Re-evaluating the Michigan situation 

November, 19, 2014
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Back in October, Michigan coach Brady Hoke's seat was so hot we looked at potential candidates for the seemingly inevitable job opening. Since then, AD Dave Brandon resigned. Hoke is still in office, but the ice on which he stands is perilously thin.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThings have been looking up for Brady Hoke and Michigan of late. Could the embattled coach be back for the 2015 campaign?
Brandon was replaced by interim AD Jim Hackett, a longtime corporate executive (similar to the man he replaced) who is well-regarded. Those close to the situation say Hackett is in good position to be the point man for the expected coaching search.

“He can handle this,” one industry source told me this week, adding that he expects Hackett, a 1977 grad who played for Bo Schembechler, to remain at Michigan for a year or so.

Hackett was brought on to steady things; he'll need to hire a new AD and make a decision about who will coach the Wolverines moving forward. If that person isn't Hoke, who makes the most sense?


1 and 2. The Harbaughs, NFL
Let’s get these brothers out of the way.

What does Kliff Kingsbury fear?

November, 18, 2014
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LUBBOCK, Texas -- The poster outside Kliff Kingsbury's office says "fearless," a reference to a university marketing initiative to drive financial support to the athletic department.

But who's devoid of fear, really? Even movie-star-looking people like Kingsbury, Texas Tech's 35-year-old second-year football coach, are not. Even millionaires wrestle with the uncertainty of the future.

And that sensation is being exacerbated because, at 3-7, Texas Tech is threatening to have its worst season since 1990, when it won four games. Kingsbury is 11-12 since taking over at his alma mater.

Don't feel sorry for the good-looking millionaire coach. The Marine's son wouldn't want that, anyway.

But Kingsbury offers something worth considering: When you climb to the top of your profession, especially when it has happened somewhat rapidly, there's immense pressure to remain there.

"Does the thought of going backward ever just scare the s--- out of you, giving up what you've got?" he said in September, when the Red Raiders were 2-0. "That scares the s--- out of me."

Read the full story here.
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Now that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has decided to make a coaching change, who will he be looking at to fill the vacancy left behind by Will Muschamp? As with every major college football opening, we’ll examine the job itself and the candidates likely to be pursued.

First, file this phrase away when it comes to most searches, including Florida: “hire the opposite.”

It’s what you often see ADs do following an unsuccessful tenure. So given Muschamp’s background as a defensive coach -- not to mention the general trend of hurry-up, no-huddle offenses -- expect Foley to lean toward a coach with an offensive background.

The bar set by Steve Spurrier and then reset by Urban Meyer only solidifies that.

“They like their offense there,” one SEC coach told me recently. “They always have.”

Of course, there are always exceptions.

How good is the job?



On a scale from 1-10, Florida is pushing a 9. It’s widely considered a top-10 job in the country. That’s based on the success the program has had since Spurrier elevated it in the 1990s -- and also its location in talent-rich Florida.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/Getty ImagesWill Muschamp went 27-20, including a 17-15 SEC record, in four seasons.
As one SEC coach told me recently, “We recruit Florida, get a player here and there, but we aren't the University of Florida.”

It's an inherent recruiting advantage, without a doubt.

But some coaches I've recently spoken with have pointed out that the facilities aren't what you'd necessarily expect.

“The football office is underneath the stadium, and they don't have an indoor [facility],” one said. “Our facilities are better.”

It’s obviously a place where you can win and win big, as Meyer showed. Meyer also illustrated how difficult it is to sustain success.

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It’s the middle of November, temps are dipping and Texas just achieved bowl eligibility by handling Oklahoma State 28-7 on Saturday night.

For a proud brand name with a high, high standard, clinching bowl eligibility this late in the season would normally signal an alarm-sounding, sky-is-falling type of scenario. But these aren't typical times for the Longhorns and first-year coach Charlie Strong.

Strong and the Horns, now on a three-game win streak in Big 12 play, will gladly accept a postseason bid as a measure of progress. The steps have been modest, no doubt, but the wagon is again moving forward.

If you don’t believe it, consider the utter low of Texas being blistered at home 41-7 by BYU in Week 2. It feels like years ago, doesn’t it?

Those monitoring UT can see Strong’s plan coming together, despite the early growing pains in the form of nine player dismissals and veteran QB David Ash’s career-ending head injury.

“They’re coming,” a coach in the region told me last week. “Every week, you can see it. They're getting their feet under them.”

Another suggested that getting to the six-win plateau would not have been nearly as much of an issue if not for Ash’s injury, forcing raw prospect Tyrone Swoopes into the starting role.

[+] EnlargeTexas coach Charlie Strong
AP Photo/Eric GayCharlie Strong has dealt with player dismissals and injuries, but the Horns are starting to look up.
Now that OC Shawn Watson has had time with Swoopes, the sophomore QB appears vastly more comfortable. Saturday’s 305-yard, two-TD performance in Stillwater was his best game yet. He has developed a rapport with seniors John Harris and Jaxon Shipley (161 total targets, entering Saturday).

The defense, led by the line, has been the calling card, as you’d expect from a Strong- and Vance Bedford-coached unit.

The real turning point came last week. Beating struggling teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State -- even on the road -- is one thing, but dominating West Virginia turned some heads.

“You’d think after kicking all those guys off they couldn’t even win this many games,” a coach in the state told me. “I wouldn’t think they could shut down West Virginia.”

As for what’s next, I’m curious to see the Longhorns’ next two recruiting classes, to see what sort of stamp Strong and his staff put on the program.

With 18 commitments, the 2015 class is currently ranked No. 13 by RecruitingNation. It’s balanced, including 13 four-star athletes -- but no five-stars. They were familiar sights in the previous regime, but the inability to develop those high-end recruits led to the coaching change. The approach is now different.

“I think the days of Mack [Brown] and No. 1-type classes are gone, but that’s probably what they want,” a Big 12 head coach recently told me. “They want the kids with an edge to them.”

I’m told Strong and his staff have had a mostly positive reception from the Texas high schools,

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Coaches add to Baylor-TCU rivalry 

November, 14, 2014
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Here’s a subplot of the current playoff debate in the Big 12 between TCU and Baylor that has not been widely discussed: Gary Patterson and Art Briles do not care for one another.

When I visited with Patterson in his office in September, he talked at length about there being no beef with Briles, or really anyone in the Big 12 -- the league in which his TCU program has now resided for three seasons.

But other coaches tell me that, as friendly as Patterson tries to be in conference meetings, he still can rub his peers -- Briles, in particular -- the wrong way.

The friction provides another layer to the drama of the initial College Football Playoff stretch run, with TCU three spots ahead in the committee’s rankings despite the Bears’ head-to-head win on Oct. 11.

The Big 12 has said it would consider Baylor its champion, should both teams win out.


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Can Beamer bounce back at Virginia Tech? 

November, 12, 2014
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[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
AP Photo/John BazemoreIt's been a rough season for Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech.
Of the programs enduring disappointing seasons in 2014, Virginia Tech is in a uniquely precarious spot.

The engineer of its program, 68-year-old Frank Beamer, is inarguably in the twilight of his highly successful career. Ideally, Virginia Tech would have continued to win, and Beamer could have retired a winner.

Maybe current DC Bud Foster or Beamer’s son, Shane, an offensive assistant, would be in position to take his place. It would have been a nice story and would have provided continuity.

Instead, there’s increasing angst and nervousness whether the program will recover enough to allow such a graceful exit.

The Hokies are 19-17 since the end of 2011. At 4-5 this season, they need to take two of three from Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia to extend the program’s run of 21 consecutive bowl appearances.

Let’s get one thing straight: Beamer isn’t getting fired. That’s even considering AD Whit Babcock is in his first year on the job.

“You can’t do that,” one Power 5 head coach said. “That’d be like firing Bill Snyder.”

No AD would put himself in that spot, and it’s not as if there’s a sure-fire replacement for Beamer. There’s no coach-in-waiting scenario, as we saw at FSU when Bobby Bowden was uncomfortably ushered into retirement.

But things are trending the wrong way in Blacksburg, which puts pressure on 2015 for a rebound to help Virginia Tech and Beamer avoid a situation any more awkward than the one today.

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Teams and coaches that need to win 

November, 10, 2014
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These are bizarre-yet-enlightening times in the Lone Star State. All right, so a Republican last week won the governorship and brisket is still King with a capital K, so some normalcy exists. But in the college football realm, Baylor and TCU are battling for a playoff spot while Texas A&M and Texas scramble for bowl eligibility.

The Aggies got there with a win against Louisiana-Monroe, and the Longhorns are a step closer after a surprising home win over West Virginia. Texas will make the postseason with a win against either Oklahoma State or TCU.

The tilted balance of power, though, is putting a strain on the state’s football royalty. The pressure is building to perform, and the coaches of A&M and UT lead the list of those who need to win in 2015 to stave off the heat:

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Oklahoma should have a new coach in 2015.

No, Bob Stoops is not getting fired. He sports a 166-42 career record and has never had a losing season.

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiWill Bob Stoops be back on the Oklahoma sideline next season, or is it time to shake things up?
However, Stoops should strongly consider leaving on his own volition to shake things up. It would be of benefit to his career, to Oklahoma -- and to his next school.

If jobs at Florida and Michigan do open, both would have Stoops high on their wish lists. And the feeling should be mutual.

Let’s face the facts: Oklahoma has gotten stagnant.

“It happens. He should move on,” one coach told me Saturday. “Ten years is the max, I would say.”

If the staleness wasn’t clear, Saturday’s 48-14 loss to Baylor drove home the point.

After winning 75 of his first 77 games at Owen Field, Stoops is 14-5 there since then.

“That was a tough place to play,” one coach told me Saturday night.

Yeah -- was.

Even in their previous six home defeats, Stoops' Sooners had not been embarrassed like this. OU fans lustily booed the team’s soft defense early in the second half on Saturday. And that’s before the game really went sideways.

The Sooners lost by 34; Stoops’ first six home losses came by a combined 36 points.

Put it this way: There’s a growing number of OU fans who would help load Stoops’ moving van if the day came. Too many years of promise have gone unfulfilled, and too many years have passed since the Sooners' 2000 BCS title.

“I think it’s very real,” one coach said when I asked him generally about OU's staleness. “Fans get spoiled. A lot of coaches move on to keep it new, keep energy high. Look at Urban [Meyer].”

Maybe it was just a contract leverage play, which worked, but I believed some coaches when they told me Stoops had genuine interest last winter in the Cleveland Browns job.

“I think he’s looking for other options,” a coach said Saturday.


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Let’s say you’re a hot, up-and-coming head coach in a Group of 5 league. You have job opportunities in every one of the Power 5 conferences. If you’re picking solely based on title path -- the fastest way to the College Football Playoff -- which conference do you choose?

Here's my ranking of every division in the major conferences, going from the most ideal to join as a new coach to the most difficult. Easiest to hardest. (I’m counting the Big 12 as one 10-team division. It’s a reasonable way to view it since, as with the divisions in the other four leagues, everyone plays everyone.)

1. Big Ten West

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STARKVILLE, Miss. -- On Thursday, I asked the coach of the No. 1 team in the country for some counsel.

I had been invited to speak to Mississippi State fans at the Starkville Quarterback Club, and I wanted to know how I should respond if -- when, really -- the Florida coaching job came up during the Q&A portion of the evening.

I was sort of kidding. But I did want to know how he’d answer.

Dan Mullen laughed.

“Do you know how many times I was supposed to be going to Penn State or Miami or wherever?” he said sarcastically. “I’ve taken so many jobs or talked to so many people since I’ve been here. I supposedly talked twice to Penn State without actually ever talking to anyone from Penn State.”

Mullen said his wife, Megan, made a recent point about the inevitable job inquiries.

“If we’re No. 1 in the country here, why do we need to go anywhere else?” Mullen said, relaying what she had said. “I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it? We’re No. 1. What more is there?”

Right this second, the answer is nothing. But in the long term, the answer is to stay at No. 1, or somewhere in that conversation. Can that be done at Mississippi State, or up the road at Ole Miss?

The key word is “windows.” It can be done in spurts. But given the competitive nature of the SEC, especially the Western Division, it’s almost impossible for anyone to stay on top. Just look at Auburn’s roller-coaster ride from 2010 to 2014.

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Georgia laying an egg against a rival on the brink of a meltdown reminded me of a question we asked in this summer’s Future Power Rankings: Could other coaches do more with Georgia’s talent and recruiting base than Mark Richt?

I polled a handful of agents and coaches to ask.

[+] EnlargeMark Richt
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMark Richt has just one losing season at Georgia, but is he as successful as he should be?
“Yes.”

“For sure.”

“I would think so.”

“You can accidentally win nine games [a year] there.”

You get the idea: Mark Richt is underachieving. Even while averaging 9.7 victories a year over 13 seasons, he’s underachieving.

Richt was on the hot seat in 2011, before Georgia won 10 straight games to get into the SEC title game. That was coming off a 6-7 year, his only losing season at UGA.

Stunning as it was, it would take a lot more than Saturday’s 38-20 loss to Florida for Richt to again find himself in that position. In fact, the 6-2 Bulldogs could easily find themselves in Atlanta repping the dreadful SEC East.

Still, the macro question hangs amid the Georgia pines: Should Richt be doing more? Is UGA a place that is better than token SEC title game appearances and decent Florida bowls?

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STARKVILLE, Miss. -- It’s hard to believe, but true: Dan Mullen told me Thursday that when Mississippi State hosts Arkansas this weekend, it will have played more games as the Associated Press’ No. 1 team in the country than Florida did when Mullen was the Gators’ offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer.

Florida ended the 2006 and 2008 seasons at No. 1, winning two BCS titles, but it played just one game with the tag.

So everyone here, Mullen included, is getting used to the business of being the top-ranked team in America. And Mullen admitted that, yes, it appeared to be a burden last week at Kentucky. The crown hung heavily.

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How close is Kansas to hiring a coach? 

October, 29, 2014
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Kansas is 0-3 since interim coach Clint Bowen took over Sept. 28, but those familiar with the school’s coaching search told me this week that there is still momentum to retain Bowen.

[+] EnlargeClint Bowen
Orlin Wagner/AP PhotoThose surrounding the program are hopeful that Clint Bowen can lead Kansas to a win or two this season.
They say the energetic 42-year-old, a Lawrence native who played for KU from 1991 to '94, just needs to win a game or two.

Under Charlie Weis, Kansas won just one of 18 Big 12 games. So it’s a tall order for a midseason sub to get two victories -- and that’s without considering that four top-20 teams remain in the final five games. And three of those four games are on the road.

Here’s KU’s remaining schedule: at No. 13 Baylor, Iowa State, No. 7 TCU, at No. 18 Oklahoma and at No. 9 Kansas State.

So yeah, if Bowen wins two of those, he absolutely should be the guy. One victory would make it interesting, especially if Iowa State is the one.

Despite being winless since the change, it’s clear Bowen has given the Jayhawks (2-5, 0-4 Big 12) a spark. Their last two games, against then-No. 16 Oklahoma State and at Texas Tech, have been decided by less than two touchdowns. (Weis’ final two losses, at Duke and against Texas, were decided by a combined score of 64-3.)

At a minimum, those close to the program say they’re hopeful Bowen would stay on the new staff as a defensive coordinator.

Beyond Bowen, who is Kansas considering? And who should it consider?

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Life after 82 begins for Texas Tech 

October, 27, 2014
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I had a few coaches text me late Saturday and Sunday with just a number: “82.” Sometimes it was followed by exclamation points, other times question marks -- and once it was both.

TCU scored 82 points Saturday against Texas Tech, setting a Big 12 record for a conference game. And when a team scores 82, it also means that a team gave up 82. As high of a high as it was for TCU, it was every bit as low, and embarrassing, for Texas Tech.

Those close to the program said Sunday that, as you’d expect, it was a solemn trip back to Lubbock from Fort Worth.

“At least it was close,” one said.

So what do you do if you’re Kliff Kingsbury, a young, first-time head coach who already was laboring to hold together a limping program? What’s life after 82?

Kingsbury told me Sunday that he plans to move forward to Texas, this week’s opponent, as quickly as he possibly can.

“We won’t even show the tape to the players. [You] basically burn it and move on,” Kingsbury said.

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In the spring, when quarterback Matt Joeckel decided to transfer from Texas A&M to TCU, the Frogs' coaching staff exhaled.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah set a Nebraska record with 341 all-purpose yards in a win over Rutgers.
Finally. Gary Patterson and his assistants could move Trevone Boykin to his natural position, receiver, and let Joeckel, who was familiar with a fast-paced offense as an Aggie, handle the transition to the hurry-up, tempo offense.

A funny thing happened during those summer months: Boykin took to TCU's new offensive assistants, playcaller Doug Meacham and quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Boykin never relinquished the position. He never made it over to receiver.

Now look where we are.

TCU, a program founded on stingy defense, scored 82 points Saturday against Texas Tech. Eighty-two. TCU very much remains a playoff contender, even after its late collapse at Baylor.

And Boykin, after a school-record seven touchdown throws in three quarters, is now in the heart of the Heisman conversation.

“I told people before the year this would happen, that he was going to have this type of year,” Frogs running back Aaron Green told ESPN.com. “Seeing how comfortable he was in the offense, I was like, ‘You’ll see. You’ll see.’”

Boykin now has 24 total touchdowns and just four turnovers and is averaging a healthy 8.1 yards per pass attempt.

Scoring 50.4 points per game, TCU is the only FBS school averaging more than half a hundred. Now’s a great time to remind you the Frogs scored 25.1 points per game a year ago. They went 4-8.

It’s been an incredible turnaround and a recreation of the program’s identity. Credit Patterson for the willingness and adaptability to do it. Credit the hires of Meacham and Cumbie, who should be co-favorites for the Broyles Award for the country’s top assistant coach.

And of course, credit Boykin for growing into the position.

I’ll have Boykin third on my Heisman Watch poll this week. Here’s how the rest of the top five looks as we enter the stretch run for the award:

First, a wild card who is currently an asterisk on my ballot:

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