The consternation inherent to the release of the first College Football Playoff standings has arrived. With three SEC West teams among the top four, the predictable hand-wringing has begun.
The consternation inherent to the release of the first College Football Playoff standings has arrived. With three SEC West teams among the top four, the predictable hand-wringing has begun. But when the Selection Committee issues the vote that counts on Dec. 7, the potential for high-stakes controversy dwarfs anything we’ll see in the made-for-TV rankings the next five weeks.
Interviews with a handful of former members of the NCAA Tournament Basketball Selection Committee, which is the only moderately comparable organization to the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, reveal potential flaws in the instructions for the 12 committee members.
The biggest is a seeming lack of specificity in the criteria of how to choose the best teams. The committee members are all qualified, competent and intelligent. But the vague guidelines that they have to work with could well end up causing chaos once the first four playoff teams are selected and the gargantuan gap between the fourth and fifth team is established for the first time.
“I’ve been around enough schools on the FBS level across a number of conferences in the past month to know there’s a great deal of sensitivity about the specifics,” said Greg Shaheen, the former NCAA vice president who oversaw the basketball championship selection process. “No one knows the criteria. This isn’t an integrity issue. You can have the smartest people in the world, but if the roadmap isn’t there then it doesn’t matter.”
There are five nebulous guidelines for how to rank the teams. When the college football overlords unanimously approved these in 2012 it appears that little thought was given to how much scrutiny they’d receive. The Playoff Guidelines say, “The committee will select the teams using a process that distinguishes among otherwise comparable teams by considering” these five elements:
1. Conference Championships Won: Seems pretty cut and dried, right? Well consider that the second paragraph under Proposed Selection Process clearly states that the committee needs “enough flexibility and discretion to select a non-champion.” Then two paragraphs later it lists conference champion as the first criteria. Confused yet? (Larry Scott isn’t. Every time he’s asked about the muddled Pac-12 he answers with some version of the committee valuing conference championships as a top criteria, as it’s almost a plea for them to follow through).
To illustrate how confusing this can become, let’s take the SEC West, which has No. 1 Mississippi State, No. 3 Auburn and No. 4 Ole Miss. It will invariably have a few teams lurking around that dangerous area between No. 4 and No. 5 this season. Only one team can win the West. Does a team get credit for winning its division? Or is that goodwill lost if that team loses to Georgia in the SEC title game? What if there’s some funky tiebreaker situation like the Big 12 had in 2008 when Oklahoma trumped Texas after losing to the Longhorns? Is the tiebreaker worth more than head-to-head? This is especially thorny now that the Big 12 doesn’t have a conference title game. And that’s going to be the selection committee’s problem with so much at stake, even something as seemingly direct as a conference championship can be convoluted.
2. Strength of Schedule: There will be years -- and this could be one of them -- where there’s going to be the most minute differences between No. 4 and No. 5. Wouldn’t a clearly defined and universal strength of schedule metric be helpful? You can feel the scars from all the past BCS controversies when reading the selection criteria. There’s a lengthy chunk of the guideline process that basically explains how it doesn't rely on polls and computers and it’s not the BCS. That's understandable. But when the goal is to “provide a clear set of guidelines,” there appears to be little clarity.
3. Head-to-Head Competition: The clearest directive will definitely be a factor this year. But even this can get muddled If you look at the first poll, with No. 6 Oregon having lost to No. 12 Arizona and No. 7 TCU having lost to No. 13 Baylor. All have one loss. This shows that strength of schedule is valued more, but it still looms as potentially thorny.
4. Comparative outcomes of common opponents (without margin of victory): This is another example of a billion-dollar business pretending to be amateur friendly by saying margin of victory shouldn’t count. The Playoff people apparently don’t want some poor coach who makes $3.5 million a year to cry behind his Ray-Bans when he gets 82 points hung on him. Ooops, too late. If we have humans, they are going to factor in margin of victory. Why tell them to do differently?
5. Other relevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance: All this is going to do is force coaches to lie. If Marcus Mariota gets hurt in the Pac-12 title game and Oregon is on the bubble, does it have any incentive to tell anyone that he’s injured? Of course not. There’s nearly a month gap between selection and playing, which is enough time to allow schools to be vague if injury information could hurt their standing. And no one has power to force them to give up the information otherwise. And how do we treat, say, a star quarterback like Jameis Winston facing a disciplinary hearing in December?
Miscellaneous: The document was likely intentionally vague so that the committee could set its own precedents. But once teams start getting left out and there are not concise explanations, this could start looking like the BCS all over again when rules are changed from year to year. Perhaps the most bizarre part is the loose recusal policy, which leaves the door wide open to potential conflicts of interest. This will be especially true since athletic directors are able to vote for teams in their own league -- and against teams competing for those slots. That's tricky considering the how important playoff spots will be to leagues both financially and in terms of perception.
“It really does come down to what are the criteria,” said former Princeton athletic director Gary Walters, who chaired the NCAA tournament Selection Committee in 2007. “The way that it’s currently stated, that to me leaves a little too much wiggle room.”
And that leaves plenty of room for controversy, just like old times.
1. Is Oregon’s Mariota too nice to succeed in NFL?
Oregon star quarterback Marcus Mariota is expected to declare for the draft and could be the No. 1 overall pick. Mariota will be put under a microscope, and the most pressing question he’ll face in the eyes of the NFL is: “Is he too nice?”
No one is questioning Mariota’s play, as he’s completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has 24 touchdowns with just one interception. But as NFL personnel study him harder, they wonder whether the quiet-natured Mariota, who is from Hawaii, is too meek to lead an NFL team.
“Like if you punched him in the stomach, he might apologize to you,” an NFL scout said. “I just don’t know if he’s that alpha male that you’re looking for. This kid’s a kind of fly on the wall kind of guy.
“Physically, he’s really talented, but it’s going to take a little time. If you’re expecting him to come in and be your savior Year 1, I don’t think that’s going to be it.”
There will inevitably be questions about how well Mariota will adjust from Oregon’s spread option offense, where scheme and tempo allow him to pick apart defenses with low-risk passes. The scout said Mariota has the arm strength and mental ability to make the NFL transition, but his personality could perplex the NFL.
“He’s just kind of laidback, but he’s as competitive as hell,” the scout said. “He’s kind of a different breed.”
The type that will have NFL teams hanging on every word Mariota says -- and doesn’t say -- over the next seven months leading up to the NFL Draft.
“He’s got all the physical talent in the world,” the scout said. “He’s a good kid, too. You don’t have to worry about him off the field. All you’ve got to worry about is he too nice?”
2. Michigan State’s Warner comes out of shadows
Being the offensive play-caller at Michigan State can be as thankless as being the defensive coordinator at Texas Tech or Oregon. When one side of the ball has so much success, it’s easy to overlook the other. Spartans co-OC Dave Warner knows he lacks name recognition, but he’s received much more attention the past few weeks for having three of his former quarterbacks make starts in the NFL.
In 2007, Warner’s meeting room at Michigan State included Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles and Brian Hoyer. Warner’s next prized pupil appears to be on the way to join them, as redshirt junior quarterback Connor Cook leads an offense ranked No. 5 in scoring (45.5 ppg) and No. 12 in total offense (515.3 ypg).
“I’m sort of at that point now where I’m a little bit more visible,” Warner told The Inside Read. “I’ve just now kind of built my way back up.”
Warner spent a year out of coaching in 2005 as a mortgage specialist in the Los Angeles area after being fired as wide receivers coach at Southern Miss. Warner spent those Saturdays in 2005 working to get the cash amount of his refinances to hit his $2 million monthly goal. He worked on commission and quickly realized he wanted to return to football.
“We weren’t happy,” Warner said. “My wife is very much a great coach’s wife. She certainly wanted to get back into football. We’re not California people.”
One of the only things that didn’t make Warner’s time in the mortgage industry miserable was the sunny Southern California weather, a welcome change from the colder climates he’s coached in most of his career. But Warner was glad to trade it to reunite in 2006 with Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati.
The two were former assistants together for four years at Kansas under Glen Mason. Warner followed Dantonio to Michigan State in 2007. Last season, Warner was promoted from quarterbacks coach to co-offensive coordinator and play-caller. The Spartans won the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl mainly behind their stifling defense. Cook showed his promise with a career-high 332 passing yards and two touchdowns in the season-finale. After a productive summer, he’s been even better this season with his 1,868 passing yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. “He’s grown leaps and bounds from last year,” Warner said of Cook. “He’s really taken off.”
Warner knows what it takes from his days playing quarterback at Syracuse, where Tom Coughlin was his offensive coordinator for two years and Jim Tressel was his position coach for a year. Warner credits his attention to detail to Coughlin and the mental aspect of coaching quarterbacks to Tressel. Like Coughlin and Tressel, Warner has aspirations of someday being a head coach, but only if the right opportunity arises.
Said Warner, “I feel very comfortable and good here.”
He doesn’t mind the lack of recognition as long as his quarterbacks keep piling up numbers. He’s just happy to be scoring points instead of selling them.
3. Oregon has plenty of motivation entering Stanford game
Oregon doesn't need much extra motivation heading into Saturday's game against Stanford in Eugene. The Cardinal have beaten the Ducks the past two years and done so in such a distinct style that it’s raised questions about the toughness of the Oregon program. In Stanford’s 26-20 victory last year, the Cardinal shut out the Ducks for the first three quarters and finished the game by keeping the ball for more than 42 minutes. With that loss came a torrent of criticism that the Ducks simply weren’t tough enough. A quote saying as much hung in the Oregon weight room during the offseason.
“We definitely took that personally because that’s something physical,” Oregon receiver Dwayne Stanford told The Inside Read. “That’s like someone testing your manhood almost.”
Oregon's last two losses against Stanford both dealt a significant blow for the Ducks’ chances to play for the national title. As he walked out of his press conference after last Friday’s blowout of Cal, Helfrich indicated he knew exactly how Oregon got stigmatized by the loss last season.
“If Stanford loses to Utah it’s an anomaly,” he said. “If we lose to Stanford we have to blow up our program. That’s not quite true, but it’s another huge game on our schedule.”
Helfrich said he wasn’t sure how much Oregon’s victory over Michigan State earlier this season will reverberate. The Spartans play a similar pro style, but the teams have completely different personnel and the Cardinal have the familiarity of playing Oregon every season. Helfrich indicated that not all smashmouth pro-style teams are alike. “I think our fans were at ease a little more after that Michigan State game than we were necessarily,” he said.
And this will be a different look Stanford, which seemingly snapped out of its offensive doldrums, and perhaps even its red zone rut, by evolving its identity in a 38-14 win over Oregon State last Saturday. Both Helfirch and defensive coordinator Don Pellum indicated that Oregon is more prepared for jumbo packages. While Stanford hasn’t abandoned those, they did more no-huddle and quarterback run game against Oregon State.
Helfrich wouldn’t quite bite on the angle of his team looking to prove its toughness, but he kept repeating over and over how excited the players are for the game. He indicated that there’s some underlying motivation, and it would be impossible for there not to be after Stanford spoiled Oregon’s season and kept it from the Pac-12 title game two years in a row. With the Ducks (7-1) at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff standings, can Oregon avoid getting outmuscled again?
“Our guys are excited to prepare for those guys, who we have a ton of respect for,” Helfrich said. “They’re a great program. They’re not a great team, they’re a great program.”
And Saturday’s game will be another big test for Oregon’s program.
• Despite all the hype about LSU freshman Leonard Fournette entering this season, Tigers running backs coach Frank Wilson urged anyone who would listen to be cautious. “He’s not there yet just from a knowing where to go, when to go and run-pass adjustment,” Wilson told The Inside Read before the season. “Is he going to carry 30 times a game and win the Heisman as a freshman? I don’t know about all that. Is he off the chart big, fast and sick in some of the stuff he can do? It’s stuff I’ve never seen before, but all the other stuff still has to come along.”
Fournette’s 113 yards on 23 carries in Saturday night’s 10-7 upset of Mississippi was the latest example of just how much he’s progressed in recent weeks. It marked his second 100-yard-plus rushing game in the last three weeks, a span in which he’s gained nearly half of his 657 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Fournette’s emergence as the season has gone on is what Wilson predicted for the nation’s top incoming freshman, complete with “a couple of 100-yard games here and there.” “He’ll be right on pace where he needs to be,” Wilson said. “He’ll develop into all the hype, because all the hype they say is real. He’s sick now.”
• The Charlie Strong era at Texas has been defined by player dismissals, suspensions and a lethargic offense. But while impatient fans may not think there’s progress, those inside and outside the program see it even after the Longhorns’ 23-0 loss last Saturday at Kansas State, the first time they have been shutout in a decade.
“The guys are playing hard for us,” Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford told The Inside Read. “That’s important. We’ve just got to play smarter. That’s the whole key. We play smarter, we make more plays.”
A Big 12 assistant whose team has faced Texas this season said that Strong isn’t being given enough credit for the job he is doing considering what he inherited. “They’re going to be good,” the assistant said. “They’ve got defensive players right now and they don’t have a whole lot of offensive weapons right now. The [Tyrone] Swoopes kid will be a good quarterback for a couple of years. They obviously need to develop their offense line. It’s Texas, but where’s the talent at? I know he kicked some of those kids off, but where’s the rest of them?”
The assistant laughed because he knows the answer is that former Texas coach Mack Brown didn’t leave much talent behind. As much as Brown’s shadow looms over the program in that regard, it’s even bigger in recruiting after his 16 years of backslapping and glad-handing with in-state high school coaches.
Bedford acknowledges that it’s been a challenge following in Brown’s footsteps. “A lot of [Texas high school] coaches are a little skeptical,” Bedford said. “They’re waiting to see what’s going to happen. They all say the same thing, Texas is a sleeping giant. If you can find a way to start winning, the players are going to come back your way, but you’ve got to do that first. We don’t have it done yet, but this is only the beginning.”
It’s only a matter of time for Strong & Co., according to the Big 12 assistant. “If they give him time to do what he needs to do, they’ll be just fine,” he said. “They’re going to recruit better than anybody. They’ll get the state back and take it from A&M. What they’re selling right now is nothing but you’re a Texas kid, you need to play at Texas. Period. It’s only going to get better. He’s doing a good job.”
• Just how tough has it gotten for embattled Florida coach Will Muschamp? So much that an SEC assistant told The Inside Read that his program has turned away several Gators commitments who want to change their pledges. "We like who we got better," the assistant said.
Florida’s uncharacteristically poor recruiting class is reflective of the increasing likelihood that Muschamp will not return after this season. The Gators’ astoundingly low nine commitments rank just 51st nationally at their highest and as low as 69th nationally, according to the three major recruiting services.
That’s a precipitous drop since February, when Florida signed a consensus top-10 class. The Gators’ current group is second-to-last in the SEC behind Vanderbilt, according to two services and the other has it tied for last with the Commodores.
One service even ranks the classes of eight non-Power 5 teams higher than Florida’s, a list that includes Florida Atlantic, Arkansas State and San Jose State, which have a combined 10-12 record this season. That’s mainly because the Gators have had six decommitments since July.
The latest deserter is Lawrenceville (Ga.) linebacker Adonis Thomas, who reneged on his pledge last week, less than three months after choosing Florida over Alabama. Instead of Muschamp & Co.’s commitments, the SEC assistant said his program is more focused on a few uncommitted recruits once thought to be leaning to the Gators.
Said the assistant, “Now they’re giving us a little bit more attention.”
• Lost in Alabama’s consensus No. 1-ranked recruiting class is the influence of Tosh Lupoi. “He’s been a big asset for [them],” an SEC staffer told The Inside Read. “Tosh has relationships across the country with recruits.”
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban hired the former California and Washington assistant, a recruiting ace, as an analyst in April. That was two months after the NCAA cleared Lupoi of allegations that he paid $4,500 for tutoring and online classes for Huskies signee Andrew Basham, who ended up not qualifying academically.
In his position, the 33-year-old Lupoi is not allowed to recruit off-campus per NCAA rules, but can have contact with recruits under certain scenarios.
“He’s a recruiting beast,” the staffer said. “That’s why they brought him in.”
Lupoi has also given Alabama much needed youth recruiting-wise, according to the staffer. Excluding wide receivers coach Billy Napier, the rest of the Crimson Tide’s staff is either pushing or over 40.
“It’s been a big deal for Alabama as far as trying to stay on top,” the staffer said. “With Ole Miss and Auburn getting all these good classes the last few years, he’s been the younger guy with experience that’s helped them.”
• Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer had high praise for Miami running back Duke Johnson after the Hurricanes’ 30-6 win last Thursday night, calling him maybe the best running back he’s faced in his 42-year coaching career. Beamer made the remark after the 5-9, 206-pound junior rushed for 249 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville told The Inside Read he wasn’t surprised by Beamer’s comment (his Bearcats held Johnson to 162 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in a loss earlier this month).
Tuberville stopped short of calling Johnson the best running back he’s ever had or faced, but acknowledged he’s in the conversation. But he gave Johnson perhaps an even headier compliment.
“He kind of reminds me of Walter Payton where he can stop and go sideways,” Tuberville said. “One of those Barry Sanders-type of guys that can accelerate, hit a hole fast and change directions.”
• Colorado State coach Jim McElwain has a growing list of admirers. They’re in NFL circles, where the offensive-minded 52-year-old is quietly building a sterling reputation for himself in his first job as a head coach. His team has a 7-1 record this season, his third year with the Rams.
“He’s done a hell of a job,” an NFL scout told The Inside Read. “He’s a great coach.”
McElwain has a season of NFL experience from when he was Oakland’s quarterbacks coach in 2006. He spent the next season as Fresno State’s offensive coordinator before accepting the same position under Nick Saban at Alabama, where the Crimson Tide won two national championships in McElwain’s four seasons.
NFL scouts are impressed by McElwain’s ability to develop talent, with two Colorado State players selected in the first 100 picks of last May’s NFL Draft (center Weston Richberg and tight end Crockett Gillmore). He likely has a second- or third-round pick in 6-5, 315-pound redshirt senior left tackle Ty Sambrailo, according to an NFL scout.
Scouts are also intrigued by 6-2, 188-pound sophomore wide receiver Rashard Higgins, who has 59 catches for 1,137 yards with 12 touchdowns this season.
“[McElwain] doesn’t have a lot of [NFL] players,” the scout said, “but he’s still winning games.”
• Have you seen Baby Arian Foster? That’s a question an NFL scout recently asked The Inside Read about emerging star Utah running Devontae Booker. With his 102 rushing yards in last Saturday’s 24-21 win over USC, the 5-11, 203-pound junior now has four straight 100-plus rushing yard games.
“He runs just like [Foster], same number, not a lot of bull---- when he scores,” the scout said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Booker even did Foster’s signature Namaste bow after scoring a touchdown against Oregon State earlier this month. But while Booker is making an impression on NFL scouts, two lost fumbles against the Trojans were a reminder he still needs seasoning.
He’s probably at best a late third- to fifth-round pick if he entered the NFL Draft after this season, according to a scout, because of the dearth of running backs likely to be available at the position. The junior college transfer could significantly improve his stock next season.
“He's good,” the scout said. “It’s weird how much he’s like Arian Foster. Just wait until they give him the rock more.”
Q&A with former SMU coach June Jones
Before he surprisingly resigned as SMU’s coach in early September, June Jones revived a program decimated by the NCAA’s death penalty in 1987 by taking the Mustangs to their first bowl game in 25 years, the first of a school-record four straight. The 61-year-old recently spoke with The Inside Read about why he resigned, how he views his tenure at SMU and the proliferation of wide-open offenses.
When you resigned, you cited unspecified personal reasons. Are you OK?
I’m fine. I had a couple of issues, just I hadn’t been sleeping. I was trying to run the whole thing, get everything right. I just kind of had a couple of weird things happen, but that was just because I hadn’t been sleeping.
Why hadn’t you been sleeping?
I don’t know. I haven’t slept much anyway. When I worked for the [Houston] Oilers I slept from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock in the morning. It was nonstop. You get kind of like that. So, I’ve been living that way for almost 20 years and then all of a sudden started sleeping about an hour every night. That kind of was a bad deal. But all in all, I’m fine. I got no issues. I look forward to the next year somewhere.
You clearly still want to coach.
Oh yeah. I want to coach probably five to eight more years. I don’t know where. I’ve had a couple of calls, but nothing really is going to spring until the end of November or first of December. So, we’ll see what happens … I’ve had a lot of time, already a month. I’m bored already. Just anxious to see what’s out there at the end of the season.
How do you view your time at SMU?
Well, we became relevant again. We went to four bowls in four years and we were like three plays away from going five years in a row. They got some issues at SMU that they’ve got to overcome, and I don’t know if they will ever overcome them. But I know one thing, what we did was miraculous and I’m not looking back on it in any other way than that.
What were those issues?
All the things that I’ve said before, they’ve got to help the kids. They’ve got to get some tutors, academics more toward the student-athletes. They’ve made strides in that area, but they’ve got to go a lot further … The campus is unbelievable. It’s just a tough gig. It will be tough for the next guy, too.
What have you been up to since you left SMU?
I was in Hawaii for a week. But I’ve been up in Oregon. I have a place up in Oregon (about an hour outside of Portland towards Mt. Hood) where I grew up and my kids and grandkids are up there. So I’ve just been kind of hanging with them.
So is your next job as a head coach or assistant?
I would think that it would be a head job. It will probably not be a big‑time school but I don’t really care. I just go do my thing somewhere. Somebody is going to be losing forever and want another guy to come in and maybe get them winning again.
What do you still want to accomplish?
For me, it’s just about the kids and the energy to win and to do it the way that we do it, playing exciting football. It’s always been about the kids that I’ve had, like watching Emmanuel [Sanders when he scored three touchdowns in the Denver Broncos’ win vs. San Diego] was unreal. To think that I kicked him off the team [at SMU], talked to him to come back in and he thanks me for it every day. Those types of things are what I live for.
Football is as wide open offensively as it’s ever been. Do you take pride in that with your in the Run ‘n’ Shoot roots?
Everybody is doing what we started. I enjoy watching Peyton [Manning] and I enjoy watching [Tom] Brady because they’re running kind of basically what [Ted] Marchibroda and what Mouse [Davis] and I ran. I really enjoy that. Everything’s cyclical. I’m watching Stanford play. I’m watching Arkansas play. It’s amazing how nobody can stop a power-I anymore because they are playing these spread teams. That’s been kind of interesting to me. Really the thing that’s still winning in the National Football League is what Peyton, Brady and Belichick does. That’s been consistent and I don’t see that changing. I think in college football, you’re always going to have a little bit more now probably of a quarterback that can run a little bit more. But I still think you have to win the game with that guy that can play under center and be a passer, not a runner.
• Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda had to decide between religion and football. After three years as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech and earning his master’s degree in philosophy and religion in 2002, he had applied and been accepted at many divinity schools. His plan was to someday be a religion teacher on topics such as faith and reason.
“It was a big detour I was about to take,” Aranda said.
But when then-Texas Tech assistant and now Baylor coach Art Briles accepted his first collegiate head-coaching job at Houston in late 2002, Aranda chose football, joining Briles as his linebackers coach.
“It was a big decision,” Aranda said. One that has turned the 38-year-old into one of college football’s brightest and most innovative defensive coordinators. With his aggressive 3-4 scheme, his unit is ranked fourth nationally in total defense (270.1 yards per game) and seventh in scoring defense (16.1 points per game).
Aranda’s defense has quietly been just as imperative in Wisconsin’s 5-2 record as much more publicized Badgers running back Melvin Gordon. Aranda came to Madison with second-year coach Gary Andersen from Utah State, where Aranda had been defensive coordinator for a season.
There, Aranda had a fast unit that utilized a lot of movement, specifically pressure. Last season, his senior-laden Wisconsin unit played more base defense than he ever had previously.
With eight new starters this season, Aranda has a fast youthful unit that’s once again employing tons of movement with pressures.
“You’ve got to be able to find the best players that you have and be able to get them to do what they do best collectively,” Aranda said.
Aranda is well versed in defending the high-powered offenses popularized by Briles and Washington State coach Mike Leach. He got his start with both men when he visited Texas Tech in 1999 to study the zone blitz while a graduate assistant at California Lutheran.
Aranda joined Leach’s staff that included future head coaches in Briles, Sonny Dykes, Dana Holgorsen, Greg McMackin and Ruffin McNeill, and there was a quarterback named Kliff Kingsbury on the fast track to also become one.
“Just the offensive innovation that was going on with that staff, you had to be able to change your thinking,” Aranda said. “If you just sit in base defense, that Air Raid way of thinking, they’ve got so many more reps doing what they do than you have defending it. You have to make them make a mistake. You have to affect the quarterback. You have to go on the attack, otherwise it’s just a matter of time. Everything they want to see is base defense.”
Aranda learned to think ahead of those prolific attacks before their playbook installation each year. When a play goes in, there are maybe six boxes of defenses that are going to be used as examples against it,” Aranda said. “My thought has always been try not to be that first box because that’s where they’re starting and what they want to see.”
Just because Aranda chose football doesn’t mean his interest in religion has waned. He continues to read articles in scholarly religious journals, mainly during his time off in the summer. “I’m still very interested,” Aranda said.
Opposing offenses just wish that he had been more interested in pursuing religion than football.
• The biggest Mississippi State fan in Kansas just might be Angelo Mirando. The Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College offensive coordinator was once a young hotshot wide receivers coach for the top-ranked Bulldogs. He still occasionally texts with coach Dan Mullen, his mentor, and defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
“They’ve really got it rolling,” Mirando said. “I’m thrilled for them. You knew Dak [Prescott] was going to be a stud when he showed up on campus.”
Mirando last worked in Starkville two years ago after he resigned as Mississippi State’s wide receivers coach just before the 2012 season amidst an NCAA probe. He later admitted he did not report $2,600 worth of impermissible benefits that Bulldogs junior cornerback Will Redmond received as a recruit from a booster.
Mirando was hit with a one-year show-cause penalty, which expired in June. He came with Mullen to Mississippi State in 2009 and was promoted from graduate assistant to wide receivers coach two years later.
“The biggest thing I regret is hurting Dan [Mullen],” Mirando said.
The 28-year-old sat out 2012 and returned the next season as quarterbacks coach at Ave Maria, an NAIA school in Florida. His season at the Catholic university allowed him to become more in tune with his faith and gave him time to reflect.
“You stick to the values you were raised with,” Mirando said. “That means when you’re confronted with something, you don’t try and hide it. You be upfront and honest. If I would have done that from Day One, things would have been different.”
This season is Mirando’s first as a play-caller, but his up-tempo spread attack has been instrumental in Coffeyville’s 7-2 record. It ranks sixth nationally at the junior college level in total offense (530.2 yards per game) and ninth in points scored (46.8 points per game).
Both are tops in the talent-rich Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference. “I’m a better coach,” Mirando said. “I’ve had more fun coaching these guys than I have a while. You can try stuff, but in the SEC if it doesn’t work, everyone knows about it. Here, it doesn’t work, you try something else.”
Mirando could be in the mix to return to the FBS as an assistant next season. When he spoke with The Inside Read recently, he had just finished talking with a Power 5 head coach.
“Look, I screwed up,” Mirando said. “But I’m going to make the most of this second chance. It makes you appreciate things more.”
Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville’s favorite meal is actually named after him. It’s the 16-ounce bone-in strip steak at Jeff Ruby’s The Precinct, an upscale steakhouse located in a former police station in northeast Cincinnati. Tuberville orders his namesake cooked medium along with a wedge salad with blue cheese and steamed broccoli.
“If I’m going to eat meat, I’m going there,” Tuberville said.
Tuberville tries to take his wife, Suzanne, to the restaurant once a month. They usually have chardonnay and dine in the more casual upstairs, where there’s a turn-of-the century Brunswick bar that was brought in from Boston.
Tuberville is a friend of the colorful Ruby, who infamously refused to serve O.J. Simpson at Ruby’s self-named steakhouse in Louisville the night before the 2007 Kentucky Derby. He also recently announced that crab legs won’t be available at that same restaurant this Thursday, when Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and his teammates visit to play Louisville (Winston was cited for stealing crab legs in April).
Ruby attends Cincinnati practices weekly and the team’s games. “He’s big with the kids here in the city,” Tuberville said. “He’s really a good guy.”