Coaching change – at the top or on a staff – tends to be high risk/high reward. Get it right and a program can take off. Get it wrong and a program can plummet. The Dash has seen some of both already this season.
Where the coaching changes are paying off:
UCLA (1). New guy Jim Mora is 2-0 after unleashing running back Johnathan Franklin (leading the nation in rushing) and getting the Bruins' best quarterback production in years (redshirt freshman Brett Hundley). With struggling Houston coming to the Rose Bowl Saturday, UCLA should be 3-0 for the first time since 2009. Caveat: that team then lost five straight and finished 7-6.
Arizona (2). Rich Rodriguez is 2-0 as well. He was given one great gift by fired coach Mike Stoops: He redshirted dual-threat quarterback Matt Scott in 2011, giving Rich Rod a perfect fit for his offense in his first season in Tucson. Scott has thrown for 707 yards and rushed for 129 more in two games and was the catalyst in the Wildcats' upset romp over Oklahoma State last weekend. South Carolina State arrives Saturday, and reality after that (at Oregon on Sept. 22).
Arizona State (3). Todd Graham makes it three first-year Pac-12 coaches who are 2-0, and the Sun Devils are there in dominant fashion. Average margin of victory: 44 points, over Northern Arizona and Illinois. One big reason is six interceptions for ASU and none thrown by the Sun Devils' quarterbacks. They leave the desert and step up in class Saturday at Missouri, but this looks like a program that is more focused than in the last several sloppy seasons under Dennis Erickson.
Clemson (4). It's early and it's a work in progress and the aerial attacks they've faced haven't been good, but the Tigers' leaky pass defense looks tighter after the big-dollar arrival of Brent Venables as defensive coordinator. Through two games against Troy and Wofford last year, Clemson's pass efficiency defense ranked 56th nationally. Through two games against Auburn and Ball State this year, Clemson's pass efficiency defense is 16th nationally. At the very least, don't expect this year's unit to give up 70 points to anyone.
Where the coaching changes have hurt:
Wisconsin (6). Why did Bret Bielema stunningly fire his offensive line coach two games into the season? Perhaps because of the most shocking statistic in college football this year: The Badgers rank 103rd in rushing offense. They haven't ranked lower than 21st in the last five years and returned Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball. Clearly, Wisconsin misses old line coach Bob Bostad, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Badgers might also miss the play calling of former coordinator Paul Chryst.
Pittsburgh (7). Speaking of Chryst, you think maybe he misses Madison as much as Madison misses him? Chryst's debut season as a head coach here has been a debacle to date - the Panthers are 0-2 and have been outscored 65-27 by Youngstown State and Cincinnati. Bostad went with Chryst to Pitt before skedaddling to the NFL in February. He might have put a hex on both his former employers.
Houston (8). Another place where a rookie head coach (Tony Levine) is off to a brutal start. The Cougars have not led for a second in two losses to Texas State and Louisiana Tech, and Levine was moved to fire his offensive coordinator even faster than Bielema fired his O-line coach – Matt Nesbitt lasted all of one game. The offense certainly looked better without Nesbitt than with him (49 points against Louisiana Tech vs. 13 against Texas State), but two touchdowns were window dressing in the final five minutes. Next up: at UCLA, so expect 0-3.
Iowa (9). For years, Kirk Ferentz had been the rock of consistency – nothing much changed in Iowa City, including his staff. But there are four new coaches this fall, including new coordinators Greg Davis (formerly of Texas) on offense and Phil Parker on defense. The result has not been pretty, especially on Davis' side of the ball. Iowa is 1-1 and has scored a total of 24 points, and just one touchdown, ranking 97th or worse in all major offensive statistical categories. And that's with a returning starter at quarterback.
Auburn (10). The further the Tigers get from the Cam Quick Fix of 2010, the shakier the program becomes. Since then Auburn is 8-7, and this year it is 0-2. There are new coordinators on both sides of the ball, and the offensive guy, Scott Loeffler, is having a hard time filling the shoes of Gus Malzahn. Auburn has scored 29 points this season, and hasn't scored an offensive touchdown since a long pass in the first quarter of the first game. Sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier looks lost.
Arkansas (11). This much is clear: When it comes to dialing up plays and gameplans, Paul Petrino is not Bobby Petrino on the offensive side. But the bigger issue looks like the defense of new coordinator Paul Haynes – the Hogs have surrendered 58 points to Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe and have been especially soft against the pass.
Penn State (12). Let's make one thing clear: The biggest problem for the 0-2 Nittany Lions is not the coaching turnover, it's the player departures. If running back Silas Redd and kicker Anthony Fera hadn't left right before the season – and The Dash isn't blaming either for doing so – Penn State may well be 2-0. Or at least 1-1. But whatever the reason, starting 0-2 does not make following Joe Paterno any easier for Bill O'Brien.
Where the jury is still out:
Ohio State (13). The Dash has no doubts about Urban Meyer's acumen. The doubt comes at the coordinator level, where he is working with new guys: Tom Herman/Ed Warinner on offense and Luke Fickell/Everett Withers on defense. None of them were on Meyer staffs in the past, and you wonder whether that has contributed to the talented Buckeyes' sporadic start to the season.
There are plenty of games this Saturday where one side or the other – or both – has some major proving to do. The Dash takes a look at six such contests:
Notre Dame-Michigan State (14). The Spartans find themselves carrying the tattered banner of the Big Ten, which now officially reads, "In Sparty We Trust." The Big Ten is coming off what might have been the worst weekend in the history of the league, and now Michigan State is the last team to even be on the periphery of the national championship discussion. Beating Boise State and the Fighting Irish in the first three weeks of the season would be more than most contenders have done. For Notre Dame, it's a chance to get a marquee win and enhance hopes of a BCS bowl-level season.
Florida-Tennessee (15). This former marquee Southeastern Conference matchup may be making a comeback – both teams are ranked for the first time in five years. Tennessee has a pair of big-play threats in Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson, and Florida has a defense that has pitched consecutive fourth-quarter shutouts to win close games. Both teams are looking to prove they can compete with Georgia and South Carolina for the SEC title, and both coaches could use this one to convince concerned fans they're the right man for the job.
Wake Forest-Florida State (17). Like the game above, the favorite has more to prove here. The Seminoles are 28-point favorites despite losing last year to Wake Forest, and losing four of the past six to the Demon Deacons. If Florida State wants to be taken seriously as a national championship contender, it not only needs to win this game but to win convincingly. As for Wake: The Demon Deacons are 2-0 with a combined winning margin of four points. In other words, Jim Grobe is again doing it with mirrors.
North Carolina-Louisville (18). The Cardinals are the "It" program in the dwindling Big East, 2-0 and ranked in both polls, with a sophomore quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) who looks like a star in the making. If they beat the Tar Heels, who are coming off a deflating loss at Wake Forest, they could be favored in every game the rest of the way.
Arizona State-Missouri (19). Are the Sun Devils for real after smoking two teams in the desert? We'll start to find out in Columbia. Missouri must prove it can regroup and avoid an emotional letdown after the buildup and excitement surrounding its first SEC game last week. So must the Missouri fans. Part of being in the SEC is creating an imposing home-field advantage every time out.
CONFERENCE POWER RANKINGS
Because two weeks is plenty of time to start leaping to conclusions and making broad assumptions, largely based on games against outmanned opponents:
SEC (20). Still the boss until proven otherwise. Power Points: Alabama's demolition of Michigan in Dallas. Tennessee lighting up North Carolina State in Atlanta. LSU suffocating Washington in Baton Rouge. Don't Mention: Arkansas losing to Louisiana-Monroe, probably the worst loss anyone has had this season. Has Realignment Helped: Missouri and Texas A&M have played a combined one non-conference game, so we have insufficient data. But both put on a good show in their SEC openers last week.
Pac-12 (21). Had a phenomenal weekend at home, now some huge opportunities on the road (ASU at Missouri, Cal at Ohio State).
Power Points: Owns the Big Ten, with UCLA beating Nebraska, Oregon State shocking Wisconsin and Arizona State demolishing Illinois. Add in Arizona over Oklahoma State. And then you get to top-five titans USC and Oregon.
Don't Mention: Colorado. To anyone.
Has Realignment Helped: Not this year. Utah and Colorado are a combined 1-3 without having played an opponent from a big-six conference.
Big 12 (22). Insufficient evidence. Almost no important non-conference games have been played. Power Points: Kansas State blowing out Miami. Iowa State working its mojo again on Iowa. Don't Mention: Oklahoma State surrendering 59 points at Arizona. Kansas losing at home to Rice. Has Realignment Helped: Too early to tell, but it looks promising with both West Virginia and TCU. And SEC evacuees Texas A&M and Missouri probably wouldn't have competed for the Big 12 title this year.
Power Points: Michigan State beat Boise State and Northwestern owns both of the league's victories over big-six conference opponents (against seven losses). Doesn't even matter that the Wildcats' opponents were Syracuse and Vanderbilt. Don't Mention: Anything else. Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan flopped pitifully in their first tests. Ohio State is on probation. Penn State is 0-2. If you want to get excited about 2-0 Indiana or Minnesota, go ahead. Has Realignment Helped: Nebraska is a lukewarm 10-5 since joining the league.
ACC (24). Another league that has played very few meaningful non-conference games. Power Points: Clemson beat Auburn in Atlanta. Virginia hosted Penn State on a day when the Nittany Lions' kicker was kind enough to miss four field goals and an extra point. North Carolina State slogged past Connecticut 10-7. Don't Mention: Florida State's schedule (Murray State, Savannah Sate). Miami's capitulation at Kansas State. Has Realignment Helped: It won't kick in until next year, when Syracuse and Pittsburgh arrive. And no, it won't help.
Big East (25). As remainder bins go, it's not bad. Power Points: If Louisville thumping Kentucky counts, the Big East has something. If not, um … Don't Mention: Pittsburgh being embarrassed by Youngstown State. Has Realignment Helped: Temple's arrival doesn't exactly offset the loss of West Virginia. It will help immensely when Boise State arrives in 2013 – perhaps enough to offset the quality-sapping addition of Memphis.
OUTSIDE THE BOX HEISMAN CANDIDATES
It's early September, well before the mainstream media has had time to coalesce around the Usual Suspects – the best players on the best teams at the most glamorous positions with the big stats. So The Dash challenges you to think creatively. Who, beyond the obvious, are players worthy of consideration for the prestigious mid-September Heisman?
Jarvis Jones (26), Georgia linebacker. Why: Might be the best defensive player in America. Jones ransacked Missouri last Saturday, recording 7 ½ tackles, two sacks, forcing two fumbles and intercepting a pass. He was more omnipresent than Peyton Manning in commercials. What it would take to merit serious consideration: Jones will have to continue putting up numbers in terms of sacks, tackles and takeaways, and Georgia will have to continue to win. Why it won't happen: Exactly one defensive player has won the Heisman, and he helped his cause by returning kicks.
Barrett Jones (27), Alabama center. Why: Senior leader of the best offensive line in America. Came back for senior season and switched positions, from tackle to center, and helped the Crimson Tide maul Michigan on the ground. Great quote, too, which can only help. What it would take to merit serious consideration: An undefeated season and three interchangeable running backs with 800 or more yards. Why it won't happen: There are no reliable stats for offensive linemen and not enough focus on what they do. Besides, Jones might not even be the best lineman on his own team.
Venric Mark (29), Northwestern running back/kick returner. Why: He's averaging 67 yards per punt return, which is a nice place to start (on, granted, just two returns). He's also averaging more than 100 yards per game rushing, has scored touchdowns three different ways and is second nationally in all-purpose yardage. What it would take to merit serious consideration: Will have to continue to be a multi-dimensional terror, and the Wildcats will have to continue to win. Why it won't happen: At a listed 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, he may not have the durability to hold up all season. And it's unlikely that Northwestern will win enough games to get him into the limelight.
Kolton Browning (30), Louisiana-Monroe quarterback. Why: He was sensational in the biggest upset of the year to date, running or passing it 83 times and accounting for 481 yards and four touchdowns in the takedown of Arkansas. What it would take to merit serious consideration: ULM will need to beat Auburn this weekend and then dominate the Sun Belt Conference. Why it won't happen: Because ULM will not beat Auburn this weekend or dominate the Sun Belt Conference.
Alyssa Sutherland (31), Dashette. Why: At 6-foot-1, she has the size. What it would take to merit serious consideration: Introduction of a swimsuit competition as part of the Heisman ceremony. Why it won't happen: She won't return The Dash's phone calls.
TOP FIVE SEC ADDITIONS FROM TEXAS A&M AND MISSOURI
As many of you know, The Dash accompanied SEC commissioner Mike Slive last weekend to see new league members Texas A&M and Missouri play their first conference football games. It was a memorable trip, and not just for the purpose of seeing the 72-year-old commish eating jelly beans and M&Ms on the flight home. There were a lot of other interesting sights and experiences that will add to the palette of SEC color. The things the new members will bring to the league:
Midnight Yell Practice (32). No school in America has more traditions than A&M, and this might be the most popular of them all. The night before every home game, thousands of students pile into Kyle Field to practice their cheers for the next day. It is hopelessly corny, and that in and of itself is nice to see – college kids who don't have to be so world-weary cool that they can't enjoy themselves in a truly silly fashion. Bravo, Aggies.
The Swaying Press Box (33). When they do the "Aggie War Hymn" and everyone in the stadium throws arms around shoulders and sways side to side, they take the press box swaying with them. First-time media visitors are easily alarmed; if you haven't been in an earthquake, this is a pretty fair approximation. Fortunately, the press box never goes anywhere, and the song doesn't last long.
Football Weather (36). Columbia, Mo., is now the northernmost town in the SEC, and with that comes an actual change of seasons and the chance for some actual cold weather in the second half of the season. That occasionally happens in Lexington, Nashville or Fayetteville, but not often. At Mizzou last Saturday, it felt like fall after the sun went down. There should be chances to see your breath on game days in November – if only the Tigers played an SEC home game that month. Syracuse visits Columbia on Nov. 17, but the Tigers' other three games are on the road (Florida, Tennessee, Texas A&M).
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Todd Berry (37), Louisiana-Monroe. Few FBS football programs are as underfunded as Berry's. Yet he took the WarHawks into Little Rock last Saturday and shocked the No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks in overtime. Monroe has never had a winning FBS record and never been to a bowl game, but maybe this is the year for a breakthrough.
COACH WHO SHOULD WALK TO WORK
Lane Kiffin (38), USC. In case there were any concerns that coaching paranoia and control-freak tendencies had waned, Kiffy is here to assure you that's not the case. He is "not addressing injuries this season," according to the Los Angeles Times, and the school has pulled the credential and practice access for Los Angeles Daily News reporter Scott Wolf after he dared report that kicker Andre Heidari had knee surgery Sunday night. Kiffin instituted a policy in August banning journalists from reporting in-practice injury or strategy news, but the Daily News report did not cite practice-related information. The Times said three sports editors from the Los Angeles area met with USC athletic director Pat Haden Wednesday to discuss the situation, and later Wednesday it was announced that the practice ban was lifted on Wolf. However, discussions about Kiffy's paranoid policy were ongoing. As is his ability to annoy much of the human race.
PUTTING OUT AN APB FOR …
… Former Florida State defensive lineman Ron Simmons (39). A two-time All-American and former school sack record-holder, Simmons finished in the top 10 of the Heisman voting in 1979. After a brief and inglorious NFL career he became a professional wrestler. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Simmons, please apprise The Dash.
Meanwhile, The Dash is pleased to report that last week's APB subject, former Tennessee linebacker Al Wilson, is alive and well and living in the Atlanta area. The boss 'backer for the Denver Broncos was part of pregame festivities in the Georgia Dome for Tennessee's season opener against North Carolina State. Thanks to all Dash spies who passed along information on Al.
When thirsty after Yell Practice in College Station, The Dash suggests a beer at Fitzwilly's (40). The venerable Dixie Chicken is next door but liable to be crowded, and you can write your name on the wood at Fitzwilly's just as easily as at the Chicken. Plus, there are plenty of mounted animal heads, plenty of TVs and Sierra Nevada on draft. One word of warning: They didn't announce last call on The Dash's visit – just shut down the taps without telling anyone, and (unlike, say, every pub in London) were not going to be talked into one final pour. Plan accordingly.
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