatch. This is a good and underrated team.
9. Auburn (8): I still think the Tigers will end up in the BCS title game because of their BCS rating. What will prove me wrong: the numbers or the Tigers?
10. Clemson (11): There but for the grace of these Tigers goes the ACC. But lose the purple unis.
11. Cal (9): The Bears get a week off after an unexpected struggle against Washington. Can Cal stand success?
12. Florida (10): It used to be that a victory over Georgia meant something nationally. This one will mean something in the Gators' heart, which is probably enough.
13. LSU (13): I don't like how the Tigers are only 1-2 against teams with winning records, and the victory came against Louisiana-Lafayette.
14. Notre Dame (14): Great comeback by Brady Quinn & Co. Great spirit, great desire, great execution. But what were the Irish doing trailing UCLA?
15. Rutgers (NR): Big win over Pittsburgh sets up stretch run with Louisville and West Virginia.
16. Wisconsin (16): There's a feeling out there that the 7-1 Badgers are underrated. Only after Saturday's 24-3 victory at Purdue did I begin to believe it.
Adios: Georgia Tech (15).
Let's be honest. It is a struggle finding three games worth TiVo-ing this Saturday. You remember Separation Saturday. This is Desperation Saturday. But let's be serious. You're going to be raking leaves at some point, so you might as well be able to get caught up on something when you get back in the house.
No. 8 Tennessee at South Carolina
Saturday, 7:45 p.m ET, ESPN
The Fulmer vs. Spurrier Show is kind of like "ER" these days. It used to be Must-See TV. It still has the same theme music. But it doesn't carry the same oomph.
Last year's 16-15 Gamecocks victory was the body blow that forced Phil Fulmer to make changes to his coaching staff.
A year later, the plot hasn't picked up where the teams left off. If anything, it has picked up where it left off before last season's episode. The No. 8 Vols are 6-1. The Gamecocks are 5-2 with losses to Georgia and Auburn, the only I-A teams they have played that have winning records.
South Carolina quarterback Syvelle Newton has thrived under Spurrier, who, as usual, has found a way to create a dangerous quarterback. Sidney Rice remains a threat at wide receiver. Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley could find his way to the ball in a pitch-black stadium.
Tennessee might be a little worse for wear after a physical game against Alabama -- tailback LaMarcus Coker is out three to six weeks with a torn MCL -- but the Vols' confidence is soaring. They'll need it in the noise of Williams-Brice Stadium. Tennessee will win, but South Carolina will make it interesting.
No. 19 Oklahoma at No. 23 Missouri
Saturday, noon ET, ABC
This game very easily could be a battle for the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers still have their eye on the Fiesta Bowl, of course, given that they still can win the Big 12 North. But if Missouri loses at Nebraska next week, the winner of this game will have an edge when it comes time to determine the owners of the conference's other bowl slots.
You have to like how the 23rd-ranked Tigers (7-1) bounced back Saturday against Kansas State. No. 19 Oklahoma (5-2) ground out a victory against Colorado. The Sooners are 0-2 away from Norman, so a victory would do a world of good for a young team's confidence.
Missouri lost defensive end Brian Smith, who broke his hip in the K-State game. That's a tough blow for the team. The pressure Smith brought against opposing quarterbacks -- Missouri leads the Big 12 in sacks with 28 -- would come in handy against the Sooners' Paul Thompson, an inexperienced senior who has played well at times this season. Oklahoma leads the league in sacks allowed with only nine.
The Tigers have a good quarterback in sophomore Chase Daniel. They have the home crowd, and they still have their fate in the Big 12 North in their hands, thanks to the showdown at Nebraska on Nov. 4. The Sooners will be the toughest defense they have seen this season. Oklahoma has better special teams than does Missouri, which will prove to be the difference in a close game.
No. 5 Texas at Texas Tech
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, TBS
West Texas has not been kind to the Longhorns in the past decade. Jones Stadium is the only road stadium where Texas has lost twice since 1998 (that excludes the Cotton Bowl, a neutral site). It can be blustery in Lubbock. The wind starts somewhere in New Mexico, and there isn't much to stop it en route.
These Longhorns (7-1) proved at Nebraska on Saturday that they aren't likely to be deterred by bad weather. The dramatic comeback for a 22-20 victory is a momentum builder. The Red Raiders (5-3) have taken a step back from the Cotton Bowl team of a year ago. The offense has struggled, and it isn't going to get well against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Texas will remain on the bench, hoping to get called into the national championship game. Three of Texas Tech's final four games are in Jones Stadium. That home-field advantage will get the Red Raiders a bowl-qualifying victory against Baylor or Oklahoma State. It won't happen this week.