Let’s get real for a moment.
Coaches can talk until they are blue in the face about the value of “the bowl game experience” but who are they fooling? The bowl experience is important for two reasons and two reasons only and it’s not to benefit football players.
Reason #1: If you are a coach and you get your team to a bowl game, it’s far more difficult to get fired. Firing coaches is messy and the last thing college presidents want to do. They would much rather put in place new rules and regulations that make their school more politically correct than fire a football coach who makes more money than they do. It’s just so tacky. So, the coach remedies that by getting bowl eligible. Yes, there are some schools – a handful – where just getting to a bowl game isn’t enough. Alabama and Florida come to mind. Georgia just fired Mark Richt for winning nearly 10 games a year for 15 years, for instance. But for the most part, when the team goes bowling the coach has a job next year, the athletic director doesn’t have to go through another coaching search and the school prez can devote himself to more important issues such as a new dean of diversity.
Reason #2: The head ball coach gets 15 additional practices before the bowl game, the same amount as he’ll get when he holds spring practice. This is why you never hear coaches complaining that there are too many bowl games or that it’s not really fair to reward a team that broke even (or went 5-7 as in this year). No coach in his right mind wants to complain about extra practices.
Most coaches, like Florida’s Jim McElwain, rest up as many guys as possible on the guys on the two-deep for all but a handful of practices and spend the other 10 days giving extra work to the young players who don’t see the field all that much. Once the regular season begins there isn’t the time to develop and evaluate guys who aren’t part of the rotation because it’s constantly game-week preparation so bowl practices allow instruction and evaluation time.
The one unit that probably hasn’t gotten much in the way of practice breaks is Florida’s offensive line. Given the combination of youth, inexperience and health issues, you can almost bet that the “bowl game experience” for these guys is all about reps, instruction and getting healthy.
Make no mistake that bowl games are also about bringing money into the conference – the SEC figures to pool and split up more than $92 million (last year it was $87.5 million) – and gaining more television exposure, but coaches will tell you they leave the money to the athletic directors. What they’re interested in is keeping their jobs safe and secure and those extra 15 practices.
TOP 20 SCHOOLS FOR ATHLETIC REVENUE 2014-15
1. Texas $179.6 million
2. Ohio State 170.9 million
3. Alabama $150.6 million
4. LSU $138.9 million
5. Oklahoma $135.7 million
6. Michigan $132.3 million
7. FLORIDA $130.8 million
8. Penn State $127.9 million
9. Auburn $126.6 million
10. Wisconsin $125.8 million
11. Tennessee $121.8 million
12. Notre Dame $121.3 million
12. Florida State $121.3 million
14. Kentucky $116.5 million
15. Arkansas $116.2 million
15. Georgia $116.2 million
17. South Carolina $113.2 million
18. Michigan State $113 million
19. Texas A&M $110 million
20. Stanford $109.7 million
IT’S A CERTIFIABLE MESS IN AGGIE-LAND
It is official. Kyler Murray has been granted his release and he’s transferring out of Texas A&M, the second quarterback in as many weeks to leave the program. More than a month ago there were reports that the Aggie locker room was completely divided and the quarterback controversy between Murray and Kyle Allen (transferred out last week) was only the tip of the iceberg.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin reportedly has been mulling over staff changes including firing his entire offensive staff but the A&M administration is thought to be mulling over a change at the top. If there are any legs to the persistent rumors that there are character issues with Sumlin, then his days might very well be numbered, particularly if the Aggies get hosed in their bowl game by Louisville.
THE PERFECT JOB FOR NICK?
Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated seems to think the perfect place for Nick Saban would be the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL because he would have a franchise quarterback (Andrew Luck) in place and would have a chance to wipe the only blemish on his coaching record – the Miami Dolphins. Every year, it seems, there is a perfect job in the NFL for Nick Saban. Every year Nick says he’s happy as a clam in Tuscaloosa, where he’s been on the job longer than any other stop during his coaching career.
While you never say never to anything – Nick is, after all, the same guy who said he would never leave Michigan State, LSU and the Miami Dolphins – it does seem that Nick has finally found his comfort zone and curbed the wanderlust. It’s true that at Alabama he’s only coaching against himself these days because there really aren’t any serious challengers to his seat on the SEC throne, but he’s also in complete control of things. Nothing that involves Alabama football happens without his approval and that has to do with everything from who gets a scholarship to what kind of detergent is used to wash the practice uniforms. There is no salary cap nor are there any long term, front loaded contracts. If a kid at Alabama doesn’t like the way things are going, Nick doesn’t have to check with the GM to find out how much it will cost against the cap before he can tell him don’t let the screen door hit you in the butt on the way out.
Nick Saban could indeed do what he’s done before and say one thing then two days later do the complete opposite, but he’s king of the SEC hill in Tuscaloosa. In Indianapolis he would be just another college football coach trying to prove he belongs with the big boys.
ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC:
ARKANSAS: In a non-football piece of news, Arkansas volleyball coach Robert Pulliza resigned amid allegations that he intimidated and bullied his players. Arkansas began investigating the coach after the administration received a letter from parents who described themselves as “outraged.” Pulliza, of course, has denied any wrongdoing.
AUBURN: Auburn doesn’t have a defensive coordinator but that hasn’t stopped two of the nation’s top defensive recruits from choosing the Tigers. A day after stud defensive end Marlon Davidson (6-4, 256, Greenville, AL) signed his scholarship papers, the Tigers got a commitment from DT Antwuan Jackson (6-3, 294, Ellenwood, GA Cedar Grove). Scout.com rates Davidson as the #4 defensive end in the country and Davidson the #12 defensive tackle.
GEORGIA: Not only will freshman defensive end Chauncey Rivers miss the TaxSlayer Bowl for his second arrest for marijuana possession this year, but he will miss the first three games of the 2016 season according to the Georgia student-athlete conduct code. Well, he will miss the first three if he’s still at Georgia. Would anyone be surprised if new coach Kirby Smart sends Rivers packing as soon as he takes over permanently after Alabama’s games in the College Football Playoff?
KENTUCKY: When you’ve had three straight losing seasons and the last two have seen second half of the season collapses, you have to blame someone, right? This season Mark Stoops is pointing the finger at Shannon Dawson, now his former offensive coordinator. Stoops fired Dawson Thursday. Former UK quarterback Patrick Towles immediately tweeted “sacrificial lamb” emojis.
LSU: The Morning Advocate searched the records and found that Les Miles talked with Mike Stoops (Oklahoma DC), Dave Aranda (Wisconsin DC), Bob Shoop (Penn State DC), Todd Grantham (Louisville DC), Brent Venables (Clemson DC), Gene Chizik (now the North Carolina DC) and Will Muschamp (now the South Carolina HBC) before he hired Kevin Steele to replace John Chavis last year. Now throw in the news that LSU altered a few items in the contract of former DC John Chavis without Chavis’ knowledge and the fact that LSU was indeed negotiating with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher to replace Miles during the final week of the regular season and it’s plain to see that LSU might very well be college football’s most dysfunctional program.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Tony Hughes, who has coached the safeties and served as recruiting coordinator for Dan Mullen, has taken the job as Jackson State’s new head ball coach.
MISSOURI: Missouri finally has an offensive coordinator. New head coach Barry Odom picked Josh Heupel of Utah State to resurrect an offense that finished next to last nationally in 2015. Heupel quarterbacked Oklahoma to the national championship in 2000 and served as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator from 2011-14.
OLE MISS: While he awaits decisions on other talented juniors, Hugh Freeze picked up a piece of good news Thursday when tight end Evan Engram announced he will return to Ole Miss for his senior season. Engram has 32 catches for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns for 2015. Last season he caught 38 balls for 662 yards and 2 TDs.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Freshman defensive end Shameik Blackshear is listed in serious condition after he was shot multiple times Wednesday at an on-campus apartment complex.
TENNESSEE: The Vols added three junior college transfers, wide receiver Jeff George, defensive tackle Alexis Johnson and corner D.J. Henderson. A fourth juco, defensive end Jonathan Kongbo, won’t be able to sign until February and won’t enroll in school until June.
VANDERBILT: Last year Derek Mason fired his offensive, defensive and strength and conditioning coordinators. The offense still sucked under Andy Ludwig but the defense was better with Mason taking over that role. Mason just fired two more coaches: offensive line coach Keven Lightner and running backs/special teams coach Charles Bankins. It’s a curious move since Lightner had to make due with a line decimated by injuries yet still opened holes for Ralph Webb to gain 1,152 yards on the ground. And Webb was Bankins’ star pupil.
BOWLING FOR DOLLARS
The bowl season kicks off Saturday with five games. Here are my winners. Maybe.
New Orleans Bowl
Louisiana Tech (8-4) 37, Arkansas State (9-3) 33: Jeff Driskel gets to end his career in the place where it first started heading south – the Mercedes Benz Superdome. You do remember the Sugar Bowl in 2012 don’t you? Jeffy has controls of an offense that puts up a lot of points, which is good because the defense doesn’t stop many people. A crowd of perhaps 30,000 will be thoroughly entertained.
Georgia State (6-6) 34, San Jose State (5-7) 20: To celebrate the Cure Bowl, whose stated mission is to raise awareness and money for breast cancer research, they’re throwing a football game at the Citrus Bowl that will feature a 6-6 team whose coach was on the verge of getting fired just about six weeks ago and a 5-7 team from California. Georgia State averaged 15,000 fans per game during the regular season while 24,000 or so dropped what they were doing in San Jose to watch the Spartans play. If they’re lucky, they’ll draw 12,000 Saturday.
Appalachian State (10-2) 40, Ohio U (8-4) 28: You bust your butt to earn the reward of a bowl game and then you discover that you’ll have to spend a week in Montgomery, Alabama, play your game in a 25,000-seat stadium that is a dandy setting for high school football and your payout is a paltry $100,000. Then you find out that if you lose the game you have to spend another week in Montgomery. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Royal Purple Bowl
Utah (9-3) 27, BYU (9-3) 24: To answer the question that’s pursed on everyone’s lips, Royal Purple is synthetic motor oil. What? Your crankcase isn’t running over with the stuff? Neither is mine. I don’t have the guts to ask my mechanic for fear he’ll laugh me out of the garage. Anyway, Royal Purple is sponsoring this bowl game and its contestants are Utah and BYU, who absolutely hate each other. When they used to play every year before Utah went to the Pac-12 and BYU decided to go independent (really dumb move there), this was called “The Holy War” with emphasis on war and the fact 90% of all the players on both teams are Mormons. This is probably the best of the five first weekend bowls because these teams share the same state and live 43 miles from each other.
New Mexico Bowl
Arizona (6-6) 38, New Mexico (7-5) 27: Bob Davie finally dug the Lobos out of the hole that Mike Locksley dug for the program and got them bowl eligible. And for what? So they can stay in Albuquerque and play another game in their home stadium? What’s the “bowl game experience” for these guys? RichRod has more healthy players available than he’s had in awhile and will avoid a losing season.
Texas Tech and the Big 12 Conference faculty athletic representatives should be ashamed of themselves. If you want to read something that will make you understand why there will come a day when a game or a season is shut down by athletes who are tired of being exploited read this story about Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield written by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. If I’m a parent and I have a kid who is a big time athlete, I’m telling Kliff Kingsbury don’t ever darken my door and advising my kid to go somewhere other than the Big 12.
After taking a year off, UAB will be playing football again in 2016. UAB announced signing 19 juco players on Wednesday and will be allowed to bring in 45 more players between now and National Signing Day to rebuild the roster.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
This question is the same one we ask every year, but do you think it’s possible that Nick Saban would bolt for the NFL if the Colts’ Jim Irsay offered him something like $15 million and a small chunk of the ownership of the team?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Laura Nyro had a voice you never forget and she made a lot of folks like The Fifth Dimenson and Three Dog Night famous with her songwriting and lyrics. She died way too soon (age 50 in 1997) but her music lives on and is still a great way to spend an hour or two. Today’s music is “The First Songs” which was first released in 1969 entitled “More Than a New Discovery.”