It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Paul Rhoads’ big mistake, Bill Callahan and Kevin Cosgrove’s first coaching jobs, dirty Alabama, perfect Peyton and much more. But first, all eyes on Evanston.
Perhaps the biggest game of the Big Ten season will be played in front … 47,000 people? Northwestern and its beloved coach represent all things right about college football (Ohio State and Urban Meyer aren’t quite so lovable). But man, it is really not a good sign for the league when the Wildcats are potentially your second-best team (they would be favorites in the Legends Division if their schedule wasn’t so rocky).
That No. 2 slot is supposed to belong to Michigan or Nebraska or Penn State, maybe even Wisconsin, Iowa or Michigan State. None of those programs quite have their houses in order.
The Big Ten in 2013 is a league that makes a ton of money, but can’t claim to be on the same level as the SEC. Or even the Pac-12. The Big Ten’s West Coast sister league doesn’t make near as much cash. It doesn’t have near as many fans. Its conference network isn’t near as strong. Yet look at Oregon and Stanford right now. UCLA, Washington and Arizona State are really good, too. Even with USC slumping, the Pac-12 might be better than the SEC.
Why can’t the Big Ten get there? I don’t have all the answers. Some of it, as Gene Smith noted, is population. The Big Ten footprint doesn’t produce as many athletes as it used to — and certainly not as many as the South. But that doesn’t explain the Pac-12’s success. Aside from Los Angeles, most of California, Arizona, Oregon and Washington isn’t exactly flooded with talent. Which leads me to coaching.
Look at the fascinating range of coaching backgrounds in the Pac-12 the past few years: Rich Rodriguez unveiled the spread option at Tulane and Clemson; Chip Kelly, after spending a decade at Oregon, put his own masterful spin on it; Mike Leach, who transformed Texas Tech into a national contender, runs the spread passing attack better than anyone; Sonny Dykes led the nation in scoring a year ago at Louisiana Tech; Todd Graham has been everywhere, including the creative world of Texas high school football; Jim Harbaugh (who got Stanford rolling) and Jim Mora were primarily NFL guys.
The Pac-12 is thriving because of outside influences. Guys who don’t buy into the old conventional wisdom. Why can’t the Big Ten do the same?
Urban Meyer will move the league forward. Bill O’Brien, if he sticks around, will do the same. But that’s not enough. All the other big boys generally have the same background and philosophy. They grew up and cut their coaching teeth in Big Ten country.
Mark Dantonio: Grew up in Ohio, has never coached outside the Midwest.
Kirk Ferentz: Pittsburgh native, more exposed than the others (six years in the NFL), but he’s as traditional as any coach in the Big Ten now.
Brady Hoke: Grew up in Indiana, spent a few years on the West Coast, but he’s a Lloyd Carr disciple and a Michigan Man to his core.
Bret Bielema (who just left for Arkansas): Grew up in Illinois, had never coached outside the Midwest.
Pat Fitzgerald: Grew up in Illinois, played at Northwestern
Bo Pelini’s roots aren’t much different, but at least he spent time in the NFL and the SEC.
The underdogs, meanwhile, have hired ho-hum coaches from the same Big Ten blueprint — the lone exception is Indiana’s Kevin Wilson.
Look, the list of Big Ten problems runs deep. But it wouldn’t hurt to have a few fresh faces, a few innovators, a few guys who don’t look at Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes as their childhood heroes, a few guys with broader horizons who force competitors to think differently.
When Mark Dantonio came to Michigan State, he modeled his program after Iowa. And now the Spartans are indeed Iowa’s clone. It hasn’t been bad for Dantonio. It hasn’t been good for the Big Ten.
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>> It was a bad call. We all saw the Texas running back fumble before his knee hit the ground. And assuming there was no whistle (officials wouldn’t have reviewed it had they called forward progress), the play should’ve been overturned. If Jesse Palmer would stop talking, maybe we could all agree that the Cyclones got robbed. That’s been the focus this morning.
But the question that Paul Rhoads didn’t answer in his epic post-game press conference — at least I didn’t hear it — was why the heck he kicked a field goal on fourth-and-3 from the Texas 6 with 3 1/2 minutes left.
Leading 27-24, the value of three points is very small — I could make an argument that failing on fourth down and giving UT the ball at the 5 is almost equal in value to increasing your lead to 6 and giving Texas the ball at the 25. And remember, even if you fail on fourth down, Texas still can only tie with a field goal.
Rhoads’ conventional decision to kick is Example 648 of coaches committing sins of omission, rather than sins of commission, as loyal reader and stat guru Paul Dalen put it a couple weeks ago (after I blasted South Dakota State for punting on fourth-and-2 from midfield). Coaches feel pressure to avert risk, thus they pass up chances to accept smart risk.
Converting the fourth-and-3 last night (probably a 50-50 proposition) essentially would’ve ended the game, raising ISU’s victory chances to 98-99 percent. Kicking the field goal only increased its chances by a few percent — I’d guess it went from about 70 to 75.
Contrast Rhoads’ decision to kick with Tom Osborne’s choice against Missouri in 1992. Leading 27-24 (the exact same score) with 2 1/2 minutes left, Nebraska had fourth-and-goal at the 5. Osborne went for it and Tommie Frazier dove over the pylon for a touchdown.
“If we had kicked the field goal,” Osborne said, “we would’ve been up by six. That’s nice, but the way they had moved the ball on us at times, we weren’t sure we wouldn’t get beat by a point.”
Rhoads got beat by a point. Had he followed Osborne’s bolder, smarter lead, he might have taken the game out of the officials’ hands.
>> You probably know Nebraska shut down Illinois’ Red Grange in 1925. You probably know Nebraska put 52 and 59 on the Illini in 85-86. But there’s another more significant link between NU and the Illini. Champaign is where Bill Callahan and Kevin Cosgrove got cozy as coaches.
They spent seven seasons together at UI (1980-86), helping Mike White renovate a bad program. The ’83 season is the only time in the past 50 years that Illinois went undefeated in Big Ten play.
By the time White, Callahan and Cosgrove left, Illinois had fallen back on hard times again — White resigned in the wake of NCAA violations. But their prolific passing offense proved you didn’t have to beat Ohio State and Michigan at the line of scrimmage to beat them on the scoreboard.
The initial eye-opener came in the fall of ’80, when Illinois quarterback Dave Wilson threw for 621 yards at Ohio State. 621! Guess who the defensive backs coach for the Buckeyes was:
>> A strength coach at Alabama opened his wallet and gave Ha Ha Clinton-Dix a “loan.” Five years ago, it would’ve been big news in college football — especially considering Alabama’s status. But now? Will the NCAA even pursue the Tide? It could be a watershed moment in the history of enforcement, Dan Wetzel says.
>> A very interesting story of how Division III and NAIA football is helping bankroll liberal arts colleges across the country.
>> Bob Stoops takes another swipe at the SEC. I wish Stoops would just let it fly, rather than dropping veiled insults every few months. I’d respect his thoughts more if he just unleashed them. But he’s dead-on about SEC quarterbacks. Now that Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger are there, those SEC defenses don’t look so hot.
>> Chuck Culpepper writes a thoughtful column on the Ole Miss players who heckled performers during a theater performance.
>> Where should USC go to replace Lane Kiffin? Same place it went last time, Chris Dufresne writes. Pete Carroll’s offensive staff from the glory years, specifically Steve Sarkisian. Sark, who hasn’t posted better than 7-6 in his four seasons in Seattle, has his best team this year.
>> After three nights of sudden-death baseball, last night’s Game 1s of the NLDS felt dull, didn’t they? I have a feeling Tampa-Boston may offer a few more fireworks.
>> I’m not a big fan of Dusty Baker sometimes, but you gotta hand it to the man for sticking up for his hitting coach. As a result, Reds GM Walt Jocketty fired Baker.
>> It amazes me that Oakland still has three professional sports franchises. That soon may change, Tim Keown writes, and the city of Oakland will never be the same. Excellent piece.
>> Pink-shaded marketing? Ryan Basen says the NFL is efforting more than breast cancer awareness.
>> Peyton Manning’s historic first quarter of the season raises a compelling question (which I haven’t seen many analysts discuss): If you were the Colts — knowing Peyton was going to return to health and be better than ever — would you still have let him walk?
Granted, Indy is really good again and Andrew Luck is on his way to being one of the league’s top five QBs. But he’s not Peyton. At least not yet.
I think most Colts fans would still say the franchise did the right thing. It made sense financially in the short-term to carry just one high-profile QB (assuming you were still going to draft Luck). It made sense competitively in the long-term to keep the QB who was 13 years younger.
But what if Indy, knowing what it does now, had kept Manning and traded the No. 1 pick for a package similar to what St. Louis got for No. 2? That’s an early-first and an early-second in the 2012 Draft plus a No. 1 in the ’13 and ’14 drafts. You could put some pretty good talent around Manning with that package, especially if he plays until 2015 or ’16.
I know this: As good as Luck is, it has to be gut-wrenching for Colts fans to see what Manning is doing in Denver for the league’s best team. Just wait ’til Peyton knocks Indy out of the playoffs.
>> I really love the last few graphs of this Manning essay from Grantland’s Brian Phillips:
“I keep thinking about old astronauts. I mean the early-space-program guys, the 1960s-Apollo-program guys, the all-American nerds with rectangular haircuts. What a supremely weird group of normal people. You can get a quick sense of that from Apollo 13 if you’ve seen it, all those home-life scenes set in the America of cookie-cutter ranch houses and Radio Flyer wagons and Jell-O salads. Those guys were practicing weightlessness by day and then going home to drink a beer and mow the lawn and probably watch Archie Manning play football on TV. You think of transcendence in that era as coming strictly through the counterculture, but this was a group of straight-up Eisenhower-legacy Air Force vets literally working to leave the Earth. And their imaginations were on fire with it, as how could they not be, but day to day it was mostly a matter of technical detail — getting the math right, testing every last ball bearing in the engine. They were engineers, not poets, at least right up to the moment when they actually found themselves in space.
“Maybe this is the way to think about Peyton Manning — that without challenging convention or wasting time thinking about aesthetics, he’s devoted to something in its own way extreme and spectacular; that he’s constantly testing ball bearings as a means of orchestrating his own weird escape. Isn’t there something a little science-fictiony about him? I can imagine him on the cover of some ’50s atomic-age pulp, Amazing Stories or Astounding Science Fiction. I can imagine him sitting in an office thinking about radio waves. I can imagine that what goes on inside his head is a terrible fear of dying in a fireball combined with a consuming longing to blast off.
“All poetry can do, in the end, is make the world bearable. It’s engineering that gets you to the moon.”
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.