Thursday, November 5, 2015

The most bizarre college football season

     Having followed college football since 1958 -- forever the "dream" season for LSU -- I say this without reservation: This is the craziest, most bizarre season in my lifetime.
     Three end-of-the-game touchdowns on strange, not-often-seen plays -- all involving the kicking game. Michigan-Michigan State (fumbled punt attempt and return); Georgia Tech-Florida State (blocked field-goal attempt and return); Duke-Miami (eight-lateral kickoff return that began with 0:06 on the clock).
     (Before I go on, Duke got ripped off -- no question. Ugly situation; about as bad as it gets in this game. Worthy of a separate blog piece, so stay tuned.)
     Coaches fired or resigning, two or three a week, it seems. Offensive coordinators moved or fired  after the first game or in midseason.
     One head coach (Tim Beckman, Illinois) fired a week before the season began because of player-abuse/mistreatment allegations. A coach fired for repeated alcohol problems (Steve Sarkasian, Southern Cal). A highly regarded coach (Jerry Kill, Minnesota) who had to resign because of health reasons.         
College football will miss the Head Ball Coach, but maybe there will
be television spots for the great Steve Spurrier. (AP photo/Richard Shiro)
     Coaching legends -- a couple of the sports' biggest winners and, in many people's opinions, class acts -- resigning. Steve Spurrier, after 29 seasons as a head coach (five in the pros), quit right now (Oct. 13) on South Carolina after a 2-4 start and a big loss at LSU. Frank Beamer, 29 years at Virginia Tech and 35 as a head coach, announced this week he was through at the end of the season. His team is 4-5 this year.
    (My opinion: Few coaches have run their programs better, and made them more fun for everyone around them, than Spurrier and Beamer. College football will miss them on the sidelines.)
    Other firings/resignations:
    Randy Edsall, Maryland, a day after a 49-28 loss at Ohio State and three three-touchdown losses in a row left his team 2-4 this season and 22-34 in five years.
    Al Golden, Miami, a day after his team fell to 4-3 by losing 58-0 to Clemson. A winning record but mediocre showings isn't enough at mighty Miami.
    George O'Leary, Central Florida, a successful coach for years, resigned a day after a 59-10 loss to Houston that left his team 0-8 this season.
    Dan McCarney, North Texas, fired an hour after his team's day-game 66-7 loss at home to Division II (yes, I still call it that) Portland State, which led 45-0 at the half. That made the Mean Green 0-5 this season in which it gave up at least 45 points each game and lost by two TDs or many more.
    Norm Chow, Hawaii, a day after a 58-7 loss at home to Air Force. At several stops, Chow was regarded as one of the nation's best offensive coordinators before going home to Hawaii for his first head-coaching job. But a 10-36 record -- 2-7 this year -- in three-plus seasons isn't sunshine in Hawaii. Having lived and worked out there, I know they like their football.
    More twists:
    Kyle Flood at Rutgers was suspended three games in September-October and fined $50,000 for academic abuses (contacting a professor and trying to influence a grade given to a student-athlete).
    The head coach at the most prominent football school in the country (Brian Kelly, Notre Dame) physically grabbing a staff assistant in mid-game.
    The head coach at a school close to our family's heart (Butch Jones, Tennessee) accused of striking players in practice. Denials everywhere on that one, but a player from one of his former schools (Cincinnati) allegedly tweeted that it happened there. We've seen how angry -- and red -- Jones can turn during games.
     Notre Dame again: A New York Daily News story last week reported that a female academic coach in the athletic department was fired for coercing football and men's basketball players to have sex with her teenage daughter. (Can't blame the football program here, but what a story.)
     The Texas Longhorns were woeful in their season-opening 38-3 loss at Notre Dame. So head coach Charlie Strong removed Shawn Watson as play-caller and replaced him with wide receivers coach Jay Norvell. Somehow, a week after being blown out at TCU, UT upset Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl Stadium. But last Saturday, Texas lost at Iowa State 24-0. Iowa State. So who is calling plays this week?
     Mark Mangino, often successful offensive coordinator and head coach (at Kansas), was fired as Iowa State's offensive coordinator before the game with Texas. Guess that change did help.
     Perennial powers such as Nebraska and Texas -- among others -- struggling mightily. Former downtrodden TCU and Baylor are now superpowers and their coaches are considered stars.
     Houston, Memphis and Temple among the nation's best teams, and their coaches are at the top of everyone's "most likely to move" lists.
     It seems to me, because I've been around a while, that for years and years -- and not long ago -- we never saw coaching changes until football seasons were finished or nearly finished. We had to wait until late November, early December.
     Now, as much evidenced by this season, it can happen anytime. Maybe it's because there is so much more money involved, so many more big-money boosters having influence, so much more scrutiny from the vastly expanded media world.
     Used to be just a few newspaper guys covering teams, maybe a radio person or two. Now there are Internet sites all over, TV and radio talking heads galore. There's Facebook and Twitter and ... whatever else?
     Coaches can't get a rest and, if they lose a game or two or a lot, and even if their teams win but don't look good doing it, they are catching hell among fans and the media.
      Coaching jobs and demands are tougher than ever. So we've seen these 10 changes already and I fully expect a dozen or two more.
      A small sampling: lots of unhappiness with the very successful Mark Richt at Georgia right now; shaky status for Mike London at Virginia and golden-boy hire  Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, and what kind of chance does Kyle Flood have at Rutgers?
      So more attractive jobs will become available. I don't even care to speculate who goes where; I'll leave that to others. But you can expect more firings and more surprises ... and as we've learned, we won't have to wait long.
      It's a wild world -- and it's getting wilder. Much as so many of us love the game, I'm not sure this is headed in the right direction.
      Now about the College Football Playoff rankings ...
      Don't ask me about them. I don't care ... yet. Too soon.
      I love the idea of the Division I college football playoffs, as so many people do, and we were all happy to see it begin last year. I think it should be an eight-team selection, and three rounds of play, but no one asked me.
      When we went to our YMCA on Wednesday morning, our friend there blared: "LSU is No. 2! LSU is No. 2! What do you think about that?"
      My reply: It doesn't matter.
      Hey, it's nice if your team is being considered. But ...
      It won't matter if LSU doesn't beat Alabama on Saturday. Or Arkansas next week, Ole Miss the week after that, and then Texas A&M. The games are what count.
      Ask TCU and Baylor faithful how much those CFP rankings matter ... until the final week. They're still PO'd about being left out of last year's Final Four. (And, yet, the team that I didn't think belonged, as many others didn't think so, won the national championship. Because Ohio State proved it did belong.) 
      The only thing that matters, in my opinion, is how the CFP playoff committee ranks the teams after the games of Dec. 5 -- the day of the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 Championship Games.
       I think the CFP committee does everyone a great disservice with these weekly rankings, and making a big show of them. And then it tells us that it starts the process anew each week. Ridiculous. 
       I know it's great for interest and talk and debate, and it gives the print media and all the TV-radio talk-show people something to do. But it's useless until Dec. 6.
       Same for -- again, my opinion -- the college football polls, and the Heisman Trophy speculation, and the bowl-game projections. That crap starts in the preseason, and it's updated after the first week, and the second week, etc.
        I can tell you honestly: I never pay any attention, never read a word or listen to a discussion about any of it.
        I know that makes me the exception. But I think it's all a waste of time.
        People wanted to give LSU's Leonard Fournette the Heisman Trophy after Weeks 4 and 5, etc., and he's been great, he's a contender. But so is TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, and Alabama running back Derrick Henry is right there with Fournette.
         So let's see what Fournette does against Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, and see what the others do in November.
         Come Dec. 6, I will talk to you about the polls and the Heisman and all the other college-football awards (there are so many now). And about the CFP Final Four.
          Until then, the rest of the world can speculate and talk. Have fun. I choose to ignore and wait. 



  1. From Joe Ferguson: You have done it again. You hit it right on the head. It just doesn’t matter right now.

  2. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: Agree 100 percent. That's rare, for you and I to agree.

  3. From Scott McCoy: Les Miles and LSU need to do everyone a favor and take Alabama out of the committee's hands.

  4. From Ron White: Twenty-five years ago Colorado was erroneously (obviously) given a "fifth down" vs. Missouri and won the game. An article back then cited how when games were won via officials' error, the winning school honorably forfeited the win. No such honor today.

  5. From Bob Tompkins: It's not just college football that is bizarre this year. The hosts on the CMA Awards last night were talking about how crazy a year it's been in that business. The world is topsy-turvy with ISIS mass killings and snatching infants from their mothers' arms. The stock market. Politics. Vandalisms of churches in this neighborhood -- two in the same week. It goes on and on.

  6. From Maxie Hays: CFP should have an eight-team playoff. A lot easier to get the best team in the nation with eight instead of four. All the other stuff is just bizarre.

  7. From Jim Robinson: Great blog again. It has been a tough year for Power 5 schools. In reference to our beloved Tigers, before the season, everyone including some big boosters were asking for Les' head if he started Jennings as he had indicated he was going to do. Thanks to an unfortunate set of circumstances, Harris got the start, and has done well. The Tigers were only projected to be 7th in the SEC according to the preseason SEC poll and Florida was 11th, and oh yeah, Auburn was 3rd and Geogia was 2nd, according to Saturday Blitz. Georgia never figured it would have to play without Nick Chubb and who knows what happened to Auburn. Maybe it is the Muschamp Curse.

  8. From Ross Montelbano: Great comments as usual, even if I don't agree with all of them. You are correct about the Internet and the ability of everyone to have an opinion blasted around the world, even if some are clueless. I wonder if all the "we oughtas" ever think about how a football coach would function as a computer programmer, engineer or carpenter. Probably not well, but these same guys seem to be able to make better decisions than a college coach. Miles and Cameron shoulda played Harris last year and everything would have been different, right? Manziel didn't play as a true freshman. You think maybe that Miles remembered throwing Jarrett Lee in there before he was ready and seeing the avalanche of pick sixes? They've brought Harris along slowly and given him more and more rope to make plays. The only things I am sure of is that some coaches do a better job of recruiting the right players, leading them in the right direction and making course changes when necessary. The other thing I know is that it's easy to "know the answer" when your livelihood and the athletic future of young men don't depend on that knowledge. No pressure sitting in our living rooms in our recliners, instead of 100,000 people screaming and a national audience second-guessing our every move.

  9. From John English: Good article. I’m glad to read that somebody else ignores all of the articles and media blitz until December.