Sports Outside the Beltway

Upset Saturday in College Football

It was a bizarre weekend in college football, with eight ranked teams losing to teams ranked below them — seven to teams not ranked at all.

    #3 Oklahoma lost to unranked Colorado, 24-27.
    #4 Florida lost to unranked Auburn, 17-20.
    #5 West Virginia lost to #18 South Florida, 13-21 (Thursday night).
    #7 Texas lost to unranked Kansas State, 21-41
    #10 Rutgers lost to unranked Maryland, 24-34
    #13 Clemson lost to unranked Georgia Tech, 3-13
    #21 Penn State lost to unranked Illinois, 20-27
    #22 Alabama lost to unranked Florida State, 14- 21

This was on top of several other close finishes.

ESPN’s Pat Forde dubs it “Insanity Saturday” and observes that this throws the whole season out of whack.

Just that fast, the college football landscape shifted seismically beneath our feet.

Just that fast, the Red River Shootout game Saturday between Oklahoma and Texas was dropped to undercard status. For the first time in years, it’s not the marquee game in the Big 12. And for the first time in years, the league’s maligned North looks more compelling than the South. If you can believe it, the biggest game in that league next week might be unbeaten Kansas at 3-1 Kansas State — either that or 4-1 Nebraska at unbeaten Missouri.

Just that fast, the upcoming LSU-Florida showdown Saturday in Baton Rouge lost half its helium when the Gators were shocked in The Swamp by an Auburn team that had lost at home to South Florida and Mississippi State on consecutive weekends.

Just that fast, the three Big East teams that began the season in the Top 25 all have at least one loss. Louisville went down first, then West Virginia, now Rutgers. Suddenly South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati are the unbeaten teams in the Big East. Honk if you foresaw that in August.

Just that fast, Illinois is 4-1 and tied for first in the Big Ten at 2-0. That’s the same Illinois that went 2-10 last year, with only one victory over I-A competition.

Just that fast, we have an ACC plot twist that leaves Virginia and Boston College well out in front in their respective divisions at 3-0 in league play. Virginia was left for dead after a Week 1 blowout loss to Wyoming. Boston College was picked last in its division by at least one preseason magazine.

And just that fast, USC and LSU put that much more distance between themselves and what’s left of the pack.

The object lesson here is that no favorite is safe. Not at home, not on the road, not in league play, not out of league play. If those lessons hadn’t already been learned by Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32, and Syracuse 38, Louisville 35, they were reinforced on Insanity Saturday.

And no lead is safe. You’d think the Sooners getting up 24-7 would be enough to make Colorado quit. You’d be wrong. The Buffaloes scored the final 20 points, winning on the last play of the game — a 45-yard field goal by Kevin Eberhart.


Underdogs aren’t scared right now, by much of anyone. Players and coaches are shrugging off past history, blowing off bad losses, not worrying about falling behind and regrouping to pull upsets nobody saw coming. Nobody’s rolling over.

I’ve seen this sort of thing in college basketball before but never to this extent in football. The bottom line, though, is that Notre Dame and Alabama and Michigan no longer have an automatic recruiting advantage over South Florida and West Virginia and Georgia Tech. There’s a wealth of talent out there and plenty of television exposure to be had in the realigned conference structure. Players would rather go to a program with less prestige and start than sit on the bench and one of the Big Boys.


NFL Draft 2007 – Round 1 #29 – Baltimore Ravens – OG Ben Grubbs

The Baltimore Ravens needed very little time to grab Auburn offensive guard Ben Grubbs with the 29th pick.

What the Experts Say: Profile:

Player Evaluation: A natural blocker on the inside who has shown consistent improvement the past three seasons, Grubbs is a perfect fit in a zone blocking scheme. Will only get better as he physically matures, which could help him eventually develop into a starter at the next level.

STRENGTHS: Flexibility, Quickness Off Ball

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT Drive Blocking Skills, Power And Strength

Biography: Three-year starter awarded All-Conference honors as a senior. Began his college career playing on the defensive line and at tight end.

Pos: Athletic blocker who displays a lot of skill in motion. Quick off the snap, fluid pulling across the line of scrimmage and immediately gets out to the second level, removing linebackers from the action. Jolts opponents with good hand punch, plays with a large degree of explosion and works hard throughout the action. Can adjust to pick up blitzes or when blocking on the move.

Neg: Not a dominant blocker who gets much movement at the point. Lacks top fundamentals, which hampers his ability to finish blocks.


The Ravens may have taken Staley is he stayed on the board but don’t feel too bad for them. Grubbs is the best available guard and he is a great fit for the offense. Though Grubbs needs to work on his hand placement and footwork, it should come as little surprise considering his history. He lined up at defensive tackle during his true freshman season and moved to tight end the next year before moving to guard. His progress thus far should make the Ravens optimistic about progression and he’s already capable of moving into the starting line up. Grubbs is a powerful drive blocker who can open up holes in short-yardage situations and is always looking to put defenders on their backs. Baltimore should also be confident about his ability to hold up in pass protection because he has excellent quickness.


Wonderlic Results Season

Half the fun of the NFL Draft is when the player’s Wonderlic scores get leaked out to the media because you get gems like this.

David Irons, he of the undying Irons brothers and their genre-defining interview, may want to bring his own shoes to the NFL Draft. More specifically, the ones labeled ‘L’ and ‘R’ that denote which foot to put them on.

Irons tied with Weber State safety Bo Reed for the lowest score on this year’s Wonderlic: a four.

Here’s the Wonderlic sample test for you to flex your mental power.


Tide King in Alabama Despite Auburn’s Recent Success

Paul Finebaum explains that he got a lot of hate mail from Auburn fans after a recent column saying that Nick Saban’s hiring at put Alabama ahead of their cross-state rival in national attention again.

It isn’t so much the hiring of Saban that has some Auburn fans sniveling, but the resiliency of the Alabama Nation. How many times has this Alabama program been knocked down to the canvas since the death of Paul Bryant but somehow, some way, been able to get up, bloody, beaten and battered, to live to see another day? Even to someone from another state and who attended a rival school, it is an extraordinary thing to witness.


Bill Curry, after three straight losses to Auburn, tucks his tail in early 1990 for Kentucky, replaced by a popular but underwhelming choice in Gene Stallings. He loses his first three games. Yet he wins a national championship in 1992 and runs off a streak of 28 games without a loss. In 1995, the Tide program is humiliated with its first NCAA probation, but the next year Stallings wins 10 games and retires with a 5-2 mark against Auburn. Mike DuBose enters, gets caught up in a secretary scandal three years later, is nearly fired, loses to Louisiana Tech (and is days from being fired), and follows up with an overtime win over Florida and then beats the Gators for the SEC title. He goes from preseason No. 3 in the nation to 3-8 in 2000 and is gone. The Albert Means story explodes and Alabama is staring down the barrel of a gun from the NCAA, which is threatening the death penalty. Dennis Franchione has a cup of coffee and bolts; Mike Price, his replacement, goes down in flames (before ever coaching a game); and Mike Shula, who seemingly throws up all over himself for two years, wins 10 games and finishes No. 8 in the nation ahead of Auburn, which should have played for the national championship the year before.

This season, of course, Alabama loses to Mississippi State and nearly everyone else, and gets left at the altar by Rich Rodriguez (and nearly everyone else) in the aftermath of Shula’s bungled firing. The entire college football world, led by Auburn fans, are dancing on Alabama’s grave and guess what? The Tide lands Saban — one the most feared college coaches in recent history.

Yes, I can feel the pain of the Auburn Nation. I can understand its frustration. It’s like, “Dude, what else do we have to do?”

Finebaum’s right.

I’m an Alabama alum, so I’m a little biased on this one. Still, I was 14 when I moved to the state and have no animosity toward Auburn; indeed, I wish them well on days they’re not playing ‘Bama.

The bottom line is that, though Auburn’s has almost certainly been the premier football program in the state over the last decade or so, Alabama has a legacy that they will never be able to match. Alabama is The Capstone; Auburn is the ag college. (No matter that Auburn’s academic programs are often more highly ranked nationally.) Alabama has won 12 national football championships; Auburn has only one (although they might have won a couple more had they not been on probation in their undefeated 1993 season and screwed by the BCS system in 2004). The Tide has far more fans statewide and it’s not even close nationally.

These things put Auburn at a substantial competitive disadvantage. It’s really quite amazing that Tommy Tuberville has made them regular championship contenders and beaten the Tide five straight years. That should change now, though, with Bama off probation and with a first rate coach.


SEC Too Good For Ohio State?

AP sportswriter Ben Walker penned this lede to his piece on last night’s BCS Championship game in which the Florida Gators whooped the Ohio State Buckeyes:

Turns out Florida was too good to be on the same field as Ohio State, and that Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith and the Buckeyes were the ones who weren’t worthy after all.

Coach Urban Meyer’s once-beaten Gators dominated the undefeated No. 1 Buckeyes and streaked to college football’s national championship, 41-14 on Monday night.

“Honestly, we’ve played a lot better teams than them,” Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss said. “I could name four or five teams in the SEC that could probably compete with them and play the same type of game we did against them.”

Honestly, I think that’s right. That’s why the simple counting of wins and losses is a silly way to pick national title contenders in Division I. The idea that Boise State, which played a schedule filled with teams that probably couldn’t beat Florida’s high school championship team, is better than teams with even three or four losses in the SEC or ACC, is a joke. LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Arkansas, and Tennessee probably all could have beaten Ohio State last night.

Of course, that’s why we need a playoff system rather than a beauty contest.


Alabama Fires Mike Shula

As expected, Mike Shula has been fired as head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.

Mike Shula Photo Fired as Alabama Head Coach Alabama has fired coach Mike Shula, whose Tide struggled to a 6-6 regular season finish in his fourth year but enjoyed a 10-2 record the season before, a newspaper reported.

Shula told his assistant coaches late Sunday night that Alabama athletic director Mal Moore had dismissed him, The Tuscaloosa News reported on its Web site. Reached at home, Moore declined comment. The university said he would hold a news conference Monday in the football office at 2 p.m. CT.

A shame for Shula, who is a genuinely decent guy and who faced ridiculously high expectations for a program on NCAA probation. Still, you can’t lose four years in a row to Auburn and keep coaching at Bama.

As I noted when Larry Coker was fired at Miami, this is just the nature of big time college football. While the Tide hasn’t been as successful of late as the Hurricanes, it has many more championships over its history. Fans of such programs are not patient, nor do they fully understand that competing for a title every year is very difficult in the modern age of limited scholarships, closer NCAA scrutiny, and comparative parity.

The speculation about successors has already begun, with South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier an obvious choice. Defensive coordinator Joe Kines, named interim coach, is a long shot. This early in the process, Alabama will have a lot more options than it did last go-round, when Mike Price got dumped in the middle of the summer after an embarrassing scandal involving a rather unattractive stripper.

UPDATE: The Huntsville Times notes that Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, Navy coach Paul Johnson, and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe are among the other names being “bandied about” on various fan fora. There’s no way on earth Saban would be interested. Johnson is an intriguing choice, indeed, though. If you can win at Navy, you can win anywhere.

UPDATE: More on Johnson:

Johnson took over a program that had posted a 1-20 record the previous two years before his arrival in 2002. After a 2-10 mark in his first year, the Navy football program has achieved what many thought was no longer possible at an Academy, as Johnson has brought the Midshipmen back in to the national spotlight with a 26-11 (.703) record over the last three years. The Mids’ 26 wins over that time span equals the most in school history over a three-year period.

In 2005, despite returning the fewest starters in the country, Johnson led the Midshipmen to an 8-4 record, a school-record third-consecutive bowl game and a school-record second-straight bowl win. More importantly, Navy swept Academy rivals Air Force and Army to win the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for a third-straight year, which is also a Navy first.


After Johnson took over as head coach at Georgia Southern in 1997, he returned the Eagle program to national prominence statistically and in the won-lost ledger. In addition to Georgia Southern’s 62-10 mark, the Eagles scored 2,855 points (39.7 points per game), picked up 25,941 rushing yards (360.3 yards per game), 7,816 passing yards (108.6 yards per game) and 33,757 total yards (468.8 yards per game). GSU scored 380 touchdowns in the Johnson Era, an average of 5.3 per game. The Eagles’ scoring margin under Johnson was +21.5 (39.7-18.5).

Johnson picked up a milestone victory in the 2000 I-AA National Championship Game against Montana. Not only did the 27-25 victory give Georgia Southern its second-straight national title, but it was Johnson’s 50th-career win in four seasons. Only three other coaches in the history of Division I football have won 50 or more games in four seasons, as Johnson joined Walter Camp (1888-1891, 54-2 at Yale), George Woodruff (1892-1895, 53-4 at Penn) and Bob Pruett (1996-99, 50-4 at Marshall) on the exclusive list.

Very impressive.

Update: ESPN’s Ivan Maisel is pessimistic that the Tide will hire someone really good.

After a week in which Alabama forced head coach Mike Shula to the edge of the plank, the university pushed him off Sunday night, firing the former Crimson Tide quarterback after four seasons. Athletic director Mal Moore made the formal announcement on Monday afternoon.

Shula took an impossible job, replacing a scandalized Mike Price in May 2003. He went 26-23 while trying to rebuild a roster depleted by NCAA penalties. Shula, hired by Alabama despite his lack of head coaching experience, didn’t learn quickly enough to suit his employer. He couldn’t overcome his poor record against the Tide’s archrivals. His last victory over Auburn came in 1985, when he played quarterback.


That coach will need to come in and resuscitate a program that has spent the last 10 years creating its own problems, chief among them NCAA probation, infighting and bad hiring decisions. The next coach will be the fifth since Gene Stallings retired 10 years ago.

Perhaps the powers that be at the Capstone finally realize what the rest of the college football community understood about three or four Tide head coaches ago. The Alabama name doesn’t carry the weight that it once did. Ask recruits, teenagers too young to remember when Alabama ruled the SEC West.

“Alabama is not a factor anymore,” said a former Crimson Tide assistant who still actively recruits the South.


Alabama hasn’t hired anyone remotely similar to the right guy since Stallings came in 1990. That’s Gene Stallings, who had a losing record at Texas A&M and a losing record with the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals. He returned to Alabama, won the 1992 national championship and four of the first five SEC West championships and retired with a 70-16-1 record in seven seasons.

There’s no reason to think that Moore or a powerful trustee named Paul Bryant Jr. will hire the right guy this time. They’ve had more opportunities than most and they haven’t done so yet. It comes as little solace to Alabama fans these days, but the right guy is rarely the obvious one.

Still, this is a premium job. I would target an up-and-comer who has proven himself at the lower levels, like Ohio State did with Jim Tressel. The Tide did it with then-TCU coach Dennis Franchione, who had a good run with the team before jumping ship after an NCAA smackdown to take the Texas A&M gig.

UPDATE: Mike Shula’s statement:

I am deeply disappointed to be fired as the Head Football Coach at the University of Alabama. From my very first day on this job, I had a single mission: To return the Crimson Tide to its place among the elite programs in college football. Although I maintain that we were moving steadily in that direction, I regret sincerely that I will not be given the opportunity to finish the job I was hired to do.

I am forever grateful to my loyal coaching staff, who worked so tirelessly to help us overcome the difficulties we faced during these past four years. Despite inherited restrictions, including probation and scholarship limits, our teams played with integrity and commanded respect. Our 10-2 record in 2005 was no fluke; it was evidence of a program on the rise. Although the past season was not as fulfilling, it was nevertheless a season that witnessed the emergence of several young players who will help the Crimson Tide win big in the years to come.

I want to thank our players and their families for committing to our mission. I am sorry that our record this past year did not reflect your passion and commitment to winning. When we met Sunday night, I fully believed that I was going to remain the head coach at the University. I apologize that you did not learn about my firing from me. Do not let the circumstances of my firing allow you to lose your focus. Do not let this transition rob you of your potential for greatness. Together with the talented recruits who have committed to join the Tide next year, I am fully confident that the pieces are in place for you to accomplish great things.

Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank those of you who made our four-year stay at Alabama a rewarding experience. Your kindness toward me, Shari and our family will be remembered fondly.

In closing, I leave Alabama proud that the football program is a better place than the one I inherited four years ago. Although time will ultimately gauge the depth of our progress, I am confident that the return on our efforts will be realized by the University and its football community.

As a former player and a graduate of this great University, I wish the program great success in the years ahead. Roll Tide.

Classy, as always.


Related posts below the fold.


Auburn Clears Self in Grade Scam Scandal

Auburn has investigated itself and found that it did nothing wrong.

Auburn athletics officials were cleared of wrongdoing by a university probe of claims that athletes improperly boosted their grades with an easy independent study course.

Interim university president Ed Richardson said at a news conference Thursday that an internal investigation determined athletes were not steered to the courses of sociology professor Thomas Petee, who was accused by a colleague of helping football players stay eligible by offering classes that required little work or no work. Petee and another professor, who also gave “directed-reading” courses, have resigned their administrative posts. Both are professors have tenure at Auburn and will continue to be members of the faculty, Richardson said.

Richardson said the probe, launched after sociology professor James Gundlach made the allegations reported in The New York Times last month about Petee’s courses, found it was purely an academic matter. He said 82 percent taking the courses were non-athletes, 18 percent played a sport of some kind and 7.5 percent were football players.

I have respect for Richardson, who was a superb Secretary of Education for the state for many years, but find these findings hard to swallow. The NYT story on this was quite damning and the fact that non-athletes also took the courses hardly matters. Rather clearly, Auburn football players found out about Petee’s “independent study” courses and began flocking to them.

Background: Auburn Football Players Got Top Grades for Bogus Classes


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