No Sleep Till Football

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Programs That Can Win A National Championship

The rumors that Gary Patterson might take over the head coaching job at Arkansas took a hit today with the idea that Patterson leaving TCU after he spent a decade getting them into a BCS conference seems a bit odd. I will admit that if the ultimate goal was to play in a BCS conference while coaching the Horned Frogs, then Patterson accomplished his goal. However, it got me to thinking about which schools in college football have a legitimate shot at a national championship? We all know the old story about how Jimmy Johnson ultimately left Oklahoma St. because he felt he couldn’t win a national championship there which is why he defected to Miami-FL and of course won a championship. Let’s take a look at the teams who have appeared in BCS championship games since the BCS’s inception. Obviously if you can get to the title game, you can win a championship. The list is:

Tennessee
Florida St.
Virginia Tech
Oklahoma
Nebraska
Miami-FL
Ohio St.
LSU
USC
Texas
Florida
Alabama
Auburn
Oregon

The teams in bold are the teams who have actually won BCS titles. It’s an exclusive list. I don’t think it’s all inclusive though. If I had to break the conferences down I’d go with the following

These SEC teams are all represented above excepting Georgia which I think is still a premier ELITE program to have. Georgia has sort of been in a rough patch with the SEC. Tennessee was really really good during Mark Richt’s early years and then he had to deal with Urban Meyer at Florida recently. Now guys like Nick Saban & Gene Chizik are out west which obviously muddies the waters. It has never been a question of talent & resources for the Bulldogs. They simply need everything to fall their way in a single season. Tennessee might be a shocker here too given their recent struggles, but the Vols have the first ever BCS Championship back in 1999, and I view them as more of a sleeping giant. The call to fire Coach Fulmer was probably a bad one. Hiring Lane Kiffin wasn’t an inspiring move either, and now it doesn’t look like Derek Dooley is the right man for the job.  If you don’t believe that hiring the wrong guy can set your program back for a lot of years, then look no further than Tennessee. If Bobby Petrino was still coaching Arkansas then I would have put the Razorbacks on the list. Petrino’s firing was the spark that got me to thinking about this particular subject, and he had had too much success the last two years not to think of Arkansas as being championship ready. Unfortunately for newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri, they have absolutely no idea what they are walking into.

The Big 10 is easy, but the questions here revolve more around who isn’t listed than who is. Iowa doesn’t make the cut because they’ve never really been a huge player on the national stage. Under Kirk Ferentz the Hawkeyes have been a very good bordering on excellent program, but they’ve never been to the Rose Bowl under Ferentz. They’ve only been to a couple of BCS bowls and have never had a season with fewer than 2 losses. The Big 10 is getting tougher and Iowa wasn’t done any favors when it was placed in the Legends Division along with teams like Michigan, Michigan St., and Nebraska. Speaking of Michigan St., I think if Mark Dantonio couldn’t get it done in the last two seasons then it’s never going to happen for the Spartans. He’s an outstanding coach, but so is Brady Hoke and Michigan is Michigan. There was a narrow window for the Spartans to catapult into national title status, but I’m afraid that window is probably closed. Wisconsin is an interesting one to leave off, but I feel about the Badgers a little like I feel about Iowa. If Wisconsin was to push for a championship, it would have happened in 2011. It didn’t. In Bret Bielema’s tenure in Madison, the Badgers had one 12-1 season that unfortunately was the year Ohio St. went undefeated. Since then Wisconsin hasn’t had a season with fewer than 2 losses. They’ve been to back-to-back Rose Bowls, but have lost both. The Penn St. inclusion might be a bit odd, but I think they are like Tennessee in that they are a sleeping giant. If Bill O’Brien comes in and is successful right away then we should be in store for some tremendous battles between Penn St. and Ohio St.

The Big XII is actually easier than the Big 10. The reasons Jimmy Johnson left Oklahoma St. are pretty much still valid. This past year was tailor made for Oklahoma St. to run the table given the difficulties both Texas & Oklahoma were facing, but Iowa St. ended those dreams and it’s going to be increasingly more difficult to get the Sooners & Longhorns down at the same time. Even in 2011 Oklahoma was predicted to get to the BCS Championship game before they fell apart. The problem is that that Oklahoma & Texas essentially lock down recruiting in the southwestern United States. Texas pretty much doesn’t even have to leave the state! To give you an idea of how difficult it is to go up against the Longhorns in the state of Texas, consider that Texas A&M was so sick of it, they decided to bolt to an even worse situation in having to compete with SEC teams in order to get out from going up against Texas in the same conference! That’s insane! The surprise pick here is West Virginia. Rich Rodriguez had them in the top-5 for a 3-year run before he dashed off to Michigan. Dana Holgorsen has come in and picked up the pieces left by Bill Stewart and has the program roaring! Getting away from the Big East was a pretty good move for the Mountaineers if they want to compete for championships and if they get a season where Oklahoma is down while Texas comes to Morgantown or vice versa and you could see WVU run the table and seriously challenge for a chance at playing for a national title. While it’s true they’ve never been a factor in the BCS, everything now adds up to them being a program that can win national championships. It certainly won’t be easy in the Big XII with Texas & Oklahoma, but it’s doable.

This is it for the Pac 12. It’s Oregon & USC. I think the Pac 12 is a more fluid situation than any other. In the Pac 12 North I think Stanford could have been added to this list if Jim Harbaugh had stayed around. David Shaw did a good job in his first year at the helm, but he also had Andrew Luck. Let’s see how he does without Luck. I also think Washington would be an interesting pick because I think Steve Sarkisian is going to turn out to be an outstanding head coach. Down south it would be easy to add a team like Arizona St. and Arizona. I sort of think the Sun Devils is a sleeping giant on a smaller order than either Penn St. or Tennessee. It’s definitely one of those teams that you think should be winning 10 games per year, but somehow manages to screw it up. Arizona is interesting because of Rich Rodriguez. We saw what RichRod did at West Virginia, and we saw what probably was going to happen to him if Michigan would have allowed him a 4th year. What’s interesting about Arizona & Arizona St. is that it looks like Arizona got an incredible coach while we’ll have to wait and see what happens with Todd Graham at Arizona St. Regardless, Chip Kelly remains the class of the Pac 12 when it comes to coaches. He’s brilliant and the Ducks are incredible with him. As for USC, it’s still USC. Lane Kiffin looks like he’s the real deal now that he’s in Los Angeles. Last year the Trojans weren’t supposed to be any good. Ummmm, they probably finished as one of the best 5 teams in the nation and are a sexy pick to win the national championship in 2012. That’s insane.

One of the reasons the ACC has been overlooked a bit when it has come to their football teams, is that Florida St. and Miami-FL have been going through down years. Clearly if FSU and “THE U” is on their A-games, then this conference becomes a battle of the Seminoles playing the Hurricanes for essentially the right to an undefeated season. I think Jimbo Fisher is going to do great things at FSU. He’s recruiting exceptionally well and his 19-8 including a 2-0 bowl record in his first two years after Bobby Bowden really let the talent level slide a bit in his last years. That’s not a slam on Bowden, but it was easy for teams like Florida to negatively recruit against FSU because of Bowden’s uncertain status. That’s getting ready to change. Miami-FL is another team victimized by hiring the wrong coach. Larry Coker wasn’t Butch Davis when David spurned the Hurricanes for the Cleveland Browns. When Coker was let go, Randy Shannon proved to be an unmitigated disaster. It appears that Miami got it right with Al Golden, and if it did, then Miami-FL becomes once again a tremendous national power. I think you have to add Virginia Tech to the list, but it’s tenuous. The Hokies have been the beneficiaries of FSU’s and Miami’s demise. If FSU and Miami return to prominence, it will be harder and harder for Virginia Tech to win a national championship or even get the chance for one. One omission I want to make mention of is Clemson. On the surface I’d like to think Clemson is a team who should be competing for national championships, but the problem is that if the Tigers were going to make a move, they should have made it by now. With Miami-FL & Florida St. being down, Clemson should have been competing with Virginia Tech for potential undefeated seasons. That didn’t happen and I’m not sure Clemson gets another opportunity like that in the near future.

Notre Dame is the only non-BCS conference school that is capable of winning a national championship. Brian Kelly hasn’t worked his magic in South Bend the way he did at Cincinnati or even Central Michigan, but it’s only been a couple of years. Despite what many Irish haters may think, this is still the most storied college football program in history with a gigantic following. The upcoming schedules are brutal, but if Notre Dame were to pull off a 12-0 season, then it would be impossible to keep them out of the national championship game. Their relationship with the BCS is a cozy won almost making 9-3 seasons practically locks to get into a BCS bowl. A 10-2 Notre Dame season can guarantee a plum BCS bowl slot. The potential draw of the Irish is simply too large even if a playoff system is implemented. If college football went to a 4 or 8 team playoff, you can be certain that Notre Dame would have a pretty big seat at the table. What could make ND even more powerful is joining the Big 10. That might not have been true in previous years, but now a move to the Big 10 would give the Irish a slice of the Big 10 Network money. Not only that, but the Big 10 champs are automatically going to the Rose Bowl while a 13-0 Big 10 champion is a virtual lock to play in the BCS Championship game.

So that’s it. That’s only 19 teams out of about 120! Pretty interesting to be sure and a little bit instructive as to what might be going on in a coach’s head when considering a new job. I guess if you believe Arkansas isn’t a national championship caliber  program, then it almost makes sense for Gary Patterson not to leave TCU as it could be thought of more as a lateral move at best, and frankly, it might be more difficult to come out of the SEC West than it is coming out of the Big XII. From Patterson’s perspective, it might be a lot easier in theory to win a championship at TCU than at Arkansas which would preclude a move to Fayetteville.

What will be interesting too is if teams can make the jump into this elite group. In the SEC I think it’s possible for South Carolina, Texas A&M and potentially Mississippi St. to gain admission. Michigan St. & Wisconsin are obvious choices in the Big 10. Oklahoma St. could build off of last season to jump into the discussion. Certainly TCU could join the fray if they have the success they enjoyed in the Mountain West.  The Pac 12 may have the most to gain as teams like UCLA, Arizona St., Arizona, Stanford, California & Washington could easily wind up competing for championships. I think Clemson & Georgia Tech could be in the discussion for the ACC. When Boise St. jumps to the Big East, the Broncos become a championship team if they can keep doing what they’ve been doing in a new conference.

The flip side of that is which teams could fall out among the elite. Tennessee is falling into irrelevancy in the SEC if they can’t get things turned around quickly. If the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky scandal is further reaching that we think, then maybe Penn St. remains dormant for quite some time. The Oklahoma/Texas duo might prove unbeatable for a team like West Virginia. If Miami-FL and Florida St. get back to their exceptional pasts, then Virginia Tech could even fall by the way side as a solid 9-3/10-2 team every season.

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April 13, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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