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AROUND THE COLLEGE NATION
December 2, 2004

COACHES DROPPING LIKE FLIES

Florida's Ron Zook. Illinois' Ron Turner. Notre Dame's Ty Willingham. Stanford's Buddy Teevens. BYU's Gary Crowton. Indiana's Gerry DiNardo. Mississippi's David Cutcliffe.

This fall seems to be a bad time to be a college football coach on the hot seat, moreso than normal years. Some of the vacant coaching spots come as no surprise, while others were somewhat unexpected.

Florida fans had not been in favor of Ron Zook since the beginning, and though it was surprising to see the UF administration make a decision mid-season, the firing was not shocking.

Ron Turner had not gotten the job done at Illinois since the team's trip to the Sugar Bowl a few years ago. Stanford had not continued the success they saw under Willingham, while DiNardo had failed to bring IU's program to a competitive and consistent status.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the firing of Willingham at Notre Dame. That marked the first time that the university had ever failed to honor a coach's contract to its full extent. After a 10-win season two years ago, the Irish finished just 5-6 last year and 6-5 this season.

Gary Crowton chose to step down at BYU several years after replacing the legendary LaVelle Edwards. Crowton's team had been overshadowed by in-state rival Utah as well as other MWC teams like Colorado State and New Mexico in recent years.

Just Wednesday, Mississippi chose to fire David Cutcliffe. The Rebels went 10-3 last year but fell to just 4-7 this season after the departure of QB Eli Manning. Many have said that UM hired the former Tennessee offensive coordinator only to bring in Manning as QB five years ago. With Eli gone and the Rebels slipping, the athletic staff chose to terminate Cutcliffe's tenure in Oxford.

WHO'S STEPPING UP?

So with some big name jobs opening up, who are the coaches that may take the step and fill those positions? Names that come to mind are those like Boise State's Dan Hawkins, Utah's Urban Meyer, Louisville's Bobby Petrino, and Memphis' Tommy West, among others.

I personally look for former Miami Hurricane and Cleveland Browns coach Butch Davis to take over at Florida and Urban Meyer to take control at Notre Dame (see more below). If Mississippi is looking for a guy that knows the area, Memphis head man Tommy West might be on the list. West has led Memphis to the school's only two bowls in school history last year and again this fall.

Places like Illinois, Indiana, and Stanford will have to search hard for a quality coach that will be willing to go into those places and attempt to raise the level of competitiveness. If Hawkins is interested in staying out west, the Stanford job could be appealing as it would finally give him a chance to be part of a BCS conference.

I'VE GOT MAIL

Q : Who deserves to go to the National Championship Game?

A : That question was answered a few weeks ago, and little has happened to make me reconsider. Back on November 11, I said that USC was the clear choice as the nation's top team, while due to the strength of their non-conference schedule, Oklahoma came in second place just ahead of Auburn.

The BCS rankings agreed with me then, and they still do. It looks as if it will be a USC / OU matchup in Miami unless one of those teams is to lose this weekend. If the Trojans get by UCLA and Oklahoma handles Colorado, I expect a Trojan / Sooner showdown in the Orange Bowl, and I will agree with that selection.

Q : Who deserves the Heisman?

A : This question, to me, is the tougher to answer. I wrote on November 4 that Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson, though just a freshman, deserved to win the trophy. That claim is still hard to dispute, but after seeing USC QB Matt Leinart perform well this past weekend against Notre Dame, I could easily see the Trojan signal-caller coming away with the honor. Those two, in my opinion, are the most deserving players for this year's honor. They are followed by the likes of OU QB Jason White, Texas RB Cedric Benson, and Utah QB Alex Smith.

Q : If the season ended today, who gets dissed the most by the BCS: Texas, Georgia, Boise, or Auburn (for not being in the championship)?

A : Well, that's a good question and also tough to answer. To do so, I'll use the process of elimination. First, scratch Georgia and Texas. The Bulldogs didn't even win their division of the SEC. Some will argue that Texas has once again been shafted, but anytime you lose a game, you put your fate in the hands of other teams. If the 'Horns had beaten Oklahoma, they would have no worries.

That leaves Boise State and Auburn, so I will next eliminate the Broncos. They've had a great season but have played a schedule that is far inferior to even that of Utah. Speaking of the Utes, I believe Urban Meyer's team not having a shot at the national title is as big a concern for college football as Auburn being left out. If you win all your games, how can you not be considered and at least be given a shot at the national title game? It doesn't make sense to me. So, the honor goes to Auburn (whom you mentioned), with the Utes a fraction of a point behind.

Q : Will Nebraska ever be a National Champion under Bill Callahan?

A : No, and the bottom line is this: There are many teams and programs out there with a bigger attraction than the Cornhuskers. Schools like Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida State, and Miami come to mind. While these teams are not all better than Nebraska each year, it would take several (perhaps many) years for Callahan to reach that level at NU again. The fact is, the Cornhusker brass will not be patient enough to give Bill Callahan the time he needs. He will never take NU to a BCS bowl.

Q : Now do you think Urban Meyer will leave Utah?

A : Well, just three weeks ago, I said that Meyer would be in Utah for at least one more season. I just thought that Ty Willingham had "turned things around in South Bend" enough to keep his job. The Irish administration thinks different and fired the third-year coach earlier this week.

As I mentioned in that previous week's article, Meyer has a clause that will allow him to freely depart to just two schools in the nation: Ohio State and Notre Dame. I believe that Notre Dame felt that they might miss out on Meyer, either to Florida this year or Ohio State in the next year or two (if the Clarett situation blows up in OSU's face), if they didn't act soon. Knowing that is a possibility and knowing the way Meyer's contract is structured, I believe that he will be headed to South Bend in time for the 2005 season.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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