Tag:Minnesota
Posted on: November 19, 2009 6:00 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2009 10:48 am
 

Son of Weekend Watch List

It's that insane time of year when we have been asked to pick the best players in the country -- before all the games are played.

Some awards are narrowing their lists of semifinalists to finalists after Saturday's games. That would be with two weeks left in the regular season. Those kinds of deadlines are particularly unfair especially at  quarterback and running back where there are multiple candidates.

(I never understood the whole semifinalist-finalist thing anyway. It’s just a way to string out and hype the award.)

The Heisman has always been a pet peeve for me. So much can happen in bowls that sometimes the winner is diminished (see Oklahoma’s Jason White in the 2004 Sugar Bowl) or the person who should be the real winner emerges (see Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl).

But at least the Heisman gives voters enough time to wait until after all the regular-season games are played. Not so for most of the other awards, of which there are way too many.

A couple of pieces of information came across SOWWL's desk this week. The list of three finalists for the Davey O'Brien Award (best quarterback) are expected by 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. How, on Sunday, are we supposed to pick between Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Case Keenum, Kellen Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Andy Dalton and Bill Stull? Those are seven names that come to mind at the moment . There might be more.

Consider that McCoy and Tebow still have to play conference championship games. Moore is the nation’s most efficient passer working on an undefeated season. Dalton and Stull are among the most improved quarterbacks in the country.

I'm considering waiting at least another week to vote. If the O'Brien folks don't approve, tough spit.

The  Doak Walker Award’s list of the 10 semifinalists was released this week. The list did not include the nation’s fourth-leading rusher Bernard Pierce (Temple), the SEC's second-leading rusher Anthony Dixon (of Mississippi State, eighth in the country) or the Pac-10’s second-leading rusher (LaMichael James of Oregon).

It did include the nation’s No. 46 rusher, C.J. Spiller of Clemson who should be considered the best all-purpose runner in the country, not the best running back. 

Missouri’s Danario Alexader is fifth in catches per game and third in receiving yards per game after catching 10 balls for 200 yards against Kansas State. You won’t find him on the list of the 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award (best receiver). Three of the 10 players have been injured or left their team.

There is a safety net. Candidates can be written in, however voters are a group are traditionally lazy. They tend to vote for what is in front of them. One exception was 2007 when the Biletnikoff process was so off the mark in 2007 that Texas Tech’s Michael Crabtree won as a write-in candidate.

The main reason for these incredibly early lists is college football’s awards show. It airs the Thursday after the end of the regular season. If the awards committees want to be seen on national TV, then they have to cow tow to ESPN deadlines.

Here’s another idea: How about setting yourself apart and waiting until after the bowl season? Somehow I think some network or another would still televise the Heisman ceremony.

Etc: Cincinnati is one of the few teams that could afford having a quarterback in jail. No biggie, there’s always Tony Pike …  A loss to Ohio State would doom Michigan to its worst Big Ten finish since 1962 … Iowa (vs. Minnesota) and Penn State (at Michigan State) both need to win to stay in BCS consideration … Connecticut’s Zach Frazer has a chance this week to become one of the few players in history to play both for and against Notre Dame. Frazer transferred from ND in 2007 … Receiver Jordan Shipley will replace the suspended D.J. Monroe for Texas on kick returns this week against Kansas … Texas has scored 10 non-offensive touchdowns this season (defense and special teams). That leads the nation and is a school record … Miami’s Jacory Harris (at home vs. Duke) has thrown 16 interceptions, the most of the top 100 passers rated by the NCAA.

Posted on: October 4, 2009 9:42 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2009 9:43 pm
 

Thoughts on a football Saturday

It’s becoming apparent that Notre Dame has to beat USC in two weeks to go to a BCS bowl. I told you in Sunday’s story how lowly regarded ND is in the polls.

Here’s why: It has plenty of competition. Notre Dame is currently one of 30 one-loss teams in Division I-A. Twenty-three of the other 29 teams are from BCS leagues. Ten of the 29 are ranked. Six of those 10 have a victory over a ranked team. That's something Notre Dame doesn't have.

That means ND is one of 20 one-loss teams in I-A that are unranked. it is in a group with the likes of Boston College, Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Baylor, Texas A&M, Michigan, Pittsburgh, UConn, Rutgers, West Virginia, Stanford and UCLA. Four of those teams are left on ND’s schedule – BC, Pittsburgh, UConn and Stanford.

Given that the Irish play only one more team that is currently ranked (USC), the Oct. 17 game becomes make-or-break for a BCS bowl the way I see it. It’s 11-1 or bust. The pollsters and computers simply won’t get ND high enough at 10-2 because of the quality of the remaining schedule.

 Oklahoma has lost a pair of games by a point in the same season twice. Both have come in the last four years – 2006 and 2009 following Saturday's 21-20 loss to Miami. That followed a 14-13 opening-night loss to BYU.

In 2006, OU lost to both Oregon and Boise State by a point. In its history, OU has lost 299 games. Only 18 have come by a single point. That’s a one-point loss for every 16 losses. Since Sept. 16, 2006, four of the Sooners’ last 10 losses have come by one point.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops had lost 26 games. Four have been by one point and two have been by two points.

  Which way LSU? All we can say is the that Tigers are still undefeated after sneaking out of Athens with a 20-13 victory over Georgia. Charles Scott’s game-winning 33-yard run with 46 seconds left was set up by A.J. Green’s excessive celebration penalty. You’ll read more about that from Tony Barnhart on Tuesday. My take? That kind of penalty should never decide a game. This one did.

“It was a want-to run,” said Scott who had been struggling this season. “I ran mad.”

He better run madder with Florida coming to town. I’ve trotted this out a bunch of times, but the winner of LSU-Florida has won the national championship in the last three seasons.

 All that stuff about USC slipping in the Pac-10? Maybe not. The 30-3 win at Cal re-positions the Trojans for BCS bowl No. 8 in a row.

 Anyone want to take a stab at the Florida State mess? One of the most trusted and knowledgeable beat writers in the South says it’s time for Bobby to go. For most of the BC game, it looked like Bobby Bowden had lost his team. Down 21-6, the Seminoles rallied to tie, only to lose late 28-21. That marks FSU’s first 0-2 start in the ACC. It is 2-3 for the first time since 1976.

--In the battle of point guards, Syracuse’s Greg Paulus had more turnovers (five interceptions) than South Florida’s B.J. Daniels. The former Duke guard lost to the current South Florida guard (they’re both quarterbacks, by the way) 34-20.

 Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor threw for a career-high 327 yards against Duke. Yes, you read that right.

 Stanford, 4-1, is off to its best start since 1995.

 Minnesota mascot Goldy Gopher stuck it to Wisconsin fans by wearing a Brett Favre jersey during the Badgers’ 31-28 victory in Minneapolis. Let’s hope Goldy is not on scholarship because that would be a waste of good polyester.

 

Posted on: June 15, 2009 10:04 am
 

Picking the Big Ten

This might be the worst I've seen the Big Ten in 11 years.

That's as long as I've been at CBSSports.com, so 1998 seems like a reasonable benchmark. In '98, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State shared the title. Michigan was coming off a national championship. Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl that year. Ohio State went to the Sugar Bowl.

For gosh sakes, in '98 John Cooper was about to win at least 10 for the fourth consecutive year.

Now? Illinois can't decide whether it is a contender or in the middle of the pack. Bret Bielema is feeling the pressure at Wisconsin. The only new coach in the league is aptly named Hope (Danny, at Purdue). Eleven years ago the Boilermakers won their last six in row, went to the Alamo Bowl and upset Kansas State with Drew Brees.

The 2009 Boilers are coming off their worst season (4-8) in 12 years.

Iowa wants to be good again but it could use less yapping from its fans and more production on the field. And Michigan ... where have you gone Wolverines? A total meltdown in Rich Rodriguez' first season has to be rectified, like, yesterday.

Indiana and Minnesota will be at the bottom of the league, a place with which they are familiar.

The Big Ten remains the leader in BCS bowls (19) but you don't have to be told the league has lost a step in recent years. The 28 NFL draft picks each of the last two seasons ranked fifth (2008) and tied for fourth (2009) among major conferences.

The league is only 9-20 in bowls (1-6 last season) since 2005.  

Here's my best example for how average the Big Ten has become: Penn State has to replace 12 starters (the most in the league), including its entire secondary. It is a twisted ankle at quarterback away from finishing fifth. A good, not great, group of receivers have to be replaced by what might be good, not great, group of receivers.

Still, the Nittany Lions are a virtual pick-'em with Ohio State to go to the Rose Bowl.

By the way, the Rose Bowl is going to be it for the conference champ.  I don't see a national title contender in the bunch. The letters U, S and C will burn the ears of Big Ten loyalists. USC has beaten Big Ten teams by a combined 60 points the past three Januarys. The Trojans will likely be waiting in Pasadena to lay the smack down once again.

Like the Woody and Bo days, it's still a two-team league. Unlike the Woody and Bo days, there's not much national buzz.

1. Ohio State -- How do you lose Beanie Wells, Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis and get better? You don't. But there is enough left for the Bucks to win the Big Ten again. They have won at least a share of the four previous titles. Everyone seems to be jumping on the Terrelle Pryor bandwagon this season. Look, I like the kid and the athlete. I'm still not convinced he's going to make that quantum leap this season. There will be more pressure on Pryor to carry the offense with his legs if either Brandon Saine or Dan Herron can't become the big dog at tailback. Much will be learned on Sept. 12 when USC visits. Give Jim Tressel a running game, a punter and 105,000 homers and he will field-position you to death. If Tres can't pull it off in September, there's a rematch waiting in Pasadena.

2. Penn State -- It's a miracle of modern science. No, not JoePa's body, I'm talking about the Penn State staff. It has stayed together (for the most part), remained loyal and helped Joe dig out of that 2000-2004 hole. The Nittany Lions are Rose Bowl contenders for the foreseeable future. The defense keeps its snarl with the return of linebacker Sean Lee. The unit did finish in the top 10 in total defense last season. Will the D miss defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans? As mentioned, Daryll Clark has to stay healthy. He has enough elusiveness along with tailback Evan Royster to win the league. Ohio State comes to Happy Valley on Nov. 7.

3. Iowa -- If only Shonn Greene had returned, we might be talking about the Hawkeyes giving Ohio State and Penn State a run. With quarterback Ricky Stanzi having a year of experience and three offensive line starters returning, the Hawks will be productive but in a different way. Stanzi likely will have to make more plays himself (hint: scramble) unless sophomore Jewel Hampton or freshman Jeff Brinson replace those Greene yards.

4. Michigan State -- The Spartans are the Big Ten's flavor of the month. Coach Mark Dantonio has averaged eight wins in his first two seasons in East Lansing and the program ready to take off. Even with the loss of his two best players -- quarterback Brian Hoyer and tailback Javon Ringer -- there is plenty of talent waiting offstage. Watch true freshman tailbacks Edwin Baker and Larry Caper. Sorry Penn State, Michigan State might have the best linebackers in the league starting with junior Greg Jones, a consensus preseason all-Big Ten pick. Dantonio has the two best leg men in the league in kicker Brett Swenson and punter Aaron Bates. Iowa, Penn State and Michigan come to East Lansing. Ohio State is off the schedule.

5. Illinois -- What's your legacy going to be Juice Williams? Two years ago Illinois' quarterback guided a stunning upset at Columbus. Last season Williams and the Illini slumped. In his senior season, Juice could go out as one of Illinois' quarterback greats. Even though he led the Big Ten in passing yards, Williams threw too many interceptions (16). He will hook up often with the incredible Arrelious Benn. New offensive coordinator Mike Schultz will try to squeeze some of the old Juice out of his new quarterback. Schultz oversaw a similar offense at TCU. We'll know about the Illini before Oct. 1. They play Missouri in St. Louis and Ohio State in Columbus in September.

6. Northwestern -- The Big Ten's annually pesky Wildcats figure to be that way again. After Tressel, Pat Fitzgerald might be the league's best coach.  His team started 5-0 and came within an overtime loss to Missouri in the Alamo Bowl of winning 10 last season. There are too many holes this season to expect Northwestern to finish in the top half of the league but somebody's going to get punked by the purple in the parity-filled Big Ten.

7. Wisconsin -- Is it time to panic yet? Bielema started 21-5 in his first two seasons, then slumped to 7-6 last year. But it was the way it happened: Bielema still hasn't been able to find a serviceable quarterback. The Badgers looked lost on defense and the prospects aren't good for this season. The formula to beat Wisconsin hasn't changed: Let the tailbacks get their yards, smack the quarterback in the mouth, wait for the turnovers and control the ball against a poor-tackling defense.
 
8. Michigan -- I was at a Michigan scrimmage in April during the Final Four. Granted, you don't learn much from watching a scrimmage but it seemed to me the offense still struggled to move the ball. Rich Rod better hope that the early-enrolling Tate Forcier is the answer at quarterback. There isn't much behind him. The defense should toughen up. A bowl is a possibility but will a 5-7 season be considered progress?

9. Minnesota -- Third-year coach Tim Brewster has a new state-of-the art stadium. That won't distract fans from asking if the five-game season-ending losing streak is the beginning of the end or just a nit in Goldy's fur. Watch the combination of quarterback Adam Weber  and receiver Eric Decker.

10. Purdue -- There are spider webs in the cupboard left over from Tiller's era. Only two starters return on offense. The most experienced quarterback is fifth-year senior Joey Elliott who has played in 10 games in three seasons. Hope is looking at an 0-5 start if he can't beat Northern Illinois and Toledo early.

11. Indiana -- Kellen Lewis wasn't going to play quarterback anyway. Still, his dismissal from the team in April all but assures another down year in Bloomington. Lewis, the program's career passing touchdown leader, had been moved to receiver to make room for junior Ben Chappell. Lewis was the Hoosiers' best athlete. Without him there aren't many playmakers or much hope. Coach Bill Lynch might be on the hot seat.

Posted on: February 11, 2009 1:04 pm
Edited on: February 11, 2009 4:06 pm
 

The future of Mike Leach and other items

The feeling seems to be that Mike Leach will let the deadline expire for signing a new contract on Tuesday. I wrote about the situation on Wednesday.

That leaves him only two years left on a deal that is paid him $1.75 million in 2008, eighth-highest in the Big 12. More important, Texas Tech could be assured that Leach would be on his way out. Allowing him to walk after the 2010 season would not only hurt recruiting but probably distract Leach who would be looking for a new job.

That's not to say a new agreement couldn't be worked out at some future date, but giving a sitting coach a deadline to sign a deal is unique.

Here is a copy of what is believed to be Leach's current contract

 A look at the 2009 Pac-10 non-conference schedule: (Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner who rounded up the skeds)

Once again the Pac-10 is showing it isn't shy about playing out of conference. The league plays few I-AA opponents and is willing (maybe because of its geography) to travel to play high-profile opponents.

Best 2009 Pac-10 non-conference games:

1. USC at Ohio State, Sept. 12 -- Game of the Century No. 1,317. Will this be Terrelle Pryor's coming out party?

2. Utah at Oregon, Sept. 19 -- By this point in the schedule the Ducks will have played Boise, Purdue and Utah. Three BCS league opponents. Combined record from 2008: 29-9. Please, stop the madness. Even if the Ducks win all three, what condition will they be in for the Pac-10 schedule?

3. USC at Notre Dame, Oct. 17 -- Seven in a row and counting for the Trojans ...

4. Oregon at Boise State, Sept. 5 -- Can't understand why Oregon (and Oregon State) keep playing the Broncos. In this case, the loser might be out of a BCS bowl.

5. UCLA at Tennessee, Sept. 12 -- Rick Neuheisel won't be leading any postgame pep rallies in Neyland. When was the last time the Bruins and Vols were each this desperate for a quarterback?

6. Arizona State at Georgia, Sept. 26 -- The Devils were embarrassed by the Bulldogs last season in the middle of a six-game losing streak. In this return game, both teams are rebuilding.

7. Cincinnati at Oregon State, Sept. 19 -- Jacquizz Rodgers vs. the defending Big East champions.

8. LSU at Washington, Sept. 5 -- What is the Washington AD smoking? That brutal non-con schedule helped get Tyrone Willingham fired. Steve Sarkisian starts his career against an SEC monster.

9. Notre Dame at Stanford, Nov. 28 -- Irish season finale. Will it be Charlie Weis' finale?

10. Kansas State at UCLA, Sept. 19 -- Wait, Bill Snyder is actually getting on a plane to play a non-con road game?

11. Arizona at Iowa, Sept. 19 -- The Wildcats are on the rise but Iowa still start the season ranked despite the loss of tailback Shonn Greene.

12. Stanford at Wake Forest, Sept. 12 -- The I.Q. Bowl. Jim Harbaugh's scheduling instincts have to be questioned. His team is starting with consecutive roadies to Pullman (Washington State) and Winston-Salem.

13. Cal at Minnesota, Sept. 19 -- Gophers have almost everyone back in this season that will be a referendum on Tim Brewster's future. (started 7-1, finished 0-5). Hope the Bears have a secondary. Adam Decker could be a preseason All-American.

14. Maryland at Cal, Sept. 5 -- Plenty of revenge motive here for the Bears. Cal was down 28-6 after three quarters last season at Maryland before waking up. After winning nine in '08, the Bears have set their sights higher.

 How the economy will handle the glut of bowls -- natural selection.

 The president is a recruitnik too.

It is the responsibility of this space to keep alive the printed word whenever possible. To that end, let me recommend two excellent, recently-released books.

"KU Basketball Vault, The History Of The Jayhawks," is a unique look at one the most decorated programs in hoops by veteran college basketball scribe Ken Davis. Unique? When was the last time you got souvenirs with your coffee table book?

"Big Boy Rules, America's Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq" will change your entire view of the war, the government and human nature. Steve Fainaru of the Washington Post provides a deeply personal look at the Bush travesty that is the Iraq war. Steve is a Pulitzer Prize winner who was a former colleague at the Kansas City Star.

I know, I know. I can hear you. That's as close as I'll ever get to a Pulitzer.

 

Posted on: November 12, 2008 10:36 am
Edited on: November 12, 2008 10:36 am
 

Weis and Leach

The walls are closing in on Notre Dame's Charlie Weis. My bud Greg Couch of the Chicago Sun-Times fired this missle on Monday.

 Former Minnesota coach Glen Mason provided one of the colorful looks at Mike Leach to date. Mason, now with the Big Ten Network, told this story recently to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. This was from December 2006 before Minnesota and Texas Tech were going to meet in the Insight Bowl in Phoenix.

 

"We were brought to New York a while before the game to be at the opening bell (of NASDAQ) -- myself and [athletic director Joel] Maturi, and [coach] Mike Leach and [AD] Gerald Myers from Tech," Mason said.

"We had dinner at a very nice Manhattan restaurant the night before. Leach showed up in khaki pants, an Under Armour T-shirt and a sports coat. We walked around for an hour after dinner and were headed back to the hotel. Leach said he was going to stay out for a while.

"The next day, we get to NASDAQ, Leach shows up and he's in the same clothes. I honestly think he had been out all night. We all were told to say a few words but keep it to no more than 30 seconds. Maturi said something, then Myers, then me and then Leach gets the mike. He says, 'I don't have much to add, so as we say in Lubbock, 'GUNS UP!'

"He shouts it, and people on the floor hear 'guns,' and they are ducking for cover, and security is running around.

"I tell you, Leach ... he's a different sort of cat.''

 

 

Posted on: November 2, 2008 2:28 pm
 

Random thoughts on a football Saturday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Florida has the Ol' Ball Coach back.

Younger, certainly, and less chatty. Plus, Urban Meyer doesn't have quite the swashbuckling nature of Steve Spurrier.

But he isn't far off.

Meyer no doubt hacked off Georgia -- and maybe some football purists -- with his little stage production at the end of Saturday's 49-10 victory over Georgia.

The coach called two inexplicable -- and indefensible -- timeouts in the final minute. Florida's second-team offense had the ball to run out the clock, or so we thought. At no time did backup quarterback Jeff Brantley take a knee.

Instead, Meyer called his team over to the sideline with both 44 and 31 seconds remaining.

"I wasn't paying attention to the first timeout," Florida safety Will Hill told the <em>New York Daily News</em>. "The second timeout, I'm thinking, 'That Urb is a funny guy.'"

Meyer had promised in his book "Urban's Way" that there would be retribution for Georgia's bum rushing of the field last season in the Cocktail Party. Up until that point, the teams had played it mostly straight.

The timeouts, though, were clearly calculated meant to drag out the agony for Georgia.

"(Tailback Emmanuel) Moody was running the ball real hard and I wanted to get him a couple of carries," Meyer said innocently. "Just trying to win a game."

Yeah, right. And Napoleon was trying to get his point across during this skirmishes in Europe.

Meyer gave himself away Saturday with a brief smile in the interview room. Other that, it was poker face all the way. That's the difference between him and Spurrier. The OBC always had a smirk or a wink.

Meyer has a can full of revengeful whup --- and he isn't afraid to use it.

The coach didn't endear himself to Miami fans earlier this season when he called for a late field goal in a 26-3 victory over the Hurricanes.

Miami coach Randy Shannon officially has a grudge leftover from that one. He was quoted last week as saying, "Something is going to happen," in the Florida-Georgia game. That almost put pressure on Meyer to do <em>something</em>.

"Watch that game. Don't watch ours," Shannon said. "I'm serious."

Florida got a winner when it hired Meyer four years ago. It didn't know it was getting a reasonable facsimile of Spurrier.

Meyer, though, is a bit more stealthy and charmless than the legend. This season he has put his foot on the throat of a couple rivals and pressed down. Are things even with Georgia now or do the Bulldogs retaliate at some future date? Miami won't have a chance for a few more years. The series doesn't continue until the next decade.

"You always respect the game of football," Meyer said.

Did Meyer respect it Saturday night? There is plenty of time to find out. They say what goes around comes around.  Meyer is still a young man in his 40s.

 Michigan's 33-year bowl streak is over after losing to Purdue 48-42.

 

Boilermakers' coach Joe Tiller what-the-helled-it calling for a hook-and-ladder in final minute. Purdue scored the winner with 26 seconds left.

Things are much more bleak than the last time Michigan didn't go to a bowl. That was 1974 and the Wolverines finished 10-1. Those were the days when only the Big Ten winner was allowed to go bowling, in the Rose Bowl.

 What's Tim Brewster doing throwing from deep in his own territory?

 

The Minnesota coach's decision to do just that might have cost his team a Jan. 1 bowl. Adam Weber's pass was intercepted near midfield and run in for a touchdown in Northwestern's 24-17 victory.

 Some things never change. West Virginia gave the Big East some hope with a 35-13 victory over UConn. The Mountaineers are the only team undefeated in conference play (6-2, 3-0) and have won five in a row.

 

 Just when you thought there was some sense to be made out of the ACC ... Division-leading Virginia lost to Miami in overtime. Florida State fumbled into the end zone allowing Georgia Tech to escape. Even Clemson won, beating Boston College at home.

 

The team with the ACC's best conference record, Maryland, didn't play. The Terps (6-2, 3-1) lead the Atlantic Division and are at Virginia Tech on Thursday. Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2) has a half-game lead in the Coastal.

 It didn't just seem that every big game was close, it was the truth. Nine teams in the AP top 25 were involved in games decided by 10 points or less.

 

 Oklahoma State is 8-1 for only the third time in its history over beating Iowa State 59-17. Does anyone else think the Cowboys just might be the best in the Big 12? They will get a chance to prove it going to Texas Tech this week.

 

 For the record, it was warmer in Overland Park, Kan. this weekend than it was in Jacksonville, Fla. for the Cocktail Party. First Coast, my backside. Driving through downtown to get to the stadium, I had to negotiate a bum rush of a different kind. The city can get a Super Bowl but apparently it can't take care of its indigent.

It still boggles the mind that this city has an NFL franchise and has hosted at least one NCAA Tournament first-rounder. It is not major league.

Posted on: October 29, 2008 10:44 am
Edited on: October 29, 2008 2:11 pm
 

National notes

Breaking news out of Happy Valley: You don't have to be a linguist to figure out Joe Paterno said a mouthful this week after getting his ailing hip checked.

"I want to find out from (doctors) what needs to be done," Joe said, "and get it done as soon as I can after the season is over so I can get on the road to recruit."

Recruiting? For, like, 2009? There you have it, in case you're wondering if JoePa is going to hang up the white socks. The Penn State president's office had no comment. (OK, kidding on that last one).

 Minnesota was a national embarrassment in 2007: 1-11, last in total defense. It couldn't get worse.

 

There was whispers that rookie head coach Tim Brewster was a colossal mistake. But the coach had yet to work his 
magic.

"He's the best recruiter I've been around. Period," said Texas' Mack Brown.

The two had worked together for 13 years. There was a reason Brown kept him close. Brewster could charm Warren 
Buffet out of his wallet.

"I'm just surprised he did it so early," Brown said. 

It is more than a surprise that Minnesota 7-1 and ranked 20th. From the dregs of '07, Brewster now has the Gophers 
in contention for the biggest I-A turnaround ever. The current record is an 8 1/2-game improvement. Hawaii improved 
by that margin in 1999 (from 0-12 to 9-4). Minnesota is currently eight games better than last season. If it 
finishes 10-3 it would tie the record; 11-2 and it break it.

The turnaround started, of course, with recruiting. Brewster says he brought in 45 players for official visits. Thirty-one signed, including a couple of jucos who provided immediate help. Defensive backs Traye Simmons, Tramaine Brock and Simoni Lawrence have combined for 7 1/2 tackles for loss, four interceptions, 17 passes broken up and three forced fumbles.

Quarterback Adam Weber matured. Receiver Eric Decker is tied for third nationally with 66 
receptions. Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg is back healthy from a broken wrist.

There are those who will tell you that for all credit Brewster gets for this season, he must bear some blame for 
last season. The cupboard wasn't exactly bare when Brewster took over Glen Mason's 6-7 team in 2006 before the 
bottom fell out. Six of the 11 losses were by a touchdown or less, two in overtime.

"It was gut-wrenching," Brewster said. "We had a lot of sad Saturday evenings, a lot of hard Sundays. There's been 
nothing given to this team."

Minny has benefitted from a friendly schedule -- it misses Penn State and Michigan State -- but, hey, things were so bad last season that it isn't fair to put qualifiers on this turnaround. The defense is No. 1 in takeaways with 24.

"It's really different, especially from last year," defensive back Kyle Theret said. "We weren't even close to 
shutting down people to six points, no touchdowns."

That was the result last week in a 17-6 over slumping Purdue. Northwestern is up this week and once again the 
schedule is friendly. Wildcats quarterback C.J. Bacher is questionable with a hammy. Tailback Tyrell Sutton is out  for the season.
With games left against Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa (combined record 11-13), the Gophers could pull a complete 
turnaround and finish 11-1. A Jan. 1 bowl is not out of the question for a program that hasn't been to one since the 1962 Rose Bowl.

Brewster is one of those worker bees who finally got his shot. There were a lot of raised eyebrows when the Denver 
Broncos tight ends coach got a Big Ten job. But Brewster came well recommended. He lists his biggest influences as 
Brown, Mike Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer. His son Nolan plays at Texas.

Armed with momentum, Brewster can't let it slip. TCF Bank Stadium, the result of a long-time Mason crusade, opens 
next season. It will be a palace, the first new Big Ten stadium built in 49 years. Open-air football in Minnesota 
sure beats the Metrodome no matter what the temperature.

"It's just not a collegiate environment. It's a pro environment," Brewster said. "The average game day temperature 
at the University of Minnesota through November 15 is 64 degrees. It's way overplayed. Winter's winter. Cold is cold. You know what? That's a good thing."


 Handicapping the Washington job.

1. Jim Mora, Jr., Seattle Seahawks secondary coach. His head says hang on to replace Mike Holmgren. His heart says 
go to the alma mater. Please, Jim, take the U-Dub job. You are the most passionate candidate available. Mora also 
comes armed with head coaching experience, something this opening desperately needs.

2. Chris Petersen, Boise State. Has to be the No. 1 choice if Mora says no, doesn't he? Petersen can recruit 
California and can't accomplish much more in Boise. It's time for him to take a step up.

3. Gary Patterson, TCU. Defensive master-mind who, with the right offensive coordinator could be perfect for the job. Part of the Mountain West overthrow of the Pac-10. Completely happy at TCU but someday he will listen. Will he take Washington's call? 

4. Pat Hill, Fresno State. Pat would improve the defense and the get the media back but he has never won so much as 
a WAC title. Petersen's younger.

5. Troy Calhoun, Air Force. NFL experience, Pacific Northwest roots. Run-based offense that some Washington loyalists want to see return to Husky Stadium.

6. Lane Kiffin, unemployed. Still having problems identifying what Lane has actually done. The list of failed 
Raiders coaches goes out the door. Supposedly, he can coordinate an offense but this job needs soooo much more.

7. Dave Christensen, Missouri offensive coordinator. Somewhat of a flavor-of-the-month. DC has been there for eight 
years. Missouri's offense has been on the national scene for two. Christensen looks cool riding his motorcycle and 
has U-Dub ties but doesn't this opening deserve a guy with head coaching experience?

8. Mike Leach, Texas Tech.  Leach wants it. Does Washington want him?

9. Gary Pinkel, Missouri. He ain't going so forget it.

 

 The finalists for the Draddy Award, also known as the academic Heisman

 

Andrew Berry, CB, Harvard -- You would expect nothing less from this former Goldman Sachs interim who participated in 
Harvard's first night game last season.

Ryan Berry, QB, South Dakota State -- Pre-med and American Dairy Association basketball clinic participant.

Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri -- Heisman candidate and business administration major who counts Warren Buffet among his close friends.

Brian Freeman, OT, Carnegie Mellon -- three-time student employee of the year finalist. Rock on, Brian.

Casey Gerald, CB, Yale -- Accepted to Harvard Business School and applying for Rhodes scholarship. Thank goodness 
the football thing hasn't gotten in the way.

Graham Harrrell, QB, Texas Tech -- You can't touch him (4.0 in first semester of graduate work) and you can't touch 
him (sacked only three times this season).

Quin Harris, LB, Louisiana Tech -- Graduated magna cum laude in clinical kinesiology.

Jeff Horinek, LB, Colorado State -- Seems to have mastered in football his areas of post graduate interest: 
nutrition and biomechanics.

Ryan Kees, DE, St. Cloud State -- Pride of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

Alex Mack, C, Cal -- Pancakes, knockdowns and magna cum laude in legal studies.

Ryan McDonald, OL, Illinois -- Aerospace engineer major. Career should lift off. Thanks, I'll be here all week.

Greg Micheli, QB, Mount Union -- Quite the mathlete. Division II All-American and physics major.

Darryl Richard, DT, Georgia Tech -- If this guy can play for Paul Johnson, he deserves for to be on this list.

Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio State -- Not everything about Ohio State is overrated.

Louie Sakoda, P/K, Utah -- Laser Foot who can drop punts inside the 20 with the best of them.

Posted on: October 15, 2008 10:56 am
 

National notes at the halfway point

One of the best measures for an improved program is the games ahead/behind method. Look at baseball standings for an example. The NCAA includes a section in its statistics book each year that tracks the most improved teams from one year to the next. In 2007, it was Illinois which went from 2-10 in 2006 to 9-4 last season. That's an improvement of 6 1/2 games.

Hawaii holds the record improving by 8 1/2 games in 1999. Ironically, the Warriors might be on the opposite side of that stat this season.

At the halfway point, I thought it would be a good idea to figure the biggest improvements and biggest declines of the 2008 season. Remember, some of the numbers might be skewed because we've played only half a season. But this might be a good measuring stick for coach of the year candidates and provide a short list of coaches about to be fired.

Most improved

1. Minnesota +7 1/2 games (from 1-11 to 6-1)
2. Duke +5 1/2
3. North Carolina +4
4. Pittsburgh +3 1/2
5. several tied at +3

Biggest decline

1. Hawaii -5 1/2 games (from 12-1 to 3-3)
2. Central Florida, Tennessee -4
4. LSU, Arizona State, Florida Atlantic, Michigan, West Virginia, Rutgers, Kansas - 3 1/2

Most improved by conference: Baylor, +3; ACC, Duke +5 1/2; Big East, Pittsburgh, +3 1/2; Conference USA, Rice/Marshall, +3; Mountain West, Colorado  State/UNLV, +3; MAC, Ball State/Northern Illinois, +3; SEC, Vanderbilt/Ole Miss, +3; WAC, New Mexico State, +3: Independents, Notre Dame, +3; Big Ten,  Minnesota, +7 1/2; Sun Belt, Florida International/Louisiana-Lafayette, +3; Pac-10, Stanford, +2 1/2.

Biggest decline by conference: ACC, Boston College/Clemson/Virginia, -2 1/2; Big 12, Kansas, -3 1/2; Big East, West Virginia/Rutgers, -3 1/2; Big Ten, Michigan, -3 1/2;  Independents, Western Kentucky, -2 1/2; Conference USA, Central Florida -4; MAC, Bowling Green/Ohio/Miami (Ohio), -1 1/2; Mountain West, New Mexico, -3; SEC, Tennessee, -4; Pac-10, Arizona State -3 1/2; WAC, Hawaii -5 1/2; Sun Belt, Florida Atlantic, -3 1/2.

Storylines for the second half

Will anyone go unbeaten?: It looks like the SEC and Big 12 will cannibalize each other. That leaves a bunch of one-loss powers that also could include Ohio State, Penn State, USC and Utah or Brigham Young.

Heisman race: Tim Tebow won't repeat and the Big 12 looks like it has a lock on the 2008 winner. But which player?

JoePa In the Sky With A Headset: Can Penn State's venerable coach win a Big Ten title and national championship without setting foot on the field the rest of  the way? Physical problems continue to keep JoePa in the press box. When asked Tuesday if he needed a hip replacement, Paterno answered cryptically, "I don't  know." It isn't exactly Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds but anything Joe does the rest of the season is going to be followed closely.

The non-BCS challengers: TCU, BYU and Utah are all in the mix. If Tulsa can win at Arkansas on Nov. 1 the Golden Hurricane will be a factor. The MAC is  simply too tough for Ball State (7-0) to go undefeated but you have to root for the Cardinals. Their best receiver's career is over (Dante Love) and their quarterback (Nate Davis) wears gloves.

Biggest looming controversy: If a one-loss team from the SEC, Big Ten or Big 12 is edged out of the BCS title game by an undefeated non-BCS school.

Next coach to be fired: Given the swiftly declining situation at Auburn it might be Tommy Tuberville. Other than that, Washington's Tyrone Willingham and  Syracuse's Greg Robinson are locks. Keep an eye also on San Diego State's Chuck Long and Central Florida's George O'Leary.

Biggest upset looming out there: Not in terms of David and Goliath but watch the Texas at Texas Tech game on Nov. 1. If both teams keep winning you're looking at No. 1 Texas vs. a Red Raiders team that should be in the BCS top five. If Texas Tech wins try to wrap your mind around Mike Leach and his Pirate  Love jumping up to No. 1.

Get out your swords and Johnny Depp movies.

BCS bowl predictions at the halfway point

BCS title game: Penn State* vs. Oklahoma*
Fiesta Bowl: Texas vs. Alabama
Sugar Bowl: Florida* vs. South Florida*
Orange Bowl: BYU^ vs. Virginia Tech*
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. USC*

*-conference champ
^-non-BCS automatic qualifier

  Remember last week when Washington State held open tryouts to find a scout team quarterback? The winner of that competition, Peter Roberts, suddenly finds himself a viable backup option with the Cougars headed into the USC game.

 Speaking of injuries, it's a shame that two stars at Kentucky and North Carolina recently saw their careers end. Carolina's Brandon Tate, the I-A career  leader in kick return yards, is finished because of a knee injury. Exciting Kentucky receiver Dicky Lyons is done because of a knee ligament tear.

 

 Don't say I didn't warn you. I know what I said about Texas and Texas Tech above but indulge me: The way things are shaking out, a Kansas-Oklahoma State Big 12 title game isn't out of the question. If Texas beats Missouri on Saturday then it becomes more likely. Kansas is playing better and has Texas at home later in the season. KU and Missouri meet in Kansas City on Nov. 29.

 

Oklahoma State is playing better than anyone in the conference (that includes Texas). That head-to-head game is Oct. 25.

 Remember this when you watch BYU and TCU on Thursday night. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall allows each special teams unit to name a captain. The captain then  names starters and backups for each unit. Wonder if that ever happens in the SEC?

 

 


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