Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ag Football Preview: Northwestern Football History

When it was announced that we were selected by the Mineke Car Care Bowl I was glad only because it is in Houston and it would be the easiest bowl game to ever navigate since I live in Houston.

After playing some big premier opponents in our last few bowl games (LSU, Georgia, Penn State, Cal, Tennessee) I was disappointed to find out that our opponent was Northwestern. I was really hoping that we would land a down Ohio State who finished tied with Northwestern in the Big 10 this season - but their traveling passionate fanbase got them snatched up by the Gator Bowl who matched them up against Florida (pitting newly hired tOSU HC, Urban Meyer's new and old teams against each other).

While the Wildcats are not the sexiest opponent, they are our opponent and I like to take the time to to learn about the history of our bowl opponents as the actual team prepares for them.

Quick hitters:
  • Only private school in the B1G
  • <8,000 students
  • Traditions include a wildcat "growl" over the PA System and hitting a 2x4 with "Trust" written on it
  • They wear purple
  • Ross from Friends and Elaine from Seinfeld both went to school there
  • Pretty much a horrible football history
The Wildcats were horrific until 1995 when they went 10-1 in the regular season under HC Gary Barnett, winning the Big 10 title and earning a trip to the Rose Bowl. It was their first winning season since 1971.

They followed up that season in '96 with a 9-3 campaign but fell off once Barnett left for Colorado.

Current Head coach Pat Fitzgerald was a consensus All-American linebacker for the Wildcats in both 1995 & 1996 - he also brought home both the Bednarik Award & Nagurski Trophy in both seasons. He took over as head coach in '06 and has brought the longest stretch of success the program has seen with bowl games in each of the last 4 seasons....remember they had only 6 bowl appearances from 1876-2006.

That's really it. I did some digging and that was all I could come up with. The moral of the story....go better than 6-6 and make a real bowl game against a legit football school.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Who is Next?

Well, a result of making some money at work was that I didn't get a chance to dive into the potential head coaches. Last Saturday the Ags officially named Kevin Sumlin the new head coach.

Sumlin was the first name that surfaced when Sherman was fired but a lot went on over the 9 day stretch but he was certainly not the only one. In my last post I mentioned three other initial candidates, Charlie Strong, Larry Fedora, & Kirby Smart.

Louisville put up a huge roadblock in terms of allowing Strong to interview and it came out that he had a $1m+ buyout in his contract. Fedora's name was hot and he was offered and accepted the North Carolina job mid-week. Smart - I'm not sure what happened there but from everything I was reading he seemed to be the least likely to get tabbed.

One of the reasons that this process drug out as long as it did was because Bill Byrne went after a couple of big fish. Early on, Mark Richt of Georgia was rumored to be interested but I don't know if any sort of official discussions took place. Byrne also interviewed Gary Patterson of TCU but I don't think we wanted to push for him as hard as we would have needed to to get him - he has a pretty cush setup right now at TCU.

Chris Peterson of Boise State was Byrne's wild card. Peterson has been rumored for every big job that has become available in the last 4 years but has never budged. There was apparently some interest with our job but we couldn't get the crazy money together that would have been needed to make it work.

Regardless of who was interviewed, Coach Sumlin is our new man.

This is his second go-round in College Station after serving under R.C. as the WR/TE coach in '01 and then mid-season '02 he was promoted to offensive coordinator and rose along with Reggie.

When R.C. was fired Sumlin moved on to Norman where he stayed from '03-'07, acting as the co-offensive coordinator in his final two seasons there. He was supposedly Coach Sherman's top candidate for OC when Sherman took the job in '08 but was offered the HC gig at Houston and couldn't pass that up for a coordinator position.
2008: 8-5
2009: 10-4
2010: 5-7
2011: 12-1*
At UH, Sumlin built on what Art Briles had started prior to taking off for Baylor. In his second season you might recall in 2009 his Cougs knocking off #5 ranked oSu in Stillwater and the following week knocking off Leach's texas tech squad in Houston putting them in the AP rankings for the first time since the old SWC days in the early-90s.

In 2010, after starting out 2-0, Sumlin lost his both his starting QB, Case Keenum and backup Cotton Turner in their third game of the season and played out the rest of the season with their third string QB. That's a might tough blow to take, having to play with your third string QB for the final 9 games.

In 2011 with Keenum back at the helm the Cougars ran the table going 12-0 with a BCS bid guaranteed before completely crumbling in the C-USA Championship game to Southern home. Had the Cougars won that game I think there would be very little grumbling from A&M fans but everyone and their brother watched this game knowing that there was a strong chance he would be taking over our program and we all saw a mirror of what happened to us all season and it took the gloss off the Sumlin bandwagon.

Of course it is ridiculous for one game to make or break your opinion but what it did was put a chink in the armor and made fans take a step back and reassess all the potential candidates.

There are detractors who have questioned a few things, all of which I feel are legitimate:
  • He didn't win a CUSA championship in his 4 years at UH
  • Can he recruit? He won a lot with Keenum - but Keenum was a holdover from Briles. Seeing it being done at Purdue, A&M, and OU is one thing but overseeing it is another
  • How does he address the glaring need for a stout defense in the SEC?
I'm not worried about him from an offensive standpoint at all. He put up huge numbers at UH running a fast paced spread offense and he put up huge numbers at OU running a more traditional pro-style offense. My biggest deal was that I wanted a defensive minded head coach - that's the biggest knock against him I have.

UH's National Rankings:
PRE-Sumlin WITH Sumlin
'06 '07 '08 '09 '10 '11
------- ---------------
Tot O 7 4 2 1 11 1
Sco O 10 23 10 T1 13 1

'06 '07 '08 '09 '10 '11
------- ---------------
Tot D 72 46 100 111 103 64
Sco D 64 74 91 95 96 41

His defensive coordinator hire is going to have to be a big success for me to get completely on board. The other problem there is that he is not only going to have to hire a defensive coordinator who can succeed but he's going to have to keep him or be able to replace him with someone equal or better - because good DCs leave and become HCs elsewhere.

Along that front, current DC, Tim DeRuyter, just took the HC job at Fresno State and it looks like the rest of our defensive staff will be departing as well (Toth & Dat are both rumored to be joining DeRuyter in Cali). The one mainstay we have to keep will be DL coach Terrell Williams, who is knocking it out of the park on the recruiting trail.

Overall, I'm luke warm on this whole ordeal. I don't like that we're going into a new conference with a new head coach and a new QB and I'm not thrilled that we hired an offensive guy and I really thought that if we were going to fire Sherman right now it was because we were going to go out and make a big splash with a big name, proven guy.

I've heard Sumlin on the radio quite a bit here in Houston and I do really like him - but I'm still not sure if this is a step up or just a step onto a new staircase. I guess we'll have to see how all his coordinator hires goes before I can decide if this is a better situation than what we had.

As they say, only time will tell.

Welcome to Aggieland Coach Sumlin!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The End of an Era....Again.

What a incredibly crazy 10 days. I'm emotionally wiped out - from the craziest 45 days of work I've ever gone through & then the craziness that is the life of an Aggie football fan.

We'll start with the texas game on Thanksgiving.....

I make it a point to keep myself fairly grounded leading up to games. That might be a little bit of a stretch considering I'm probably clinically diagnosable as a fanatic - but as a result of the years and years of disappointment I have managed to temper my emotions prior to a game in order to lessen the blow afterwards.

This game, however, I let it all out. I don't think I had ever wanted to win a game as badly as this one - I was so amped up I was dreaming about Aggie football the two nights leading up to the game.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving meal at our home that Jennifer labored over and following that we made the drive up to College Station for the game. My father had found a ticket on Stubhub that was actually the same row/section as our season tickets - and he bought it way, way back before the prices jumped over $200/seat.

We got into the stadium and made our way up, up, up, up to our seats and settled in for the ballgame.

The Ags came out swinging and we took a 13-0 lead early in the 2nd quarter before we started our frustratingly familiar unraveling. Five of our six losses included blown double digit leads.

(I've got to figure out where to get that jacket)

Ben Molena had a nice ballgame, particularly in the first half....he had this because Cyrus Gray did not play. Turns out he fractured his collarbone and didn't suit up. What I really don't get is the fact that Will Randolph's redshirt was burnt last week against KU when Cyrus came out but he didn't get a single snap against texas? Why on earth would you burn a RS in a second half blowout against the worst team in the conference?

In the second half, the horn's defense stepped up and we didn't adjust. DC Manny Diaz out chess-matched Sherman - big time.

Their DL and LBers are stout and really killed our running game. They also forced us into giving up insane field position....Tannehill threw a Pick-6 (he also had at least 4 other balls tipped at the LOS), Dustin Harris muffed a punt and then didn't dive after the ball and texas recovered and scored one play later on (on a stupid double pass trick play), 81 yard punt return.....same story different day.

We were down 24-16 in the 4th quarter before a Randy Bullock FG brought us within 8 (btw, Bullock had an incredible night hitting 4-of-4 FGs including a 49 yarder and a 51 yarder). The defense forced a 3-and-out and we took over at our own 32 yard line with 4:20 remaining on the clock.

Tannehill hit Fuller down the sideline for a big 29 yard gain and two plays later Molena picked up 9 yards on a hard run. Tannehill couldn't connect on his next two attempts and then on a 3rd-and-10 he scrambled and just barely picked up 10 yards for the new set of downs. At this point we're at texas's 11 yard line. The next snap Tannehill hit Fuller on a little underneath route and Fuller made an incredible play to get to the goal line and spun as he was hit just enough to get the tip of the ball to cross the goal line.

At this point I was high fiving and hugging everyone I could. I can't remember a single moment in any game that I celebrated as jubilantly as I did for this one.

Throughout the game we used Jeff Fuller like Jeff Fuller is supposed to be used. All season he has just been running these little 10-15 yard comeback routes but we finally let him get downfield - he had his best game of the season with 107 yards on 7 receptions and what was, for 1:48, the biggest TD of the season.

We had a 25-24 lead so we went for the 2-point conversion but the play never had a chance - we tried to roll Tannehill to the short side of the field and then force a pass between the sideline and 5 players.

The horns returned the KO to their own 30 and then backed up 5 yards on an illegal formation penalty. The next "play" changed the outcome of the game.

McCoy threw errantly down the right sideline and Trent Hunter closed in on the WR and pulled up at hte last second to avoid blowing him up without having the ball - but he did still graze him.

The guy second from the left was the official who threw the flag. Personal Foul - Unnecessary Roughness. The graze was so slight that the WR didn't even stumble, let alone fall down.
"He laid off - that's not a good call" - Jesse Palmer - ESPN Analyst

"The officials are not supposed to be a significant part of a football game" - Craig James - ESPN Analyst
That took texas from a 2nd & 15 on their 24 yard line to a 1st & 10 on their 39 yard line. It was at that point I realized that they were going to win the game and I was almost sick right there at the top of the stadium.

McCoy completed three consecutive short passes and then somehow scrambed for 25 yards putting the horns at our 23 yard line. It was like dying a slow death.

Our defense played an incredible ball game - the only three miscues were the Shipley TD pass, a meaningless prayer floater that McCoy threw blindly into the air that Shipley caught and ran on, and the McCoy run on the last drive. That was literally it.

I couldn't even watch the FG unit take the field. The final score was 27-25.

I've suffered through some horrific losses over the last 10 years but never did a loss cut so deeply as this one. I was sick about it until Sunday. Not just aw-shucks but knot-in-my-stomache sick.

texas outscored us 17-0 in the third quarter. That is the most pathetic thing about this entire season. We have been horrific in the 3rd quarter. In our 6 losses we were outscored 76-7 in the third quarter. SEVENTY-SIX to SEVEN.

Outside of the OU game, Missouri beat us by the largest margin....of 7 points. That is why this season was so miserable. We were in control in every game and we literally gave them away.

Sherman's Fair-well Press Conference

A full week later, December 1st to be exact, I got a text message from my Father-in-law that read: "Sherman was fired"

Holy cow.

I'm still not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I'm glad that the Athletic Department has decided it is not going to settle for losing 4 of our last 5 games and finishing with a 6-6 record after a pre-season Top 10 ranking but there are lots of other things that you have to ask about.

I don't have a problem with Sherman being ousted but I'm really surprised that they did it when they did - going into a new conference. We're going to have a new conference, a new head coach, and a new QB....and, oh by the way, three of our new division rivals are sitting at #1, #2, & #6 in the BCS rankings with LSU playing Alabama for the national championship.

I really like Coach Sherman - he is everything you would hope for in a coach in terms of honestly, intergrity, character, etc. He "got" A&M which is something his predecessor certainly did not. Even after he was told of the decision he still called up one of our top recruits (QB Matt Davis of Cy-Falls) and told him to stick with A&M. He is the definition of class.

I also felt like he was building a program. We were in complete shambles when he took over and I felt like he built a very solid foundation. He wasn't hated like Fran was - when he comes back to campus he will be greeted warmly.

The problem lies in the fact that he was very stubborn to make changes. He took over the play calling duties after Coach Cromwell left for the NFL following the '09 season and I don't think he could handle running the offense AND running the team. He also struggled, this season in particular, to make any adjustments - or at least to out coach our opponents after they made adjustments.

The other downfall was, what I believe, is an inability to motivate college aged kids. I don't think he grasped how fragile the confidence of these players is compared to NFL players. Momentum swings are ENORMOUS in the college game - big plays win or lose games. Kids can't come back from some devestating special teams play. Maybe he did grasp it - but it was something that was never corrected. When the yarn started to unravel the sweater came apart.

It has been reported that Sherman was fired over the phone. That is an embarrassment. You don't fire someone over the phone - you call them in like a man and do it in person.

I am worried about this recruiting class sticking together - this is one of the best classes we've had over the last 10 years. I'd like to see whoever takes over get here quickly as to try and save as many commits as possible.

That leads right into the next question....who is next?

Going into this past weekend it was generally assumed by almost everyone that spoke about it that Kevin Sumlin was going to take U. Houston to a BCS bowl and then jump up to College Station.

It is amazing what one football game does to perception. Sumlin's 6th ranked Coogs got slaughtered in the C-USA Championship (at home) by Southern Miss. They went from the Sugar Bowl to the second-tier C-USA bowl.

The victor in that game might have gained the most....Larry Fedora is the HC at Southern Miss and his name has become fire-hot on message boards. He's a College Station native who has risen from the Texas HS coaching ranks to creating a Top 20 program at So. Miss.

The other two most buzzed names are Charlie Strong and Kirby Smart. Strong is the head coach at Louisville, a position he took following two national championships as Urban Meyer's DC at Florida. Smart is the current DC at Alabama under Nick Saban.

As of right now, I'm leaning towards being in the Strong camp but over the next couple of days I'm going to try to dive into a little more depth and find out more about all the candidates.

Finally, it was announced today that we will be playing here in Houston for our bowl game in the Mineke Car Care Bowl of Texas (formerly the Texas Bowl) against Big 10 opponent, Northwestern. I was hoping for a bowl here in the state of Texas so I could go but Northwestern is about the most unexciting opponent we could have pulled. Bleh.

The game is at 11am on New Year's Eve at Reliant Stadium.