Mailbag: If O'Brien leaves, where does Penn State look?
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien's name has come up a lot with NFL vacancies. What would PSU do if he does bolt? The Nittany Lions options are explored in this week's mailbag along with Pitt's prospects for 2014; the Texas coaching search through the prism of the BCS Title Game plus the most surprising conference in 2013.
Here is this week's mailbag. As always, send your questions to me via Twitter to @BFeldmanCBS:
With O'Brien negotiating down his NFL buyout considerably this year, it doesn't seem like much of a stretch that this could be his last season in State College. If so, O'Brien did a very impressive job with the Nittany Lions under extremely difficult circumstances. (The NFL Network reported that O'Brien has agreed to an interview with the Houston Texans.)
Penn State, which now has a stud QB (Christian Hackenberg) to build around for at least the next two seasons and some scholarship relief the NCAA, should have some good options if O'Brien bolts. Two guys I'd expect to be high on PSU's list: Vandy's James Franklin and 49ers assistant Greg Roman, the former Stanford OC who, word is, got a long look before O'Brien landed the job a few years ago. Both guys have northeast ties and have worked at places with tough academic standards.
Roman's rep inside coaching circles is hefty given how much he has meant to Jim Harbaugh as an offensive wiz in Palo Alto and now with the 49ers. Roman doesn't have head coaching experience, but neither did O'Brien.
Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, has worked wonders at Vandy. He's young, organized and has proven he can put a real jolt into a program. The 41-year-old walked into the toughest conference in college football three years ago and transformed a program that won just 13 SEC games in the previous 10 seasons. After a 6-7 debut season in Nashville, the charismatic Franklin has coached the Commodores to a 17-8 record and a 9-5 mark in their past 14 SEC games. Thing is, Franklin's name is very hot in coaching circles. I expect him to get a lot of consideration for the Texas vacancy, among other jobs.
The great David Jones, whose opinions/intel I trust more than any writer when it comes to things related to Penn State, also mentioned Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, a former Penn State standout as well as ex-Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. Another name I've seen people bring up is former Penn State player Al Golden, who is now at Miami.
I'm skeptical Golden would leave UM at this point for Penn State. He endured a lot of the heavy lifting after walking into a dumpster fire in Coral Gables with that Nevin Shapiro mess. And, now that he is stocking the program with his players and a loaded 2014 signing class, just as UM emerges from the dark clouds of the NCAA I wouldn't think Golden would want to walk back into a deeper NCAA scholarship hole and a heftier rebuilding job.
Another proven winner with northeast ties who probably would be worth a look is Ball State's Pete Lembo, a 43-year-old Georgetown grad who has won everywhere he's been. He took over a Ball State program that was 6-18 the previous two seasons before he'd arrived. In his second season, BSU went 9-4, and this season, the Cardinals are 10-2. He also led Ball State to the highest APR in school history.
If Roman doesn't work for them in the Hot Coordinator role this time, maybe Michigan State's superb DC Pat Narduzzi would be worth a closer look. I know he just turned down the UConn head coaching job, but even digging out of the NCAA hole, Penn State is a much bigger opportunity.
From @wilk3321: does pitt start 2014 in your top 25??
It's too soon to tell which underclassmen are going to leave and which stay at programs around the country, but from what I saw Thursday night, the future for the Panthers looks promising. Freshmen James Conner and Tyler Boyd were fantastic in the win over Bowling Green. The 6-2, 230-pound Conner battered BG for 229 rushing yards and even played some defense as a late-game pass-rushing specialist while Boyd caught eight passes for 173 yards and also scored on a punt return.
Pitt will have to replace senior QB Tom Savage, but the Panthers had to do a trial run in the second half of the bowl after the big quarterback was injured and former blue-chip recruit Chad Voytik was impressive in his absence. The redshirt freshman went 5-of-9 for 108 yards along with two carries for 24 yards and a TD. Pitt also will have back three starters from its O-line. Plus gifted freshman OT Adam Bisnowaty also started most of the 2013 season but missed the bowl due to a back injury.
The player Pitt really will miss next year is all-everything DT Aaron Donald, but keep in mind sophomore LB Nicholas Grigsby and junior safety Ray Vinopal, two of the Panthers best players in the bowl, will be back. And the Panthers also did start three true freshmen on D in the bowl with DE Shakir Soto and safety Terrish Webb making their first starts and CB Titus Howard making his second start.
From @jeffgberg: will a head coach coaching in one of this year's BCS games end up at Texas?
Just guessing right now, I think of the two of them -- Jimbo Fisher and Gus Malzahn -- I'd say Fisher is more likely to end up in the mix at Texas. He agreed to a new deal a few months back, but I suspect FSU would have to re-evaluate that deal especially if Fisher ends up leading the Noles to their first national title in 15 years and Texas comes calling.
Think about it like this knowing the egos involved: A&M is on the hook to now pay its coach $5 million a year. I don't see UT shying away IF it targets Fisher, making a little over $4 million. Texas brass would definitely make a big effort if--IF--the Longhorns really want Fisher. But for now, things on that front are in a holding pattern because no coach with a BCS title game hanging in the balance is gonna engage in that.
From @AyoOmarComin: how good can Shane Morris be Saturday night?
The Michigan freshman QB has some good receivers to throw to. Morris also has good physical tools in terms of his arm strength and athleticism. The question with him is his maturity and focus, and those things will be tested in the bowl game. A big key for Morris will be how much help the Wolverines' suspect O-line can provide. K-State has a solid D (No. 35 in scoring defense and No. 24 in pass efficiency defense). My pick in this game is K-State 20, Michigan 10.
From @akosnitzky: What conference (positive or negative) surprised you the most this year?
I'd say the ACC has been a pleasant surprise. Obviously, it'll help if the league's teams back that up in bowl play, especially FSU, Clemson, Va. Tech, Miami and Duke. All five of these teams are in bowl games against ranked opponents and only FSU is the team with the higher ranking. Still, considering that FSU didn't stub its toe and made the BCS Title Game is a good step. As was Duke winning 10 games; Miami winning nine and being in the Top 25 most of the season and Clemson opening the season with a good win over Georgia en route to 10 wins. Boston College, Syracuse and Maryland all had nice seasons too.
From @edsbs: what is hope?
In your case, hope is a bald, bespectacled 41-year-old man who once got heckled at a Hermosa bar for wearing a Duke football shirt by a drunken idiot who had just won over $30,000 on The Price is Right.
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