Crystal Ball Blitz

Pete Carroll could get Joe McKnight into the running back mix

College Football Preview: Week 4

> The Red Zone  |  Tape It Up  |  Strike The Pose  |  Breaking The Code
> Amsinger: Picks  |  Sorenson: 10 Questions  |  Braff: Tebow Up, McCoy Down
> Hart: Behind Closed Doors  |  Curtis: Crystal Ball Blitz  |  Alberts: Blackshirt Blues  |  Worst BCS Conf.
> Williams: Michigan Barely Has A Chance  |  B.J.: An Open Letter To Karl Dorrell
> Caparell: Honest Steve Spurrier  |  Blackburn: Alridge About The Bling  |  Crystal Ball: Predictions

Sept. 19, 2007

By Brian Curtis

CSTV Senior Editor




Brian Curtis is a CSTV football and basketball analyst and a regular writer.
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SMU coach Phil Bennett is feeling the heat, but keeps his head up as his Mustangs sit at 1-2 after a loss to Arkansas State.  It has been widely reported that Bennett must get to a bowl game this season to keep his job, as new athletic director Steve Orsini is looking to make a change.  So far, Bennett has had the strong backing of school president Gerald Turner.  Getting to a bowl won't be easy with upcoming games against the likes of TCU, Southern Miss and Houston.  The defense is giving up 42 points per game due to broken coverage, a poor pass rush and poor tackling.  Despite the pressure, Bennett tells me he still enjoys coaching and doesn't regret taking the SMU job six years ago.






If you need any proof that the SEC is no longer a conference of rough defense and a good rushing game, take note:  SEC teams are averaging 33.7 points per game this season, which would easily beat the previous conference high of 27.7 in 2001.  Not only are SEC teams scoring, they are scoring fast.  SEC teams have had 66 offensive scoring drives less than two minutes and 17 drives more than five minutes.  Florida, LSU and Kentucky have scored on more than half of their offensive possessions, with Florida scoring an amazing 63.89 percent when it has the ball.


Assistant Coaches


Much of the publicity on coaching contracts revolves around the head coaches, who make the most money.  But more and more schools are getting creative to hire--or retain--top assistant coaches.  Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton recently gave Phil Fulmer's assistant multiyear contracts, in part, to quell rising pressure on the staff.  But the most effective and cost-saving manner to keep coaches is to add titles like assistant head coach or associate head coach or the term "coordinator" to their title.  For example, Florida State has four coordinators, an Executive Head Coach, one Associate Head Coach and one Assistant Head Coach, which came from negotiations to bring in top level assistants in an off-season shakeup.  But FSU is not alone.  Arizona has five assistants with coordinator in their title and Virginia has six.  But Indiana takes the cake with SEVEN assistants being labeled as coordinators, leaving two as just, well, assistants.  Changing titles bolsters resumes and prestige and costs the schools nothing.


Oklahoma State


Oklahoma State lost 41-23 to Troy Friday night and the Cowboy fans are restless.  Coach Mike Gundy says the turnovers are killing his team and their inability to stop the inside run is creating too many opportunities for opponents.  There is also a quarterback controversy, with Zac Robinson starting over Bobby Reid, though the coach denies that there is any friction within the team.  OSU is raising hundreds of millions for a new athletic complex and the losses don't help.  Gundy is in his third year with Oklahoma State and so far has the support of athletic director Mike Holder.




Louisville's loss to Kentucky Saturday night may have knocked them out of the national title picture but not out of a BCS bowl.  Keep in mind that last year, they lost to Rutgers on the road and with some help from other Big East teams, clinched the conference's automatic Orange Bowl berth.  Their struggles against Middle Tennessee State and Kentucky can partly be blamed on a lack of discipline.  The Cardinals have been penalized 26 times for 234 yards in the first three games.




USF made its first-ever appearance in the national polls this week, coming in at No. 23 in the Associated Press rankings and No. 24 in the Coaches' Poll, despite having a bye week.  The Bulls became a fulltime Bowl Subdivision member in 2001 and their rise to the rankings comes in second all-time behind Boise State, who did it in just six full-time seasons.  Like most coaches, Jim Leavitt downplays the rankings but doesn't rule out recruiting coordinator Carl Franks using the ranking to impress recruits later this week.




When Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly was hired away from Central Michigan last December, he made the switch immediately, allowing him to coach the Bearcats in a 27-24 International Bowl win over Western Michigan.  More important than the win, Kelly gained over a dozen extra practice days with his team, which he partly credits for their impressive 3-0 start in 2007.  Kelly tells me he didn't try to install any of his offensive or defensive philosophies or schemes in December, but it did give him and his players a leg up on getting to know one another and the team began to follow his new rules.  There wasn't much X and Os those weeks but by the time spring practice rolled around, there was no "get acquainted" time needed.


Michigan State


Michigan State faces 0-3 Notre Dame this weekend, but don't for a second think that Spartans coach Mark D'Antonio is letting his players relax.  According to the coach, the Irish have been in the right formations and the plays have been set up right, it's simply been mistakes after the snap that have been costly.  As for MSU's 3-0 start, the coach, as is typical, credits winter workouts, including wrestling, which forced the players to handle adversity.


Oregon State


Incredibly, Oregon State faces its third opponent this season with a new head coach, and Mike Riley tells me it takes a lot more effort to prepare.  The OSU assistants go back and look at film from previous stints of the head coaches; for example, before they played Cincy this season, they watched film of Central Michigan, Cincy coach Brian Kelly's former team.  This weekend, they play Arizona State and head coach Dennis Erickson but it's a little easier on the staff, as they have three Sun Devil games from this season to break down.  Outside of a few tweaks, the football philosophies of Erickson haven't changed according to Riley.




In preseason, the big story out of USC camp was the plethora of running backs, but injuries, a transfer and simply survival of the fittest has narrowed the group down.  Pete Carroll tells me that though Stafon Johnson was the star Saturday against Nebraska, really any of the running backs could have carried the load.  C.J. Gable is averaging more than 11 yards per carry and Chauncey Washington is finally 100 percent healthy.  Look for the Trojans to get freshman Joe McKnight involved more in the coming weeks.