With the regular season at a close, a few random thoughts from around the country:
Consider this regarding the Heisman Trophy: Going into the final weekend of play, Trent Richardson was considered the slight favorite over Andrew Luck, with Robert Griffin III a distant third or perhaps fourth. Neither Richardson or Luck played on the final weekend, while Griffin III had a big day against a 7-5 team bound for the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Day that ultimately ranked 42nd nationally in scoring defense. The end result? Griffin wins the Heisman in a landslide, Luck takes second, and Richardson comes in a distant third. I'm not complaining about the end result, mind you -- nine wins in Waco is about like fourteen anywhere else -- but I do think the massive swing in the final days showcases how fickle the Heisman electorate tends to be.
With Oklahoma being the biggest disappointment in the nation this season, you almost have to wonder if the era of big-time football in Norman under Bob Stoops is over. Forget the bad performances in big games, this program came into the year considered by many as the eventual national champion led by the eventual Heisman Trophy winner. Instead, the Sooners went 3-3 in the final six weeks of the season with three ugly losses, including arguably the worst performance since the John Blake era in Stillwater, and now finish the year in late December in the Insight Bowl. In the end, Landry Jones looked more like Spencer Pennington than Sam Bradford; the defense was largely useless, and only so much of that can be blamed on the unexpected passing of Austin Box . Now, to be sure, OU is still a much stronger power than just about anyone else in the now-depleted Big XII, but for all of that talent and institutional resources they really haven't won anything of note in recent years, and for what it's worth it looks like they've squandered any potential benefit they could have gleaned from the implosion of Texas. Oklahoma State has closed the gap significantly and, in fact, might even be passing them by. The Sooners will keep on winning a lot of games, but until something to the contrary manifests itself in on-field form you can consider Oklahoma largely an afterthought on the national level.
The UCLA Bruins, in one of the most critical hires in program history, hired... Jim Mora, Jr.?! Indeed. After getting shot down by several big-name coaches despite what were reported to be big-money offers -- a lack of institutional support for the football program seemed to be the culprit -- the Bruins hired a man with one winning season on his resume and one year of collegiate experience (twenty-five years ago, as a graduate assistant). That'll get 'em out of the slumber. And, yes, there is the obligatory Pete Carroll comparison (mediocre NFL coach, gangbusters success in LA in college football), but that overlooks countless other middling-at-best NFL lifers who were just as bad in the college game. Remember Chan Gailey, Bill Callahan, Charlie Weis, Al Groh, Mike Sherman, Jerry Glanville, John Mackovic, and Ray Perkins? The odds are much better that Mora ends up far closer to that long list of failures than Pete Carroll.
And speaking of UCLA, someone explain the following for me: We'll forgo the little nuggets that cross-town rival USC has been decimated by NCAA sanctions and currently have Lane Kiffin "leading" the program, how in the holy hell can this program be this bad? How can this university not field an elite football team year in and year out? Think this through logically: It's one of the world's best universities, they have obscene amounts of money, there is an NFL factory of prep talent within its own city limits, the campus is gorgeous, the nightlife is the stuff of legend (literally), the weather is straight out of a Hollywood film (which is less than ten miles away, by the way), the beaches of Southern California are fifteen minutes away, and the area features more young women than Iowa has corn stalks. Now explain how a program with all of those institutional advantages has averaged six wins per season for over a decade? You'll crack the mystery surrounding the Antikythera mechanism before you figure this one out. This program ought to be so dominant that the NCAA has to come in every decade or so and drop the death penalty just to level the playing field for everyone else, and yet somehow they've been stuck in first gear forever.
Charlie Weis' hiring by Kansas probably makes more sense than most acknowledge. It's still nothing short of amazing how much mileage Weis has derived from his run at the helm of some pedestrian New England Patriot offenses many years gone by, but realistically Kansas has zero appeal to all but the dregs of the coaching world, and say what you will about his tenure at Notre Dame he generally had solid offenses in South Bend. With Dayne Crist looking for a reunion and the Big XII being a conference where defense is optional, Kansas could have done far worse than Weis.
For the BCS critics and those who view a Final Four-style playoff in football as the end-all-be-all controversy-free solution, apply that format to this season. Exactly how do you differentiate between Stanford and Oregon for the final spot? Stanford has the better record and is ranked above Oregon, so they should have the berth in the playoff, correct? But Stanford didn't win its own in division, and moreover lost by a wide margin to Oregon in their head-to-head match-up. In fact, the only meaningful difference between the two is that Oregon had the audacity of scheduling a quality non-conference opponent. Should teams that devour cupcakes be rewarded while those who scheduled quality opponents be punished? How do you differentiate between the two while being controversy free and allowing debates to be "settled on the field"? There is no real way of doing that, and it simply underscores the fact that no matter how large you expand the final system -- two teams, four teams, or perhaps even more -- you are always going to have great controversy at the margins and no better way of resolving those controversies than we have now. It's the exact same reason why the NCAA Tournament in college basketball will likely be expanding to 128 teams in the coming years, where apparently "only" having 68 selections isn't enough.
The Sugar Bowl has received much criticism for choosing Michigan v. Virginia Tech with their at-large selections, but much of that criticism is likely unfounded. Put aside the Wolverines and the Hokies, exactly who were they supposed to choose? A 10-2 Kansas State team that beat one ranked team all season and whose resume is inflated by cupcakes and a 10-7 win over Eastern Kentucky? How about a Boise State team that didn't win its own non-BCS conference? Or a two-loss TCU team that didn't have a single win over a BCS conference school? The truth of the matter is that with the Sugar Bowl having last pick and the BCS cap on two teams from individual conferences, Sugar Bowl officials were effectively scraping the bottom of the barrel for a match-up, and in they end they threw together a couple of teams that they knew could sell some tickets and get some decent television ratings. Is it ideal? Certainly not, but it's a far better match-up the Orange Bowl, and a solid pairing with all things considered.
With Michigan making a BCS game and reaching ten wins in Brady Hoke's debut campaign, the Alabama v. Michigan season opener next September in Arlington will perhaps be the biggest non-conference regular season game in the country. Alabama will be a top ten team in the pre-season polls, perhaps even in the top five, and Michigan will be just below the Tide; the Jerryland backdrop only further adds to the hype. A weakened Big Ten has probably helped Michigan appear further along the rebuilding curve than they really are, but admittedly having to face a senior Denard Robinson with a defense gutted by attrition and turnover will be very difficult for Nick Saban and company. This match-up figures to be tougher than what 'Bama has seen the past two seasons from Penn State.
Gus Malzahn has received much criticism for returning to Auburn this past season, both here at RBR and in many other places, but in fairness exactly what did he turn down on the open market for another tour of duty down on the Plains? At absolutely most he turned down Vanderbilt and Maryland, the former of which was considered a coaching graveyard and the latter perhaps one of the worst programs on the country. In other words, it's not exactly like he turned down Ohio State and USC. And now after a disastrous season his phone apparently has not rang with any legitimate interest. At some point, in fairness, you simply have to say that he never was that highly-coveted of a candidate in the first place, and that returning to Auburn, for all of its pitfalls, was likely his best option. He'll simply have to prove that his sleight of hand attack can succeed long-term and that he can have success without Cam Newton under center before the bigger offers come along.