Late Saturday night in the Oklahoma press box, while writing my postgame column on Kansas State's win, I went to Bill Snyder's Wikipedia page and noticed something that probably hadn't been there an hour earlier. Someone had added a new title to his name.
Most informed college football fans would readily agree Snyder is one of the sport's all-time great coaches, and yet you could go months without hearing his name. Then his Wildcats go and upset Oklahoma, and we all slap ourselves and go through another round of ... this.
Stewart -- I am fascinated by the job Bill Snyder has done at Kansas State. Is he as good as he seems, and if so, why does he fly so far under the radar as far as top coaches go? With what appears to be a weak recruiting base, he built the program to a premier level, retired, watched it crumble, then rebuilt it again in short order back to a top 10 national ranking.-- Bob Karcher, Austin
To appreciate just how incredible Snyder's career has been, consider this: Snyder's winning percentage in 21 seasons at Kansas State is .659. The program's winning percentage in its other 92 seasons of football is .357. Even with its modern success, K-State's all-time winning percentage (.439) is lower than all but three BCS programs (Northwestern, Indiana and Wake Forest). Try to imagine current Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, who went 1-11 in his first season (much like Snyder went 1-10 in his debut campaign), eventually leading the Hoosiers to six 11-win seasons in seven years (as Snyder did from 1997-2003). That's how improbable Snyder's run would have seemed in 1989.
There are a number of reasons Snyder flies under the radar. For one thing, he's nondescript. When you think of the most celebrated coaches both past (Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler) and present (Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Chip Kelly), the majority of them have distinct personalities. They give memorable quotes. Even after 20-plus years on the sidelines, Snyder is mostly anonymous outside of Kansas (though we know he loves Pinocchio). Good luck getting him to say much more than "we've got to keep rowing the boat."
Snyder also isn't considered the guru or pioneer of a certain type of offense or defense. Few realize he was one of the first to employ his quarterback as a shotgun zone-read runner back in the late '90s, directly influencing future spread-option coaches like Meyer.
And then there's the one glaring omission from his résumé: a national title. I would contend that winning 10-plus games a year at Kansas State is more remarkable than winning a national title at an established powerhouse, but the general public wants trophies. Bobby Bowden turned Florida State from an also-ran into a preeminent program, but he wasn't truly lauded until winning his first title after 18 years at the school. Nebraska's Tom Osborne "couldn't win the big one" right up until he won three in a four-year span just before retiring. It's a lofty standard, especially given the subjective nature of college football's national championship, but it's reality.
Few expect this year's K-State team to contend for the top prize. But it could very well win the Big 12, which would be quite a feat given the context. Remember, the Wildcats had started to slip in the two years before Snyder retired in 2005 (going 4-7 and 5-6, respectively). Like many, I was skeptical of K-State's decision to bring him back in 2009 at age 69. Obviously I was wrong. Snyder's methods are timeless. Hopefully one day they'll be appropriately appreciated.
Barring a complete meltdown in college football, the Sooners are once again out of the national title picture. It's been 12 years since they won a national title and four years since they played for one. In the meantime, Saban has won three and Meyer has won two. Is it time to pull the plug on Bob Stoops and back a dump truck full of money to Jim Harbaugh's house yet? I know Stoops has averaged 10 wins a season and run a "clean program," etc. I frankly don't care. He's only won one national title and that isn't good enough for Oklahoma, nor should it be.-- Kevin Lessard, Wellington, New Zealand
Hang on. I need a second to process which part of this e-mail is more delusional: the notion that Oklahoma should fire Bob Stoops or Kevin's apparent belief that Harbaugh would voluntarily leave his gig as the coach of a Super Bowl contender to come to the Big 12. Amazingly, it's probably the second part, which is saying something, because the first part is pretty absurd, too. Stoops has won 80 percent of his games in 14 seasons, but you're right -- he's only played for four national titles. What a loser.
I'm not saying everything's peachy in Norman these days. Having attended last week's game, there's definitely something "off" about that program right now. Yes, it lost a lot of key players from last season, but it's more that the Sooners' swagger is gone. Kansas State beat Oklahoma on its own field and no one there seemed particularly surprised. In fact, one program insider flatly told me before the game, "I don't think we're very good this year." Even Barry Switzer thinks these Sooners "just don't have the talent."
But given Stoops' substantial track record, I wouldn't count out his team after one conference game. It's not like the Wildcats dominated the contest; it was all but decided by three brutal turnovers. Mike Stoops' defense did a nice job containing Collin Klein prior to two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Landry Jones obviously has his limitations, but the offense has some nice young players, like freshman receiver Sterling Shepard, that will only get better as the season goes along.
This may just be a transition year before the Sooners really take back off in 2013. And given all realistic options, I'd gladly take Stoops coaching that team.
For those people that think our BCS family is the only dysfunctional family on the block, have you met our new neighbors, the NFL Replacement Refs? How would you compare the most egregious BCS errors to what's happening in the NFL right now?-- Trevor Kuhn, Portland, Ore.
It's not even close. The NFL's officiating crisis has poisoned that league's credibility so badly it makes every controversy in BCS history seem like little bug bites by comparison. You may not like the inherent subjectivity of college football's national championship, and you may disagree with various results the pollsters or the computers have spit out over the years. But at the end of the day, no one is questioning the legitimacy of the actual on-field results. You may not agree with the established rules that govern the BCS, but those rules have at least been enforced correctly. The replacement refs are making procedural errors that directly affect the outcomes of games (and, in turn, teams' Super Bowl chances). Fans of the 2004 Auburn Tigers may disagree, but those gross injustices inflicted on NFL teams and their paying fans are far more inexcusable and avoidable than any BCS controversy.
Now, college football has not been without its own heinous officiating mistakes over the years. The Colorado-Missouri Fifth Down game was arguably a more egregious debacle than Monday night's Seahawks Fail Mary because it involved no degree of judgment whatsoever. The officials in that 1990 game flat out botched a basic procedure, and it wound up directly impacting not only the final score, but also the national championship race. The 2006 Oregon-Oklahoma onside kick replay fiasco was also pretty bad, though it wasn't the last play of the game. But one thing's for certain: The replacement refs have given everyone new cause to appreciate not only the regular NFL refs, but the top college officials as well. There are roughly 40 more FBS games than there are NFL games per week, yet there haven't been remotely as many game-changing errors so far this season as there have been through the NFL's first three weeks.
Stewart, I know that Heisman voters may never give a defensive player the award, but isn't Manti Te'o playing better defensively than anybody is offensively? When does he begin getting consideration? What do you think a defensive player has to do to win the award?-- Kevin, Chapel Hill, N.C.
If you were to name a four-week MVP in college football, Te'o (38 tackles, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries) would certainly be deserving of the award. So would Georgia's Jarvis Jones (4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception). The difference, of course, is that Te'o plays for Notre Dame, and therefore gets more attention. He will be on national TV every week this season. He's also a four-year starter with a great story and built-in name recognition. If you were looking to build the prototype necessary for a true defensive player (no kick returns) to overcome 77 years of Heisman history, Te'o may well be it.
More realistically, voters won't stay focused on a linebacker for 14 weeks. Linebackers don't put up eye-catching statistics like quarterbacks do. That's why West Virginia's Geno Smith (81.4 percent completions, 1,072 yards, 12 touchdowns, no interceptions) is on top of every Heisman board right now. The one glimmer of hope for defenders like Te'o or Jones is that several of the most sport's most lauded offensive stars -- Matt Barkley, Denard Robinson, Monteé Ball -- have already slipped. It may be that the exodus of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III has left an offensive void this year.
Keep in mind: Voters have already bucked history several times in recent seasons. They awarded the Heisman to a sophomore (Tim Tebow) in 2007, gave 161 first-place votes to a defensive tackle (Ndamukong Suh) in 2009 and presented last year's trophy to a player from a 9-3 Baylor team. Still, a linebacker winning the Heisman would be truly extraordinary.
If Manti Te'o played for Alabama, he'd be just another guy, right?-- Jeff, Hyrum, Utah
I can't tell if you're suggesting that Te'o is overrated or that Alabama linebackers don't get enough credit. Either way, seeing as Te'o is a former five-star recruit and a consensus first-round NFL prospect, he'd certainly fit in with the Crimson Tide.
LSU's moribund passing offense continues. Is it time to start asking if LSU's quarterback woes are a product of its coach/system? Has Les Miles ever had a top-rated passer of his own making?-- Steve, San Jose
What's this? A college football fan in San Jose? I'm writing these very words from a Panera Bread in San Jose and it's making me realize: I haven't come across anyone in school colors here since the season started. I'm in a bizarre vacuum.
LSU's continued quarterback woes are admittedly puzzling. Miles has in fact coached a couple of pretty decent passers in his day: Oklahoma State's Josh Fields (15th nationally in pass efficiency in 2002, though he regressed to 42nd the next year) and LSU's JaMarcus Russell (third in '06). But something's definitely been amiss ever since Jimbo Fisher left as offensive coordinator after the 2006 season. Matt Flynn, who would go on to become an NFL player, ranked just 64th during the Tigers' 2007 BCS championship season. Obviously Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson struggled for four years, and now Zach Mettenberger is off to a modest start (he's thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three of four games).
Part if it is a byproduct of the type of the conservative, run-first offense Miles wants to run. But Alabama takes much the same approach, and the Tide's quarterback, AJ McCarron, is currently the nation's fourth-rated passer. And it's not like LSU doesn't have talented receivers. It's had them in the past and it has them again now.
Mettenberger has the physical skills that prompted two different SEC schools (originally Georgia) to sign him. I'm inclined to cut him some slack for now, seeing as last Saturday's Auburn game was his first career SEC start. But if things don't improve over the course of the season, it would definitely become an indictment of the staff's ability to get the most out of that position.
As a Wisconsin alum and longtime Badgers fan, I am embarrassed that the Badgers will likely win their division and play in the championship game because Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible. They look inept at best and it's a sham they are still ranked.-- John K, Milwaukee
No argument here -- so why are you still penciling them in for Indianapolis? Don't go sleeping on Purdue.
With Denard Robinson setting all-time Michigan records for career yardage (9,438) and interceptions (38) in the same game, what will be his legacy, or is it still yet to be written? I can't forget his truly awful performances against Michigan State last year and in bowl games, his lack of a Big Ten title and this last romp in South Bend. I also am grateful for a win against Ohio State and some memorable Notre Dame games the two years before.-- Nick, Upland, Calif.
Robinson's career to date has certainly been all over the map, but there are still plenty of games left for him to tilt things one way or the other. At this point, it's obviously a lost cause to think Robinson will ever salvage his reputation as a passer. Last Saturday's performance was an extreme low, but it wasn't exactly out of character from his past games against elite defenses. However, he's still such a dynamic playmaker that you know he's going to register more 150-yard rushing games against overmatched defenses. Besides Michigan State, there's no defense on the Wolverines' conference schedule at the level of Alabama's and Notre Dame's. (Ohio State's should be, but it has underperformed to date.)
We'll see how things play out, but barring a drastically terrible senior season, I've got to imagine most Michigan fans will remember him for the positive more than the negative. He came along at a time when Michigan football was at its lowest point in modern history and gave fans something to be excited about. He produced some of the most spectacular individual performances in school history, particularly the 2010 and '11 Notre Dame games. He helped break an eight-year losing streak against the Buckeyes and deliver a BCS berth. There's a lot to like, even if those moments came interspersed with some alternately agonizing lows.
Thank you for the Dumb and Dumber quote. I'm a huge fan ... of you, Harry and Lloyd.-- Dave D., Worcester, Mass.
What Dumb and Dumber quote?
Ummm, Stewart, I hate to point this out, but in your Sept. 19 column you said that Utah fans might invite you in for "tea and strumpets." Given that a strumpet is another word for prostitute, I'm thinking maybe you meant "crumpets."-- John Ballard, Natchez, Miss.
Ah yes. That one.
Hey Stewart, Why are you so sold on Georgia in the SEC East over South Carolina? The Gamecocks beat UGA the past two seasons and one of the only differences between this year's team and last year's is the lack of Stephen Garcia, which can only really be seen as a plus. On top of that, the game between the two is at South Carolina this year. Why are you so sure UGA is going to win?-- John Lyles, Williamsburg, Va.
Easy, there. I'm not "so sure" about anything when it comes to that Oct. 6 game, other than I can't wait to watch it. There's a lot to like about both teams. South Carolina could not have looked much better against Missouri. Connor Shaw is now healthy and completing 76 percent of his passes. Marcus Lattimore is getting healthier and back to his workhorse days (he had 28 touches for 145 total yards against the Tigers). And Jadeveon Clowney and that defense -- wow. You don't want to play quarterback against them. But of course, I could say nearly all the same things about Georgia. Aaron Murray is on fire (averaging 10.5 yards per attempt), freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are averaging a combined 7.8 yards per carry and the aforementioned Jones and that defense are getting better by the game.
I want to wait and watch the teams' respective games this weekend (Georgia hosts Tennessee while South Carolina visits Kentucky) before making a pick. But yes, I do have the Dawgs in my projected BCS lineup for one very simple reason: their schedule. Even if they don't win in Columbia, I like their chances of running the table from there, whereas the Gamecocks follow up their showdown with Georgia with consecutive road games against LSU and Florida. Therefore, I'm inclined to say Georgia wins the East.
Booorrriiinnnggg. No Georgia bashing? You almost complimented UGA saying that they had a chance to win the SEC. I expect some anti-Dawg banter next week please.-- Kenny P, Atlanta
You know what? This "you hate my team" stuff is getting old. If you really feel that way, don't write a bitter e-mail. Do what this Georgia fan did: Produce a hilarious video.
Remember when I revisited my Program Pecking Order this summer? It apparently stirred up a pair of Georgia bloggers, Senator Blutarsky and Travis Fain, the Dawgbone. They took such umbrage with my 2007 premise that 100 average college football fans in Montana would not recognize a Georgia football helmet as universally as they would a Michigan one that they sought out a volunteer to literally conduct the experiment. "Hoppy" Hopkins, a 35-year-old freshmen English teacher at Great Falls (Mont.) High and a diehard Georgia fan, heeded the call to undertake what became known as "The Montana Project."
I'm in awe of the passion and energy it took for that online community to put that thing together. Never mind that the results pretty much proved my original point (Seventy-three recognized the Georgia helmet while 27 did not, and some of those 73 didn't sound incredibly sure about it). I was so blown away by the whole production that I placed a call to the man in the helmet.
Stewart: So what's a Georgia fan like yourself doing in Montana?
Hoppy: I've lived here for 27 years. My dad went to the University of Georgia. He was such a huge fan. When we were kids, if we would ask something, he'd say "What's the password?" thinking we would say "please," but then he'd say, "No, it's Bulldogs." I took my wife [to Athens] for my honeymoon.
Stewart: Dare I ask how many hours you put into this?
Hoppy: Asking the questions probably took about 12 hours over three days. My friend Kelly did the editing. He probably put in another five to seven hours. My friend Jeff Mainwaring, he's also a teacher, he came along for the whole thing. You hear his voice in there. And my wife, Bridgit, if you could throw her in there too, that'd be good. We visited three different bars [in Great Falls], starting on Labor Day. There weren't a lot of fans out that night so we gave it a shot the next weekend.
... Originally I thought I'd knock this out in two hours. It was a lot longer process than I expected, but it was great fun. Even if I'd never read your article, if someone had said, "You should go ask 100 people if they recognize the Georgia helmet and film it," I'd say: "OK. That sounds like a fun thing."
Stewart: Where did you get the helmet?
Hoppy: They were looking at actually buying one for the project, but someone in Bozeman said he had one. He had lived in Georgia. He Fed Exed it to me. It was a game-worn helmet. On blind faith alone, he trusted some stranger not to lose it, which is amazing. That saved everybody a few bucks. It was a tiny helmet. It must have been a punter's.
Stewart: And you screened the subjects by asking them to describe a Michigan helmet?
Hoppy: The Senator was pretty specific, he asked that I use the [examples] in your article. I asked if they were college football fans. There were a lot of [Montana] Grizzly fans. I didn't ask everyone the same questions. I probably asked 25 percent of the 100 to describe the Michigan helmet. I'd ask, do you know what the USC cheerleaders are called? [Note: Nobody he asked said "The Song Girls."]
Stewart: Yeah, I think you guys took that part a little too literally. I just meant, if you held up a picture, everyone would know those are USC's cheerleaders.
Hoppy: You know how college fanatics are -- you put two words in there, and it's, "No, it's gotta be the Song Girls. Make sure it's the Song Girls. Make sure you get as close as you possibly can to asking these control questions." This was very much my first rodeo. Once I realized this was going to take a lot longer than I thought, I decided, I'm only going to ask each person one question. And then of course they wanted to know what it was for. I had to explain your article probably 95 times.
Stewart: I'm just sorry that after all those hours, your results ended up validating my point.
Hoppy: Yeah, the things you said, it absolutely validates it, but in college football, each team has several recognizable things. I wonder, if we did it with Uga [the mascot] instead of the "G" and the Michigan "M" instead of the helmet, whether the results might have been different. I bet you'd get in the high 90s for USC if you did the sword as opposed to asking about the Song Girls, but also Uga instead of the G.
Stewart: Well -- in the end, was it worth it?
Hoppy: Oh, absolutely it was worth it. I had no idea people would take to it, no idea it would get so many hits on YouTube, but mainly, it made people smile. The best quote I saw on one of the blogs was, "This is reason 1,750,000 I love college football right there." That's why we do these things. Absolutely, unequivocally, it was worth it in so many ways I never expected. Amazing.
And it's amazing to me that one seemingly innocuous Mailbag passage could inspire such initiative. Kudos to everybody involved.