Friday, October 1, 2010

New Campus Game Site

The Campus Game has a new site and new look ... but the same purpose: to provide serious college football fans with news, commentary, and information on America's most exciting sport - the campus game - college football!

Visit our new site by clicking here.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

New Star in SEC?

Robbie Caldwell.

You don't know him.

Neither do I. Nor do the rest of the football media gathered here on the outskirts of Birmingham. Even the other SEC head coaches don't know him.

That's too bad for us.

Make no mistake, there is a new media star in the conference (at least for a year) and he is the head football coach at Vanderbilt.

At his appearance in the main press room at SEC Football Media Days this morning, the recently named interim head Commodore sounded like Jerry Clower while mentioning among other things:

Turkey farming.

Pouring concrete.

Pipe fitting.

Frog Gigging.





Oh yeah, a little football too.

Coming across like your favorite uncle or the best high school coach you ever played for, Caldwell entertained the gathered media with his country accent, self-deprecating sense of humor, openly emotional personality, and quick one-liners.

Whether he'll be able to hold on to the Vandy job for more than just a season may be questionable, he certainly has one group behind him - the football writers gathered here in Hoover.

You can check out the SEC's newest coaching star by visiting the conference website (see links on side) and following football prompts to the media days video clips.

It'll be worth your time.

Monday, July 19, 2010

SEC Media Day Questions

Like the girl in the Zac Brown Band song, the SEC's got whatever "it" is.

Look no farther than Hoover, Alabama, for proof.

For many southern football fans, SEC Football Media Days kick off the college football season.

The event brings to mind dual pep rallies.

Upstairs at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama, the annual gathering of league coaches, selected players from each school, and hundreds of national and local media could pass for a big, corporate pep rally. Which it is of course.

Downstairs, a hotel lobby-full of fans decked out in team colors and seeking autographs, pictures, or handshakes from coaches and players is much like a college or high school pep rally. Which it is of course.

A pep rally the SEC Media days may be, but they are typically not much with regard to making news.

Coaches are exceptionally well-versed in sticking to scripted answers (although Steve Spurrier cannot help himself on occasion). Players are similarly prepared, their answers so clean and non-controversial, often seeming like young politicians training for future campaign races.

Commissioner Mike Slive is smoother and a more commanding presence than any of the politicians seeking election in this month's primaries. He provides concise, positive information about the conference, and deftly addresses controversial topics.

While breaking news may be rare, there are legitimate questions that can be addressed at these media gatherings.

Here are several I would like to see answered this week (some are on-field related, others deal with off-field topics):

1. How will individual programs and the SEC as a whole address the growing problem of agents jeopardizing the eligibility of players by offering them financial (or other) inducements?

Reggie Bush and USC may be the most notorious characters in this story right now, but with recent news of an agent hosting dozens of returning college stars at a party in south Florida, a true quagmire may be on the near horizon.

2. Are any programs close to breaking the Alabama-Florida stranglehold on the two conference divisions?

The quick answer based on preseason prognostications is an emphatic "NO." Nick Saban at Bama and Urban Meyer with the Gators stand shoulder-to-shoulder astride the top of the league, and none of the other coaches can see above the well-polished shoetops of those two.

3. If the division crowns seem to have been conceded, how does the rest of the league stack up?

In the East, South Carolina is a perennial tease, Georgia has underachieved the past two years, Tennessee is coming off a tumultuous twenty-four months, and the Kentucky-Vandy duo is not near championship caliber (although UK is certainly closer than the Commodores). If things fall into place just right, Carolina and/or Georgia could feasibly take the title (unlikely though).

On the other side, the Crimson Tide faces stronger challengers, but even with significant personnel losses still figures to roll over the rest of the West. Arkansas must learn to play defense, LSU needs consistency under center and on the sidelines, Auburn will have a brand-new signal caller as will Ole Miss, and Mississippi State still lacks the talent to compete over the long, arduous season. A semi-educated guess would place Arkansas and LSU atop the challenger list (scheduling has something to do with that).

4. Who are the most important players in the league this season ... not necessarily the best players - those most important to the success of their respective teams?

Here are four that immediately come to mind:

Aaron Murray - Quarterback Georgia. The highly touted redshirt freshman is the only new starter on offense for the Dogs. Should he play well, Georgia might provide the biggest challenge to Florida.

Stephen Garcia - Quarterback South Carolina. An enigmatic junior (who seems like he has been in Columbia a decade), Garcia needs to make plays and eliminate mistakes to give Steve Spurrier a chance at another championship. If he doesn't the head ball coach figures to have a quick hook.

Dont'a Hightower - Linebacker Alabama. This huge (260 lb) inside linebacker earned freshman All-America honors in 2008, but missed the Tide title season with an injury. Hightower will be counted on to stabilize an Alabama defense that lost eight starters, including his predecessor as emotional leader, Rolando McClain.

Cameron Newton - Quarterback Auburn. Notice a trend here? The SEC lost a whole lot of experienced QBs. Newton is a former Florida transfer and Terrell Pryor look-alike who could pose big problems for defenses if he can master the intricate spread attack of the Tigers.

5. Although it's only July ... what games look to be the premier matchups this fall?

There are quite a few ... here are five listed in predicted order of significance:

Florida at Alabama (October 2): The league's two juggernauts square off at the Capstone. This could be the regular season game of the year ... in the nation, not just the SEC.

Alabama at Arkansas (September 25): If the Hogs hope to take the West, they'll need to stem the Tide in Fayetteville. Arkansas plays at Georgia the week before, while Bama is at Duke, but this is also the Saturday before Alabama-Florida ... so it could be a trap game for Bama.

Georgia at South Carolina (September 11): These two teams should be the main challengers to Florida in the East. Losing this game will not absolutely eliminate one from the race, but will certainly damage title hopes.

Alabama at LSU (November 6): Yet another installment of the Saban-Miles saga. The animosity toward Saban has waned somewhat among Tiger faithful, but if the defending national champs roll into Baton Rouge undefeated, it will be a big time on the bayou.

Clemson at Auburn (September 18): While the game will have no bearing on the conference race, it is a nice ACC-SEC pairing and could be indicative of how much a threat both sets of Tigers will be in their respective leagues.


Note: Live at the SEC Media Days ... Heisman winner Mark Ingram just finished his remarks. Nick Saban led off the afternoon session after comments from Commissioner Mike Slive. BCS head Bill Hancock spoke to media this morning.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Crumley Interim AD for Dogs

Frank Crumley will serve as interim Athetic Director while the University of Georgia conducts a national search to replace Damon Evans.

Four to Consider for Dogs AD

With the dismissal of Damon Evans, the focus inside the Butts-Mehre Building at the University of Georgia now turns to his successor as Athletic Director.

A familiar firm seems likely to lead the search.

Zach Klein of WSB-TV in Atlanta (he has been at the forefront of coverage since the Evans scandal broke) reports that Parker Executive Search of Atlanta will recommend the new AD. Headed up by Georgia alum Dan Parker, the group is well-respected in college athletics and previously played a significant role in the hiring of Dr. Michael Adams as President, Evans as Athletic Director, and Mark Fox as Men's Basketball coach (although those first two names might not provide much confidence for some Bulldog fans).

While the Parker firm typically keeps a tight lid on research and recommendations, here are pros and cons of four potential search targets, plus two that should be considered. Click on any name for a bio link.

Greg McGarity (Florida)

Pros: Without question, Greg McGarity will be the favored choice of rank-and-file Bulldog fans. A native Athenian, a UGA alum, and a former varsity athlete (tennis), McGarity paid his dues at various assignments within the Georgia athletic department before moving to Florida in 1992. He has an even and friendly disposition, and has worked for two of the premier intercollegiate leaders of the last three decades (Vince Dooley at Georgia and Jeremy Foley at Florida). A safe, seasoned, and sound choice.

Cons: Although McGarity was long gone before the Michael Adams-Vince Dooley saga of the late 1990s, the president might see him as too closely allied with the Bulldog legend.

Eric Hyman (South Carolina)

Pros: The well-respected AD of the Gamecocks has the kind of curriculum vitae that would quickly turn the head of an academician like Michael Adams. Top man in Columbia since 2005, Hyman was formerly athletic director at TCU, Miami of Ohio, and VMI. A prolific fund-raiser and national leader among his peers, Hyman would certainly bring steadiness, experience, and prestige to Athens. He was reportedly a finalist when Evans was hired.

Cons: While Georgia is probably a more nationally recognized department (keep in mind the Gamecocks just won the College Baseball World Series) than SC, the move could be seen as a lateral one. Also, Hyman and his family are Carolinians (he and his wife are UNC grads, and Eric also earned a masters degree at Furman).

Carla (Green) Williams (Georgia)

Pros: A former varsity basketball star for the Lady Dogs, Williams would bring continuity to what appears from the exterior to be a smoothly functioning department. She also carries a bit of academic heft having earned a Ph.D. in sport management from Florida State (although she has never published or presented research to my knowledge). The prospect of naming the first female athletic director in the SEC would probably be appealing to the always image-conscious Adams. It would be difficult seeing her stand up to the powerful president either (which would be a pro for her hiring prospects).

Cons: The hiring of Williams would promote someone young, only moderately experienced, and would come with more than just a whiff of political correctness. Would seem simply a distaff Damon Evans hire to many.

Mark Lewis (Jet Set Sports)

Pros: Do not let the cartoonish company name fool you, Mark Lewis brings more business credentials to the table than any of the other candidates for the position. Son of former Bulldog defensive coordinator Bill Lewis, Mark grew up in Athens, attended Clarke Central High, and was a long-snapper for the Bulldogs. Boasting experience with the U.S. Olympic Committee, at General Electric, and now at Jet Set (an international event planning company for the Olympics), Lewis has overseen budgets that dwarf even that of a large athletic department. Still has ties to Athens as his brother Geoff is a teacher and coach in nearby Oconee County. Lewis would be a somewhat bold choice.

Cons: Lack of experience as an athletic director would be the first that jumps out, although his business background would likely supersede such concerns. One thing he might not be able to overcome is his link to the Dooley years. His dad was Vince's defensive coordinator for nearly a decade.

Two others that deserve consideration:

Claude Felton ... one of the top sports media people in the nation, Felton is universally admired within the UGA athletic department and throughout college athletics generally. Retained (apparently after some reservations by Adams/Evans) when he was passed over for Evans, Felton has remained a steadfast part of the Bulldog operation. Not an exciting pick perhaps, but Michael Adams could do much worse.

Frank Crumley ... Typically considered second in command to Evans, Frank Crumley is a senior associate AD in charge of finance. With Georgia annually ranking as one of the most profitable departments in the nation, Crumley deserves much of the credit for keeping a close eye on all those Bulldog bucks. Talented, relatively young, and seen as an up-and-comer, his candidacy might be tainted by his close ties to Damon Evans (although it shouldn't be).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Evans and Adams Should Go

Damon Evans should be fired as Athletic Director at the University of Georgia.

Consider that unlikely pending further details of his arrest.

Michael Adams should have long ago been fired as President of the University of Georgia.

He was not, and is in no danger of losing his job now.

Two of the three most visible and powerful people at the state's flagship university are unfit to lead (the third - head football coach Mark Richt - should not be mentioned in the same company as Evans and Adams).

Evans was arrested by the Georgia State Patrol on Wednesday night in Atlanta after being spotted driving erratically, and charged with driving under the influence. Evans refused breathalyzer tests, and his unfortunate mug shot will likely be a lasting image.

To make matters more unseemly, Evans - a married father of two - was with a 28 year-old woman (not his wife) when pulled over near midnight. At his brief and unenlightening press conference Thursday evening, Evans called the woman just "a friend." Perhaps.

The man who will decide the professional fate of Damon Evans is similarly unfit for leadership.

UGA President Michael Adams is a political brawler. He cut his teeth working for then U.S. Senate majority leader Howard Baker, and later as an aide to Governor Lamar Alexander (now U.S. Senator), both of Tennessee. That those two respected southern gentlemen would have someone as slimy as Adams representing them is not a positive mark on their records.

Since taking the helm in Athens in 1997, Adams has presided over a period of tremendous growth at UGA, something that very likely would have happened whether he or someone else was living in the President's Mansion on Prince Avenue.

He is best known for controversial - and ethically questionable - decisions.

Adams fired football coach Jim Donnan in 2000 after consecutive 8-win seasons, against the wishes of longtime Athletic Director and Bulldog coaching legend Vince Dooley. Adams was later found to have doled out a secret payment to Donnan as well.

After butting heads with Dooley (who is most responsible for the ultimate hiring of Mark Richt as head coach), Adams engaged in a death-match struggle and forced the most influential icon in Bulldog athletic history out of his job. Adams replaced Dooley with Evans. While calling him a "yes-man" might be too strong (the Athletic Department has continued to roll along successfully under Evans) ... if anyone can document a decision by Evans that went against the views of Adams, I would enjoy reading it.

Adams has other leadership lapses on his curriculum vitae as well.

He was responsible for hiring the reprehensible Jim Harrick as men's basketball coach. He reimbursed the institution for questionable personal expenditures, paid a stipend from university funds to his wife (who once famously called the police when a group of basketball students came to the President's home to complain about the dismissal of Harrick), and was embroiled in a controversy concerning the oversight of excessive spending on an "ecolodge" in Costa Rica.

His handling of the Dooley debacle caused enmity from a throng of loyal Bulldog boosters, and many withdrew donations. While the overall fund-raising efforts of the university have grown under Adams, there seems little doubt the level could have been higher had so many Dooley loyalists not been alienated.

Adams and Evans both earn taxpayer money.

In fiscal year 2009, Adams earned $607, 417.98 in salary with another $7779.14 in travel according to state records. The same report showed Evans earning $420,000.00. His recent $90,000 pay increase goes into effect today.

Adams and Evans work for you, me, and the rest of the citizens of Georgia. Their salaries come from our paychecks. They are eligible (if they choose to participate) to reap thousands upon thousands of retirement dollars through the bloated state retirement system.

Neither man is fit for his office.

Damon Evans should be fired. Michael Adams should go with him.

Consider both unlikely. For now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Preseason Publications

While college football provides year-round entertainment and grist for gossip among many fans, the month of June really kicks off the countdown to the coming season.

That's because the always popular preseason publications are available at your favorite magazine stand.

If you are one of those fans that grew up enjoying the pocket sized Peek's Guide or waiting for the slick and shiny new Street and Smith's every summer, you know the great fun yearbooks provide.

A relative newcomer to the field arrives this week from the The Kickoff, a venerable weekly publication covering college football from the Chattanooga area since 1951. Owner/publisher Bill Hope and editor Jim Gumm just wrapped up their second preseason annual. It's an attractive and informative yearbook (for which I was proud to contribute the SEC preview section) and I encourage you to find a copy at your local news stand or order online by clicking on the link above or picture below.

As your budget allows, please support college football publishers by purhasing the preseason annuals.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Conference Realignment: Wild Wild Whispers

A Wild, Wild Whisper
by Bob Epling
The Campus Game
June 12, 2010

There's a wild, wild whisper blowing in the wind ...
(Lady Antebellum - American Honey)

This is the second of a series of columns on the current state of big-time college football. Part Two examines potential conference expansion and realignment, and the factors driving these significant changes. Part One provided an introduction to and explanation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS).

Those wild, wild whispers about conference expansion and realignment in college athletics have now become a roaring reality.

The Big Ten, accelerating an expansion schedule first publicized by conference commissioner Jim Delany in December, will soon formally accept Nebraska's application to join.

The Pac-10 yesterday announced the admission of Colorado into the league.

The reeling Big 12 Conference, jilted league to both the Cornhuskers and the Buffaloes, will in all likelihood soon lose four or five other members to the plunderers from the Pacific Coast.

The institutions left behind and those conferences not yet directly involved in the tumult warily wait and watch, some seeking to strengthen their current circumstances, others simply hoping for a safe, soft landing spot.

The topic of conference expansion has dominated newspapers and online publications for the past couple of weeks. This article seeks to summarize the current status of conference realignment, and identify the main reasons for these changes. A future column will take up the mostly unexplored question of what impact these seismic realignments will have on college football bowls.

Here is a recap of the current realignment status.

The Big Ten may or may not stop with the addition of Nebraska (it seems likely the conference will add two to four more members). Among the schools considered to be primary Delany targets are Notre Dame, Maryland, Rutgers, Syracuse, and possibly Pitt and Missouri.

Out West, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott seems intent on expanding to sixteen teams by adding nearly the entire Big 12 South to the league rolls. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech reportedly favor accepting invitations, while Texas A&M seems to be wavering slightly between joining them or trekking east to the Southeastern Conference. I expect the Aggies to stick with their conference colleagues and flee west.

The Big 12 might not be dead, but life support may be in order and the electricity plug could be pulled next week should the exodus to the Pac-10 occur. Remaining members Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri could be scrambling to find a new home or might be part of an effort to keep the league together by luring new schools. Should the latter happen, expect schools such as TCU, SMU, Louisville, Memphis, and others to be mentioned.

Notre Dame, probably the Big Ten's top target, is clinging to its long-held football independence but the Irish have to be sweating on behalf of all the other sports on campus. Those teams need the structure of a league to thrive ... should the Big Ten pillage the Big East, ND could be forced into accepting an invitation to protect all the sports other than football. Ironic and unenviable.

The SEC, typically a proactive bunch, had been on the sidelines until reports this week that Texas A&M might be open to an invitation (Texas obviously would be accepted with open arms but the Longhorns are apparently averse to the idea). Should the Aggies shun their Big 12 South brethren and move to the SEC, the conference would likely look to the ACC to even out its membership (Virginia Tech?). If the Aggies do the expected and go west, I believe the SEC will wait before making major moves ... unless these new super-conferences are granted two automatic BCS bowl bids (a topic to be addressed in the next article in this series).

What is driving this expansion and realignment?

1) Finances: Unsurprisingly, money plays the predominant role. Only two sports generate money in most college athletic programs - football and men's basketball, with football far and away the primary breadwinner. College presidents and athletic directors are constantly seeking new revenue streams; if a super-sized conference increases the budget significantly expect them to join. Similarly, institutions must weigh the financial boon versus potential new costs. Texas A&M is not awash in money like the University of Texas, so a trip for the women's volleyball team to Pullman, Washington, probably seems mighty costly to the Aggies.

2) Academics: I had a coversation today with Bob Epling (no relation but a great guy with a heckuva name). Mr. Epling is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame, and former President of the Orange Bowl Committee. He addressed many of the factors I am listing here, and emphasized that too often fans overlook the academic influence in this process (especially considering that college presidents are the main decision makers - not athletic directors). For example, the Big Ten already had twelve member schools even before admitting Nebraska ... the University of Chicago is also a Big Ten member, even though the former school of Amos Alonzo Stagg does not compete in athletics. Similary, the Big Ten seeks new members that share commonalities in academic pursuits (all schools in the league are members of the Association of American Universities - AAU). One reason Texas seems intent on going to the Pac-10 instead of the SEC is because the Longhorn administration probably sees broader benefits from being associated with Stanford, Cal, USC, etc.

3) Personality Dynamics: Every one of these conference moves includes its own dynamics. One reason the Big 12 appears to have disintegrated so quickly is because of internal tension between the Texas teams (specifically Texas) and the Big 12 North schools (especially Nebraska). Tom Osborne, Cornhusker AD, is about as steady a guy as you'll find in college sports, but even he has occasionally expressed frustration at the southern slant of the league. Remember the Big 12 is (was?) less than two decades old, and it is a somewhat unwieldy alliance of the old Southwest Conference and the Big Eight. It was never a good fit. Another example - former Alabama coach Gene Stallings is a trustee at his alma mater Texas A&M, and some media reports indicated he is one of the biggest advocates of exploring options with the SEC before jumping into the Pac-10.

4)Television Contracts: This could just as easily be cited as part of #1, but the huge television contracts garnered by the Big Ten (through subscription fees paid to the Big Ten Network), the SEC (through recent 15 year deals with CBS and ESPN), and even the ACC (through recent contracts with ABC and ESPN) have helped move the expansion train. The Pac-10 and the Big 12 would be negotiating new contracts soon and want to leverage their assets as much as possible to gain maximum dollars.

5) Marketing Footprint: Fans think about expansion differently than college presidents, athletic directors, and league commissioners. While the SEC might be even stronger from a competitive standpoint by inviting Florida State, Miami, or Clemson into the fold, what do those teams do to drive revenue? The University of Florida already provides an entry into the lucrative and populous Sunshine State, and the U of South Carolina does the same for the Palmetto State. Other than making the football divisions even stronger, what else would those schools add to the league's footprint? That's why Texas A&M and Virginia Tech make more sense. Each brings a new territory ... more viewers, more recruits, new markets. The Big Ten does not care near so much about geography as about a marketing footprint. Thus, Rutgers and Maryland are popular expansion targets (to bring New York City and Washington DC into the league's footprint).

Finally, what impact will all these moves have on bowls?

As a traditonalist, an historian, and a lover of college football bowl games large and small, that is a question on my mind.

Please visit again for Part Three of this series to read about the anticipated effects of college conference realignment on the grand old bowl games.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

2010 Hall of Fame Class

The National Football Foundation announced the 2010 class today.

The most prominent name on the list is the late Pat Tillman, former linebacker at Arizona State and defensive back in the NFL, who enlisted in the military in the aftermath of 9/11 and was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Two SEC schools had players earn Hall honors.

Former Arkansas center Ronnie Caveness played for Frank Broyles from 1962-1964 when the Razorbacks were part of the old Southwest Conference.

Jerry Stovall was an All-American halfback at LSU, where he succeeded legendary Heisman winner Billy Cannon. Stovall finished second in Heisman voting in 1962 (to Terry Baker of Oregon State), and later coached the Bengal Tigers.

Two coaches were elected.

Gene Stallings won the 1992 national championship at Alabama, and was a member of Bear Bryant's famed "Junction Boys" as a player at Texas A&M.

Current Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez won back-to-back Rose Bowls as head coach of the Badgers, the only Big Ten coach to accomplish that feat. He and Woody Hayes are the only Big Ten coaches to win three Rose Bowls.

The complete list of inductees is below.


•DENNIS BYRD - DT, North Carolina State (1964-67)
•RONNIE CAVENESS - C, Arkansas (1962-64)
•RAY CHILDRESS - DL, Texas A&M (1981-84)
•RANDY CROSS - OG, UCLA (1973-75)
•SAM CUNNINGHAM - RB, Southern California (1970-72)
•MARK HERRMANN - QB, Purdue (1977-80)
•CLARKSTON HINES - WR, Duke (1986-89)
•DESMOND HOWARD - WR, Michigan (1989-91)
•CHET MOELLER - DB, Navy (1973-75)
•JERRY STOVALL - HB, LSU (1960-62)
•PAT TILLMAN* - LB, Arizona State (1994-97)
•ALFRED WILLIAMS - LB, Colorado (1987-90)


•BARRY ALVAREZ - 118-73-4 Wisconsin (1990-2005)
•GENE STALLINGS - 89-70-1 Texas A&M (1965-71) Alabama (1990-96)

Friday, April 23, 2010

BCS 101: An Introduction

BCS 101:
An Introduction to Big Time College Football
by Bob Epling
The Campus Game
May 7, 2010

This is the first of a two-part series on big-time college football. This article provides an introduction to and explanation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Part Two examines potential conference expansion scenarios ... something college football fans should expect to happen over the summer.

The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is a set of five post-season college football games.

The primary purpose of the BCS is to match the nation's two top-rated teams against each other in a championship game. A second (self-proclaimed) goal is to provide compelling pairings in the other four BCS bowl games.

The five games that comprise the BCS are:

* BCS Championship Game
(site rotates among four cities below)
* Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona
* Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida
* Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California
* Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana

The selection process for placing ten teams into those five bowls can cause controversy, though the BCS is not always at fault (conference tie-ins to specific bowls and the tie-breaking methods conferences use to determine champions are bigger problems). The champions from six big-time college football leagues, dubbed the "BCS" conferences, automatically qualify for the five bowls.

The BCS Conferences are:

* Atlantic Coast (ACC)
* Big 12
* Big East
* Big Ten
* Pacific 10 (PAC-10)
* Southeastern (SEC)

Several of those conferences have affiliations with the BCS bowls (meaning the conference champion goes to the affiliated bowl unless that champion earns a berth in the BCS championship game). The conference bowl affiliations are:

* ACC - Orange
* Big 12 - Fiesta
* Big East - No Tie-in
* Big Ten - Rose
* PAC-10 - Rose
* SEC - Sugar

After those six teams are determined, the other four slots go to "at large selections" ... either a second team from the BCS conferences or teams from outside those leagues (no conference can send more than two teams to the BCS bowls). The pool of teams to fill the at-large spots include:

* Notre Dame and other Independents
* Non-Champions from the six BCS conferences
* Teams from the five other major college football conferences: Conference-USA (CUSA), Mid-America (MAC), Mountain West, Sun Belt, Western Athletic (WAC)

Teams from outside the BCS conferences can guarantee entry to the BCS bowls by meeting certain criteria. The BCS
released a memo last month explaining the new guidelines ... greater access to BCS bowl bids means greater access to the huge financial payouts that accompany such bids.

The top two teams in the final BCS standings each season meet in the BCS Championship Game.

Those BCS rankings are calculated by averaging a team's standings in three categories: the Harris Poll, the USA Today Coaches Poll, and a composite computer ranking based on six computer rating systems.

The Harris Poll is comprised of 114 panelists drawn at random each season from a list of 300 names provided by the 11 major football conferences and independents. The panel includes former coaches, players, administrators, and current and former media members. To view the 2009 panel (and their votes)
click here.

The USA Today Coaches Poll is a weekly vote from 59 members of the USA Today Board of Coaches (who are members of the American Football Coaches Association). You can see the list and their final 2010 votes by
clicking here.

The six computer polls vary in methodology and a full explanation is outside the scope of this article, but a list of the polls and links to their sites are available by
clicking here.

The BCS is a favorite punching bag among many college football fans and media, and occasionally from coaches, administrators, and politicians (although typically only when their favorite teams have been left out of a preferred bowl).

On the flip side, the BCS provides a financial windfall to all eleven of the major college football conferences. It also supports a bowl system that has benefitted college football since the first Rose Bowl in 1901.

As a traditionalist and a college football historian, I strongly prefer the BCS to a playoff.

Coming Soon in Part Two: Conference Expansion ... Welcome to the Big Sixteen?

Friday, April 9, 2010

American Sports

Like the azaleas at Augusta this week, sport across America is in full bloom.

Every college football team remains undefeated as the squads grind through spring practices. Soon spring games conclude, and the annual preseason publications will hit the newstands (more on those in a future post).

April and May are such great months in American sport.

The Final Four just concluded with record-setting victories for Duke and Connecticut. Coach K of the Blue Devils tied legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp with his 4th NCAA championship (trailing only John Wooden of UCLA). The Duke win over Butler was a classic.

Geno Auriemma of the Huskies won his 7th NCAA crown, moving him one behind Tennessee's Pat Summitt. His team has also won 78 straight games, going undefeated in back-to-back seasons.

As the Final Four wrapped up, Major League Baseball started.

Here in Atlanta, 20-year old rightfield phenom Jason Heyward smacked a homerun on his first major league swing for the Braves in front of a sold-out crowd on a postcard perfect afternoon.

About the time Heyward cracked a fastball into the rightfield seats, Tiger Woods made his return to competitive golf a couple hours east at The Masters. The event itself teed off Thursday with a stellar leaderboard featuring Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, and Woods.

The NFL draft will grab attention next weekend when our favorite college football stars learn their professional destinations.

The month of May will soon bring us those iconic American sports events: the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500. Throw in the NBA and NHL playoffs and sports fans could not ask for more.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Notre Dame Recruit Tragedy

According to reports from the Panama City News Herald (and various online sources), Notre Dame football recruit Matt James died Friday night after falling from a hotel balcony in the Florida vacation beach town. James was 17 years old.

Considered the top signee in new Irish coach Brian Kelly's first recruiting class, James was expected to contend for playing time at tackle in the fall. High school teammate and fellow Irish recruit Luke Massa was reportedly with James when the accident occurred.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

SEC Spring Football Dates

Courtesy of the SEC Offices, here are the spring football dates for conference members:

Spring Practice Dates (Start / Finish)

Alabama - March 12 / April 17
Arkansas - March 30 / April 24
Auburn - March 24 / April 19 (Spring Game – April 17)
Florida - March 17 / April 10
Georgia - March 4 / April 10
Kentucky - March 31 / April 24
LSU - Feb. 26 / March 27
Ole Miss - March 27 / April 17
Mississippi State - March 23 / April 17
South Carolina - March 16 / April 10
Tennessee - March 18 / April 17
Vanderbilt - March 17 / April 10

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hall of Fame?

Ok - this is not me, but it's probably my favorite newspaper headline ever ... maybe some day!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

You Can't Always Get ...

College Football Recruiting
"You Can't Always Get What You Want"

by Bob Epling, The Campus Game

"You can't always get what you want ...
but if you try sometimes, you just might find ...
You get what you need ..."

(The Rolling Stones 1969)

Just like Mick and the boys from Britain sang, you best believe coaches are trying real hard to get what they need right now.

Yes, it's recruiting season.

With a week remaining until NSD (National Signing Day) coaches are still trying hard to land the talent, while fans wander the web to find out the latest leanings and rumors.

But, do fans truly understand what their teams actually need?

Welcome back to The Campus Game, where you'll always find just what you need to keep up with the great American game - college football.

This week, instead of looking at recruiting from the perspective of a fan's "wants" ... let's analyze from a coach's needs.

Defense: Know Your School's Alignment

4-3 or 3-4?

You probably read frequently about whether a team will use a 4-3 or 3-4 defensive scheme or alignment. My two favorite teams (Georgia and Notre Dame) both just made the switch from the former to the latter. With Alabama coach Nick Saban ascendant on the college scene (Saban is college football's foremost proponent of the "3-4"), expect even more squads to play copycat.

So what do those numbers mean?

Simply put, they refer to the number of defensive players near the ball before each snap, and to how those players are aligned.

Originally called the "50 defense" or "Oklahoma 50," the 3-4 scheme calls for three defensive linemen to play "down" (meaning with their hands literally on the ground). The one in the middle (nearest the center) is the nose tackle, the other two (lined up on the outside shoulders of the offensive tackles) are called ends.

The other four players in the 3-4 are now commonly called linebackers: two outside linebackers (OLB) and two inside linebackers. The inside backers are often labeled "Sam" (for strong side - usually lining up closer to the tight end side) and "Will" (for weak side - usually away from the tight end); they line up on the outside shoulders of the offensive guards but a few yards away from the line of scrimmage. The OLBs line up close to the line of scrimmage, on the outside shoulders of the last men on the offensive line. These outside linebackers can either penetrate, hold their ground, or drop into pass coverage. All four linebackers line up in a "two-point" stance - meaning they are standing.

The 4-3 originated as a variation of the 3-4 or old Oklahoma 50.

In this alignment, there are four "down" linemen. Two defensive tackles line up on the outside shoulders of the opposing offensive guards. Two defensive ends line up on the outside shoulders of the last men on the offensive line.

Backing them up are three linebackers. The Sam and Will designations explained above still hold; between those two comes the "Mike" (or middle linebacker).

The defensive backfield typically consists of two cornerbacks (playing nearer the sidelines of the field) and two safeties (playing nearer the middle of the field).

Before we leave alignments, realize all teams shift personnel to take into account opposing attacks (for example removing one or two of the front seven and replacing them with extra defensive backs). With the proliferation of the spread offense, some teams (most notably Florida) make their base defense include five defensive backs (the Gators regularly use a 4-2-5 alignment).

How Does Alignment Affect Recruiting?

Let's focus solely on the defensive fronts. Given that all defenses would love big, strong, fast players at every position, as a fan you should be aware of your squad's specific personnel needs.

Those personnel needs are different for the 3-4 and the 4-3.

In the 3-4, three positions require a lot of girth: the nose tackle and the two defensive ends. Ideally, your team lands a huge, mobile "two-gap" nose tackle like Bama's Terrence Cody. The two-gap tag means that your nose tackle can occupy two gaps ... the space between offensive linemen. Cody could occupy the gaps on either side of the center, forcing offenses to allot two men to block him.

If you cannot find a two-gap guy, then your team might have to rely on a smaller (relatively speaking) one-gap nose tackle. Using this style, the nose would shoot gaps and try to penetrate into the opposing backfield on nearly every snap. New Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham does a great job explaining how undersized Jay Ratliff of the Dallas Cowboys makes all-pro as a one-gap nose tackle.

The defensive ends also need to be jumbo sized in the 3-4. Most of the pass rush in this alignment will come from blitzing outside linebackers, so you want your team to have ends in the 3-4 that can clog up the opposing run game. By the way - for the old-timers and traditionalists out there (including me) - to us, the modern "end" in a 3-4 is what we'd call a tackle in "50" terminology.

On to the 4-3. Your team better be able to recruit even more size up front.

Your squad will have two huge tackles lined up inside, and two more large (and agile) defensive ends that must be able to rush the passer and fend off run blockers. My beloved Fighting Irish have had much trouble recruiting defensive linemen for many years ... moving to a 3-4 puts less a premium on recruiting these highly coveted athletes because you only need three instead of four.

While I actually prefer the 4-3 alignment (and almost all coaches who can get the athletes to run it would use it), the 3-4 is probably more unpredictable.

One of the two outside linebackers is going to be rushing the passer on virtually every play - so in both schemes you have a minimum of four pass rushers. The difference is that in the 3-4, offenses cannot be sure which OLB will be charging the quarterback.

So ... What Does Your Team Need?

When your team inks its new recruiting class next Wednesday, you should really be able to analyze the defensive front haul based on your team's needs (rather than your wants). Those needs are based on the alignments we just addressed.

Here are some points of analysis to measure whether your school had a successful recruiting season:

In the 3-4 ...

Did you seek one-gap or two-gap nose tackles? If you land a big guy or two (300+ lbs. or so) you might have the coveted two-gapper. If your nose guys are all in the 280-300 lb. range, expect your defensive coordinator to be shooting the gaps.

Did you land at least two more big defensive linemen to fill the run-stopping requirements of those defensive end positions?

Look closely at players labeled linebackers. Did you get at least two or three rather tall (6'4 to 6'6), rangy athletes quick enough to rush the passer, strong enough to take on run-blockers, and agile enough to drop into pass coverage? If so, those are your outside linebackers.

In the 4-3 ...

Where's the beef?

Your squad better stock up on plenty of big bodies. Depending on your returning roster, every recruiting class usually needs at least two big monsters (300+ lbs. - height is not paramount) to man the tackle positions, and probably four big athletes (at least 6'2 and between 260-280 lb. range) to handle the tough defensive end slots.

Did you sign good size and numbers at linebacker and in the secondary?

Doing so fills two needs. Obviously, you need three LBs and four defensive backs on the field in your base defense. So, numbers are important.

The other benefit is that these guys often grow into another position. Miami in the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s made a living by turning secondary recruits into smallish, fast linebackers (think Ray Lewis and Jonathan Vilma), and linebacker recruits into smallish, fast defensive linemen (think Cortez Kennedy and Warren Sapp).

You Just Might Find

College football fans celebrate National Signing Day next week as one contest when there are no losers. Every team will sign a whole bunch of good players.

Some of you will be disappointed because your team didn't get everything you wanted.

But, if you try real hard (and analyze), you just might find ... you get what you need. Oh yeah.

See you at kickoff!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

College Football Warm Fire League

The Warm Fire League

Welcome back to
The Campus Game and our first 2010 college football "Warm Fire League" discussion.

Sports fans recognize the warm fire term as a takeoff on the old baseball tradition of "hot stove" leagues. Not official leagues, the phrase simply refers to fans gathering around a hot stove during the cold winter to talk about their favorite teams, seasons past, and upcoming pennant races.

In the spirit of the hot stoves, The Campus Game gives you college football's warm fire league. Strike the kindling, grab a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage, and settle back in your most comfortable chair. Let the warm fire discussions begin.

The Tide Rolls Again in 10?

Alabama to start the 2010 season as an overwhelming choice to repeat as national champions - much like Florida the season just past.

Bama returns most of the offensive weapons that carried the program to its first title since 1992, including tailback/Heisman winner Mark Ingram and his talented backup Trent Richardson, savvy and unbeaten starting quarterback Greg McElroy, talented future NFL receiver Julio Jones, and most of the offensive line.

The other side of the ball is not so pretty. The Tide loses nearly its entire defensive front seven, including stalwart LB Rolando McClain and huge nose tackle Terrence Cody. The loss of starting cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas damages the secondary.

Finally, do not underestimate the loss of PK Leigh Tiffin, who grew into one of the country's best during his four years.

Still, any team that has recruited like Alabama the past three seasons ... and that has the driven Nick Saban on the sideline ... will be a force.

Who Can Stem the Tide?

Many of the usual suspects should be in the hunt in 2010.

Ohio State seems likely to start the season at #2. The Buckeyes beat a good Oregon team in the Rose Bowl, recruit as well as anyone outside USC, Texas, and the SEC teams, and have a multi-threat quarterback in big Terrelle Pryor. The schedule is also conducive to a title run with one tough, high-profile non-conference team (Miami) visiting the Horseshoe on September 11th. In conference, a Nov. 20 trip to Iowa should determine the Big Ten crown.

Virginia Tech looked good in the Chick-fil-Bowl, returns a terrific offensive tandem in QB Tyrod Taylor and RB Ryan Williams, and the Hokies always play solid defense and special teams. Frank Beamer's boys also have a nice inter-sectional matchup with Boise State at Fed Ex Field in D.C. on October 2nd.

Broncos will get a lot of early publicity too. They lose only one starter (and just four seniors total) from a team that's 25-1 the past two seasons. BSU should be riding an 18-game winning streak when they play the Hokies. Couple that game with another non-conference contest against Oregon State of the PAC-10 and Boise could be poised to play for a title.

Iowa Hawkeyes are potentially another challenger from Big Ten country. Iowa beat Georgia Tech pretty handily in the Orange Bowl, their defense returns nearly intact, and QB Ricky Stanzi is a heady player.

Others that could be in the mix are Texas (freshman Garrett Gilbert showed toughness in the BCS title game), Oregon (the Ducks return all eleven starters from their explosive offense), and Oklahoma (the Sooners took their licks last year but may grow up in 2010).

What about the SEC?

Of course, the biggest challengers to Alabama may well come from the
Southeastern Conference.

SEC teams have won the past four national titles, and next year may be no different - even if Bama doesn't go back-to-back.

The West division will be absolutely brutal.

Arkansas may pose the biggest threat to the Tide. Bobby Petrino can X and O with anybody, the Hogs return big Ryan Mallett at QB, and Bama must travel to Fayetteville.

Auburn is having a great recruiting run after winning a thrilling Outback Bowl over Northwestern. The Tigers played the Tide tougher than anyone in 2009.

LSU features a deep, talented roster, but must get some consistency on offense to be a real contender.

Ole Miss comes off a second consecutive Cotton Bowl victory, and Houston Nutt has stockpiled a nice roster of talent. Losing QB Jevan Snead to the NFL hurts.

Mississippi State showed toughness in Dan Mullen's first season, and the Bullies should continue to get better.

In the East,
Florida faces the uncertainty of having a head coach in limbo and the loss of the greatest Gator ever - Tim Tebow. Still, UF has to be the favorite in a division that otherwise should be wide open.

Georgia has exceptional young offensive play-makers, but the Dogs are hampered by having absolutely no experience at quarterback.

South Carolina returns a lot of starters, but did not show up in the bowl game. A perennial tease, the toughness of the Gamecocks has to be questioned.

Tennessee is still reeling from the ugly departure of coach Lane Kiffin. I like Derek Dooley, but he has his work cut out next season.

Vanderbilt and Kentucky don't figure to win the division, although the Wildcats have run off four consecutive bowl seasons.

Until Next Time

OK- that should be enough fat to chew.

One commercial announcement ... I'll again write the Southeastern Conference preview for
The Kickoff preseason magazine. Last year was the first time the venerable Chattanooga-based publication published a preseason annual, and it turned out nicely. Look for it on newstands in early summer or click on the publication link above to make an order.

Well, the last embers are flickering, so we better throw another log on that warm fire.

Until next time - see you at kickoff!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dooley's Vols?

As the Tennessee football program staggers from the sudden and untimely departure of Lane Kiffin ... as coach after coach seems to turn down Volunteer overtures ... as the UT fan base frets over a wrecked recruiting class ... here is some unsolicited advice.

Hire Derek Dooley.

Welcome back to The Campus Game and let me start by saying I do have a dog in this fight. Actually two or three.

As a teacher and coach fresh out of the University of Georgia, I worked at Clarke Central High School in Athens for a few years. There we had a young, undersized tight end with a pretty famous dad that worked a mile or two down the road.

While I never coached Dooley's position and did not know him too well, he was a consumate student and player on a championship high school program. Smart but not overbearing. Confident but not cocky. Respectful but not obsequious.

Dooley went to the University of Virginia, played under George Welsh, and later earned a law degree. Once the coaching bug bit, he eventually hooked up with Nick Saban at LSU and then the Miami Dolphins.

At Louisiana Tech the past few years, Dooley has been the only D-I head football coach also serving as Athletic Director (at least to my knowledge).

Young, telegenic, and personable, Dooley fits the mold of a rising young head coach ... much like Lane Kiffin without all the arrogance and baggage.

The Vols should snag him now.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Making Me Dizzy

You're making me dizzy ... my head is spinning!
Tommy Roe - Dizzy

That old tune from Atlantan Tommy Roe tells of a boy getting dizzy after being kissed by a pretty girl ... no confirmation on whether the young lady was one of Lane Kiffin's Orange Pride escorts.

Welcome back to The Campus Game where the annual college football coaching carousel is making me dizzy.

Lil Lane

"Lil Lane" Kiffin (as he's known at The Campus Game) bolted the mountains of east Tennessee for the hills of Hollywood yesterday leaving a greasy trail across Rocky Top that will take a while to scrub clean.

I can understand why Lil Lane would take the job.

He'll probably make quite a bit more money. The PAC-10 should be much easier to conquer than the ascendant SEC. He's a West Coast guy and his silly "street cred" ploys play much more easily on Sunset Strip than Cumberland Strip.

Yes, he's a shady guy with little to no scruples (kind of like Bobby Petrino only without the brains), and he's leaving the Volunteers in a recruiting lurch ... but I can understand why Lil Lane took the Trojan job.

I cannot understand why USC offered him the job.

On the field, the best one can say is that the jury is still out on Lil Lane (but it's getting mighty close to a verdict). He was part of the golden age of Trojan football under Pete Carroll, but by most accounts played only a modest role at best. He had a disastrous stint as head coach of the Oakland Raiders (when Al Davis comes out of a spat looking better than you - well that's ugly). He produced one mediocre 7-6 season in Knoxville, winning a single game of note (over a down Georgia team). He got taken to the cleaners in the Chick-fil-A bowl.

Off the field, Kiffin was far worse.

He cheated.

At least six NCAA infractions were reported by the Vols in Lil Lane's fourteen month tenure ("compliance" to the Vol Athletic Department apparently meant taking bullets for boy blunder ... bullets and Lane Kiffin football players is not such a stretch either).

He lied.

Lil Lane claimed Urban Meyer broke rules - false. He spewed nonsense that all his missteps were part of some grand design to keep Tennessee football in the limelight - false. Spend ten minutes listening to him at a press conference and you know Kiffin's IQ would not allow him such scheming. Simply put, he's not real bright. After being a college professor for sixteen years, it's kind of easy to spot a C-minus student trying to charm and bluff his way through a course - that's Lil Lane, only he's bullshooting his way through a lucrative career.

He embarrassed.

Kiffin demeaned a proud program, many of his conference coaching brethren, and the citizens of at least two states (South Carolina and Florida). He recruited thugs and did not care. That whole business of using female undergraduate students in the recruting process is not unheard of certainly, but Lil Lane took it to sleazy new lows. Do you doubt Lil Lane would have run a brothel if he could have gotten away with it and landed one more five-star recruit (or that ham-handed UT AD Mike Hamilton may just have let him do so based on how he coddled Lil Lane)?

The putdowns of fellow coaches, of teenagers who would not commit to Tennessee even under the pressure of post-midnight phone calls, of high school administrators ... the playing of lewd, loud music on the practice field when children were present, the shirtless screaming coaches ... the insufferable sounds of chief recruiter Ed Orgeron (a somewhat endearing personality, but as much an envelope pushing, rule-bending recruiter as will be found on a college sideline) overheard on speaker phone enticing Tennessee's committed freshmen recruits to follow the bad boys to So Cal at the same time Lil Lane was holding his team meeting ... what a bunch of clowns.

I can understand why Lil Lane took the job.

I cannot understand why USC hired him.

A New Day ... A New Type Athlete

The coaching carousel starts spinning crazily near the end of most every college football season, but the end of 2009 and start of 2010 may set a record for zaniness.

The strange cases of Mark Mangino, Mike Leach, and Jim Leavitt all point to a new standard for coaches in treatment of athletes.

Mangino made Kansas relevant on the gridiron for the first time since Bobby Douglass was running over and around people, even taking the Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl.

Still, his chastising, sarcastic, and mildly physical style gave his administration enough ammunition (and or reason) to show him the door in Lawrence.

Mike Leach was an even stranger case.

Leach acted foolishly with his treatment of injured receiver Adam James. A coach-to-player verbal dress down is nearly an every day occurrence in many programs even at the high school level. A coach questioning a player's injury or desire, while less common, is certainly not unusual.

However, ordering a player confined to a dark equipment shed or electrical closet for a couple of hours crosses a line from cantankerous coach to belligerent bully.

We always knew Leach was quirky or weird; the Lubbock Lockdown showed us he can be an idiot.

Still, Leach's treatment of Adam James did not get him fired. The act simply provided the school an excuse to get rid of him.

Leach is a straight shooter, so when he says
"animosity remaining from last year's contract negotiations" is mainly to blame for his firing, he hits the nail on the head. I'd say that animosity (and saving a whole bunch of money) is about 90% of the reason he was fired.

The Jim Leavitt case at South Florida also reeked of old-style coaching methods costing a coach his job.

South Florida's investigation found credible evidence that Leavitt grabbed a player by the throat and quickly slapped him twice (angrily but not viciously). While Leavitt denied the charges, the report (available at various sites online) provides plenty enough corroboration to make the scenario plausible.

As a former high school and college coach, I have seen plenty of instances that in the past might have been ignored or even snickered at ... but in this new day would get a coach fired.

Coming Soon

Writing for Gameday Weekly several years ago, I coined the phrase "The Warm Fire League" ... a takeoff on baseball's Hot Stove League. Check back soon for Warm Fire League topics from The Campus Game.

See you at kickoff!