USC knew when Pete Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks that the next few years wouldn’t be easy.
It didn’t, however, have to tie both hands behind its back.
Yet that is exactly what happened when the Trojans elected to hire Lane Kiffin, last seen looking hopelessly clueless on the USC sideline with less than 5 minutes to go on Saturday night.
There is no question Kiffin stepped into a difficult situation. Unfortunately for him, he possesses the perfect combination of bravado, cockiness and bratty-ness to lose any sympathy or empathy he might have had coming.
The perennial bridge napalm-bomber collects keys to spectacular mansions only to immediately invite over his frat brothers to throw house-trashing parties and turn million-dollar palaces into potential trash dump sites.
In the history of time, nobody has been named coach of the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and USC before the age of 35. Feel free to fact-check me on that.
The situation with the Raiders crashed and burned. But Al Davis was the NFL version of C. Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons fame and sports enthusiasts were willing to give Kiffin the benefit of the doubt.
A few months later, Kiffin took over at Tennessee. He made an immediate positive impact on the recruiting scene for the Volunteers, pissing off every SEC coach in the process. But at least that was for a good reason – Kiffin took the fight to the big boys in the SEC and won several of the battles. He wouldn’t bother to hang around to see the end of the war.
Before Kiffin started his lone season in Knoxville, he made sure to make enemies of Florida coach Urban Meyer and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier with immature comments. One of those comments directly attacked Meyer as a cheater on the recruiting trail. Thirteen games – seven of which the Vols won – later, Kiffin bolted for USC.
Again, it was hard to fault Kiffin, who described the position as his dream job. But there is little doubt that Kiffin left Tennessee worse than when he found it. His heralded recruiting class left almost as quickly as him, making it nearly impossible for the Vols to avoid a massive rebuilding project.
It wasn’t as if Kiffin made lifelong friends in the SEC. His exit merely solidified that every team in the conference would hate his guts.
Once at USC, Kiffin had a bit of a project on his hands. He inherited a program on probation – fitting since he left Tennessee in the same settings.
Year 1 did not go as planned for Kiffin. His still-talented team finished 8-5 with four Pac-12 losses. The Trojans bounced back in 2011, establishing themselves as one of the nation’s hottest teams down the stretch and setting the stage for a spectacular 2012 campaign.
Only this season, like oh so many Hollywood movies, never lived up to the hype. USC garnered preseason No. 1 honors only to lose its third game of the season. Still, the Trojans seemed to right the ship with four consecutive wins before they dropped four of their last five. That dismal stretch included losses to Arizona under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez and cross-town rival UCLA under first-year coach Jim Mora, Jr. It also included a deceivingly close loss to Oregon, which has replaced USC as king of the Pac-12.
The par-for-the-course Kiffin shenanigans have also repeatedly reared their head, such as when a student assistant was caught deflating footballs before the Oregon game. He has also instructed players to change jerseys at halftime to make scouting USC more difficult.
That brings us to Saturday night. Will Ferrell playing a character with the IQ of thumbtacks would have looked smarter than Kiffin late in the Trojans’ failed upset bid of No. 1 Notre Dame.
It isn’t that USC lost to the Irish. It’s how. In the most telling moments of the Kiffin era, USC had seven shots goal-to-go shots – six inside the Notre Dame 4 and five from the 2 or closer – to make it a one-possession contest. Plenty of time – nearly 6 minutes – remained on the clock when it started.
Kiffin, playcard in hand, then showed repeated futility in the game’s most critical moments. Not only did the Trojans fail to score any points – eventually turning the ball over on downs – they ran the game clock down to 3:25 and used an all-important timeout. USC failed to gain any ground on too-slow-developing run attempts from the 1. Kiffin, seemingly baffled, consistently barked in plays to QB2 Max Wittek too late, necessitating the timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty at one point.
The seven plays were an utter debacle reminiscent only of Mike Shula in his final game on the Alabama sideline.
Kiffin has lost 12 games – 10 in the Pac-12 – in his first three seasons at USC. To put that into perspective, Carroll lost 19 during his nine years and just 14 in conference play.
Nobody expected Kiffin to dominate immediately, but he has run out of goodwill with non-USC fans – and probably with some Trojans diehards.
Year 4 will start with Kiffin on the hot seat. He must mature quickly and gracefully – and win big games – to see a Year 5.
The SEC doled out a black eye the ACC simply could not afford on Saturday.
With Florida out-manning Florida State and South Carolina topping Clemson, both the ACC’s top teams lost on their home turf. Team those two defeats with Georgia punishing Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt beating down Wake Forest and the weekend of promise became a debacle for the league.
The FSU and Clemson losses certainly stung most. The Gators ran the ball at their hated rivals all night. Behind a physical defense and a hard-nosed run game, they out-toughed the Seminoles, even knocking QB E.J. Manuel out of the game briefly.
Later in the evening, the Tigers lost to South Carolina with QB2 Dylan Thompson, starting in place of injured QB Connor Shaw. Clemson apparently did not plan to slow down Gamecocks DE Jadeveon Clowney – which, *SPOILER ALERT*, is fatal to chances of winning.
How bad are things in ACC football? Tickets to this weekend’s Florida State-Georgia Tech ACC Championship Game were found online for $3.95. That’s less than a gallon of gas in some places.
Alabama left little doubt about what needed to be done at Auburn on Saturday afternoon. The Crimson Tide scored on all six of its first-half possessions en route to a 49-0 blowout victory.
If Alabama coach Nick Saban wanted to win the game by 80, he could have.
Less than a day later – and less than two years removed from winning a BCS National Championship – Auburn fired coach Gene Chizik.
Stories have come out in the following days that Chizik lost his team entirely because of discipline issues and his coaching staff because of self absorbency. Among other things, Chizik believed that he – not QB Cam Newton, DT Nick Fairley, the strong senior class Tommy Tuberville left behind nor offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn – was the reason the Tigers captured the crystal ball. He apparently basically said as much in his book. (Sorry. Didn’t read it. Will take the words on those who did.)
It doesn’t matter how Chizik lost control. It matters that he did.
By the time late October rolled around, the Tigers were a team that lost at home to Texas A&M, 63-21. They got steamrolled again at home by Georgia, 38-0 and then got manhandled by Alabama.
Players can say what they want, but they quit on Chizik.
Two years removed from a national championship or not, Auburn could not allow Chizik to continue driving the program into the ground.
Many will choose to see Auburn as an irrational win-at-all-costs beast in the aftermath of Chizik’s firing – especially if it hires Bobby Petrino, an idea that looks more likely by the day.
Truthfully, though, Chizik had to go. He simply became a little too “all-in” on the hype he believed he deserved when, in reality, he was the same 5-19 coach who came to Auburn in the first place.
Mack Brown’s seat grew a lot warmer in a hurry on Thanksgiving night when Texas lost at home to TCU.
For once, the Longhorns played some defense, but never were really in the game until there were just over 3 minutes remaining in regulation.
There is growing sentiment within the Texas fan base that DeLoss Dodds should fire Brown. It almost certainly won’t happen this season despite horrible losses to Oklahoma and TCU.
It is getting concerning, though, that Brown would not offer scholarships to Johnny Manziel or Robert Griffin III as quarterbacks. By December 8, both players will likely have won the Heisman Trophy in consecutive seasons.
Good thing Brown didn’t take them as quarterbacks. Otherwise we wouldn’t have the never-ending QB rotation of David Ash and Case McCoy. By the way, McCoy is getting the start this week at Kansas State. This makes his inability to handle the Major Applewhite-Chris Simms situation look like the tip of the iceberg.
Perhaps the most underrated team this year turns out to be Stanford. The Cardinal has lost two games all year – one in overtime to No. 1 and undefeated Notre Dame and one in a trap, mid-week game at Washington.
Meanwhile, coach David Shaw has engineered victories at then-No. 1 USC, at then-No. 1 Oregon and at Pac-12 South winner UCLA.
Shaw has led his team to this tremendous season the year after losing QB Andrew Luck, who was the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Not bad at all.
Stanford’s bulky-yet-surprisingly-quick defense has been dominant all season and RB Stepfan Taylor has helped control the clock despite a largely inconsistent passing game.
With a Friday night rematch win over the Bruins, the Cardinal would punch a well-deserved ticket to the Rose Bowl.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly will likely be an overwhelming, if not unanimous, choice for National Coach of the Year. However, Shaw – as well as Bill O’Brien at Penn State and Bill Snyder at Kansas State – deserves a ton of credit and consideration for the award.
With Maryland and Rutgers officially heading to the Big Ten, we can officially hop back on the conference realignment roller coaster.
North Carolina has turned down an overture that apparently has not yet come (publicly, anyway) from anyone.
Meanwhile, the Big East responded immediately by bringing in… Tulane? And East Carolina for football? Continue on your path toward mediocrity, Big East.
For the record, landing Houston, SMU, Tulane and East Carolina do not mean television markets of Houston, Dallas, New Orleans and Charlotte now any more than it did before the schools joined a league openly sporting stank-of-desperation cologne.
There are also reports that Boise State and San Diego State have had discussions about rejoining the Mountain West along with BYU.
With the BCS set to end in two seasons and the Big East having no affiliation for its conference champion, it seems obvious that the Big East has lost any allure it had over stronger programs in the Mountain West.
Meanwhile, the ACC is striking quickly to replace Maryland. First, the conference sued Maryland for an upfront payment of the $53 million exit fee – a move it had to make in attempt to scare Virginia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson and any other school contemplating a jump. Now there is word that the league presidents will hold an early-morning teleconference on Wednesday to discuss a new member – likely to be Louisville.
UConn has wanted to jump to the ACC for some time now and Cincinnati is apparently pushing to receive an invitation from the league, according to a report on ESPN.com.
We now return to our regularly scheduled insanity.
Kentucky officially hired Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops on Tuesday.
The Wildcats took advantage of an early decision to fire Joker Phillips by getting their man before many of the bigger-profile programs had time to get fully into their searches.
It sounds like Kentucky narrowly missed on its top target. Rumors have circulated that Cincinnati coach Butch Jones planned to accept the position but turned it down at the last minute. No word on Jones’ motives, whether he plans to stay with the Bearcats or if he thinks he can land a better job.
Regardless, Kentucky must be pleased to land Stoops – who is not Mike Stoops, the former Arizona coach and another younger brother of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Mark Stoops will bring with him a new energy and has a big name that should please a fan base more interested in hoops than football.
However, this will be a tough job. Kentucky has shown little interest to spend enough money to truly contend in the SEC and, all of a sudden, even perennial cellar-dweller Vanderbilt has built a competent program.
If the SEC captures a seventh consecutive BCS National Championship, it will ironically have Ohio State to thank. Had the Buckeyes not been on probation, their 12-0 record would have certainly put them on a collision course with Notre Dame in Miami. Urban Meyer’s team capped its perfect season by beating arch-nemesis Michigan 26-21 Saturday. For most of the second half, the Wolverines looked completely incapable of moving the ball against a defense that looked like a sieve earlier this season. The Big Ten is unquestionably down this year, but running the table in the league is an impressive feat nonetheless. With the way Meyer recruits – and with QB Braxton Miller to run his offense now – the Buckeyes seem poised to immediately return to dynasty mode.
Though it lacked national relevance, the Battle of Bedlam proved to be an immense thriller. Oklahoma State led for most of the game, but Sooners QB2 Blake Bell scored from 4 yards out to send the game in overtime. Oklahoma QB1 Landry Jones, meanwhile, threw for 500 yards and 3 TDs on 71 attempts. Not to be outdone, Cowboys RB Joseph Randle rushed for 113 yards and 4 TDs. The shootout victory keeps Oklahoma’s hopes for a Big 12 title – or at least a BCS berth – alive.
While Bedlam lived up to expectations, the Civil War did not. Oregon blasted in-state rival Oregon State, 48-24 by scoring 28 consecutive points starting after the Beavers pulled to within three early in the third quarter. A week after getting held to 14 points by Stanford, the Ducks posted 430 rushing yards, including 198 from RB Kenjon Barner. The regular season is over for Oregon, but it will almost certainly get a shot at the Big 12 champion in the Fiesta Bowl.
Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel’s final Heisman argument came Saturday night in a 59-29 blowout victory over Missouri. The redshirt freshman threw for 372 yards and rushed for 67 more in accounting for 5 TDs. He could easily become the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Mike Leach scored a much-needed win over Washington on Saturday, essentially salvaging an otherwise forgettable Year 1 at Washington State. The Cougars sported a disastrous resume entering the season finale – one that included just one win over an FBS opponent, a home loss to pathetic Colorado and star WR Marquess Wilson leaving the team mid-season and alleging mental and physical abuse. Nobody thought Leach would perform miracles in his first year, but many thought he would fare better than he did.
Smart is in this season in college football. Duke is bowl eligible and narrowly missed winning an ACC division title. Vanderbilt finished the regular season 8-4. Northwestern finished 9-3. Those are three remarkable coaching jobs turned in by David Cutcliffe, James Franklin and Pat Fitzgerald, respectively.
Pittsburgh shook up the Big East title picture by upsetting Rutgers on Saturday. UConn followed suit by taking down Louisville in overtime. The Scarlet Knights and Cardinals play Thursday night this week. Rutgers clinches the conference with a win. But if Louisville pulls off the mild upset, the league could have a four-way tie at the top between those two programs, Cincinnati and surprising Syracuse. If that happens, the team with the best BCS ranking would earn the automatic berth. By the way, none of those teams are ranked in the BCS top 25.
With the Big East being as bad as it is, the door is open for Kent State to become the first MAC program to punch a ticket to a BCS game. For that to happen, the Golden Flash needs to finish in the top 16 of the BCS standings. Currently, Kent State ranks 17th, well behind No. 16 UCLA. However, Kent State plays Northern Illinois (No. 21 in the BCS rankings) in the MAC Championship Game. If Stanford beats UCLA and Kent State wins, there is a chance it could earn the automatic berth into the BCS. Keep in mind, Kentucky beat Kent State by 33 earlier this season.
I would love to get into how awful the Nebraska-Iowa game truly was, but sadly, I have neither the time nor the energy. Kind of like both offenses on Friday.
– Luke Alexander