Ending a Football Game 101
If this were a class, several coaches would have received a failing grade this bowl season. More than anything else this year, I was shocked and even dismayed at the complete ineptitude shown by Oregon, Hawaii, LSU, and Washington State when trying to close out their games. Each of these schools seemed to be doing their dead level best to let their opponent back into the contest. Washington State was up 26-10 entering the fourth quarter and had already been in this situation before in 2003. Anyone else remember the Notre Dame game? The Cougars had a 19-6 lead entering the fourth quarter in South Bend and blew it. Still, it looked as if they had learned nothing and were determined to give the Longhorns chance after chance to defeat them. Though Saban did have a legitimate gripe with officials who spotted the ball quicker than a miser can spy a loose penny, all it would have taken is for LSU to run the quarterback six inches forward instead of ten feet backward when trying to run out the clock. The resulting pile would have burned the extra time needed to bleed off the last few seconds. Instead, the quarterback had no friends to slowly rise off the mass of bodies he was under and simply had to hand the ball to referees. Oregon's inexplicable use of their timeouts allowed Minnesota to collect itself, gain a few more yards, and then nail a field goal to win the game. What looked to be an almost certain victory turned into a haunting defeat.
However, the most abhorrent illustration of how not to end a game that I have ever seen (aside from the Baylor debacle years ago) has to be Hawaii. With just over a minute left the Warriors were up by a touchdown and Houston found itself out of timeouts. Instead of simply kneeling to end the game, June Jones chose to throw three straight passes - all incompletes. His decision left everyone in the stands, at home, and in the announcing booth absolutely stunned. This of course gave Houston one last chance with the football, and they proceeded to score a touchdown, taking the contest to overtime. Three overtimes later, Hawaii finally won when Houston could not convert and score, ending the game 54-48.
How can you be a head football coach in Division I-A football and not know how to run out the clock effectively?
Two Teams that SHOULD be in the Spurrier Sweepstakes
Texas and Florida.
First there is the case of Florida. Yes, Spurrier did leave Zook in a bit of a pickle with a thin bench and somewhat depleted talent. Yes, Zook is replentishing the talent in Gainesville. Yes, the Gators did take a step forward in 2003. At the same time, Zook has not been exactly impressive with the early returns. Two years, 16-10 with 2 losses in his bowls, 2 losses to Florida State, and 2 losses to Miami. This season's bowl loss to Iowa was absolutely humiliating with the Hawkeyes just having their way with the Gators, and blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead to Miami did Zook no favors with the alumni. Add to that abysmal statistical collection the fact that he is 0-4 to end the last two seasons. In his entire career as coach of the Gators, Spurrier lost his final two games only once.
Has there ever been a coach in the history of college football who has consistently accomplished less with as much talent as Mack Brown finds at his disposal as the coach of the Texas Longhorns? This is not a slam. This is a serious question. Even coaches like Gerry Faust at Notre Dame did not have this level of skilled athletes, nor the behemoths up front on both sides of the line. I have heard fans compare Mack Brown to John Cooper. This is a poor comparison. Brown could not even coach well enough to hold Cooper's jock. From 1977 to 2000, John Cooper lead teams won nine conference championships and placed second an additional five times. In 19 seasons as a head coach, Mack Brown has never once won a conference title. In Brown's 6 full seasons at Texas, he has just one second place finish and has lost the last four games to his biggest rival (Oklahoma) by a combined score of 177-54. He has also managed to lose the last two times his team has faced their biggest Southwest Conference rival, Arkansas - both games having been played within the friendly confines of Texas.
How this man has kept his job is a complete mystery to me. Do not expect it to continue if Brown is not able to bring home some hardware and soon. Texas fired Fred Akers, who won 73% of his games and two Southwest Conference titles…
Needless to say, both programs are woefully underperforming in comparison to the level of talent dressing in their team's uniforms each Autumn Saturday. Steve Spurrier would instantly bring credibility and championship caliber coaching to either university. If you doubt that, check out his resume. In 12 seasons at Florida, Spurrier won 6 SEC Championships (it would have been 7 if not for NCAA sanctions from the previous coaching regime) and twice finished second. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Steve Spurrier also coached Duke to a shared ACC conference championship in his final season in Durham, its first in almost 40 years…
So, on the one hand you have two coaches who are underachieving despite incredible resources. On the other is Steve Spurrier who in his final 13 seasons in college football won or shared 7 conference titles, finished second twice, and won a national title.
Granted, Steve Pederson set no records with his competency or the cleanliness with which he hired his new football coach. However, when is the last time any high profile school went looking for a coach and did not have the media hounding and criticizing them - saying how bad they botched the job?
Travel back with me in the way back machine. Just three short years ago, Ohio State and USC were both searching for new coaches. For their part, Ohio State and Andy Geiger were linked to Mike Bellotti, Bob Stoops, Glen Mason, and there were even rumors of Tyrone Willingham and Jon Gruden having received at least a phone call. When Geiger tapped Jim Tressel as the new coach, the national media panned Geiger and claimed he had blown it. If anything, the search for a new man was messier at USC. Mike Riley appeared to want the position but the San Diego Chargers would not let him pursue it. Mike Bellotti might have been interested if not for his family's love for Eugene. Dennis Erickson looked at it but ultimately did not bite. In the end, the Trojans "settled" for Pete Carroll.
Do an internet search and just read the articles penned by national sports writers about the two schools and their coaching choices. What you read will surprise you (or maybe not).
So, before anyone just jumps down the throat of Pederson, they might want to wait a few years. He who laughs last will laugh best. Just ask Andy Geiger and Mike Garrett.
Most Overrated Conference
Over the past several seasons, much has been written about the Big 12 and its destiny as the next great conference alongside longtime luminaries like the Big Ten and SEC, but before the anointing it might be wise to wait a while.
Since its formation in 1996, only Oklahoma has won a legitimate national championship (the coaches' sending off present to Osborne was a joke in 1997), and the conference composite bowl record is a decidedly less than stellar mark of 22-27. This year, the Big 12 outdid itself with a 2-6 bowl mark and losses by its five of the six top finishers.
Tell me again how USC's schedule was so weak in comparison with OU. I would really love to hear the argument again. Truly. I know bowl games are more about matchups and which conference gets fortunate enough to have easier opponents land in the slots opposite them, but 22-27 is consistently less than mediocre. For my money, USC's schedule (after watching the bowls) was no worse and was possibly more difficult than anything OU faced.
End of Season Collapses a Pattern for Bob Stoops?
Don't look now, but the end of the season collapses for Bob Stoops teams are becoming almost an annual event. In 2001, OU looked poised to possibly challenge for another national title with a victory over Oklahoma State and a shot to defeat Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship. Whoops! Hold the phone ladies and gentlemen. Oklahoma State ruined all of those plans by waltzing into Norman and beating the Sooners 16-13. In 2002, there was talk that if Oklahoma could win out, they might mathematically be able to bump an undefeated Ohio State team out of the BCS Title Game. Maestro cue the music. The Cowboys of Oklahoma State completely outclassed the Sooners and beat them like a rented mule 38-28. In 2003, some in the media had gone so far as to call Oklahoma one of the most dominant teams in the history of college football. With Oklahoma State conveniently moved back on the calendar (per Oklahoma's request to keep them from overlooking the Cowboys), the Sooners proceeded to blow their final game, the Big 12 Conference Championship, to Kansas State in the worst loss ever for a #1 team, 35-7 (and it wasn't as close as the score indicates). Then, Stoops and his team lost the Sugar Bowl 21-14 after being thoroughly outcoached and outplayed by Nick Saban and his Tigers.
Over the last 3 years, Bob Stoops is a decidedly mortal 2-4 in his final two games of the season. Were he any other coach in the country, the media would be hounding him as a choke artist extraordinaire whose team was over-rated.
Instead, the media and coaches polls decided to vote Oklahoma the third best team in the land in their final polls.
What kind of sense does that make?
In fact, Oklahoma's #3 finish while losing its last two games has only happened one other time in the history of the two major polls (AP and Coaches). The coaches ranked Arkansas #3 in the land in 1969. However, this was only because the final coaches' poll was issued prior to the bowl games. Arkansas' loss to Texas cost it another 4 spots in the AP poll where it finished #7. In other words, no team in the history of the polls has ever been allowed to drop their final two football games and still place #3. Just two years ago when Nebraska tanked consecutive games to conclude their season, they dropped all the way to #8 in the AP and #7 in the USA Today/Coaches' Poll.
If you are counting, the Buckeyes finished #4 in both polls behind Oklahoma but beat Kansas State 35-28 while the ‘more explosive offense' and ‘dominant defense' of OU lost to the Wildcats 35-7.
I will repeat the question; what kind of sense does that make?
Egg on my face
While I could hide behind the skirts of Ell Roberson's poor performance to defend my pick of the Wildcats over Ohio State, I refuse to do so. Ohio State's defense came out and played with heart while the Buckeye offense, healthy for the first time all season put more points on Kansas State than anyone but Oklahoma State.
Congratulations to Ohio State players and coaches and especially the senior class who led this team to a 25-2 record over the past two seasons.