Rich Rants: No Longer Golden

Week 14 thoughts, musings and ramblings about the weekend.

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Alabama has learned to survive shootouts, unfamiliar terrain for a program more accustomed to thriving in old-school defensive brawls. And for that, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin deserves credit. Kiffin called a terrific Iron Bowl, his first, opening up the offense in the second half to allow Blake Sims to maximize the immense talent of WR Amari Cooper and the team’s backs. The old inflexible Tide attack probably doesn’t rally after Auburn jumped all over it in the second quarter. But Nick Saban is learning that you’ve got to unleash the skill players every so often to remain championship-caliber.

What’s the statute of limitations for laying blame at the feet of a difficult situation that was inherited from a former regime? Whatever it is, Al Golden is in danger of exhausting it. Miami never recovered from its Nov. 15 loss to Florida State, which falls directly on Golden and the rest of the staff. The Canes had no business losing to Virginia or Pitt the last two weeks, but they did, raising the possibility of a losing season in South Florida. If the program doesn’t take a giant stride forward in 2015, Golden could be in serious trouble. Because, hey, shouldn’t Miami be beyond losing six games at this point?

Shame on you, Cal. You had three opportunities to nab a coveted bowl invitation, and you squandered each of them, including Saturday to an average visitor from BYU. Sure, progress was made in Sonny Dykes’ second season, but the Bears could have taken a quantum leap by qualifying for a postseason game. They were on the doorstep late in Saturday’s 42-35 loss to the Cougars, but were unable to punch it in. Call it a metaphor for a program that started to turn the corner this season, yet was unable to completely around the bend in November.

If Memphis can hold onto head coach Justin Fuente for 2015, it’ll be a bigger upset than the Tigers winning nine games and a share of the American title this year. Fuente is a rising star within the coaching ranks, whose current stint at Memphis should draw a ton interest from larger programs. He’s young, he’s proven he can coach up quarterbacks and he’s won nine games this season at a former Conference USA program that had won five games in the three years prior to his arrival from Gary Patterson’s TCU staff.

Sometimes, winning coaches get fired. Nebraska felt as if it was time for a change at the top, canning Bo Pelini, whose overall record was never going to be the problem in Lincoln. Pelini stepped on a few too many toes, didn’t win enough important games and created an environment in which his future was a perennial late November happening, like Black Friday. Will AD Shawn Eichorst regret the day he broke ties with Pelini? Only time can provide an answer. But teams occasionally reach point of being stale and unable to get over the hump. Big Red was that kind of a program in recent years, so no one ought to be blown away by today’s decision to move in a new direction.

Even without coordinator Chad Morris, QB Deshaun Watson is going to be a mega-star at Clemson … provided he doesn’t wind up having a glass jaw. Watson got hurt a lot in his debut out of Gainesville (Ga.) High School, despite playing just part of the season, and he’s currently suffering from an ACL tear that’ll get addressed once the season is over. He has a slight frame that’ll need to be buffered with more girth and muscle. It could be a launching pad offseason for Watson, who’ll have to make gains in the weight room, while learning the nuances of a new offense now that Morris is headed to SMU.

The playoff committee ought to be in the business of evaluating the past rather than making assumptions about the future. In other words, if you liked the Buckeyes as a playoff team 48 hours ago, you ought to keep them in the mix today. Sure, the assumption is that the Ohio State offense is about to take a hit with the loss of QB J.T. Barrett. But should it be the job of the committee to make assumptions about the potential of Cardale Jones, an unknown commodity? There were a ton of expectations regarding life after Braxton Miller this year, too, all of which turned out to be uninformed as the 2014 season unfolded.

UCLA is relevant again. But the Bruins must now learn how to transform Signing Day wins and offseason hype into consistency in the fall. This program was wildly inconsistent throughout the regular season, the sign of a team that still hasn’t found its bearings, particularly within the coaching staff. In the span of six days, UCLA went from the team that wrecked USC to one that was completely outclassed by Stanford. The Bruins are headed in the right direction, but they have a lot of growing up to do, which could include some tweaks to the staff once the bowl game is over.

Whaddya know? It’s going to be Boise State in a major New Year’s bowl game after all. East Carolina. Marshall. Colorado State. After running through the list of Group of Five candidates that might appear in a New Year’s Six bowl game, it looks like a familiar face is going to fill the opening. The Broncos, the former Cinderella of the BCS era, have rebounded from a Sept. 27 loss to Air Force with seven straight wins, including Saturday’s demolition of Utah State. With a win over Fresno State in this week’s Mountain West title game, Boise State will be representing the have-nots in a marquee January bowl game.

Don’t take the bait, RichRod. You’ve got a great thing going in Tucson, and it’s only going to get better as your brand and your philosophy become further ingrained in the community. Coaches are a fickle breed that often need to be stroke on a consistent basis. Rich Rodriguez is no different. But after making a calculated mistake by leaving West Virginia for Michigan, he ought to plant his feet at Arizona, and continue to build for the future. In Tucson, RichRod is showing you can compete for Pac-12 titles, even with two and three-star recruits, and they won’t run you off campus for going 7-5 in back-to-back years.

Mississippi State lost to Ole Miss. Baylor barely escaped a bad Texas Tech team, 48-46. Ohio State will be without its starting quarterback for this week’s Big Ten title game. It’s a very good time to be a Horned Frog. Everything seems to be falling into place for TCU, which also helped its own cause by routing Texas, 48-10, in Austin on national TV Thursday. While there’s still the matter of remaining ahead of the Bears for one more week, the Frogs have to like their trajectory as the regular season reaches its crescendo.

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