Recapping 2011, anticipating 2012 (more or less) A-Z …
American Football Coaches Association: It was not a good year for the professional organization that counted Jim Tressel and Joe Paterno among its members. There wasn’t a peep of contrition or explanation in 2011 out of the old boys’ club that continues to have an ethics committee as part of its structure.
Meanwhile, the AFCA continues to rig a BCS system it profits from in the coaches’ poll. Before coaches demand accountability from media, players and assistants, they need to give up control of a poll that holds the purse strings to a multi-million system and awards its final No. 1 ranking to the BCS title game winner.
BCS: After the championship game, the BCS continues to deliver some stultifying matchups.
Michigan-Virginia Tech? (Where was Boise, Kansas State?)
Clemson-West Virginia? (Six combined losses?)
Oklahoma State-Stanford is nice in the Fiesta Bowl but there are those who believe the Cowboys should be playing LSU in New Orleans. A Plus-One wouldn’t totally fix things but we’d love to see one this season – No. 1 seed LSU vs. No. 4 Stanford and No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Oklahoma State.
Unfortunately, the next chance for change, 2014, looks to be more of the same. The Pac-12 and Big Ten aren’t likely to allow the Rose Bowl to become a national semifinal. Even a Plus-One wouldn’t account for No. 7 Boise, a team that was a missed kick away from playing for the national championship.
BCS trivia: Nick Saban (4-1) and Les Miles (5-2) have each beaten Alabama at least four times as SEC coaches.
BYU: Courted by the Big 12 and Big East (at least) during conference realignment, BYU stood strong and stayed independent in 2011. Whether the Cougars’ status stays that way remains to be seen. Glory is still elusive. A seventh consecutive bowl resulted in the world’s largest Mormon school beating the FBS school with the smallest enrollment (Tulsa) in the final 12 seconds in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Charlie Weis: Quietly, Notre Dame’s former coach accounted for the biggest recruiting day in the history of Kansas football. On December 22, Weis lured quarterbacks Dayne Crist (Notre Dame) and Jake Heaps (BYU) as transfers.
OK, it’s only Kansas and it’s a couple former five-star quarterbacks who underachieved. But as long as Weis is in Lawrence, Kansas will be worth our attention. The Big 12 is a quarterback league. Weis has his for at least the next three years. He and the Jayhawks will be a story as Weis tries to rehab his college coaching image.
Conference realignment: In the chase for money and automatic qualifying status, networks and commissioners couldn’t help themselves. They acted like businessmen at a strip club during happy hour, making it rain. The change was so fast and furious that we’re still not sure what conference West Virginia will play in 2012.
David Boren: Oklahoma’s president trashed the Big 12 and then-commissioner Dan Beebe one day. Then, after finding out 24 hours the Pac-12 wasn’t going to take his Sooners, he shifted stance and said he was actually trying to save the league.
Oklahoma’s former governor is a dangerous, manipulative, powerful, fascinating figure. Just don’t cross him. Boren ran Beebe out of the Big 12 in one of the great injustices of the year.
Death Cam: On the second-last day of 2011, there was a sobering warning for 2012. An ESPN SkyCam almost smashed an Iowa player Friday night during the Insight Bowl. Dear networks: Our desire to see every possible angle has been sated. We’ve got HD, blimps and replay. We don’t need a debilitating injury – or worse.
LaMichael James: Quietly – yes, quietly – “LaMike” became one of the era's most dangerous weapons and the best running back in Oregon history. If James stays for his senior season, which he is not likely to do, he would challenge Ron Dayne for the NCAAA career rushing record.
As it is, James will have plenty left for the NFL because of his efficiency (6.6 yards per carry, only 746 career carries). The question is, can the leading edge of Chip Kelly’s quick-strike offense survive as a pro at only 5-foot-9, 185 pounds?
Lane Kiffin: Before Todd Graham jilted Pittsburgh, Monte’s boy was bolting Tennessee after a season. Funny, how we’ve forgotten. Lane matured before our eyes in 2011 leading the probation-crippled USC to a 10-2 record, including a win at Pac-12 champion Oregon.
It looks like the Trojans are back. This time, Kiffin isn’t going anywhere.
LSU: Look at the roster. It’s so young. The SEC defensive player of the year is a sophomore (Tyrann Mathieu). There are 13 sophomores (or younger) in the two-deep. On defense. These Tigers were built to win in 2012. This season has been gravy.
No matter what happens Jan. 9, the Tigers are a good bet to start as the 2012 preseason No. 1.
Matt Barkley: Probation, what probation? USC’s blond, Hollywood-ready quarterback is returning for his senior season Leinart-style. After a 10-win season during a second consecutive bowl-ban season, the Trojans will likely start 2012 in the top five and be the Pac-12 favorites.
Mike Leach: He’s baaaack and that’s good for all of us. The talk turns from lawsuits to alignments again for The Pirate who has been out of the game too long. Things are about to get real interesting in Pullman.
NCAA: The sometimes secret association opened itself up in 2011 – to media, to the public, to its members. There were countless press releases. Some of them named names of wrongdoers, calling out Cecil Newton, calling out media Also, welcoming media during a revealing Enforcement Experience in May.
What a emerged was a more accessible NCAA but one that, at times, was more interested in promoting itself than addressing the issues. That August summit was a great idea but moved too fast to the point that groundbreaking stipend and scholarship legislation was overridden. The decision to allow the Buckeye Five to play in the Sugar Bowl a year ago remains inexplicable.
Notre Dame: Weis recruited quarterbacks but couldn’t produce enough wins. So far, Brian Kelly can’t even get the quarterback thing straight. The Irish are becoming something they can never be – boring. After losing to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, ND is now 2-10 in its last 12 postseason games.
Its last two coaches have been decidedly offensive guys. Those Notre Dame offenses have, since 2005, finished 61st or worst more times (three) than they have in the top 10 (two). The 2007 unit under Weis was dead last. That’s an average of No. 46 in total offense since Weis arrived. That equates to the offensive standing of Virginia in 2011.
Before the Irish can return to national relevance, they have to become more exciting.
Offense: With bowl games still to be factored in, the offensive revolution of college football continues.
The average figures for points per game (28.3), passing yards (229.4), completions (19.2) are all on pace to finish second all-time. The current total offense mark of 392.75 is ahead of the record set in 2007, 392.64.
Penn State: The job left behind by JoePa has proved to be toxic to the coaching profession. At one point its reported top two choices – Tom Clements and Mike Munchak – had a <>total<> of four years college experience. Sixteen years ago.
SEC: You don’t have to be told again … The SEC is so dominant that the best football conference is assured of both its sixth straight title and first title game loss.
The league has used the BCS to make an unprecedented run. Voters and computers are conditioned to give the SEC champion the benefit of the doubt each season. Not saying that’s wrong, it just is. It’s sort of like the next Jay-Z album shooting to the top of the charts in preorders.
Twitter: In 2011, the Twitterverse became our universe. Use it as a tool to argue with a friend across from you on the cyber barstool or as a de facto wire service. Where were you when Bin Laden was killed and the Penn State scandal broke last year? Twitter followers and users brought us the news in real time.
Tyrann Mathieu: How does a 5-foot-9, 180-pound cornerback become the best defender in the country? Proving all the doubters wrong. Tennessee and Alabama deemed him too small to play. Les Miles to a chance on a local kid. What emerged was the best ball hawking corner since Charles Woodson.
Will Lyles: The former talent scout/mentor/Dancing With The Stars participant (Ok, kidding on that one) is the key figure in the NCAA futures of LSU, Cal and Oregon.
Lyles reportedly sang to the NCAA in August. That followed allegations that Chip Kelly’s program commissioned after-the-fact recruiting info that it had already paid $25,000 for. There is still the unsettling feeling that Oregon could be in for major sanctions in 2012.
ZZZ: What we’d like to do a little more in 2012. Somehow, we know that’s not going to be the case. Let’s hope that college athletics regains a bit of its moral and ethical compass in 2012.