2010: A look ahead

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With the corpse of the 2009 season not yet even cold, what better time to look at the 2010 season than at the present?

Sure, it’s kinda like taking a date to your wife’s funeral, but, just like the deceased spouse, I’m sure ’09 would want us to be happy and move on quickly to next season, right?

With that in mind, we’ll take a quick glance at what may happen in 2010…

FIVE COMPELLING STORY LINES

1. Meyer: For or Against Urban Renewal?

C’mon, is there any story that’s even close to whether or not Urban Meyer will be back as Florida’s coach by the time the regular season rolls around?  This will be the dominant story over the next six months, and how it plays out before the season starts will shape how UF’s regular season will go.

2. Big Ten: Earnest Growth or One-Time Blip?

The most beleaguered and vilified conference in the country finished the 2009 bowl season with a 4-3 record, the first winning record for the league since 2002. And it’s not like they compiled that mark with a handful of Emerald Bowl-type wins; no, their wins came in BcS games over the Pac-10 and ACC champions (Ohio State over Oregon and Iowa over Georgia Tech, respectively), with the other two coming over No. 13 LSU (Penn State) and No. 14 Miami of Florida (Wisconsin).  It was a statement postseason for the beleaguered conference, but only time will tell if the performance was a shifting trend upward or simply false hope.

3. Mountain West: Finally the Time For Some Respect

The loss by TCU to fellow non-automatic qualifier left a bad taste in the conference’s mouth, but the MWC still exited the bowl season with a 4-1 mark and a healthy dose of national respect.  With their play this year, they have finally confirmed to most of the masses that they deserve an automatic BcS bid.  Carrying that momentum through 2010 will be key for the automatic bid to become a reality.  The conference is on a perilous slope perception-wise, and simply can’t afford to take a step back.

4. The BCmesS: Time to Grab the Congressional Pitchforks?

At no time in its controversial history has the BcS been under more fire than it is right now.  They were the subject of congressional hearings throughout 2009, and the only question remains when, not if, the government becomes more deeply involved.  Based on the tea leaves, one thing is certain: there will be some type of change to the system in the coming years, whether by force or by the threat of force.  Will it lead to a full-blown playoff system that most of the country, including the First Fan, wants?  2010 should go a long way toward answering that question

5. Replacing Legends: Adios, Tim & Colt; Hola, John & Garrett

Entering the past three seasons, there were no question marks at the quarterback position for both Florida and Texas.  With the departures of Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy due to expired eligibility, John Brantley of the Gators and Garrett Gilbert of the Longhorns have the unenviable tasks of replacing arguably the greatest QBs in their respective school’s history.  How they perform will go a long way in determining whether or not the two programs can remain at the top of the national scene.

WAY-TOO-EARLY HEISMAN ROLL CALL

1. Mark Ingram, Alabama — To be the man, you gotta beat the man.  Winning the Heisman as a sophomore will keep the running back in the trophy talk for the next two seasons.  Provided he stays in Tuscaloosa after his junior year, of course.

2. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State — Was the Rose Bowl performance a sign of things to come?  If it is, you can bet the Buckeyes quarterback will be in any and all Heisman talk.

3. Kellen Moore, Boise State — One of the best quarterbacks in the country that nobody talks about, the early-season match-up with Virginia Tech will go a long way toward determining Moore’s place in the Heisman discussion.  Speaking of that showdown with the Hokies…

4. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech — 1,655 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns as a freshman?  Yeah, that’ll get you into the mix.  The Moore-Williams September head-to-head will jump-start the race for the stiff-armed trophy.  And, no, we’re not completely finished with Six Degrees of Kellen Moore

5a. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State — With 1,440 yards rushing, 21 touchdowns and, for good measure, 78 receptions out of the backfield, this Beaver back is one of the best running backs in the country that nobody talks about.  Oh, did I mention that Rogers’ Beavers will take on Moore’s Broncos in September?  Early-season Heisman intrigue, indeed.

5b. Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh — It’s hard to believe a freshman had a more productive season than Williams, but Lewis did just that.  1,799 yards just screams Heisman contender for many years to come.  Unless, of course, head coach Dave Wannstedt rides him into an early RB grave.

COACHING HOT SEAT

1.Rich Rodriguez, Michigan

The throne entering the 2010 season is RichRod’s alone, and no one else is really close.  An 8-16 overall mark in two years at Michigan is bad enough; a 3-13 record in Big Ten play is wholly unacceptable in Ann Arbor.  Add in an NCAA investigation and two losses to archrival Ohio State by a combined 46 points, and you have a coach facing an absolute must-win season.

2. Ron Zook, Illinois

Really, is there any explanation needed?  With the exception of a head-scratching 9-4 season in 2007, The Zookster has compiled a 12-35 record in his five seasons with the Illini.  The school has recruited better than that record indicates, which is a tribute to Zook’s innate ability to coach his players down.

3. Paul Wulff, Washington State

You don’t go 3-22 in two seasons and not have your butt planted on something with at least a little bit of warmth to it.

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

T. Boone Pickens did not donate approximately $300 kajillion (U.S.) to watch his beloved Cowboys go 9-4, not play in the Big 12 title game and lose bowl games.  T. Boone wants more bang for his buck, and what T. Boone wants T. Boone gets.

5. Pete Carroll, Southern Cal

This one might be stretch.  In fact, it’s so much of a stretch that I might’ve torn a muscle typing it.  However, with the looming specter of an NCAA investigation coming to a conclusion at some point this year, coupled with an utterly disappointing 2009 season, Carroll could be feeling the heat more so than he has at any point in his USC career.

FIVE RISERSFive teams outside the final Top Ten who could surprise

1. Nebraska

Sure, they have to replace a Beast Named Suh, but there is plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball returning for Bo Pelini & Company.  If the ‘Huskers could just get some type of consistency on the other side of the ball — yeah, I’m looking at you Zac Lee — this team should be the class of Big 12 North and might be able to challenge Texas for conference supremacy.

2. Miami of Florida

The Hurricanes showed in the early part of the 2009 season that the talent is there.  Look for The U to put it together throughout the entire 2010 season and make a serious bid for both an ACC title and top-ten ranking.

3. Pittsburgh

With Dion Lewis and that defense, the immediate future is looking very bright for Dave Wannstedt & Company.

4. Oklahoma

Simply put, Bob Stoops is too good of a coach, and there’s too much talent in that program, for the Sooners to spend another season outside of the Top 25.  Call this one a hunch.

5a. Stanford

Yes, the likely loss of Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart to the NFL leaves a void, but, as long as
Jim Harbaugh
doesn’t bol
t for the NFL and quarterback Andrew Luck stays healthy for the entire season, the Cardinal is poised to challenge Oregon for Pac-10 supremacy in 2010.

5b. Tennessee

Lane Kiffin made most of his news in 2009 for what he said and did off the field.  Behind all that brashness, however, he and his staff were quietly rebuilding a storied football program on the field.  They might be a year away, but it would be no surprise at all to see the Volunteers challenge for a BcS berth as early as this year.

FIVE TUMBLERSFive teams inside the final Top 25 who could struggle

1. Florida

Uncertainty surrounding Urban Meyer.  The loss of Tim Tebow.  A pair of talented juniors — Joe Haden and Aaron Hernandez — have already left early; up to five more, including two-fifths of the starting offensive line, could follow suit.  Charlie Strong left for the head coaching job at Louisville, and his presence will be missed.  If he does indeed return as expected, it will take the best coaching job of Meyer’s coaching career to keep the Gators on top of their lofty national perch.

2. Cincinnati

Butch Jones is a tremendous football coach, but make no mistake — losing Brian Kelly to Notre Dame will hurt this program.  This won’t be a free-fall — Kelly left too solid a foundation for that to happen — but Jones could struggle in his first year at a BcS school.

3. Penn State

Losing quarterback Daryll Clark to graduation and Navorro Bowman to the draft are huge blows to the Nittany Lions.  Evan Royster, get your rest.  The offense will be on your shoulders.

4. Texas

Losing Colt McCoy will have an effect on the Longhorns, although Garrett Gilbert showed in the BcS title game after being suddenly thrust into the spotlight that he has a bright future.  In 2011.  UT will dip a little bit in ’10 — not bottom out, mind you — but look out for a reloaded group in ’11.

5. LSU

In the first three years of Les Miles‘ tenure, the Tigers did not win less than 11 games in any season.  In the past two seasons, the Bayou Bengals have gone a very pedestrian 17-9, including an even 8-8 mark in SEC play.  The concerning part for LSU faithful, though, is that there is not much hope that a turnaround is in the offing at any point in the near future.  And, if Miles doesn’t turn it around in 2009, he could very well find himself on the coaching hot seat.  Especially if he continues to boggle the mind with mind-numbing clock management at the end of games.

EARLY-BIRD TOP FIVE

1. Alabama: They were the best team in the country throughout the 2009 season — regardless of what the polls said.  They return most of the key performers from their national title team.  No way you can keep this team out of the top spot entering the season.

2. Ohio State: (And let the whining and bitching commence…)  This is all predicated on the Terrelle Pryor that seemed to mature in one sixty-minute Rose Bowl game being the real deal.  And the fact that the five-time defending Big Ten champs lose almost no one of consequence.

3. Boise State: Why?  One, because I can, and two, because they convincingly beat the team — TCU — I felt should’ve been playing in the national title game.  And that same team returns 23 of 24 starters in 2010.  If a non-automatic qualifier is ever going to make a run at the BcS title game, next year’s Broncos have the best shot at it.

4. Texas: As the BcS runner-up, they will start roughly in this area if not higher.  It’s deserved, given their finish, but it’ll be too high come the end of the year.

5. Iowa: The only two games the Hawkeyes lost in 2009 were games where quarterback Ricky Stanzi was unavailable for either all or part of the games due to injury.  A healthy Stanzi and a dominating defense helped Iowa roll Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, setting the tone for what Hawkeye Nation hopes will be a run at the Big Ten crown.  If not more.

Report: Lane Kiffin would like to be Tennessee’s head coach again

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Lane Kiffin says he’s happy at Florida Atlantic, but everyone suspects that happiness has an expiration date. A coach with his talents and pedigree — and remember, Kiffin is just 42 — is destined to return to the big time at some point.

And according to a reporter at ESPN, Kiffin would like “some point” to be “right now.” Chris Low spent a week in Boca Raton shadowing Kiffin, and came away believing Kiffin would be open to a reunion with Tennessee.

“Lane is definitely on board if Tennessee gives him a call,” Low told the Orange and White Report radio show in Knoxville. “That’s not going to happen, but as he told me, ‘People break up all the time and get back together.’”

As we know, Kiffin spent one 7-6 season as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009 before darting off in the middle of the night to return to USC, and Kiffin was persona non grata in Knoxville for years afterwards.

But it seems feelings have softened toward him sense then. Kiffin has made a habit of trolling Vols fans on Twitter, but he trolls because he loves. “I don’t really think before I tweet,” Kiffin told AL.com last week. “I like to get a reaction. I like to make people laugh.”

While the idea of Kiffin returning to Knoxville may be a bridge too far for Vols AD John Currie, he does fit the mold of someone Tennessee should consider. A 42-year-old coach that lived and learned through two Power 5 head coaching jobs, is fresh off an ultra-successful run as an SEC coordinator and is now on the verge of winning Conference USA in his first season?

Perhaps Kiffin and Currie can negotiate over Twitter direct messages.

Update: Kiffin has denied the report.

Arkansas to host Ole Miss in Little Rock in 2018

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Ole Miss will put the finishing touches on its 2017 season with the annual Egg Bowl Thanksgiving night, but there’s a bit of 2018 scheduling news involving the Rebels to touch on first.

Wednesday, Arkansas announced that its 2018 game against Ole Miss will be played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock instead of their on-campus home in Fayetteville. Next season will mark the 70th anniversary of the opening of War Memorial Stadium.

“We look forward to our return to Central Arkansas to take on Ole Miss at War Memorial Stadium in October 2018,” interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples said in a statement. “I know Razorback fans will be excited and ready to cheer on our team in a key Southeastern Conference Western Division matchup.

“Arkansas and Ole Miss first met on the football field more than a century ago and we look forward to the next chapter in this rivalry, in a venue that has hosted so many important games in this series.”

In fact, the game next season will mark the 110th anniversary of the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.

The Razorbacks and Rebels last played in Little Rock in 2012. Their only other matchup at War Memorial Stadium as conference foes came in 1992.

UCLA, UNLV announce future home-and-home

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Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! And, as you get set for your Turkey Day feast, here’s a little future scheduling news on which to nibble.

Just a handful of days after dumping its head coach, UCLA, along with UNLV, announced that the two football programs have reached an agreement on a future home-and-home series. The Bruins will play host to the Rebels on Sept. 7, 2024, at the Rose Bowl. The following season, on Sept. 6, 2025, the two teams will meet up once again in Las Vegas.

“This is another series that bolsters our future schedules and is beneficial for both sides geographically,” a statement from Desiree Reed-Francois began. “Our fans enjoy seeing traditional powers come to town, it enhances our football program’s efforts in the recruiting hotbed of Southern California and partnering with prestigious institutions in the Pac-12 only helps our development as a University.”

The schools have met twice previously, in 2015 and 2016, with the Bruins winning both by a combined score of 79-24.

This scheduling news comes three weeks after UNLV announced a future four-game series with Cal. The MWC program also has future games against Pac-12 members USC (2018 season opener) and Arizona State (home-and-home in 2020 and 2021) on the scheduling docket.

Tennessee WR Jauan Jennings dismissed after Instagram tirade against Vols coaching staff

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The 2017 season just can’t end quick enough for Tennessee.

Proving that there have been much better days on Rocky Top, the school has reportedly and unexpectedly dismissed wide receiver Jauan Jennings from the team on Wednesday evening — just hours after the junior went on a tirade against the current coaching staff and posted it to his social media accounts.

Jennings reportedly went off earlier in the day at the staff and called them several choice, NSFW names in videos posted to his private Instagram account.

The receiver was somewhat of a surprise return to practice recently as it was expected he was going to miss the rest of the season after being injured in season opener against Georgia Tech. Jennings enter the year as an All-SEC third team selection in the preseason but was limited to just three catches for 17 yards the first half of the Vols’ first game.

Jennings could transfer to another school as he has a redshirt year available and likely would be able to receive a medical redshirt as well. Declaring for the NFL Draft seems the more likely scenario however but one thing is for certain: a return to Tennessee doesn’t look like it’s in the cards after Wednesday’s actions on both sides.