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  • This week's mailbag answers your questions about the most hateful rivalries in the country, the relative attractiveness of the Ohio State and USC jobs and the challenges of hiring away the head coach of an FCS power.
By Andy Staples
November 21, 2018

It’s Rivalry Week, and you have (rivalry-related) questions….

From @HistoryOfMatt: #DearAndy, with #HateWeek upon us, can you rank your best college football rivalries not necessarily on the quality of games, but the quality of hate? For example, most Georgia-NATS (North Avenue Trade School) games aren't great games, but there is a ton of hate there.

The hatred between Georgia and Georgia Tech to which @HistoryOfMatt refers is so intense that it requires two adjectives. It’s not just hate. It’s Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. But since the hate is so clean and old-fashioned, it doesn’t rank as high as some of the rivalries where the hate is much, much messier. So let’s rank the top five rivalry games being played this week by sheer messy, ugly, nasty hatred*.

*The Big 12 moved Bedlam up two weeks last year, so that’s why it’s not here. Texas–Texas A&M would be here if the two schools would stop being such babies about it and play one another.

1. The Egg Bowl (Mississippi State–Ole Miss)

The rivalries just below this one are more famous and have far more impact on the national title race, but this one beats them all for sheer ugliness. Steve Robertson, the Mississippi State fan site writer whose research into Hugh Freeze’s phone records got Freeze fired at Ole Miss*, described it best last year to ESPN.com: “It’s the two runt puppies in the SEC West fighting for the hind teat. When you finally get locked on that hind teat, you do whatever you have to do to stay there, even if the other guy has to starve.”

*Come to think of it, that introduction of Robertson also explains the rivalry pretty well.

2. The Game (Michigan–Ohio State)

Alabama and Auburn fans think they hate one another, but they aren’t quite on the level of Wolverines and Buckeyes fans. Ohio State fans strike the Ms out of the words they type this week and sing songs about how much they hate the state to the north. Michigan fans seethe over a game their team hasn’t won since 2011 and hasn’t won in Columbus since ’00. Ohio State’s dominance this century has added an intriguing dynamic. Michigan, which has the winningest program in the sport’s history, is Little Brother in its biggest rivalry. It will be interesting to see how that dynamic evolves if the favored Wolverines win this year.

3. The Iron Bowl (Auburn-Alabama)

You’d think this would be No. 1, but it just feels like the groups in the games above hate each other just a little bit more. In terms of recent impact on the national title race, this game would be No. 1. But even with poisoned trees, this rivalry still feels more respectful than the ones referenced above.

4. The Holy War (BYU-Utah)

I still think Church Versus State would be a better name for this one, because it is not a rivalry between two religious factions but one between a private, church-based school and a state university. But the hatred is real. BYU quarterback Max Hall gave his reasons for it after the 2009 meeting. Of course, the Cougars haven’t beaten the Utes since…

5. The Territorial Cup (Arizona State–Arizona)

No one has poisoned a sacred cactus, but these groups truly do hate one another. They also have their own horticulture homicide. Back in the 1950s, when there was a state ballot initiative (Proposition 200) to turn Arizona State College into Arizona State University—and entitle it to state dollars that might otherwise have gone to the University of Arizona—Arizona fans burned “No on 200” into the field in Tempe.

From KC: #DearAndy, would USC try and poach Chip Kelly from UCLA? Secondly, you’re a big name head coach and can only pick one: Ohio State or USC?

The answer to question No. 1 is a solid no. USC wouldn’t do that based on pride alone, but the $9 million to buy out Kelly plus the (larger) amount USC would have to pay to buy out Clay Helton would make that a non-starter.

As for the second question, neither job is open right now. I suspect USC will open provided someone is willing to write a big check to cover Helton’s massive buyout. Ohio State is another matter. I saw the same thing you did during the Maryland game, but only Urban Meyer can decide what is best for him and his future. For all the hand-wringing over the Buckeyes this year, they’re still 10–1 with a chance to win the Big Ten East on Saturday. So let’s wait and see what happens there.

From a purely hypothetical standpoint, the answer to the second question is pretty easy. It’s Ohio State. Look at the past 40 seasons. Ohio State has won at least nine games in 30 of those seasons and in 15 of the past 17. The Buckeyes don’t really drop off. They have a history of consistency—especially recently—that few programs can match. Much of the credit for that goes to Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel for taking the program to an even higher level, but the general consistency in the program goes back decades. That suggests an institutional commitment to winning, and that’s one of the biggest things coaches look for in a job.

USC, meanwhile, has been strikingly inconsistent during that same stretch. The Trojans have won at least nine games in 15 of the past 40 seasons, and eight of those came in an eight-year span with Pete Carroll at the helm. We keep thinking that Carroll unlocked a blueprint for success at USC, but hires from his tree have not been able to replicate that success. (It should be noted that two double-digit-win seasons came with Helton as the coach.) Carroll’s blueprint might be impossible to replicate, and USC may need to hire someone who can create a new blueprint for annual national title contention. The blueprint at Ohio State, meanwhile, has been in place since Woody Hayes coached there. It has been enhanced over the years, but the foundation remains the same. And so if there ever came a time when both jobs were open and both schools sought the same coach, that coach should choose Ohio State.

From @TweeterLeGrand: As they swap Michigan and Michigan State for Maryland and Indiana, and get Iowa and Wisconsin at home, is it crazy predicting 10 wins in 2019 for Nebraska?

It is awfully optimistic, but it isn’t crazy given the development we’ve seen from Nebraska in a season that began with coach Scott Frost basically burning down the remnants of Mike Riley’s tenure there. The Cornhuskers were awful to start this season. I visited with Frost two days after Nebraska lost to Troy, and he proclaimed things would get worse before they got better. And he wasn’t kidding. The Huskers lost their next three games by a combined score of 139–62.

But then it did start to get better. Nebraska controlled most of the game at eventual Big Ten West champ Northwestern before allowing a gut-punch drive at the end of regulation and losing in overtime. The next week, the Huskers crushed Minnesota. They lost by five at Ohio State—which, as we’ve already noted, is flawed but still 10–1—and then beat Illinois and Michigan State. If Nebraska had next year’s schedule this year, swapping games at the Big Ten’s two best teams for games at two teams struggling for bowl eligibility, the Huskers might be going bowling.

Frost’s UCF team improved from 6–7 to 12–0 from year one to year two. While that probably is a bit too dramatic an improvement to expect, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Nebraska win eight or nine in the regular season and win a bowl game next year. Frost knows what he needs from a recruiting standpoint and stockpiled players who met those needs quickly at UCF. There’s no reason he can’t do the same at Nebraska.

From Pierce (via text): Do you think Chris Klieman with all his FCS success will be a candidate for a Power 5 job soon?

This is an interesting question, because while Klieman won three national titles in his first four seasons at North Dakota State—the Bison also are the No. 1 seed in this season’s FCS playoffs—he’s probably going to face questions because predecessor Craig Bohl hasn’t set the world on fire at Wyoming. Bohl won three FCS national titles at North Dakota State and has gone 27–35 at Wyoming. This is unfair to Klieman, of course, because he and Bohl are different people. But this is how our minds work. Chris Petersen needed a long period of sustained success at Boise State to make everyone forget that Dan Hawkins had gone from Boise State to Colorado and underwhelmed.

There also is a timing issue with good FCS head coaches. I was kicking myself the other day because I forgot to include James Madison coach Mike Houston as a candidate Maryland should consider for its opening, but then I began wondering how that would work if the Dukes made a deep playoff run.

An FBS school with an opening wants its new coach to start as soon as possible because National Signing Day is Dec. 19. The FCS national title game is Jan. 5, and the semifinals are Dec. 14 and 15. That puts the good FCS coach in an awkward position. He would obviously want to focus all his energy on the playoff, but he’s at his most marketable when his team is playing deep into the playoff.

The only way this could work is if the school hiring said coach and the school losing said coach could work together. It’s not apples to apples, but Alabama managed to win national titles while losing defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to Georgia after the 2015 season and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to Tennessee after the 2017 season. The coach would have to recruit for his new school while coaching his old one. It could work, but it would require a hiring athletic director who doesn’t choose the path of least resistance.

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