It’s been 234 days since the Alabama Crimson Tide smothered LSU in the National Championship game. 234 days of wondering, debating, and hope that THIS year will be the year and here we sit on day 1 of the 2012 season. Before things kick off tonight, it’s time to look at the story lines that will define the season.
The new conference alignments
Changing conferences isn’t easy. In 2004, three teams made the move from the Big East to the ACC: Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech. After going 11-2 in 2003, highlighted by an Orange Bowl victory, Miami had high expectations of playing Alpha Dog in the ACC. Eight seasons in the history books and Miami has never won an ACC title. Heck, they haven’t even played in an ACC Championship game. Boston College has been a middle-of-the-pack program. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has acclimated beautifully, winning four ACC crowns in eight seasons.
Last year saw Nebraska move from the Big 12 North to the B1G 10. In 2010, the Huskers won their division and seemed poise to become a B1G Ten bully. However, year 1 of their new conference saw them finish with the fifth best record in conference play.
Similarly, the Utah Utes were coming of three straight 10+ win seasons in the Mountain West before last season’s move to the Pac-12. They too were slow to acclimate, finishing in sixth place in the conference.
So, what does it all mean? As the SEC welcomes Missouri and Texas A&M, I don’t think anyone has high expectations for either of those programs. For Missouri, a team that is accustomed to win 8+ games every year, I’m interested to see if they can even be bowl eligible this year. For a team that went 1-5 against Texas and Oklahoma over the past five seasons, what are they going to do when EVERY WEEK it feels like Texas or Oklahoma on the other side? For Texas A&M, who I think is one of the mentally weakest programs in college football, how are they going to respond in year one with a new coach, new system, new conference, and a VERY real possibility of opening the season 2-5?
Of greater interest to me is the remade Big 12. As I wrote about yesterday, the Big 12 Conference looks to be on the rise.
Based on my 2011 passer grades, Geno Smith (WVU) and Casey Pachall (TCU) are the two best returning quarterbacks in America (more to come on those grades). For two programs unaccustomed to facing Big 12 offensive firepower every week, these defenses should be in trouble. That’s good news for us, though, as Geno and Casey will be pushed every week to put points on the board. This conference will be fun fun fun, but not as much fun as….
The Pac 12 is going to get REALLY fun this year.
Everyone knows about Oregon and USC.
For a generation intrigued by shiny objects, devoid of an attention span, and with an affinity for ‘swag,’ the Oregon Ducks have consistently put a product on the field that caters to all three needs.
Shiny objects? The Ducks have a multi-colored field, uniforms from outer-space, and playmakers named LaMichael, Jeremiah, or DeAnthony.
Short attention span? Don’t worry, their high powered, point-a-minute offense snaps the ball every 18 seconds. You don’t even have time to check the guide button without missing a play.
In short, the Oregon Ducks are the kings of college football cool.
Oh yea, and this USC program has some things going for it. Star quarterback? Check. Controversial coach? Check. 2nd biggest media market? Check. Ed Orgeron? Check. Tranfer star running back? Check. You’re smart people. You’ve seen the buzz. Now, let’s talk about the fun.
Remove: Paul Wulff. Insert: Mike Leach. (Washington St)
You’re probably wondering who Paul Wulff even is. It’s okay. He went 9-40 in four seasons as Wazzu’s head coach. You may know the name Mike Leach. He’s the former Texas Tech head coach, offensive mastermind, lover of pirates, bestselling author, shamer of Adam James by locking him in a closet, purveyor of Michael Crabtree’s fame, and all-around champion of life. He takes his quirkiness to Pullman, WA. where things should get very interesting with stud WR Marquess Wilson. (By the way, remember when those guys with the Washington State Cougars flags were at EVERY episode of College Gameday for multiple seasons?)
Remove: Mike Stoops. Insert: Rich Rodriguez. (University of Arizona)
The Mike Stoops thing was okay for a while. The program was consistently in the middle of the Pac-12 and pulled the occasional upset. But they were never anything special. (Obligatory Nick-Foles-is-awesome comment) In steps Rich Rodriguez, the man who ran Michigan’s program into the ground, but did an incredible job at West Virginia. I honestly think the stage was too big for him at Michigan with too much scrutiny for the system he wanted to implement and the amount of screaming he did at his players. But, at Arizona he gets back to an offense-happy league. He’s out of the spotlight. He inherits a lot of useful pieces. Most importantly, he brings BCS upside to Tuscon and will certainly keep things interesting.
Besides these two big additions, they add Todd Graham, who had had great success at Rice and Tulsa, before making a one year pit stop at Pitt. His teams have always put points on the board. They also get Jim More Jr. who was the former Falcons head coach before accepting the UCLA job this past offseason. Overall, you should expect a lot of points, a lot of personality, and a lot of fun out of the Pac 12 over the next few years.
The emerging coaches
They say it takes two or three seasons to really turn a program around. For the following coaches, there are question marks that need to be answered:
Brian Kelly, year 3, Notre Dame: At CMU you won 10 games in year 3. At Cincinnati you won 12 games in year 3. Show me that you can win double digits in year 3 at Notre Dame and that you have cleansed that program of its Charlie Weis-era softness.
Will Muschamp, year 2, Florida: Show me why people thought so highly as to make you coach in waiting at Texas. Show me that you can take that LOADED cupboard that Urban Meyer left for you and do something great with it.
Brady Hoke, year 2, Michigan: You were the perfect hire; Michigan roots and a strong coaching record, but enough of a question mark to have a chip on your shoulder. Show me that Michigan really is back and that your team can hang with the Alabamas of the world. Show me that you’re going to have the staying power and that the Hoke-Meyer era is going to be my generation’s Bo-Woody rivalry.
Dana Holgorsen, year 2, West Virginia: Show me how great a coach you are and how great Geno Smith can be. I’ve already proclaimed Geno to be THE signature player of the 2012 season. Prove me right.
Derek Dooley, year 3, Tennessee: Prove to me that you’re going to have staying power and success at Tennessee. Show me where I can buy some of those awesome orange pants.
Jimbo Fisher, year 3, Florida State: Show me that you can contend for a national championship with a full, healthy season from EJ Manuel. Show me that the top of the ACC really can produce a National Champion for the first time since 2001. Prove to me that I was just a year early with my prediction of your return to dominance.
Lane Kiffin, year 3, USC: Show me that you can be a great front runner like Pete Carroll. Show me that this team is as good as everyone says it is.
Skip Holtz, year 3, South Florida: Show me that South Florida can be mentally and physically tough and that the programs history of mental softness is behind it after last year’s 1-6 finish to the regular season.
David Shaw, year 2, Stanford: Prove it to me that you are more than just a rider of Luck’s (and Harbaugh’s) coattails. Prove to me that the offensive scheme can work without Luck under center.
Don Treadwell, year 2, Miami University: Show me how good Zac Dysert can be. Show me that my alma mater can be an annual contender.
Al Golden, year 2, The U: Moreso than swagger, prove to me that The U still has some game. Your program has been 0-8 on ACC titles since the conference jump. Show me something, man!
Tommy Tuberville, year 3, Texas Tech: Show me that Texas Tech can stay relevant without the offensive gimmicks. Show me that, with your team returning in tact, that you can be a contender in the Big 12.
Stay tuned for my ‘2012 Bandwagons’ article!