The Arizona Wildcats got their man on Monday night when they hired former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez. Arizona fired Mike Stoops in October after the Wildcats started off the 2011 campaign 1-5. Stoops had gone 41-50 (27-38 in PAC-12 play) and 1-2 in bowl games in his seven plus years as head coach.
Arizona is hoping that Rodriguez will be more West Virginia than Michigan. In his short career at Michigan, Rodriguez went 15-22. As the Mountaineers head coach, Rodriguez was 60-26 and got West Virginia to two BCS bowl games. He won at least 10 games in his last three seasons at West Virginia. By comparison, Arizona has only had two ten win seasons total since they began playing football in 1899.
To be fair here, they've only been playing seasons long enough to make that stat relevant since the late 1940s. Arizona does have a win percentage better than 57% all-time, but is only 6-8-1 in bowl games. They have never played in the Rose Bowl and only shared a PAC-10 title in 1993. Arizona did stomp Miami 29-0 in the Fiesta Bowl that season.
Will Rodriguez be able to bring the Wildcats unprecedented success? The first thing he needs to do is hire the right defense coordinator who meshes with his spread-option offensive style.
Finally, something to report on conference expansion. Colorado has joined the Pacific 10 Conference. Despite rumors of Nebraska going to the Big 10 and being the first school to depart, in the end, it was CU that put the first nail in the Big 12 coffin. Even if the Pac 10 added no more members, the "Pacific" part is a continued stretching of the imagination with the addition of Colorado. The last time the conference expanded from the Pac 8, Arizona State and Arizona were added. When I think of the Pacific Ocean I think of Arizona--at least since Bill Hicks' Arizona Bay.
The Pac 10 already called itself the "Conference of Champions" because it has won more team championships than any other conference. Colorado brought their 21 national championships along to the Pac 10 on Thursday. This means CU is tied for 6th in the conference with Arizona State in national championships. The rich get richer. In football terms none of this matters of course as the NCAA doesn't award national championships for the FBS.
Colorado does have a claimed football national championship from the Big 8 days to add to the ones claimed by the Pac 10 by its other members. Georgia Tech, who finished with no losses, of course has something to say (kiss the rings) about who won the 1990 national championship. CU did need a fifth down early in the year in order to even put the Buffaloes in position make the Orange Bowl game at the end of the season.
Colorado will begin Pac 10 play during the 2012 season. Who else will join them from the Big 12? TMZ Sports says "a source" within the Oklahoma State athletic department says they will join the Pac 10. I don't like "sources" who don't have names. So at this point, it's still just the Pacific 11 Conference. However, guess who Oklahoma State plays on September 4, 2010? It's Washington State...foreshadowing? We'll see.
What do the Buffaloes bring football wise to the Pacific 11? Well there's this:
Head Coach Dan Hawkins also sports a 1-5 all-time record against the Pac 10. Whether he will be around to work on that record as a Pacific 11 coach depends on Hawkins actually winning 10 games for the first time in his career (he's won more than 10 but never exactly 10). The last time he won that many games in a season, he was dressed like this. My prediction is that the Buffaloes will be joining the Pacific 11 conference with a new coach. Until then, take a look at Colorado when they travel to play Cal on September 11th and hope some preemptive conference intensity occurs.
The Humanitarian Bowl was a fireworks display. 85 total points scored, 990 combined yards of offense. Both the Idaho Vandals and the Bowling Green Falcons had at least 240 yards passing and 150 yards rushing. This production on offense could not have been expected from a first half in which the Falcons were dominating both sides of the ball after the halfway point of the first quarter. Despite severely outgaining the Vandals, the score was tied at 14 at half. From the Idaho score right before halftime till late in the 3rd quarter, the Vandals controlled the game scoring 21 unanswered points. The Idaho players and coaches were celebrating on the sidelines. This was a team which had not seen a bowl game since 1998. It was too early to cheer. The star Falcons WR Freddie Barnes had already broken the NCAA record for catches in a season in the first half and scored a TD. In a wild 4th quarter which saw the two teams put up 38 points, Barnes pushed his new record for catches out to 155. Out of the 17 total passes he caught for 219 yards, Barnes hauled in two more TD passes in the 4th quarter giving him 19 on the season. There was none bigger than the 51 yard bomb Tyler Sheehan tossed him on a blown coverage assignment. Barnes was unbelievably wide open and crossed the goal line with 32 seconds left to put the Falcons ahead. The Vandals weren't done. Their leading WR Max Komar had been shut out during the game even though 6 passes were thrown his way. He took the Falcons kickoff to the Idaho 32. Vandal QB Nathan Enderle chucked the ball 50 yards downfield and it was caught by Preston Davis. The Idaho offense then proceeded not to use either of their 2 remaining timeouts, ran an incomplete pass play and took crucial time off the clock leaving only 8 seconds on the board. It made no sense at the time, why wouldn't Idaho Coach Robb Akey take a timeout before they ran the play? The Vandals had absolutely no answers for the Falcons passing attack in the 4th quarter. When Enderle hit Komar in the end zone on a pass with 4 seconds left, it all made sense. So did Akey's decision to use his last timeout and go for the 2 pt conversion and the win. Bowling Green hadn't exactly been stopping his offense either he victoriously told sideline reporter Heather Cox. Going for the win instead of overtime was a show of postseason gusto that is sorely missing in the college game. Teams go for 4th down conversions in these bowl games and break out trick plays more often than in the regular season, why not go for the win when you have a shot? This was certainly the most entertaining bowl so far (especially in contrast with the snoozefest Holiday Bowl which was also played on Wednesday).
Final Score: Idaho 43, Bowling Green 42.
Colt McCoy isn't wearing an Arizona uniform, but the manner in which Ndamukong Suh tosses him to the ground sums up how the Nebraska v. Arizona game went. Nebraska earned its first shutout in the program's 46 game bowl history. Their 33-0 pasting of the Wildcats was also the only shutout in a Holiday Bowl. Arizona mustered 109 yards of offense in the game, most of it on the final drive. Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini left in his starters and they stopped a 4th and 3 near the goal line at the end of the game to preserve the goose egg. Nebraska was just 4 yards shy of 400 yards of offense, with 223 coming on the ground. Little did the Huskers know at the time that Zac Lee's 4 yard TD scramble following an INT of Arizona QB Nick Foles very early in the 1st quarter would be all the offense they needed to win this game. Nebraska didn't even score in the 4th quarter and this Holiday Bowl could not end fast enough. Arizona was completely unprepared for the Huskers defense and was unable to force Zac Lee into throwing mistakes or slow down Nebraska's freshman RB Rex Burkhead who carried the ball 17 times for 89 yards. Zac Lee added 65 yards on 18 rushes. Roy Helu only had 3 carries but it didn't hurt Nebraska. Arizona Coach Mike Stoops apologized for the performance saying "we certainly didn't show up in any way." Ndamukong Suh and the Husker defense showed up all over the place. Although Nebraska only recorded 2 sacks, the relentless pressure and 7 passes broken up forced Arizona's QB's to finish 10/31 passing for 46 yards and an INT.
The two wins today improve my bowl picks to 5-6, Lincoln moves to 5-2.
Updated Bowl Challenge Standings
MWC 3-0 1.000 Pt. differential: 41
Sun Belt 1-0 1.000 (Dwight Dasher swagger boost override) Pt. differential: 10
Big East 2-0 1.000 Pt. differential: 23
Big 10 1-0 1.000 Pt. differential: 6
SEC 1-1 .500 Pt. differential: 16
Big 12 1-1 .500 Pt. differential: 9
C-USA 2-2 .500 Pt. differential: 8
Pac 10 2-3 .400 Pt. differential: -47 (not a typo)
The early game (Humanitarian Bowl) features the blue turf above. The later game (Holiday Bowl) will show the whale below, a lot. EDSBS suggests that you not center a drinking game around seeing the whale.
Bowling Green (7-5) v. Idaho (7-5)-Humanitarian Bowl. If you can stand looking at that blue turf, I assume it won't be snow covered (latest weather forecast said 40% chance of snow in Boise for the afternoon and cloudy and cloudy and really cold for the nighttime), take a look at this game. 7-5 teams from the MAC and the WAC might not seem all that appealing on the face of it. These are teams going in different directions. Idaho became bowl eligible early and slumped and dropped their last three games coming into this matchup. Bowling Green comes into the bowl game on a four game win streak. Both teams have great players to watch on offense whom you might not have heard of. Bowling Green's Freddie Barnes has 138 receptions, this year, not for his career. The NCAA record for grabs in one season is 142 (set by Houston's Manny Hazard in 1989). Both teams pass the ball well, but Idaho also has a solid ground game. Idaho's QB Nathan Enderle, much improved this season in reducing his INTs, is sporting a QB rating of 155.75. His counterpart for the Falcons is no slouch. Tyler Sheehan has thrown for over 3600 yards this season along with 23 TDs to only 6 INTs. Idaho's running game is a three-headed monster of DeMaundray Woolridge, Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson. These three backs help the Vandals rush for over 160 yards per game. Bowling Green has struggled against the run all season and allow almost 200 yards rushing per game. Idaho's secondary has been regularly shredded by the opposition's passing. Looking at total defense, BGSU is 83rd in the country and Idaho is 105th. Whether or not we have a replay of the Georgia v. Texas A&M matchup might depend somewhat on the weather. However, I think this game mostly comes down to Idaho getting their run game established. The ball control provided by 125 plus yards on the ground will help them limit the fireworks of the Falcons passing game. I think the Vandals will be able to run the ball well and win the game. Lincoln is also picking Idaho.
While the early game features offenses first, the Holiday Bowl is going to come down to defense. Arizona's Coach Mike Stoops and Nebraska's Bo Pelini have pretty good pedigree when it comes to the defensive side of the ball as both have won a national championship as an assistant at Oklahoma and LSU, respectively. The Cornhuskers have the House of Spears, also known as Ndamukong Suh. This guy is better than some teams' whole defensive line. See the comparison here. The Arizona Wildcats don't have any player quite like Suh, but they play good team defense. Arizona and Nebraska aren't going to wow you offensively, but Arizona is a little more adept at this facet of the game. The key matchup in the game is Suh versus the offensive line of Arizona. If Wildcats QB Nick Foles has time in the pocket he might be able to do more damage than the one dimensional (running the ball with Roy Helu) Cornhuskers attack can make up. Suh destroyed the O-line of Texas by himself and the Longhorns gave up 9 sacks in the Big 12 Championship game. I'm picking Nebraska for that reason and because Arizona is favored. Bo Pelini likes the underdog role and he's 2-0 at Nebraska in bowl games. Lincoln's choice is also Nebraska--this has nothing to do with the capital of the State being named for him.
News to chew on during the bowl games: Mike Leach has been fired by Texas Tech. Craig "Pony" James (father of Adam James--the Red Raiders player who made allegations against Coach Leach of being improperly treated following a concussion) will be part of the Holiday Bowl broadcast team.