February 5, 2010

Mailbag: Should a 10-win season be rewarded?

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Ten wins is worth five years.

That would appear to be the case in Madison, Wis., where Wisconsin administrators gave coach Bret Bielema a contract extension through 2015 after a 10-win showing this past season.

But Bielema wasn't rewarded for one good year. The Badgers are 38-14 in four years under Bielema, and only 13 of the other 119 FBS coaches have posted more victories in that span.

Yet, as this week's mailbag shows, some think Bielema was rewarded too much for too little.

Winning not enough

Is it a little too early to give a contract extension to Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, given how his best season (12-1 in 2006) was rewarded with a huge BCS snub? My thought is that after the utter, complete disaster of a football team the Badgers fielded in 2008, he may be getting off the hook a little too easily. Is the only saving grace for Bret Bielema that he never has lost to Minnesota?
Eau Claire, Wis.

Numbers game
Here's a list of FBS coaches who have posted at least 40 victories over the past four seasons.
Chris PetersenBoise State49-4
Urban MeyerFlorida48-7
Mack BrownTexas45-8
Jim TresselOhio State44-8
Pete CarrollUSC43-9
Brian KellyCincinnati/
Central Michigan
Bronco MendenhallBYU43-9
Gary PattersonTCU42-10
Bob StoopsOklahoma42-13
Frank BeamerVirginia Tech41-13
Les MilesLSU40-13
Joe PaternoPenn State40-12
Kyle WhittinghamUtah40-12
Didn't Wisconsin go 10-3 and win a bowl game this past season? That's right, the Badgers did. Isn't Wisconsin 38-14 in four years under Bielema? Yeah, that's right. And aren't the Badgers returning a bunch of starters on a team that could be ranked among the preseason top 10? Yes, they are.

That seems like the work of a coach who deserves to have his contract extended.

Seriously, are you holding it against Bielema that Wisconsin didn't make a BCS bowl in 2006? Remember, a conference can send a maximum of two teams to BCS bowls, and Ohio State and Michigan were ranked first and second going into the final week of the regular season that year.

The Badgers then beat Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl. That's what you're holding against him?

True, Bielema hasn't won a Big Ten championship, and his predecessor - Barry Alvarez - won or shared three. But Bielema's first four years in charge in Madison are better than Alvarez's last four (34-18).

And about that disastrous 2008 season: Wisconsin went 7-6. When a modest winning season is a considered a disaster, the coach must be doing a good job.

Freshmen solution

Do you think the recruiting class Miami got will help the "U" get a BCS bid?

Miami already is close. The Hurricanes posted nine victories in '09 and will have seven offensive starters and nine defensive starters returning next season - including quarterback Jacory Harris.

Miami has improved by two wins in each of the past two seasons. If that trend continues, the Hurricanes will reach 11 victories, which might be enough to get in a BCS bowl even if they don't win the ACC.

But this year's recruiting class doesn't figure to make a significant impact on the Hurricanes' fortunes this season. Actually, Miami's 2010 class may raise some concerns.

First, the class is ranked 24th, which the Hurricanes' lowest-rated class this decade. In addition, Miami had trouble holding onto top-flight players in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. There were 27 players in those three counties who were four- or five-star prospects, and Miami signed just two - running back Eduardo Clements (the No. 26 player in the state) and offensive lineman Brandon Linder (No. 32). That's the same number as UCF, and it's one less than Florida State and four less than Florida.

Miami must re-established itself as a consistent force in south Florida recruiting to resurface as a nationally dominant program.

One-man Tide

Everyone talks about Alabama losing star linebacker Rolando McClain. Have they forgotten about Dont'a Hightower, who missed most of the '09 season because of injury?

No one has forgotten. Hightower is a tremendous player, and if he has recovered from a knee injury, he'll make a major impact on the Alabama defense in 2010.

But also don't forget McClain is not the only great player departing from Alabama's tremendous defense. Tackle Terrence Cody was an outstanding run stuffer, Javier Arenas was an All-America cornerback and return specialist and cornerback Kareem Jackson, like McClain, opted for early entry into the NFL draft after a strong year.

In all, Alabama loses nine starters from the defensive unit that faced Texas in the BCS national championship game. Sure, there are numerous good players still on hand because Alabama has recruited so well. Still, filling all those vacant positions, especially some that were manned by players with NFL-caliber ability, is no easy task. Ask USC.

Like Alabama, the Trojans recruited well for years, too. But when they lost eight defensive starters off their '08 unit, the production dipped in '09. USC still won nine games, but the Trojans weren't nearly as dominant as in previous years.

Alabama will be good enough to challenge for a national championship again next season. But any suggestions that the Tide will be just as powerful on defense without McClain, Cody, Arenas, Jackson and the other five starters just doesn't seem believable.

Deeper sleepers

You named Wisconsin and Miami as "sleepers" for the national championship. I am very surprised by this, considering how the same Wisconsin team got demolished in 2008 by Florida State. Last year, Miami got demolished by Wisconsin. Miami loses a defensive line coach and you put the Hurricanes up there as a sleeper? I really don't see either of those teams anywhere up there, especially with Miami's non-conference schedule. I am a Georgia fan and I would pick Georgia Tech up there before I'd even mention the other two teams, especially Miami.

Let me get this right: You're discounting Wisconsin, even as a dark-horse contender, because of a bowl game the Badgers lost in 2008?

Perhaps you should be reminded that Oklahoma won the 2000 national championship a year after losing a bowl game to Ole Miss. Florida won the '08 national title the year after losing a bowl game to Michigan, and LSU won the 2003 title a year after losing a bowl game to Texas.

Wisconsin returns 10 offensive starters, including quarterback Scott Tolzien and running back John Clay. Six defensive starters return from a team that finished 10-3. The Badgers have a good chance to open among the preseason top 10. In my mind, that's enough to describe Wisconsin as a dark-horse contender for the national title.

And Miami also returns a ton of experience from a team that posted nine wins. The Hurricanes have some holes to fill in the offensive line, but don't just completely dismiss them as having absolutely no chance because of their bowl loss.

Their non-conference schedule is challenging, with road games at Ohio State and Pittsburgh. But most thought the Hurricanes' early season schedule in '09 would be too tough to survive. Instead, the Hurricanes opened 3-1.

And let me get this straight again: You'd disregard any suggestion of Wisconsin as a dark-horse candidate for the national championship because it lost a bowl game two years ago, but you'd accept Georgia Tech - which had four key players leave early to the NFL draft - even though it lost to Miami by 16 points?

I'm not quite following your logic, Edward.

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