Saturday, December 19, 2015

BYU gets their coach and other notes

As someone who loves big picture, abstract thinking this is one of my favorite times of the year in college football. Teams reshuffle their decks and try to hire staff to make the most of different programs with some teams making sensible choices and other programs operating under mistaken notions of what will work in their own context.

Here's a few recent moves that I'm very interested in seeing play out.

BYU hires Kalani Sitake 

I wrote about BYU and their near-hire of Navy's Ken Niumatalolo recently, a move that I thought might fit their program long-term but would really struggle to make the most of a roster built to win in the near-future with QB Tanner Mangum.

SB Nation's Steven Godfrey noted that this was a very important hire for BYU as a big realignment move that could put them in the Power 5 might be imminent, in which case they want their program to be as strong as possible. Their choice? Kalani Sitake.

Sitake is a long time member of the Gary Andersen/Kyle Whittingham coaching tree who got started on offense as a RB/TE coach and then OL coach at Southern Utah after playing football as a fullback at BYU. He switched to the defensive side, coaching LBs under Whittingham at Utah and eventually working his way up to becoming defensive coordinator.

He has a great reputation as a defensive coach with the only potential hesitation coming from the fact that in his first year as a DC away from Whittingham the Utes pushed on and were fine while Sitake and Andersen were unable to turn the Oregon State Beavers into a good defense in year one. However, it would have been a miracle if they had, so there probably isn't too much to worry about there.

As a native Tongan, Sitake is perfectly situated to help BYU take advantage of their MAJOR recruiting advantage as a program, which is to land Islanders.

As an adherent of the Whittingham school of defense, he knows how to coach a zone-blitz heavy team that can match the aggressiveness of Bronco Mendenhall's units and make the most of what's already on that roster.

Since he isn't married to the flexbone like Niumatalolo, but instead more of a power-coast approach, he should be able to make hires and oversee something on offense that makes the most of Tanner Mangum.

Here's the challenge for him at BYU: defensive backs. His cover 3-heavy approach to defense is all about owning the middle of the field with great tackling safeties and aggressive pressures while daring opponents to beat the corners on the outside. There's little doubt that he'll be able to field DL and LB that can do real damage with this approach.

The big question is where he's going to find a rangy deep safety or athletic corners who can match-up and stay alive on the outside? Twenty-four year old married white guys and 210 pound aggressive Islanders don't make for very good cornerbacks, generally. Mendenhall had to adjust his schemes to feature off-coverage on the outside and play much more bend don't break styles.

Sitake is either going to have to find a recruiting pipeline of good DBs or else adjust his system to get by. Fortunately for him and his Cougar program, they weren't exactly swimming in NFL corners at Utah either and managed to get by so you have to figure he knows what he's doing here.

The marriage of Justin Fuente to Bud Foster

The hire of Fuente at Virginia Tech while simultaneously holding on to Bud Foster was one of the most terrifying successes of this offseason hiring process. On the one hand the Hokies add a spread coach who's built explosive offenses built around future NFL QBs he found and developed at TCU and Memphis. Fuente's resume as a builder of QBs and offenses is exceptional, one of the best in the business.

His struggle is the need to be paired with a great defensive coach. At TCU, he was operating under Gary Patterson who's one of the best in the business. He started at Memphis with Barry Odom, now the HC at Missouri, but lost him and saw his defense drop. Now he gets to work with Bud Foster, who's been building top defenses at Virginia Tech for a very, very long time.

The ACC is really rolling now with FSU and Clemson really putting strong teams out there on an annual basis and adding Fuente to Virginia Tech should make for an interesting mix to that division. Under Frank Beamer the Hokies rarely had exciting or particularly fearsome offenses save for when Michael Vick was manning their option attack but Fuente should get that straightened out in time.

His first move was to recruit Texas JUCO star Jerod Evans, who has the size and athletic ability of Tyrone Swoopes (with a little more quickness and a little less size) only a much greater feel for the QB position. He was a touchdown machine this year in the JUCO ranks and has the big frame to excel in Fuente's favorite concepts.

Without being familiar with the rest of Virginia Tech's roster for 2016 I'd venture a guess that they may not have to wait too long before they see results in the wins column.

Friday, December 18, 2015

North Dakota St offers the Midwestern blueprint for beating the Air Raid

Back when Stitt and Klieman faced-off to open the college football season I watched that game in order to break down Stitt's Air Raid, which led me to be impressed once more by how well coached North Dakota State was.

I noticed that once the Bison adjusted to simply playing more two-deep coverage and using stunts to help stop the Grizzlies from running on a five-man box, they really slowed down Stitt's attack. I wondered, "if they got a re-match, would they expand on that approach and would it work better or would Montana adjust?"

The answer? North Dakota State stuffed the Stitt offense. Here's how they did it.

There are lots of lessons here for someone like Matt Campbell, who intends to build a Midwestern team at Iowa State, to apply to winning in the Big 12. Building a DL that can allow a multiple, two-deep approach to defense seems the best way to go.

Of course TCU has been going that route for years but Patterson is usually too aggressive-minded to try and apply his brain to stopping the run without involving his safeties. Many of the best defenses of today are the ones that are learning how to live with only having five players in the box to control the trenches with. It would be interesting to see that approach take a deeper hold in the Big 12.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Previewing the Oklahoma Defense against Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Offense

Read about it at SB Nation.

That Boston College Defense

The Eagles played fantastic defense this season, finishing third in defensive S&P despite not having a single player on the unit who was rated higher than 3-stars by the recruiting services. You can read about their DL-based, multiple defense here.

Some lessons for Big 12 teams that'd like to be able to play defense that well who also don't have access to premier talent.

1. Getting sturdy DL that are violent with their hands goes a long, long ways towards building good defense. The Eagles DL are great at stunting in particular, which means they have a lot of pressures they can send that don't require sending numbers.

2. Culture matters. Addazio may have produced a crap offense this year but his physical style was undoubtedly instrumental in helping foster a culture that produced this defense. My next point will come back to this.

3. Convert corners into safeties. Adherence to "the rule of three" necessitates that teams recruit lots of physical, quality corners and convert some of them into safeties or else they risk being unable to hold up against B12 passing attacks. However, this teams need a physical culture that encourages the growth of corners into safeties that are willing to lay it all out in the alley.

4. The two-deep fire zone is a pretty nice tool in the arsenal if a team has the safeties to make it work. If they aren't rangy and good tacklers? Forget about it. But if they are it's a nice change-up for attacking QBs that are used to punishing blitzes based on single-high coverage.

Texas' QB options for running the "veer 'n' shoot" offense

Suffice to say, neither of the QBs (Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard) who have been taking snaps for Texas over the last two seasons are particularly adept for running Briles' option offense.

However, Texas has finally started stocking the roster with some true passing QBs that might be able to make it work. Read about it at Inside Texas.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Has Texas stolen Baylor's identity?

Not exactly, Gilbert has his own take on Briles offense, but sort of, yes. It's funny to see Briles and some Baylor fans be indignant about it given that they've been attempting to steal Michigan State's defensive identity and should probably steal some more of it.

Stealing ideas is a major part of the coaching game. What's sad for this Texas fan though is that back in the days of DKR, it was the Longhorns who innovated new takes on the option and everyone else who stole from Texas. Now Texas is reduced to stealing what they couldn't come up with on their own, like some land thief from across the Red River.

Over at Inside Texas I break down what Sterlin Gilbert's variety of the Briles offense looks like and how it fits at Texas.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My 2015 All-Big 12 Team

It's time to wrap things up with a summary of what the 2015 season's main actors have accomplished this season. Normally the All-Big 12 team is a place where the writers reward the league's best players by jamming them into whatever positions is necessary to make sure their season has been acknowledged.

I used to hate that style, since it typically results in a team that doesn't make any sense and which often ignores the contributions of important or even essential role players who don't put up gaudy stats that stand out. Now I've made my peace with it, but this list is going to aim for recognizing what the 22 main positions on the field are and who was most excellent this year in each role.

All-Big 12 Offense

QB: Trevone Boykin, TCU        
        Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Boykin gets the nod because he was the most dominant player in the league in the 10(?) games that he played to the extent that you could never count the Frogs out so long as he was on the field. He's probably the most powerful and most difficult to tackle QB I've seen in this league since Vince Young. He's your OPOY.

Mayfield had a brilliant season as well, the fact that he's coming back next year fills me with dread. Next man up for honors in my book would be Pat Mahomes, than Mason Rudolph.

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
        DeAndre Washington, Texas Tech

I'll have to eat crow here as I had Aaron Green higher than Perine on my preseason list because I figured the move to the Air Raid would blunt Perine's effectiveness. I was right, and then they figured it out, and then Perine tore through the league. In the meantime he was a selfless blocker, which enabled their two-back game with Mixon in to work as well. Perine was truly impressive this season. I'd honor Smallwood but he fumbled too much, Warren was very good, Linwood was a great back as well.

Ancillary: Winston Dimel, Kansas State
                  Blake Jarwin, Oklahoma State

Jarwin grew enough as a blocker to replace Jeremy Seaton in the Cowboy offense while Dimel "the hammer" proved to be more of true fullback than did Gronk who's really more of an undersized tight end. Honorable mentions go to Kody Cook who played WR and Wildcat QB at a high level, Tyrone Swoopes and JW Walsh who ran brilliant "4th phase" units, and Joe Mixon who was a RB/WR/FB hybrid for OU this year.

X: Corey Coleman, Baylor
     James Washington, Oklahoma State

Corey Coleman was utterly dominant this season until injuries robbed the Baylor passing game of it's effectiveness. They probably catered too much to his dominance at the expense of utilizing the rest of their WR corps, I'm sure the rest will be unleashed next season. Washington grew into a true deep threat this season.

Z: Josh Doctson, TCU
     KD Cannon, Baylor

Doctson is only a hair behind Coleman as the most complete WR in the league and was equally brilliant winning over the top or running curl routes or zone beaters underneath. His injury was most unfortunate. KD Cannon has been something of a one-trick pony but his trick is pretty good (he's fast).

Slot: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
        Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech

Shepard lined up all over the field, wherever OU wanted to attack a given opponent, and ran great routes from multiple positions. I'm putting him in the slot on this list but he deserves recognition up there with Coleman and Doctson. Grant was also brilliant this season, expanding his role beyond burning teams after the catch on screens and adding more deep and possession-style routes to his game.

LT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
       Cody Whitehair, Kansas State

These two guys, in addition to protecting the blind side, served as the de-facto lead guards for their teams' run game as both squads regularly ran behind these players. Honorable mentions go to Le'Raven Clark, who was also great, and Connor Williams who will be better than any of them before all is said and done.

LG: Adam Pankey, West Virginia
        Jonathan Alvarez, Oklahoma
Most of the better guards played on the right side this year and many of the better left guards missed time with injury. Kansas State's Boston Stiverson, for instance, was one of the better guards but missed a lot of time. This position will probably be better next season.

OC: Jamison Lalk, Iowa State
        Joey Hunt, TCU

The league had a lot more quality at center this year and OU's Ty Darlington and WVU's Tyler Orlosky were also good. Lalk was the anchor and main reason for Mike Warren's 1k yard season and Hunt helped TCU field a couple of big dudes at guard who were barely mobile walls of flesh.

RG: Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
        Daniel Burton, Iowa State

Kasitati was the best all around OL for OU this year in my book, they might miss him next season. Mangino did a great job with the Cyclone OL, as is his wont and the reason his Kansas teams were good, and Burton had a really strong year. I really liked Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch as well and Patrick Vahe will eventually be the best guard in the league.

RT: Joseph Noteboom, TCU
        Marquis Lucas, West Virginia

Not much to recognize here, some of the right tackles for the Big 12 this season were downright poor. Kent Perkins was one of the better OL in the entire league but split time at LG, RG, RT, and on the bench with injuries.

All-Big 12 Defense

End: Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
         Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

Shawn Oakman failed to turn his freakish strength and length into great production this season but Ogbah had no such difficulties. Tapper had a great final season, having fully mastered at last the 4i technique at Oklahoma.

Nose: Andrew Billings, Baylor
          Will Geary, Kansas State

Honorable mention to Iowa State's Demond Tucker, who was very disruptive in bursts. Billings is your DPOY and his disruption inside and mastery of double teams was instrumental to all of Baylor's defensive success. Geary is one of my favorite players in the B12, he doesn't even look like a D1 lineman until the ball is snapped and he's whupping people in the trenches.

Tackle: Hassan 
Ridgeway, Texas
              Charles Walker, Oklahoma

Ridgeway was, at times, the best DT in the entire conference but his play was inconsistent and he struggled early and late with injuries and conditioning. Charles Walker didn't even start at OU (behind Matt Dimon) but he dominated games when he was on the field. Travis Britz was stout, as always.

Edge-Rusher: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
                        Malik Jefferson, Texas

You could qualify Obgah here but since he played with his hand in the dirt I decided to make him the defensive end. Striker had another great season at OU and really benefitted from the emergence of Bond opposite him and Parker behind him. Malik Jefferson didn't have a particularly big year numbers wise but opponents tracked his whereabouts very carefully and he destroyed Oklahoma.

Inside-backer: Jordan Evans, Oklahoma
                         Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma

Props to Will Davis, Peter Jinkens, Travin Howard, and Montrel Wilson but OU had the best ILB play in the conference by a safe margin, as well they should have considering both have been there for a few years now. Montrel Wilson could have been 1st team had he played more this season and should be excellent next season.

Outside-backer: Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia

                            Elijah Lee, Kansas State

Lee is about a year away from being one of the better defensive players in the Big 12 and he's proven to be a great fit for the Wildcat defense with his ability to handle playing in space and what he brings to the pass-rush. Kwiatkoski had a great season wearing a lot of hats for the Mountaineers.

Space-backer: Denzel Johnson, TCU
                         KJ Dillon, West Virginia

In the Big 12 my "outside backer" designation is basically becoming a space-backer while this position is more of a box safety. What I mean here are guys that play in the nickel but who rarely carry verticals and play as roamers and enforcers in space. Denzel Johnson was the best of that bunch and KJ Dillon also had a solid season doing that and also dropping into deep coverage.

Boundary corner: Xavien Howard, Baylor
                                Zach Sanchez, Oklahoma

Nod to Sanchez who was much improved in run-support this season and was up to his usual tricks in baiting throws and having flypaper hands to nab anything thrown at him. Howard was also very solid and gave Baylor some nice run-force on the edge in cover 2.

Cover safety: Duke Thomas, Texas
                       Steven Parker, Oklahoma

Duke Thomas played mostly nickel but also played at right cornerback, left cornerback, and finished the year at strong safety. He was great in coverage, physical and reliable as a tackler, and played with good leverage all over the field. Steven Parker was also fantastic in similar roles, these were two of the better DBs in the league this year.

Safety: Derrick Kindred, TCU
             Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State

Kindred+Johnson was one of the only great things TCU's defense had going for them and I've detailed his great season here. Jordan Sterns is one of the best pure run-support safeties in the league.

Field corner: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
                       Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State

Special nod to Oklahoma's Jordan Thomas, who will probably be one of the best corners in the league next season, and to Texas' Holton Hill and Davante Davis who are going to be a fearsome combo in time. Worley had a great season when he wasn't asked to play man coverage on Corey Coleman and is particularly adept at playing a "don't get beat deep" technique and providing almost an extra safety with his pursuit and run-support. Peterson was solid as well and wore a few different hats for OSU this year.

That's all she wrote. Make note of your vehement condemnations of my choices in the comments!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The future of BYU football

Football Scoop says BYU is strongly considering Navy's Ken Niumatalolo. A look at BYU's options at Head Coach reveals better options than you might have guessed considering that the head coach has to be a member of the LDS Church and also willing to coach at a place with unusual parameters for the football program.

Amongst those parameters are the requirements that players don't drink alcohol or engage in extra-marital sex, which are some of football players' favorite pastimes for blowing off steam. This is undoubtedly a disadvantage in recruiting talent that isn't already Mormon, yet the numbers of LDS athletes out there in in the world are shockingly high so it doesn't hurt the team as badly as you might think.

Niumatalolo has been coaching at Navy, which also has some tough, self-imposed restrictions including the need for great academics as well as weight limits and fitness requirements that don't lend themselves to producing massive, fast-twitch football players. Given that he's used to working under difficult parameters and a Pacific Islander who's a major figure in that community, which is the source of much of BYU's talent, it would seem he's a phenomenal cultural fit for the Cougars' football program.

The problem, as the Salt Lake City Tribune's Kragthorpe laments, is that Niumatalolo is an adherent of Paul Johnson's "flexbone" triple-option offense, which is markedly different from the offenses that BYU has traditionally relied on in years past.

As it happens, BYU is the place where the modern Air Raid offense found much of its inspiration, although for a long time what BYU was able to accomplish throwing the football was dismissed as something that was only possible because the school is loaded with 24 year old married dudes who possessed the discipline and know-how to run all of the timing routes and concepts.

Eventual 49er great Steve Young was groomed in this system and unleashed Manziel-esque hell heck on the Mormons' foes back in the 80s, throwing for 3900 yards, 33 TDs, 9.1 ypa, and adding 400+ rushing yards in 1983 when he finished 2nd in the Heisman voting.

The more recent Bronco Mendenhall era of BYU was more about capturing the Islander identity of the program's talent pool, specifically with odd front defenses that were designed to create havoc and pressure up front while asking their athletically-limited DBs to play bend don't break behind them.

Bronco struggled to build good offenses before making the move towards a wide-open spread attack built largely off the veer-option that was deadly when Taysom Hill was healthy and average when he wasn't. Then this year, after Hill's inevitable early season injury, they turned the offense over to 22 year old true freshman Tanner Mangum and instead emphasized a spread passing attack more akin to their 80's roots.

It really appeared as though the next few years of Mangum-BYU football were going to be very interesting as the Cougars combined a skilled passing game with a premier throwing talent with a Bronco defense. But then Mendenhall left for Virginia and here we are.

The big question for Niumatalolo is not whether his triple-option attack would work at BYU, there's no question that it would. The triple-option is about having smart OL, a smart, tough, good decision maker at QB, and some backs who can do damage on the edge.

The Cougars have typically had an abundance of tough, heady players on offense and should be able to find one or two guys with explosiveness in a given year. Defensively Niumatalolo would have to find a good coach to match Mendenhall's tradition but the pieces are there to continue to field tough units.

The question is how would the program adjust and what is the opportunity cost of going in the flexbone direction when the roster is designed for Mangum to find success the traditional BYU way?

It should be interesting to see what direction they go with this hire.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Early thoughts on the CFB Playoff match-ups

If styles make fights then the committee didn't do us any favors with these playoff selections, squaring off the two physical running teams against each other while the spread/QB focused teams meet on the other side of the bracket. I can't complain too much about the rankings as they more or less reflect how I would rank these teams based on their resumes this year.

Let's start with a few quick notes on each team:

1. Clemson

The Tigers are undefeated and have taken down several good teams including Notre Dame (arguably the best team in the country before injuries) and Florida State. They are keyed by DeShaun Watson on offense while their defense is all about Mackensie Alexander locking down top WR targets and their FS T.J. Green provides an extra man in the box to stuff the run.

Whether or not Watson can be handled is likely to be a major theme of the playoffs while Alexander's impact will also be sizable.

2. Alabama

This is the most talented team in the country but I'm still hesitant about Jacob Coker. The Bama defense is going to be a major handful for every opponent and if you don't have the ability to attack every part of the field with good players and schemes you probably just aren't going to score many points against them. Only two teams broke 20 on them and both were spread passing squads (Ole Miss and A&M).

The offense is loaded as well but there's a reason Coker couldn't win the job from Blake Sims last year and why they had to simplify the offense for him this season. If you can stop Derrick Henry (big if, there) and pressure Coker you can limit them from breaking 20 as well.

3. Michigan State

The "team of destiny" it would appear. Usually the team that gets into the playoffs due to repeatedly climbing out of tough spots and winning close games eventually gets beat. The best teams don't have to win close games all the time, they just blast people's doors down and take victories.

The Spartans are rounding into form at the right time though so we'll see. They've solidified their secondary by moving Demetrious Cox to full time safety and now have what might be the best safety tandem in the playoffs. The team that boasted that honor last season won. Their defensive front is exceptional against the run or pass and very, very physical. I wish we were seeing OU take these guys on as it would be a jarring difference for them from facing the more finesse-based teams in the Big 12.

Their run game is good and Connor Cook can make NFL-level throws, so they can find offense even against good secondaries and defenses. Their biggest problem is that an opposing team that can take away Burbridge without getting gashed by the run is going to erase their entire offense.

4. Oklahoma

The alternative "team of destiny" that rode in on the backs of wins against teams reeling from recent injuries to their starting QBs. Oklahoma has been playing excellent football over the last two months, but it's hard to know how much mettle they really have due to their level of competition.

The Sooners are an Air Raid team that is actually built around the running game, throwing to Sterling Shepard, and Baker Mayfield's improvisational skills. Their defense is a very athletic odd front team similar to what Oregon has looked like on defense in recent years but with better pass-rush and a healthier secondary than the Ducks had going into last year's playoff. Also better ILBs.

Now onto the match-ups:

Clemson vs OU

Early line: Oklahoma -2 (now OU -3)

It's easy to see this game proving to be a lower scoring contest than commonly assumed simply because OU is well equipped to handle Clemson's spread while the Sooners are likely to struggle facing a defense with the level of athletes Clemson has and without Mayfield's safety blanket (Shepard) likely to be open as often thanks to Alexander's coverage.

In fact, it's not hard to see Clemson having some success replicating Texas' strategy of locking down receivers and controlling Mayfield by virtue of having lots of good athletes on the field tracking him down. The quality of Big 12 defenses this year was down due to TCU's injury problems, Texas' youth, and K-State's injuries. OU had a good defense but their own offense didn't have to face it on Saturdays.

The line frankly makes no sense save for the fact that there's always likely to be money coming in for OU. Clemson has been equally impressive this season while facing a tougher schedule when you factor in Oklahoma's luck with opposing team injuries. I'll have to look deeper but early on I like Clemson a lot in this one.

An Oklahoma victory would probably look like hanging around and getting Mayfield going late in the game, a difficult formula to stop. If they can't handle Watson's running though I could see this getting away from them.

Alabama vs Michigan State

Early line: Alabama -9

Alabama is probably a superior overall team than Sparty, although Dantonio's team is putting things together at the right time, but I don't love this match-up for them.

The popular refrain is that Alabama always crushes pro-style offenses...I think it's more accurate to say that this Alabama defense crushes all offenses and they'll probably crush Michigan State's as well. The issue is what happens if they get into a low-scoring slugfest like Iowa, Michigan, or Ohio State found themselves in earlier this year?

I firmly expect the Spartan defensive front to be able to handle Derrick Henry and the Tide running game and then the game will become a matter of which QB makes more big plays and avoids mistakes. Are you betting on Connor Cook's ability to thread the needle against Bama coverage? Or Coker's ability to diagnose Sparty's six-man zone pressures that send Bulloughs flying through the A-gaps while athletes like Darian Hicks or Montae Nicholson read his eyes?

I'm betting on Sparty in that scenario.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind after further reflection and film study but that's how I see things so far.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

How Texas can beat Baylor

I'm not saying it's likely, but here's what that outcome would look like. FREE!

What is Matt Campbell's plan for Iowa State?

I wrote about the Campbell fit at Iowa State over at Football Study Hall.

One of my comments in response to a Hawkeye skeptic of the Campbell plan:

"Iowa state has this problem with any hire

A new coach either has to be great at recruiting JUCOs, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Texas OR they need to be able to add new recruiting territory.

Campbell is planning on pitching Midwestern kids on playing in the Big 12 and beating up finesse teams. Not sure if that will work but I won’t say it can’t."

Read all about it here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A few thoughts on the major coaching changes taking place

It's silly season in college football, when rumors are flying everywhere, sources are sayin', and overwhelmed athletic directors are making some curious choices.

Here are some scatter shots on who's winning and losing in silly season:

Georgia...treading water

The Dawgs have been making some frankly baffling choices. Here's the situation: They had a beloved coach in Mark Richt, known as a man of integrity in every sphere, who had been there for 15 seasons and had one losing season (2010).

After this season's 9-3 finish when they were expected to potentially compete for an SEC title and playoff berth, he was pushed out. Now, two SEC titles and zero national championship appearances, much less wins, is a long history. I understand why Georgia would make the assessment that Richt didn't have much else to offer than what he's already shown.

Here's the interesting aspect of all this, Georgia's trajectory as a program and their decision to replace Richt with Kirby Smart.

You'll notice that, while they've been just worse than the SEC's elite programs, they've also been very good. Even more interesting, let me call your attention to two key features here.

2014 was Georgia's last season with Mike Bobo, a fantastic OC who's now getting consideration for head coaching gigs at major programs. 2013 was their last with DC Todd Grantham (now at Louisville) whom they replaced with Jeremy Pruitt.

Pruitt coached two of the secondaries that I've ranked as the greatest of this century, one at Alabama as the DB coach (2011) and then one at FSU as the DB coach/DC (2013). He took over a Georgia secondary decimated by transfers and still produced a top unit that then improved the following year (this season).

If I had a choice between Kirby Smart, Will Muschamp, and Jeremy Pruitt to be my defensive coordinator at a top program I'm probably choosing Pruitt. Richt made a great hire in pulling him away from Florida State. He made a less great hire with Brian Schottenheimer in 2015 but it's only fair to note that Brian was running Richt's offense and without great options at the QB position.

So moving forward, Georgia is well situated to be a top defensive team year after year and needs either to go in a new direction on offense or simply to find a QB. Since the offensive direction at Georgia has been set by Richt for the last 15 years, it makes sense that if you think his offense puts a ceiling on this program that you'd hire a new head coach.

Georgia hired Kirby Smart who's apparently planning on releasing Jeremy Pruitt back into the wild, where Nick Saban is likely to snatch him up as the DC for Alabama. Smart apparently plans to poach Will Muschamp from Auburn, Alabama's rival.

In summation: Georgia is not going to upgrade their situation on the defensive side of the ball, since they already had an excellent DC who was taking that program to an elite level as a defensive team. They are going to potentially downgrade Auburn's defensive situation and possibly upgrade Alabama's coaching staff.

So far they've made a hire that puts them exactly where they were before on defense, which is good, but they have yet to rectify their situation on offense. There is talk that they'll snatch up Western Kentucky's spread coach...we'll just see how this goes.


The Trojans were my third strongest college program, but I'm starting to have second thoughts after watching Pat Haden flounder through another coaching search. Why is it that the Trojans never, ever seem to end up with a the coach that the top programs are all targeting? Or even a coach that other top programs are considering?

It very much seems like they stumbled upon Pete Carroll almost by accident and have misidentified the key to his success as having been about the explosive offenses he fielded rather than the strong defensive units that have always been his true calling card.

After they had to dismiss Sarkisian in disgrace they ultimately settled on replacing him with...offensive coordinator Clay Helton. Essentially they are doubling down on the original assumption that Sarkisian's staff and approach were what was going to bring the Trojans back to greatness and simply promoted from within. I'm not sure why they thought Helton and the status quo was better than every other option out there, although I will at least say in their defense that their need for a coach was sprung upon their own failure to vet and and provide oversight for their staff.

This is a program that could rule the Pac-12 with an iron fist yet no one is going to be terrified by this move.


I won't pretend to be confident about what a Scott Frost program will look like overall, but I do know that the Oregon offensive system will be murderous with Floridian and Georgian athletes of the type that UCF will be able to regularly bring aboard.

Oregon is based largely around outside zone blocking, which requires hard working, swift-footed OL of the type that a program like UCF can expect to find. From there it's about having an option-savvy QB and blazing fast athletes who can do major damage in space.

It's all too easy to see this going very well at UCF although their conference, the AAC, is quietly becoming one of the best athletic leagues in the nation because it's comprised of schools in talent-rich areas that are starting to invest more in their football and basketball programs.

It's no longer a simple matter to go to an AAC school, do a great job of recruiting local talent, and then going out and whipping people in order to earn a better coaching job back in an AQ conference. Because every AAC school is hiring people trying to do that.

Nebraska fans...losing

I wrote this time last year that "Nebraska can only hire the right coach after a blunt self-assessment." I believe they did so with the Mike Riley hire as they landed a coach that knows how to recruit nationally, how to find players in the margins, how to scheme to create systemic advantages for his players, how to oversee a thriving walk-on program, and who basically has all the competencies needed to make Nebraska as great as they can be.

Nevertheless, their fans seem to want the flashier Scott Frost toy that's in the window and are hoping that Frost will prove his mettle at UCF and in a few years time be ready to take over for a Riley regime they assume will fail.

One ironic thing about this is that Riley inherited a smaller OL built for outside zone and is now trying to remake Nebraska to mash the ball inside with tight zone plays...Frost would have to redirect back to a faster OL if he took over just as Riley would have gotten the OL where he wanted it.

Another ironic note here is that Frost has proven much less as an overall program director than has Riley, who's been the head coach of a team with a good defense before. Frost hasn't even been the OC of a team with a particularly good defense.

If there are any Nebraska fans reading this I would urge you to give Riley enough time to get his program going in Lincoln before seizing on a distraction like Scott Frost. I'd also give caution to the wise to wait and see if Frost can demonstrate the program management skills to win big in the AAC before committing all-in on him on your message boards.

My summary of OU's triumphant 2015 season

They definitely got lucky, but they also ended up putting together a team that works together really well and proved to be the most complete squad within the league.

It'll be very interesting to see how they fare against the other playoff teams. Read up on it here.