Posted on: January 12, 2011 3:17 pm

What I Learned in the Pac-10: Bowl Edition

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Pac-10 goes 2-2 in its four -- yes, just four -- bowl games. Wrapping up:

1. Oregon still has to prove it can outfox teams outside the conference. For all of Chip Kelly's undeniable brilliance at the Oregon helm, the last three times the Ducks have stepped out of conference to face quality defensive opposition -- and frankly, we're being generous by even including Auburn in that discussion -- they've scored 8, 17, and 19 points (against Boise State, Ohio State, and the Tigers, respectively). Those totals are a far, far cry from the Ginsu job the Ducks have performed on the Pac-10 the past two seasons, and they beg the question: what kind of kryptonite do defensive coordinators outside the league have that those inside it don't?

To be fair, it may be a simple matter of preparation; all three of the above teams had far longer than the typical work week to watch film and prep for the Duck tempo. And the torrent of TV-dictated stoppages in bowl games didn't do anything to help Oregon's attempts to wear down the Buckeyes or Tigers from a stamina standpoint. But the root of Oregon's problems in these games doesn't have anything to do with either of those issues; it's that they've simply been destroyed at the line of scrimmage. Whether it's Boise's Ryan Winterswyk, OSU's Cameron Heyward, or now Nick Fairley, the Ducks have had no answer for the elite linemen on the other side of the ball.

No one will argue that the Duck offensive linemen aren't well-coached, athletic, quality players. They've been good enough to win two Pac-10 titles and 22 games in two years. But to take the next step and win Oregon's first national title, Kelly may have to find a way to upgrade his offensive front all the same.

2. If they can keep the staff intact, Stanford's not going anywhere. Or at least, not far. No one will argue that Jim Harbaugh wasn't the driving force behind the Cardinal's unfathomable rise to 12-1 and beyond-impressive 40-12 demolition of Virginia Tech (remember that despite their short-week loss to James Madison, the Hokies had ripped through an improved ACC without even being seriously challenged), but that doesn't mean he was the only force. Andrew Luck will return in 2011 as the hands-down, no-debate best quarterback in the nation. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has already drawn head coaching interest and has learned directly under Harbaugh the past three seasons. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio just finished overseeing the biggest single-season defensive improvement in the conference, if not the countr. And Harbaugh's recruiting prowess means the cupboard should remain well-stocked for the next few years.

2010 may be the high-water mark for the program all the same. But if both Roman and Fangio are retained -- and it seems likely they will be, if one or the other is named head coach -- don't expect much of a drop-off in the near future, even with Harbaugh in San Francisco. The team on display at the Orange Bowl was clearly constructed well enough to withstand the loss of a single pillar, even if it happened to be the biggest one.

3. Arizona doesn't really "do" that whole bowl game scene, man. The Wildcats' appeared to have taken an important step forward during the 2009 regular season, coming within one overtime loss against the Ducks of a Rose Bowl berth. But then they took a big one back with a 33-0 shellacking at the hands of Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl. This year, Mike Stoops needed a solid performance in the Alamo Bowl to wash out the taste of the 'Cats' season-ending four-game losing streak, and instead his team laid another colossal egg, meekly succumbing to Oklahoma State 36-10.

With victories or even respectable performances in those two bowls, Stoops would still have his team firmly established as one of the "up-and-comers" in the Pac-10. As is, 2011 isn't a make-or-break year for Stoops just yet ... but another iffy regular season followed by a third bowl faceplent would mean 2012 certainly would be.

4. Washington had a winning season. OK, that's not really something we "learned" as much as something that simply happened, but it's as close as we'll get since we're not sure there really was anything to learn from the Huskies' 19-7 win over Nebraska in this year's edition of the Holiday Bowl. Certainly it was a thrill for Jake Locker and the other Husky seniors to go out with a win, and after a disappointing year for coordinator Nick Holt's defense, holding the Huskers to a measly 7 points -- after giving up 56 to them in Seattle during the regular season -- will provide some optimism for next year. But with the Huskers visibly unfocused and unmotivated for a bowl game they'd played the year before against a team they'd already flattened during the regular season (and Taylor Martinez still not 100 percent), it's questionable how much an accomplishment the win really is. And with the face-of-the-program Locker departed, it's equally questionable how similar next year's Huskies will look to this year's.

So: it's a nice story for Washington. But it doesn't tells us much, if anything, about the Huskies going forward.

Posted on: January 12, 2011 11:28 am

Chris Polk returning to Washington

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Next season was going to be challenging for Steve Sarkisian and the Washington Huskies.  While the team hasn't experienced the kind of success the school was hoping for when it paired Sarkisian with Jake Locker, the Huskies at least picked up some momentum going into 2011 with a win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.  Still, momentum is nice and all, but not losing Locker to the NFL would have been better.

The good news for Washington is that even if they have to find a way to replace Locker's production, at least they're not losing their top running back as well.  Chris Polk sent out the word on Tuesday night that he'd be returning to Washington for his junior year.  Or at least his mom did.

"Of course you are going to think about it," Edrena Polk told the Seattle Times. "That's everyone's dream. We just want to make sure he is ready. ... We had a talk and weighed the options and prayed about it," and the decision was then made to stay for another season.

"Right now we feel it's best that he finish school (he should finish his degree by staying one more year) and he also loves the team and loves the coaches there," she said. "So he feels it's best that he stays."

Polk, a redshirt sophomore, had been projected as a possible second round draft pick in the NFL, so this couldn't have been an easy decision to make.  He's coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,415 yards in 2010, which is the second highest single-season total in Washington history.  You have to figure that with a draft class already stocked with running backs, Polk figured it was better to return for another season and possibly ensure himself of a higher draft position.
Posted on: December 31, 2010 9:21 am

Bowl Grades: Holiday Bowl

Posted by Chip Patterson

Washington used 268 rushing yards to wear down Nebraska and win the Holiday Bowl 19-7


Offense: Jake Locker scared Washington fans (and football fans, really) when he went down for a slide and didn't come up after taking a hit from a Nebraska defender. Many thought concussion, or possibly worse. He walked off the field, and was cleared to return, but many doubted if he would maintain his reckless running style the rest of the game. Locker set the tone of offense with his toughness as he continued to pound the ball right at the Nebraska defense. Between running back Chris Polk (177 yards, 1 TD) and Locker (83 yards rushing, 1 TD) the Washington offensive line cleared the way for both talented runners to wear down the Nebraska defense. GRADE: B+

Defense: Phenomenal. The Huskies defense absolutely flew to the ball in the open field, keeping the potent Nebraska offense from breaking the big play like they did so many times in their meeting earlier this season. Mason Foster made a name for himself, picking up 12 tackles and 2 sacks in easily one of the most impressive individual defensive efforts so far this bowl season. Without Washington's efforts on defense, the offensive opportunities would not have been set up. Credit is due to head coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Nick Holt for getting this Washington defense fired up and ready to make a statement on Thursday. GRADE: A-

Coaching: Steve Sarkisian and the Washington Huskies made a statement with their dominant victory in the rematch with Nebraska. The game was won in the trenches, with Washington dominating the offensive and defensive lines. In these bowl games, it seems that many times it comes down to who wants the win more. There was no doubt on Thursday that Sark had his boys fired up and ready to go get some revenge. GRADE: B+


Offense: With Taylor Martinez' injury/benching, Bo Pelini's conflict with the talented freshman quarterback may have hit a point of no return. After Nebraska made a very public stand regarding the involvement of Martinez' father, some began to speculate that Pelini might be driving the family away from the program. With Thursday night's unimpressive offensive outing, there will surely be some reconciling to do if Martinez plans to inherit the starting job for 2011. Martinez, along with the rest of the Nebraska rushing game, looked flat and unaggressive in comparison to the Washington defense. Some predicted that Nebraska may not "bring it" against Washington due to disinterest, and it looked like that's exactly what happened on offense. GRADE: F

Defense: One of the strongest aspects of Nebraska's defense is the secondary, and Washington chose to isolate the front seven by running the ball right at the Cornhuskers. Similar to the offensive line, the defensive line looked a step slower and a yard off the entire game. The secondary did their part, even kept Locker from completing a single pass in the first half. But when Washington moved to the running game in the second half, the clock moved and the yards were amassed. Nebraska had no answer. GRADE: C-

Coaching: I'm not blaming the offensive inefficiency on the coaching staff, but the whole team looked flat. We started to predict that Nebraska may be disinterested in the game, if for no other reason based on the off-field incidents in the weeks leading to Thursday's Holiday Bowl. Combine the off-field incidents with Pelini's conflict with the Martinez family, and I find it hard to believe that hindsight will show proper preparation for this game. GRADE: F

FINAL GRADE: The display from Nebraska was fairly disappointing, but it was good to see Jake Locker have a strong finish to his career. His decision to return for his senior year was doubted by many, and his draft stock has likely fallen from where it was a year ago. But he got to lead his team to an impressive postseason win to finish a memorable career. GRADE: B
Posted on: December 22, 2010 6:56 pm

Assistant salaries: Who's overpaid? Underpaid?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

After earlier compiling a database of all 120 FBS head coaching salaries for the recently completed 2010 season, USA Today today released a look at the salaries of the nation's assistant coaches, all 907 of which are available for comparison here . Your highest-paid assistant: Texas ex-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp at $900,000 per year. The lowest amongst coaches actually drawing a paycheck? Leon Lett -- you remember him ! -- who's being paid just $12,000 to coach defensive tackles at Louisiana-Monroe.

Inbetween on the scale are some 900 other coaches (not counting those working at private institutions whose salaries are not public information). Ignoring certain obvious choices (yes, Greg Davis was overpaid, yes, Dana Holgorsen was a bargain), looking only at 2010 results, and making allowances for coaches in their first year at a new school, here's three choices for the country's most underpaid and most overpaid assistant coaches:


Don Treadwell ($235,250), offensive coordinator, Michigan State.
Despite possessing few playmakers known to fans outside the Midwest, Treadwell guided the Spartans to a top-20 finish in yards per-play and offered his team an enivable balance with better than 2,000 yards rushing and 2,800 passing. He also took over for two games as interim head coach while Mark Dantonio dealt with a heart ailment, winning both. And he did all this for the cost of less than many SEC position coaches.

Jeff Casteel ($372,268), defensive coordinator, West Virginia. Casteel's not doing too badly for himself, salary-wise, but compared to what his fellow DCs are earning in the SEC, Big 12, etc., he's still a bargain. With virtually no nationally-recognized players and few star recruits, Casteel quietly put together the nation's third-ranked unit in total defense and third in scoring defense; the Mountaineers were the only defense in the country to allow 21 points or fewer in every game.

Tom Osborne ($220,000), special teams/tight ends coach, Oregon. Osborne put together arguably the best set of special teams units in the country, leading the Ducks to top 20 finishes in net punting and kickoff coverage, coaxing a 12-of-16 performance from his two kickers, and along with returner Cliff Harris creating the most dangerous punt return unit in the nation, one that racked up better than 18 yards per return and scored five game-changing touchdowns. The Ducks probably aren't in the national title game without him.

Honorable Mention: Manny Diaz ($260,000), defensive coordinator, Mississippi State; Pete Kwiatkowski ($259,520), defensive coordinator, Boise State; Al Borges ($205,000), offensive coordinator, San Diego State.


Norm Chow ($640,000), offensive coordinator, UCLA.
That figure includes a $250,000 retention bonus designed to keep Chow in Los Angeles, but maybe the Bruins would have been better off being spared paying the nation's eighth-highest assistant's salary for the nation's 109th-best offense.

Tyrone Nix ($500,000), defensive coordinator, Ole Miss. For Nix's salary, the Rebels could have had Gus Malzahn, who earned the exact same amount this season from Auburn. Malzahn will earn quite a bit more next year, obviously, but Nix won't after overseeing a defense that utterly collapsed in the embarrassing season-opening loss to Jacksonville State and went on to finish 105th in yards allowed per-play.

Stacy Searels ($301,200), offensive line coach, Georgia. Offensive line coaches do very well in the SEC, with several topping the $300,000 mark. If we ignore the low-hanging fruit that was Steve Addazio's season in Gainesville, none had a more disappointing season than Searels, whose Bulldog charges looked to have the makings of one of the nation's strongest ground games at the close of 2009 and entered 2010 with as much experience (and talent, arguably) as any line in the country. Instead the Dawgs finished 10th in the SEC in rushing and middle-of-the-pack in sacks allowed (despite ranking 9th in passes attempted) as Searels wound up forced to juggle his lineup late in the year. Searels has done outstanding work before and likely will again, but 2010 wasn't his best moment.

Dishonorable Mention: Chuck Long and Carl Torbush ($350,000 each), offensive and defensive coordinators, Kansas ; Nick Holt ($650,000), defensive coordinator, Washington; Greg Robinson ($277,100), defensive coordinator, Michigan.
Posted on: December 9, 2010 10:54 am
Edited on: December 9, 2010 11:00 am

Nebraska starting DT suspended for bowl game

Posted by Chip Patterson

As Bo Pelini's name gets tied to high-profile job openings (rumors which athletic director Tom Osborne was quick to squash), Nebraska still has the task of preparing for their last postseason bowl game as a Big 12 representative.  Nebraska was given no preferential treatment with their bowl bid, falling to the Holiday Bowl December 30 in San Diego.  Not only is the caliber of the game an insult to the Big 12 North division champions, but they are facing a Washington team they handily defeated 56-21 earlier this season.  Oh yeah, that game was in Seattle.  So if the focus is not completely there in Lincoln, it would not be a huge shock.

But there is a difference between lack of focus and lack of judgement.  Sophomore defensive tackle Baker Steinkhuler received a one-game suspension from Pelini for a drunk driving arrest earlier this week.  The hometown standout from Lincoln Southwest High School has started all 13 games for the Cornhuskers in 2010, and will watch the rematch with the Huskies from the sideline.  His absence may not have a difference in the outcome, but you'd hate to be left with "What If's" in the situation that Jake Locker explodes and leads Washington to the upset in his final game.      
Posted on: December 8, 2010 12:07 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2010 12:10 pm

Sugar, Sun Bowls sell out

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The economic slump has taken its toll on ticket sales and attendance figures for any number of bowls over the past couple of seasons -- no, John Q. College Football Fan does not want to spend his hard-earned cash visiting Detroit at the end of December to watch the Little Caesar's Bowl -- but that doesn't mean that with the right matchup in the right setting, fans still won't flock to their team's postseason destination.

Exhibit A: the Sugar Bowl has already sold out . It's the Sugar Bowl, sure, but getting to New Orleans from Columbus isn't the easiest of hikes, and while no one will accuse Arkansas fans of being any less fervent in their devotion to their football team than fans at their fellow SEC schools, they also simply don't have the numbers of an Alabama, Florida, or LSU. If it's taken less than 48 hours or so to sell out the Superdome, that's not bad.

But, yes, it is still the Sugar Bowl. And yes, it's the Hogs' first trip there in ages and the Buckeyes have one of the nation's largest followings. It's not bad, but it's not impressive. What might be, though, is Exhibit B: the Sun Bowl, in El Paso, Texas, has also sold out . It's even done so in record time, exhausting its ticket supply in less than 24 hours to break last year's mark by nearly nine days, and that's despite El Paso's less-than-desirable proximity to crime-ridden Juarez hampering its image as a tourist destination. (If you can't make it in person, remember that you can always watch the Sun Bowl at 2 p.m. EST Dec. 31, exclusively on ... wait for it ... CBS!)

That's what having two name-brand teams in Miami and Notre Dame set to renew the most famous and consequential rivalry of the late 1980s will get you, we suppose. (That the Irish declined to play a bowl game of any kind last season probably helps, too.) What happens if you're not pairing the 'Canes and Irish? What happens if you're pairing, say, a 6-6 Pac-10 mediocrity with a Big 12 opponent that 1. just crushed its legions of fans with a devastating championship game defeat 2. played in that same bowl game last year 3. obliterated that same Pac-10 team in that team's stadium earlier this season?

What happens is you have the Holiday Bowl and its Nebraska-Washington matchup, and you are also not going to see all that many Husker fans there :
The Nebraska athletic ticket office still has about 5,000 tickets for sale to the public, something that probably wouldn't have been the case had the Huskers made it to another bowl against another team.

"Last year we had two planes full within our first four days," [travel agent Vicki] Grieser said. "There's not the same interest, and we think it's mainly because of the opponent ... When I first heard Holiday Bowl I said, 'Oh, that's not so bad. People love San Diego.' But when it was against Washington people are thinking twice about it."
In many cases, yes, the economy will be to blame for bowl struggles. But as the Holiday is proving, there's often a lot more to it than that.

HT on Holiday story: DocSat .

Posted on: December 6, 2010 1:48 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2010 2:48 pm

Paul Wulff gets fourth year at Wazzu

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As of last week, Paul Wulff himself admitted that he didn't know whether he'd get another season at the Washington State helm any more than anyone else did. But after the Cougars fell valiantly in their Apple Cup showdown with Washington, coming back from a 28-14 deficit to tie before falling 35-28 , Wazzu athletic director Bill Moos decided he had seen enough ... to keep Wulff around!

Paul Wulff will return for his fourth year as head football coach at Washington State, something athletic director Bill Moos made clear Sunday.

Wulff and Moos met Sunday afternoon in Moos’ office ... [and] chatted about the Apple Cup.
Apparently the chat went well.

And frankly, it should have. Wulff still doesn't have much to show for his efforts in the win column, going 2-10 and just 1-8 in the Pac-10 , but the improvement from the Cougars has been dramatic nonetheless. In 2008, Wazzu lost their average league game by more than 40 points; in 2010, that number was down to fewer than 15. The Cougs had yet to win a game under Wulff against a Pac-10 team that wasn't winless or a league game on the road; this year they spanked Oregon State in Corvallis.

If that sounds like the over-glorification of a series of moral victories, at some schools it might be. But the Wazzu program was in such off-field tatters at the end of the Bill Doba tenure, and the number of top-flight coaches likely interested in the Wazzu job at this stage so few, that at this stage that improvement should have been enough.

Kudos are in order to Moos for realizing it, however belatedly that decision might have come.

HT: DocSat .

Posted on: November 30, 2010 4:09 pm

Paul Wulff may be on way out, per Paul Wulff

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

On paper, the stakes don't look all that high for this year's edition of the Apple Cup : Washington is 5-6 and a Pac-10 afterthought (again), and 2-9 Washington State is just hoping for another small step forward on the road to respectability. The Iron Bowl this is not.

But for the teams involved, this will be the biggest game of the year. The Huskies have a chance to end a bowl drought dating all the way back to 2002, an unthinkably long dry spell for a team with Washington's Pac-10 pedigree, and send seniors like Jake Locker off on a high note. The rest of the Pac-10 will have a vested interest in a Husky victory as well; of the league's three 5-6 teams aiming for bowl eligibility this weekend -- Washington, Arizona State , and Oregon State -- the Huskies have by far the easiest task with the Sun Devils facing Arizona and the Beavers the Oregon juggernaut.

But to hear Wazzu head coach Paul Wulff tell it, there still might be more on the line on the Cougar sideline, or at least for Wulff himself. As tweeted by the Seattle Times 's Bob Condotta:
Wulff, on Pac-10 conference call, says he's confident in the job he has done, but stops short of saying he knows for sure that he will be back next season. Said no question that WSU will be a bowl team next season.
Putting aside the 2011 bowl talk (which would represent a quantum leap forward for a program that's still being outscored 34-18 on average in conference play), you'd think Wazzu would be happy to keep Wulff in place. The Cougars have consistently played hard for him, have dramatically improved the past two seasons (that average conference score for Wazzu in 2008? 50-9 ), have loads of Wulff's recruits returning next season, and frankly won't have a lot of top-tier candidates beating down their doors to coach on the Palouse if Wulff is dismissed.

But Wazzu athletic director Bill Moos has declined to make any kind of assurances that Wulff will be returning. That, paired with Wulff's own lack of confidence in his job status, would seem to point the tea leaves in the direction of Wulff's firing. After all, we saw this same movie a few days ago, when Vanderbilt 's Robbie Caldwell surprised many by saying midweek that he might be coaching his last game at Vandy; sure enough, he was gone before the week was out.

The good news for Wulff? An upset victory over the Cougars' most hated rival in front of the Wazzu faithful (the very faithful, by this point) would make Moos's decision to let him go dramatically more difficult, and maybe impossible. Wulff could quite possibly still save himself, even if it's highly debatable he ought to need saving in the first place.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com