Dan Hawkins will have no particular pearls of wisdom that night three months from now, which is surprising. The Boise State coach is arguably the deepest thinker in his profession. Think of Phil Jackson on blue turf.
|Boise State will be riding a 26-game WAC win streak this year. (Getty Images)|
And then get beat by three touchdowns -- which is the supposed result for a mid-major on the cusp of becoming the next Utah. But how, it might be asked, does his program take the next step opening the season in the belly of the beast?
SEC. Hot. Humid. 90,000 screaming mad dog Bulldogs. The last mid-major to win there was Southern Miss in 1996. All that a few months after a 22-game winning streak ended with a four-point loss to Louisville in the Liberty Bowl.
"It's not like we sought it out," Hawkins said of that season-opening trip to Athens.
That's code for Boise getting a reported $600,000 guarantee. Success pays, but sometimes that means programs have to go on the road to collect the check. The risk is that while Hawkins has elevated his program to this point, it might be smacked right back down in what might be the biggest, most intimidating venue Boise State has ever played in.
The program is at a precipitous point in its history. It is too good for most major-college programs to take on in Boise. But by playing big-time opponents on the road, it risks hurting its winning percentage and, perhaps, its players.
"Is it such a pitfall that couldn't do a two-for-one with anyone in the country to come here?" Hawkins wondered. "I've had a lot of coaches tell me, 'The old adage is you don't ever play a team that could beat you at their place.'"
Going to Bronco Stadium is simply too risky at this point for non-WAC foes. Because it took numerous two-for-ones, (two road games for one home game) Boise is opening with two consecutive games on the road for the first time since 1977.
Oregon State played a game in Boise last year but got beat 53-34, which might as well have been an advertisement for big-time schools to stay away. The Beavers, which play host to the Broncos on Sept. 10, are contractually bound to return in 2006. After that, Washington and Oregon are future Pac-10 opponents. But history has proven that buyouts are easier than road games in snake pits.
That's what Boise has become -- great, to the delight of the region, which supports one of the most successful programs of the 21st century. Hawkins, who took over for Dirk Koetter in 2001, is 44-7 overall, 36-3 since 2002. Perhaps more impressive is a 26-game WAC winning streak.
In essence, Boise State has done what Utah did last year -- only for the past three years.
Logic would dictate that Hawkins should be gone by now just like Houston Nutt (one year) and Koetter (three years) before him. The scheduling problem suggests Boise has hit a wall after sniffing at the boundaries of automatic BCS qualification last year (top six). Hawkins could triple his salary at a major program like, say, Washington where he was most recently rumored to be heading.
But the religious and soulful Hawkins is committed to seeing his four children grow up in the area, which makes his story even more intriguing. Two daughters are in college. Sons Cody, 17, and Drew, 15, are still in high school. With all the frustrations, there are worse places to be.
"The reason that he has garnered a lot of admiration in Boise is that he's not full of himself," said Bob Evancho, who is writing a book with Hawkins. "He's got kind of a healthy perspective on other aspects."
Hawkins likes to quote Sun Tzu, Crazy Horse, Mother Theresa and the likes of musicians Jerry Jeff Walker and Van Morrison. His office is littered with books from great philosophers. An Xs and Os book (tentatively titled Hawk), this is not.
Evancho, a university relations staffer, compares it more to Jackson's book Sacred Hoops, with musings on life and football. Try to think of another I-A coach who will to go that deep in his soul to pump out a book. Quotable Joe (Paterno), it isn't.
"I do think that sometimes we think we could never be like Tiger Woods or Ghandi or Martin Luther King," Hawkins said. "The reality is when you get down to it, they were ordinary people that responded extraordinarily in certain circumstances. We're all capable of that if we're able to maintain the vision and the passion."
As for observations having a tangible effect on players, Hawkins said it's more of an overall philosophy.
"You can wear it out if they say, 'Oh, here comes the philosophical message for the day,' he said. "One thing I always tell them is they need to be abnormal. You've got to be abnormal if you want to get where you want to go in life."
Maybe that's why the trip to Georgia makes sense. Boise State's two other trips to SEC venues under Hawkins resulted in a combined 73-27 losing margin against Arkansas and South Carolina. The risk is great but the reward for an emerging program is even greater.
"We always try to not put self-limiting thoughts on ourselves and shoot for the stars," Hawkins said. "I don't think you can get caught up in a whole bunch of that other stuff, otherwise you're neurotic."
Notre Dame loses a classy coach
A year ago, then-Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe underwent a heart exam. Everything looked fine -- except his future. Cutcliffe couldn't have foreseen being fired after the 2004 season, then undergoing a triple heart bypass in March.
It was all too much for one of the most respected offensive minds in college football. Charlie Weis' offensive coordinator formally left the Notre Dame staff Wednesday before coaching a practice, citing the lingering effects of the surgery.
"I'm not ready to jump back into it at this time," Cutcliffe said by phone from Oxford, Miss. where he is still rehabilitating. "I lost about 30 pounds. It's been a tough ordeal. I just want that energy level back."
Cutcliffe was seen as stud hire for Weis when the Notre Dame coach assembled his staff. His stature rose on the national level when Tennessee won the 1998 national championship with Cutcliffe as offensive coordinator. Having spent 17 years as an assistant at Tennessee and six seasons at Ole Miss, Cutcliffe had coached both Peyton and Eli Manning.
Now he is moving back to Tennessee to continue the rehab and spend time with his family.
"I think the future is a little unclear," Cutcliffe said. "When I first had the surgery I had two or three different complications that put me back in the hospital and slowed me down. You value your family more and more after these issues."
In 1999, Cutcliffe suffered acute pancreatitis and underwent the removal of his gall bladder while at Ole Miss. Since the end of the 2003 season, Cutcliffe's luck hasn't been the best. After a 10-win season under Eli Manning, the Rebels slumped to 4-7 last year. Then there was the firing after Cutcliffe reportedly refused to fire some assistants. He was 44-29 in six seasons in Oxford.
"(My recent luck) hasn't been real good," he said, "Stress had something to do with this heart problem. Anybody who has ever had it, it's a very emotional thing to go through. You're the one under the saw. I've heard people tell me it took them over a year to get back to normal. It's different for everyone."
Once fully recovered, there is no doubt that the 50-year old Cutcliffe will be back in the game. He has too much to offer. He is the main reason Eli came to Ole Miss, instead of following his brother to Tennessee. In essence, he called the plays for the best seasons at both Tennessee and Mississippi since 1997.
Meanwhile, Weis has to scramble to find a new offensive coordinator. Anticipating the possibility of Cutcliffe leaving, Weis said he has a candidate in mind. The new coordinator, he said, will have to adapt to the new offense, not install one. Three months from kickoff, it's never a good thing to have to replace the assistant head coach who is also the guy that designs the offense.
Sanctity of the coaches' vote
It was amusing more than outrageous that Steve Spurrier reiterated this week at the SEC meetings that he usually votes Duke in his preseason top 25 coaches poll ballot.
It's Spurrier's way of giving a shout out to his former employer. Spur Dog guided Duke to a share of the ACC title in 1988.
What's distressing is that the AFCA told CBS SportsLine.com last year that it has never taken the vote away from a coach for improper voting patterns. If Spurrier is being allowed his dalliance, how do we know that other coaches don't flat-out penalize hated rivals by leaving them out of the Top 25?
Making the ballots public at the end of the season hardly answers that question.
College football's next
It should be no surprise that 14 of the 27 early five-star prospects recently released by Rivals.com list national champion USC as one of their favorites. Further evidence that the Trojans are turning away recruits as much as recruiting them.
The 14 future men of Troy(?):
- Virginia Beach, Va., receiver Percy Harvin comes off as the most valuable prospect. The 6-foot-1, 188-pound has possibilities at several positions.
- Massive Andre Smith, a 6-5, 328-pound offensive lineman from Birmingham, Ala.
- Athlete Myron Rolle from The Hun School in Princeton, N.J., projects as a safety or corner.
- The nation's top running back prospect is Lesean McCoy of Harrisburg, Pa. At 5-10, 193, McCoy seems like a poor man's Darren Sproles.
- Seattle's Taylor Mays has the ability to play linebacker, safety, receiver and running back at 6-3, 210.
- Allen Bradford of Compton, Calif., could be the nation's best running back or linebacker.
- The top player in Florida is 6-8, 280-pound offensive tackle Sam Young from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale. Aquinas is a legendary producer of top-line college talent. The three in-state schools are involved too.
- The second-best California recruit (next to Bradford) is safety Stafon Johnson from Los Angeles Dorsey.
- Running back Demarco Murray is the best player in Nevada. He has been compared to Reggie Bush.
- USC is the only school west of Norman that instinctive safety Reshad Jones of Atlanta is considering.
- USC's history of tall, speedy receivers should fit for Lemoore, Calif., native David Ausberry, a 6-4, 200-pounder.
- Jacksonville, Fla., quarterback Tim Tebow might want to check the depth chart at USC. It's stocked.
- Offensive tackle Stephen Schilling was part of the Bellevue (Wash.) team that ended Concord (Calif.) De La Salle's 151-game winning streak.
- Receiver/defensive back Jamar Hornsby of Jacksonville is the No. 3 recruit in Florida.
- BCS commissioners have backtracked since their annual Phoenix meeting in April. Now it appears that the commissioners will formally announce a new poll to replace the AP by June 15, but that details (who will vote, etc.) won't be worked out until as late as July 15.
- One huge conflict in this era of instant replay: Look for some contentious discussions between opponents before major non-conference games. It will still be the option of the visiting team to decline the use of instant replay in such games. There will be good reason for the non-con visitor to junk replay. Example: Texas goes to Ohio State on Sept. 10 with a Big 12 officiating crew. The replay observer in the press box will have been hired by the Big Ten, (usually a retired official). With so much at stake, the conflicts over the still-new system are too significant to overcome.
- As reported here in April, the Mountain West looks like it will be the only conference to allow a coach's challenge in its instant replay system. The league has submitted to the NCAA for approval a system that would allow a coach to challenge an official's call once per half. If the coach is right, he is given another challenge. If not, the team loses a timeout during that half.
- USC's Matt Leinart is actually ahead of schedule compared to last year. Leinart threw for the first time last week since January surgery for tendinitis. Last year, Leinart didn't throw until a week before fall camp and was limited in practice until about halfway through the regular season because of the same tendinitis.
- The reason for Joe Dailey's unlikely transfer to North Carolina has become clear. The former Nebraska quarterback fell from No. 1 on the depth chart before spring practice to No. 4 following the spring game. North Carolina defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders was a Nebraska assistant in 2003. Dailey most likely will compete with Roger Heinz, who will be a junior in 2006, and sophomore Cameron Sexton.