A viewer’s guide to New Year’s Day bowls and beyond

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Unbelievably — or excruciatingly given some of the lopsided results thus far — we’ve arrived at a couple of games past the midway point of the 2010-2011 bowl season.

Hopefully, as the calendar flips from ’10 to ’11, the best has been saved for last.  Honestly, though, can it get much worse than what’s been wrought thus far?

(Kansas State-Syracuse, North Carolina-Tennessee, consider yourselves excused from the criticism.)

With that as a backdrop, here’s a handy viewer’s guide to the remainder of the bowl season, both for the games themselves and for the intriguing storylines that are intertwined with some of the matchups.

Must-See TV
For all of the obscenity-laced ridicule the BcS has received — and rightfully so, might we add — the cartel has blind squirreled its way into one helluva title nut.  Simply put, the two best teams in college football this season have been Auburn and Oregon, and they will square off in Glendale in a championship game that has all the makings of an instant classic. A once-a-decade, worth-the-money talent in Cam Newton on one side of the offensive equation, a fast-break Oregon offense that would make Paul Westhead say “dayum” on the other.  Toss in neon green socks as a fashion accessory, and how can you lose?

Must-Flee TV
Somehow, it’s morbidly appropriate that GoDaddy.com is the title sponsor of the bowl game featuring Miami of Ohio versus Middle Tennessee State.  The RedHawks lost their head coach to Pittsburgh, and lost their starting quarterback to a spleen (thanks random broadcasting guy who thinks it’s cool to refer to someone being “out with a knee”).  Provided he can replicate last year’s New Orleans Bowl magic, MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher might be this game’s saving grace.  Then again, based on how his season has played out, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Ticket City Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech has two quarterbacks – Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield – that they can use at any point in the game. Both Potts and Sheffield were vying for the starting gig in the preseason before Potts ultimately won the job. Northwestern, on the other hand is using their backup quarterback, Evan Watkins, after Dan Persa went down on the final play of a victory over Iowa with a foot injury. While there’s no official word, we’re hearing rumors that NU coach Pat Fitzgerald has asked Tommy Tuberville if he could borrow Sheffield for a game. Our guess? Not gonna happen.

Progressive Gator Bowl: No. 21 Mississippi State vs. Michigan
As if there were any other story lines. All the rumors swirling out of the greater Ann Arbor area point to Rich Rodriguez’s head on the guillotine. It’s just a matter of whether AD David Brandon pulls the rope or not. Rodriguez’s buyout falls from $4 million to $2.5 million on the Jan. 1, and given the unceremonious firings in Maryland and West Virginia, it wouldn’t be a terrible surprise if RichRod was simply asked “not to return home with the team”. There is one guy, however, who can save Rodriguez’s job. That would be Denard Robinson, who probably prevented his coach from being fired already.  Speaking of which…

RichRod, standing on the precipice of…
Another season at Michigan?  The unemployment line?  It’s hard to believe that how the Wolverines perform in the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State will be the be-all, end-all for Brandon’s decision on Rodriguez and the football program’s future.  An embarrassing loss, however, could serve as the final nail in a coffin that’s already four feet under.  It will take a minor miracle, regardless of how the game with the Bulldogs turn out, to keep it from dropping the remaining two feet.  And waiting above ground, with shovel in hand…

Out of Luck on head coach, quarterback front?
You’ll have to pardon Cardinal fans if they seem to be a bit on edge these days.  Yes, they are in a BcS bowl (see below) for just the second time in the school’s history, and the first since the 2000 Rose Bowl.  That’s the positive.  The negative is the attrition looming on the horizon.  Will head coach Jim Harbaugh head back home to Ann Arbor to take over a stumbling and bumbling Michigan program in dire need of change?  Will Andrew Luck take his considerable quarterback talents off The Farm and into the NFL draft?  Not much riding on the answers to those questions; just the immediate future of the football program is all.

Discover Orange Bowl: No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech
For as much criticism as Boise State has received for their lack of a “signature win”, these two teams haven’t been much better. Stanford’s best win came in the waning moments against a bowl-less, 8-5 USC. Virginia Tech has wins over Florida State and North Carolina State, both of whom showed flashes of greatness this season, but also pillow-fought and prissy-slapped their way through the ACC Atlantic.  To be honest, this game seems pretty evenly matched. Both have amazing coaches in Jim Harbaugh and Frank Beamer (who should get more recognition than he does), and both have really great quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, who could be jumping to the NFL afterward, and Tyrod Taylor. This could be a game decided on who gets the ball last.

Will the Big 12 wake up any time soon?
There’s the bottom dropping out of something, then there’s what has happened to the Big 12 thus far this bowl season.   Coming into the postseason with high hopes, it appears instead those hopefuls were high as the conference has stumbled their way to a 1-4 mark out of the gate.  Just to get back to the .500 mark, the Big 12(-2) will need to win all three of their remaining games.  So, yeah it’s not so good for commissioner Dan Beebe and his league.  Combine the rocky bowl start with losing two schools to other conferences via expansion and Texas’ inexplicable implosion, and it’s been a really, really bad last six months or so for the ten-member Big 12.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: UConn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
After losing to underdogs Boise State and West Virginia in successive Fiesta Bowls, you’d have to think third time’s the charm, right? Certainly, Oklahoma can’t lose 3 Fiesta Bowls in a row, can they? “Big Game Bob” Stoops hasn’t won a BCS game since the 2002 Rose Bowl and playing 8-4 UConn certainly gives him a chance. But, I’ve counted out UConn more than a couple of times this season, and each time, I’ve been wrong. If the Huskies can win this game, or even make it frighteningly close, the Big East might be able to stop some of the massive PR blood loss from this season.

Ya get it?  He’s that freaking old!
What’s the over/under on how many times we hear some derivative of the “JoePa’s 84 years old, and he’s not the one retiring” joke during the Outback Bowl matchup between Penn State and Florida?  I’ll just go ahead and set the line at “ad nauseam” and be done with it.  But, yes, this game marks the Gator swan song for Urban Meyer, although it’s pretty well established that this likely won’t be the last time Meyers prowls a football sideline.  Unbelievable, though, that Meyer is stepping down, while Coach Paterno will still… dammit, got sucked into the vortex as well.

Didja know that Coach Woodcock used to coach the Spartans?  Didja?
Speaking of running things into the ground,  Alabama head coach Nick Saban used to hold the same title at Michigan State.  The two schools will square off in the Capital One Bowl, so you can see which direction talking heads will take this one.  What we’re more interested in, though, is Mark Ingram.  Specifically, will this be his final season in Tuscaloosa?  The running back has already won a Heisman and a national title; he’s also dealt with injuries this season that gives a glimpse into the relatively short shelf life a tailback possesses.  Add all of that to the presence of Trent Richardson on the depth chart, and what better way for Ingram to ride off into the collegiate sunset than with a win over the school he grew up rooting for?

AT&T Cotton Bowl: No. 11 LSU vs. No. 17 Texas A&M
During the latter half of the season, there may not have been a hotter team in the country than Texas A&M, who after a 3-3 start, reeled off 6 straight wins – including 2 over Oklahoma and Nebraska – to end at 9-3. The question mark here is how a layoff that spanned over a month will affect the Aggies. LSU has the speed on defense to match up with Ryan Tannehill and the A&M offense, so the Aggies better be sharp.  A&M can’t afford to fall asleep on defense, either, with Les Miles prowling — and chewing on — the sidelines.

Can tOSU remove “Property of the SEC” from their backsides?
Forget the Buckeye Five and their five-game suspensions to begin the 2011 season; the main storyline is whether or not Ohio State can get the SEC bowl monkey gorilla off their backs.  The Buckeyes have played Those Schools Down South nine times in the postseason, and lost every single one of ’em, including, you may have heard, a pair of embarrassing national title game blowouts.  The Sugar Bowl against Arkansas will allow the Buckeyes a shot at regaining a little bit of their lost and battered manhood.  Or further neuter them in the eyes of the national media.  One of the two.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Kentucky vs, Pittsburgh
In a lot of ways, this game is eerily similar to the Champ Sports Bowl between West Virginia and North Carolina State. Earlier this month, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt  was fired – excuse me – “resigned” and it will be interesting to see just how the Panthers respond against a decent, but not great, Kentucky team.  Pittsburgh began as the preseason favorites to win the Big East. Now, they’re 7-5. Will the disappointment be too much? After all, we all saw how West Virginia reacted to distractions in their bowl game.  The “X Factor” in this game has to be Kentucky’s Randall Cobb, who has thrown, caught, and rushed his way to an All-American season. Pitt has the talent on defense, but they will have their hands full trying to contain Cobb.

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: No. 15 Nevada vs. Boston College
While it might not blow up the Nielsen Ratings, this has to be the most feel-good bowl of the season.  Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick has been an absolute stud throughout his entire career and has never received the praise he deserves. During his time at Nevada, he has accounted for over 10,000 yards of total offense.  On the other side of the ball will be BC linebacker Mark Herzlich, who as many of you probably know by now, successfully recovered from a battle with cancer. Herzlich has been an amazing inspiration and I know all (two) of us here at CFT wish Mark nothing but the greatest success at the next level and throughout the rest of his long life.

(Many, many thanks to the mighty Ben Kercheval for his help in compiling this viewer’s guide.  And direct any complaints to him as he wrote all of the really crappy/mean ones.  Thanks in advance for your cooperation.)

Arkansas State stadium expansion includes pair of waterfalls

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The college athletics’ arms race of the past few decades has produced a number of unique designs when it comes to various stadiums and other football-centric facilities. Just about everybody is trying to hang their hat on something new and different to set themselves apart from the crowd and that ethos is seemingly creeping into just about every design element in any new building across the country.

Arkansas State appears to be the latest program to go in this direction and, based on new renderings of a north end zone project for Centennial Bank Stadium that were released on Thursday, the school is perfectly content to ignore TLC’s advice and start chasing actual waterfalls.

“This project will allow us to attract the top students in the country and provide first-class services to develop our students on and off the playing surfaces,” athletic director Terry Mohajir said in a statement on the school’s website for the project. “Additionally, we’ve created a unique feature to pay homage to the great state of Arkansas, the Natural State.”

This is far from the only water feature to be incorporated into a stadium in recent years (Jacksonville’s EverBank Field — home to the annual Florida-Georgia game — has a pool after all) but is a little bit outside the box for a smaller FBS school’s stadium. The two waterfalls are set to be placed on either side of the north end zone grandstand and include a new outdoor premium seating area as well. Also included in the project are a new weight room, a training/rehabilitation area, new football locker room, position meeting rooms, a players’ lounge, academic rooms and team-theater meeting area.

No cost breakdown or timeline were given but safe to say the former will involve millions of dollars and the latter will result in several years passing before the water is flowing in Jonesboro.

Virginia stays in-house to fill coaching void

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Bronco Mendenhall didn’t have to look far to find someone to fill the hole on his Virginia coaching staff.

The football program announced in a press release that Mendenhall has promoted Vic So’oto (pictured, No. 37) to defensive line coach.  Last season, his first with the Cavaliers, So’oto, who played his college football for Mendenhall at BYU from 2005-10, served as a graduate assistant.

So’oto replaces Ruffin McNeill, who left Charlottesville earlier this month for a spot on Lincoln Riley‘s staff at Oklahoma.

“Vic was Ruffin’s understudy for the last year-and-a-half,” Mendenhall said in a statement. “He was my very first commitment at BYU when I became the head coach. He was a very good player for us and someone who has experience playing in the NFL.

“He’s very passionate. He is very knowledgeable about defensive football and our system. He knows the defensive line play in our system, inside and out. He’s a great teacher and fits perfectly and seamlessly into this position because he was taught and mentored by Ruff this past year. Our defensive front won’t miss a beat.”

Kerry Coombs adds assistant DC to Ohio State coaching responsibilities

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Heading into the 2017 season, Kerry Coombs will have an additional title on his coaching résumé.

Ohio State announced Thursday that Coombs has been promoted to assistant coordinator, defense, by Urban Meyer.  Coombs will retain his titles of special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach as well.

Greg Schiano will remain in his role as defensive coordinator.

“Kerry Coombs is absolutely deserving of this promotion to assistant coordinator, defense,” the head coach said in a statement. “He is an outstanding coach, instructor and mentor to the young men in this program. He is one of the best recruiters in the nation. He is incredibly loyal, and we at Ohio State are very fortunate that he loves this school and loves being a Buckeye.”

Coombs will be entering his sixth season with the Buckeyes, one of two assistants, the other being wide receivers coach Zach Smith, who have been with Meyer all five of his seasons in Columbus.

The past two years, three of Coombs’ corners — Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley in 2017, Eli Apple in 2016 — have been selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Another, Bradley Roby, was taken in the first round of the 2014 draft.

Frank Kush, winningest coach in Arizona State history, dies at age 88

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The most famous head coach in the history of Arizona State athletics has passed.

The university confirmed Thursday that the legendary Frank Kush died earlier in the day of unknown causes.  He was 88 years old.

After finishing his collegiate playing career at Michigan State and a stint in the Army, Kush’s first job in coaching was as the line coach for the Sun Devils in 1955.  When Dan Devine left to become the head coach at Missouri in December of 1957, Kush was promoted to head coach.

Kush spent the next 21½ years as the head coach at ASU, leading the Sun Devils to a 176-54-1 mark that included seven Western Athletic Conference championships.  The wins are the most in the football program’s history; in fact, he’s the only coach in the school’s history who has accumulated more than 60 wins during his time in Tempe.

From 1969-73, Kush’s ASU squads won five straight WAC titles.  They lost just six games total in that span against 51 wins.  In 1975, they went a 12-0, capping off the second perfect season under Kush with a win over Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl.

In part because of Kush’s on-field success with the Sun Devils, ASU began play in the then-Pac-12 conference in 1978.

Kush’s tenure at the school ended in controversy, however, as he was fired in the middle of the 1979 season after a player accused the coach of mental and physical abuse in a September lawsuit.  The coach was ultimately fired because the university accused him of hindering the investigation into the allegations.