Firey Pair

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Coaching Hot Seat

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Like death and taxes, another certainty in life is that, somewhere, a coach’s backside is feeling a little toasty.

Such is the case as we get set to embark on a sparkling new football season, with a handful of coaches feeling the heat from folks off the field for their collective failures on it. Fair or not, it’s a fact of life in the coaching profession: win or you’re gone, ofttimes with a multi-million buyout serving as a parachute.

So, just who is possibly looking at a spot in the coaching unemployment line at season’s end, or sooner? Recent history suggests that at least 20 of the head coaches who are on the sidelines when the season begins won’t be there when the calendar flips to 2015.

Below are but a few of the coaches who could be entering a make-or-break season at their respective schools, in order from hottest to slightly less hot.

WILL MUSCHAMP, FLORIDA
2013 RECORD: 4-8
OVERALL RECORD AT UF: 22-16 overall, 13-11 in SEC
By now, everyone’s aware of the carnage wrought by the Gators last season, but we’ll repeat them for those who’ve been in a coma and/or living under a rock.  The 4-8 record was the worst for the football program since 1979; a bowl-less postseason was the first for a non-sanctioned Gators team since 1986; a second 3-5 record in SEC play in three years showed just how far behind the conference elite they currently are; and, arguably the most embarrassing facet of the woeful season, UF lost to FCS Georgia Southern in The Swamp as the latter didn’t complete a forward pass.  The calls for Muschamp’s head on a platter from the media and fans alike were coming fast and furious.  So much so that the athletic director had to offer his beleaguered head coach an in-season vote of confidence. While Jeremy Foley has publicly supported the coach, there is growing concern behind closed doors that Muschamp may not be the man to lead the Gators back to national prominence.  If 2014 is even remotely close to a repeat of 2013, the outcry will be so great that Foley may have no choice but to make a change and go in a different direction.

BRADY HOKE, MICHIGAN
2013 RECORD: 7-6
OVERALL RECORD AT UM: 26-13 overall, 15-9 in Big Ten
I’ll just go ahead and copy & paste what I wrote in an earlier preview as it pretty much covers it all:

Early on, it was all chili puppy dogs and pizza rainbows for Hoke in Ann Arbor.  In his first year at Michigan, the Wolverines went 11-2 and beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.  Most importantly, and even as it came between the tenures of Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, UM ended a six-game losing streak against hated rival Ohio State.  The honeymoon was hot, steamy and sweaty; the marriage since?  Ankle-length robes and open bathroom doors.  The Wolverines have gone a pedestrian 15-11 the last two years — two losses in minor bowls included — and returned to their losing ways in The Game.  Not only that, but UM has watched as “little brother” Michigan State has leapfrogged them, with the Spartans not only turning themselves into a force in the conference but a factor on the national stage as well.  Throw in some coaching changes, uncertainty at the quarterback position, an offensive line that’s subpar and suspect, just add everything all up and this could very well be a make-or-break year for Hoke.

DANA HOLGORSEN, WEST VIRGINIA
2013 RECORD: 4-8
OVERALL RECORD AT WVU: 21-17 overall, 11-14 in Big 12/Big East
The move to the Big 12 from the old Big East hasn’t been kind to West Virginia in general and Holgorsen specifically.  During his first season in the lesser football conference, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers won 10 games and put a 70-spot up on the scoreboard in the Orange Bowl romp over Clemson.  Since then?  The honeymoon is officially over.  A 7-6 record (4-5 conference) in the first year in the Big 12 gave way to an abysmal four-win season that saw the Mountaineers go just 2-7 in conference play, ahead of only woebegone Kansas.  It was the program’s worst record since 2001 and, more embarrassingly, WVU gave the Jayhawks their lone league win.  Then there’s this sobering statistic: in 38 games under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has lost nine of them by 21-plus points.  In 126 games under Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, which spanned 10 years, the Mountaineers were beaten by 21 or more points a total of eight times.  Another sobering fact?  WVU was 15-3 in its first 18 games under Holgorsen, 6-14 since.  Were it not for a sizable buyout, Holgorsen very well could’ve lost his job last year; another season of subpar results, the size of the buyout won’t matter.

MIKE LONDON, VIRGINIA
2013 RECORD: 2-10
OVERALL RECORD AT UVA: 18-31 overall, 8-24 in ACC
London was the toast of Charlottesville in 2011, with the Cavaliers’ 8-5 mark coming after the program won just 12 games total the three previous years combined.  Then 2012 and 2013 happened.  UVa. won just six games total those two seasons, hitting rock-bottom with a 2-10 collapse in 2013 that was the school’s worst showing since 1982.  Take out the eight-win season, and the Cavaliers are just 10-26 under London.  Wholesale changes made to the coaching staff showed London realizes and understands just how tenuous his hold on the job is.  It was a miracle that London returned for a fifth year; it’ll take even more of a miracle for London & Company to navigate a scheduling gauntlet of death that includes UCLA, Louisville, BYU, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State and Miami and come out on the other end with his job.  In other words, godspeed, Coach London.

TROY CALHOUN, AIR FORCE
2013 RECORD: 2-10
OVERALL RECORD AT AF: 49-41 overall, 29-27 in MWC
Three years ago, it would’ve been preposterous to put Calhoun on a list like this.  The Falcons were in the midst of a run that saw Calhoun start his coaching career at the service academy with a pair of nine-win seasons and a pair of eight-win years as well.  The bottom has, however, dropped out the past three years, with the win totals going from seven in 2011 to six to two in 2013.  The two wins last year represents the football program’s worst showing since 1980.  Add in the scandal that’s rocked the service academy to its core and is expected to result in a monumental shift in athletics at the academy, and Calhoun, who was a Falcons quarterback in the mid- to late-eighties, could find himself on the outside looking in come December if things aren’t turned around post-haste.

TIM BECKMAN, ILLINOIS
2013 RECORD: 4-8
OVERALL RECORD AT UI: 6-18 overall, 1-15 in Big Ten
Most times when a head coach sees his team double its win total from the year before, you’d say he did an outstanding job.  When the previous year was just a two-win season, however, questions concerning the coach’s ability to make it to a third season grow louder and more forceful.  That’s the situation Beckman finds himself in, one that includes an embarrassing one win in conference play in his two seasons with the Illini.  Beckman’s wins in non-conference play have come against teams from the MAC (twice), the AAC and a pair of FCS schools.  His lone conference win?  A four-point squeaker last season over a Purdue team that went 1-11.   If Beckman is unable to push the Illini above the .500 mark and into a bowl game, there’s a very good chance he won’t see another year in Champaign.

CHARLIE WEIS, KANSAS
2013 RECORD: 3-9
OVERALL RECORD AT KU: 4-20 overall, 1-17 in BIG 12
What we have here is arguably the worst Power Five conference football team in the country, although there were slight signs of improvement in 2013.  In 2012, Weis’ first season in Lawrence, the Jayhawks won just one game, the first time that had happened since 1988; in 2013, Weis tripled the win total to three, although the three wins did come at the expense of an FCS team as well as two teams that were a combined 8-16 (hello WVU, Louisiana Tech).  Weis is in the third year of a five-year contract, and it’s hard to gauge whether the KU administration would be willing to pull the plug on this experiment with two years remaining and a substantial buyout in the offing.  Here’s one thing I do know: the Jayhawks won 20 games over a two-year stretch with Mark Mangino in charge just a few years ago, so it is possible to have football success at a basketball school.  Whether Weis, who’s been an abject failure as a college coach by just about any measure, is the man to lead them back to respectability remains very much up in the air.

NORM CHOW, HAWAII
2013 RECORD: 1-11
OVERALL RECORD AT UH: 4-20 overall, 1-15 in MWC
What was supposed to be a dream job for Chow has turned into an utter nightmare.  After getting his tenure started off with a 3-9 record in 2012, Chow’s Rainbow Warriors plummeted to a one-win season in 2013, with that one win coming in the regular-season finale against three-win Army.  The single win was the least for the program since 1998.  The schedule this season doesn’t bode well for Chow and his future at the school, with the Rainbow Warriors staring back-to-back one-win seasons square in the face — and that’s provided UH can get past FCS Northern Iowa, which beat Iowa State in Ames last season.  A winless season with a loss to an FCS program would seal Chow’s fate in his first head-coaching job.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield takes home second straight Burlsworth Award

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 5: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Oklahoma Sooners looks to throw against the Akron Zips September 5, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Akron 41-3.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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For the second straight season, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has been named the recipient of the Burlsworth Award. Mayfield is now the first player to win the award two times.

The award is given to college football’s top player who began his career as a walk-on player. Mayfield was originally a walk-on player at Texas Tech before eventually transferring to Oklahoma, where he has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate and led the Sooners to two consecutive Big 12 championships and one appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Mayfield beat out Washington State quarterback Luke Falk and Northwestern wide receiver Austin Carr for the award. Mayfield will also have a chance to add one more Burlsworth Award to his name next season, as the Sooners passer has already said he will return to Oklahoma for the 2017 season.

The old BCS computers would have served you the same College Football Playoff lineup

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 03:  The official Bowl Championship Series logo is seen painted on the turf in the end zone as the Virginia Tech Hokies play against the Michigan Wolverines during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 3, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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If there is one common criticism of the College Football Playoff model it is that it is left up to humans to determine who should play for the national championship. Bias and allegiances can interfere with the decision-making, unless you believe there really is no bias within the board room when the committee gets together in Dallas every week. Some would prefer the playoff model use some sort of computer system, perhaps one similar to the makeup of the old BCS computer. Well, the BCS computers would have come to the same conclusion for the College Football Playoff if it was used.

The seeding may have been slightly different, with Ohio State staying ahead of Clemson, but the matchups would have been the same as this year’s playoff. Alabama would be the top seed and face Pac-12 champion Washington and Ohio State would have faced Clemson. The Buckeyes would have been the “home” team, although the 2-3 matchup really means nothing other than who gets to decide what uniform color to wear and which team calls heads or tails at the coin flip. Of course, under the old BCS model, there would be just two teams selected to play for the national championship, and that would paired the last two national champions against each other; Alabama and Ohio State. Clemson was the second-ranked team in the final College Football Playoff ranking, with Ohio state finishing third.

It is also worth recognizing the BCS computers would also have awarded Western Michigan the highest-ranking among Group of Five schools, thus sending them to the Cotton Bowl. Western Michigan also would have qualified for a spot in the BCS lineup with the No. 12 ranking in the computer model. Finishing in the top 12 qualified the champion from either Conference USA, the MAC, Mountain West Conference or the Sun Belt for an automatic BCS berth.

Forever a Tiger, LSU RB Leonard Fournette declares for NFL Draft

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 12:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs the ball during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Tigers defeated the Razorbacks 38-10.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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In one of the least surprising announcements from the world of college football, LSU running back Leonard Fournette has announced he will be heading to the NFL in 2017. Fournette announced with a statement on Twitter he will play in LSU’s bowl game matchup against Louisville and then begin preparing for the NFL.

In his statement, Fournette said he chose to make this decision now as a way to avoid potential distractions leading up to LSU’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl appearance.

Fournette has rushed for 843 yards and eight touchdowns this season in just seven games. Injuries got in the way of Fournette’s big hopes for the 2016 season after rushing for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago. Fournette was among the preseason Heisman Trophy favorites. Fournette was a First-Team All-SEC pick in 2015 and a consensus All-American. could the New Orleans native be drafted by the New Orleans Saints? That would be something.

He will now be largely considered one of the top potential draft picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, even though he will head to the NFL coming off some injury concerns and the stock for running backs at the next level has trended downward.

That said, there are going to be some fantastic running backs out there to draft next spring. Fournette joins a running back class that includes Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey, and D'Onta Foreman.

The 10 best and 10 worst bowl matchups, as ranked by F/+

EL PASO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  The Miami Hurricanes kick off to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sun Bowl on December 30, 2010 in El Paso, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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2016’s most even bowl matchup will happen in El Paso, Texas, while the most lopsided game will take place in Boise, Idaho.

Those on-paper analyses are based on the end-of-the-season F/+ rankings, which are explained here on Football Outsiders. Personally, they’re a go-to for getting a rough idea of how good a certain team is, so why not use them to preview the best and worst bowl matchups?

Here are the 10 best games based on how close the two participants’ F/+ rankings are:

Sun Bowl (+1): No. 25 Stanford vs. No. 26 UNC
Fiesta Bowl (+2): No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Clemson
Rose Bowl (+2): No. 7 USC vs. No. 9 Penn State
Sugar Bowl (+2): No. 8 Auburn vs. No. 10 Oklahoma
Armed Forces Bowl (+2): No. 51 Louisiana Tech vs. No. 53 Navy

Peach Bowl (+4): No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 5 Washington
Quick Lane Bowl (+4): No. 93 Boston College vs. No. 97 Maryland
New Mexico Bowl (+5): No. 81 New Mexico vs. No. 86 UT-San Antonio
Citrus Bowl (+6): No. 5 LSU vs. No. 11 Louisville
Cotton Bowl (+10): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Western Michigan

Obviously, the two College Football Playoff games (Ohio State-Clemson, Alabama-Washington) are among the closest, but it’s good to see three of the four other New Year’s Six bowls in here as well. The Orange Bowl (No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 13 Florida State) just barely missed the cut.

As for the 10 biggest mismatches:

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (+71): No. 29 Colorado State vs. No. 100 Idaho
Birmingham Bowl (+61): No. 33 South Florida vs. No. 94 South Carolina
Military Bowl (+54): No. 18 Temple vs. No. 72 Wake Forest
Cactus Bowl (+52): No. 14 Boise State vs. No. 66 Baylor
Miami Beach Bowl (+45): No. 44 Tulsa vs. No. 89 Central Michigan

Arizona Bowl (+38): No. 49 Air Force vs. No. 87 South Alabama
Las Vegas Bowl (+30): No. 20 Houston vs. No. 50 San Diego State
Poinsettia Bowl (+27): No. 30 BYU vs. No. 57 Wyoming
Heart of Dallas Bowl (+26): No. 85 Army vs. No. 111 North Texas
Russell Athletic Bowl (+25): No. 15 Miami vs. No. 40 West Virginia

It’s not surprising three of these games involve top-level Group of Five teams (South Florida, Temple, Boise State) playing 6-6 Power Five teams (South Carolina, Wake Forest, Baylor), given that’s where a lot of bowl mismatches can take place. It was a little surprising to see the gulf between Houston and San Diego State be so significant, though.

But while these matchups may either be close or lopsided, always remember the ironclad rule of bowl season: Weird stuff is gonna happen. One team may not care while the other does, one team may not deal with the elements (especially in the northern bowls) as well as the other, or one team may come in with something to prove while the other team doesn’t. The best-case scenario for us college football fans is that every game is interesting and worth watching, no matter what the on-paper numbers may say.