By Stewart Mandel
November 23, 2009

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To understand just how quickly a coach's stock can plummet, one need only look to the afternoon of Dec 1, 2007, just less than two years ago, when Les Miles and Rich Rodriguez were the toast of their profession.

Hours before coaching LSU in that day's SEC Championship Game, Miles, coveted both by his alma mater (Michigan) and his employer, held an unusual pregame press conference to debunk an ESPN report claiming he had accepted a job in Ann Arbor. That night, West Virginia's Rodriguez, who just a year earlier had come close to signing with Alabama, coached for a spot in the BCS Championship Game.

Soon, the two men's fates became intertwined. Miles' team beat Tennessee, while Rodriguez's team fell to 4-7 Pittsburgh, opening the door for Miles' Tigers to play for a national championship. As a result, Michigan was forced to end its courtship of Miles, who, upon claiming the sport's top prize a month later, signed a lucrative new contract making him (at the time) the highest paid coach in the SEC ($3.751 million annually). Michigan turned instead to Rodriguez, thinking highly enough of his work at West Virginia to hand him the keys to the sport's all-time winningest program.

On Saturday, these same two coaches were the subject of widespread scorn from their fan bases and much mockery around the country. With a 21-10 loss to Ohio State, Rodriguez completed his second straight losing season at Michigan, an indignity Big Blue followers have not suffered since 1962-63. Between his ugly divorce from West Virginia, an NCAA investigation into allegations he violated practice limits and a 3-13 Big Ten record to date, Rodriguez's reputation as an offensive guru suddenly seems like ancient history. Now, to most, he's a man in over his head and begging for sympathy regarding his rebuilding project.

"Everybody wants instant gratification, they all want to win right now, but you have to look at what the true issues are and what we're trying to do in this program," he said Saturday. "The last three Februarys have hurt us a little bit. The next two or three first Wednesdays in February [Signing Days] will be critical to our program."

Contrary to what some media sharks would have you believe, Rodriguez isn't in danger of losing his job. "He will be our coach next year," Michigan AD Bill Martin declared after the Ohio State game. "... There's no ifs, ands or buts about it." He has, however, lost a significant chunk of the Wolverines' fans, many of whom have already thrown in the towel.

More patient followers realize Rodriguez didn't suddenly forget how to coach when he got to Ann Arbor; that true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, who showed such promise early, is still a true freshman saddled with an enormous burden; and that the defense's abundant talent deficiency won't be fixed overnight. Unfortunately for Rodriguez, those weren't the same people who sold their tickets to Saturday's game and probably won't be rejoining the bandwagon until they see a Big Ten trophy.

Rodriguez, however, does hold one advantage over the man who, under different circumstances, could well have ended up occupying his post. "Patient fan" is an oxymoron in the SEC, particularly in Baton Rouge, where in less than two years' time Miles has gone from national-championship coach to certifiable nincompoop. Mind you, many felt that wayeven before Saturday's game-management meltdown against Ole Miss, but Miles gave his critics unthinkable ammunition with one of the worst last-second coaching blunders in recent memory.

Having scored a last-minute touchdown to cut its deficit to 25-23, then recovered an onside kick, LSU had the ball at the Rebels' 32-yard-line with 1:04 left, already in range for a potential game-wining field goal. However, the Tigers called three straight pass plays. The first fell incomplete. On second down, quarterback Jordan Jefferson took a nine-yard sack. On third down, with 32 seconds left, his screen pass to Stevan Ridley lost another seven yards, relegating LSU to fourth-and-26.

And then, for 17 seconds after the play had ended, the clock inexplicably kept ticking. Only nine seconds remained when Miles finally called his last timeout. He claimed later: "Timeouts were being called verbally, but I didn't relate to the official apparently, and that was a mistake. We didn't know [the timeout] hadn't been called."

Even then, he had a chance at redemption after Jefferson completed a miraculous 43-yard heave to Terrance Toliver that got the ball down to the Ole Miss 5 with one second left. It's debatable whether the Tigers realistically could have gotten off the snap once the ball was reset, but it wouldn't have mattered even if they had: Jefferson, to the bewilderment of everyone watching, spiked it.

"When Terrance caught it, I thought the field-goal unit was going to come out and kick the field goal and we were going to win the game," Jefferson said. "[The coaches] had a lot of communication going on. Time was running out. I mean, it was just a lot of confusion."

Added Miles: "The management at the back end of the game was the issue. It's my fault that we didn't finish first in that game."

Making matters worse, Miles claimed, "I do not know who told [Jefferson] to clock it," but a local news affiliate's footage showed Miles repeatedly making the "clock" gesture himself.

A sampling of how Miles' management went over on the Bayou could be found on the "Tiger Rant" fan forum at, where one fan asked: "All wanting off the Miles bandwagon, please be heard," and another responded, "Do you have to have been on it to get off it?"

Many outsiders might find it absurd for a fan base to turn so vehemently against a coach who led its team to a national title less than two years ago and has kept it in the top 10 nearly the entire season. But LSU fans never fully embraced Miles following Nick Saban's departure, and now their worst fear is coming true: Saban has Alabama on the brink of a second straight undefeated regular season, while the Tigers have now gone 7-8 in the SEC since last season.

Miles, like Rodriguez, isn't in danger of losing his job any time soon, but the fact that it's even become a point of discussion shows just how rapidly a coach's stock can deteriorate. Maybe both would have been better off had West Virginia simply beaten Pittsburgh that fateful December night.

Miles was far from the only coach with some explaining to do Saturday. In fact, I would argue his error paled in comparison to a jaw-dropping decision by Yale coach Tom Williams that will undoubtedly go down as one of the biggest blunders in the 126-year history of The Game between Harvard and Yale.

Leading 10-7 but faced with a fourth-and-22 on his own 25-yard line with 2:25 left, Williams -- apparently determined to one-up Bill Belichick -- called for a fake punt. John Powers, who took a lateral from linebacker Paul Rice, came up seven yards short, and three plays later, Harvard quarterback Collier Winters threw a game-winning 32-yard touchdown.

"I was trying to keep momentum on the blue side," said Williams, the Bulldogs' first-year head coach. "We're playing to win the football game ... Our whole idea was to keep our foot on the pedal and not play scared."

I happened to stumble onto Versus' Harvard-Yale broadcast by accident (I thought the network was showing the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game) just before Harvard scored its first touchdown with 6:46 left and stuck with it. I'd never gotten to see The Game before -- and hey, it was in HD. I saw the whole thing unfold and I could barely believe my eyes.

When the game ended, Williams, 39, a former Stanford linebacker and co-defensive coordinator, shook hands with Harvard counterpart Tim Murphy, then stood slouched in the middle of the field, hands on knees, for a good 30 seconds. The magnitude of his blunder seemed to set in. Pull that stunt against Cornell and hardly anyone would notice ... but against Harvard? In front of 50,000 spectators and a national cable audience?

Williams may well coach for another 40 years and still never live that one down.

Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games.

Title game: Alabama vs. TexasRose: Ohio State vs. OregonFiesta: Iowa vs. Boise StateSugar: Florida vs. CincinnatiOrange: Georgia Tech vs. TCU

There's only one change from last week: I jumped back on the Cincinnati bandwagon after a reader reminded me of my own proclamation in September to "never doubt Brian Kelly." (I'm pretty sure I've also written at some point to "never put faith in Dave Wannstedt." If not, I at least thought it.) I'm still not sure the Bearcats' lines can handle the physical Panthers ... but Kelly will figure it out.

Of course, this entire lineup is still predicated on the assumption that Oklahoma will beat No. 12 Oklahoma State (9-2) in Norman this weekend; neither team inspired confidence last weekend, with the Cowboys barely escaping Colorado at home and the Sooners getting hammered by Texas Tech. If Oklahoma State wins, the Fiesta, as the Big 12's partner, would almost certainly take the Cowboys to replace Texas, and either Boise State or Iowa/Penn State would be left out.MANDEL: Early projections for all 34 bowl matchups

• I already wrote about Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's brilliance in the Ducks' 44-41 double-overtime win over Arizona, but LaMichael James played a huge role as well. With 117 yards on 19 carries, James has now rushed for 1,310 yards, breaking the Pac-10 season record for a freshman. The previous record-holder: Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, who ran for 1,253 yards last season and sits a mere three yards ahead of James with 1,313 this season.

The Dec. 3 Civil War can't arrive soon enough.

• Not only did Connecticut seal Charlie Weis' fate with Saturday's double-overtime win at Notre Dame, but the Huskies likely stole the Irish's bowl berth. UConn (5-5), provided it becomes bowl eligible, figured to be the odd team out of the Big East's lineup if Notre Dame (6-5) went to the Gator Bowl. But if the Irish finish 6-6, they become free agents like last year, perhaps bowling in Detroit or Mobile.

• Since losing star Jahvid Best to injury in a Nov. 7 loss to Oregon State, Cal (8-3) has notched consecutive wins over ranked opponents -- Arizona and Stanford -- thanks in large part to Best's replacement, Shane Vereen. The sophomore has carried 72 times for 352 yards and four touchdowns in the wins, including 42 for 193 and three TDs in Saturday's 34-28 Big Game victory over the Cardinal.

• Oklahoma's struggles on offense have been well documented, but Saturday, Texas Tech (7-4) became the rare team this season to shred the Sooners' defense, racking up 549 yards in a 41-13 rout. That's quite the reversal from a year ago, when OU throttled the Red Raiders 65-21 in Norman. Oklahoma (6-5) has now matched Bob Stoops' first team in 1999 for the most losses of his tenure.

• Oklahoma State (9-2) stands one win away from a potential Fiesta Bowl berth thanks to a 26-year-old third-string quarterback. With Zac Robinson out, replacement Alex Cate started 0 for 9 against Colorado, allowing the Buffs (3-8) to jump to a 21-10 lead. So coach Mike Gundy turned to former Yankees prospect Brandon Weeden, who went 10-of-15 for 168 yards and two TDs in a 31-28 win.

• Last Monday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published a story entitled "Kentucky's [Rich] Brooks on the hot seat." Whoops. Kentucky, which previously won at Auburn this season, got another huge road upset Saturday, 34-27 at Georgia. The 7-4 Wildcats now host 6-5 Tennessee next week. If Brooks' team manages to end a 25-year losing streak to the Vols, Brooks may earn a statue, not a pink slip.

• Nebraska (Big 12) and Clemson (ACC) both clinched spots in their respective conference title games on Saturday. The Huskers' 17-3 win over Kansas State marked the seventh time this season the Blackshirts have held an opponent to 10 points or less, while Tigers star C.J. Spiller's four-yard touchdown run against Virginia made him the lone FBS player to score a touchdown in every game.

• Missouri receiver Danario Alexander is on fire. The senior, marred by injuries for much of his career (his previous season high was 417 yards), has 34 catches for 578 yards in his last three games. Saturday's performance against Iowa State (11 catches, 173 yards) marked his third straight with double-digit receptions. Alexander now leads all BCS-conference players with 128.3 yards per game.

• Northwestern held Wisconsin's John Clay, the Big Ten's leading rusher, to 100 yards on 23 carries and forced two turnovers in the final two minutes of a 33-31 upset over the No. 17 Badgers (8-3). With their second win in three games over a ranked foe, the Wildcats (8-4, 5-3), once the Big Ten's perennial doormats, finished with a winning conference record for the fourth time in six years.

• In a really cool moment prior to his last home game, retiring Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrewsplanted the spear at midfield in place of Chief Osceola. Then his defense allowed 410 yards to 2-9 Maryland before FSU (6-5) prevailed 29-26. In a far crueler send-off, Andrews' last regular-season assignment comes next week against Florida's Tim Tebow, who will be playing his last home game.

• It's been a season of streaks for UCLA (6-5, 3-5 Pac-10), which won its first three games (including victories over Tennessee and Kansas State), then dropped five straight Pac-10 contests before rallying to win its last three to become bowl-eligible. Saturday's 23-13 win over Arizona State was typical of the Bruins' season: The defense produced more points (14) than the offense (nine).

• Syracuse (4-7, 1-5 Big East) saved first-year coach Doug Marrone the indignity of a winless conference record with a stunning 31-13 upset of No. 25 Rutgers (7-3, 2-3). The Orange's previously lifeless offense (they lost 10-9 to Louisville a week earlier) exploded behind quarterback Greg Paulus (13-of-16 for 142 yards and a touchdown) and a running game that ground out 213 yards on 51 attempts.

• Temple's ninth straight win (yes, you read that right) on Saturday against Kent State combined with Ohio's 38-31 win over Northern Illinois sets up a winner-take-all showdown for the MAC's East Division this Friday in Athens, Ohio.

• Marshall (6-5) became bowl-eligible for the first time in coach Mark Snyder's five seasons with a 34-31 win over SMU. The Mustangs' (6-5, 5-2 C-USA) loss also puts Houston (9-2, 5-2) back in line for a spot in Conference USA's title game.

• Troy (8-3, 7-0 Sun Belt) clinched a share of its fourth straight Sun Belt title with a 47-21 win over Florida Atlantic. An outright title will require either a win at 6-5 Louisiana-Lafayette or a Middle Tennessee (8-3) loss to 6-5 Louisiana-Monroe.

• New Mexico (1-10) finally secured its first victory Saturday, 29-27 against Colorado State, on James Aho's 27-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining. Eastern Michigan (0-11) and Western Kentucky (0-10) are the only oh-fers left.

Despite the Longhorns' 11-0 record and No. 3 ranking, there hasn't been much reason lately to tune into a Texas game, mostly because coach Mack Brown's crew has been busy throttling overmatched opponents. Nevertheless, I tuned in for a good portion of Saturday night's Kansas game (until it got out of hand) to take in Colt McCoy's milestone moment.

On Senior Day at Royal-Memorial Stadium, McCoy shredded the 5-6 Jayhawks for 396 yards and four touchdowns in a 51-20 blowout that gave the Texas senior his NCAA-record 43rd victory as a starter (passing Georgia's David Greene). He celebrated afterward by shooting off the stadium cannon, then took a whack on Big Bertha, the oversized bass drum used by the Longhorns' band.

"I never shot the cannon or banged the drum before," he said. "It was sweet."

Call me sappy, but I feel like a parent who's watched his kid grow up. I was in Austin in August 2006 for Texas' preseason Media Day and semi-cringed at this lanky, soft-spoken, Opie-looking kid talking about the challenge of replacing Vince Young. "That kid is the starting quarterback?" I remember thinking. I returned a month later and watched him struggle badly in a 24-7 loss to No. 1 Ohio State.

But then McCoy started catching fire, and by November I was writing about the freshman's unlikely Heisman candidacy (he was putting up comparable stats to eventual winner Troy Smith). Two years later, I was there when he did earn an invitation to New York. And now it seems almost certain he'll be heading back.

After a frustrating first half of the season in which McCoy threw seven interceptions while struggling to regain his 2008 groove (when he posted an NCAA-record 77.6 completion percentage), McCoy has completed 77.0 percent of his passes over his past five games for 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.

In a recent conversation, McCoy admitted he was placing undue pressure on himself early on to live up to his team's and his own lofty expectations.

"It's one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through," he said. "You make the decision to come back [for senior year], you want to play perfect, then things don't start out the way you want to. It's frustrating. It took me six games or so to come out of that and rethink why I'm playing and have fun and enjoy the game."

McCoy also talked about the individual film work he did with some of Texas' more inexperienced receivers to get back in sync. Texas' passing game is extremely precision-based, and even a two-yard deviation from the assigned route can cause a missed connection. With Jordan Shipley the only significant contributor back from last year's receiving corps, McCoy had to get on the same page with guys like James Kirkendoll, Malcolm Williams and Marquise Goodwin.

Their improved timing was evident on numerous occasions on Saturday night. On Texas' first touchdown, it initially appeared McCoy couldn't find an open receiver, but it turned out he was merely waiting for Kirkendoll to gain some separation before lofting him a 41-yard touchdown pass. That score came on a series that began when Goodwin lined up to the outside, took two steps toward McCoy, turned up field, caught a middle screen in stride and dashed 34 yards.

"I don't think I've ever seen Colt any better," Brown said afterward. "I don't think we could have scripted it any better. With all the pressure on him, he's showing everybody he's in here for a big finish."

Before you go penciling in another undefeated season for Boise State, you might want to take a closer look at the Broncos' upcoming opponent, Nevada. The Wolf Pack (8-3, 7-0 WAC) throttled New Mexico State 63-20 on Saturday for their eighth straight victory, the school's longest winning streak in 18 years. But it's not the fact that they're winning that's noteworthy; it's how they're doing it.

Simply put, Nevada has the most lethal rushing attack in the country.

Against the Aggies, Chris Ault's team ran 61 times for 574 yards. It's now averaging a national-best 373.2 yards per game on the ground, significantly higher than the next-closest team, Georgia Tech (314.1), despite the fact that the triple-option based Jackets have posted 106 more attempts. The Wolf Pack's 7.76 yards per carry obliterates that of the next-closest team, UAB (5.93).

Nevada doesn't run the triple-option, but it does have a trio of weapons: dual-threat quarterback Colin Kaepernick (1,129 yards, 16 touchdowns) and running backs Vai Taua (1,185 yards, nine TDs) and Luke Lipincott (1,028 yards, nine TDs). Nevada is the first team in Division I-A history to boast three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

Now, Ault takes his triple-headed monster to Boise, where the Wolf Pack haven't won since 1997. However, the last time the teams played there two years ago, they staged a historic four-overtime shootout the Broncos wound up winning 69-67 (the most combined points in a I-A game since 1937) in what was also then-freshman Kaepernick's first start for Nevada.

This year's Broncos boast a much better defense, one that shut down Oregon's prolific rushing attack back in the season opener. But that was a long time ago. Believe it or not, Nevada's first game was a shutout loss at Notre Dame -- and those guys don't exactly boast a stout run defense.

"We're taking a lot of momentum [to Boise]," said Ault. "They're the target that everybody shoots for. I'm proud we're playing for a [WAC] championship. You can't ask for anything more."

In last week's Mailbag, I fielded a question about Friday night's game and replied: "If the game was in Reno, I'd give Nevada a fighting chance, but knocking off Boise on the Smurf turf? Not likely." My opinion hasn't changed; it would be a huge upset if Nevada won. But those rushing stats sure give reason for pause.

We know football isn't always the highest of priorities for the scholars of Cambridge, but someone really ought to explain the difference between an "extra point" and a "punt" to this particular student.

Lehigh and Lafayette staged the 145th edition of the nation's longest continuous rivalry Saturday, with Lehigh pulling out a dramatic 27-21 overtime win. Perhaps this pregame performance inspired them.

Mini-previews for three of this week's big games

• Texas at Texas A&M, Thursday (8 p.m. ET): The 'Horns shouldn't take this one lightly, despite what the Aggies' 100th-ranked defense suggests. For one thing, they lost there two years ago. For another, it figures to be an emotional night in College Station on this, the 10th anniversary of the Bonfire tragedy that killed 12 people.

• Alabama at Auburn, Friday (2:30 p.m. ET): Last year's 36-0 Tide blowout in Tuscaloosa ultimately cost Tommy Tuberville his job. If Gene Chizik can spring the upset and prematurely end Alabama's national-title hopes, he'll be an Auburn hero. If not ... well, he better damn do it next year if he wants to keep his job.

• Florida State at Florida, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): It's Tim Tebow's last home game. The Gators are playing for their first 12-0 season since 1995. It's Tim Tebow's last home game. Florida State's defense ranks 106th nationally. And oh, did we mention that it's Tim Tebow's last home game?

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