April 16, 2010

Mailbag: How much time does a title buy?

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A coach gets a lot of perks, but job security isn't among them.

National championships once guaranteed legend status. Now, they only guarantee another year on the job. Maybe two or three.

Just ask Larry Coker or Phillip Fulmer.

Five years after guiding Miami to the 2001 national title, Coker was axed. Fulmer led Tennessee to the 1998 championship, and he was fired in 2008.

There are seven active coaches who have won national championships with their current programs. None appear in danger of losing their jobs, but some wonder if one of them has underachieved.

Which one? The answer is in this week's mailbag.


Miles to go?

What do you think about coach Les Miles and what he's done so far at LSU? Do you think he's underachieving with all that talent in the area?
Calvin
Shreveport, La.

Now that coaches earn seven-figure salaries, demands obviously are much greater. So, when extremely successful coaches such as Ohio State's Jim Tressel and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops have been subject to criticism, it comes as no surprise Miles has been targeted, too.

Fair or unfair, Miles always will be compared to his predecessor, Nick Saban, who re-established LSU as a national power. Miles' critics attribute much of his success at LSU to players left behind by Saban.

But Miles is a good coach. Don't forget he had three winning records in four seasons at Oklahoma State before going to LSU; he also had two wins over Oklahoma while Cowboys coach. His five LSU teams have notched no fewer than eight wins in a season and he led the Tigers to the 2007 national championship.

Further, each of his past five recruiting classes at LSU have been ranked among the nation's top 11, so he's getting the job done there, too.

LSU is 51-15 in five seasons under Miles. That's an impressive 77.3 winning percentage. The only coach in LSU history with a better winning percentage over any five-year period is Charlie McClendon, who won 78.4 percent (45-12-1) from 1969-73. But McClendon never won a national title.

But the hard fact is that Miles would be subject to much more criticism - to the point that his job could be in jeopardy - if not for Stoops and Paul Rhoads.

Follow me on this:

Late in the 2007 regular season, West Virginia was ranked No. 2 and appeared on its way to the BCS national championship game going into the regular-season finale against archrival Pittsburgh. Rhoads, who now is Iowa State's coach, was Pitt's defensive coordinator then. Although West Virginia averaged nearly 300 rushing yards per game to rank third in the nation, Rhoads devised a scheme that held the Mountaineers to just 104 yards in a 13-9 shocker that knocked WVU out of the national championship race. Later that day, Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners defeated top-ranked Missouri 38-17 in the Big 12 championship game.

The West Virginia and Missouri losses vaulted LSU into the BCS national championship game, where it defeated Ohio State 38-24.

If either West Virginia or Missouri had won, LSU wouldn't have reached the title game. In that scenario, instead of celebrating the national championship, LSU fans' most vivid memory of that season would have been a home loss to Arkansas on Thanksgiving weekend that would've taken the Tigers out of the national championship picture. That's never good for job security.

I believe without that national championship, coaching miscues such as the clock mismanagement gaffe at the end of last season's loss to Ole Miss would be held against Miles even more. But even if Miles didn't have a national title, I'm not sure he should be labeled underachieving.

Historically, LSU hasn't been all that dominant a program. LSU managed one national championship in more than a century of play before Saban arrived before the 2000 season and led the Tigers to a national title in 2003.

Saban also has won a national championship at Alabama and guided frequently underachieving Michigan State to 10 victories in 1999. Maybe the question isn't whether Miles has underachieved at LSU, but rather did Saban overachieve there?


'Cane concerns

How do you see Miami's season going? I know the Hurricanes have a tough schedule, but quarterback Jacory Harris should improve greatly as a junior. In addition, I think the running backs will be better as well as the defensive line. What do you think?
Raymond
Omaha, Neb.

If the Hurricanes can survive the first five games of the season, anything is possible.

After opening with Florida A&M, they have three consecutive road games - against Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Clemson - before returning home to play Florida State. That's a grind.

Of course, the same thing was said last season, when Miami opened against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. The Hurricanes went 3-1, so one has to be careful not to underestimate them.

Harris did have a strong season in '09 and figures to be better as a junior. The running game is a concern, though. Damien Berry and Lamar Miller are promising young talents, but Graig Cooper could miss the season with a torn ACL suffered in the Champs Sports Bowl.

The offensive line - which had issues last season - is now without tackle Jason Fox, who was the unit's best blocker. Major improvement is needed there. Miami's defense was good last season and projects to be better.

The Hurricanes will be a strong contender for the ACC championship, though I'll take Virginia Tech to win the Coastal Division. I'd project Miami to contend for second place in the division, which is the toughest of the two in the ACC, and post as many as 10 victories.


Tiger dreams

Does Missouri have the talent to contend for the national title?
Mark
St. Louis

As mentioned above, Missouri was ranked No. 1 in December 2007, so the Tigers shouldn't be dismissed as contenders. Crazier things have happened, right?

Right?

Maybe not. And the reason is simple: Defense.

Blaine Gabbert may be the best quarterback in the Big 12, and that's a great place to start to build a championship team. They also have a solid running back in Derrick Washington, and kicker Grant Ressel should be one of the best in the country. No doubt, the Tigers will score a lot. Last season, they averaged 29 points per game.

The Tigers' problem is an inability to keep opponents off the scoreboard. Last season, they surrendered at least 33 points in four of their five losses. They also gave up 39 in a win over Kansas. Overall, they allowed an average of 25.5 points per game to rank 59th in the nation in scoring defense, and that was with linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who projects as a first-round selection in next week's NFL draft.

This century's 10 national champions have all ranked 17th or better in scoring defense and allowed fewer than 20 points per game.

To that end, Missouri's national title aspirations are bleak. Major defensive improvement is needed before Missouri can be taken seriously as a national championship contender.

There is some good news, though. Sophomore end Aldon Smith is a rising star, and he heads a list of eight returning defensive starters. The bad news is that those guys were on a defense that was inept against the pass last season.

The experience gained last season should result in better defensive play this year. But don't count on the defense improving so much that Missouri is a national championship contender.

First, aim for beating Nebraska in the Big 12 North.


A little perspective

Why do the media consistently try to defame Ohio State by associating Maurice Clarett with the university? The majority of the media just glances over the numerous arrests that occur under Florida coach Urban Meyer and/or the extra benefits associated with the USC program. Clarett last played for Ohio State in 2002. The other examples are more recent, yet never reported on.
Carson
Irvine, Calif.

If memory serves, no one complained about Ohio State's association with Clarett when he scored two touchdowns in the Buckeyes '02 national championship victory over Miami.

Clarett forever will be linked to Ohio State and Ohio State linked to Clarett because of that national championship and the circumstances afterward that led to Clarett's expulsion and later his incarceration.

But who is defaming Ohio State? Sure, when a story about Clarett being moved to a smaller detention facility is reported, he's obviously identified as a former Buckeyes star because that's why he's well-known.

Another thing: If the media didn't report the arrests of Florida players or the issues involving USC, how do you know about it?


Who's first?

Who will be the top pick in the NFL draft and will that person actually make it in the pros?
Case
Illinois

The guess here - and most everywhere else - is that Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford will be the first pick because the St. Louis Rams need a quarterback and have taken defensive linemen with their top pick in two of the past three drafts.

Bradford will be successful if the Rams give him adequate protection. He's smart, has a strong arm and is accurate. He can carve up defenses if given sufficient time in the pocket.


A step down

If Sam Bradford had returned to Oklahoma for his senior season, would there have been a quarterback competition between he and Landry Jones ? I think Jones is much better than Bradford.
Zach
Tulsa

Apparently, there are some short memories in Oklahoma. Bradford misses most of last season and all he meant to the OU offense suddenly is forgotten.

Bradford won the Heisman as a sophomore, led OU into the national championship game and almost certainly will be the first player selected in the NFL draft.

Jones is a good player who will probably play better this season than he did last season, when he threw for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns with 14 interceptions. He's not better than Bradford, though.

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