USC fired embattled head coach Lane Kiffin in the middle of the night early Sunday morning after his team lost its seventh of the past 11 games -- the fourth of those losses which came against an unranked opponent and by double-digits. So what's next for the Trojans?
The school, which made it a priority to find a guy who had USC roots four years ago when it replaced Pete Carroll and tabbed Kiffin, will be more outward-looking with this search, a source told CBS. The program was rocked with devastating NCAA sanctions right after Kiffin landed the job, and by most accounts, he recruited very well all things considered, but he struggled mightily as his own play-caller.
After a dreadful 7-6 record in a 2012 season that had begun with massive hype and a preseason No. 1 ranking, the Trojans' recruiting cachet had backslid. Earlier this month, a home loss to unranked Washington State sent USC's recruiting into a free-fall, not to mention fan interest was flatlining.
The new coach will inherit some of the remaining scholarship sanctions, but the Trojans vacancy is still one of the best in college football. Last summer, USC moved into the stunning $70 million McKay Center, perhaps the most impressive building of its kind. The program also sits in arguably the nation's most fertile recruiting area, and better still, the school has deep pockets and could double the salaries of many potential candidates.
One such coach near the top of USC's list, according to a source, is Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, who last season led the Aggies to their first top-five finish in 56 seasons. Sumlin's proven to be an excellent leader and recruiter. Sumlin, who turned down chances at the UCLA head coaching job a year and a half ago, was courted by several NFL teams last offseason and will be again this winter. He also just moved into a massive new home last month he built near Texas A&M.
Another intriguing option is Boise State's 48-year-old Chris Petersen, who is 86-10 in eight seasons. Petersen has turned down repeated offers to leave Boise, including a chance to coach in Los Angeles at UCLA, but a source close to Petersen told me in the past month that the coach has said he's looking for a change. Would that change mean more money but also a much, much bigger spotlight at USC? Probably not.
Other names USC is expected to consider:
Former Trojan assistant Steve Sarkisian, who grew up nearby in Torrance, Calif., and has Washington in the Top 15 after taking over a program that had gone 0-12. The 39-year-old Sarkisian hasn't been able to lead the Huskies to a Top 25 season in the final rankings yet, but his team is primed for its best season and he can elevate his stock if 4-0 Washington can keep winning. Sarkisian and his family love Washington and the school has significantly upgraded its facilities and is paying very well, but USC is still home for him and the reality is, the coach realizes he still would be lucky to land two out of 10 Southern California kids he wants at UW, if the Trojans really wanted the recruit.
Like most of these other guys, Sarkisian has already been asked about the USC vacancy and on Monday morning, according to Christian Caple he told KJR radio in Seattle he doesn't deal in hypotheticals, but that "we're not done yet. I came here to win championships." That's a good, honest answer.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, an energetic 41-year-old who has turned a dismal Commodore program that went 2-10 before he arrived into one that finished in the Top 20 one year after he took over. Franklin's a big personality, who like Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald has thrived in a high-academic environment while in an underdog program. My sources say if offered, Franklin would jump at the job.
Former Trojan linebacker Jack Del Rio, the 50-year-old defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, could also be in the mix. Del Rio has head coaching experience, having spent nine seasons leading the Jacksonville Jaguars, although his career record is 68-71. Del Rio also has no college coaching experience, but Jim Mora's success across town at UCLA probably helps Del Rio's cause some.
Fitzgerald, a polished, upbeat 38-year-old, has masterfully elevated a Wildcats program into one that finished No. 17 in the country last season. Fitzgerald, a Chicago native, would be an outsider for the USC job, but his work and presence has impressed personnel people all over the country. Although it seems a stretch that he would leave the area where he and his wife grew up for USC.
Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter, a 50-year-old Long Beach native, has done a nice job rebuilding the Bulldogs, leading them to a 9-4 season last year and they're undefeated this fall. But it may be a big reach to think DeRuyter's stock will be elevated high enough -- even if FSU goes undefeated this season -- to land this job.
San Francisco 49ers OC Greg Roman, a 41-year-old offensive mastermind, has been vital to Jim Harbaugh's success at both Stanford and the 49ers. The Trojans had previously wanted to hire Roman as an offensive coordinator and he figures to get head coaching opportunities this winter, but would USC go for a guy without any head coaching experience?
We'll have more on the USC fallout and the search as it heats up.
• Last year around this time, Dana Holgorsen was in his office till way past midnight talking to his defensive staff, looking for solutions. West Virginia had actually won earlier that day, against a potent Baylor team, but in the process the Mountaineers had given up about 1000 yards in a 70-63 shootout. WVU was in the Top 10 and a hot commodity, thanks in large part to Holgorsen's explosive offense but soon the Mountaineers season would splinter apart. Since then, the program lost almost every player who contributed to that explosive offense and Holgorsen's coaching staff has had to be overhauled. Some assistants left for other jobs. Some were asked to leave.
The rebuilt offense struggled in the first month of the season and coming off last week's shutout loss to Maryland, 37-0, WVU looked headed for a brutal season. But this weekend Holgorsen turned his two-deep upside, inserted FSU transfer Clint Trickett into the line-up as his starter and got a stellar defensive effort by the Mountaineers who bottled up No. 11 Oklahoma State for a huge 30-21 upset win. WVU was nearly a three-touchdown underdog. But Trickett, playing much of the second half with an ailing shoulder that caused him to wince after every throw, delivered the kind of gritty effort you'd expect from the son of an old Marine-turned-O-line coach. It's a stretch to expect this to be a springboard back to another BCS bowl for WVU this winter, but it was the kind of effort that should have lots of folks around the Mountaineer feeling a lot better about their program.
• As great as Stanford's defense is--and I think the biggest reason why it's even better than last season is the added athleticism (in the secondary and with a healthier/more explosive Shayne Skov)--the Cardinal offense is very underrated.
This isn't a tight-end based aerial attack, but the wideouts are huge and surprisingly agile. More importantly, the combination of dual-threat QB Kevin Hogan and a superb O-line can be lethal with that power-running game. More people need to hear about Stanford O-line coach/OC Mike Bloomgren. His bunch is big, athletic and really, really sharp. On Saturday night, in a rainy, windy setting in Seattle, Bloomgren's line totally neutralized an imposing and active Washington State front. A week earlier when the Cougars notched their first shutout in about a decade, WSU dominated a mediocre Idaho team, piling up 14 TFLs for 66 yards. Against Stanford, WSU only managed two negative plays that yielded just two yards. Oh and that was all without the Cardinal's best lineman, David Yankey.
• Hats off to Ruffin McNeill and East Carolina. The Pirates notched their biggest win in years, blasting North Carolina, 55-31, giving ECU its first win in an ACC stadium in seven seasons. The Pirates rolled up 603 yards of offense in the game behind two stars who each took curious recruiting paths to ECU.
QB Shane Carden, the first player to have three rushing and three passing TDs in a game since he turned the same trick last season against Marshall is another one of those unheralded two-star Texas-bred quarterbacks (like Utah State's Chuckie Keeton) who has blossomed in college. Carden was a private school kid from the Houston area who was probably heading for Central Michigan before young ECU OC Lincoln Riley convinced him to come play for the Pirates. There had been some skepticism in recruiting circles about Carden's athleticism given his then-seemingly unathletic build, but since arriving at ECU the kid's been a relentless worker and developed into a capable runner and accurate passer. He's connecting on 73 percent of his passes.
Running back Vintavious Cooper picked a great day to have his best effort of the season, ripped the Tar Heels for 186 yards rushing to go with 70 more receiving. The 5-9, 200-pound Cooper was a Mississippi junior college quarterback who was headed to FCS Murray State till Riley called him on the even of signing day two winters ago. "Don't sign anything tomorrow," the ECU coach told Cooper. Turns out, the Pirates realized they might be coming up empty on high school running back recruits and figured Cooper would be a great back-up plan. The skepticism for the bigger schools with Cooper was he didn't have blazing speed, although every Mississippi JC coach the Pirates talked to kept saying he was one of the best players they faced.
The back-up plan has proven to be quite the hit for ECU. Last season Cooper ran for over 1,000 yards. "He's just a really good football player, who breaks a lot of tackles and really catches the ball well," said Riley. "He's a war-daddy."
• How does Wisconsin keep coming off with these incredible walk-ons? The latest gem is Jared Abbrederis, who dominated Ohio State's touted CB Bradley Roby, lighting up the Buckeyes D for 10 catches and 207 yards and a touchdown.
“No. 4 for them, he's got my vote for All-Big Ten,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told reporters afterward. “He did an incredible job.”
After Saturday, I suspect Abbrederis, a former standout wrestler and state champion hurdler, will have a lot of people's vote for All-American honors too.
One thing the Buckeyes D did a very good job of was containing the Badgers running game, especially on first downs. Wisconsin came into the game gashing people on first downs for almost eight yards a pop. In the first half, OSU limited them to just 2.3 yards per carry on first downs.
• Impressive win by Bob Stoops team on the road, jumping all over Notre Dame early. Last year, the Irish were the more physical team and shut down OU, limiting the Sooners to just 15 rushing yards. On Saturday, Oklahoma rolled up 212 yards on ND. I get that a lot of folks, especially in SEC country think Manti Te'o was massively overrated, but it sure seems like the Irish D really miss him--and Zeke Motta in the middle of its defense.
• It may only be two games against suspect SEC East competition but QB Tyler Murphy has been superb and probably much sharper than anyone in Gainesville could've hoped.
• Stat of the Day: Georgia QB Aaron Murray threw eight touchdown passes in his first seven games against Top 10 opponents, and his team had a 1-6 record in those games. (He also threw nine interceptions.) In his last two games against Top 10 teams, both ranked No. 6, Murray has thrown eight touchdowns. He has just one INT in these Top 10 Georgia wins in the past three weeks.
• Stat of the Day, Take II: Michigan State is the only team in the country that hasn't had an offensive play of 40 yards or more.
• Stat of the Day, Take III: After shutting down No. 21 Ole Miss, 25-0, Alabama is now 25-7 against Top 25 teams under Nick Saban.
• Stat of the Day, Take IV: As mentioned above USC lost seven of its last 11 games under Lane Kiffin. As Aaron Torres notes, the Trojans went 71-7 in a six-year stretch under Pete Carroll from 2003-2008.
• As I mentioned above, it's been a great start this season for Washington. A big key has been an improved O-line as QB Keith Price has been playing better than ever. Price told me a few weeks before the season that his problems last season were due to him not trusting trusting his teammates and how they had to build that trust this off-season. It must be back now. He's completing over 72 percent of his passes, up from 61 percent last year. Better still, Price has only been sacked three times this season in four games, well below the 37 times he was sacked in 2012.