June 2, 2007

Pretty good won't be good enough

My barber Roland is a big man with a big passion -- and it has nothing to do with the few remaining strands on top of my dome. He loves his LSU Tigers. You know, the if-they-lose-he-stews-for-two-weeks eternal love.

Those 22 victories the past two seasons for coach Les Miles? Nice -- just nice. But in this world of what championship have you won for me lately, nice doesn't cut it for Roland.

Miles is one of four coaches at major programs who, though not necessarily in danger of losing their jobs, must win big this season to legitimize the elite state of their programs.

Les Miles, LSU

Before Miles, the Tigers hadn't won double-digit games in back-to-back seasons in the program's 100-plus years. Even the Nicktator didn't do it.

Why, then, is this a crossroads season for Miles? Because those four losses the past two years were god-awful -- and kept a loaded team from winning a meaningful championship. Meltdowns against Tennessee and Georgia in 2005 and a combined 13 points in losses to Auburn and Florida in 2006 kept the Tigers from backing up their magical 2003 season.

The skinny: An SEC or national championship could translate to a new job -- don't think he won't leave for another college job (Michigan) or the NFL. The schedule is favorable, and the bar is set at 11 wins. Anything else is a step back.

The numbers: 22-4 at LSU, 8-4 vs. ranked teams, 2-0 in bowl games.

Lloyd Carr, Michigan

The two sides to the argument: Carr is the best coach in the history of the program, or Carr has done less with more than any other coach. I tend to fall with the former, no matter what the Bo crowd says.

But the past five years have not helped Carr's cause: Michigan is 1-4 vs. bitter rival Ohio State and 1-4 in bowl games. That's eight losses at the end of the past five seasons.

Now more than ever, this program needs a defining championship to reassert itself among the nation's elite.

The skinny: Carr's disdain for the NCAA's hypocritical ways eventually will lead to his retirement. A national title -- or another late-season stumble -- may be the nudge it takes.

The numbers: 113-36 at Michigan, 39-23 vs. ranked teams, 5-7 in bowl games.

Bill Callahan, Nebraska

It all sets up for Callahan this fall: Year 4 in Lincoln means four full recruiting classes aimed at changing the run-oriented culture. It also brings Sam Keller, the onetime Arizona State quarterback (and potential NFL first-rounder) who transferred to take over the offense. And, finally, the Big 12 has never been weaker.

What's not to like? How about a team that still isn't tough enough to control the tempo (see: West Coast offense) and a staff that still is learning the nuances of the college game.

The skinny: I still think hiring Callahan was the right move, but this team is desperate for a signature victory. Winning the Big 12 is the expected next step under Callahan. If not this year, when?

The numbers: 22-15 at Nebraska, 3-6 vs. ranked teams, 1-1 in bowl games.

Karl Dorrell, UCLA

He has the toughest job among BCS schools. Dorrell must set up shop across town from, recruit player-for-player alongside and constantly be measured against the best program in the nation.

The Bruins' victory against the Trojans last year upped the ante. Now UCLA not only is expected to compete with USC, but -- with 20 starters returning -- the Bruins are expected to compete for the Pac-10 title. Ten wins is a legitimate goal and would eliminate doubts stemming from last year's step back after 2005's 10-win season.

The skinny: Dorrell loves the NFL and eventually wants to return as a head coach (he has turned down opportunities). But he won't leave his alma mater until the Bruins return to the Rose Bowl. That might just happen this season.

The numbers: 29-21 at UCLA, 4-11 vs. ranked teams, 1-3 in bowl games.

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