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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some big-school transitions aren't gaining traction




Coaching transitions are never easy.

Players are unfamiliar with new faces on the sideline, and coaches are unsure of their new players' strengths and weaknesses.
Ask Arkansas and West Virginia. Or Texas A&M and Michigan.

Here's a closer look at those teams and others that have struggled with new coaches:

• Arkansas: Bobby Petrino left the NFL for this? The Razorbacks had to come from behind to beat FCS opponent Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe in their first two games, and then were routed 49-14 by Alabama on Saturday.
It's going to get worse at Arkansas before it gets better. The Razorbacks play three straight games against nationally ranked teams: at No. 7 Texas on Saturday, at home against No. 4 Florida on Oct. 4 and at No. 15 Auburn on Oct. 11.

• Florida State: The transition from Bobby Bowden to Jimbo Fisher still isn't complete, but FSU fans have to wonder exactly where their team is headed after Saturday night's 12-3 loss to Wake Forest at Doak Campbell Stadium.
After scoring 115 points in routs of FCS opponents Western Carolina and Chattanooga, FSU's offense looked exactly like it did a year ago -- or worse -- against the Demon Deacons: FSU had seven turnovers, including five interceptions.

• Michigan: The Wolverines had to know it wouldn't be easy in coach Rich Rodriguez's first season. Rodriguez installed a spread offense and didn't have a quarterback to run it.
Three games into the season, the Wolverines are the only Big Ten squad with a losing record. Michigan lost at home to Utah 25-23 in the opener and then had six turnovers in a 35-17 loss at Notre Dame. At least the Wolverines know things will eventually get better, especially if Rodriguez keeps signing skill players like Sam McGuffie.

• Texas A&M: Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman lost to Arkansas State 18-14 in his Texas A&M debut Aug. 30. Then the Aggies were routed 41-23 by Miami at Kyle Field on Saturday.
Who knew the Aggies would already be missing Dennis Franchione?
Texas A&M has started the season with an 0-2 home record for the first time in 36 years. The Aggies still play No. 10 Texas Tech and No. 2 Oklahoma at Kyle Field; A losing home record seems very possible.

• West Virginia: Bill Stewart led the Mountaineers to a 48-28 rout of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl as the team's interim coach. Stewart is still seeking his first big victory as full-time coach.
The Mountaineers look too one-dimensional on offense, relying on the running of quarterback Pat White and tailback Noel Devine. White hasn't improved his passing, which is something Stewart promised he would do.

ALL BUSINESS
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- To put it bluntly, Saturday's game was boring. It was a 60-minute grind defined by durable defense, field position and trench combat. Sure, it had intensity, but no flash, no pizzazz.
Mark Dantonio loved every minute of it. He didn't see a dull game. He saw tremendous intensity, solid fundamentals, power vs. power. He saw the way he wants Michigan State to play.
He saw himself.
As Dantonio often points out, Michigan State is still in the foundation phase after seven mostly underachieving seasons under Bobby Williams and John L. Smith. But teams usually turn a corner when they start to reflect their head coach, and if Saturday's 23-7 win against Notre Dame is any indication, Michigan State seems to be getting there.
"When you come out and play with emotion, play physical, that's because Coach Dantonio's the one getting us fired up," middle linebacker Adam Decker said. "Him and his staff are the ones preaching being physical all week and all camp and all offseason. It's ingrained into us, and when we come out on a big stage like this, it's what we go back to."

The Road is Paved
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It's premature to say that the hard part is over for No. 4-ranked Florida.
But if you look down the Gators' schedule, they won't leave the state of Florida the rest of the regular season to play a game in which they're not favored.
Here's something else to like about this Florida club if you're handicapping the Eastern Division race: The Gators beat Tennessee 30-6 with very little offense Saturday, but their defense and special teams were in championship form.
"That just gives us a little bit more of an edge," Florida quarterback Tim Tebow said.
The Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC) may also have an edge in the schedule. They get Ole Miss at home and then travel to Arkansas on Oct. 4 before LSU comes to Gainesville on Oct. 11. Florida then gets a week off before facing Kentucky at home on Oct. 25, which precedes the big showdown with Georgia on Nov. 1 in Jacksonville.

Don't Look Now
EUGENE, Ore. -- If Boise State wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as the program-defining 2006 team, the Broncos took steps in that direction with Saturday's 37-32 win over No. 17 Oregon.
It was the Broncos' first win over a BCS opponent in a true road game and the biggest win for the program since capping that 2006 season with an overtime win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. It's the biggest regular-season win since the Broncos defeated a ranked and undefeated Fresno State team in 2001, the first year the Broncos joined the WAC.
"This is big," Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "I know Oregon had some quarterback issues and stuff that helped us, but even with that you can see how explosive they are. So it was great for our guys to be able to hang on and get this done."
In 2006, Boise State went undefeated and had a dramatic come-from-behind win against Oklahoma. It had some thinking that the Broncos should have gotten a shot at the national championship. Although the Broncos are a long way from the end of the season, they are the only undefeated team remaining in the WAC and one of only six undefeated teams remaining in the non-BCS.


Three Weekend Observations
Pryor 1. It used to be that coaches would stick with a senior quarterback no matter what. Not anymore. Virginia Tech ditched Sean Glennon for Tyrod Taylor, and the sophomore has delivered back-to-back victories over Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Ohio State seems to be blaming quarterback Todd Boeckman for last week's ugly 35-3 loss at USC. Buckeyes freshman phenom Terrelle Pryor took nearly all the snaps against Troy on Saturday and figures to do so the rest of the season.
2. Central Michigan's Butch Jones and Toledo's Tom Amstutz on Saturday did what MAC coaches are supposed to do: Playing superior opponents, both MAC teams were in position for upsets and their coaches played to win, rather than lose. The Chippewas converted a two-point conversion pass to pull ahead of Purdue 25-24 with 1:18 to go. Boilermakers tailback Kory Sheets ran for a 46-yard touchdown only 18 seconds later. Sensing his Rockets were out of fuel, Amstutz went for two points and failed in a 55-54 loss to Fresno State in double overtime.
Green 3. Alabama's Julio Jones and Georgia's A.J. Green are as good as any freshman receivers who have played in the SEC in two decades. Green caught eight passes for 159 yards with one touchdown in a 27-10 win at Arizona State. Jones caught a 25-yard touchdown pass in a 49-14 win at Arkansas. Each gives their team a much-needed deep threat.

Final Thoughts and HELMET STICKERS
RECE DAVIS
It's way too early to begin talking about it and it probably won't play out this way, but here's something intriguing to think about: If USC and Oklahoma plow through their schedules unbeaten, are pollsters ever going to move them from their current 1-2 slots? And if not, does that mean a 13-0 team from the acknowledged best conference in the country will be left out of the title game?
Helmet Stickers Go To:
• QB Kellen Moore, Boise State
24-36, 386 yards, 3 TDs vs. Oregon
• FS Ryan Hamilton, Vanderbilt
3 Int, TD, fumble rec, TD-saving tackle vs. Mississippi


LOU HOLTZ
I think Florida has the playmakers, but on offense I'm not real impressed by them because they don't establish anything. Defense and special teams are very good and with Urban Meyer they always have a chance. But I wouldn't look at them and say, "Boy, that's really a team I'd be scared to play."
Helmet Stickers Go To:
• QB David Johnson, Tulsa
24-39, 469 yards, 6 TDs vs. New Mexico
• DE Vince Browne, Northwestern
3 sacks, forced fumble, blocked FG vs. Ohio


LOU HOLTZ
I think Florida has the playmakers, but on offense I'm not real impressed by them because they don't establish anything. Defense and special teams are very good and with Urban Meyer they always have a chance. But I wouldn't look at them and say, "Boy, that's really a team I'd be scared to play."
Helmet Stickers Go To:
• QB David Johnson, Tulsa
24-39, 469 yards, 6 TDs vs. New Mexico
• DE Vince Browne, Northwestern
3 sacks, forced fumble, blocked FG vs. Ohio

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