January 8, 2010

Mailbag: Is LSU's offense in capable hands?

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Coaching college football offers a fun, exciting occupation with great pay and excellent benefits.

It does not, though, offer job security. Each year, roughly 20 percent of FBS programs change coaches.

Some programs that don't change coaches change coordinators. In each of the two previous seasons, LSU's Les Miles had to make changes at defensive coordinator.

This season, those changes appeared to pay off as the Tigers, under John Chavis, ranked 12th in the nation in scoring defense. But just as LSU's defense gets stronger the offense appears to struggle. Will Miles be forced to make changes at offensive coordinator?

That's a topic of discussion in this week's mailbag.

Switching sides

With LSU's offensive struggles this season, will offensive coordinator Gary Crowton be fired or be fighting for his job next season? And is there any truth to the rumors of tension between Crowton and coach Les Miles?
Ramadi, Iraq

First of all, thank you for serving our country, James.

As far as LSU is concerned, Crowton will be back as offensive coordinator but he may indeed be coaching for his job.

It's my understanding that there's not major tension between Crowton and Miles as much as a difference in styles. Miles prefers a punch-you-in-the-mouth running attack. Crowton is more inclined to throw and sprinkle in some finesse.

LSU's offense - and perhaps Crowton's style - has been compromised by having first-year starting quarterbacks last season and this season. But don't forget that in 2007, the Tigers set a bunch of school records and averaged 38.6 points en route to winning a national championship.

Despite some turnover issues with quarterback Jarrett Lee, the Tigers averaged 368 yards and almost 31 points in 2008. This year, with an underachieving offensive line, the production dropped dramatically. The Tigers ranked 112th in the nation in total offense and averaged under 25 points per game.

Miles has brought in Frank Wilson from Tennessee as running backs coach and Billy Gonzales from Florida to coach receivers and coordinate the passing game. Obviously, Miles is concerned by this season's offensive issues and is taking steps to remedy them.

The Tigers are losing a lot of offensive starters. Tight end Richard Dickson, receiver Brandon LaFell, running back Charles Scott, tackle Ciron Black and guard Lyle Hitt have completed their eligibility. So has backup running back Keiland Williams.

Next season, LSU will have a more experienced Jordan Jefferson at quarterback as well as a good, young receiving corps, so there is hope for improvement.

LSU has won two national championships this decade. This season's 9-4 finish isn't bad, but much more is expected in Baton Rouge. But if the offense struggles again in 2010, LSU followers will be demanding a change.

Saving a rivalry

Since the Big Ten has caused all this 12th-team hoopla, is there any way Michigan and Ohio State would end up in opposite divisions? Don't you think that's best for these two to compete for the title at the end if they make it instead of possibly playing twice or some other format?
Mayfield, Ky.

The Big Ten's announcement that it will consider adding a 12th member raises an interesting question about how the teams would be separated into divisions.

Just for sake of argument, let's say the Big Ten adds an eastern team, such as Pittsburgh or Rutgers. If the Big Ten set firm geographic lines to establish divisions, the West would be made up of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue. The balance of power clearly would be in the East, with Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Pitt, Indiana and Ohio State.

Of course, nothing says the Big Ten couldn't be creative in setting divisions. For example, the ACC almost seems as if it drew names out of a hat to set up its Atlantic and Coastal divisions. Most casual fans - and some hard-core ones - can't list the teams in each ACC division.

The Big Ten could put Michigan and Michigan State in the west along with Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. Or the Big Ten could have the "Schembechler" and "Hays" divisions to avoid geographic confusion.

The point is it could easily be set up to put Michigan and Ohio State in separate divisions so they would have the chance to meet for the conference championship.

If that did happen, hopefully Big Ten officials would borrow an idea from the SEC and make sure the Wolverines and Buckeyes play every season. While the SEC is divided into divisions, each team has one "playing partner" in the other division to ensure long-time rivalries between teams still will be played every year. For example, Alabama always plays Tennessee and Auburn always plays Georgia.

Michigan and Ohio State always should play. One of the greatest mistakes in college football was that the Big 12 refused to adopt a format similar to the SEC's to ensure that Nebraska and Oklahoma play every season. That was one of the greatest rivalries in college football history, and it's lost so much because it's not an annual event.

If a 12th team is added, hopefully the Big Ten will show more regard for history, tradition and its fans than the Big 12 did.

Stanford overlooked

Your Heisman list of universities ("Exploring new math with the Heisman," Dec. 25) is missing Stanford, which according to my math should have at least 11 points. That would put them in 24th place in the all-time Heisman list. Odd that this team should be missing in the year that Stanford fielded the runner-up.

Taking a suggestion from Dean in Wills Point, Texas, we ranked schools by their Heisman finishers to determine which program historically has been the most prevalent in the Heisman race. The formula awarded each program five points for a first-place finisher, three for second, two for third and one for fourth. In addition, any program with two players in the top four in the same year got a bonus point.

Though I'll never be recruited to work for Deloitte & Touche, the firm that tabulates the Heisman ballots and declares the winner, I came up with 80 programs that have had at least a fourth-place finisher in the Heisman voting.

Unfortunately, while transferring the tabulations from legal pad to computer, a couple of teams were omitted. And although corrections were made, we'll acknowledge the errors.

Stanford was one of those teams. Stanford accumulated 15 points and should have been ranked in a tie for 16th with Miami and Purdue.

The Cardinal get five points for Jim Plunkett winning the Heisman in 1970. Toby Gerhart's runner-up finish this season is another three. Add three for John Elway's runner-up finish in 1982. That's 11 points right there. Stanford gets another three points for Frankie Albert finishing third in 1941 and fourth in 1940. The 15th point comes from Bill McColl's fourth-place finish in 1951.

Alabama was missing, too. The Crimson Tide picked up five points this year with Mark Ingram becoming its first Heisman recipient. That gives Alabama nine points. Lee Roy Jordan in 1962 and Johnny Musso in 1971 finished fourth, while David Palmer was third in 1993.

Best at finishing second

Regarding the Heisman article, it's noteworthy that Purdue's three second-place finishers were achieved by three players in a four-year span - Bob Griese in 1966, Leroy Keyes in '68 and Mike Phipps in '69. Throw in Keyes finishing third in '67, and that has to be the best four-year period on record. Would you agree?
Fort Myers, Fla.

I hate to be the one to point this out to you, but your in-state neighbor can argue that it has an even better four-year streak of Heisman representation.

Notre Dame's John Lattner won the Heisman in 1953. The next year, Ralph Gugliemi finished fourth for the Irish. Paul Hornung finished fifth in '55 and then won it in '56. That's two winners, a fourth place and a fifth place in four years.

Does that trump three runners-up in a four-year span? In my opinion, yes.

In addition, in my opinion the most impressive four-year run of Heisman representation would be USC from 2002-05. While the Trojans did not have a player in the top five in 2003, Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (2004) and Reggie Bush (2005) won it. That's three winners in four years.

Still, your point is well-taken. No other program can claim three runners-up in four years. In fact, the only other programs to have different runners-up in consecutive years are Iowa (Alex Karras in '57 and Randy Duncan in '58) and Tulsa (Jerry Rhome in '64 and Howard Twilley in '65).

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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