In the wake of his departure, Franchione has suddenly found himself subject to more venom in Alabama than Yankee carpetbaggers following the Civil War. If the Alabama natives could figure out a way to kidnap him from College Station, they would commence with an old fashioned hanging.
Personally, I feel the reaction is not only excessive, it is wrongheaded. Some points to ponder for apoplectic Tide fans…
First, Franchione was likely lied to by the Bama administration when he took the job, or at the very least he was misled (either intentionally or unintentionally). How certain am I of this fact? If anyone out there honestly believes that Franchione was given all the facts of the sordid and shameful Albert Means scandal up front, then I have a nice bridge (built with public funds no less) to sell you in Birmingham. News Flash: the Crimson Tide violations were the worst since the days of Miami and fell within the multiple offender status that the NCAA considers to be indicative of an athletic department that is out of control. The NCAA committee on infractions indicated that had the coaches been implicated, the death penalty might have been passed down. Now, there is court testimony that directly links two coaches to the payments. The point? Yeah, Franchione lied to Alabama about staying, but Alabama likely lied to the man about he gravity of the situation to get him there. So, before hurling insults and toss buckets of snake venom, know that the old adage, "What comes around goes around," is true.
Second, Coach Fran brought in two solid recruiting classes, and he managed to keep the upperclassmen players from transferring out and destroying the depth chart. Nobody else Bama had on the radar in 2000 would have done half as well. Beamer and Davis wanted no part of Alabama's opening (two smart fellows based on what we now know). Walt Harris and Jeff Bower are solid recruiters but do not have the reputation of Franchione and the staff he assembled. Whoever follows this staff will have a solid foundation to build upon that was not there before Franchione rode in on his white steed to rally the troops and save the day.
Third, Franchione made the Tide nationally respected and had them on Sportscenter when they were under probation. That is heady stuff considering they went 3-8 and were persona non grata in coaching circles when he took the job. Not since the days of the Bowden boys at Auburn (Terry as head coach and Tommy his assistant) has a team done so well while on probation.
Fourth, there are more good coaches available for Alabama right now than in 2000. Riley would look to be a very good choice. Following the 2000 season, USC coveted him more than a pregnant woman lusts for pickles, but the Chargers would not allow the relationship to be consumated. Walt Harris and Jeff Bower are still at their respective schools and would be likely to at least listen. Top assistants such as Norm Chow and Mike Stoops are ripe for the picking. Alabama ought to be able to find a better replacement for Franchione than was generally available after Dubose.
If there is a search for a scapegoat in this whole mess – then Tide fans and alums need to look inward. No way does Franchione leave a healthy Alabama Athletic Department for Texas A&M. Had the alumni for Alabama not completely ignored NCAA rules and had they played fair, then they would still have their coach. There is nobody to blame but themselves and the misguided culture that says, "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't trying hard enough." Sadly, this is how one Alabama native explained to me the proper way to play college football in the early 90's.
My recommendation for Alabama and her fans is that they accept their punishment without crying, whining, and appealing the judgment (and the NCAA may hand out more) and move forward. Thank Franchione for two great seasons given the rotten circumstances under which he worked, and hire Riley. Serve the exile, clean out the rogue fans and alums that want to cheat, and then get back to Tide football. Do it the right way. While some programs may have to cheat to win, Alabama does not. They should be above that. Beat the living tar out of everyone in the SEC East and West and go play for national titles. Remind Tennessee, Florida, LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia who is the real big Dawg in the Southeastern Conference.
Loneliest Man in America Saturday Night
Pat Brougham, the senior place kicker for Colorado. His missed field goals cost the Buffaloes 9 points. Throw in the psychological impact and play calling on at least one drive deep in Oklahoma territory and the number of points is easily 12+. I could almost hear the curses leveled against him, his family, and his future children clear over here across the Mississippi River.
Memo to angry fans (and even teammates): Football is a team game. If the Buffalo offense had done their job, then the game never would have had to come down to the place kicker. Further, the game never did come down to that poor kid because OU made sure that when they got the ball in close, they scored touchdowns. Maybe the Buffaloes should take note of this for their bowl game.
Offense, Offense, Offense…
Two games had over 90 points scored Saturday. Miami and Virginia Tech looked like it could have been a basketball score while Marshal and Toledo traded touchdowns for what seemed like the entire game. The only defenses who really showed up to play appeared to have been that of Navy and Georgia. Not surprisingly, both of those teams ended up with impressive wins.
Virginia Tech, Miami, Toledo, and Marshall need to take a serious look at their schemes before their bowl games. None are playing a team wholly without offense. If defense wins championships, then they will need them to get a victory.
Recipe to Beat Miami
Ohio State Defense vs. Miami Offense
1. Miami lives and dies by big plays where they gain 30+ yards and score a touchdown. Stop this quick strike offense, and they become mortal. My recommendation for the Ohio State defense would be to play lots of zone OR to double the WRs with the safeties and corners. Miami normally sends only 2 into the pattern. If they are covered up high and down low, then they are going to have troubles completing the football. This would leave the TE to Grant and Reynolds/Wilhelm would have to get McGahee. It's risky, but it might work. If Gamble and Fox show that they can cover their man, then blitz a safety a good bit OR bring Doss up to take care of McGahee. Bottom line? Do not allow their WRs to get behind the DBs.
2. Put pressure on Ken Dorsey. All year long, Dorsey has pretty much been able to sit in the pocket. He is not a quarterback that will burn the defense if he has to take off with the football (he makes Germaine look like Michael Vick when it comes to scrambling). If Dorsey does not have time to sit in the pocket and allow his WRs to get deep or Winslow to find the hole in the zone, their offense will struggle. Dorsey might even be pressured into some poor decisions, resulting in turnovers.
3. Fill the gaps and maintain outside coverage on McGahee. He gets a lot of his yards because the openings are there and then he charges through them. If there are no openings, then he does not get the yards. It sounds really simple, but the Miami offensive line makes this a tough assignment.
4. Get hands up on Defensive Line. Disrupt the passing lanes. Hope for a tipped ball that ends up in the hands of the linebackers for a defensive score.
Ohio State Offense vs. Miami Defense
1. Bust the chops of Miami. This can be done. Miami is likely to move some guys closer to the LOS for OSU, but if OSU is more physical, then they have a good shot. When faced with a more physical team, Miami has resorted to the big play to win. If you take away the big play AND get more physical - Miami could be in trouble. Again, no guarantees here, but OSU stands little chance if they are not the more physical team because Miami does have a serious speed advantage. Ohio State must play to its strengths, and the greatest of those is the mental and physical toughness exhibited all season by the Bucks.
2. Patience. There will be openings. WRs will get open. Backs or TEs can get some yards. The key will be not getting upset because OSU might be down early. My guess is that OSU will go down 7-0 or maybe even 14-0 early while they adjust to the game speed of the Hurricanes. That is ok. Just adjust and then play patiently. Miami has been prone to periods of listlessness this season on defense, offense, and special teams. Wait for them and then strike.
3. Protect Craig Krenzel. Ohio State has not faced a Defensive Line as athletic as that of Miami. PSU and WSU have excellent units, but the front 7 of Miami are GOOD, BIG, and MEAN. If OSU wants to win then they are going to have to give Craig time to throw. None of this baloney where the staff tries to put Craig in position to throw the ball with a shotgun set and 2 (count them 2) offensive linemen get beat to allow a sack in less than 3 seconds. I would like to see a combination of Stafford, Sims, and Mangold all given a shot if they are more athletic and can protect better than Douglas/Clarke, etc. Not only does this allow for better protection (assuming they show competence leading up to the bowl), but it allows for a wider variety of plays.
4. Run North and South. Clarett has gained a lot of yards this year running outside the blocks. He can do that but will not be able to make his living doing that. My desire would be again - Stafford/Sims/Mangold/Step./Olivea, etc. to put pressure on the Miami D with the ability to pull, run counters, sweep (though E-West running not great against Hurricanes), toss screens, etc. Use speed up front with a physical flare to bust their chops and do it quickly. If you want to beat a defense that has incredible speed but lesser size, then you run right at it starting in the first quarter. Lean on them and mass more bodies at the point of attack than they can possibly imagine. Strike quickly and with force.
5. Do not settle for field goals. Why? Miami won't for the most part. Any time the Bucks get deep, they need to be able to stuff the ball into the endzone. No lead will be safe against this Hurricane squad. They can very easily score two touchdowns in less than a minute. Their average scoring drive for this season is less than 2 minutes. That means that if Ohio State is up by 14 (oh be still my heart) with 6 minutes left? Two average drives along with some strategic uses of timeouts for Miami would allow them to tie the game.
1. Groom's Punts must have some air under them. A booming punt that outruns the coverage is NOT a good thing against the Canes. Return men with speed and the ability to find the right hole adore a booming punt that outraces the coverage (which means staying within their proper lanes is critical for the coverage team). Protect Groom and make sure he gets good hang time.
2. Nugent's kicks need to go out of the end zone.
3. Our punt or KO return teams need to break at least one for good yardage. If OSU allows Miami to win the field position battle, the game will be over by the half. If OSU wins the field position battle and Miami has to drive the ball 80 yards, 70 yards, etc. -- then OSU has a serious shot.
Some Buckeye fans may disagree, but the team that I would like to play the least out of the top 10 would still be OU. They are well coached. Their defense is extremely tough against the run (and bear in mind that Colorado is more proficient rushing than OSU this season). Now, their offense has made the transition from being so finesse that they should have dressed in lace uniforms with a teddy underneath to being such roughnecks that a crimson and cream burlap sack over a jock strap would do nicely. Oklahoma is going to be ready to play when it comes Bowl time, and I for one do not envy the team Washington State. Strangely enough I give the Cougars a good chance to win this contest because their strength is via the air, the Achilles heel of the OU defense this season.
The lineups I would have liked to see the most?
Sugar – OU and Georgia.
Great matchup. Georgia would pressure the OU defense through the air while the OU offense pressures the Georgia defense with their physical attack. On paper, this would look to be a great game with solid regional interest throughout the South and the Plains States. Stoops against Richt, Musa against Griffith, Hybel against Greene…
Rose – Iowa and Washington State
It would have been fitting for these two teams to meet up in the Rose. It would have preserved the traditional Pac Ten and Big Ten lineup while providing a potential barn burner of a game. Gesser vs. Banks and the Iowa physical defensive line against the physical Cougar front. A quick Hawkeye offensive line trying to fend off Rien Long and his buddies with Banks just an inch away from a long run down the field. Wow. What might have been.
Orange – USC and FSU
The old regime against the Johnny come latelies. The first meeting of these two in a long time (if ever). It had the potential to be a great football game if Rix and co. played like they did against Florida.
Oklahoma vs. Washington State in the Rose, Georgia vs. Florida State in the Sugar, and Iowa vs. USC in the Orange is a pale shadow of what could have been. Too bad that the Orange Bowl destroyed what could have been a great bowl lineup. Thanks for nothing gentlemen.
BCS Bowl Solution
It used to be that the Cotton Bowl was one of the most respected bowls. I would propose that in order to help assure the Rose of the matchup it desires, add the Cotton back to the BCS mix. Rotate the bowls around every 5 years instead of every 4. This will just about guarantee the top 6-7 teams a slot. Teams like Kansas State would no longer have to gripe about missing out on the big bowls, and this would leave room for the Rose to pick up a Big Ten or Pac Ten replacement if one of its teams are in the title game.
Bob Toledo's firing was as inevitable as the Tide. Lose down the stretch year after year, and the negativity will kill a program. Each November witnessed a UCLA collapse that made the OSU debacles of the 1990's look tame by comparison. Right now the Bruins are looking for someone with head coaching experience on the Left Coast. Riley fits that bill to a "T". The problem here is that Riley is also a leading candidate for the Alabama job. If I am UCLA, I open the coffers and take care of Mr. Riley. The other possibilities (if I were in charge) would be Norm Chow and Tedford. Tedford and Chow are both high risk, high reward candidates who if they panned out would be absolute steals.
Alabama appeared to be honing in not only on Riley but also Jim Leavitt. I like the Leavitt interest (though he has apparently withdrawn his name). Here is a guy who is a former Hayden Fry/Bill Snyder assistant (like many hot young assistants these days). He was the defensive coordinator for Kansas State when they were just starting to build at perhaps the worst coaching job in America. He then was hired to build a program at South Florida and has been their only head coach. His record during that period is astounding with this season looking like his best coaching job yet. Not only did he win, he won with a young team that looks to return 16 starters in 2003. Other items that any team would have to love are his reputation for excellence and his relationships with high schools across South Florida. Leavitt is young enough, has been through tough spots in rebuilding programs, and he has even built a program from scratch. No new coach is a sure thing, but he has the look of someone who might be worth taking a risk to hire.
Urban Meyer goes to Utah? Some are wondering what made him take this step. Personally, I think this is a solid move for him. If Meyer can turn the Utes into contenders for the Mountain West, then he will have proven himself at three different schools. The big boys such as Texas, Ohio State, Penn State, USC, etc. love to see this kind of track record and would be much more inclined to hire him if he has shown the ability to win in different leagues, different regions, and at different schools.
Expect Bowling Green to at least take cursory glance at several Ohio State assistants -- possibly Conley, Snyder, and Dantonio. I would hate to lose any of these men, especially right now with the program finally operating on all cylinders. However, if I am Bowling Green? The first place I call is USC to talk to Norm Chow. Point out to him that all the tools are in place for a fabulous 2003 with 14 starters returning. Make it clear that he can use the school as a stepping-stone for greater success. Why not? This guy deserves a shot somewhere, and coaching in the MAC will afford him great opportunities if he can win. Second on my list would be someone like Mike Stoops who has been a hot name for several years now. Bowling Green's problem this season was a porous defense. If he can come in, correct it, and prove that he is an able coach – he too can use the school as a stepping stone while leading it to serious success in the interim.
Michigan State looks to be the school right now that will either hit paydirt or strike out with the big names. While Utah landed Meyer and Leavitt and Riley are being courted by Alabama and UCLA (respectively), the Spartans were hot on the tail of Marvin Lewis. The problem is that Lewis has refused the position and some of the better coaches might already be effectively out of the pool. Plus, the Michigan State pursuit of Lewis was so public that the next coach will clearly be a second choice candidate. Million dollar egos do not like that and are not really enthused about being known as "the guy we got after Lewis said no." I would think that Leavitt would be an excellent choice for them to pursue as well as O'Brien at Boston College. If they are really set on an NFL guy, why not call up Tom Coughlin? His days are clearly numbered coaching for his current franchise, and a successful stint at Michigan State could do wonders for his reputation as a coach. Here is a guy who is a disciplinarian and a proven commodity at the college level as a head coach. Why not?
What a year for a Bear Bryant movie.
- Bear takes control of a woeful Kentucky program not expected to compete in football.
- Bear makes Kentucky a winner against all expectations and then leaves for a Texas school that despite having a poor recent record offered a better long-term situation.
- Bear rebuilt Texas A&M but tired of NCAA sanctions and went to Alabama.
- While at A&M, Bear had planned to skirt the NCAA infractions by scheduling a game with Hawaii but called it off after his team lost to Texas.
- Franchione left a Texas school and went to Alabama.
- Franchione was successful at Alabama against all expectations.
- Coach Fran even took the team to Hawaii after the athletic department decided to intentionally skirt NCAA sanctions and use it as their de facto bowl game.
- Franchione left Alabama and went to A&M at least in part because of sanctions were a serious concern for him.
- Meanwhile, Guy Morriss takes the scraps of what was left at Kentucky following the dismissal of Mumme and the imposing of NCAA sanctions and builds a winner (seemingly against all odds).
- Morriss is called by a Texas school (Baylor) who offers him a better situation despite the fact that it is not currently a winner.
- Morriss leaves for Baylor, and once again – Kentucky is a basketball school with no head football coach.
I thought that this was strange last week! Throw in the Kentucky coach moving to Texas, and it looks to be the Bermuda Triangle of college football. Weird.