San Jose State was nothing if not exciting in 2011. They played in 10 games decided by 10 points or fewer, and they came within one close loss of bowl eligibility. They have improved in each of head coach Mike McIntyre's first two seasons in San Jose, however, and if they can account for some losses on the offensive line and at quarterback, they could do so again in 2012.
DeWayne Walker took over a mostly hopeless program in 2009, and after a couple of steps backwards, his New Mexico State Aggies took a definitive step forward in 2011. They knocked off Minnesota and Fresno State, and they came within just a few points of their first five-win season since 2004. Walker's regime absolutely made progress in his third year, but now they encounter the downside of the life cycle. They return just eight total starters from last year's 4-9 squad and almost certainly face a bit of a rebuilding season. But can a coach with nine wins in three years survive a down year?
There is quite a bit of pressure for New Mexico State to win right now. Not only is the WAC in flux, having recently lost established programs Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii and brought in new blood in Texas State and UTSA, but the entire mid-major universe is in flux right now. With the Mountain West and Conference USA forming a merger and potentially looking to add a few extra members, now would be a very good time to be good at football. And if NMSU cannot maintain 2011's progress, will Walker survive to see year five in Las Cruces?
I am not particularly optimistic about 2012, but one has to be impressed with the moves [new head coach Charley] Molnar has made to date. He has assembled a quality staff, he will likely engineer offensive competence within a year or two, and lord knows he has plenty of ambition and confidence to go around. The future is intriguing for UMass, even if 2012 will be largely forgettable.
In 2006, an average of 41,908 Miami fans attended the Orange Bowl to watch Larry Coker's Hurricanes, five years removed from the national title, take on a home slate of ACC squads. On September 3, 2011, 56,743 UT-San Antonio fans filled the AlamoDome to watch their Roadrunners, replete with zero all-time wins, play Northeastern State.
One has to wonder how long it took Carr Sports Associates, Inc., to complete the "Will football work at UTSA?" feasibility study it was assigned in 2006. One also has to wonder how much they charged for it.
Picked clean by the Mountain West, the WAC is certainly a semi-friendly environment for a new program to find success. In their inaugural FBS campaign, Texas State will face an FCS program (Stephen F. Austin, whom they beat by nine last year), fellow FBS newbie UTSA, and four FBS programs projected 107th or worse. If, somehow, the TSU defense is shored up, and if the offense can stay in standard downs, then there are opportunities for wins on the table. Still, one would have to figure Franchione and company would find a 3-9 or 4-8 season rather successful during this first go-round.
There are only three things that matter for evaluating a team on a drive, where did you start, how many points did you score and what position did you give the ball back to your defense/special teams. Plays taken to achieve results and time elapsed off of the clock can be valuable in certain situations, but in general those three data points are the key. If we can effectively measure each play in how it contributes to those three key factors at once, why break it up into two pieces and why make it black and white?
You could say it about any sport, actually. The Bruins got hot for a few rounds and won the Cup. The Mavericks caught fire and won the NBA title. The Cardinals were on life support, heated up for a couple months and improbably won the World Series. Can you even remember regular seasons meaning this little? Nowadays, you just want to make it to the Final Four — after that, it's all about executing and catching a couple of breaks.
Oregon's tendency to tinker with its uniforms has become something of a running joke across college football. The simple explanation of why the Ducks endure the unending permutations of their equipment is an overeager Nike marketing department. Yet there might be a deeper philosophical basis for the team's embracing of apparel experimentation. While Nike is inevitably associated with former UO runner Phil Knight, it was the Duck's innovative track coach Bill Bowerman that provided the initial inspiration for the company. Bowerman's insistence on experimentation as a way to gain the competitive edge was a foundation of his approach at Oregon and, through him, it became the corporate credo of the sports apparel giant. I take a look at Bowerman and his knack for innovation (and how it applies to the current football team) today over at SB Nation's running site, Stride Nation.
The problem with the entire league imitating Nick Saban's style is that it is hard to replicate what Saban does. Saban is an epic recruiter. The characterization of him in The Blind Side turned out to be accurate. Programs that try to imitate his method will typically find themselves doing so with less talent. Additionally, Saban is an outstanding defensive coach, so his teams don't need an offense to put up big numbers. In sum, Saban's style of conservative risk minimization works with a talent advantage and a dominant defense. Without those two factors, the other programs in the SEC won't be able to do what Saban's team can. Thus, even though a well-coached pro-style offense can work (and Loeffler is as good a candidate as anyone to run that offense well), the rest of the SEC looking up to Alabama could still stand to use the basic premise of the run-based spread, which is to use the quarterback as a runner to create either a numerical advantage in the box of favorable throwing conditions down the field. If you want a succinct scenario for the end of SEC dominance, it's the possibility of the rest of the conference taking the wrong lessons from Alabama's success.