Posted on: October 13, 2010 10:44 am
Edited on: October 13, 2010 10:45 am

National notes

It only seems like Alabama obsessed all offseason about facing six SEC opponents coming off bye weeks.

The SEC schedule wasn't finalized until late summer as the school and league tried to move opponents around to keep from the dreaded six-pack. The Tuscaloosa News had revealed that over a three-year period Alabama had faced more bye-week opponents (17) than any SEC school. The best Bama could do was move Georgia State from a Saturday to a Thursday in November, thus allowing nine days before the Nov. 26 Auburn game.

That doesn't help things now. The Tide are on the brink of falling out of national championship contention after Saturday's loss to South Carolina. Their fall from No. 1 to No. 8 in the AP poll is the second-biggest fall for an in-season No. 1 since 1996. (Nebraska fell to No. 8 that year after losing to Arizona State). While Bama can still win the SEC and compete for the national championship, the final six conference opponents are going to be well rested. At least one columnist said the schedule already has caught up to the former No. 1.

Meanwhile, Nick Saban is trying to turn that offseason obsession into an in-season footnote. After 19 consecutive victories that included a national championship, Saban said this week his team may have believed a bit too much in itself.

"It's drinking the Kool-Aid, thinking that just because they say it on ESPN, it's so. Reading the newspapers all week. Just because you beat Florida 31-6, people start talking about you being the best team in the country. We're not the best team in the country. We had the best team in the country last year, and we proved it. We proved it over 14 games.

"This team hasn't proved s---."

Rhymes with spit.

Hey, that's the best Sabanator outburst since my question led him to the famous "pimp" line in July. 
"Excuse my language," Saban immediately told reporters on Monday. "That's how I feel about it. I'm really upset that I used bad language."

Anything colorful from Saban is always appreciated. It beats "behind-the-scenes" mini-docs where the only thing behind-the-scenes is what you don't see. This was raw emotion, a glimpse at Saban's soul at this point in the season. The message got through. Saban won't be taking bye weeks as an excuse going forward. It's clear that playing three consecutive top-19 opponents (in the AP poll) took something out of the Tide. Now they have to play Mississippi, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn coming off byes. Both teams will have a bye coming into the Nov. 6 meeting at LSU.

"Everybody out there assumes that having a bye week is an advantage," Saban said last week. "I've always answered that question by saying, 'I don't know if it's an advantage or disadvantage.'"

Maybe we're starting to find out.


**There is a dicey situation developing at Penn State where Joe Paterno is approaching his 400th career win.

But when?

The Nits are 3-3 after a depressing home loss to Illinois. Joe needs three more wins to become the third coach ever to win 400. There is growing doubt, though, that JoePa doesn't reach that mark this season. And what if he doesn't? What does that do to the program if Joe holds on (or is held over) for 2011?

In one sense, a 5-7 season can be written off as rebuilding year. Quarterback Rob Bolden is a true freshmen and has loads of upside. In other sense, there has to be concern. This is the first time in a long time, Penn State hasn't had at least one playmaker on either side of the ball.

The (mostly) cushy non-conference schedule has gotten Joe halfway to those six he needs, but the road ahead is littered with broken glass -- or at least formidable Big Ten opponents. Penn State still has to play the Big Ten's top three teams -- Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Assuming losses in those, Joe will have to win at Minnesota, at Indiana and at home against Northwestern to get to 6-6, 400 wins and a bowl game.

Is that a sendoff or a rebuilding year?

I'm starting to get intrigued by Oklahoma State. Coach Mike Gundy has ridden new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to a 5-0 start, the team's third such beginning since 2004.

The problem with OSU is that its schedule is typically backloaded with second-half meetings with Big 12 South heavies Texas and Oklahoma. In fact, Gundy has never beaten the LongSooners, or is it the SoonHorns? (Combined 0-10 against the two schools and 21-23 after Oct. 1.) Holgorsen has been the difference this year with his version of the spread option,  getting the most out of new quarterback Brandon Weeden, established tailback Kendall Hunter and breakout receiver Justin Blackmon.

The problem remains a defense which has finished above 89th nationally only once in Gundy's previous five seasons. This season's unit is marginally better in its second year under coordinator Bill Young. It is No. 88 nationally allowing more than 400 yards per game.

The difference is Holgorsen, a 39-year-old Mike Leach discipline who spent eight seasons at Texas Tech as an assistant, the final three as offensive coordinator. Holgorsen came to Okie State after a couple of seasons tutoring Case Keenum at Houston. Keenum is out with a season-ending injury but is seeking a sixth year of eligibility in 2011 during which he could become the NCAA's career passing yards leader.

Weeden, who turns 27 this week, is a former minor-league pitcher who is finding a new career playing pitch and catch out of the shotgun. Almost halfway through the season, Weeden has the fourth-most passing yards in the country leading the No. 2 scoring unit.

"[Weeden] was just a poor practice player," Gundy said. "There's a reason why we changed offenses. He can't execute [OSU's 2005-09] offense. It wasn't set up for him. ...We thought he could function at a high level, but we didn't know."



Posted on: September 15, 2010 10:27 am
Edited on: September 15, 2010 10:31 am

National notes

Don't tell anyone but we didn't learn much from Showdown Saturday except that Virginia Tech would have a hard time winning the Colonial Athletic Association.

For the most part, Showdown was a letdown.

Mark Twain could have replaced Mark Ingram and Alabama still would have beaten Penn State. OK, Ingram has better top end speed than Twain but you get my point.

Alabama's season is boiling down to three-week stretch during which Bama plays at Arkansas (Sept. 25), at home against Florida (Oct. 2) and at South Carolina (Oct. 9).

Miami still has work to do in its long-awaited comeback. Jacory Harris has a lot of work to do with his judgment.  After throwing four picks vs. Ohio State, Harris is tied for second nationally (at least in the NCAA top 100) with four interceptions.  Last year Harris was No. 2 in picks (17) behind Ole Miss' Jevan Snead (20).

Tennessee put up a good fight for a half against Oregon.

Florida State didn't even make it that far.

Player of the week besides the obvious (Denard Robinson)?  South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore who looks like a combination of George Rodgers and Herschel Walker for the OBC. More on him later in the week.

Interesting stuff here regarding Jeremiah Masoli's transfer to Ole Miss. Masoli contends he was given his release to transfer from Oregon before he was dismissed from the team. The NCAA initially ruled that Masoli would not get a transfer waiver to Ole Miss because he had been kicked off the team.

Not sure if I want Mike Leach back in coaching. Not because he isn't good at it. It's because he might be better as a radio pirate. Leach let loose on his satellite radio show.

On the lack of mercy given to outgunned opponents:

"If my third offense went in and we were up on them, we weren't going kneel on the ball. We were going to try to score. The reason we were going to try to score is because I spend all my time teaching that offense to score, not to sit and evaluate the feelings of the other team."

On his not having Alabama in his top five:

"A lot of folks are frontrunners and if you win last year they assume you're going to win this year and the next year. If that was the case, everybody was going to win the thing 20 years in a row. I'm prepared to be proven wrong."

Leach also said he had a standing $500 bounty on shady agents hanging around Texas Tech. Supposedly, that was for players to turn in those shady agents. Problem though:  Wouldn't paying off that bounty be a possible NCAA violation?

Leach is also an analyst for CBS College Sports.

USC might be the most unimpressive 2-0 ranked team. The Trojans have committed 24 penalties for nation-leading 240 yards in two games. Lane Kiffin's solution? Silence.

Three quarterbacks who have taken snaps at Michigan are in the top 10 in NCAA total offense this week:

1. Robinson, 442.5 yards per game
T6. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas, 351.0
10. Steven Threet, Arizona State, 322.5

Joker Phillips is first head coach to start his Kentucky career 2-0 since Bear Bryant in 1946.

Phillips might have the most versatile player in the country to this point. Through two games receiver/returner/holder Randall Cobb has scored a touchdown four different ways -- rushing, receiving, passing and on a punt return.

Steve Spurrier, a longtime playoff honk, on Boise State:  "The only way to settle those kinds of situation is a playoff. They aren't going to play the kind of completion that SEC schools play. We settle it with voting."

Thoughts and prayers for Arkansas kick returner Dennis Johnson who suffered what was termed a painful "bowel injury" returning a kick vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Here's the video

Who will coach Northern Illinois this week against Illinois? Huskies coach Jerry Kill was hospitalized Sunday after complications resulting from surgery earlier this month. Kill underwent surgery on Sept. 3, a day after Northern Illinois lost its season opener to Iowa State. Initial reports stated Kill, who had a tumor removed from a kidney in 2005, was suffering from dehydration this time. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys could take over if Kill can't go.


Posted on: September 1, 2010 2:30 pm
Edited on: September 1, 2010 4:02 pm

Big Ten divisional announcement special

Give the Big Ten credit for building the hype.

The league will announce the much-awaited divisions for 2011 going forward during what is being called a "divisional alignment special" at 7 pm ET Wednesday night. There is already speculation and a report out there that Michigan and Ohio State are in different divisions.

The other key issue is when that game will be played. There is much consternation over moving "The Game" from its traditional spot during the last weekend in November. The 90-minute special will feature ADs Gene Smith (Ohio State), Dave Brandon (Michigan), Mark Hollis (Michigan State) and Tom Osborne (Nebraska).

If you want to assume that a pair of schools are being represented, go ahead. 

My divisions: 

East (or Hayes) Division

Ohio State
Penn State

West (or Schembechler) Division

Michigan State

It appears that the Big Ten has used the "zipper" plan that essentially separates rivals. That makes it easier for the so-called 5-3-1 model. Five games against teams in your division, a set of three rotating games against teams from the opposite division and a designated rival. That would be a game played each year.

In my divisional alignment, Ohio State and Michigan would play each year along with Purdue-Indiana, Iowa-Minnesota, Michigan State-Penn State, Wisconsin-Nebraska and Illinois-Northwestern.

Posted on: June 7, 2010 11:24 am
Edited on: June 7, 2010 12:40 pm

Latest from Expansion Central. Syracuse?

The latest scuttlebutt Monday morning has to do with Syracuse being the key to prying Notre Dame loose for the Big Ten.

If Missouri and Nebraska say yes to the Big Ten, I'm hearing that then either Pittsburgh or Rutgers would be paired with Syracuse to form an expanded eastern boundary of the new league. The key, apparently, is taking The 'Cuse into the Big Ten. The fit already looks good. Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor is a former chancellor at Illinois and provost at Michigan.

In this scenario, the addition of Syracuse collapses the Big East and potentially forces Notre Dame to find a conference home for its minor sports. Not to mention a conference home for football.

In other words, Notre Dame needs a compelling reason to join a league in football. I reported yesterday that if Notre Dame came to the Big Ten, that league's expansion might be capped at 12. That might not be the case now. The two biggest words to remember in this entire process is that it is always a "fluid situation."

Adding to the intrigue is that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Sunday that expansion could happen in stages

If all of the above comes to pass, we'd be looking at two 16-team leagues (Pac-10, Big Ten), the collapse of the Big 12 and Big East and a whole lot of chaos. Does the SEC react?

Posted on: June 4, 2010 5:30 pm

Bob Kustra, anti-BCS crusader

BOISE, Idaho -- Bob Kustra is my new favorite CEO.

College CEO, so don't get any wrong ideas. This academia, not Enron.

Oh, and it's Bob -- not Mr. Kustra or Dr. Kustra. The man has earned the formal titles with a PhD from Illinois and as a two-term lieutenant governor of the state of Illinois. He is on the powerful NCAA board of directors.

But on this day he is a fan. And on this day and every other, he hates the BCS.

"To me this is about fairness," said Kustra, in his seventh year as Boise State's president. He is getting going on his anti-BCS rant.

"This is about being fair and equitable. There's about 6,000 student-athletes who begin every football season having no real chance, unlike basketball. Every kid who plays basketball knows they have a chance to be Butler. It makes no sense to me why the NCAA plays a major role in one sport and turns its end on the other."

Part of Boise's second-class citizen status is Darwinian theory. The power conferences have long controlled college football because they grew up different than everyone else. There are 88 championships awarded by the NCAA. The BCS and wire services declare mythical champions in football. It's been that way since 1936.

However, Boise State is about to cross that line from being non-BCS to becoming BCS. The school is expected to be invited Monday to join the Mountain West Conference.
"This is going to be a bizarre moment," said Kustra who will be in WAC meetings Monday morning at the same time Mountain West presidents will be voting on his school's inclusion in Jackson, Wyo.

"I told these (WAC) guys three years ago, at our annual meeting, 'Look guys, I love you dearly, but you have to understand if we have a chance to go to the Mountain West Conference, we'd be foolish to turn it down,' " Kustra said.

And so Boise State won't turn it down. This is their golden ticket. When Boise accepts it will shift from being one of the disenfranchised non-BCS schools fighting for financial and athletic scraps, to becoming one of the power elite. With the addition of Boise, the Mountain West is hoping to gain BCS conference status in 2012 and 2013 -- at least.

"I do feel a little bit like Lucy setting up the ball for Charlie Brown," Kustra said.

Nothing is certain, of course. The ball could be snatched away before Boise State kicks off in the Mountain West. Seven of nine MWC presidents need to vote Boise in and Kustra has been let down before.

Leaning up against an office wall is a framed autographed jersey of Chicago Cubs hall of famer Billy Williams. Like me, Kustra is a St. Louis native. Unlike me, he is a Cubs fan. That's OK. The jersey is a tribute to his son Steve who died of testicular cancer a year ago.

Steve was 37, lived in San Francisco, played in a band, was a Little League coach and about to be married. He had beaten cancer once but when it returned, he couldn't afford the rising insurance rates. Ignoring the signs of cancer reoccurrence, his father said, Steve dropped his insurance.

"That's really dedicated to my son," Kustra said, pointing to the framed jersey. "He was a victim of what I think President Obama was trying to do with health care ... They kept increasing his [insurance] rates ... He kept it [cancer reoccurrence] from us. I would have paid the premium in a hot second. He dropped his insurance. When he dropped it, all these things are happening to his body. By the time they diagnosed him two years ago, it was really bad. He fought it for 15 months. I commuted to San Francisco where he lived.

"I'm a Cubs fan in his memory because he was such a diehard Cubs fan."

It is the first time in the 43-minute interview that the animated Kustra isn't. You can probably tell the Boise State president is my new favorite CEO because he is human.
As I mentioned in Friday's story on the site, Kustra has been working the phones to those MWC presidents like a good politician.  While the rest of the country speculates about the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-10, a river runs through it at the understated Boise State campus.

The Broncos are about to become big time. If the votes are there.

"I'm not counting it until Lucy leaves that damn ball in place," Kustra said.

Category: NCAAF
Posted on: April 19, 2010 11:35 am

Rating the Big Ten expansion candidates

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany travels to the Arizona desert this week which is kind of fitting. For some unlucky schools, there is going to be a college football wasteland once the Big Ten gets done expanding. The BCS meetings this week in Phoenix could be where it all starts. Out of public view, mind you, but it could start. Delany could begin the process of notifying affected conferences that he is about to raid them.

With that in mind, it's time to rating the Big Ten expansion candidates in terms of relevance:

1. Notre Dame: If the Big 16 (or whatever) is able to lure/coerce ND into joining, the other schools don't really matter. Notre Dame brings everything -- class, quality football, eyeballs to the Big Ten Network. The two parties will have to figure out how to do deal with the NBC contract. That's really just a detail once the school decides to join, though. At issue: ND must decide that after 22 years without a national championship, it's better chasing a Rose Bowl every year than hoping for a BCS bowl in some years.

2. Connecticut: A UConn/Syracuse/Rutgers triumvirate maybe makes New York care enough about the Big Ten for the region's big cable carriers to start putting the Big Ten Network on the basic tier. Theoretically, you get New Jersey, New England and, maybe, New York. Taking UConn would be a big of a departure for the Big Ten because it is not an AAU school.

3. Missouri: Outside of getting Notre Dame and turning on New York, Missouri is the next biggest "get" for the Big Ten. It is virgin territory from which the BTN could reap a big profit. Kansas City is a Kansas town (followed closely by Missouri), but St. Louis is a Big Ten/Illinois/Mizzou town. With the likes of Ohio State and Michigan coming to Columbia on a regular basis, cable carriers would have to consider  featuring the BTN on the basic tier. If it's five teams, then count Missouri in. Delany could boast of having markets from the Great Plains to the Atlantic Ocean to New England.

4. Rutgers: By itself, Rutgers does little in the New York market. If the Big Ten took just Rutgers, it could be taking it on the come. We all remember how the region got turned on 3 1/2 years ago. It could happen again. Most likely, Rutgers needs a partner or partners in expansion.

5. Syracuse:  Almost a tag-along at this point. The 'Cuse by itself doesn't make sense because it doesn't bring a market or consistent football. Basketball is great, but that's not what this expansion is about at all. 'Cuse football is going to be better. We all know that. But does the Big Ten expand hoping Syracuse will get good? No, the school would be  a throw-in with Rutgers and UConn if Delany chooses to influence New York (see No. 1) 

6. Pittsburgh: There is little buzz about Pittsburgh at this point. The Big Ten is already in Pennsylvania with Penn State. When Joe Paterno talks about adding another school in the East, that kind of eliminates Western Pennsylvania.

Posted on: March 8, 2010 9:37 pm

Big 12 schedule analysis

(This is next installment of a continuing series analyzing the 2010 schedules of the BCS conferences)

You thought the Big 12 has been good lately? Year 15 of the conference kicks off with three familiar names at the top. At least two of the three are familiar.

Even with the loss of Colt McCoy, Texas never rebuilds (or is never allowed to). Oklahoma is over the loss of Sam Bradford as Landry Jones begins his first full season as starter. Nebraska is a fallen power making the long, slow slog back to the top. It hopes. But the Huskers are all the buzz coming off a 10-win season and sporting one of the nation's defenses -- even without a boy named Suh.

Elsewhere, there is depth throughout the Big 12. Missouri has established itself as a top 25 team every year. Texas Tech can only get better under Tommy Tuberville after Mike Leach's conduct going out the door almost ripped the program apart. Oklahoma State isn't going away with the Boone Pickens pipeline still running and Texas A&M is making strides, at least offensively. Baylor gets Robert Griffin back trying to end that pesky 15-year bowl-less streak.

Expect another national championship run, by some league team or another. A Big 12 team has been in five of the last seven BCS title games.

Game of the year: (non-conference) Florida State at Oklahoma, Sept. 11. In a sense, the suspense has been building for a decade. These teams last met in the 2000 BCS title game. Florida State is a shell of itself. Oklahoma not quite as strong as in the past. Watch for a rare Stoops vs. Stoops matchup. This time it's Oklahoma's Bob against FSU's Mark, the Seminoles new defensive coordinator. But there's so much more at stake here. This is essentially Jimbo Fisher's first real test (the opener is against Samford). It comes on the road in one of the game's most revered temples. We know FSU can score with Christian Ponder and other significant weapons. But for the Seminoles to get back to the top, it must start stopping people. God bless Mickey Andrews, but his final defense stunk. It's up to you, Mark.

Game of the year: (conference) Oklahoma vs. Texas, Oct. 16. As goes the Red River Shootout, so goes the Big 12. Or so it seems. The winner of this game usually has the inside track to the Big 12 South and national championship contention. Texas is a roll having won four of the last five. Included in that streak is two Big 12 titles, two national championship berths, one national championship. Or as they call it in Austin, "Doing pretty good lately."

Team on the spot: Nebraska. After a 10-win, Holiday Bowl-winning season in Bo Pelini's second year, we're all wondering if the Huskers are truly back. The Flying Pelinis will go into 2010 as favorites to win the North. At least. The next step is to win the Big 12 for the first time since 1999. Nebraska was one playmaker on offense -- one -- away from beating Texas last season. Armed with a fearsome defense, the only question for Pelini is whether his offense can score enough to make 10-2 a reality. Nebraska almost pulled off the upset last year. The toughest games (Texas, Missouri) are at home. Oklahoma is off the regular-season schedule.

Toughest non-conference schedule: Colorado. No surprise here. The Buffs haven't backed off in the non-con since the Bill McCartney days. Good for building a program, not good for keeping your job. Dan Hawkins starts a win-or-else season with Colorado State, Cal, Hawaii and Georgia outside of the Big 12. That's a blood rival, a Pac-10 team that tied USC for third in the Pac-10 and a Georgia team on the rebound. The only game you'd feel confident of putting in the win column is Hawaii and even that might be a stretch. CSU has split the last four meetings. CU has split the last four against the Pac-10 on the road but hasn't won in a Pac-10 stadium since 2004. Georgia is an SEC powerhouse coming off a down year but will be favored in Boulder. A 3-1 start is recommended. A 2-2 beginning might not be enough for Hawkins who has to play Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska on the road.

Easiest non-conference schedule: Missouri. The Tigers have beaten Illinois five consecutive times. McNeese State has never beaten a team from a current BCS conference. San Diego State last beat a team from a current BCS conference in 1999. Miami (Ohio) has lost 23 of its last 26. Throw in a home game against Colorado after that and the Tigers don't have to leave the state of Missouri to start 5-0.



Posted on: February 10, 2010 10:30 pm
Edited on: February 11, 2010 2:02 pm

More expansion: A proposed new look

The Mountain West is on notice.

The Big East too.

Don’t forget the Big 12 which could be ripped asunder.

One or all of those conferences are going to be impacted if, as expected, the Pac-10 and Big Ten expand in the near future.

After writing about the big picture on Wednesday, we’re here to speculate freely about how other conferences might be impacted.

Mountain West: After leading his league to the brink of BCS automatic qualifying status, commissioner Craig Thompson has to be concerned.

A BYU-Utah defection to the Pac-10 makes a lot of sense. In basketball, the league has travel partners (Washington-Washington State, Arizona-Arizona State). The Utes and Cougars are bitter rivals but would be make ideal additions due to the far-flung nature of the league.

I still don’t know how the Pac-10 views the academic aspect of expansion, so I’m not sure how it views the combination of a state school (Utah) and what amounts to a private school (BYU). If there is a fallback, it could be San Diego State.

If the Big Ten were to take Missouri, that’s a potential three teams ripped from the Mountain West and could mean the end of the league.  The three most likely replacements would be Boise State, Fresno State and Texas-El Paso.

The best non-BCS league could find itself teetering on the edge of existence, or at least relevance.

Big 12: The biggest hit comes if both Colorado (Pac-10) and Missouri (Big Ten) leave.

If Missouri or Colorado leave, the Big 12 would go get TCU from the Mountain West. While that would wound the MWC, the league would most likely then invite Boise State.

If both Colorado and Missouri left, the Big 12 would get TCU and, maybe, Houston? Either way, the Big 12’s TV stature would shrink.

Big East: The league was almost wiped out when the ACC expanded five years ago. What happens if Pittsburgh, Syracuse or Rutgers is taken by the Big Ten?

Most likely the Big East would raid Conference USA for Central Florida. That would get the league further into Florida. UCF is third-largest school in the country (53,000) behind Ohio State and Arizona State. There's got to be some football players in there somewhere. Plus, the school has made a huge commitment to facilities.

Sooner or later doesn’t Big East football and basketball have to split? The unwieldy existence between the two sides (16 teams in basketball, only eight of which play football).

After the wounds caused by the ACC, another hit could cause the end of the Big East in football.

My latest look on how the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12 and MWC might look in the future.

Schembechler Division

Michigan State

Grange Division
Ohio State
Penn State

BIG 12
North Division
Kansas State
Iowa State

South Division
Texas Tech
Texas A&M
Oklahoma State


North Division
Oregon State
Washington State

South Division
Arizona State

Fresno State
Boise State
Texas-El Paso
Air Force
San Diego State
New Mexico
Colorado State



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