Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (fan-coach mediation counseling sold separately in Tallahassee):
CORNERS TURNED, JOBS SAVED?
September wasn’t pretty in some locales, but that’s no reason to give up on the spot on your coach – and on the rest of your season. The Dash lauds a few teams that have enjoyed a significant upgrade in performance in recent weeks:
LSU (21) and Ed Orgeron. September record: 3-2, including a loss to Troy and a 30-point loss to Mississippi State. October record: 3-0, including wins over Auburn and Florida. Orgeron is giving credit to former LSU linebacker Duke Riley, now with the Atlanta Falcons, for having “lit into the team” after a practice he watched during his bye week. But there have been other factors in the turnaround. LSU’s running game has been more productive: Freshman wideout Russell Gage got loose against Florida and Auburn on some of coordinator Matt Canada’s trademark jet sweeps, and star back Derrius Guice is 100 percent healthy again (276 rushing yards against Ole Miss). After being 3-for-21 on third-down conversions against Mississippi State and Troy, the Tigers are 16-for-42 in October. And linebacker Arden Key has finally started to produce (three sacks the past two games) after being a no-show in September.
Orgeron might have kept his job no matter what – it would be hard to fire him after one full season on the job, especially with the ludicrous buyout that would come with the pink slip. But he has quieted the criticism – for now. If LSU’s six-game losing streak to Nick Saban becomes seven on Nov. 4, Coach O will hear it all over again.
Boston College (22) and Steve Addazio. September record: 2-3, with all three losses by 24 points or more. October record: 2-1, with road wins over Louisville and Virginia. Until shockingly dropping 45 points on the Cardinals and 41 on the Cavaliers, Boston College hadn’t scored 40 points in consecutive games in 15 years, and had never done it as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Freshman running back A.J. Dillon savaged Louisville for 272 rushing yards, then it was freshman quarterback Anthony Brown’s turn against Virginia. Brown, who has been a poor passer all season, lit up Bronco Mendenhall’s defense for 275 yards and three touchdowns on just 24 throws.
Addazio has helped his standing by finally scoring some points. The schedule looks even stronger in retrospect – BC’s eight opponents have a combined record of 35-16 – so 4-4 at this point isn’t terrible. However, the Eagles are still tracking toward .500. For a guy who came into the year on the hot seat because of a 24-27 overall record, that would be more of the same from Addazio. Which is why he didn’t hesitate to play the Building For the Future card Monday in talking about Dillon and Brown: “I mean think about what’s ahead with them, you’re talking about three years with these guys of nothing but growth.” Addazio’s status has been upgraded from Presumed Goner to Undetermined.
Arizona State (23) and Todd Graham. September record: 2-3, giving up 30 or more points in every game. October record: 2-0, giving up 10 or fewer in both games. The Sun Devils came out of an Oct. 7 bye week a changed team. They went from a soft defense that gave up 484 yards per game in the first month to one that has cut that number nearly in half – just 248 yards per game allowed against Washington and Utah. That’s decent competition.
Graham’s status is probably similar to Addazio’s: Off the goner list but nothing is final. Athletic director Ray Anderson declined to extend Graham’s contract by a year as he had done each previous year, which was a clear indication that consecutive losing seasons put Graham on the hot seat coming into the year. The current buyout is a manageable $3.2 million, but ASU is not flush with cash. A homecoming victory over struggling USC on Saturday would further solidify the turnaround and make ASU the team to beat in the Pac-12 South.
Arizona (24) and Rich Rodriguez. September record: 2-2, including scoring 16 points in a home loss to Houston. October record: 3-0, averaging 46 points per game. Is it as simple as Rodriguez finally figuring out who his best quarterback is? Maybe. Since freak athlete Khalil Tate has been taking most of the snaps, Arizona is averaging 561 yards per game and 8.8 yards per play. Prior to that, against FBS competition: 440 and 5.4.
Rodriguez was, like Graham, in an uncomfortable position coming off a 3-9 record in year five. The first month didn’t help. But just like when he woke up and started Pat White at West Virginia (instead of the immortal Adam Bednarik), things have changed quickly. Arizona probably doesn’t have the defense to hold up over the final five games, but if the Wildcats can keep outscoring opponents, that season-ending game against rival ASU and Graham could be for the South title instead of a Hot Seat Bowl.
CORNERS TURNED, JOBS NEVER IN JEOPARDY
Iowa State and Matt Campbell. September record: 2-2. October record: 3-0. As mentioned in the First Quarter, the Cyclones’ three-game renaissance is one of the more improbable in recent memory – and now the stakes are high. Campbell is in only his second year in Ames, so he was safe regardless. But now he’s given a fan base well-versed in heartbreak some reason for hope – both this year and in the future.
Rutgers (25) and Chris Ash. September record: 1-4, extending its Big Ten losing streak to 16 games and FBS losing streak to 13. October record: 2-0, and the Scarlet Knights have led at the end of eight straight quarters. Ash also is just in his second year – and he inherited a program that had been a complete dumpster fire in a murderous division. Yeah, the victories are over Illinois and Purdue, but seriously: Rutgers hadn’t won consecutive conference games since it was in the Big East in 2012. The dumpster fire has been, at least for the moment, extinguished.
Absolutely worth noting: Of the six teams listed above, half of them (Arizona State, Arizona, Rutgers) made their turnaround after a bye week. Even with all the time spent in spring practice, offseason drills and August camp, sometimes it still takes several games of real competition to figure out where the flaws are and how to fix them.
DAZZLING DEBUT SEASONS
First-year coaches who are doing good work right away:
Jeff Tedford (26), Fresno State. Absolutely no one is doing better work than Tedford, the former Cal coach who took over a 1-11 program and shockingly has the Bulldogs (5-2) in position to win their division of the Mountain West. They have won more games this year than in the previous two years combined, and are 4-0 in league play, leading the West by two games and owning the tiebreaker over second-place San Diego State. Tedford has done well with Oregon State transfer Marcus McMaryion at quarterback, and Fresno is allowing just 8.5 points per game in conference. New defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, an import from the Canadian Football League, has been an immediate hit.
Charlie Strong (27), South Florida. Strong’s rebound job after Texas has been a cakewalk so far. He inherited a good team and has not missed a beat, running his non-Texas winning streak to 13 (last six at Louisville, first seven at USF). On Saturday, the Bulls became the first team in the FBS poll era (dating to 1936) to score 30 or more points in 24 consecutive games. Defensively, where Strong has his background, USF is allowing fewer yards per game than at any time since 2008.
Justin Wilcox (28), California. First-year head coach has brought one thing with him from previous stops as a defensive coordinator: Turnover margin is key, especially with a less-talented team. Cal (4-4) leads the nation in takeaways (21) and is a plus-five on the season. Last year, Wilcox’s Wisconsin defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in takeaways (28). The last six teams Wilcox has been a part of are a combined plus-51 in turnover margin.
Jeff Brohm (29), Purdue. Yes, the loss to Rutgers hurt. And yes, a guy with a big offensive rep has had a hard time scoring points (24.1 per game, three times held to 12 or fewer). But Brohm didn’t inherit much on offense, especially on the line and at receiver, and he’s had to mix and match two quarterbacks. But a Purdue team that was blown out of a lot of games the previous two years has been in all of them this year, and will have a shot at its first bowl in five years.
Lane Kiffin (30), Florida Atlantic. The only thing Kiffin loves as much as himself are his flashy offensive stats, and he’s putting up some big ones at FAU. The Owls (4-3) hung a whopping 804 yards and 69 points on North Texas on Saturday, moving to 3-0 in Conference USA. The league’s East Division title could be decided in the next two weeks, with FAU facing Western Kentucky and Marshall in succession. FAU’s last winning season was 2008.