College football history tends to conveniently divide itself by decade.
When we think of the '80s, we think of Jimmy Johnson's Miami Hurricanes and Barry Switzer's Oklahoma Sooners. When we think of the '90s, we think of Florida State's dominance, Nebraska's national titles and Steve Spurrier's visor. While the 'Aughts are barely behind us, various all-decade retrospectives indicate the decade's defining images will be those of Vince Young, Tim Tebow -- and the decade's top team, USC.
It was inevitable that a changing of the guard would occur over the course of this next decade -- but who would have thought it would take place within the first two weeks.
While Alabama and Texas clashed last Thursday to decide 2009's national champion, Pete Carroll had apparently begun discussions with the Seattle Seahawks regarding what would be a landscape-changing shakeup. The possibility of Carroll bolting back to the pros has been hanging over the Trojans for years, but so long as he stayed it seemed like USC, as was the coach's motto, might just "win forever."
It took this season's 9-4 tumble and Emerald Bowl appearance to remind us that no program is immune from a downturn -- and to truly appreciate the magnitude of what Carroll has accomplished. In the 12 seasons prior to his arrival, the Trojans won two Pac-10 titles and never eclipsed nine wins. From 2002-08, USC captured seven straight conference crowns and never won fewer than 11 games. This was a Carroll-engineered run, not some USC birthright, and his successor will be hard-pressed to duplicate it.
Carroll's impending departure coupled with the threat of NCAA sanctions (is Carroll making a John Calipari-esque escape?) could well doom the Trojans to an extended period of mediocrity. (Ask Alabama fans what that feels like.) At the very least, it opens the door to a new entrant amongst the sport's ruling oligarchy, which could come from any number of locales.
This season's hectic and seemingly never-ending coaching carousel has been more eventful than the games themselves, and by the time it's done, college football will have undergone its most radical makeover in nearly a decade.
There will be new coaches at USC (???), Notre Dame (Brian Kelly) and, for the first time in 34 years, Florida State (Jimbo Fisher). Florida's two-time national champion coach, Urban Meyer, may or may not be back next fall. Mike Leach, Texas Tech's ubiquitous coach of the past decade, is gone, replaced by another familiar face, Tommy Tuberville. The only coach USF has ever known, Jim Leavitt, departed in disgrace, as did another man, Mark Mangino, who took Kansas to a BCS game.
Two rising stars who became head coaches just a year earlier, Oregon's Chip Kelly and Washington's Steve Sarkisian, stand poised to fill the void in the Pac-10 that may be created by Carroll's departure. Another Carroll protégé, Tennessee's Lane Kiffin, is setting his sights on suddenly vulnerable Florida (though so far, the Gators' recruiting juggernaut shows no signs of slowing down).
To find the last time the landscape changed so considerably, you have to go back nine years, to the 2000-01 offseason. That was the year USC hired Carroll and Ohio State hired Jim Tressel, producing two of the most successful programs of the past decade. Georgia hired Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt, a move that both resuscitated the Bulldogs and marked the beginning of the end to Bobby Bowden's Seminoles' dynasty. It was also the year Miami hired Larry Coker, both a boon to the Hurricanes in the short term and a debacle in later years. And a pair of largely unnoticed hires at the time, Boise State's Dan Hawkins and Bowling Green's Urban Meyer, paved the way for Boise to jumpstart its program and Meyer his career.
It seems we're staring at the beginning of a similarly seismic sea change. It's impossible to predict what the sport might look like 10 years down the road -- the next Boise State is waiting in the wings somewhere; and someone we've not yet heard of will inevitably become this decade's Meyer -- but we can take a more educated stab at which schools will rule the next several years.
To do so, one need only look back at last Thursday's championship game.
The sight of an unhappily drenched Nick Saban hoisting the crystal trophy could become a familiar one. Alabama's soon-to-be immortalized head coach sits in much the same spot as Carroll did three years into his tenure. They've followed an eerily similar progression (USC went from 6-6 to 11-2 to 12-1; Alabama from 7-6 to 12-2 to 14-0), both winning national titles in their third seasons. And much like Carroll at the time, Saban has yet to finish flushing out his predecessor's holdovers with his own hand-picked blue-chippers.
Off the field, Alabama landed Rivals.com's No. 1 recruiting classes each of the past two years and sits No. 3 now. On the field, the Tide -- who return quarterback Greg McElroy, running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and receiver Julio Jones -- figure to start in next year's preseason polls right where they ended this year's (much to Saban's chagrin).
"We do have a lot of good players returning on offense," he said the morning after the title game. "But [with] all the players we're losing on defense ... we're going to have a new kicker, we're going to have a new punter, we're going to have a new specialist, we're going to have a lot of new things."
Meanwhile, Mack Brown's Longhorns sit in a more enviable position than they did following their 2005 title season. Colt McCoy's shoulder injury Thursday night marked a cruel ending to one era, but provided a sneak peak into the next one, as McCoy's successor, freshman Garrett Gilbert, overcame his deer-in-headlights first half to show off a cannon arm and remarkable resiliency in the second.
"We think [Gilbert] has a chance to be a really special player," said Brown.
Brown's program has never been more stable. Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is locked in for the long term, and his impact could be seen Thursday night, when Texas' defense looked every bit as impressive as Alabama's. And of course Brown's recruiting assembly line continues unabated (he's sitting on Rivals' No. 2 class right now).
That's not to say Alabama and Texas will be staging annual BCS Championship rematches. The SEC makes it almost impossible for the Tide or any other team to consistently dominate, and the 'Horns will always have Oklahoma to keep them in line (not to mention reemerging Nebraska).
But Saban and Brown don't appear to be going anywhere, which means their programs should remain among the nation's perennial powers. A whole bunch of others are suddenly in a state of flux.
From nearly the moment news of the Carroll-to-Seattle possibility first broke Friday, it's been widely reported that Oregon State coach Mike Riley is USC's No. 1 choice to replace him. That may be true. But I wouldn't be so sure Riley will come running to L.A.
While the Corvallis native (he moved there as an adolescent) is no stranger to Southern California, having spent four years on John Robinson's USC staff (1993-96) and three years as head coach of the San Diego Chargers (1999-01), his nice-guy personality is the furthest thing from Hollywood. (He's far too genuine.) Those who cover him regularly say he constantly laments his ill-fated decision to leave Oregon State the first time and has reiterated on numerous occasions his intent to retire in Corvallis.
Riley, whose teams have gone 36-17 over the past four seasons, recently told the Oregonian: "After going on 'missionary work' for a few years [referring to his NFL stint], I came back with a new motto: if you're happy, stay happy." To help ensure that happiness, Oregon State AD Bob DeCarolis told the paper this weekend that he's prepared to offer Riley a "lifetime deal." Late Sunday, the sides agreed to a three-year contract extension through 2019.
Hopefully that extension included a significant bump from Riley's current reported salary of $1.1 million to come anywhere close to what USC is capable of paying. (Carroll makes quadruple that.) Riley will almost certainly listen to what that school is offering. But the hunch here is that Riley stays, forcing AD Mike Garrett to turn to one of several rumored NFL candidates (Jeff Fisher, Jack Del Rio) or one of the many accomplished mid-major coaches in his near vicinity. One recommendation: Utah's Kyle Whittingham, a California native and proven winner.
There are few places more depressing than a losing team's locker room after a championship contest (I will never forget the image of Miami's Ken Dorsey breaking down upon seeing his parents after the 2003 Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State). I assumed I'd avoid such a fate at last Thursday's title game since my assignment was to write about the winning team.
But how could I not check in on Colt McCoy?
A class act to the end, McCoy didn't hide from reporters. Though I only stopped in for a few minutes, I'm told he stood there answering questions for the entire allotted half hour. He was visibly shattered (as anyone who watched his postgame interview with Lisa Salters could see), yet somehow remained composed and eloquent in his answers.
"I don't understand why things happen the way they do," he said. "But I'm a man of faith and I will never question God. Everything happens for a reason. I know I'll be on a championship stage one day."
Though he only got to throw two passes in his lone BCS championship appearance, McCoy will leave behind a considerable legacy. He posted more wins (44) than any quarterback in college history, was a two-time Heisman finalist and led Texas to a 25-2 record in his last two seasons. Yet his career seemed also snake-bitten. A last-second loss to Texas Tech as a junior was likely all that kept him from both winning the Heisman and reaching another BCS title game. Ndamukong Suh may have cost him this year's Heisman. The injury may even have cost him the chance to break Colt Brennan's NCAA career completion percentage record of 70.4 (he finished at 70.33).
Most notably, we'll never know how last Thursday's game might have played out had McCoy stayed healthy -- though he seemed to have a good feeling. McCoy's father, Brad, told ESPN the Magazine's Bruce Feldman that once it became clear late in the first half he wouldn't be able to return (he tried unsuccessfully to toss some passes in the locker room), his son lamented: "Dad, I had 'em. I had 'em. I knew everything they were doing before they did it. I was fixin' to complete every pass I was going to throw tonight.
"Why did this have to happen?"
My reaction to the final AP and coaches polls
Underrated: No. 4 Boise State
I can handle Boise finishing below Big 12 champion Texas, but there's no reason the 14-0 Broncos -- which beat both the Pac-10 (Oregon) and Mountain West (TCU) champions -- should be behind SEC runner-up Florida. Boise finished just four points behind the Gators in the AP poll -- the exact discrepancy between the two teams on a certain ESPN analyst's ballot.
Overrated: No. 24 (AP) Clemson
Congratulations to the Tigers on becoming the first five-loss team in six years to land in the final AP poll. Apparently that Music City Bowl win over Kentucky put them over the edge. In fairness, the voters didn't have lot of other options (the only four-loss BCS-conference teams to miss the cut were Oklahoma State and Rutgers), though it would have been nice to see 10-4 Navy get some love.
Title game: Alabama vs. Ohio State
Rose: Oregon vs. Boise State
Fiesta: Nebraska vs. Iowa
Sugar: Notre Dame vs. Texas
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh
You may recall that the BCS instituted a rule that goes into effect next season in which the first time the Rose Bowl loses one of its champions (Big Ten or Pac-10), it must take an eligible non-AQ team. Bronco Nation, say hello to Pasadena -- in the LeGarrette Blount Bowl, no less -- provided Terrelle Pryor and/or Jeremiah Masoli can lead their teams to the title game (played next year in Arizona).
Elsewhere, I figure Kelly will happily transform Charlie Weis' underachieving leftovers into a nine- or 10-win club that "wakes up the echoes" (again). It's a toss-up between Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and possibly Miami for the Orange Bowl. And next year seems like as good a time as any for Bo Pelini's Nebraska team to step up and claim the school's first Big 12 title in more than a decade.
All of the aforementioned picks are subject to change over the next eight months.
• Give Texas Tech credit: Tuberville was the one feasible name that will help Red Raiders fans get over the sting of the ugly Tech-Leach split. He brings with him considerable credibility, having produced an SEC championship (and 13-0 season), two division titles and a slew of NFL standouts. "Most players know who I am," he said Sunday. "I've been on TV a little bit. ... So that helps."
The most surprising revelation from Tuberville's introductory press conference is that he intends to keep Leach's Air Raid offense intact (presumably by retaining some of Leach's assistants). That's hard to fathom considering his disastrous attempt to install the spread his last year at Auburn. But if it works, and if he can upgrade to an SEC-caliber defense, Tech may finally win its first division title.
• Leavitt has only himself to blame for being ousted at USF. The school's review into allegations he grabbed walk-on Joel Miller by the throat and slapped him found that Leavitt lied and interfered with investigators. It might not be the worst thing for the Bulls football-wise either; While he did wonders in building the program from scratch, his Big East teams were inconsistent and undisciplined.
• Tebow's NFL future -- sure to be a hot topic nationally in the coming months -- may sway in large part on his performance during Senior Bowl week. On Saturday, Tebow became the first quarterback announced for the Jan. 30 game. He called it, "an opportunity to work in an NFL system and do things ... like go under center and take the drops and be in a pro-style system."
• There have been conflicting reports about Boise State's date with Virginia Tech at FedEx Field next season. The game is currently scheduled for Oct. 2, but ESPN and the WAC are pushing the school to move the game to Labor Day night. Boise State AD Gene Bleymaier told the Idaho Statesman he won't do it unless ESPN helps move its game the following week against Toledo to a later date.
• Georgia's search for a new defensive coordinator is into its second month. Previously spurned by Kansas State's Vic Koenning (he opted for Illinois) and LSU's John Chavis (he stayed put), Richt is now targeting Alabama D-coordinator Kirby Smart, a UGA grad. It would be a huge get for the Bulldogs, but Smart has a better chance of landing a plum head-coaching gig by staying put.
• Meanwhile, Georgia Tech may be on the verge of its own intriguing hire. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, coach Paul Johnson and ex-Virginia coach Al Groh are discussing the possibility of Groh becoming Tech's defensive coordinator. Prior to becoming the Jets' head coach in 2000 (and Virginia's the year after), Groh spent 11 seasons as an NFL defensive assistant.
• Among the many schools waiting on NFL draft decisions from key underclassmen, keep an eye on Iowa. Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn, MVP of the Orange Bowl, has already said he's coming back. If cornerback Amari Spievey follows suit, the Hawkeyes will return nine defensive starters from an already impressive unit. They'll be right back in the Big Ten title mix next fall.
• One guy who's already declared he's gone: Central Michigan receiver Antonio Brown. If you missed the Chippewas' 44-41, double-overtime win over Troy in last week's GMAC Bowl, you missed an electrifying performance by Brown, who racked up 403 all-purpose yards, including 13 catches for 178 receiving yards and a 95-yard kick return in the fourth quarter to help wipe away a 31-19 deficit.
• Central Michigan has not yet hired a new coach to replace the departed Butch Jones (now at Cincinnati). Interim coach Steve Stripling, who coached the bowl game, is one of a reported six candidates but will otherwise join Jones' staff.
• With last week's promotion of Kentucky coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips, all three FBS coaches in that state have new coaches, and all three -- Phillips, Louisville's Charlie Strong and Western Kentucky's Willie Taggart -- are black.
First it was a resignation. Then it was a "leave of absence." Now, Florida's man of mystery has apparently put off his health concerns to deal with a more pressing matter: Signing the nation's No. 1 recruiting class.
Last week, the school announced that Meyer remains "actively involved" in recruiting and assembling next year's coaching staff -- and it shows. Since Jan. 2, the Gators have procured commitments from five four- or five-star players, including the MVPs of both the Under Armour (defensive end Dominique Easley) and U.S. Army (DE Ronald Powell) All-American Games. Defensive back Matt Elam, the top-rated prospect in the state of Florida, switched his pledge from UF to Florida State following the original Meyer news, but recommitted to the Gators on Saturday, apparently following a reassuring call from Meyer. Georgia running back Mack Brown, another Florida commit, has said Meyer told him he'll be back by August.
The Gators have surged to the top of both Rivals and Scout.com's class rankings. Signing Day is Feb. 3.
Meanwhile, Meyer last week pulled a surprise by hiring Miami Dolphins linebackers coach George Edwards as his new defensive coordinator. (Defensive backs coach Chuck Heater was given the title of "co-defensive coordinator.") Florida, which lost four assistants over the past month, has also added new running backs (Stan Drayton, formerly Meyer's assistant from 2005-07), receivers (Zach Azzanni) and linebackers (D.J. Durkin) coaches.
In a statement announcing the hirings of Drayton and Durkin, Meyer said he "worked together" with interim coach Steve Addazio on the hires. Their work might not be over -- defensive line coach Dan McCarney, the longtime Iowa State head coach, is believed to be high on the list to replace Leavitt at USF, where he spent the 2007 season as an assistant.
It's a good thing Meyer told Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley this weekend: "I feel better."
The Crimson Tide celebrate both before and during their postgame trophy presentation (and Saban even cracks a smile!).
McCoy's emotional postgame interview.
Mini-previews for three of next year's early-season blockbusters:
• Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: The teams reunite for the first time since their epic 2003 Fiesta Bowl duel. We'll find out quickly whether Pryor is capable of building on the momentum of his Rose Bowl performance, while Miami's Randy Shannon, entering a critical fourth season, could use a statement non-conference win.
• Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11: In 2009, the Nittany Lions played nothing but cupcakes. In 2010, they visit the defending national champions. There will be new faces galore on both sides, as Penn State replaces Daryll Clark and Sean Lee; the Tide, Terrence Cody, Javier Arenas and (most likely) Rolando McClain.
• Boise State vs. Virginia Tech, TBD: This will easily be the Broncos' most anticipated regular-season game in history, as it may determine whether they have a viable shot at the BCS Championship Game. The Hokies by then could be fielding a devastating backfield tandem of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans.
It's been a pleasure writing College Football Overtime this season. I hope you've found it a worthwhile addition to your Monday morning reading. It's time to focus on the nation's biggest sporting event this time of year ... recruiting.