Tag:Dan Mullen
Posted on: November 30, 2011 1:46 pm
 

Dan Mullen blames Ole Miss for PSU report

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

It's no surprise that with a bowl game on tap and another recruiting class to try and nail down before next February -- assuming he's still the one trying to nail it down -- Dan Mullen wouldn't take kindly to reports and rumors that he's about to catch the next plane for the Penn State job.

And with just such a report circulating from the local TV station,  Mullen didn't take kindly to it at an appearance at the Mississippi State Sports Hall of Fame Tuesday night. He told the Clarion-Ledger that he hadn't been contacted by Penn State "or any other school," called the reports "the most irresponsible reporting that I've ever heard of," and saw his athletic director reiterate his denials of contact from Happy Valley.

But the most interesting part of Mullen's statements was who he claimed had been behind the report--namely, his in-state rivals at Ole Miss:
"I blame it on rival institutions trying to ruin our recruiting which we have dominated in this state over the past three years," Mullen said ...

Mullen was asked if he had an idea what rival school might have planted the story.

"You take it from there," he said.

Mullen has made antagonizing (and, to be fair, soundly thrashing) Ole Miss at every opportunity a cornerstone of his Mississippi State tenure, and it's no doubt won him a tremendous amount of support within the Bulldog fanbase. But blaming the Rebels -- who, despite Mullen's claims, have enjoyed the higher overall consensus recruiting rankings of late -- for media sabotage is a delicious new high even for him. 

In any case, the TV station reportedly apologized to Mullen at the Hall of Fame event. But it wasn't the only one to report that the Nittany Lions were interested in Mullen's services; ESPN and the Scranton Times both cited sources in claiming Mullen was PSU's top candidate. And Mullen has yet to categorically deny interest in the Penn State opening or state that he will be coaching Mississippi State next year.

"Every time a job comes open, doesn’t my name come up?," Mullen said earlier Tuesday. "So, you know our policy. We talk Mississippi State football. That’s all we ever talk about.” 

That's not a bad policy. But until Mullen flat-out states that he's going to be coaching in Starkville next season, he's probably got a few more reports to debunk before all is said and done.

For a full, updating team-by-team overview of 2011's coaching changes, check out (and bookmark) the Eye on CFB Coaching Carousel One-Stop Shop. And voice your opinion for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year by voting HERE. 
Posted on: November 29, 2011 6:59 pm
Edited on: February 7, 2012 6:20 pm
 

CFB Coaching Changes One-Stop Shop

Posted by the Eye on College Football bloggers

Looking for one place with all the latest on the 2011 college football coaching changes, organized by conference and job? This is that place.

ACC

NORTH CAROLINA

OUT: Butch Davis, who lasted four seasons with the Tar Heels before he was fired by Chancellor Holden Thorp July 27, just days before the opening of training camp. Davis accumulated a 64-43 record and took UNC to three bowl games, but was dismissed when the NCAA discovered rampant violations within the football program.

IN: Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora, who took home the 2011 Conference USA title with an 11-2 record and compiled a 33-19 overall mark in Hattiesburg. His Golden Eagle offense set a school record for yards in his very first game and finished in the FBS top 20 in total offense three of his four years.

WHAT WE THINK: Fedora is about to offer the Tar Heels the most exciting, high-scoring offense Chapel Hill has seen in some time; his offenses both in his coordinating tenure at Oklahoma State and at USM have been far too explosive, far too consistently, to think his acumen won't translate to the ACC. But we're not sure this is quite a smash hire, since Fedora's teams often struggled as badly on defense as they succeeded on offense and regularly suffered stunning upset losses. Was a coach carrying a three-game losing streak to UAB the best Carolina could do?

BIG 12

KANSAS

OUT: Turner Gill, after serving only two years of the five-year $10 million contract he signed before the 2010 season. Gill only won 1 game in the Big 12, and lost 10 games total by 30 or more points.

IN: In the most stunning hire of the 2011 coaching carousel so far, Charlie Weis is your new Jayhawk head man. After making his mark as the offensive coordinator of Bill Belichick's great New England Patriots teams, Weis coached Notre Dame to a 35-27 mark over five turbulent seasons between 2005 and 2009. He spent the 2011 season as Florida's offensive coordinator, to mixed reviews.

WHAT WE THINK: Contrary to popular opinion, Weis hasn't been a total failure as a collegiate coach; when given the strong-armed passers necessary to run his preferred aerial pro-style schemes, his Irish offenses were among the nation's best. The question is whether Weis can ever find such a quarterback in Lawrence, or whether he can avoid the multiple other pitfalls -- poor development of fundamentals, questionable defensive schemes, lack of a running game -- that submarined his Notre Dame tenure. It seems like a longshot, but it's hard to blame a desperate Kansas program for taking a gamble this splashy.

TEXAS A&M

Out: Mike Sherman, who was fired following his fourth season with the Aggies, going 25-25 in his time at the school. He was done in by failed expectations after the Aggies began the season ranked in the top ten thanks to 19 returning starters on a team that finished the 2010 season strong.

IN: Houston's Kevin Sumlin began the Aggies' search as their No. 1 candidate, and he finished it as their No. 1 candidate. Sumlin's four years at the Cougar helm produced a 35-17 record and were arguably the best four-year stretch in school history, as UH won its first bowl game since 1980 and only missed the postseason once (that when Case Keenum went down with injury).

WHAT WE THINK: Sumlin has overseen explosive "Air Raid"-style offenses at every step of his career (including stops at A&M and Oklahoma before moving to Houston with then-head coach Art Briles). With coordinator Kliff Kingsbury in tow and loads of offensive talent in College Station, expect that to continue. But it'll take more than a great offense to win in the SEC, and Sumlin never got enough done on defense to even win a Conference USA title. The jury remains out on his potential at the SEC level.

BIG TEN

ILLINOIS

OUT: Ron Zook, who survived for seven years before a 6-game losing streak wiped out a 6-game winning streak in 2011 and led to his dismissal on November 28. Zook leaves with a 34-50 (18-38) record at Illinois, and a 57-64 overall head coaching record.

IN: Toledo head coach Tim Beckman has agreed to be the Illini's next head coach. After a successful string of assistant's jobs (including stops at Oklahoma State and Ohio State), Beckman took over a flailing Rocket program and took them to winning seasons and bowl berths in both 2010 and 2011.

WHAT WE THINK: There's no doubting the impressive work Beckman did at Toledo, where the formerly sad-sack Rockets were a handful of plays from winning 10 or even 11 games this season. (Of their four losses, three came by a total of 11 points.) His spread scheme -- and its reliance on a dual-threat QB -- seems a good fit for the Illini's personnel, too. But the porous Rocket defense was a disappointment, and how he'll recruit in Champaign is anyone's guess; this looks like a solid double than a home run. 

PENN STATE

OUT: Joe Paterno, after 46 years at the head of the Penn State program and over 60 years involved with the Nittany Lions in some respect. Paterno was fired in the wake of a scandal concerning the coverup of child sexual assault charges against former longtime PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

IN: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien is expected to be hired by Penn State by the weekend, though he will remain the Patriots' OC until the end of their playoff run. 

WHAT WE THINK: The PSU search was doomed from the start by the circumstances surrounding the Sandusky scandal, up to and including the fact that the school does not have a permanent athletic director serving at this point. O'Brien is young and talented, but this may be a coaching task with odds too long for anyone that might want the job.

OHIO STATE

OUT: Jim Tressel, who was forced to resign after it was revealed he withheld knowledge of a widespread pattern of impermissible benefits going to his football players. Tressel had been with Ohio State for 10 years, going for a 94-22 record (106-22 before 12 wins from 2010 were vacated) and three BCS Championship Game appearances in that span. 

IN AND OUT: Luke Fickell, who had been the defensive line coach and Jim Tressel's assistant head coach, assumed the role of head coach for the football team in 2010 after Tressel's departure. Fickell was often erroneously referred to as the interim head coach; the "interim" tag was taken off his job title before the season started. Fickell guided the Buckeyes to a 6-6 record in 2011, including a 33-29 victory over highly-ranked Wisconsin, all while breaking in talented QB Braxton Miller as a true freshman.

IN: Urban Meyer, announced as the next head coach of Ohio State at a Monday press conference. Fickell will coach the team through whichever bowl game it attends, while Meyer will be focused on recruiting and building his next coaching staff. After the bowl, Meyer will assume the head coaching role while Fickell will join Meyer's staff in an as yet undetermined role. This is Meyer's first coaching gig since he resigned from Florida in December 2010, citing health concerns.

WHAT WE THINK: Concerns over his health and potential longevity in the job notwithstanding, any hire that brings aboard a coach who won two national titles in just six years at his last stop certainly meets the definition of a "home run." 

PAC-12

UCLA

OUT: Rick Neuheisel, forced out after four years at his alma mater, during which he compiled a 21-28 record. Neuheisel went 0-4 vs. archrivals USC, losing by a combined score of 134-28.
IN:
Former Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawk head coach Jim L. Mora, the first Bruin head coach since 1949 to take the job without having been a former UCLA assistant or player. More spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons as an NFL Network analyst after compiling a 32-34 record with the Falcons and Seahawks.

WHAT WE THINK: Well, hiring a failed-but-energetic former NFL coach worked for the Bruins' crosstown rivals, didn't it? But Pete Carroll is the rare exception among a long string of pro coaches turned mediocre college head men, and Mora's total lack of experience in the amateur ranks -- his only season of college coaching came a grad assistant at Washington in 1984 -- doesn't seem to suggest he's going to buck the trend. But his charisma and NFL experience should make him a decent recruiter in the L.A. area; can he translate that to on-field success?
 

ARIZONA STATE

OUT: Dennis Erickson, fired following a loss to Cal that dropped the pre-season Pac-12 South favorites to 6-6. He went 31-30 five years at Arizona State with only one winning conference record.

IN: In a shocker, Pitt head coach Todd Graham, who left the Panthers for Tempe Dec. 14 after one 6-6 season. Before arriving in Pittsburgh, Graham spent four seasons as the head coach at Tulsa, going 36-17 and winning three divisional Conference USA titles. The Devils job will be Graham's fourth in six seasons.

WHAT WE THINK: We know the Sun Devils had to be getting desperate; we know Graham's up-tempo offense should both fit in well in the Pac-12 and -- if successful -- help sell a few tickets; we know Graham still has those outstanding years at Tulsa on his resume. But scrape that away and you're left with ASU firing Erickson for going a disappointing 6-6 only to hire a coach who also went a disappointing 6-6, and this coach now comes with a dyed-in-the-wool reputation for job-hopping and back-stabbing. How was this a better choice than June Jones, again?

ARIZONA

OUT: Mike Stoops, fired Oct. 10, following a loss to previously winless Oregon State on the road. He left with a 41-50 record in eight seasons with the Wildcats.

IN: Rich Rodriguez, former Michigan and West Virginia head coach and CBS Sports analyst. Hired November 21, he compiled a 75-48 record at his previous two coaching stops and took the Mountaineers to two BCS bowls.

WHAT WE THINK: AD Greg Byrne took his time with the coaching search after dismissing Stoops but was able to zero in on RichRod after talking to several people in the college football world and local high school coaches. He brings a fast-paced, spread offense to a league full of them and should fit right in the Pac-12 despite his lack of West Coast ties. With facilities being upgraded and an engaging personality at head coach, the future is looking bright in Tuscon--if Rodriguez can hire a top-notch defensive coordinator.

WASHINGTON STATE

OUT: Paul Wulff,
dimissed Nov. 29 after posting the lowest win percentage of any coach in Cougar history at just 9-40 overall. Wulff failed to win more than two Pac-12 games in any of his four seasons.

IN: Mike Leach, who CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman reported accepted the job Wednesday. Leach brings an 84-43 record from 10 years spent as the head coach at Texas Tech, a decade which saw him produce some of the game's most explosive offenses (and porous defenses), earned him recognition as one of college football's brightest, most unique offensive minds, and garnered national coach of the year honors after his 11-1 season in 2008.

WHAT WE THINK: We're sympathetic for Wulff, who took over a smoldering asteroid crater of a program and little-by-little hauled it back to semi-respectability. But hiring Leach is a massive coup for athletic director Bill Moos, one that brings instant credibility to the program and should spark a huge renewal of energy in the Wazzu fanbase. Given how many other programs would have loved to have brought the pirate captain aboard, this is a smashing win for Moos and the Cougars.

SEC

OLE MISS

OUT: Houston Nutt, fired Nov. 7 after 2-6 overall and 0-6 SEC start. Lost final 14 SEC games and 16 of final 19 overall of four-year tenure.

IN: Per CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman, Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze has been offered and accepted the job. A former Rebel assistant under Ed Orgeron, Freeze took over as the Red Wolves' offensive coordinator in 2010 and was promoted to head coach in 2011, after which he led ASU to its first-ever Sun Belt championship and a 10-2 record.

WHAT WE THINK: Freeze was always the most natural fit for the job, a former Memphis high school coach who knows both the Rebel program and its local recruiting grounds inside and out. The dramatic improvement in the Red Wolves' offense on his watch suggests that the Rebels' most recent season of offensive misery should be behind them, too. So a quick return to respectability should be in order, but there's one question: can Freeze put together an SEC-caliber defense? 

BIG EAST

PITT

OUT:
Todd Graham, who accepted the Arizona State head coaching position Dec. 14, following one 6-6 season at the Panther helm.

IN: It's done: Pitt has hired Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Chryst has been one of the nation's hottest assistant coaches after guiding a Badger team with a grind-it-out reputation to back-to-back national top-5 finishes in scoring offense in 2010 and 2011. Chryst has no head coaching experience but has spent the last eight seasons as an OC at Oregon State and Wisconsin.

WHAT WE THINK: For all of Steve Pederson's past failures on the head coaching hiring front, this one looks like the furthest thing from a Steve Callahan or, well, Todd Graham. Chryst's offenses have always been supremely well-coached, rock-solid in their identity as a run-first-run-second attack, and hyper-efficient in the passing game. While finding the Badgers' caliber of offensive linemen won't be easy, Chryst should be able to unearth a Scott Tolzien or Nick Toon at Pitt without much trouble. If Chryst learned anything from Bret Bielema about hiring the right defensive staff, Graham's bolt job should leave Pitt better off in the end.

RUTGERS

OUT:
In arguably the biggest shocker on this list -- given its timing, a week before signing day -- Greg Schiano has left to take the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coaching position. Schiano leaves with a 68-67 record over 11 years with the Scarlet Knights and five straight bowl wins, a remarkable accomplishment given the program's downtrodden status when Schiano arrived.

IN: Kyle Flood, the Scarlet Knights' offensive line coach since 2005. Since Flood's arrival, Rutgers has endured just one losing season as his lines have consistently ranked among the best in the Big East.

WHAT WE THINK: Flood appears to be a natural leader -- the school wasted no time in naming him the interim coach following Schiano's departure -- and the connection he enjoys with his players is obvious both in their reaction to his hire and the team's late surge on the recruiting trail. But Flood is, to date, also a career assistant who hadn't even reached the coordinating level yet. Rutgers had few options given the circumstances and Flood was likely the best of those, but the jury is as badly out as it is for any of the season's new hires.

NON-BCS

AKRON

OUT: Rob Ianello, fired Nov. 27 (on the way to his mother's funeral, no less) after consecutive 1-11 seasons. Only 2011 win came over FCS VMI.

IN: None other than Terry Bowden, making his long-awaited return to Division I football after a 13-year absence. Bowden comes to Akron from North Alabama, where he led the D-II Lions to three straight playoff appearances, but is best known for his six-year tenure at Auburn, where he went 47-17-1 with one undefeated season.

WHAT WE THINK: Considering the depths to which the Zips sunk under Ianello -- they stand alone as the only FBS team to record one total win over FBS competition over the past two seasons -- they could have done a lot worse than Bowden, who brings instant name recognition and credibility (and a fine track record of program-resuscitation to boot). But Bowden's ties to the Midwest recruiting scene are tenuous at best, and he's been out of the FBS game a long time; former Zip assistant and current Wayne State head coach Paul Winters would have been the safer choice, even if Bowden may yet prove to be the better one. 

FLORIDA ATLANTIC

OUT: program patriarch and coaching legend Howard Schnellenberger, who announced his retirement in August after 11 seasons in Boca Raton. He is the only head coach in the Owls' brief football history.

IN: Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini will be the Owls' next head coach, as CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy reported Dec. 1. Pelini has no college head coaching experience but has overseen some of the nation's best defenses during his Lincoln tenure and -- based on his energetic sideline presence -- should have no lack of enthusiasm for the job.

WHAT WE THINK:  For a program with as little tradition and recent success as the Owls, hiring a nationally recognized name like Pelini is quite the coup. Pelini has been his brother Bo Pelini's right-hand man ever since Bo took over the Huskers and Carl should have little problem transitioning to the head coaching ranks. The lone issue: defense hasn't been the Owls' primary issue the past two (awful) seasons, and Pelini's almost exclusively a defensive coach. A solid offensive coordinating hire is a must.

MEMPHIS

OUT: Larry Porter, fired Nov. 27 after a 3-21 record over two seasons, 10 of those 21 losses coming by 35 or more points.

IN: Justin Fuente, co-offensive coordinator at TCU since 2009. The Frogs set school records in yards and points each of his first two seasons as play-caller, including the undefeated 2010 campaign, and have finished in the FBS top 12 in yards per-play all three years.

WHAT WE THINK: For being a program as downtrodden as Memphis, the Tigers' final two of Fuente and Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain was impressive in and of itself, with Fuente bringing the gaudier offensive resume and McElwain the bigger name-brand. Fuente's offensive track record and youthful energy should get Memphis out of the C-USA cellar at the minimum, but whether he'll recruit or defend well enough to do more remains to be seen.

NEW MEXICO

OUT: Mike Locksley, fired Sept. 25, a day after a recruit was arrested and charged with DWI while driving a car registered to Locksley. He left with a 2-26 record at the Lobos' helm.

IN: Bob Davie, former Notre Dame head coach and longtime ESPN analyst. Hired November 16, Davie hasn't coached since 2001 but went 35-25 in his five years in South Bend.

WHAT WE THINK: The marriage of a program that desperately needs a burst of energy/enthusiasm and a 57 year-old coach who hasn't been on a sideline in a decade is an odd one. But Davie didn't rise to the Irish head coaching position by being an idiot, and his name recognition and classiness should bring some dignity back to a program stinging from a long string of embarrassments under Locksley. Could the Lobos really have done much better?

TULANE

OUT: Bob Toledo, who "mutually agreed" to resign Oct. 15 after four and a half years at the Green Wave helm, during which he compiled a 15-40 record.

IN: New Orleans Saints receivers coach Curtis Johnson is the choice. A New Orleans native and local high school graduate, Johnson has spent five seasons with the Saints after nine as a receivers coach at Miami, tutoring the likes of Reggie Wayne and Andre Johnson.

WHAT WE THINK:
It's hard to imagine a candidate with closer ties to the New Orleans community or one with more immediate credibility on the local recruiting trail, and Johnson's Saints colleagues (including Sean Payton) have said he's ready for a head coaching position. But the track record of NFL assistants turned college head coaches who haven't had so much as a coordinator's job have a spotty track record, at best. Johnson could be the Green Wave's Doug Marrone ... or its Tim Brewster.

UAB

OUT: Neil Callaway, who "resigned" Nov. 27 after his first head coaching job produced an 18-42 record over five seasons.

IN: Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee is the choice after helping guide the Razorback offense to top-two finishes in the SEC in back-to-back seasons (not to mention a pair of 10-2 records). McGee is a finalist for this year's Broyles Award and enjoyed two productive years as the OC at Northwestern before joining Bobby Petrino's Razorback staff. 

WHAT WE THINK: Corralling an experienced, highly respected SEC-level coordinator is quite an accomplishment for a program with as little track record of success as UAB's--not to mention their major issues in facilities quality and fan support. We don't know if McGee will succeed or not (though the Blazers shouldn't lack for offense), but he's going to give the Blazers as much of a chance as any candidate in their pool. 

COLORADO STATE

OUT:
Per CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy, Steve Fairchild, who coached the Rams for four seasons but couldn't finish any better than 3-9 in any of his final three. After starting 3-1 this season, the Rams dropped their final eight, including a third straight "Border War" loss to Wyoming. 

IN:
Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who has overseen offensive improvement relative to the SEC all four of his seasons in Tuscalooa after one equally promising season as a play-caller at Fresno State. McElwain has never been a collegiate head coach.

WHAT WE THINK: McElwain's schemes aren't revolutionary and may not be quite as effective without Crimson Tide-type personnel, but that still shouldn't overshadow what he accomplished for Nick Saban--back-to-back years in the top 10 in yards per-play and three straight in the top 21 in scoring offense. Coordinators that do those those sorts of things for national championship-caliber squads typically go to much larger jobs than this one, making this a legitimate coup for the Rams.

FRESNO STATE

OUT: Pat Hill,
the dean of WAC coaches whose all-comers scheduling philosophy and BCS-level upsets arguably put Fresno football on the map. He leaves with a 112-80 overall record and 11 bowl appearances, but zero outright conference titles and a 4-9 record this season.

IN: Tim DeRuyter, current Texas A&M interim head coach and Aggie defensive coordinator, who officially took the job Dec. 14. After helping turning around previous defenses at stops like Ohio and Air Force, the California native spent two years taking the Aggies from 90th nationally in yards allowed per-play to back-to-back top-25 finishes in that statistic.

WHAT WE THINK: Though DeRuyter has often been mentioned as a bright up-and-coming coordinator since landing in College Station, he might still be underrated; A&M's up-tempo offense and the Big 12's regular shootouts have kept his total defense and scoring numbers artificially low. We like DeRuyter's first-time-head-coach energy and Cali connections as well as his 3-4 schemes, too; given Fresno's budget crunch, it's hard to imagine them having done any better than this.

HAWAII


OUT: Greg McMackin. The head coach since 2008, McMackin announced his retirement on Monday after four seasons in which his teams went 29-25 and made two bowl appearances. The team went 6-7 in 2011.

IN: Norm Chow, the Hawaii native who earned a deserved reputation as one of the college game's brightest offensive minds through years of helming devastating attacks at BYU and then USC. This is the 65-year-old's first college head coaching position.

WHAT WE THINK: If this was still 2003 or 2004, the Warriors would have just made one of the biggest, best hires of the season. But Chow's star has dimmed of late, with his UCLA tenure a total bust and Utah not seeing much in the way of results this season, either (110th in total offense). Still, Chow's certainly no dummy when it comes to offensive scheming, and in full command of his own offense at a place that's always enjoyed plenty of aerial success, the Warriors should still put up plenty of points. Chow's legendary status on the islands won't hurt recruiting, either. But at his age, how long can Chow handle the pressures of the job?

ARKANSAS STATE

OUT: The aformentioned Hugh Freeze, who took the Ole Miss head coaching position after one spectacular 10-2 season in Jonesboro, the only 10-win campaign in Sun Belt conference history.

IN: Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn agreed to become the Red Wolves' new head coach Dec. 13, following a spectacular run as an assistant at Tulsa and then on the Plains that saw him turn the Golden Hurricane into the nation's No. 1 offense two years running and the Tigers into Heisman-winning national champions.

WHAT WE THINK: While the Auburn faithful are left wondering why Malzahn turned down a far more lucrative offer to coach Vanderbilt in 2010 only to bolt for a traditional Sun Belt also-ran in 2011, there's no question marks on ASU's end: they landed a native Arkansan who just-so-happens to be one of college football's brightest minds and hottest assistants, all for a salary reported to be nearly four times less than what Vandy would have paid him. It's not just a home run, it's a walk-off grand slam.

SOUTHERN MISS 

OUT: Larry Fedora, who (as you know if you read the first entry on this list) accepted the headcoaching position at North Carolina.

IN: Ellis Johnson, the just-turned-60-years-old defensive coordinator of South Carolina, named head coach Dec. 20. A former USM DC himself, Johnson has 29 years of coaching experience, including head coaching stints at Gardner-Webb and his alma mater the Citadel. 

WHAT WE THINK: With his experience recruiting in the state of Mississippi (Johnson also had a successful stint under Sylvester Croom at Mississippi State) and long track record of outstanding defenses, Johnson should fix the Eagles' persistent defensive woes sooner rather than later. But Johnson's earlier head coaching gigs were less than successful, his ideas about offense seem an oil-and-water mix with USM's established spread attack, and at his age there are inevitable questions about how much energy he'll bring to the position. A solid-but-not-spectacular hire.

TOLEDO

OUT: Tim Beckman, who has accepted the Illinois job after three outstanding seasons with the Rockets.

IN: Rocket offensive coordinator Matt Campbell has been promoted to the full head coaching position after guiding the Toledo offense to two top-15 finishes in total offense the past three years. At 32 years of age, Campbell replaces Fuente as the youngest FBS head coach.

WHAT WE THINK: Campbell had the trust and support of the Rocket players and fellow coaches, an insider's knowledge of both the program and (as an Ohio native) its recruiting grounds, all the offensive production you could want from an offensive-minded coach, and all the enthusiasm you'd expect from a 32-year-old on his first head coaching gig. The Rockets still have to repair some defensive issues to get over the hump and deliver a MAC title, but promoting Campbell looks like a no-brainer from here. 

HOUSTON

OUT: After four outstanding seasons, Kevin Sumlin, now the head coach at nearby Texas A&M.

IN: Popular associate head coach/inside receivers coach Tony Levine, promoted Dec. 21 after a brief spell as the Cougars' interim coach. Levine is in his fourth season in Houston and has also spent time as an assistant at Louisville and with the Carolina Panthers. 

WHAT WE THINK:
If it ain't broke, why fix it? Promoting Kevin Sumlin from the Cougar assistant ranks to old boss Art Briles's job worked like a charm last time Houston needed a head coach, so you can hardly fault the Cougar brass for going the same route again. Still, Levine hasn't held any title anywhere above the level of position coach; if he can't keep current UH offensive coordinator Jason Phillips in the fold, he may run into trouble.
Category: NCAAF
Tags: Akron, Alabama, Arizona, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Bill Moos, Bob Davie, Bob Toledo, Boise State, Braxton Miller, Butch Davis, Butch Jones, Cal, Charlie Strong, Chicago Bears, Chris Hatcher, Chris Petersen, Cincinnati, Clemson, Coaching Carousel, Coaching Changes, Colorado State, Curtis Johnson, Dan Guerrero, Dan Mullen, Dennis Erickson, Doug Nussmaier, Eddie Gran, Everett Withers, FAU, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida State, Frank Wilson, Fresno State, Georgia Southern, Greg Byrne, Greg Schiano, Gus Malzahn, Holden Thorp, Houston, Houston Nutt, Howard Schnellenberger, Hugh Freeze, Illinois, Jason Phillips, Jeff Monken, Jerry Sandusky, Jim Leavitt, Jim McElwain, Jim McElwain, Jim Michalczik, Jim Tressel, Joe Paterno, John L. Smith, John Neal, Kansas, Kevin Sumlin, Kirby Smart, Lance Thompson, Larry Fedora, Larry Porter, Louisville, LSU, Luke Fickell, Luke Fickell, Mark Hudspeth, Mark Stoops, Memphis, Miami, Miami (Ohio), Michigan, Michigan State, Mike Bellotti, Mike Haywood, Mike Leach, Mike Locksley, Mike London, Mike Martz, Mike Sherman, Mike Stoops, Mike Stoops, Mike Thomas, Mississippi State, Mountain West, Murray State, Neil Callaway, New Mexico, New Orleans Saints, Nick Saban, North Alabama, North Carolina, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Oakland Raiders, Ohio State, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Oregon State, Pat Fitzgerald, Pat Hill, Pat Narduzzi, Paul Winters, Paul Wulff, Penn State, Pitt, Randy Shannon, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Neuheisel, Rob Ianello, Ron Zook, Sheahon Zenger, Skip Holtz, South Florida, Southern Miss, Syeve Fairchild, Tennessee, Terry Bowden, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Tim Beckman, Todd Monken, Toledo, Tom Bradley, Tom Cable, Tommy Bowden, Tulane, Turner Gill, UAB, UCLA, UL-Lafayette, Urban Meyer, USC, Virginia, VMI, WAC, Washington State, Wayne State, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
 
Posted on: November 19, 2011 7:09 pm
Edited on: November 19, 2011 7:09 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Arkansas 44 Mississippi State 17

Posted by Tom Fornelli

ARKANSAS WINS. For the first 30 minutes of this contest it looked as though we might have a game. While Mississippi State's offense was struggling to move the ball, its defense had forced a turnover and blocked a field goal to keep the Bulldogs in the game. Unfortunately for Dan Mullen and his team, then the second half started. The Razorbacks outscored the Bulldogs 20-7 in the second half, with the lone Mississippi State touchdown coming in the final seconds. 

The game was over long before that however, as Arkansas had 540 yards of total offense on the day compared to Mississippi State's 210. Tyler Wilson finished the afternoon with 365 yards through the air and 3 touchdowns. Chris Gragg and Jarius Wright were his favorite targets, as the duo combined for 16 receptions and 215 yards. Mississippi State's offensive "leader" was Dylan Favre, who finished with 80 total yards and 2 touchdowns on the day.

WHY ARKANSAS WON. Just way too much offense for Mississippi State to handle. If the Bulldogs were going to have a chance in this game than it needed the game of its life from the defense, and though the defense played well, the Arkansas offense had just too much firepower to be held in check for a full 60 minutes.

WHEN ARKANSAS WON. When the Razorbacks put together a long 12-play 78-yard drive on their first possession of the second half to make the score 31-10, it was hard to imagine that the Mississippi State offense was going to be able to muster 21 points to get the Bulldogs back into this one.

WHAT ARKANSAS WON. Arkansas remains a darkhorse candidate to get to the national championship game, but by winning on Saturday it keeps the dream alive. Of course, considering that Arkansas lost to Alabama earlier this season, you'd think that the Hogs would need another Alabama loss to climb over the Tide in the BCS standings. Still, if Arkansas can manage to knock off LSU next week and then win the SEC title, it'll end up in a BCS bowl at the very least. Also, Bobby Petrino's team has now won ten games for the second straight season.

WHAT MISSISSIPPI STATE LOST. There are two trends that continued on Saturday with Mississippi State. First, the Bulldogs still haven't won a game against Arkansas in Little Rock, and second, Dan Mullen is still looking for his first win over an SEC West opponent that isn't Ole Miss. More importantly, this loss knocks State to 5-6 on the season meaning that the Bulldogs have to beat Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl to go bowling this season.
Posted on: November 18, 2011 4:26 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 12

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.

It's a bit of a low-carb diet this week thanks to most of the SEC deciding to take the week off and test itself against stalwarts like Georgia Southern and Furman, but that doesn't mean there aren't games out there worthy of your time. Besides, let's be honest with ourselves. We didn't really want to say anything to you about it, but you've been gorging on some great games the last few months and you're starting to get a bit pudgy around the edges.

You could use some lighter fare this weekend.

BREAKFAST

#18 Michigan vs. #16 Nebraska - ESPN 12pm ET

Michigan State may have the Legends division title all but sewn up, but if there's an at-large BCS bid to be had, it'll probably come from the winner of this game. As for reasons to watch instead of just care, come on. It's Denard Robinson. It's Rex Burkhead. There'll be some highlight plays in this one. - Adam Jacobi

Illinois vs. #17 Wisconsin - ESPN2 12pm ET

It's probably no exaggeration to say that Ron Zook's job at Illinois is on the line in this game; Zook, now the second-most tenured coach in the Big Ten, has seen his team drop four straight games and look listless in the process. Montee Ball would be happy to contribute a touchdown or five to Zook's going-away party, but can Illinois' stout defense save the day -- and the coach? - AJ

Rutgers vs. Cincinnati - ESPNU 12pm ET

After only winning one conference game in 2010 (Greg Schiano's worst conference record since 2004) and finishing dead last, the Scarlet Knights are in the hunt for BCS bowl bid.  The Bearcats have lost starting quarterback Zach Collaros for the season to an ankle injury, and now sophomore Munchie Legaux will face a the best defense in the conference to try and bounce back from their first league loss.  Cincinnati still holds one game on the rest of the conference, and can win the title outright if they win out.  Rutgers needs to win out as well, but also get some help to win the tie-breaker. The Big East slate is thin this weekend, but there will be enough on the line to expect the best effort from both teams. - Chip Patterson

#14 Georgia vs. Kentucky - SEC Network 12:21pm ET

There's one reason to tune into this game and one reason alone: to see how the Bulldogs react to winning the SEC East for the first time since 2005. As a competitive contest, well, one of these teams defeated Auburn by 38 points last week, while the other lost by 30 to Vanderbilt. Still, it's not every day you get to see how Mark Richt reacts to a Gatorade shower. - Jerry Hinnen

LUNCH

#6 Arkansas vs. Mississippi State - CBS 3:30pm ET

Dan Mullen's Bulldogs gave Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks fits last season, taking the eventual Sugar Bowl representatives into overtime. Could they do the same this year, with a potential SEC West title still on the line for the Hogs and the game in Little Rock? A somnabulant offense says "probably not", but in corner Johnathan Banks and tackle Fletcher Cox, the Bulldogs do have the defensive weapons to at least slow down Tyler Wilson and Co. - JH

Ohio State vs. #21 Penn State - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

For the multitudes of distractions facing Penn State, it still has two tough games to play, and it still has a division lead to protect. The Nittany Lions' first step is taking on an up-and-down Ohio State team that's going to try to wear down the PSU defense with its troika of tailbacks and dual-threat (if you can call his arm a threat) QB Braxton Miller. This'll be a classic Big Ten game, with pads a-popping, defenses a-stifling, and running backs a-barreling for four quarters. - AJ

N.C. State vs. #7 Clemson - ABC/ESPN 3:30pm ET

This all be the ultimate test of focus for Dabo Swinney's young squad.  The Tigers set goals to win the division, state championship, and ACC Championship.  With the division clinched and South Carolina waiting next week, Clemson could lose to the Wolfpack and still accomplish their goals.  NC State needs to beat Clemson and Maryland in order to be bowl eligible for the second straight season.  The Tigers have an outside shot to still make a BCS bowl game if they lose in the ACC Championship, but even those long odds would be erased with a loss on Saturday.  Both teams are explosive and capable of scoring quickly, so expect the unexpected in this ACC battle. - CP

Missouri vs. Texas Tech - ABC 3:30pm ET

A bit of a last stand for Texas Tech, which has lost five of its last six games after starting the season 4-0. The Red Raiders still need one more win to become bowl eligible, and it won't be easy to get there. Missouri is a team that's proven it's capable of beating anybody in the Big 12 on any given Saturday, though you do have to wonder how this team will perform on its Senior Day without Gary Pinkel who is serving a suspension for a DWI arrest earlier this week. - Tom Fornelli

DINNER

#25 Florida State vs. Virginia - ESPN2 7:30pm ET

The Seminoles are on a five-game game winning streak since EJ Manuel returned to the starting lineup, averaging over 35 points per game.  But the "turnaround" from the early season setbacks has been not only the result of improved play from Florida State, but also the advantage of facing much more favorable competition.  Four the teams in the streak have defenses ranked in the bottom half of the ACC, and other game was the 34-0 shutout of NC State at home.  Virginia's defense ranks third in the ACC, and the Cavaliers are arguably just as hot winning five of their last six.  Mike London's new power rushing attack has helped the team reach bowl eligibility in just his second year, but Saturday will be a true test of how "legit" this ACC Coastal contender is heading into the postseason. - CP

#4 Oregon vs. USC - ABC 8pm ET

Like offense? This game is for you. The Ducks are well on their way to another conference title and can clinch hosting the first ever Pac-12 Championship game with a win. The Trojans have designs on an upset however and it's not out of the realm of possibilities with Matt Barkley and Robert Woods on the field. - Bryan Fischer

#22 Baylor vs. #5 Oklahoma - ABC 8pm ET

So far this season Baylor has lived on beating the lower-tiered teams of the Big 12 and struggling against the conference's best. This is the Bears last chance at a marquee victory in 2011, and it's probably catching Oklahoma at the best possible time. The Sooners have lost Dominique Whaley and Ryan Broyles to knee injuries the last couple of weeks, and while there's never a good time to suffer such blows on offense, it hurts a bit more when you have to go head-to-head with Baylor's offense. There could be a big upset brewing in Waco. - TF

#23 Texas vs. #13 Kansas State - FX 8pm ET

Here's something you might not know: Kansas State has beaten Texas the last three times the schools have met, with Texas' last victory over the Wildcats coming in 2003. It's a losing streak that the Longhorns would really like to put an end to, though it won't be easy against a Kansas State offense built around Collin Klein. This should be a pretty interesting matchup boasting the Big 12's best run defense and its best running quarterback/battering ram. - TF

LATE NIGHT SNACK

#9 Stanford vs. Cal - ESPN 10:15pm ET

The band won't be on the field for this one (well, they will, but at halftime not on the final play) but the Big Game will still have plenty of memorable moments when you consider that Andrew Luck is playing and looking to make up for last week's loss. - BF 
Posted on: November 17, 2011 4:11 pm
 

Man vs. Woman vs. Machine: Week 12



Posted by Tom Fornelli


Man vs. Woman vs. Machine is a feature that runs every Thursday afternoon. It is here that Tom Fornelli fights against the rising tide of female empowerment and technology to ensure that men everywhere can at least claim that college football is still theirs. He does this by picking a set of games against the spread against his girlfriend, Lynn, and his Playstation 3.

I was able to make up some ground against Woman last week, though not nearly as much as I had hoped to as we're approaching the finish line here and I don't have a lot of time. Unfortunately, this week I won't gain any ground at all. It took 12 weeks for it to happen, but for the first time, Woman and Man have the same picks in all 10 games this week. 

Is it a coincidence? Probably, as we both hand over our picks to each other at the same time to assure there's no foul play. Still, is there a chance that she infiltrated my mind using female powers in an attempt to extract my picks and make sure she made the same ones so I couldn't pick up any games on her? I'm not ruling it out. Science is yet to scratch the surface of women's intuition, so we can't be sure what their full powers are.

What this means is that this will be the week that Machine either gets all the way back into the game or falls out of the race, as it does not agree with us on a few games. So without further ado, let's get to the picks.

Virginia Tech (-10 1/2) vs. North Carolina - Thursday, 8pm (All times Eastern)

Man - I'm not sure how North Carolina went from scoring 49 points and beating Wake Forest to being shut out by N.C. State, but that's not the kind of thing that makes me want to put any faith in the Tar Heels. So even though I'm not completely sold on the Hokies yet, I'm still going with Tech. Pick: Virginia Tech

Woman - "The Hokies beat Georgia Tech by 11 points on the road last week, so I don't think the Tar Heels will pose much of a problem at home." Pick: Virginia Tech

Machine - The Machine makes this one a clean sweep as it doesn't see the Tar Heels doing all that much to make this one interesting late, as the Hokies win 31-16. Pick: Virginia Tech

Michigan (-3 1/2) vs. Nebraska - Saturday, 12pm

Man - This is an incredibly important game for both teams and their chances to play in the first Big Ten Championship, and though at times Michigan does some things on offense that make me shake my head, I'm going to go with the homefield advantage in this one. Though it'll be fun to see Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez facing off to see who can miss their receivers by more. Pick: Michigan

Woman - "In an alternate Star Trekian universe, did you know the Cornhusker receivers morph into a Taiwanese father?" Pick: Michigan

Machine - The Machine foretells of Michigan falling out of the Big Ten Legends race when the Cornhuskers come to Ann Arbor and beat the Wolverines 27-24. Pick: Nebraska

Illinois vs. Wisconsin (-14 1/2) - Saturday, 12pm

Man - Let's see, an Illinois team in a free fall that will probably hear news of their head coach being fired soon, or a Wisconsin team that's lost on two Hail Marys and has dominated just about everybody else. Such a tough decision! Pick: Wisconsin

Woman - "Three weeks ago, Illinois lost to Purdue 21-14. One week later, Wisconsin beat Purdue 62-17. Maybe the Badgers will get Zook'ed but I doubt it." Pick: Wisconsin

Machine - The Machine thinks that this game will be closer than most expect given what we've seen from Illinois over the last month, but Wisconsin still prevails 37-28. Pick: Illinois

N.C. State vs. Clemson (-7 1/2) - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Honestly, if there was ever going to be a game that Clemson goes all Clemson on us and pees down its own leg, this would be it, wouldn't it? Still, I don't think that's going to happen as there's just way too much talent on this team. Pick: Clemson

Woman - "With the ACC Atlantic Division clinched and a match-up against rival South Carolina looming, many assume Clemson won't be focused. But coach Dabo Swinney will remind his team its pride is at stake, especially since N.C. State played a better game against Georgia Tech than the Tigers did." Pick: Clemson

Machine - The Wolfpack is going to get blown out in Raleigh this week, as The Machine sees Clemson winning this game 41-17. Pick: Clemson

Ohio State (-6 1/2) vs. Penn State - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Listen, before all of the terrible news to come out of Happy Valley surfaced, there was another secret about the Penn State football team that nobody seemed to realize. It's just not that good. Ohio State hasn't been great this season, either, but I don't think that will matter all that much on Saturday. Pick: Ohio State

Woman - "Two teams fractured due to very different circumstances. Feels like a coin flip - going with home field advantage." Pick: Ohio State

Machine - It's unanimous, as Dan Herron rushes for 187 yards and 3 scores against this Penn State defense to give Ohio State a 24-13 win and further muddy up the Leaders Division. Pick: Ohio State

Arkansas (-13 1/2) vs. Mississippi State - Saturday, 3:30pm

Man - Here's a list of SEC West teams not named Ole Miss that Dan Mullen has beaten since taking over at Mississippi State: none. So until that changes I'm not picking Mississippi State to even cover. Pick: Arkansas

Woman - "Over the last two weeks, the Razorbacks have gone on an SEC scoring spree, putting 44 and 49 points on the board against South Carolina and Tennessee, respectively. The most points Mississippi State has put up against a ranked team this season was 24. Fear the inexplicably adorable, calorically challenged Tusk." Pick: Arkansas

Machine - Arkansas keeps its SEC Championship and BCS hopes alive in a relatively easy 49-34 win over the Bulldogs. Pick: Arkansas

Baylor vs. Oklahoma (-14 1/2) - Saturday, 8pm

Man - Baylor has not had its best games of the season against the strongest teams in the Big 12 this season, which initially had me leaning toward the Sooners. What changed that, however, was that I'm not sure what this Oklahoma offense will look like without Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley, and that those Baylor losses all came on the road. I don't know that Baylor wins this outright, but I think it's going to be a close game. Pick: Baylor

Woman - "Robert Griffin III's sizzle is oh-so-mesmerizing but let's focus on facts. The Bears have scored an average of 36 points a game this season -  the Sooners, an average of 45 points. So, Okies win but don't cover." Pick: Baylor

Machine - The Machine is not worried about the absence of Ryan Broyles, for it believes in Kenny Stills and sees him catching 10 passes for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. Oklahoma wins 41-24. Pick: Oklahoma

Texas (-9 1/2) vs. Kansas State - Saturday, 8pm

Man - You want this spread explained? No problem. There's no way Vegas is going to get any action on the Kansas State side if it lists the Wildcats as a favorite. People would just jump on Texas and the points not realizing that Kansas State beat Texas 39-14 last season in what was Collin Klein's coming out party. Now Klein is taking every snap and the Longhorns are decimated by injuries in the backfield. Pick: Kansas State

Woman - "I'm not sure what Texas has done to deserve this spread, especially with last week's pantsing by Missouri." Pick: Kansas State

Machine - The Machine just really does not like Kansas State. Week after week it picks against it, and that doesn't change now. Texas wins 31-20. Pick: Texas

Oregon (-14 1/2) vs. USC - Saturday, 8pm

Man - USC has played in close games all season, which made me want to take the Trojans and the points this week but with Robert Woods' status in question at the moment, I'm not as comfortable with the Trojans in Eugene. So I'm going to roll with Oregon, though I wouldn't be shocked if USC keeps it close or even wins outright. Pick: Oregon

Woman - "In these closing weeks, the Trojans are coming on strong but against the Oregon juggernaut, I'd suggest they just duck and cover. (By the way, after watching the Arkansas version above, who'd have guessed USC has its own inexplicably adorable, calorically challenged version of Tusk? Hey, us Americans, we're not so different after all!)" Pick: Oregon

Machine - Go ahead and hand Oregon its Pac-12 title. The Ducks stomp the Trojans 52-21. Pick: Oregon

Stanford (-19.5) vs. Cal - Saturday, 10:15pm

Man - Last week was the first time Stanford didn't cover a spread since last season, but that's not going to deter me from picking the Cardinal once again. The main reason for this being that Cal is not Oregon. Pick: Stanford

Woman - "Speaking of animal mascots, if affluent Stanford ever choses one, it should be a NSFW hip-hop horse that kicks butt. Specifically, Cal's butt." Pick: Stanford 

Machine - The Machine sees Stanford winning this game rather easily, but a late fourth quarter touchdown by Cal kills the cover. Stanford wins 42-24. Pick: Cal

Standings

Season Record (Last Week)

1. Woman 65-50 (4-6)
2. Man 63-52 (5-5)
3. Machine 61-54 (5-5) 
Posted on: November 8, 2011 2:17 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Alabama at Mississippi State

Posted by Chip Patterson

ALABAMA WILL WIN IF: They play anyone but their scout team? I imagine that Nick Saban has this Crimson Tide team ready to play at the highest level of execution following their overtime loss to LSU. Remember what Alabama did to Michigan State after Saban was upset with his team's focus during the regular season? I expect a similar result when they face Mississippi State on Saturday. Richardson will run like a man on fire and the defense will strive to shut out a reeling Bulldogs squad.

MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL WIN IF: Alabama has been shaken due to the loss. The Bulldogs will try to use the home field advantage at night as much as possible, but the ground attack of Chris Relf and Vick Ballard just doesn't look productive enough to take on a defense like the Tide. Their best chance to stun Alabama early is to try and force McCarron into making poor decisions and hope for an early turnover. Otherwise, it could be a long and painful night for the Bulldogs.

X-FACTOR: AJ McCarron. After struggling against LSU, I'm interested to see how the first-year starter bounces back against the Bulldogs. If the sophomore quarterback wants to keep his hold on the first-string job in the future, he will need to prove it in these last weeks of the season. Richardson and Lacy are probably enough for Alabama to win on Saturday, but a good performance from McCarron could lead to the domination Tide fans are hoping for.

Keep up with the latest college football news from around the country. From the regular season all the way through the bowl games, CBSSports.com has you covered with this daily newsletter. | Preview
Posted on: October 18, 2011 10:36 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 2:57 pm
 

Eye on College Football Midseason Report: SEC

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

At the top, midseason 2011 remains the best of times for the SEC. Alabama and LSU have given the conference not one but two highly viable -- some might even say favored -- candidates for a sixth straight national title. It's not even such bad news that one seems all-but-destined to eliminate the other from the title race when they meet in Tuscaloosa Nov. 5; assuming both clear their final hurdles this week, that game should arrive with more hype, more anticipation, more coverage and more viewers than any regular season college football game since Ohio State and Michigan clashed as undefeateds the final week of 2006. From a national title perspective, the SEC has never mattered more.

But anywhere other than the top, these are the worst times for the SEC in a while. A plague of injuries, inexperience, and ineffective coaching has gutted much of the league's offensive bite and turned what used to be riveting battles amongst the league's wealthier-than-thou middle class into glorified slapfights. Take this past weekend: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and South Carolina combined for a total of 49 points across two hideous games; lambs-to-the-slaughter Tennessee and Ole Miss lost to the league's top two by a combined 76 points; and Georgia and Vanderbilt played a game most notable for the screaming match between its coaches afterwards. It was ugliness all the way around--and that's with the conference's worst offense, Kentucky, on a bye. 

Alabama vs. LSU should be a classic. And Arkansas, still easily top-10 caliber and as exciting as ever, is blameless. But are the hobbled back-nine of the SEC capable of giving us anything else deserving of that label in 2011's second half?

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Trent Richardson, running back, Alabama. It's easy to forget Richardson's 2011 season actually got off to a slow start, with only 148 yards on a 3.8 per-carry average through the Crimson Tide's first two games. Since then: five games, 764 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 8.2 yards-per-carry, the sort of per-attempt number starting tailbacks for national title contenders achieve only in video games. It's not just the production, either; Richardson has showed off the proverbial total package and then some, flashing breakaway speed, bone-rattling power, and startling elusiveness, sometimes -- as in his Heisman-reel tour de force against Ole Miss -- all on the same play.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyrann Mathieu, cornerback, LSU. The only serious defensive candidate for the 2011 Heisman, the Honey Badger has stormed onto the national scene on the back of a wave of big plays: the strip-and-fumble-return for touchdown against Oregon, the dazzling interception-and-return-to-the-1 against West Virginia, the sack-strip-and-fumble-return for touchdown against Kentucky. But those game-changing efforts shouldn't obscure what Mathieu does on an every-down basis: namely, lead the nation's No. 4 defense in solo tackles and spearhead the nation's No. 6 secondary in opponent's passer rating.

COACH OF THE YEAR: Les Miles, LSU. Nick Saban obviously deserves commendation as well, but with the ridiculous stockpile of defensive talent in Tuscaloosa and the rock-steady stability of Saban's program, the Tide were never in any danger of not being really, really good. Miles, however, had to navigate a major offseason shakeup of his offensive coaching staff, the Jordan Jefferson barfight brouhaha on the eve of the season (amongst other distractions), and a handful of offensive line injuries to have his team where it is now--atop the AP poll and well on their way to bringing an 8-0 record to Bryant-Denny Stadium.

SURPRISE: Auburn. Few SEC teams have legitimately exceeded expectations in 2011 -- LSU and Vandy are the only other two, frankly -- but none has been as big a shock as the Tigers, who had been predicted by many to sink to fifth (or worse) in the West and general irrelevancy in Year One A.C. (i.e., after Cam). But despite being a Vegas underdog in all four of their SEC games (and scoring 20 points or fewer in their most recent three), a newly-energized defense and timely plays on offense and special teams have Auburn sitting at 3-1 in the league and 5-2 overall. If Miles's and Saban's teams hadn't run so far away from the pack, Gene Chizik would be a hot favorite for SEC Coach of the Year.

DISAPPOINTMENT: Mississippi State. The 0-4 SEC record isn't that bad, honestly; at Auburn, vs. LSU, at Georgia, and vs. South Carolina is a reasonably tough road to hoe. What is that bad is that Dan Mullen's veteran offense has looked so lost, scoring just one offensive touchdown over its last three conference games. This was supposed to be the season Mullen started winning games against the heavier hitters of the SEC, but thanks to his team's offensive struggles, the Bulldogs are now losing games (and in uglier fashion) to the same caliber of team they defeated in 2010.

GAME OF THE YEAR--SO FAR: South Carolina 45, Georgia 42, Sept. 10. Thanks to the lack of offensive fireworks and Alabama and LSU horse-whipping opponents on a weekly basis, candidates for this honor are few and far between, But back in Week 2 the Gamecocks and Bulldogs played a back-and-forth thriller that may still wind up deciding the SEC East. Marcus Lattimore powered for 176 bruising yards, but the player of the game was Gamecock defensive end Melvin Ingram, who scored touchdowns on both defense and special teams and capped his breakout performance by snaring the Dawgs' last-gasp onsides kick. 

More Midseason Coverage
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GAME OF THE YEAR TO COME: Alabama vs. LSU, Nov. 5. Do we even have to spell out why? Consider that the average score to-date between one of these two behemoths and an SEC opponent has been 37-8, and the only thing keeping either one from being heavy, heavy favorites to win the league title is the other. With the pair currently ranked No. 1 and 2 in the BCS standings, it's not an exaggeration to think of this as a BCS championship semifinal.

AND YOUR SEC CHAMPIONS ARE: Alabama out of the West, purely on the basis of getting to host the Game of the Century of the Year, and Georgia out of the East--the Bulldogs have far fewer offensive question marks than the Gamecocks and the easier schedule down the stretch. And as for the SEC Championship Game, well, when the best of this year's West meets the best of this year's East, there's only one outcome worth predicting. We like Alabama to win this year's SEC title and advance to the BCS national championship.

Posted on: October 15, 2011 4:13 pm
Edited on: October 15, 2011 8:51 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 15 South Carolina 14, Miss St. 12

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Victories don't come much uglier, what with Marcus Lattimore injured and Connor Shaw rocketing back to earth after his performance against Kentucky. But the Gamecocks will take it. Alshon Jeffery redeemed a quiet day (5 receptions, 24 yards) by coming down with the game-winning touchdown in double-coverage with 3:50 to play. Lattimore had his leg rolled into while blocking for a Wildcat play and left the game, eventually going to the locker room on crutches.

WHY SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Because in the end, the lackluster Gamecock offense threw away one fewer scoring opportunity than the lackluster Mississippi State offense. After driving 69 yards in 10 plays for a 7-0 first quarter lead, the Bulldogs took 18 snaps in Carolina territory over the rest of the game, spread over five drives ... and turned all those opportunities into a total of three points. Paticularly damaging were a pair of second-half possessions, one of which yielded a first down at the Carolina 31 and the other a first-and-goal at the 5. The first ended with a missed 40-yard Derek DePasquale field goal attempt, the second with only three points after multiple missed passes into the end zone. 

In a game in which the two teams finished only five yards apart in total yardage -- 294 for the Bulldogs, 289 for the Gamecocks -- that Shaw was able to hoist his pass towards a target like Jeffery while Tyler Russell had no such red zone help made all the difference.

WHEN SOUTH CAROLINA WON: Not until one final missed opportunity went by the boards for State. Russell enjoyed a decent (if not exactly "good") game in his first start of the season for Dan Mullen, completing 11-of-29 passes for 165 yards, one touchdown, several third-down conversions, and just one batted interception ... until with less than two minutes to play and his team on the Gamecock 32, Russell launched a hopeless airball which safety D.J. Swearinger duly intercepted. Ballgame.

WHAT SOUTH CAROLINA WON: The spoils of victory may be overshadowed by the costs if Lattimore misses any length of time with his injury, but a loss to the flailing likes of the Bulldogs would have all but ended the Gamecocks' hopes of going to Atlanta. As it stands, Steve Spurrier still has a lot of work to do offensively (and possibly without his greatest weapon) to get his team into the kind of shape necessary to beat Florida or Arkansas. But they're still alive.

WHAT MISSISSIPPI STATE LOST: As with Auburn and Georgia, another game against a beatable opponent--and this time at home. A winning regular season looks to be out of reach with the likes of Alabama and the Razorbacks still on the schedule, and an upset vs. Kentucky or Ole Miss would now leave the Bulldogs home for the postseason. 

THAT WAS CRAZY: Depending on which sportsbook you placed your wagers at, Carolina came into this game a 2.5 to 3.5-point favorite. That didn't matter with the Gamecocks sitting on their 14-10 lead and State out of timeouts at game's end. But with four seconds remaining and the Gamecocks snapping the ball on fourth down, Spurrier elected to have Shaw run out the clock by running out the back of the end zone from the 9. That safety pushed the final margin to 2--and made any gamblers (or CBSSports.com Experts) who had picked the Gamecocks to cover sudden, stunning losers. Rest assured the Gamecock fans who had their money on the home team will have a few choice words for the Ol' Ball Coach after that one.


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