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Georgia, Florida State losses pose familiar college coaching dilemma

Mea culpa: Staples' NC State, FSU apology
Source: SI
Andy Staples offers an impassioned apology for calling NC State fans quiet and for hyping the 'Noles -- again.


Two items grabbed my attention during my Monday morning reading, and, while they were written from the perspectives of two different fan bases, they combined to form a fascinating question. First, I read this rumination on Georgia from Doug Gillett at SBNation.com that theorizes the Bulldogs have returned to "the Donnan phase" after getting punked once again by a Steve Spurrier team. Then I read the Twitter feed of Bud Elliott, who publishes the excellent Florida State blog Tomahawk Nation, as Elliott picked apart many of Jimbo Fisher's excuses for Florida State's loss at NC State Saturday.

Neither of these were overreactions to a bad loss. On the contrary, they were rational views of the programs the authors love. It just so happened that a horrible loss inspired each one. After reading both, I began to wonder: What should a program do when it has an obviously very good coach who can't seem to get his team over the hump to national title contention?

After referencing both pieces in one tweet, I posed that question on Twitter. The Georgia and Florida State fans chimed in, but even more interesting, Virginia Tech and Nebraska fans who missed the first tweet began writing in because they thought I had referred to their programs in the second tweet. And it is a puzzling quandary. The four programs I mentioned have had the type of recent success that at least 80 percent of the fan bases in the nation would give a limb for. But it isn't good enough for those particular schools. So where is the line? How long should a coach get to be consistently good without taking the program to an elite level before a school should make a change?

Even though I am a person who writes on the Internet and the Uniform Code of Internet Justice requires that all statements made on the Internet be definitive and declarative, I'm afraid this question has no correct answer. Ohio State finally fired John Cooper, and Jim Tressel took the Buckeyes to the level the fan base desired. On the flip side, Nebraska fired Frank Solich, and Bill Callahan ran the program into the ground.

Twenty years ago, Nebraska's Tom Osborne was allowed to be consistently good without winning the big one. Sure, there were complaints, but it wasn't such an instant-everything society back then. Then, when he finally broke through, Osborne won three national titles in four years. Florida State's Bobby Bowden faced similar circumstances. When he broke through, he won two national titles in six years.

Richt and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer are obviously in very different places than Fisher and Nebraska's Bo Pelini. Beamer made Virginia Tech's program what it is; he is the Bobby Bowden of Blacksburg. Richt, meanwhile, is the SEC's longest-tenured coach, and he works for an athletic director (Greg McGarity) who doesn't make decisions on a whim. Fisher and Pelini are in their third and fifth seasons, respectively. (If it seems Fisher has been Florida State's head coach longer, that's because he took over the Seminoles' recruiting operation in 2007.) All four have frustrated their fans mightily this season and in past seasons, but the idea of making a change in any of the four cases seems silly and the product of unrealistic expectations. But are those expectations really unrealistic? Georgia shouldn't win a national title every year, but given its resources and its location in a recruiting hotbed, it should compete for one every few years. Ditto for Florida State, and, to a lesser extent, Virginia Tech. Nebraska is a different animal because of its isolated location, but that doesn't make the fan base crave national titles any less.

More than likely, the administrators at these schools will allow the coaches to keep doing the -- generally speaking -- fine work they've been doing through the years, even if that work is not fine enough to satisfy a healthy chunk of the fan base. Those fans will simply have to suffer the indignity of being merely above average until the coaches find a way to get over the hump or those administrators decide they can't wait any longer for the jump from good to excellent.

NCAA Football Power Rankings
1<a href=Alabama Crimson Tide" title="Alabama Crimson Tide">
Last week: 1
Alabama is one vote shy of being a unanimous No. 1 in the AP and Coaches' polls. Since all AP Poll ballots are public, we would know who to crown king of the haterzzzz -- the extra z's are for extra hating -- if the non-'Bama vote came from that side. But since the lone first place vote for Oregon comes from the Coaches' Poll, we can only guess. And there are plenty of suspects:

Washington State's Mike Leach: Just to be different. But probably not. More likely, Leach has the Tide No. 1 not for any football reasons, but because of his great affection for Atticus Finch.

Auburn's Gene Chizik: Maybe, but a little too obvious.

Oregon State's Mike Riley: Chip Kelly promised him a double-double, animal-style, in return for the vote. Nah. Riley played for 'Bama.

Air Force's Troy Calhoun: Nope. Calhoun reveals his ballot every week, and he has the Crimson Tide No. 1.

Which brings us to the most likely culprit...

Alabama's Nick Saban: I can just hear the pregame speech now. "Men, somebody out there doesn't believe in you, aight? Now go prove him wrong." [Alabama beats Missouri by 100.]

Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 33-14
Next game: Saturday at Missouri
 
2Oregon Ducks
Last week: 2
Even though De'Anthony Thomas scored the Ducks' first touchdown Saturday on a 16-yard run, the DAT Yards-Per-Touch-O-Meter keeps declining. No matter. The Ducks keep running out more playmakers. Saturday, tight end Colt Lyerla caught three passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns. The Ducks are ruthlessly efficient, and the fact that they have absolutely blown out decent teams in two of the past three weeks has to terrify the rest of the Pac-12. Chip Kelly has had Oregon at an elite level long enough that his players truly believe the "Win the Day" mantra. Like Saban, Kelly has created a program that measures itself against itself. Such an attitude virtually eliminates letdowns.



Last game: Beat Washington, 52-21
Next game: Oct. 18 at Arizona State
 
3<a href=South Carolina Gamecocks" title="South Carolina Gamecocks">
Last week: 7
The Gamecocks looked fantastic in every phase during Saturday's win against Georgia. If there is such a thing as karma, maybe South Carolina got a boost for helping make this incredible moment happen for a soldier and his family.



South Carolina is in the middle of a meat grinder. After beating Georgia and leaping into the top five, the Gamecocks must go to Baton Rouge and play a talented-but-desperate LSU team. Next week, South Carolina heads to Gainesville to play Florida -- probably with the SEC East title on the line. Saturday should provide an interesting test for the Gamecocks. Two years ago, South Carolina followed a program-defining win against then-No. 1 Alabama by losing at Kentucky. This time, the opponent is better and the stakes are higher. At this point, South Carolina is a legitimate national title contender. To stay in the hunt, the Gamecocks can't afford a letdown, even against an excellent opponent.

Last game: Beat Georgia, 35-7
Next game: Saturday at LSU
 
4<a href=West Virginia Mountaineers" title="West Virginia Mountaineers">
Last week: 8
SI's Pete Thamel captured the difference between West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and his mentor, Leach, perfectly in his story from the Mountaineers' win against Texas. Holgorsen likes to run the ball, and that willingness to stick with the ground game is what keeps defenses from selling out to stop the Mountaineers' lethal passing attack. Saturday, Texas paid as little attention to the run as possible and got smoked by Andrew Buie, who ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns. When the Mountaineers keep running the ball, they win. Only twice in Holgorsen's tenure have the Mountaineers attempted fewer than 25 rushes. In both of those games (against LSU and Syracuse last year), West Virginia lost. Against Maryland -- West Virginia's worst offensive performance of 2012 -- the Mountaineers attempted only 25 runs. Against Clemson in the Orange Bowl, they attempted 43. Against Texas on Saturday, they attempted 42.

Last game: Beat Texas, 48-45
Next game: Saturday at Texas Tech
 
5Florida Gators
Last week: 13
Florida finds itself in a similar position to South Carolina. The Gators will hit the road after a huge home win for an obvious trap game a week before playing what looks like the most important game on their schedule. The difference? South Carolina is playing LSU and Florida is playing Vanderbilt. But while South Carolina players have had success in the past two years and have gotten more accustomed to dealing with it, Florida's players are getting their first taste of midseason hype. How they'll handle it is anyone's guess. Florida's offense showed against LSU that it can run consistently even if the passing game is ineffective. Expect the Gators to run "God's play" plenty against Vanderbilt, but don't be shocked if they open up the passing game a bit more without Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo chasing quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Last game: Beat LSU, 14-6
Next game: Saturday at Vanderbilt
 
6<a href=Kansas St. Wildcats" title="Kansas St. Wildcats">
Last week: 6
Kansas State Wildcats (5-0)
Before we hand the Heisman Trophy to West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, let's pause for a moment to consider Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. Klein is an extremely efficient passer (63-of-94, 887 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions) who also is a key cog in the Wildcats' ground attack (73 carries, 405 yards, seven touchdowns). The good news is we'll get to see these two square off in Morgantown Oct. 20. But the Wildcats had better not look past their trip to Ames this weekend. Last year's Big 12 champ, Oklahoma State, can explain how dangerous the Cyclones can be when properly motivated.

Last game: Beat Kansas, 56-16
Next game: Saturday at Iowa State
 
7<a href=Notre Dame Fighting Irish" title="Notre Dame Fighting Irish">
Last week: 11
One of the most refreshing aspects of Notre Dame's run so far this season has been Brian Kelly's handling of the quarterback situation. Kelly has made it clear time and again that Everett Golson is his No. 1 quarterback. There have been times that Kelly has needed to use Tommy Rees because, in those situations, Rees has given the Fighting Irish a better chance to win the game. But afterward, Kelly hasn't minced words or played mind games. He has insisted Golson is the guy, and Kelly has backed that up by putting Golson back in charge of the offense. Handled differently, this situation could have become a controversy and a massive distraction. But Kelly hasn't allowed that. Golson will face heat this week from Stanford's front seven, but the zone read package Notre Dame installed prior to the Miami game should force the Cardinal to respect Golson's legs could keep the defense on its heels.

Last game: Beat Miami, 41-3
Next game: Saturday vs. Stanford
 
8Ohio St. Buckeyes
Last Week: 15
Remember how I wrote Friday that Urban Meyer's program-building at Ohio State meant the rest of the Big Ten was completely screwed beginning next year? I may have been off by a year. The rest of the Big Ten is completely out of luck now, and NCAA sanctions are all that will keep the Buckeyes from running away with the league. Ohio State is the best the Big Ten has to offer. What's even more amazing is that -- depending on how good Michigan turns out to be -- Penn State may wind up being the second-best team behind Ohio State. It's entirely possible the league's two best teams won't be eligible to play for the title.

Last game: Beat Nebraska, 63-38
Next game: Saturday at Indiana
 
9Oregon State Beavers
Last week: 9
I still think I might have the Beavers too high, but they keep winning. That could change, though. Monday, Oregon State announced that quarterback Sean Mannion sustained a left knee injury in the win against Washington State and will miss an undetermined amount of time. That's a huge loss. Mannion, a sophomore, averages 339.5 passing yards a game. Fortunately for the Beavers, they get to break in replacement Cody Vaz against offense-challenged BYU in Provo. Oregon State's defense should help Vaz ease into the role by providing him with excellent field position. The Beavers forced five turnovers Saturday -- including three interceptions by cornerback Jordan Poyer -- and, given the Cougars' offensive woes against decent competition, Oregon State probably will force several turnovers Saturday.

Last game: Beat Washington State, 19-6
Next game: Saturday at BYU
 
10Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 12
The beauty of the Big 12's round-robin schedule is that a loss doesn't knock a team out of title contention. Certainly, the championship race looks like a West Virginia-Kansas State affair, but that can change quickly when everyone has to play everyone else. Of course, two conference losses could be a knockout blow, so the Sooners and Longhorns will be playing for their Big 12 lives Saturday. Oklahoma looked much better in Lubbock. Quarterback Landry Jones attempted 40 passes without an interception, and Blake "The Belldozer" Bell punched in a pair of one-yard touchdown runs. After two weeks of getting shredded by spread offenses, the Texas defense doesn't seem so terrifying, but the Sooners needed the confidence boost heading into this one.

Last game: Beat Texas Tech, 41-20
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas in Dallas
 
11LSU Tigers
Last week: 5
LSU coach Les Miles opened his press conference Monday with a statement that should send shivers up the spine of anyone in purple and gold. "Our football team is going through some change," Miles said. "We need to certainly play better in a number of ways. It's not an effort thing. I enjoyed my team's effort. We have to play smarter. We have to play with a wisdom that allows us the advantages that we were given in that game. Certainly, in our view, we have to run it better and throw it better." What Miles essentially said was that Florida beat LSU toe-to-toe, which was obvious to anyone who watched. That's troubling for a team that dominated last year because of a wide talent gulf between the Tigers and most opponents. This week's visitor, South Carolina, is better than Florida on offense and equally good -- with possibly a better pass rush because of Jadeveon Clowney -- on defense. LSU will not be able to win on talent alone. The Tigers will have to play well and force the Gamecocks to make mistakes. That could be difficult, because after watching Florida's offensive line manhandle LSU in the running game, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier probably has drawn up a plan for his run-first offense to keep it on the ground until throwing becomes absolutely necessary. LSU's pass rush and its athletic corps of defensive backs are its best attributes, but if the LSU offense can't score and the front seven can't stop the run, those two things will be completely negated..

Last game: Lost to Florida, 14-6
Next game: Saturday vs. South Carolina
 
12Georgia Bulldogs
Last week: 4
The Bulldogs have two weeks to stew over their loss to the Gamecocks, and then they'll get to pound Kentucky to make themselves feel better before facing Florida. Given the nastiness of the October schedule for the SEC East's contenders, the Bulldogs should not give up hope just yet. A Florida win against South Carolina Oct. 20 and a Georgia win in the Planet's Biggest Solar-Powered Libation Celebration -- we're not supposed to call it the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party anymore -- might force a three-way tie atop the division. Or, if South Carolina loses to LSU and Florida, it could leave the Bulldogs atop the division. Given how thoroughly Georgia was beaten Saturday, the Bulldogs need to pull for that second scenario. They don't need poll voters remembering how helpless they looked in Columbia. In the meantime, keep the father of Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray in your thoughts. On Sunday, Denny Murray revealed to his son that he had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Last game: Lost to South Carolina, 35-7
Next game: Oct. 20 at Kentucky
 
13Texas Longhorns
Last week: 10
Remember when some idiot wrote that if the Texas offense improved even a little bit, the Longhorns' defense could carry Texas to a Big 12 title? Yeah, that guy was stupid. Texas has the offensive improvement it sought, but the Longhorns are one blown call away from being 0-2 in Big 12 play because their defense has allowed 1,036 yards and 89 points in the past two weeks. And because the Big 12 is ridiculously deep, things don't get any easier this week. Oklahoma thoroughly outclassed Texas last year, but the teams seem to have pulled even with one another. Texas can still pull itself out of a defensive tailspin and compete for the Big 12 title, but it will have to do it starting against the Sooners.

Last game: Lost to West Virginia, 48-45
Next game: Saturday vs. Oklahoma in Dallas
 
14Florida State Seminoles
Last week: 3
Just click the video at the top. Nothing more needs to be said.

Last game: Lost to NC State, 17-16
Next game: Saturday vs. Boston College
 
15Clemson Tigers
Last week: 14
The Tigers have to feel rejuvenated now that they are one more random Florida State loss from taking the lead in the ACC Atlantic Division. Even better, Clemson's defense looked slightly less than atrocious for much of the win against Georgia Tech. It's actually a big step for a unit that had been so porous stopping option teams on occasion. It means the Tigers do follow instructions once in a while, because stopping the option requires everyone to play the precise assignment given by the coaching staff. If Clemson can use its off week to get better on defense, the second half of the season could be quite interesting. The Tigers have an excellent offense, and they can run the table in the ACC. If Florida State can't, the Tigers could still have a chance to repeat as conference champs.

Last game: Beat Georgia Tech, 47-31
Next game: Oct. 20 vs. Virginia Tech
 
16Washington Huskies
Last week: 16
The Huskies probably don't belong here, but I'm still trying to respect head-to-head meetings if all other factors are equal. Since the Huskies no longer have the same record as Stanford and USC, any NC State fan reading this should be rightfully asking why I don't have the Wolfpack ranked ahead of Florida State. The answer is simple: Oregon. The Ducks are crushing everyone so badly that I'm not sure anyone short of Alabama can hang with them. Until someone proves they can play with the Ducks, I'm not penalizing anyone for getting whipped by them. NC State's losses came to Tennessee and Miami. Since good teams have already proven they can beat those two, the r?sum?s of Florida State and NC State aren't exactly equal. That could change in the future, though. Besides, Washington's game against USC this Saturday will break up this current logjam.

Last game: Lost to Oregon, 52-21
Next game: Saturday vs. USC
 
17Stanford Cardinal
Last week: 17
The Cardinal survived a scare from Arizona, and now they must shift gears to face an opponent with an entirely different philosophy. While Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly sometimes goes up-tempo, Notre Dame has been more reliant on its ferocious defensive front seven. That should provide a fascinating challenge for Stanford's offensive line. Stanford coach David Shaw said it best after the Cardinal beat Arizona. "We're not a great team right now, but we're getting better," he told The San Jose Mercury News. "And the one thing we have is guys who have won a lot of games. You can't discount that experience." Indeed. In a tight game in South Bend, that could make all the difference.

Last game: Beat Arizona, 54-48 (OT)
Next game: Saturday at Notre Dame
 
18USC Trojans
Last week: 18
Curious as to how USC's medical staff decided receiver Robert Woods could return to action against Utah last Thursday after taking a serious head shot while blocking on a punt return? L.A. Daily News columnist Tom Hoffarth revealed the three questions Woods had to answer correctly as part of a sideline concussion test.

Who is the current president?
What is today's date?
What is 100 minus seven, minus seven, minus seven?

Though his return to the Utah game sounded alarm bells, Woods is practicing as if he'll play this week in Seattle. Woods stumbled around after taking a hard shot to the head on that punt return, but he played the remainder of the game after passing the concussion test on the sideline. Sunday, Woods practiced regularly. USC coach Lane Kiffin told reporters it would be up to the school's medical staff to determine whether Woods can play.

Last game: Beat Utah, 38-28
Next game: Saturday at Washington
 
19<a href=Baylor Bears" title="Baylor Bears">
Last week: 19
The Bears' defense, in its first outing since being abused by Geno Smith and West Virginia, will try to reclaim some lost dignity against a TCU offense now led by redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin. Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson announced Tuesday that starting quarterback Casey Pachall will not return this season following his arrest last week on a DWI charge. For Baylor, the TCU offense probably remains somewhat mysterious. The Bears have film of TCU's loss to Iowa State, but Boykin was thrown in with little preparation because of the timing of Pachall's arrest. This time, Boykin will have prepared to start for an entire week.

Last game: Lost to West Virginia, 70-63
Next game: Saturday vs. TCU
 
20<a href=Mississippi State Bulldogs" title="Mississippi State Bulldogs">
Last week: 22
During his off-week preparation for Kentucky, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen put down 24 wings in five minutes at Starkville's Buffalo Wild Wings location. Any coach who can out-eat me has my respect. The Kobayashi of the SEC West has outperformed predecessor Sylvester Croom in every respect but one. So far, Mullen hasn't gotten the coach of a league rival fired yet. (Though he probably deserves some credit for Houston Nutt's firing at Ole Miss.) This week, Mullen has a chance to Croom a fellow coach when Tennessee comes to town. Vegas has Mississippi State as a three-point favorite, but a loss to the Bulldogs might be the straw that broke Smokey's back for Volunteers coach Derek Dooley. Sure, Mississippi State is probably better this year, but in the minds of the folks in Knoxville, that's part of the problem. They don't think Mississippi State should ever be better than Tennessee. Given those stakes, this one should be fun to watch. Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks is one of the best cornerbacks in the country, and he'll be tested thoroughly by Tennessee receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Last game: Beat Kentucky, 27-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Tennessee
 
21<a href=Rutgers Scarlet Knights" title="Rutgers Scarlet Knights">
Last week: 25
Here's a scary thought for the rest of the Big East: Rutgers can get even better if the Scarlet Knights can cut down on penalties. Rutgers ranks dead last in the FBS with an average of 10.2 penalties a game. The Scarlet Knights had 10 in their win against UConn, and Rutgers still cruised. This is a very good team that could improve with a little more discipline.

Last game: Beat Connecticut, 19-3
Next game: Saturday vs. Syracuse
 
22<a href=Texas A&M Aggies" title="Texas A&M Aggies">
Last week: 23
When this game -- originally set for Aug. 30 -- got rescheduled because of Hurricane Isaac, it deprived the nation of a Thursday-night showcase between Texas A&M's new offense and the team with the best chance to bust the BCS. Now, the game will be lumped in with several other quality matchups, but it is no less intriguing. Since losing to Florida, the Aggies have grown quite a bit. Saturday in Oxford marked another important milestone. Texas A&M lost six turnovers and trailed by 10 points in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Johnny Manziel led the Aggies to a win. Last year, Texas A&M would have lost such a game.

Last game: Beat Ole Miss, 30-27
Next game: Saturday vs. Louisiana Tech in Shreveport, La.
 
23<a href=Louisville Cardinals" title="Louisville Cardinals">
Last Week: 24
The Cardinals finally start what coach Charlie Strong calls "the real season" when they begin conference play in Pittsburgh Saturday. Louisville has every reason to take the Panthers seriously. The Cardinals haven't beaten Pittsburgh since 2007.

Last game: Beat Southern Miss, 21-17
Next game: Saturday at Pittsburgh
 
24<a href=Cincinnati Bearcats" title="Cincinnati Bearcats">
Last week: NR
Superbly nicknamed quarterback Benton "Munchie" Legaux and the Bearcats haven't played a grueling schedule to this point -- it might have been tougher, but Virginia Tech has been a disappointment -- but they have been consistently sharp all season. The Bearcats will have to stay awake for games against Fordham and Toledo before they travel to Louisville for a Friday-night special Oct. 26.

Last game: Beat Miami (Ohio), 52-14
Next game: Saturday vs. Fordham
 
25Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
Last week: NR
While Air Raid disciple Holgorsen pushes West Virginia toward national title contention, former Hal Mumme assistant Sonny Dykes has Louisiana Tech in full BCS buster mode. The Bulldogs have already beaten Illinois and Virginia, but they'll need to beat Texas A&M Saturday to earn enough respect to get ranked high enough to crash the BCS party. That's a lot to put on one game, but until the new system starts in the 2014 season, that's how college football works at the non-AQ level. Louisiana Tech will shred the rest of the WAC, so a win against the Aggies might be the most important in program history.

Last game: Beat UNLV, 58-31
Next game: Saturday vs. Texas A&M in Shreveport, La.

Next five: Michigan State, TCU, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Ohio

Andy Staples' Power Rankings also serve as his ballot in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

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