Over at Team Speed Kills, SBNation’s SEC blog, I am going to be doing reviews of unintentionally funny commercials from within the conference. The first one is up, and it’s on Tommy Tuberville’s absurd Golden Flake spot. Check it out.
It would never happen, but just imagine it for a second.
Auburn fires Tuberville at the end of the season. The boosters there don’t like him anyway, and the community thinks he betrayed their values by going after Tony Franklin and selling out to the spread. They want a return to pound-the-rock football. They want a guy who can recruit and raise money. They want someone Alabama hates.
So they hire… Phil Fulmer.
It would never happen of course. Phil is too close to UT I’ll bet to forsake it for another SEC school that quickly. Still though, what could be a bigger sideshow than Fulmer coaching inside the state of Alabama? Oh please, make it so.
The Tony Franklin Experiment is over after six games on the Plains. I’ve got coverage of it up over at Team Speed Kills.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to live in a world where Florida is on the cusp on being in the top 10 and Vandy is still just two spots back of them.
Yes, Vanderbilt is off to its best start since 1943, and a win in Starkville this weekend means their best start since 1928. Of course, that was back when Vandy did things like beat Alabama in Birmingham (1927), defeat Texas in Dallas (1928) and blowout Auburn 41-2 (1929). Though they struggled some in the 1940s and 1950s, they didn’t become a perpetual doormat until the 1960s.
It sure looks like I was right to put Vandy on bowl watch after all. They should be able to pick up at least one win among games against Mississippi State, Duke, Kentucky, and yes, Tennessee. None of those teams looks better than any of the five Vandy has defeated so far. Of course they’ve played Florida and Georgia close in recent years, and if Wake Forest is capable of losing to Navy, the Deacs can lose to Vandy.
I would expect 7-9 wins on the season from them. Eventually, they will run into a game where the ball doesn’t bounce their way all of the second half, and two or three of the remaining opponents are just plain better teams. The floor on that range is if Vanderbilt remembers it’s Vanderbilt, and the ceiling is if the dream continues.
On the drives that ended in scores, Auburn basically Tuberballed down the field until the red zone, and then spread things out to get open receivers near the goal line. That worked remarkably well. Vandy caught on to this, however, and started taking away the power running game. Neither Chris Todd nor Kodi Burns could make the Commodores pay.
The actual problems Auburn is having are not any different than the ones they had with Brandon Cox, it’s just that Cox was a better quarterback than Todd and Burns are. Drop in a better passer, and many problems go away. In that sense, the offensive mess is as much Tuberville’s fault for not recruiting a better quarterback as it is Franklin’s fault for trying to shake things up a bit with new formations.
The Tigers seriously need to pick an identity and stick with it, because this is two weeks in a row they’re promising big changes. You can’t just keep making big changes every week because that will only ensure they never find the rhythm they’re looking for. The defense can’t bail the offense out every week.
I have a few quibbles about their performance, but really they’re nothing more than nitpicks. CMU got more pressure than I thought it would, which happens to be “any at all,” and the defense lost focus early in the second half. This game would have been closer for longer if Dan LeFevour actually ran the ball before the final drive of the second quarter.
They played like they should have played and won like they should have won.
Will Hurricane Ike let them play next week? It’s looking better now than it did Sunday when I originally drew up these rankings and comments.
The 26-3 final score doesn’t give a fully accurate impression of the game. The UF offensive staff got outcoached, but fortunately the Miami offensive staff did too. The Gator defense looked really good against a vanilla Miami attack, but they didn’t look as dominating as the stats make them out to be.
They started strong and kind of let off the gas a bit, but the passing game had a pulse and the defense and running were still there. Without some uncharacteristic fumbles, Auburn’s margin of victory would have been much greater.
Welcome back down to earth, and how. Without some great special teams plays, the Tide might have only won this one 7-6.
6. Ole Miss
Jevan Snead is Matt Jones, Jr. and Ole Miss would qualify as about the third best team in the ACC. They battled the whole game and easily could have won. This one portends good things in Oxford.
They better show something against UAB. And by that I mean the Blazers better not be anywhere near contention in the fourth quarter.
This year’s Mississippi State? A definite maybe on that for now.
9. South Carolina
They had their chances, but the offense stunk without McKinley. Then again, it wasn’t exactly putting up fireworks with him. They didn’t play like they wanted it as badly as Vandy did, and the defense fell apart to a degree in the second half.
I never thought I’d see Spurrier lose twice to Vandy, much less twice in a row.
Maybe Cobb is the answer at quarterback, but how much can you really learn against a I-AA team?
11. Mississippi State
You beat SELA. Congratulations.
Another close call against a bad team. They will be fortunate to win more than one conference game.
Well, Auburn and Southern Miss were underwhelming, and the BC-GT game was nothing if not sloppy and disjointed. If I could describe Auburn QB Chris Todd in one word, it would be “indecisive.” Meanwhile, Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer together are probably good enough to get the Jackets four more wins in the putrid ACC.
Speaking of the ACC, Wake Forest doesn’t look too bad against Ole Miss. Ole Miss doesn’t look too bad against Wake Forest. This is a game between two good but not great BCS conference team. Only problem is, Wake is supposed to be one of the two or three best teams in their league. Whoops.
Georgia has been looking good, but Central Michigan’s defense is a sieve. I mean, they gave up 70 points to Clemson last season, and that betrays some deep issues that cannot be fixed in one year. CMU’s offense could have been better, except Dan LeFevour didn’t start running until about five minutes to go in the half. Not surprisingly, that allowed the Chips to move the ball better and even pick up a cheap TD right at the end.
By the way, Notre Dame is tied at the half 7-7 with San Diego State, and needed a blocked punt with under two minutes to go in the half to get a chance at that TD. Yes, that San Diego State, who lost to Cal-Poly last weekend. It is a little surprising, but then again not so much since it’s the Irish’s first game and they were not competitive in so many games last season. I think a lot of people overestimated where they were starting from this season.
Oh, and Jimmy Clausen looks like a dope with his new long hair.
It is extremely difficult to parse the differences in the ways that elite teams blowout overmatched opponents, especially for me since I really only got to see the South Carolina-NC State and Florida-Hawai’i games all the way through. I only saw pieces of other games, if any at all.
Don’t be offended if you don’t like where your team is at. The margin between the top teams is razor thin, and until everyone starts playing real opponents, we’re all guessing anyway. Relax, it’s only Week 1; there are 13 more weeks of regular season to go.
These rankings are based heavily on the games played this past weekend. As time goes by, they will change based on how the teams’ résumés change.
Florida – The Gators are my top team as much as anything because I got to see them in person this weekend and no one else. Still, they answered fairly definitively two major questions. Yes, they have running backs, and yes, the defense is a lot better. The D-line was in the backfield all day and the secondary made fundamentally sound tackles for the first time since 2006.
It’s important not to overreact to one single game, but Florida showed enough to make me conclude that at their peak, they’re the best in the conference.
LSU – The quarterbacks were not electrifying, but the rest of the Tiger team showed that those signal callers will not have to be great. Despite a last-minute kickoff time change and a hurricane bearing down, Les Miles had his team focused enough to blowout a normally game opponent. I have few worries about this team for the rest of the season right now.
Georgia – The Bulldogs dismissed their lesser opponent with less authority than the above two did, so they end up third. Honestly, it’s tough to tell teams apart based on beating up patsies. As much as anything, they ended up third because they lost yet another player for the year to injury in DT Jeff Owens. Sure UGA has a lot of depth on the defensive line, but it is negative momentum.
Alabama – As I said earlier, it’s important not to overact based on one game. However, I did see some of the Alabama-Clemson game and Bama controlled the trenches on both sides with startling ease. The Tide just plain wanted it more, and they made a statement with their play. Then again, beating up on a Tommy Bowden team that has high expectations is hardly a stunning achievement.
Auburn – The defense and running game will have to carry this team until the passing game gets sorted out, but it appears for now that they’ll be able to do it. That’s fine in the short term, but Kodi Burns, the best runner of the two QBs, still can’t pass and that’s a problem. Defense and running the ball suit Tommy Tuberville just fine though, so it’s a little early to worry. Eight-man fronts in the SEC could pose a problem.
South Carolina – Thanks to them playing on Thursday, I got to see most of the Gamecocks’ opening game. The defense appears legit again, with Jasper Brinkley making a huge difference. The offense was putrid until Chris Smelley came in, but he also got to play against a demoralized defense after the game was already decided. This team is far from perfect, but Smelley showed at least there’s some hope for finishing above fourth in the SEC East.
Tennessee – I’ll be honest, I haven’t had time to really look at the Vols’ performance against UCLA. I had a late flight into Charlotte and got a flat tire on the way home. It doesn’t look all that great at first glance because I don’t have a high opinion of the Bruins right now, but that could always change. Tennessee got four first half turnovers but only 14 first half points. Crompton’s percentage was bad, but UCLA has a decent defense. I can’t ding them too bad for now since they at least went and played on the west coast.
Ole Miss – Memphis is not very good, but Ole Miss showed some real promise. The Wild Rebel formation, about the only thing Houston Nutt took away from his year with Gus Malzahn, was a smashing success. All that talk about Ed Orgeron stocking cupboards in Oxford was true, and if Nutt can harness it into something cohesive for a season, the Rebels will finish comfortably ahead of Arkansas and their in-state rival.
Kentucky – When Rich Brooks said his team had an SEC-caliber defense, I chuckled and decided to take a wait-and-see approach. Apparently he was absolutely right about that, but he forgot to mention that the offense might not be SEC-caliber. All but three of the Wildcats’ points against Louisville were scored or set up directly by the defense, and the offense prevented a shutout with QB Mike Hartline getting a grounding penalty in the endzone. If the Cats can’t figure out how to score more points, they’ll have a hard time climbing any higher than ninth.
Vanderbilt – Chris Nickson surprised a lot of people with his strong play against Miami University, and the Commodores won somewhat surprisingly easy. That bodes well for a team that lost a lot from last season. Bobby Johnson will have his work cut out for him if he plans on repeating last year’s five-win performance, but it will be easier if Nickson runs for 166 yards every week. D.J. Moore? Beastly.
Mississippi State – Louisiana Tech will be pretty good this season, but still, the Bulldogs had no business playing in Ruston, much less losing there. The magic from last season is fading already as Mississippi State had a -3 turnover margin. They outgained Tech 322-243, but ten penalties, five turnovers, and a 4-15 mark on third down negated that advantage.
Correct the mistakes and they win the game, but it’s not looking good for finishing above fifth in the division right now. Sly Croom is going to have to go back to his bag of tricks to get them to another bowl game.
Arkansas – Yes Mississippi State lost, but if you beat a I-AA team by just four points, that’s not good. This season, I’d classify that as worse than losing at LA Tech. Casey Dick can pass, but the Razorback faithful had better hope this Michael Smith kid (suspended for the first game) can really run. Having just 76 rushing yards won’t cut it in most SEC games.
Arkansas outgained WIU 394-262, committed just four penalties, went 7-11 on third downs, and yet was still down by 10 points in the fourth quarter. That’s some special kind of voodoo right there. Three turnovers, a reported six or so drops by receivers, and a 13:23 deficit in time of possession are troubling. This could be a long, long year in Fayetteville.
I don’t think I’m going to have time to write up the rest of my picks in as much detail as I did with the ACC and Big 12. Instead, I am just going to reveal them all now. I will also be showing you how my selections fit with the expected outcomes based on ten years of BCS games and my opinion of the upcoming season.
Before we dig into the picks, I have some numbers to share with you. Numbers aren’t as juicy as picks are, of course, but they form the basis of these predictions.
The first bit is about BCS at-large teams. Since 1998, the BCS has had 24 at-large teams. I’m fudging a bit; the BCS Busters (Utah, Boise State, and Hawaii) had auto-bids, as did Nebraska and Oklahoma when they made the championship game without winning the Big 12. Just humor me for now.
Of those 24 at-larges, 20 have had the opportunity to return to the BCS the next season. Six of them were able to do it; fourteen were not. Since only 30% of BCS at-larges return the next season and we had four at-larges in 2007, we should expect that only one of them comes back this season.
The other important set of stats comes from my analysis of the preseason consensus. Based on that, we would expect there to be four BCS teams that were picked to be first in their division/conference, two that were picked second, one that was picked third, and one from all the rest.
That only adds up to eight teams though, and there are ten BCS spots. I have already said that I think this is a “season of titans” as it were, so to fill in those final two spots I am using two more teams that were picked to finish in first place. That makes a total of six teams picked first in their division/conference in the BCS. Also to fit in with that theory, I expect there to be no BCS Busters in 2008.
The preseason consensus, which appears to be about final at this point, can be found here.
One final point to keep in mind is that only one team–the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners who got a championship game automatic bid–has lost its conference championship game and still made the BCS.
Onto the picks!
Championship Game: Clemson over Virginia Tech
Championship Game: Oklahoma over Missouri
At-Large: Texas Tech
Champion: West Virginia (over second-place Cincinnati, third-place USF)
I see West Virginia this year in a similar situation as Miami in 2002-03. This is perhaps the last big hurrah for a while since it will be extremely tough to replace Pat White. White will make up for other shortcomings on offense, and DC Jeff Casteel returns from last year’s staff to field a defense that is always better than people think it is.
I really like Cincinnati’s chances to finish second. The Bearcats won ten games last season, and two of their three losses were by one score or less. Replacing Ben Mauk will be difficult, but Brian Kelly is a good coach and a good quarterback developer. The defense will carry them to second place.
USF has talent in key areas, but I just don’t think Matt Grothe is consistent enough to carry them to second place in the conference. There’s just something about him I don’t trust.
Champion: Ohio State
At-Large: Michigan State
Ohio State should be the best team in the country. It has 19 starters coming back from a team that went to the national title game. The Buckeyes have considerably more talent and depth than anyone else in the conference.
Picking Michigan State is rather curious. If you remember though, I have to have someone who was picked beyond the top three of its conference. The Spartans are that team, having been picked sixth in the Big Ten.
All six of MSU’s losses were close last season, making them a prominent member of the potential risers club. They have a great senior tailback in Javon Ringer, and if there’s a conference where you can ride a senior tailback to success, it’s this one. The offensive line is big, QB Brian Hoyer is a veteran, and Mark Dantonio’s coaching will keep the defense solid.
Illinois will fall back to earth without Rashard Mendenhall, I have little faith that Jay Paterno’s “Spread HD” will amount to much, and Bret Bielema’s teams have played to the level of their opponents so much it scares me. The Rose Bowl will need someone to replace the Buckeyes, and I think the Spartans just might be the in best position to get the bid.
Plus, the Big Ten has put more teams predicted to finish below third in the conference into the BCS than any other league. It would stand to reason that the Big Ten would be the most likely conference to produce that surprise team this year.
At-Large: Arizona State
USC looks more vulnerable to me this season than it has in years. The defense will still be great, believe you me. The offense just won’t be overwhelming as it was in the 2003-05 run, and that is what made those Trojan teams nearly invincible.
Mark Sanchez may be good, but he is no Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart. Just being John David Booty will be enough to win the conference, and I think he can be that. USC gets the benefit of the doubt until it falls.
Arizona State was a year early by winning ten games a season ago. Serious questions persist about the offensive line, and the schedule is tougher with Georgia coming to town. However, Dennis Erickson is still the second-best coach in the conference, and there’s enough continuity to think that the Sun Devils will enjoy another great season.
Championship Game: Florida over Auburn
Florida and Auburn were almost mirror images of each other last year. If Florida could only have had a defense to go with its offense, the Gators could have been contenders. If Auburn could only have had an offense to go with its defense, the Tigers could have been contenders.
The offseason of training should make Florida’s defense much improved, and Auburn’s offense showed a lot of promise in its bowl game under new OC Tony Franklin. LSU has so much talent everywhere that they cannot be dismissed, but I don’t think Andrew Hatch is as good as Matt Flynn was. That assumption is the main deciding factor for picking the Tigers from the Plains over the Tigers from the Bayou.
Georgia returns most everyone important from last season. I have some concerns about the team though. Can Mark Richt really keep up the special motivational tactics all season long? If he doesn’t, can the team find the fire inside? The ’Dawgs certainly couldn’t at the beginning of last season.
Will Matthew Stafford really make the leap everyone is expecting? Can another patchwork offensive line come together to have great results? Most of these questions are probably “yes” answers, but I still have UGA finishing second in the SEC East because I think Florida will beat them. I will get into that more around the time of the game, but for now just know I am assuming a Gator win on November 1.
BCS BOWL APPEARANCES
I will use the BCS selection process that I outlined recently to explain why I have everyone going to the bowls they’re listed in.
BCS National Championship Game: Ohio State over Oklahoma
These are the two teams I think have the best shot at going undefeated. Ohio State has the better team, something it didn’t have in 2007, and it will have the motivation of needing to prove the world wrong, something it didn’t have in 2006.
Oklahoma sleepwalked through its two recent BCS games, but it won’t this time. The Sooners don’t have quite the same depth that OSU has though, and the waves of fresh Buckeye players will help decide the game.
For the first time since 2005, we should have a close, entertaining national title game.
Rose Bowl: USC over Michigan State
USC comes in as the tie-in Pac-10 champion. To replace the No. 1 Buckeyes, the Rose Bowl will select Michigan State (ranked between 12 and 14 in the BCS) and get its traditional matchup. The result will be similar to last year’s game as the nation once again howls for the Rose to forget its historical matchup and set up a good game.
Fiesta Bowl: Texas Tech over Arizona State
To replace the No. 2 Sooners, the Fiesta Bowl will take the hometown Sun Devils. It was not able to take them last season because of the Orange taking Kansas; that left the Fiesta with the choice of auto-bid West Virginia or auto-bid Hawai’i.
The Fiesta gets the next choice as well, being first in the rotation this season, so it will take the nearby Red Raiders for the excitement factor. It also will not want a rematch, which is the result of taking Georgia, and it will not want to take West Virginia two years in a row.
The game will be a shootout, and I will take Tech since Mike Leach always seems to do well in bowl games.
Sugar Bowl: Florida over West Virginia
Florida comes as the tie-in SEC champion. The Sugar will take West Virginia so as not to set up a rematch of the Florida-Georgia game.
This should be an exciting game as the poster boys of the spread option, Pat White and Tim Tebow, battle it out in the Superdome. Both offenses will give the defenses fits, but Florida’s stable of playmakers is so much deeper than West Virginia’s is that I have no choice but to take the Gators.
This would be a really, really fun game though.
Orange Bowl: Georgia over Clemson
Clemson comes as the tie-in ACC champion. The Orange Bowl cannot believe its luck that it gets to take Georgia as its at-large team. Both teams are regional powers that will snap up tickets as fast as the bowl can print them.
This is also a historic rivalry game for the schools, though one that hasn’t been played regularly in a while. For that reason, it will be a very hard-fought game with a lot on the line for the fans. Georgia simply has the better team though, so I expect the ’Dawgs to take it in the second half.
I have six teams that were picked as first place finishers in the preseason consensus: Clemson, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio State, USC, and Georgia. I have two teams that were picked as second place finishers in the preseason consensus: Florida and Arizona State. I have one team that was picked as a third place finisher in the preseason consensus, Texas Tech, and one from below that, Michigan State. Georgia is the one returning at-large from last season.
All of the BCS games look good except for the Rose Bowl. Most even have an enticing storyline to go along with a good matchup. I feel really bad for leaving Missouri out, but I can’t ignore the history on teams that have lost their conference title games. Subbing the Tigers in for the Red Raiders is still plausible and could also make for a great game.
For what it’s worth, I also expect Ohio State’s Chris Wells to win the Heisman, followed by Chase Daniel, Tim Tebow, and Pat White.
That is over 1,900 words of predicting up there. That’s way more than enough. It’s about time that we actually had some games in what looks to be another outstanding college football season.
The preseason SEC Power Poll this year (conducted by Garnet and Black Attack) is not a ranking of the teams, but a ranking of the coaches. Specifically, it is a ranking of coaching ability.
My ballot is based on who is good now, and it is slanted towards performance in this decade. No lifetime achievement awards are being handed out here.
Here’s my list and the explanations.
1. Urban Meyer
Call it a homer pick if you want, but he’s done well everywhere he’s gone. He turned in an undefeated season at Utah, becoming the first BCS Buster ever. Let’s also not forget that he did it before the BCS expanded to five games.
At Florida he won a national and conference championship and got a quarterback a Heisman. He proved the spread could work in the SEC and did it so convincingly that other coaches in the league are going to install some spread-style goodness of their own in 2008. Add to that his ace recruiting abilities, and you have my vote for top SEC coach.
2. Tommy Tuberville
I should specify that this is a vote for the Tuberville of 2004 and on and not for the Tuberville of 2003 and prior. There is a difference, and I outlined it here.
The post-2003 Tuberville has been one of the best coaches in the country in that span, though the fact he’s only parlayed that into one conference title is the reason why he’s second on the list. He also gets points for abandoning his old, conservative offense and actually giving former outcast/spread guru Tony Franklin the shot at major college coaching that he deserves.
3. Mark Richt
Richt is on pace for becoming the most successful head coach in Georgia history. He has two conference titles and a 13-1 season that wins him a national title in nearly any other year than the 2002 season in which he did it. He also lost to Vandy in 2006, something that a top league coach shouldn’t do six years into his tenure despite the strides the Commodores have made under Bobby Johnson.
He ended up third in the league on my ballot. That is still nothing to sneeze at in the best coaching conference in the country. How he does with the heaps of expectations on him this year will help to sort out his place in the hierarchy as well as help to define his legacy as a head coach.
4. Nick Saban
I know some people will be upset seeing him this high, especially given the loss to Louisiana-Monroe last season. It’s difficult to blame him too much for the negative goings on last season though given that his predecessor was Mike Shula, a guy who never should have been given a head coaching position.
Despite that fact, all six of the losses were by eight points or less so the Tide was competitive in every one of them. He had a blowout win over the SEC East champ Tennessee. Let’s also not forget the BCS championship he won at LSU and the incredible amount of talent he left there when he bolted to the Dolphins.
5. Les Miles
I decided that the first five guys on the ballot had to be guys who have won the national title in this decade, or at least have done enough to win one in a normal year. Since Miles won his national title with two losses while Meyer’s and Saban’s came with one loss (and Tuber ville had an undefeated season and Richt had a 13-1 year), he ended up fifth.
Yes it’s true that he walked into a treasure trove of talent at LSU. It’s also true that he has gone 11-2 each of the past three seasons with two blowout wins in BCS bowls and a Peach Bowl win that ended Miami football as we knew it. He also doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping the LSU team together after the Hurricane Katrina disaster just days before the start of his first season in Baton Rouge. He’s colorful, but he can coach.
6. Bobby Petrino
I’m going to throw out his time with the Falcons, which was spent under conditions that pretty much no one could succeed under. Instead, I’m looking more at his time at Louisville where he turned it into one of the country’s best teams, nearly made the national title game, and helped save the Big East.
The immediate drop off after his departure should highlight how good of a coach he was. He still did win his BCS game as the Big East champ though, which unfortunately doesn’t mean a whole lot, and it was over surprise ACC champ Wake Forest, which makes it matter even less. He’s still got a bright offensive mind and knows how to build a winner, so he goes here.
7. Phil Fulmer
You could make a case for him being higher or lower on the list, but he’s listed here thanks to being the final guy who has won a division championship at his current school. His East Division title last season helped some, but the fact remains that he has not won a conference title since 1998 and none of his teams has truly been elite without David Cutcliffe.
He gets some points for hiring Dave Clawson but nothing big until we find out if the Clawfense can succeed long term in the conference. Fulmer didn’t really manage his staff as well as he could/should have in the time between the Cutcliffe stints, but maybe this is a step forward. He will have to win the conference again to move higher on my list though.
8. Steve Spurrier
It pains me a little to put him this low, but there’s not a lot he’s done at South Carolina to support putting him higher. The Orange Bowl win in his final year at Florida was this decade so it does count some, but not being able to break past seven wins at South Carolina hurts his ability to go higher on my list.
Now, he did go to two bowls in a row in 2005-06, which ties the longest bowl appearance streak in school history. Lou Holtz also left the school on probation and in questionable shape. However, I can’t ignore the epic collapse last season after climbing to #6 in the country. His upward mobility will be determined in large part by whether he can win the division.
9. Houston Nutt
This could be a little low, but we’re talking about ability to perform the duties of head coach with this list. He won the SEC West twice this decade, but with Matt Jones and Darren McFadden on those teams, you’d expect that to happen.
In recent years, his ability to be a head coach has appeared to decline. His regime at Arkansas had increasingly been marked by scandal, and last season there was precious little offensive talent behind the McFadden-Felix Jones combination. The cupboards at Ole Miss appear to be relatively full, so he’s going to need to produce quickly in Oxford.
10. Sylvester Croom
Mississippi State was a toxic waste dump of a program when he arrived, and he got it to eight wins and a bowl just four years later despite having no dominant offensive players. Even in Croom’s rebuilding years, he scored upsets over Florida in ’04 and Alabama in ’06 despite them being in better shape.
He has not been perfect; he initially wanted to run a West Coast scheme despite not having nearly the talent or practice time to pull it off. However he’s built a winner, and he built it the right way. If he can sustain it, he can move up.
11. Rich Brooks
Brooks has taken Kentucky to two consecutive bowls, and that should win him some sort of award. I mean, this is a school that used its newly-hired basketball coach to sell football tickets last fall despite having gone to a bowl the previous season.
I have a feeling though that any of the other guys on the list could have done that with the personnel Brooks had. I also suspect that many of them would have done it faster than he did. For that reason, he’s behind the rest.
12. Bobby Johnson
I actually like Bobby Johnson, so I don’t like ranking him last. He has made Vanderbilt a competitive team week in and week out, and he has defeated Tennessee and Georgia in recent years. That’s really good for a school that doesn’t even have an athletics director.
At the same time, he’s not yet made a bowl so I can’t put him ahead of guys who have. His 2005 team with Jay Cutler was his best chance to get eligible, but they lost late in the season to 3-8 Kentucky. As far as I know, Vanderbilt is happy with him so he’s not going anywhere, but I’d like to see him get a shot at a school with more resources.
As an addendum to my piece on Tommy Bowden from yesterday, I’m adding another comparison. Last time, I used Bob Stoops, who has been at Oklahoma the same amount of time Bowden has been at Clemson. The idea was to give a baseline of a top coach to contrast Bowden’s record against.
It occurred to me today though that there might be another coach who had been at his school the same amount of time, and sure enough, there was: Tommy Tuberville. Like Bowden, he signed up with his band of Tigers in 1999.
They have a fairly similar record, with Tuberville averaging just one more win a year than Bowden does at Clemson. They both have an undefeated, conference-winning season (Bowden’s was at Tulane) but after that, they combine to have just one season of fewer than three losses (2006 Auburn). Bowden has been on the hot seat for about half a decade, and Auburn nearly replaced Tuberville with Bobby Petrino late in 2003.
The difference is that Tuberville’s undefeated, conference-winning season was in the SEC in 2004. Ever since that year, he has garnered a reputation of being an excellent big game coach. Let’s take a look at his record to see how he has done.
As with last time, games against I-AA teams have been thrown out. The two neutral site games are SEC championship games. Tuberville’s home record is slightly better than Bowden’s is, and his road record is noticeably better.
Here is his record broken down by tier. As a refresher, a top tier team finished the season with a winning percentage of .750 or better, while a second tier team finished the year between .500 and .749, inclusive.
|Tier||Wins||Losses||Pct.||Avg. Scored||Avg. Allowed|
What immediately jumps out is that Tuberville is much better against the first tier teams than Bowden is, and he has yet to lose to a third or fourth tier team. Their records against the second tier are almost exactly the same.
The question though is whether something changed fundamentally in 2004 or not. That’s the popular theory anyway, that he transformed into one of the best big game coaches. With that in mind, here is his record from 1999 to 2003. The bottom two tiers have not been analyzed individually since Tuberville has not lost to a team that finished the year below .500.
Tuberville just simply was not that good against decent or better teams. He was about the same against the first tier as Bowden has been, but he only won three of every eight games against the second tier teams. After six solid seasons of this kind of performance, it comes as no shock that the Auburn administration was looking to replace him.
Now, his record from 2004 to the present day.
It certainly appears that Tuberville’s new reputation is well-founded. His .692 winning percentage against the first tier is even better than Bob Stoops’ .630 mark.
His performance against the second tier isn’t quite as good as Stoops’ is, but it evens out thanks to the fact Tuberville hasn’t lost to any third tier teams while Stoops has lost to three of them. Tuberville’s overall winning percentage is basically the same as Stoops’ overall winning percentage (.814).
However, what separates Tuberville, who’s been to just one conference title game in the four seasons since 2004, from Stoops, who has been to six in his nine years, is performance against the top of their divisions.
OU and Texas have been the top two teams in the Big 12 South almost every one of the last nine years, and Stoops is 6-3 against the Longhorns. In the last three seasons, Tuberville lost to the eventual SEC West champ each of those years. Basically, while Tuberville has been better at winning big games, he just has had some trouble winning the right big games.
What this evidence appears to suggest is that it is possible for a coach to transform from being lousy against good teams to being great against good teams. For Tuberville, it took six years on the job as a head coach to make the change. It has now been eleven years as a head coach and nine in a major conference for Tommy Bowden.
If you like symmetry, it was the final year of having Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown that Tuberville made his change. We’re now coming up on the last year of James Davis-C.J. Spiller combo at Clemson. Will Bowden make the same transformation that Tuberville did? It’s just another subplot to watch for in the 2008 college football season.