Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (tickets to the Fox vs. ESPN gameday set Royal Rumble sold separately):
BAD ADMINISTRATIONS ADMINISTERING BADLY
There are two ongoing administrative failures in the sport at the moment, on opposite sides of the country. One is a school with every conceivable advantage that can’t make the moves necessary to return to dominance. The other is a school in a terrible position that blew its best chance to crawl out of the basement.
Give it up for USC (31) and Rutgers (32).
In Los Angeles, administrative malaise could well leave the Trojans football program in the hands of Clay Helton (33), a nice man who isn’t winning big in a job where winning big is habitual and hard to screw up. At the moment, Helton is being feted for going 8–4, a record that would have been a disappointment for Pete Carroll and John Robinson Part One and John McKay and Jess Hill and Howard Jones. That’s after going 5–7 last year, the worst USC season since 2000.
The problem is, USC didn’t part ways with Helton when it could have and should have—on three different occasions. The first was when the school retained him as the interim coach in 2015, the last of many Pat Haden mistakes as athletic director. The second was the end of last season, when Haden’s replacement and fellow AD novice, Lynn Swann, retained Helton after that 5–7 bust. And the third was midway through this season, when the Trojans were 3–3 and out of the College Football Playoff picture.
At that point, USC was being led by an interim AD after Swann was fired. So the interim guy wasn’t going to pull the trigger, and school president Carol Folt isn’t micromanaging athletics, and Helton stuck around and started winning. New athletic director Mike Bohn came in during the turnaround, and he’s probably still figuring out where his parking space is.
While Bohn is getting his feet on the ground, Helton finds himself one upset-Utah-loss Saturday away from playing for the Pac-12 championship. Which is not really the position from which a coach is prone to be fired.
Thus USC, which should be a top-five job at all times, could well end up heading into year six with a top 50-ish head coach. The 2020 recruiting class is not a good one at the moment, with many prospects wary of Helton’s longevity and his track record to date. Everyone is justifiably excited about the future of freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, but next year he will likely be without his top two receiving targets, including Biletnikoff Award finalist Michael Pittman.
Right now Utah (with none of USC’s advantages) and Oregon (with some of USC’s advantages) are the programs the Trojans aspire to be. And the Utes and Ducks are still looking up at the best of the SEC, Big Ten and ACC (at least one team).
Why is USC in this position? Because the administration couldn’t get its act together at several key junctures.
Which, of course, brings us to Rutgers and Greg Schiano (34).
The best coach in Rutgers history was in the midst of taking this season away from football when the school fired Chris Ash on Sept. 29. The Scarlet Knights had three months to put together a compelling offer to an out-of-work guy with allegiance to the school.
They flopped. Schiano and the school walked away from the bargaining table Sunday. That went over well with at least one New Jersey columnist.
Theoretically speaking, the only Power 5 football job even close to being as bad as Rutgers is Vanderbilt, the academic square peg in the SEC round hole. The State University of New Jersey is tasked with playing Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan every year, while having all those schools (and others) raid its state of top prospects. It’s an incredibly tough job.
Yet Rutgers had a guy willing to take it. A guy who actually won 11 games there one season, not all that long ago. And the school let him walk and then talked badly about him behind his back after he did.
Good luck with the next guy, Rutgers. The school has to hope that it can lure in a rising star who can catch lightning in a bottle—then lure in the next rising star after the first one inevitably leaves for a better job. Maybe then the Knights can dream of going, say, 7–5 someday.
SLEEPING GIANT OUT WEST?
The other significant coaching news of the week was two changes in the Mountain West, with Bob Davie departing New Mexico and—more interestingly—Tony Sanchez being fired at UNLV (35).
Sanchez was the latest attempt by UNLV to find the elusive coaching fit. He came from the high school ranks, having overseen a powerhouse right there in town at Bishop Gorman. While hiring a coach straight from high school has rarely been tried and almost never been successful, it at least checked one more box. In the previous 40 years UNLV already had tried everything: a junior college coach (Harvey Hyde); a promoted assistant (Wayne Nunnely); a Lou Holtz assistant at Notre Dame (Jim Strong); the head coach from rival Nevada (Jeff Horton); a former legend in his coaching twilight (John Robinson); an Urban Meyer assistant (Mike Sanford); and a big winner at the FCS level (Bobby Hauck).
None of them worked.
Neither did Sanchez.
But a program that everyone believes could be so much better than it forever has been now possesses one more piece to the winning puzzle: the brand-new stadium where the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders will begin play next season. A cutting-edge NFL facility can only help in both recruiting and finding the next coach.
How much can it help? The Mountain West is ruled by Boise State (36), which has no business being as good as it is but has been an enduring brand. Why couldn’t UNLV be the Boise of the West Division, while the Broncos run the Mountain?
The Rebels have never been able to find the right guy, despite trying every conceivable angle. A new stadium should increase their odds of making a good hire, and perhaps even making UNLV a semi-destination job.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Maryland (37) continues to be one of the great curiosities of the 2019 season. Last week The Dash noted that the Terrapins have made just a single field goal all season, while attempting just four. This week, a new oddity, uncovered with the assistance of stat sleuth extraordinaire Rob Daniels:
The Terrapins appear to be the first Big Ten team ever that has both won consecutive games by 40 or more points and lost consecutive games by 40 or more in the same season. The good: defeating Howard 79-0 and Syracuse 63-20 to start the season. The bad: losses to Ohio State 73-14 and Nebraska 54-7 in their last two games.
To repeat: first team in Big Ten history to do that. But then again, the league has only been around since the 1800s.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Brian Kelly (38), Notre Dame. Coming into the season, The Dash (and others) pointed out that Kelly’s team was in a profound scheduling pickle—on six occasions, it was playing an opponent coming off an open date while the Irish were coming off a game the previous week. Not only that, four of those disadvantage dates were in November, when rest and healthy bodies are at a theoretical premium.
Well, here’s your update: Notre Dame went 6–0 in those games, and won the November slate by increasing margins. The Irish beat Virginia Tech by one, Duke by 31, Navy by 32 and Boston College by 33.
If Notre Dame beats Stanford Saturday, the Irish will have their third straight 10-win season. That’s something the school has only accomplished one other time, from 1991–93 under Lou Holtz.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Seth Littrell (39), North Texas. After back-to-back nine-win seasons, Littrell’s stock was on the rise. With a veteran team led by the school’s all-time leading passer, Mason Fine, this season figured to be Littrell’s springboard to a Power 5 job.
There has been a change of trajectory. The Mean Green has gone a lean 4–7, most recently being stunned by lowly Rice. After winning nine road games his first three seasons, Littrell is 0–6 away from home this year.
Yeah, it’s a chain, but: when thirsty in College Station, Texas, The Dash recommends saying howdy to the good people at World of Beer (40) near campus. They took care of a bunch of thirsty swim parents on multiple nights, offering excellent service and good food and the customary staggering array of beers. For a Texas flavor, try the wordy-but-tasty 4th Tap Kung Fu Robot Double Dragon DDH, a hazy IPA that pairs well with a second 4th Tap Kung Fu Robot Double Dragon DDH. Thank The Dash later.