Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Smorgasbord: College Football Potpourri

*University of Pittsburgh Athletic Director Steve Pederson got a mulligan that may profoundly impact the future of the football program. Pederson was under intense criticism for his handling of the firing of Dave Wannstedt and the hiring and firing of Mike Haywood who was arrested for domestic abuse just two weeks into the job. No one will know what kind of job Haywood would have done, but it was clear that he didn't inspire much enthusiasm or confidence. With a second chance Pitt expanded their search and settled on Todd Graham of Tulsa. Graham was deemed too expensive the first time around, but Pederson and Pitt upped the ante when they got a second chance. Good choice. Graham hit a home run with his introductory press conference and has the players, alumni and fans genuinely excited. If Graham's teams do an equally good job on the field, Pitt football may actually move back on to the national stage that has been so elusive the last thirty years.

*In the "You can't Please All the People" Dept. some fans and others who wish the worst for Pitt are criticizing the hire because they see Graham using the Pitt job as a stepping stone. Big deal. If Graham leaves in two or three years for a "bigger" job it will most certainly because he has won a couple BCS bowl games. If that is the case, so be it. Pitt should be happy with that kind of success. And there is a big buyout provision in Graham's contract that is going to make it tough for anyone to come calling in the near future.

*How is it possible that college football players are not taught to return blocked punts?

In the Sugar Bowl between Ohio St.-Arkansas, Arkansas was down five with less than two minutes to play and Ohio St. faced a fourth down in their own territory. Arkansas blocked the punt and three guys chased it down near the OSU 25 yard line, 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The players could not scoop it up cleanly, so they fell on the ball which meant they were immediately down according to the college rules. Two plays later the Arkansas quarterback threw an interception. Game over. A few days later, Pitt did the exact same thing. This is ridiculously bad coaching and is completely overlooked by the media. The punt is a change of possession play, it is not a loose ball. No matter who recovers, the receiving team gets possession. There is no reason to ever fall on the ball. Pick it up and run until tackled. In this case it cost Arkansas the game.

*I understand why people want a football playoff system. I don't. I'll just repeat the oft-used example of college basketball as the reason why. The Big East is a great conference and has seven teams in the top 25. Sure it is interesting to watch a game now and then, but the games don't have any meaning. They are all going to be in the NCAA Tournament and then things will shake out. The Tournament in basketball is great, but not practical in football. The "Every Game Counts" mantra of college football may be tired, but it's true. And no matter how big you make a football playoff--4, 8, 16--somebody is going to be left out and there will be a huge uproar each year. We may not know for sure who is better Auburn or TCU, but sometimes it's good to leave it that way. It certainly hasn't hurt the interest level in the sport. And let's be realistic, hell is going to have to freeze over before bowls let the NCAA have control over the purse strings. The amount that the directors of these games are making is staggering.

*Good for both Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh. I was shocked, but totally respect Luck's decision. His father is the AD at West Virginia and former NFL quarterback so he probably got some good advice. Staying in school worked for Peyton Manning and Sam Bradford and it cost Matt Leinhart and Jake Locker millions. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer, so I just wish him the best. He seems like a genuinely good guy.

It's a totally different situation for Harbaugh and I think he made a great decision. He needed to strike when he had the opportunity and he will never be more in demand than he is now. With San Francisco he inherits a team with a good deal of talent and an ownership group newly-committed to winning in the style of the Bill Walsh era. Better still, he probably doesn't even have to move. We'll see if he can match his brother's immediate success in the big leagues.

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