Source: USA TODAY
Texas coach Mack Brown resigned Saturday after winning 158 games, two Big 12 titles and one national championship during 16 years with the Longhorns. Brown’s resignation opens one of the premier jobs in college football to a number of elite coaching candidates.
Texas can offer the sort of resources unmatched on the Football Bowl Subdivision level. The university has enormous financial resources, for one, meaning the coach can expect a hefty pay raise. In terms of supporting its football program, UT’s facilities, prestige and recruiting bed could help lead to a very quick turnaround.
In all, this could be the most intriguing coach search to hit the FBS in years. Who could fit the bill as Mack Brown’s replacement? Here are five coaches to consider:
1. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State. Gundy is attractive for several reasons. Most of all, he’s made Oklahoma State into one of the most consistent – and successful – programs in the Big 12. He’s also familiar with the area, is known to the state’s high school coaches and has indicated a willingness to listen to other offers, as shown by his discussions with Tennessee following last season.
2. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State. Can’t get Saban? Then try for the next-closest thing: Fisher is very much a Saban clone, befitting his time under Saban at LSU, and has followed his blueprint for turning Florida State into the best team in college football. Like Saban, Fisher excels at both identifying recruiting talent and developing players in his system. Few coaches handle the 365-day grind of being a coach – the CEO aspects of the job – quite like Fisher.
3. Gus Malzahn, Auburn. Malzahn would be a coup for Texas. But like Fisher, Malzahn received a hefty contract extension after leading the Tigers to the BCS National Championship Game. (It should be said, however, that when it comes to buyouts and contracts, money is no object to Texas.) Here’s what makes Malzahn so appealing: his offense. The idea of teaming the Longhorns’ athletes and the type of recruits in Texas with Malzahn’s up-tempo system is exciting, to put it lightly.
4. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State. This is a dark horse to consider. (And only in this search would Dantonio be considered a dark horse.) Dantonio has led Michigan State to 11 wins in three of the past four years – and to the Big Ten title in 2013 – with a never-fail, old-as-football-itself system: run the football, protect the football, makes plays downfield, hit the quarterback, jam up receivers, tackle, convert on special teams. If not as big-time as Saban, not as trendy as Fisher, not as local as Gundy or as explosive as Malzahn, Dantonio would put the bread and butter back in Texas football.
5. Charlie Strong, Louisville. Strong is another accomplished coach with a sizable buyout: UT would owe Louisville $5 million if it hired Strong in 2013 – and $4.375 million if the school waited until 2014, in case you were wondering. Beyond the money, Texas would also have to convince Strong to leave a very comfortable and successful position at Louisville, which leaves the American Athletic Conference to join the ACC after this season. But what makes Strong an appealing candidate? He has big-school experience – as at Florida, where he helped win a pair of national titles. He has 11 wins in each of the last two seasons at Louisville, including a Sugar Bowl win against the Gators last January. Strong would have an enormous impact on the Longhorns’ defensive production, obviously. UT would want to hear his thoughts on an offensive staff before advancing past a preliminary stage, but Strong is a logical second-tier candidate for the opening.
Source: USA TODAY
Even if the 2013 ceremony has only just wrapped up, it’s not too early to begin looking ahead to next year’s Heisman Trophy competition.
Leading the way, of course, is this year’s winner: Jameis Winston returns for another go at the trophy, much like his Heisman predecessor, Johnny Manziel, and should be viewed as the top contender heading into the 2014 season.
But he won’t be alone. Even if this year’s Heisman race loses a handful of strong challengers – like AJ McCarron, Andre Williams and Jordan Lynch, among many others – there are a slew of qualified candidates set to return next fall.
While many would-be contenders have an NFL decision to make – like Manziel, for one – this list does its best to project which players decide to return for another season of college play rather than enter the 2014 draft. (For example, the list does not include Manziel or Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.)
1. Florida State QB Jameis Winston
Like Manziel before him, Winston will need to battle against Heisman history – which suggests the chances at winning the Heisman twice sit between slim and none. Winston still deserves to be the top contender heading into 2014. If nothing else – and again, like Manziel – he’ll be even better in his second season as a starter.
2. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
Mariota was the Heisman leader for much of this season before injuries, ineffectiveness and losses dropped him out of the race. If he can remain healthy in 2014 – and if the Ducks can regain the Pac-12 crown – Mariota might end up taking home the trophy. He’ll have his numbers, of course, and Oregon should be properly motivated by the way this season deteriorated in the second half.
3. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Miller still has a decision to make about the NFL, and it’s hard to get a gauge on his future plans – seeing last week that he’s “getting tired” of the hits and pounding he takes at the center of Ohio State’s offense. He may be propelled by the loss to Michigan State, however, and decide to spend one more season with the Buckeyes to help develop greater consistency as a passer. With OSU set for another run at the national title, Miller would be a top Heisman contender through next season.
4. UCLA QB Brett Hundley
UCLA has won nine games in each of Hundley’s two seasons as the starter despite playing with one of the youngest rosters in the Pac-12. Come 2014, the Bruins’ group will be one of the more experienced in the conference. UCLA’s expectations are high, in short, and Hundley and the offense must show additional growth to match the team’s preseason goals. But given how he’s improved during his first two years, Hundley seems ready for an All-American junior season.
5. Baylor QB Bryce Petty
Like Mariota, Petty has already announced his intention to return for his senior season. He’ll have another shot to build some 2014 Heisman momentum in January’s Fiesta Bowl after leading Baylor to its first conference title as a member of the Big 12. Petty will have the numbers, but he’ll again need to lead the Bears to 10 or more wins to factor into the race.
6. Georgia RB Todd Gurley
Gurley will be the centerpiece of Georgia’s offense in 2014, which could be either a blessing or a curse – since his new go-to status will put Gurley on the map, but he won’t have quarterback Aaron Murray around to lend a hand with the passing game. But if Georgia can remain healthy and make a push for the SEC title, Gurley will be a strong contender.
7. Auburn QB Nick Marshall
If Tre Mason opts to leave one season of eligibility on the table, Marshall will be asked to shoulder an even larger role in Gus Malzahn’s offense in 2014. He seems ready for an increased workload. While not quite there as a passer, an offseason working out the kinks should yield a far more improved performance next fall. Look for his Heisman campaign to begin in earnest should Auburn top Florida State in the BCS National Championship Game.
8. Navy QB Keenan Reynolds
Reynolds was a superstar in 2013, though few noticed the way he tore through the FBS record book. Already one of the best all-around quarterbacks in Navy history, Reynolds is good enough to rack up 3,000 yards of total offense and 40 total touchdowns in leading the Midshipmen to nine or more wins in 2014. He has the numbers and the story to become a trendy Heisman pick.
9. Central Florida QB Blake Bortles
Bortles’ work in leading the Knights to the Fiesta Bowl has gone overlooked. But he’s made significant strides across the board since stepping into the starting lineup in 2011, and could put up major numbers in the passing game as a senior. In addition, UCF will enter next season as the top dog in the American Athletic Conference.
10. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Perhaps the most impressive part of Abdullah’s junior season – 1,568 yards, eight touchdowns – was that he churned out yardage behind a makeshift, injury-ravaged offensive line. An improved defense could lead to a stronger performance overall from the Cornhuskers, which in conjunction with another strong individual season could lift Abdullah into the Heisman conversation.
Source: USA TODAY
Down the road, after the dust has cleared, Mack Brown’s lasting legacy at Texas – outside of the one national championship, in 2005 – will be how he revitalized a proud program after nearly two decades in the wilderness and reunited a fractured fan base.
Today, however, the focus stands on how Brown left, digging in his heels amid rumors of his resignation, and the way the program slipped off the national stage following a loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. After winning at least 10 games in every season from 2001-2009, Brown went 30-20 in his last four years, suffering one losing season and not once losing fewer than four games.
Yet the way Texas scuffled during Brown’s final seasons does little to diminish the program’s draw in its upcoming coaching search – in fact, one could make the case that the Longhorns’ recent ways make this opening even more appealing to a handful of supremely qualified candidates.
What job is better – or bigger – than Texas? Alabama, maybe, but only due to the recent Nick Saban-led renaissance. USC, Michigan, Ohio State, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU? All nice, but none match all that UT brings to the table.
All this combines to make this, the newly opened position at Texas, one of the most intriguing coaching searches to hit the Football Bowl Subdivision in years.
What’s good about the job:
It’s Texas. Where does this job rank among FBS positions? You’d make a strong case for No. 1, and even a detractor couldn’t put Texas outside the top three. It’s simple: UT has the money, the resources, the facilities, the history, the support, the prestige, the fan base and the recruiting ground to make this opening appealing to any coach with a whistle, a winning record, a few rings and the guts to take on the job.
Though not a perfect roster by any means – there are a few personnel issues to address on offense and defense – Brown does leave his successor on solid footing in the Big 12. Remember that this year’s team finished within a game of the Big 12 title despite a slew of injuries; Brown estimated during Thursday’s Alamo Bowl press conference that “eight of our top 10 players” will not play in the bowl game. After fighting during the course of several years to regain some ground in the Big 12 race, the Longhorns are not far away from a permanent return to the top 25.
Again, the Longhorns’ next coach will be given a nearly incalculable number of built-in advantages. Perhaps none is bigger than the recruiting base at his disposal: UT does recruit nationally, if the prospect is right, but most of its business is done within the state’s borders – as fertile a bed as can be found in the country. Though rival schools have taken charge in Texas, notably Texas A&M, this program, with the right hire, Texas can regain its spot as the go-to destination for the state’s elite recruits.
Brown’s replacement won’t be expected to win the national title in 2014 – and why would he, given that UT has been an average Big 12 team since 2010? There’s immense pressure to be successful at Texas, but the next coach will be given some time to install and implement his system – his “process,” perhaps – before being judged solely on wins and losses. Having said that, anything less than eight wins next season would be viewed with some consternation.
Let’s remember one thing: Brown did win that championship in 2005, but he captured only two Big 12 titles during his 16 years with the program. That’s one more than Baylor won during the same span.
For Texas, the draw is the opening itself.
What’s bad about the job:
The extracurricular activities are demanding. Brown, for example, called his program “overexposed” by the Longhorn Network, which is given constant and complete access to the football team and coaching staff. Last October, Brown estimated he spent six hours a week filming shows for the network. That’s six hours out of every week, time that could be used for far more important tasks – like, for example, coaching a football team, preparing a football team or recruiting for a football team. The duties involved with the Longhorn Network are a negative. Beyond that, there is other non-football work associated with being the head coach at Texas.
As noted, there’s obviously talent on the roster. Still, UT’s next coach will need to do some schematic overhauling on both sides of the ball. On offense, for example, the Longhorns are still searching for an identity – finding some rhythm under ex-coordinator Bryan Harsin before faltering behind some injuries in 2013. Defensively, this program is a mess. To be fair, however, an accomplished coach would not look at this team and see question marks; rather, he’d see a talented team that might simply need a push in the right direction.
Pressure? Get used to it. It’s at a higher spot now than ever before, thanks to Brown’s enormously successful run in the 2000s. Though the recent lull will lower expectations a touch in 2014 – see above – that doesn’t in any way suggest that the school or its fan base will accept another multiple-year period outside the national conversation.
Who are the likely candidates:
Every coach in the country is in the mix for this job – seeing that Texas has the draw, money and resources to entice any high-profile name to sign on the dotted line. More specifically, however, this search began with the best coaches in college football: UT has the ability to make its case and force elite candidates to say no.
There are certain benchmarks a coach must reach before even being considered. He must have won a significant number of games on the automatic-qualifying level, for one. Having played for a national championship or in a BCS bowl, if not winning one, is also a requirement. He must have a proven blueprint for building a program into a consistent winner. He must be a dedicated and fearless recruiter. In short: He must be one of the best coaches in the country.
The most important thing to remember: if Texas wants a coach, it’ll probably get him – with only a few exceptions.
Here are a few names on the school’s radar, listed alphabetically:
Baylor coach Art Briles
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher
Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn
TCU coach Gary Patterson
Louisville coach Charlie Strong
The ideal candidates:
The ideal pick is someone with a track record of success, a clear program-building blueprint, a dedication to recruiting and the name recognition to feed the school’s desire for coast-to-coast recognition.
That coach is Nick Saban, obviously. But with Saban inking a long-term, lucrative extension with Alabama, the university must begin to look beyond the obvious pick and find a coach, like Saban, capable of building a perennial championship contender.
Even with Saban off the table, the search won’t lack for marquee names. Briles, Malzahn and Fisher would fit the bill, though each coach also recently agreed to a sizable and lengthy contract extension. (More than anyone, Fisher’s style and process make him a Saban clone.)
Gundy sits right in Texas’ general backyard, so he knows how to recruit the region, and has shown some willingness to listen to offers in the recent past – coming close to signing with Tennessee last season before opting to return to Oklahoma State. But Gundy seems gettable, if on the Longhorns’ second tier of candidates. Another name to consider is Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, who could more than double his current salary by leaving for Texas. As is, Texas would be wise to pony up and sign Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to the same position regardless of its pick as coach.
Harbaugh’s name is bandied about for most major college openings, though Texas must consider him a long shot: Harbaugh already left college once, and it’s silly to think he’d leave one of 32 NFL jobs – and one of the best of the 32 – for a return to the FBS.
This much is clear: Texas’ next coach is going to be a good one. This is Texas, after all.
Source: USA TODAY
USA TODAY Sports takes an early look ahead to the BCS bowl matchups.
ROSE BOWL: Michigan State (12-1) vs. Stanford (11-2), Jan. 1, ESPN, 5 p.m.
No other BCS bowl pits two teams cut from such similar cloth. Like Michigan State, Stanford features a powerful ground attack, underrated threats in the passing game and a punishing defense. Like Stanford, Michigan State heads into the Rose Bowl with increasing confidence after an impressive run to a conference championship. With such similarities, the key to the game will be extremely old-fashioned: whichever team can dictate the tempo along the line of scrimmage will win the game. Unfortunately for Michigan State, Stanford might just be the best team not playing in the BCS National Championship Game. The Cardinal beat seven ranked opponents during the regular season.
FIESTA BOWL: Baylor (11-1) vs. Central Florida (11-1), Jan. 1, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Two BCS neophytes meet in the desert. Baylor won the Big 12 with some help from Oklahoma, which knocked off rival Oklahoma State to clear the Bears’ path to the conference championship. UCF crawls into the postseason after a decidedly unimpressive November, one that featured nail-biting wins against Southern Methodist, Temple and South Florida. UCF’s best chance at victory lies with its defense, which will be handed one of the toughest tasks in college football: slow down Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and the Baylor offense. As long as they can protect the football, avoid turnovers and convert downfield, the Bears should make their first BCS appearance a memorable one.
SUGAR BOWL: Alabama (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (10-2), Jan. 2, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Alabama is a bad matchup for Oklahoma, which earned an at-large BCS bid by virtue of Saturday’s win against Oklahoma State. In addition, there’s always the chance that OU gets an Alabama team starving for a return to the field after losing to rival Auburn to end the regular season – if that’s the case, and Alabama is looking to make a statement, the Sooners could be in trouble. For OU, the best game plan would be the same one used to knock off the Cowboys: run the football effectively, avoid any turnovers, get some big plays on special teams and hold on for dear life. The Crimson Tide will be looking for one last vintage performance from seniors like quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley.
ORANGE BOWL: Ohio State (12-1) vs. Clemson (10-2), Jan. 3, ESPN, time TBA
With Braxton Miller on one side and Tajh Boyd on the other, this year’s Orange Bowl won’t lack for explosiveness. The game will be decided by quarterback play, with Miller spearheading Ohio State’s ferocious running game and Boyd headlining the Tigers’ top-ranked passing game. But even in a defeat to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, OSU proved that weapons other than Miller can carry the load offensively. Clemson’s receiver corps, paced by likely All-American Sammy Watkins, might be too much for the Buckeyes’ secondary to handle. Will the first team to 40 points win? Or will more be needed?
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Florida State (13-0) vs. Auburn (12-1), Jan. 6, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Florida State barely broke a sweat in cruising to the BCS National Championship Game, winning all of its games by two or more touchdowns. In short, Florida State’s entire regular season featured less drama than one quarter from any of Auburn’s last three games.
In a sense, Auburn’s road to Pasadena might have been better preparation for the championship game spotlight than FSU’s smooth, easy road to 13-0. Being mentally prepared only matters if you have the horses to run with the Seminoles, however. So far, no team in college football can match Florida State’s talent, experience, depth, aggressiveness and physicality.
Source: USA TODAY
With Saturday night’s action of BCS influence in the books, a look at what matchups might be when the final Bowl Championship Series standings and pairings are set Sunday night.
Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford, Jan. 1 | ESPN, 5 p.m.
The Spartans earn a Rose Bowl berth via the Big Ten’s automatic BCS bid. In Stanford, the Spartans have found a perfect dance partner: MSU and Stanford want to make things ugly up front, meaning the team better able to control the line of scrimmage will win the game.
Fiesta Bowl: Baylor vs. Central Florida, Jan. 1 | ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Baylor’s high-powered offense will be even stronger come early January, when all-conference wide receiver Tevin Reese returns from a wrist injury. In all, the Bears’ attack will be demand a similarly potent performance from Central Florida, which eked past opponents like SMU, South Florida and Temple to win the American Athletic Conference.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma, Jan. 2 | ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
While it would be enticing to match Alabama against Oregon, Oklahoma’s close proximity to New Orleans and the fan base’s willingness to travel to a BCS bowl outside of the Rose Bowl or the BCS National Championship Game gives the Sooners the edge over the Ducks. OU will be ecstatic to return to the BCS, but beware: Alabama is a scary bunch in bowl play, due in large part to the time Nick Saban and his staff have to prepare for an opponent’s tendencies.
Orange Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson, Jan. 3 | ESPN, time TBA
While Ohio State will be disappointed to play anywhere except Pasadena, Calif., the Buckeyes will need to bring their top game to beat quarterback Tajh Boyd and Clemson. The Tigers have the wide receivers and passing game to pick apart OSU’s secondary and offset Braxton Miller’s brilliance.
BCS National Championship Game: Florida State vs. Auburn, Jan. 6 | ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Auburn’s powerful running game might meet its match in Florida State, which cruises into the BCS National Championship Game having won each of its 13 games by two or more touchdowns. The Tigers will find tougher sledding against the Seminoles’ attack, but with the last few weeks as evidence, Auburn might be a team of destiny.
Source: USA TODAY
That LSU’s 9-6 overtime win against Alabama was only two years ago stands as evidence of how quickly trends can change. That win, in November 2011, gave LSU the Southeastern Conference West Division while standing as the defining game in the era of defense-first SEC dominance.
On the other end of the spectrum stands Auburn’s 59-42 win against Missouri in the SEC championship game, one that included 52 first downs, 1,211 yards of total offense and eight rushing touchdowns. In the span of two years, the SEC has gone from a league won in the five yards between left and right tackle to one decided in the span of 50 yards, from one sideline to the next.
Perhaps no team better encapsulates the SEC’s shifting tides than Auburn, which rode a coaching change and a wholesale shift in offensive philosophy to one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in modern Football Bowl Subdivision history.
Here are few other winners and losers from Saturday’s college football action:
Baylor. With some help, Baylor claimed its first unshared conference championship since 1980. The Bears knew heading into the end-of-year matchup with Texas that they’d take the Big 12 with a victory, thanks to Oklahoma State’s heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma earlier in the afternoon. After a sluggish first half – the two teams were tied at 3-3 after 30 minutes – Baylor stormed ahead in the third quarter, scoring the second half’s first 17 points to finish the regular season 11-1 and atop the Big 12 standings.
Oklahoma. Although OU had no chance at the Big 12 title heading into its rivalry matchup with Oklahoma State, Northern Illinois’ loss in Friday’s Mid-American Conference championship game renewed the Sooners’ hopes for an at-large BCS bid. Oklahoma’s BCS credentials were strengthened further by Baylor’s win against Texas, since the Longhorns – now with four losses – are not in the BCS mix.
Rice. A powerful running game, a bend-but-don’t-break defense and the benefit of home-field advantage helped carry Rice past Marshall, 41-24, in the Conference USA championship game. The victory gave Rice its first outright conference title since 1957, ending a long dry spell, and marked the third 10-win season in program history. The Owls will try for a program-record 11 wins in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31.
Oklahoma State. While three Big 12 teams entered the season’s final Saturday with a shot at the league’s automatic BCS bid, no team had it as easy as the Cowboys: Oklahoma State needed merely to beat rival Oklahoma to finish 11-1 and claim the program’s second conference championship in three years. In losing to OU, the Cowboys went from the doorstep of an automatic BCS bid to out of the mix entirely. Baylor will earn the Big 12′s spot in the Fiesta Bowl, and Oklahoma will head to the Sugar Bowl should the league gets two BCS bids.
Missouri. With Alabama in the clubhouse at 11-1, it was projected heading into the SEC championship game that the loser would fall from a potential Sugar Bowl berth – if not a spot in the BCS National Championship Game – to outside the BCS picture. That this seemed in the cards does little to stem Missouri’s disappointment, however. The Tigers will fall to one of the SEC’s top bowl tie-ins, perhaps the Cotton Bowl, but it’s not the BCS.
Although a drama-filled regular season is over, Texas’ football program is not yet out of the woods. Was Saturday’s loss to Baylor coach Mack Brown’s final game as the Longhorns’ coach? If so, look for the search for Brown’s replacement to be one of December’s dominant storylines before the start of BCS play.
Source: USA TODAY
Dirk Koetter built the foundation for Boise State football. His successor, Dan Hawkins, added another wing, taking the Broncos from regional powerhouse to a toehold on the national stage. But it was Chris Petersen who took Boise to the penthouse, making an under-the-radar contender into one of the premier programs in college football.
After eight years of unfathomable success – he won 88.5% of his games, the highest mark of any coach in Football Bowl Subdivision history with at least eight years of experience – Petersen finally accepted an offer from a BCS automatic-qualifying program, deciding early Thursday to trade Boise State for the opportunity to work similar wonders at Washington.
What he leaves behind is a program with immense expectations and similarly vast potential. Like a conveyer belt, Boise has exchanged one coach for another over the course of the last 15 years and never missed a beat, even if no other coach matched Petersen’s level of production.
But with such winning ways come those pesky expectations; Petersen’s successor might not be asked to win 13 games with a degree of frequency, but anything less than a continued presence in the national conversation would be unacceptable.
Who’s up for a challenge? The drawback, of course, is that there is no learning curve. But the positives far outweigh the negatives, with no bonus potentially bigger than this: Boise is a place that makes winning easy, and makes a move up the coaching ladder almost easier.
What’s good about the job:
All Boise does is win. Since Koetter’s arrival in 1998, the Broncos have won at least eight games 15 times, at least 10 games 13 times, gone undefeated twice and reached two BCS bowls. The Broncos’ winning atmosphere is ingrained in the program itself, and should carry on nicely with Petersen’s successor – particularly if the school hires a coach either from within the current staff or one with significant experience with the program.
The roster Petersen leaves behind is loaded with talented freshmen and sophomores, gifted returning starters and experienced upperclassmen. In a way, another gift Petersen left his successor – in addition to all the others – is that he led Boise through its once-in-a-decade rebuilding season in 2013. Come next fall, a somewhat young and raw roster will be better prepared for the rigors of the Mountain West Conference. The only question marks might be found along the offensive line, which loses several starters.
If Boise’s hire does come from outside the current staff, Petersen’s replacement could have a nice group of assistants to choose from. The question: Would some longtime Boise assistants – like defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, linebackers coach Bob Gregory (who will serve as the interim head coach until a permanent head coach is hired, the school announced) and offensive line coach Chris Strausser – choose to join Petersen at Washington, or would they remain at Boise if they don’t get the top job? Keeping just a few experienced hands would smooth the path for Petersen’s successor.
What’s bad about the job:
One could make the case that Petersen left now, after so many years of success, because the College Football Playoff format makes it even harder for non-AQ programs to play for a national championship. Although the playoff format does guarantee a spot in a “host bowl” for the highest-rated Group of Five team, earning a spot among the top four teams will be incredibly difficult.
There’s the idea that expectations are sky-high, as mentioned above. One could make the case that it’s hard to win less than eight games at a program like Boise; at the same time, a run of seven-win seasons could put a coach on the hot seat. Coaches confident in their own ability are not scared of these expectations, however.
Finally, does Petersen himself loom large over Boise’s search? Replacing a legend is never an easy task – it better to be the coach who replaces the coach who replaced the legend, if that makes sense. But remember: Heading into the 2006 season, coaches like Hawkins and Koetter loomed over Petersen and his staff. The rest was history.
Who are the likely candidates:
Recent history suggests that this hire is coming from within the current staff. Hawkins was promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Koetter in 2001; Petersen did the same for Hawkins in 2006. That makes a current staffer like Kwiatkowski appealing, one would think.
But the position won’t be short on qualified contenders. For starters, there are many accomplished assistants and former head coaches with Boise ties. There are also a number of high-profile current assistants who would view Boise’s opening as a must-have first step in a coaching career.
Here are a few names on Boise State’s radar, listed alphabetically:
Arkansas State coach Bryan Harsin
Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter
Boise State defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski
Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier
Boise State offensive line coach Chris Strausser
Former California coach Jeff Tedford
Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox
The ideal candidates:
It would be ironic if Washington ended up with Petersen and Boise hired Nussmeier, the other finalist for the Huskies’ open position. Nussmeier has raised his profile by going to Alabama, but the bones of his coaching experience has taken place along the West Coast – at Washington, most notably, but also Fresno State. Nussmeier is also from Portland and graduated from the University of Idaho, so he has significant ties to the region.
There’s also some appeal to bringing back Koetter, should he be interested in returning to the college game. Likewise with Tedford, perhaps, though to a lesser degree.
If Boise wants to hire a former assistant with experience as an FBS head coach, it will look hard at Arkansas State’s Bryan Harsin, the former offensive coordinator with the Broncos and Texas. Harsin would grant the program a desired sense of continuity while continuing the Broncos’ emphasis on the offensive side of the ball. But bringing Harsin back might entail too high a price tag.
Given Harsin’s buyout, the Broncos’ best option – and most gettable option – looks like Wilcox. Once the Broncos’ defensive coordinator, Wilcox spent 2010-11 at Tennessee and the last two seasons at Washington. Long viewed as a future head coach, Wilcox would give Boise State a young, accomplished, experienced, nuts-and-bolts-oriented coach with strong ties to the program – much like Petersen in 2006, one could say, merely with a background on defense, not offense.
Source: USA TODAY
For seven Football Bowl Subdivision conferences, 14 weeks just weren’t enough. These seven leagues will be settled Saturday in the new-fashioned way, with a conference championship game, and nearly each carries substantial postseason implications – in three leagues, the ACC, Big Ten and SEC, the league championship game directly impacts the BCS National Championship Game. But another handful of others have enormous Bowl Championship Series stakes, including in the Mid-American Conference, where undefeated Northern Illinois could secure a second BCS berth in a row by defeating Bowling Green.
All games Saturday unless otherwise noted.
No. 20 Duke (10-2) vs. No. 1 Florida State (11-1), 8 p.m. ET | ABC
How they got here: Florida State faced no serious test on the road to the ACC Atlantic Division championship, winning each of its first 12 games by 14 or more points. Duke has been one of the nation’s biggest surprises, eventually taking the Coastal Division by beating rival North Carolina to end the regular season.
Postseason implications: Florida State is off to the BCS National Championship Game with a win. Even in shocking defeat, Florida State is destined for a BCS bowl. A win would place Duke in the Orange Bowl; the Blue Devils would not fall further than the Sun Bowl in the ACC’s postseason pecking order with a loss.
Stat to know: Duke quarterback Anthony Boone is 10-0 as the Blue Devils’ starter, including 9-0 in 2013.
BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 2 Ohio State (12-0) vs. No. 9 Michigan State (11-1), 8:17 p.m. ET | Fox
How they got here: Unlike FSU, Ohio State faced stiff tests from Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa before breezing through the second half of Big Ten play. The Buckeyes will represent the Leaders Division, while Michigan State – which went 8-0 in league play – comes out of the Legends Division.
Postseason implications: As a league, the Big Ten is in a win-win situation – but only if Ohio State wins. If the Buckeyes come out on top, they’ll head to the BCS National Championship Game while Michigan State earns the Big Ten’s spot in the Rose Bowl. The Spartans will also play in the Rose with a win, earning an automatic bid, while Ohio State would likely get snatched up by the Orange Bowl.
Stat to know: The Buckeyes enter Saturday on a 24-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the FBS and the longest in program history.
CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP
Marshall (9-3) at Rice (9-3), 12 p.m. ET | ESPN2
How they got here: Both divisional races came down to the wire. In the East, Marshall’s 59-28 win against East Carolina – the most impressive Conference USA win of the season – gave the Thundering Herd the East Division. In the West, Rice won the division outright by defeating Tulane 17-13 on Nov. 30. Rice will host the conference title game by virtue of being ranked higher in the final BCS standings.
Postseason implications: Both teams seem locked into Conference USA’s top two bowl tie-ins. The league’s champion goes to the Liberty Bowl, where it would face a team from the SEC. Conference USA’s second pick goes to the Hawaii Bowl. One reason why Rice could lose to Marshall and fall to the third slot – with East Carolina taking the Hawaii Bowl – is that the third pick heads to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, played in the school’s general backyard.
Stat to know: Rice has not claimed an outright conference title since 1957, when the Owls were part of the Southwest Conference.
MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP
Bowling Green (9-3) vs. No. 18 Northern Illinois (12-0), 8 p.m. ET (Friday) | ESPN2
How they got here: Only one MAC team hung within two touchdowns of unbeaten Northern Illinois – and it was Akron, believe it or not. The Huskies have now won 25 league games in a row. Bowling Green took the East by beating Buffalo, 24-7, on Nov. 29.
Postseason implications: NIU is back in the BCS with a win, and would head to the Fiesta Bowl, which has the last pick of at-large teams among the BCS bowls. The good news for the MAC is that an NIU trip to the BCS wouldn’t occupy a bowl tie-in, which would then leave Bowling Green in either the GoDaddy Bowl or the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Stat to know: NIU has not lost to a MAC opponent since Oct. 4, 2011, a span of 25 games.
MOUNTAIN WEST CHAMPIONSHIP
Utah State (8-4) at No. 22 Fresno State (10-1), 10 p.m. ET | CBS
How they got here: Utah State came out on top in the West Division after Boise State’s loss to San Diego State on Nov. 23. Fresno State cruised through Mountain West play until the final game of the regular season, when a 62-52 loss to San Jose State knocked the Bulldogs out of BCS contention. While both teams went 7-1 in league play, Fresno State plays at home due to a higher ranking in the BCS.
Postseason implications: Rather than reach a BCS bowl, the Bulldogs would play in the Las Vegas Bowl with a win or either the Poinsettia Bowl or Armed Forces Bowl with a loss. A win would put Utah State in the Las Vegas Bowl, while a loss would likely give Boise State the Poinsettia and send the Aggies to the Armed Forces.
Stat to know: Fresno State has thrown for 83 touchdowns since the start of last season, the most in the FBS.
No. 10 Stanford (10-2) at No. 13 Arizona State (10-2), 7:45 p.m. ET | ESPN
How they got here: Stanford’s head-to-head win against Oregon gave it the Pac-12 North Division despite two losses during league play. ASU won seven in a row to take the South Division. The Sun Devils play host due to their better overall record during Pac-12 play.
Postseason implications: The winner earns the Pac-12′s automatic BCS bid to the Rose Bowl. The loser, due to a third loss, will fall to the Pac-12′s third bowl tie-in, the Holiday Bowl, while Oregon goes to the Alamo Bowl.
Stat to know: This is the only conference championship game that serves as rematch of a game from the regular season. Stanford beat ASU on Sept. 28, taking a 29-0 halftime lead and then fending off the Sun Devils in the fourth quarter for a 42-28 win.
No. 5 Missouri (11-1) vs. No. 3 Auburn (11-1), 4 p.m. ET | CBS
How they got here: Missouri won the SEC East Division by beating Texas A&M to end the regular season. Auburn took the SEC West via a memorable Iron Bowl win against Alabama, and enter Saturday as confident as any team in the country.
Postseason implications: At the very least, the winner will earn the SEC’s automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl. With a loss from either Florida State or Ohio State, however, the winner would reach the BCS National Championship Game. But with Alabama sitting at 11-1, the loser will go from a BCS bowl to the one of the SEC’s top non-BCS tie-in, like the Cotton Bowl, Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl.
Stat to know: This is only the second conference championship game in FBS history to pit two teams coming off a season with losing records. Last fall, Auburn went 3-9 and Missouri finished 5-7. The other instance was in the 2005 Conference USA title game, which pitted UCF (0-11 in 2004) against Tulsa (4-8 in 2004).
Source: USA TODAY
All six automatic-qualifying Football Bowl Subdivision leagues remain undecided as the 2013 season enters its final Saturday, with most headed for a conference championship game to decide their automatic Bowl Championship Series berth.
But no AQ conference stands as muddied and unsettled as the Big 12, one of two leagues in the automatic BCS structure – joining the American Athletic Conference – without a conference title game. With one week left, the Big 12 has four teams sitting on the doorstep of the BCS.
All four teams play on Saturday at the intersection of coincidence and savvy scheduling: No. 15 Oklahoma is at No. 6 Oklahoma State (Noon, ABC) and No. 24 Texas is at No. 7 Baylor (3:30, Fox). Of the quartet, only Oklahoma has no shot at earning the Big 12′s slot in the Fiesta Bowl.
“Whoever made the schedule out is looking smart right now,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “I don’t know how they did it, but they hit on this one.”
Oklahoma State wins the Big 12 by beating Oklahoma, thanks to wins against Baylor and Texas. Baylor captures the crown with a win against Texas and an Oklahoma win. Texas, meanwhile, finishes in sole possession of first with a win against Baylor and an OU victory – one that would leave the Longhorns as the only team with one loss in conference play.
The Cowboys have won seven in a row after a Sept. 28 loss to West Virginia, skyrocketing into the Big 12′s driver’s seat with one game left to play.
“We have to be sound in all three phases and they have handled themselves very well up to this point, and that’s why they’re in the position to be successful,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “They’ve already been successful. They’ve had a tremendous year. They have a chance to finish based on the way that they’ve prepared over the last two months.”
Oklahoma might be eliminated from the Big 12 race, but the Sooners could conceivably be in line for an at-large BCS bid with a win against Oklahoma State and a Baylor loss to Texas, should Bob Stoops’ team finish in the top 14 of the final BCS standings. Baylor, which lost to Oklahoma State on Nov. 23, could earn an at-large BCS bid with a victory even if the Cowboys close with a win against rival Oklahoma.
“It’s an exciting weekend for the Big 12, because we really have two championship games on Saturday,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “I think it just shows you how much parity there is in this league right now.”