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by | College Football Insider

Rules of Engagement: Wanna win? Commit to it, just like the ... Big East?


Yes, we will make up these rules as we go. Hopefully, by season's end, we will have a few that stick.

These Rules of Engagement can be random, analytical, research-heavy, packed with college football voices or just plain foolish rants. Depends on the mood, or the coffee consumption. Here goes ...

RULE NO. 1,764: Make some good coaching hires, invest in your program and you, too, might turn things around.

This could be the message from several top 25 teams that have sustained success in recent years despite historically lackluster production in decades past. Back in the 70s, this list of teams might have produced a good laugh as top-25 posers -- Kansas State, Oregon State, TCU, Louisville, Cincinnati, Northwestern, Rutgers, Boise State. All are in the AP or coaches poll this week, continuing to break college football's caste system where upward mobility once seemed a fantasy for some teams.

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Northwestern has one bowl win in school history, but its 5-0 start isn't exactly a surprise considering the Wildcats are on pace for their fourth winning season in five years. From 1955 to the start of the Brian Kelly era in 2006, Cincinnati had 12 head coaches, three of whom had a winning record. Since then, that's two Big East championships and counting for the 3-0 Bearcats. After one bowl appearance before 2005, Rutgers is certified. Greg Schiano leaves, and Kyle Flood eases the transition with a 4-0 start. Couple those stories with Charlie Strong's 5-0 start at Louisville -- a place with modest success but not exactly a trailblazing program after 12 seasons of eight wins or more in 42 years -- and the Big East gives hope that you don't have to take Ls forever.

"It's not a surprise in any way," Flood said of the Big East's success. "I think it will continue on that path. This is an extremely competitive league. ... The people who maybe didn't realize that before the season realize that now." There's still time for you, Kentucky and Indiana and other programs perennially buried in Sunday morning regret. Want another example? From 1976 to 1996, the Beavers won 44 games. Coach Mike Riley is looking to double that total with 75 wins as Oregon State's coach.

Since joining Louisville in 1997, Louisville athletics director Tom Jurich has watched the football program churn out three double-digit-win seasons. Investing in facilities and good coaches is important, but it's not everything, Jurich said.

"If it was just about money, than everybody would be able to do it," Jurich said. "You have to look at personnel, culture of the program, vision, goals, a strategic plan of how to get there."

RULE NO. 996: Hire good defensive coordinators, pay them well, and that still might not be enough to handle today's passing attacks.

Collegiate offenses are evolving to the point where it's almost unreasonable to ask defenses for shut-down games, save a few select Southeastern Conference teams with enough elite athleticism to make it work.

When nearly 30 percent of the Football Bowl Subdivision teams playing last week posted at least 40 points (29 of 106, to be exact), the defensive coordinator position should be cherished. But even some of the highest-paid coordinators -- Auburn's Brian VanGorder ($850,000 salary), Clemson's Brent Venables ($800,000), Tennessee's Sal Sunseri ($800,000) -- can't crack the top 50 in national scoring defense this year. Alabama's Kirby Smart ($950,000) and LSU's John Chavis ($900,000) are both in the top 10 in scoring defense and total defense.

Even Southern California's Monte Kiffin, who makes a reported $1.5 million a year, leads a modest 37th-ranked defense in yards allowed (346.5). Strong, a former coordinator at Florida, knows offenses are more sophisticated than ever, but fundamentals still prevail, he says. Containing big plays by not blowing coverages is still attainable, contrary to popular go routes. "You just have to be smart and attack teams," Strong said. "The passing is so different. Everything's a matchup now. Whether a quarterback's trying to match up with a big receiver or try to get a linebacker on an athletic tight end." Simple tackling can go a long way. Tennessee's defense could have prevented a few touchdowns in a 51-44 loss to Georgia with more consistent play in the open field.

RULE NO. 16: Good luck competing with the NFL during the week. The NFL's ballooning presence on Thursday nights appears to have affected college football ratings, though it might be too early to forecast the long-term volatility. Last week's Stanford-Washington game produced a 0.8 rating among 18-to-49-year-olds, a slight decrease from the 1.0 South Florida-Pittsburgh matchup from the same week a year ago. At least it was an improvement from the Rutgers-USF rating of 0.4 from a few weeks ago.

The last three weeks, the NFL, which broadcasts a weekly Thursday night game this year, has registered ratings in the 3.8 to 3.0 range. One good sign is the NFL-less Sept. 6 rating of Cincy-Pitt drew 2.239 of overall viewership, up 49 percent from last year's Arizona-Oklahoma State game (1.502).

The SEC can still produce. Last year's mid-September Thursday nighter between LSU and Mississippi State drew a 2.3 rating, though the NFL didn't start Thursday games until Week 10 of last year. Maybe creative matchups in coming weeks can produce just enough to satiate conferences and networks.

RULE NO. 493: Reading about a national story involving the word "Teabagging" is one too many. Just stop it.

RULE NO. 6,416,002: Florida State is back, in case you haven't heard.

RULE NO. 5,526: There are athletic directors walking around knowing they are going to fire their coach. They just haven't done it yet. (ROE note: That's just a good quote I heard from an industry source.)

RULE NO. 708: Blitzing Geno Smith is probably a mistake. Blitzing Tyler Bray is probably a good decision.

RULE NO. 42: This scene in West Virginia is pretty incredible. (h/t to @mengus22).

RULE NO. 73,280: Doctor game film. Often. Any chance you get.

RULE NO. 7: Derek Dooley will be employed by the Tennessee athletic department in 2013.

Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.

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