For Argument's Sake

Originally Published: December 8, 2004

From the end of the season awards to a final top 10, Ivan Maisel and Gene Wojciechowski go head-to-head one more time.

Who/What Is The Flop Of The Year?
I was all set with my winner until Monday, when Geno hosted an ESPN News segment with me and Pat Forde.

There Geno was in the Dave Revsine Memorial Chair, pontificating about the back-of-the-bus treatment given to Auburn and Cal, when it came time for the Dreaded Transition. So Geno says, "Now we're going to talk abouutttt. . . what?"

You know that feeling of extended time you get as you watch a car wreck? Yeah, it was pretty much like that. The guys in the control room, wondering why they didn't grab that great career opportunity in encyclopedia sales, got Geno straightened out. Maybe we'll get it on the blooper reel of "For Argument's Sake: The DVD."

Cincinnati may get the Best Flop, Single Performance, for running out on the field at Louisville and stomping on the logo. The Cardinals, amused, did their stomping once the game began, winning 70-7 while having possession of the ball less than 20 minutes.

But the Flop of the Year? It's not the BCS. Being named the Flop of the Year implies high expectations. Who among us, outside of Big 12 Conference commissioner Kevin Weiberg and members of his immediate family, expected the BCS to deliver us a flop-free finish?

It's not an easy call. There were no 2000 Alabamas, which began the season ranked in the top five and finished it 3-8. There were no 2003 Maurice Claretts, who made preseason All-America teams and hasn't been seen on a football field in two years.

Although there was Missouri, which the smart guys -- and that includes me -- had moving to the top of a weakened Big 12 North. Instead, the Tigers blew a 14-0 lead at Troy, lost 24-14, and weren't heard from again until Iowa State begged them to knock the Cyclones out of the Big 12 Championship Game.

And there was Florida State quarterback Chris Rix, who played all spring as if he had finally settled down, agreed to read defenses, and prepared to harvest his marvelous natural talent, only to fail to do so once again when the games began.

While West Virginia tempts me, the Flop of the Year is the team that climbed (over) the Mountaineers on its way to the Big East Conference championship. Boston College walloped West Virginia, 36-17, in its next-to-last game of the season.

All that stood between the Eagles and their first Big East title was 5-5 Syracuse, with Orange coach Paul Pasqualoni looking more and more like a coach with an ailing webbed foot. Syracuse had just lost to Temple, 34-24, for crying out loud. Boston College needed only to beat Syracuse in order to give testimony to the superiority that made it necessary to leave the Big East for the ACC.

It's hard to play football with your nose up in the air. It keeps scraping against the helmet.

Syracuse mangled Boston College, 43-17, finished 6-5 and fell into a bid in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando against Georgia Tech. The Eagles, instead of a $14.5 million payday in the Fiesta Bowl, will play North Carolina in the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte for a payday of a set of tires and a breakfast at Bojangles.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is not just a flop. It's the Flop of the Year.

Just to be polite, I'll mention all the nominees. But if you can't figure out the no-brainer choice before item's end, then I'm sending you the books-on-tape collection of Ivan's essays on the 2004 season. Entitled, "Y'all Dumber Than Mah Wingtips," Ivan provides a compelling look at A-Gap responsibilities, the dilemma of having to choose between a MIKE or WIL, and a detailed examination of sprint-draw techniques.

The flop candidates:

Preseason poll voters had Auburn ranked as low as 18th, LSU as high as third. The Andy Geiger University was ranked ninth. Miami was fifth in the coaches' poll. Utah could do no better than 20th. Virginia Tech, Louisville and Boise State were completely left out of the Top 25. Nebraska somehow was 26th and 27th.

Virginia, the chic preseason choice among ACC experts, gags in big games against Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.

Minnesota's 5-0 start is followed by an 1-5 finish.

Preseason favorite West Virginia can't win the Miami/Va Tech-less Big East Conference.

Preseason Big 12 North favorite Missouri finishes 5-6.

UNLV's players phone it in during John Robinson final season (The Rebels go 2-9).

Penn State's four victories come against Akron, Central Florida, Indiana and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions score seven or fewer points five times during the season.

The Heisman campaigns for Florida State's Chris Rix, Purdue's Kyle Orton, Kansas State's Darren Sproles (through no fault of Sproles), Florida's Chris Leak, Wisconsin's Anthony Davis (injuries, again), Missouri's Brad Smith, and Georgia's David Greene.

The BCS.

Notre Dame's decision to fire Tyrone Willingham.

Notre Dame's decision to fire Tyrone Willingham without having a successor in place.

Notre Dame's decision to fire Tyrone Willingham, followed by its failed attempt to hire Urban Meyer (and possibly Kirk Ferentz and Steve Mariucci).

Diversity in Division I-A head coaching.

And the Flop Of The Season Is. . . The BCS.

Once again BCS officials tweak the system. Once again the tweaks fail to anticipate the inevitable quirks of a season.

For example: Five of the top nine teams in the final BCS standings are undefeated, but only two -- Oklahoma and USC -- get to play for the national championship. . . The No. 21 team in the standings, Pittsburgh, can get one of the eight BCS bowl berths, but No. 5 Cal can't. . . SEC champion Auburn could finish the season 13-0 -- and still have no chance at a BCS title.

Coach Of The Year?
Gene made it through a whole column lauding coaches without mentioning his beloved "Coach Phil", who managed to get Geno's alma mater, Rocky Top Community College, to the SEC championship game with quarterbacks whose voices hadn't changed yet. I am amazed.

The great thing about year-end awards is that you can take a step back from the week-in, week-out craziness and look at the whole effort. After assuming for the last several weeks of the season that no one had done a better job than Tommy Tuberville of Auburn, it came as a surprise to me when I decided that the Coach of the Year is Mike Price of UTEP.

Tuberville, Urban Meyer of the University of Utah-Gainesville and Dan Hawkins of Boise State all deserve mention. Bob Stoops of Oklahoma and Pete Carroll of USC had the misfortune of starting the season highly ranked, and while it's much harder to stay on top than it looks, they didn't have to overcome what the others overcame.

But Meyer and Hawkins both coached players they developed and teams that won a lot in 2003. And Tuberville had experienced seniors to lead his team. While he deserves credit for running the kind of program that made Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown turn down the chance to go to the NFL last January, Tuberville still had more to work with than Price.

UTEP went 2-10 in 2003. Price took over a year ago, and took that raggedy, dispirited group to an 8-3 record and a bowl game. Price injected his players with enthusiasm, found their misplaced desire, and then coached them up. He taught them the fight song. Then he taught them how to fight.

My favorite anecdote from my visit to El Paso in early-November came from fifth-year senior center Bo Morris. He is an MBA candidate and before this season, he had played six snaps in four years. This year, he started for the Miners.

Morris said that in the middle of spring practice, Price walked up behind him, said, "You're good!" and kept walking.

"I really hadn't had a coach tell me that here before," Morris said. "It was just a little thing he did. It just made me try harder. That motivated me through the summer."

Price renovated UTEP, and after his horror show in Alabama, he renovated a respected coaching career. That's why he's the Coach of the Year.

The finalists:

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa -- The Hawkeyes finished 117th (last in D-IA) in rushing offense, 103rd in total offense, 73rd in scoring offense. . . and somehow finished 9-2? The reason: Ferentz, a stand-up guy whose calm, assured ways helped Iowa overcome the loss of just about every running back on the roster. No wonder Notre Dame inquired about his availability. Ferentz also got a major assist from Norm Parker's defense, which was 10th in total defense, 17th in scoring defense, and fourth in turnover margin.

Tommy Tuberville, Auburn -- Tuberville's name was on a pink slip a year ago. But then Auburn's coaching coup d'etat was discovered, Tuberville survived, and the Tigers bonded in time for an undefeated 2005 season. Tuberville's best move was hiring offensive coordinator Al Borges from Indiana, to say nothing of handling the BCS standings controversy with class, as USC's Pete Carroll did a year earlier.

Urban Meyer, Utah -- What Meyer has done -- lead the Utes to a BCS bowl as a non-BCS member -- is the equivalent of Rick Majerus leading the Utes to a national championship appearance in the Final Four. Meyer, who appropriately credits former coach Ron McBride for stocking the roster, needed only two years (and quarterback Alex Smith) to put together a perfect season. Now he inherits the top shelf recruiting classes left by former Florida coach Ron Zook.

Mike Price, UTEP -- Price won't be in El Paso long if he keeps churning out 8-3 records.

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech -- Beamer (and one of the best coaching staffs in the business) won the ACC in his first try. Take that, Miami and Florida State.

Pete Carroll, USC -- Why does the coach of an underdog team always get the props? Carroll led the Trojans to a second consecutive unbeaten season, despite taking everybody's best shot as a co-defending national champion.

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma -- Why does the coach of an underdog team always get the props? Stoops won on the road, won with a true freshman running back, won without his best defensive back, won with a new co-defensive coordinator, won despite sweating out the BCS standings.

And the coach of the season is. . . Tuberville.

All of these guys have done remarkable work, but only one of them was almost fired a year ago. Tuberville not only won games, but he rebuilt the morale and infrastructure of a program.

Player Of The Season?
The Most Exciting Player of the Year was Reggie Bush of USC.

The Most Exacting Player of the Year was quarterback Alex Smith of Utah. He threw 28 touchdowns and four interceptions.

The Most Exalted Player of the Year was Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma. You'd think a freshman running back had never transformed the offense of a national championship contender before. Well, yeah, now that you think about it, it has been since 1980, when Herschel Walker did so for Georgia.

That makes Sooner quarterback Jason White the Most Exaggerated Player of the Year. Hold on -- White had a great season. I could defend a Heisman vote for him all day. But after last year, when Oklahoma forgot how to run the ball and lost its last two games, coach Bob Stoops instructed the offensive staff to learn again. When Peterson showed up and learned enough of the playbook to get on the field, the offensive staff got a lot smarter.

But over here on the left side of the screen, better known as the high-IQ side of FAS, the Player of the Year is USC quarterback Matt Leinart. The junior had to deal with wide receivers so young that he assigned them buddies when they left the locker room for the practice field. For protection, Leinart had an offensive line with two guys that had started a game.

By the end of the season, the line had jelled and receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith had begun to fulfill their enormous potential. Leinart had completed two of every three passes (251-of-377, 66.6 percent) for 2,990 yards, 28 touchdowns and six interceptions.

More important, Leinart produced these numbers while shouldering the burden of leading the most inexperienced offense among the national championship contenders. USC depended on him for so much more on and off the field than Auburn, with its senior-laden lineup, depended on Jason Campbell, or than Oklahoma depended on White, who had the best offensive line in recent memory cordoning off space for him.

This may sound a lot more like a Most Valuable Player than a Player of the Year, but it's not as if Leinart didn't have the numbers. He gave a complete performance.

The finalists:

Jason White, Oklahoma -- White is arguably playing better than he did a season ago. And he won the Heisman in 2003.

J.J. Arrington, Cal -- The best-kept secret in college football.

Alex Smith, Utah -- Without Smith, the Utes are playing in the Liberty Bowl.

Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma -- Peterson transformed OU's offense into a two-dimensional attack. He might be a true freshman, but he runs like a fifth-year senior.

Matt Leinart, USC -- He isn't the Trojans' best player, but he is their most valuable player. Leinart has a Joe Montana-ish quality to him.

Reggie Bush, USC -- Your 2005 Heisman frontrunner.

Cedric Benson, Texas -- In any other season Benson would have been the Heisman frontrunner.

Jason Campbell, Auburn -- Campbell leads the nation in Most Offensive Coordinators During A Single Career. But this season, thanks in part to Al Borges, Campbell became a polished, self-assured quarterback.

Bryan Randall, Virginia Tech -- Let's hope Marcus Vick watched and learned from the ACC's player of the year.

Derrick Johnson, Texas -- Simply put, the best defensive player in the country. I'd pay to watch him hit tackling dummies. Or Ivan.

And the player of the season is. . . Peterson.

I've never had a more difficult time filling out my Heisman ballot. My top three: Peterson, Leinart, White.