Having only recently moved to Boston, I found it astonishing when some nights this month were cool enough to put on a sweatshirt. Of course, it's common in San Francisco this time of year, but in the aggregate thirty-plus years I lived in Texas, I'm certain that I never put on a sweatshirt in July - except for the time my ex-girlfriend wanted me to pretend I was Bud Grant. The real trick, I discovered, is to make sure it's Beemans, and chew only with your incisors.
Sweatshirts in July is harbinger enough for me. It's sufficiently close to the beginning of college football to issue Buy-Sell-Hold recommendations.
In this article, I'll focus on most of the Usual Suspects within the BCS, as well as a few lesser-knowns that merit a transaction or comment. The reader shouldn't infer anything from the omission of a particular school; it may be that I think that school is a neutral, but there's also a good chance that I just don't give a shit.
By nature and preference I'm a buy-and-hold guy, so I'm also taking the big-picture view in most instances. My recommendations are inclusive of what I anticipate a team will do in 2013, but unless otherwise specified they also encompass a five-year horizon; i.e., one full recruiting cycle.
As always, I put on my MBA hat and set all rooting interest to one side. In that respect, I wholeheartedly subscribe to the words of the philosopher Vladimir Putin: "Damn the Party, business is business."
The Tide is strongly in the running for the Fulmer Cup this offseason, with a total of four players having been arrested. Given the exalted status that Alabama players enjoy in the Yellowhammer state, that means it's a safe bet that at least a dozen more should have been arrested but weren't.
Still, it's become apparent that Nick Saban's faustian bargain (I'm totally kidding) guarantees he will never field a bad team. Further, Saban has amply demonstrated the willingness to do Whatever It Takes to contend for the crystal football every year.
Accordingly, I came within a whisker of rating Alabama as a Buy, but then I saw an interview with A.J. McCarron in which he was wearing a bow tie, and not with a tuxedo. Hold
I consider Bret Bielema one of the top 10 CFB coaches working today. In terms of Xs and Os, he's probably top 5. What Bielema accomplished at Wisconsin didn't receive nearly the credit or acclaim it deserved, and if you want proof just keep watching Wisconsin.
I look for Arkansas to steadily increase its recruiting footprint in Texas as Bielema settles in, provided of course he doesn't leave for a better job or the NFL. Indeed, if Arkansas were anywhere close to Wisconsin academically, I could see it becoming the same kind of destination school and factory for NFL offensive linemen.
I realize Arkansas plays in the toughest conference division in all of college football, and I may be a year early with my recommendation, but this is a team on the come. Buy
It's hard to call Kellen Moore a transcendent CFB quarterback based on his NFL career thus far. He's still with the Detroit Lions, but he's yet to throw a pass that counts. At the same time, Moore probably was a transcendent player in the context of Chris Petersen's system. After all, Moore won more games as a QB than any other player in CFB history. His transcendency is also evident from the modest step backward that the Broncos have taken since he left.
Time was when Chris Petersen was the all-but-appointed successor to Mack Brown at Texas. For reasons that are completely intuitive (I have no inside info), that scenario seems less likely today, just as Mack Brown's near-term departure seems less likely. And even if Brown retired after the 2013 season - put down the champagne and confetti, I said "if" - my money (narrowly) says somebody other than Petersen gets the Texas gig.
As long as he stays in Boise, Petersen is just another coach's kid QB away from four good years of tormenting the big boys. Hold
This is my strongest Buy recommendation. BC fired Frank Spaziani last year after three abysmal seasons, and replaced him with Steve Addazio. For those unfamiliar with the name, Addazio was most recently the head coach at Temple, and before that he was Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Florida. A native of Connecticut, Addazio is old-school deluxe, and he has no compunction whatsoever against benching or even dismissing a player who doesn't buy in. BC's biggest challenge will be keeping Addazio from moving on, because this is a coach headed for the very top.
Penn State under Joe Paterno dominated recruiting all along the eastern seaboard from Maryland to Maine, and BC is as well-positioned as anyone to benefit from the upheaval in State College. For 2013, BC returns a good QB in senior Chase Rettig, and he has an elite receiver in Alex Amidon. The Eagles also have an All-Conference LB in Kevin Pierre-Louis. They're inexperienced just about everywhere else, however, so ordinarily I'd be concerned that my Buy recommendation was premature. Did I mention, though, that the Eagles finished 2-10 last year? Addazio will turn things around this year, and provided he remains in Chestnut Hill, BC will challenge for the ACC championship within five years. Buy
Why is it that no Colorado coach since Bill McCartney has tried to recruit Texas? For those who've never seen the campus, Boulder would represent a scenery upgrade over every part of Texas (with the possible exception of the Hill Country), and a climate upgrade from every school north or east. And as if that weren't enough, marijuana is now legal in Colorado.
Even playing in the Pac-whatever, Colorado could easily snag a half-dozen or more of the top 100 high school players in Texas every year if it tried, and without cheating. Yet the notion of recruiting Texas never dawned on his two most recent predecessors, and apparently it hasn't occurred to Mike MacIntyre. Sell
Is it just me, or does Mark Richt suggest a younger Mack Brown? And by extension of course, a much younger Bobby Bowden? Sell
If football coaching were my chosen profession, and Oklahoma offered me their HC job before Texas did, I'd take it in spite of what my diploma reads. At the same time, I know with certainty that I wouldn't take the Texas A&M job under any circumstances. I bring it up because I wonder whether Will Muschamp the walk-on Georgia safety ever had any inkling that he'd someday end up on the opposite sideline for the world's biggest cocktail party.
I've rated Florida State neutral and Miami a Sell, so the Gators are by default the beneficiary. But even if I thought all three teams were starting from the same place, I have confidence in Will Muschamp's overriding pragmatism, combined with his metabolic need to win. I can't remember if I mentioned this somewhere else, but I really wish Muschamp were still at Texas. Buy
Non-Floridians don't realize this, but most people in Florida think of Tallahassee as south Georgia - and geographically, too. Based on my own observation, there are way more Tide fans in the Keys than Seminole fans.
There's little doubt that Jimbo Fisher was the right hire, but for reasons that have nothing to do with Fisher (or Bobby Bowden, for that matter), I'm not sure that Florida State will ever again enjoy the kind of panache it had between 1980 and 2000. Hold
Derek Carr is better than his brother was at the same age. He may be better, period.
Let the record reflect that I thought then, and still believe, that firing Pat Hill was a mistake. Nevertheless, with a QB like Derek Carr, Fresno should outscore a lot of opponents this year. And Tim DeRuyter's defense will ensure that they can win games even without scoring lots of points - in 2013, but also going forward. Despite the fact that the Bulldogs finished 9-4 last year, I'm still rating them a Buy.
I'm amused by people who underestimate Bill Snyder. Sure, Collin Klein was a great college QB, but since when has it mattered what players Bill Snyder had? The Wildcats probably won't win the Big 12 this year, but Kansas State will beat some people and get to a decent bowl. Mark it down. Hold
Say what you will about Les Miles, but he was smart enough to turn down his alma mater when they came calling.
LSU is the most turn-key job in college football, bar none. Miles has pick of the litter every year from arguably the best football state in the country. Just don't screw it up and you'll win 10 games. Hire John Chavis to coach defense, and you'll be in the national championship picture some years.
At the same time, though, LSU plays in the toughest division in all of CFB, and it feels like this is about Les Miles' ceiling (though not necessarily LSU's). Hold
The U is a sleeping giant that could definitely be awakened, but I just don't think Al Golden is the guy to do it. That's taking nothing away from Golden, but it would take a real outlaw to resurrect the Miami of the 1980s, not a guy who by all appearances is a solid citizen. It pains me to write it, but especially in light of the NCAA's current non-handling of recruiting violations, I think there are other coaches who would have more success at Miami right now. Sell
It's obvious that Brady Hoke was the right hire. With Bret Bielema leaving Wisconsin and Nebraska's unwillingness to recruit Texas aggressively, the B1G is about to be ruled once again by Ohio State and Michigan, and probably to a greater extent than ever. Buy
The Huskers interest in recruiting Texas seemed to diminish when they left the Big 12. That's a huge mistake. No one will ever confuse Lincoln with Boulder, but like Colorado, Nebraska could still recruit Texas quite well if it bothered to. Nothing against Bo Pelini who's otherwise a good CFB coach, but Sell.
The Natty notwithstanding, Notre Dame proved their legitimacy last year with the decisive win over Oklahoma. I just happen to believe that the loss of Everett Golson will be a bigger deal than most people think, and a much bigger deal in terms of wins and losses than the graduation of Manti Te'o.
To his credit, Brian Kelly has recruited very well at ND, and he was particularly adept at using the momentum from last year's breakthrough season as a selling point. Kelly's recruits are young, however, and I expect the Irish to take a step backward this year.
Check back in 2014, as it may be an entirely different story from that point forward. For now though, Sell.
For the foreseeable future, I look for Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke to duke it out every year for B1G supremacy, and I don't believe that either school will dominate the other. Due to this basic parity as well as the stakes involved, Ohio State-Michigan may be the most interesting rivalry in all of CFB right now. Buy
The Sooners are my pick to win the Big 12 in 2013. Remember, this is strictly business.
Bob Stoops has previously won the Big 12 with Paul Thompson at QB. I don't care that Blake Bell wasn't the starter last year; the guy I saw in the Cotton Bowl last October was plenty good enough. On paper of course, Texas should win the Big 12. And on paper, Mack Brown is just as good a CFB coach as Bob Stoops. Buy
Speaking of teams hitting their ceiling. At least the Cowboys' ceiling was higher than anyone thought. Hold
The reader should infer no connection whatsoever between the fact that NCAA enforcement is at present non-existent, and my neutral recommendation with respect to the Ducks. I've spent time in Eugene, and it's a nice college town if you don't mind rain. It's also a two-hour drive plus a very expensive plane ticket if you want to visit home. I simply never knew that so many gifted high school players from so many parts of the country would be so motivated by the chance to wear so spectacularly hideous a uniform.
It says here that the departure of Chip Kelly proves more momentous this year than some pundits think, but not fatal. Hold
Buy, but get ready to Sell the minute Jadaveon Clowney
hires an agent leaves. Clowney is my preseason pick for the Heisman, as well as the Maxwell, the Bednarik, the Hendricks, the Lombardi, . . . . Buy
At long last, Gary Patterson is beginning to receive the acclaim and credit he deserves. Patterson's recruiting and player development model - which involves filling his roster at every position with lesser-regarded Texas high school QBs - is absolute genius. Granted, Patterson wears white shoes after Labor Day and sometimes forgets to use his handkerchief, but the man wins football games. Including the ones he's not supposed to.
If the powers that be at Texas had any sense, Patterson would already be coaching the Longhorns. Actually, if the powers that be at Texas had any sense, Powers would have kept Muschamp and dumped Mack, but I digress.
At this point, Patterson is comfortable and well-compensated enough at TCU that he wouldn't leave for any Big 12 job other than Texas or Oklahoma. At the end of the day, Patterson isn't polished or politician enough to be offered the Texas job, but Oklahoma is a lot more pragmatic about these things. Consequently, any hint of Gary Patterson to Oklahoma should keep Texas fans up at night. You thought Bob Stoops owned Mack? Hah. Buy
Lost in all the JFF hoopla last year was the fact that JFF played behind the best tandem of offensive tackles in the history of college football. Jake Matthews (holla, Mac McWhorter) moves from right tackle to the left side this year, because Luke Joeckel was by a slim margin the better player.
JFF also benefitted from the element of surprise last year, as Kevin Sumlin introduced the spread offense to the SEC. This year the surprise element is gone like Joeckel, and when the Aggie offense goes mano a mano each week with the best defenses in the country, the other guys will know what's coming. With all due respect to Manziel's prodigious talent - and it is legitimate - there is no scenario short of plague that would allow him to amass the same kind of statistics this year.
Bruce Feldman, a sportswriter whom I greatly respect, last week actually referred to Texas A&M as the "it school" in college football. This I interpret as a clear signal for not one, but two responsive actions: (a) Sell; and (b) start stockpiling bottled water, canned food, and 7.62×39, because the apocalypse is surely upon us.
Kliff Kingsbury is just Mike Leach with
twenty thirty fewer IQ points. And since those extra IQ points only serve to get Leach into trouble, I look for Kingsbury to similarly win lots of games by outscoring people. Buy
Bruin football has a definite ceiling, and it's lower than most people realize. In hindsight, Terry Donahue probably bumped up against it. The constraints are several: student body apathy, tepid support for athletics by the University of California system, landlocked campus, a distant football stadium that's a white elephant 364 days a year, etc.
Still, UCLA football at present is nowhere near its ceiling, and Jim Mora seems like the kind of coach who could reach it again. For all of the aforementioned disadvantages, UCLA is not without its selling points. It's a beautiful campus surrounded by some of the priciest real estate in the world. And unlike its cross-town rival, UCLA doesn't need to blindfold recruits during the ride to and from LAX.
Especially given the contemporaneous downtick at USC, we could be witnessing the beginning of a nice era for Bruin football. Buy
Pat Haden last week gave Lane Kiffin the dread vote of confidence. He might just as well have put a carnation in Kiffin's lapel and kissed him on both cheeks.
Lane Kiffin made the all-too-common mistake of falling in love with a job. In today's free agent economy, there are no more "jobs" as such, there are only discrete opportunities. USC after Paul Hackett was a terrific opportunity; USC after Pete Carroll, uh, less so. Then there was the subsequent hiring of Pat Haden as AD. Maybe it's me, but I just can't picture the Rhodes Scholar and former hedge fund manager tossing back single malts with the spoiled kid who sneaked out of Knoxville in the middle of the night.
The Reggie Bush sanctions are painful, but not enough to make USC fall completely off the table. What will ultimately seal Lane Kiffin's fate is not the sanctions per se, but unchecked negative momentum. Incidentally, the feeding frenzy that will ensue when news of an actual opening at USC begins to circulate will be fascinating to watch. Sell
I'm rating the Cougars a Buy, but it's written in pencil. Truth is, I'm just not sure that getting Los Angeles and East Bay kids to go to Pullman is the same as getting Dallas and Houston kids to go to Lubbock. Not even when you throw in legal pot.
I still think Mike Leach should have gone after the University of New Mexico job when it first came vacant. Not only would Albuquerque and Santa Fe have embraced Leach like a native son, it's really easy to get sportswriters to travel there - especially to do a story on Mike Leach. He could have taken up with the Lobos right where he left off at Tech, and trying to keep up with a Mike Leach offense at mile-high altitude would be a nightmare for any defense. Buy
Of all the gifts bestowed by the Creator, none is more to be desired than likeability. For those who haven't had the pleasure, Mack Brown is the most genuinely likeable person you will ever meet. I've met Mack Brown and I've met Bill Clinton, and Mack makes 42 seem like Simon Cowell.
If Bill Powers called me tonight and placed Mack Brown's fate entirely in my hands, I'd fire Mack first thing tomorrow morning (if he gave me the same discretion over Deloss Dodds' employment, I'd fire Dodds by e-mail before Powers could hang up). Yet as tiresome as Mack Brown's act has become, as much as I loathe underachievement, and certain as I am that it's overdue, firing Mack would still be unpleasant. And I would be sorely tempted to just kick Mack upstairs (I wouldn't).
I begin with this because in truth the institutional-level problems at Texas dwarf the issues on the field. It's not hard to see what the Longhorn players are doing wrong; it's not even hard to identify the thought patterns, attitudes, and expectations that must be turned around. What's hard is effecting the kind of personnel changes at the top that are essential precursors to fixing what's wrong on the field in any lasting way. Regretfully, I'm not optimistic because change would require a number of people to do the hard thing.
Actually, in classic good news/bad news fashion, I look for the Horns' performance in 2013 to buy Mack Brown another 4-5 years if he wants it. Trust me - this is not the year to automatically take the points. The Horns are a very experienced team led by a QB who endures more unjust criticism than Tony Romo.
Tom Izzo recently went off on his Spartans at halftime of a game, telling them that they had become a "jump-shooting team" - as if that were the most profane and insulting term he could think of. I feel exactly the same way about football teams that have to score 40+ points to win, yet here we are. I've unquestionably lost confidence in Manny Diaz, while at the same time I believe Major Applewhite has been quietly waiting in ambush. I'm convinced you'll see a much more aggressive Texas offense this year, whether it means getting the ball to their best athletes in space, or David Ash taking shots down the field. Daje Johnson reminds me a lot of Ramonce Taylor, unfortunately in many ways. If he can stay out of trouble off the field, though, Applewhite will use Johnson like the Horns should have been using Marquise Goodwin during the last four years. This 2013 Texas team will score lots of points.
As I mentioned, I don't believe Texas will win the Big 12; as I see it, the most likely scenario is this: OU beats Texas in October, Oklahoma State beats OU in the Bedlam game despite losing to Texas and somebody else, and the Sooners win the Big 12 based on head-to-head. If that or something similar plays out, I predict Texas will receive an at-large BCS berth. Whether the Horns win or lose their BCS bowl game, that will appease enough of Mack's critics that Bill Powers can turn his full attention to other things, like keeping his job. In summary, I'm as surprised as anybody, but I'm rating the Horns a Buy.