Well, the regular season flew right by, and instead it was the bowl games that seemed to last for thirteen weeks. Somehow, a system that used to close up shop on New Year's Day with its signature bowl games has now decided it prefers something closer to MLK Day for its curtain call.
The powers that be extended the bowl bash from New Years Day all the way out to January 10th this year, and scheduled bowl games on seven of the eight days in between. They could learn a thing or two about building to a thrilling climax though, after filling space with Pitt-Kentucky, Nevada-BC, and Middle Tennessee-Miami (OH) in the first week of January.
Not that those were bad games, but at that point, with bowl fatigue setting in just a bit, they had the feel of games for games' sake. Following the Granddaddy with the grandnephew is bound to take some of the luster off the former. I hear there are even people who got sick of it all after about thirty bowls. That never happened to me, although there's only so much Mark May any man can take.
On the BCSWith apologies to TCU, I think the BCS basically got it right this year...which is to say they got lucky this year...by being able to pair the consensus No. 1 and No. 2 teams in their title game without too much griping from the peanut gallery. Up to this point I haven't been one of the more passionate advocates of a playoff system, partly because it would seriously alter the bowl system that is highly successful, if not totally satisfying now. But I might be coming around.
Because even though TCU acquitted themselves well in Pasadena, the idea that the Horned Frogs, now a Big East team, are playing in the Rose Bowl makes me wonder just exactly what hallowed traditions I'm grasping to hold onto here. On the other hand, a first round playoff game between Oklahoma and Connecticut in Norman doesn't excite me either. Nor does creating a 15- or 16-game season for the finalists.
The much-maligned BCS is out making their case...as in this speech by Bill Hancock, who claims that the bowl system would be ruined by instituting a playoff. He leaves out the part about the BCS already transforming the bowl system beyond recognition, but it's worth a read anyway.
In the other corner, Dan Wetzel, co-author of "Death to the BCS", lays out a plan for a playoff in this year-old article. Losing an early December first-round playoff game he claims, wouldn't preclude a bowl game for that team (a contingent bowl bid?) say, three weeks later.
The issue is complicated, but the debate is academic at this point. The BCS is with us, multi-year TV deal in place, for the foreseeable future. (At a minimum, what it means is three more years of Mark May.) And the easiest prediction to make is that the flaws in the BCS system will be exposed...again...just as soon the experts fail to agree on the identities of the two best teams and the computers arrive at a controversial decision.
This will of course lead to many sternly-worded rebukes of the BCS by college football writers, after which the BCS will carry on, unfazed by the collective wisdom of the scribes. Wetzel's book sales will spike every Christmas, and he'll be out with a sequel before anything changes.
Random OSU and Sugar Bowl Thoughts
To begin with, the deadline for declaring for the NFL Draft has now come and gone, and none of the suspended OSU players will be leaving school early. All five (Pryor, Posey, Adams, Herron and Thomas) had given separate assurances to reporters after the Sugar Bowl that they would be coming back to serve their suspensions, so no defections were expected, but the doubters weren't officially proven wrong until the deadline passed.
The formal OSU appeal of the NCAA penalties has been filed, although no date has yet been set for the hearing. The word I get is that the best outcome the OSU players can expect from the appeal is a reduction of the suspensions from five to four games. That is significant because the fifth game of the 2011 schedule is in East Lansing against the Spartans. It would sure help to have those five players on the field that day.
The Tressel Decade
Maybe Jim Tressel will have to get back to the title game and win it before the stigma of two straight losses in the big game goes away entirely, but there's now a BCS game winning streak going on at Ohio State, and the monkey appears to be slipping off Tressel's back ever so steadily. No team has gone to more BCS games (nine) than Ohio State, and no team has won more than OSU (six).
With one title on his resume, plus back-to-back wins now in the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl, and the streak of losses to SEC teams finally over, Tressel's BCS career is not defined by the losses in 2006 and 2007 any longer, if it ever was. He ends his first decade in Columbus having achieved unprecedented dominance of the Big Ten, and with his program firmly entrenched in college football's elite. By the way, this season, a disappointment in the eyes of many Buckeye partisans, ended with OSU ranked No. 5 in the polls. Better to fall short I guess, than to fail to set the bar high enough.
Tressel's decision to go into full Tresselball mode with a 28-10 lead coming out of halftime against Arkansas is certainly legitimate grounds for criticism, as much in hindsight as it was at the time. One thing we know for sure is that he trusted his punt unit more than he had any right to.
The conservative play-calling was a given, but on a couple of those possessions, OSU was actually in a no-huddle offense. If you're going to hand the ball off and almost concede the 3-and-out to the defense, at least you should be taking the maximum amount of time off the clock in the process.
The liberal use of the tight end in the OSU passing game was a welcome development, and one Arkansas seemed completely unprepared for. When Pryor hit backup tight end Reid Fragel for a 42-yard gain off a read option fake, the consensus response from the OSU media corps was something like "Where has that play been for the last decade?" Great question.
If unexpectedly creative play-calling was the key to grabbing the big first half lead, the game was ultimately won by the OSU defensive line's domination of the line of scrimmage, especially in the second half, when Mallett repeatedly was given great field position. More often than not, the Buckeye defense rose to the challenge, and of course made the big play to save the game.
As for Mallett, the game might have hurt his pro prospects as much as it helped them. He had numerous perfect passes dropped, but he also showed an inability to throw accurately under pressure...or when stepping up in the pocket...or anytime he was on the move. He seemed flustered and indecisive at times. He's still a first-rounder, but this game might have cost him a few dimes.
Outside of the Buckeyes, the less said about the Big Ten's bowl games the better. Iowa and Illinois pulled off victories, but the conference got hammered to the tune of 0-5 on New Years Day...you know...when people were watching. So Ohio State pulled the conference's chestnuts from the fire again, after both of the other co-champions, MSU and Wisconsin, went south.
Big Ten Coaching Moves
The changes in college football are coming fast and furious, and it's going to feel strange this August when we're talking about Utah in the PAC-10, Nebraska in the Big Ten and TCU in the Big East. The Big Ten landscape is changing in other ways as well. Here's a look at the coaching shuffle in the conference.
You need a scorecard to keep track of the college football coaching carousel, as approximately one out of every six FBS teams will have a new head coach in 2011. In the Big Ten, that ratio is one in four, with three teams making changes at the top in the freshly reshaped conference.
One of the more intriguing moves was Indiana reaching into the Big 12 to grab Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson as their new man. This qualifies as a bold departure from the pattern of yawn-inspiring selections in Bloomington over the last few...decades. Wilson isn't a stranger to the conference or to the midwest, having worked on Randy Walker's staff at Northwestern for three seasons, and with Terry Hoeppner at Miami (OH). His selection promises the kind of wide-open offense that the Hoosier program has aspired to lately, but hasn't been able to win with consistently.
IU will be opening up its wallet in its commitment to winning more often. Wilson got a seven-year deal for $8.4 million, unprecedented money in Hoosierland. He doesn't inherit a Sam Bradford in Bloomington, but he's got time to find one. He'll sink or swim in the Big Ten on his ability to compete for the best recruits in the Midwest. If he can make Indiana into a tough draw every Saturday instead of a patsy, this could be a great hire.
Rich, we hardly knew ye...
The Rich Rodriguez firing at Michigan may be the longest-predicted event in Big Ten coaching history, first forecast as it was on the day he was hired three years ago. But it is even clearer now that this baby was strangled in the cradle, as they say. Rodriguez appears to have so alienated all the wrong establishment people in Ann Arbor in the first year of his tenure, that all the bad football that followed amounted to only another couple of steps on the plank.
The protracted separation from WVU. The worst single-season record in UM history. Unprecedented NCAA violations that were less serious than they were constant. A dismal record against UM's rivals. No way to sugar-coat this one. Rodriguez stumbled out of the gate, and then things took a turn for the worse.
Not unlike our beloved Lloyd Carr, OSU fans will miss the man we like to call Dick-Rod. He was 0-3 against the Buckeyes, though he did manage to keep the 2009 game in Ann Arbor close for three quarters. (It was 42-7 in 2008, and 37-7 in 2010).
In Rodriguez' defense, the cupboard was truly bare in Ann Arbor when he arrived just after Henne, Hart, Manningham, Long, Breaston, Woodley, Crable, Hall and Branch moved on. Carr had not recruited well in the years following that group, but neither has Rodriguez recruited very well since, especially on defense. In addition, several young players have left the program during the Rodriguez years, further eroding the depth.
Hoke's the Michigan Man
Brady Hoke appears to be stepping into a great challenge, but virtually a no-lose situation. The school made overtures to Jim Harbaugh, and then Les Miles, before announcing that Hoke was the only man to be offered the position. It's a carefully worded statement that, while technically true, is meant to downplay the fact that Hoke was their third choice.
Hoke instantly puts a more positive face on the Michigan program, and the entrenched recruiting machine should get a boost of enthusiasm from the change. I think the answer for them is a return to the national recruiting focus that succeeded for them for years. OSU and MSU have been swiping the best home-grown Michigan players lately, and they don't grow that many up there.
At the moment, the roster lacks size and defensive playmakers. The Wolverines have to compete for the best recruits from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and especially California and the rest of the west coast..and they haven't been doing that for several years. I can think of just two Ohio players in the last five years who were offered a scholarship by Jim Tressel at Ohio State, but opted for Michigan; (tight end Kevin Koger of Toledo, and safety J.T. Turner from Massillon). A strong Michigan program should be able to do better than that.
One early test of Hoke's recruiting prowess will be the coming recruiting battle for Toledo Whitmer defensive end Chris Wormley, one of Ohio's best players in next year's class (2012) and a guy who will surely be playing for either OSU or Michigan. He's always liked the Wolverines I'm told, but pulling him from Tressel's clutches would still be a coup of sorts for Hoke.
In each of the last two years, Tressel has let the state's best linebacker get out of Ohio...one to Alabama, and one to Texas...but they're not going north. Hoke will need to do better than Carr or Rodriguez did at breaking down Jim Tressel's wall around Ohio, or else get a whole lot better everywhere else. In other words, do what Notre Dame's Brian Kelly is already doing, with a one-year head start.
Hoke's track record in turnaround situations at Ball State and SDSU suggests a return to respectability is in store in Ann Arbor. They may struggle for a year or two to overtake Iowa and MSU and Nebraska in whatever that division of the Big Ten is called these days, but things are looking up at Michigan if for no other reason than that Rodriguez is gone.
Hiring Hoke was as close as they could come to getting a "Michigan Man". But settling for their third choice may turn out to be a very lucky long-term play for the Wolverines. If I were a Michigan fan, I'd be ecstatic about this hire. But then, I don't know anything about being a Michigan fan.
Minny Goes for the Kill
Jerry Kill's move from Northern Illinois to Minnesota is another in a series of moves this year between the Big Ten and the MAC...in both directions. Successful coaches from the MAC continue to land BCS conference gigs, and MAC teams continue to hire Big Ten coordinators to try to turn themselves around, or to replace the successful ones.
Jerry Kill won the MAC West in 2010, in his third season at N. Illinois. He inherits a beautiful new stadium facility at Minnesota, and a program that can only go up after the failed Tim Brewster experiment. Of the three Big Ten coaching changes though, this is the one that least inspires confidence in a successful turnaround. Think Sisyphus.
Going from Big Ten assistant to MAC Head Coach were two well-regarded assistants from conference co-champions Michigan State and Ohio State. Spartan offensive coordinator Don Treadwell has accepted the job at Miami, and OSU's Darrell Hazell is the new head coach at Kent State.
It's the first shot at a head coaching assignment for Hazell, and one can only wish him luck with a program that has had just two winning records since 1976. Hazell was valued very highly in Columbus, where he held the title of Assistant Head Coach in addition to being wide receivers coach. He naturally has everyone's best wishes from Ohio State, but to a man, players and staff say that he will be will be sorely missed, as a teacher, as a recruiter, and as a friend.
Could someone finally awaken the sleeping giant that is Kent State football? Talk about Sisyphus.
Can't wrap it up without a salute to Thad Matta's No. 1 Buckeyes, who moved to 18-0 with a home win over Penn State Saturday night. I haven't had much to say about the roundballers this year, with our own David Regimbal handling that duty. (David is all over it too. Maybe you've caught him down there on press row at the Scott a few times this season.)
The schedule gets a lot tougher starting this coming weekend, with a game Saturday at Illinois, and then a home game with Purdue next Tuesday. March will be here soon enough. The Big Ten title chase should provide lots of entertainment in the meantime. For now, it's good to be king.
Hats off too to our colleague Jesse Lamovsky, for his excellent wall to wall coverage of the bowl game season, (on top of everything else he does around here) The man has an encyclopedic brain on the subject of college football.
Back next week with a rundown of Ohio State's 2011 football recruiting class as National Signing Day approaches in early February.