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Sunday CFB Thoughts: "Spread" Seduction/Pining For Quick Fixes

After watching some non Bruin football games, wanted to share with you all some random college football thoughts/observations on this Sunday. I usually don’t get to do that because during most of the season I try to keep all my focus on all matters related to UCLA football and basketball.

So with that note, I wonder if Brian Dohn will contact his Leach sources this week to mention in his football notes how UCLA missed out on the coach from Texas Tech. Don’t get me wrong here. I like Leach a lot. I agree with many others that he is one of the sharpest minds in the game today. However, just like we can’t lose perspective when Leach is pulling off memorable wins (although they are kind of few and far given the OOC schedule TT routinely plays and how they have not been to pull off major wins on the road), we can’t dismiss him either after Tech’s routine blowout losses against superior opponents every year. The fact of the matter is what Leach has done in Lubbock is remarkable. However, at the same time for those pining for quick fixes by hiring a “genius” coach, they can’t lose sight of the perspective that it’s not a sure fire bet that a “spread offense” is the cure to all ills of a sagging program.

The spread offense is seductive. It’s pretty and when it works it’s mesmerizing. Yet, the biggest drawback from a spread offense is the intense pressure it puts on a team’s defense. It will be interesting what major conference Leach ends up in should he chose to jump. If he decides to jump on a program like Tennessee or Washington, he will attract offensive talents, but will that offensive philosophy be conducive to attracting blue chip defensive talents in the long run considering the pressure it puts on defense? Also, it has taken Leach 9 years to finally put together a 10 win season in Lubbock, despite playing a weak OOC schedule year in and year out. Just something to think about.

Speaking of “spread” and systems, I wanted to make note of something re. Boise State. Chris Peterson is having another spectacular season. Boise State is 11-0.  Unless they stumble against Fresno State next weekend, they are most likely headed towards a BCS bowl game. No doubt Peterson is going to be on the top-5 list of ADs from all major programs around the country (will that include Notre DameYIKES!) this December. Yet, I am not totally sold on Peterson. It wasn’t Peterson who built Boise State to what it is today. It was Dan Hawkins, who made Boise State a factor in college football. Take a look at the coaching records at Boise State (the link doesn’t include the numbers from this season). Peterson no doubt has built an incredible record of 34-3 (counting this year’s record). However, Dan Hawkins had a record of 53-11, which was a major step up from Dirk Koeter’s 26-10. Koeter’s record wasn’t too shabby because it represented a rebuilding effort from the tenures of Tom Mason and Houston Nutt. Look what happed with Koetter and Hawkins when they took their Boise State resume somewhere else. Koetter got fired from ASU and right now Hawkins in his third year is still struggling at ASU. Hawkins who really installed the creative spread offense in Boise posted a 2-10 record in his first year at CU, which represented a bottoming out after Barnett was let go with a 7-6 season from previous year. Hawkins improved to 6-7 this past year and in his third season is still struggling w a 5-6 (2-5) record in Boulder.

I am bringing up these numbers because based on those data points, I am not so sure whether Chris Peterson is a sure fire successful bet for a big time program.  I think the odds are that he will be successful if he ends up somewhere like Washington or Oregon. However, given the track record of his Boise State predecessors in Arizona State and Colorado (programs with decent recruiting pull), I don’t think he represents a slam dunk hire for any struggling program which is looking for a quick fix.

Speaking of spread systems and quick fix, the game that I watched a lot of yesterday was the one between OSU and Michigan. Michigan is having basically a UCLA season in the cold Midwest. They are playing with a third string QB who simply doesn’t have the arm strength to air it out. The Wolverines fought their rear ends off staying within 7 points at the half, before it all collapsed for them in the second half (which reminded me of the games against Oregon State, Cal, and Arizona).  I was talking to Dave from MaizenBrew via gchat during that game a lot. It was funny. At one point during first half, Sheridan (Michigan’s QB) tried a quick WR screen, which the Buckeyes stuffed up for a minimal game. It drove Dave bonkers. However, from my pov, when Rodriguez gets his athletes in place in two years, that play would probably go for huge yardage with a good QB and fast receivers. Dave’s reaction reminded me of lot what of us have been going through when Craft throws those slants to Embree, Austin for 1-3 yard gain.

I think Rodriguez will turn it around in Ann Arbor. It will take him 2-3 years. But the question I have is whether the spread philosophy will work in the Big-10 for the long run. I think the system puts so much pressure on defense, it could lead to questions in the minds of big time defensive recruits on whether they would want to play in a program which would require to spend more than their fare share of time on the field. Perhaps I am wrong on this point. And I would be very interested in seeing the data points on time of possession re. Leach’s offense from his last few years in Lubbock.

Lastly, I wanted to end this with the following observations on Kyle Whittingham, the head coach of Utah Utes:

I really hate turning this blog into a Fire Whittingham campaign and I promise that all my posts will not be related to that cause. However I think that's the most prudent subject we must discuss at this stage, because Utah football is in a tailspin currently.

The week leading up to the TCU game, after the Boise State loss, I stated how that was the most crucial point in Whittingham's career. During the Ron McBride days, a loss like Boise State would have set the season into the tank and if Whittingham could get the team to bounce back, then maybe it was premature to write him off. Utah did bounce back, but it only prolonged the inevitable because 5 days after their TCU win, they were embarrassed by Wyoming. Now after starting the season with a 4-2 record, the Utes have lost 2 straight and have limped to a 4-4 record. Tanking the season, which had become so common under McBride, has returned and in much uglier fashion -- as the Utes have been constantly owned in all of their losses this season. […]

Whittingham's problem the past two seasons has always been Utah's inability to defeat the teams they should. That's eerily similar to how they played under McBride. Last season it was Colorado State, San Diego State and New Mexico, three losses that should have had been wins. This season, it's Wyoming, New Mexico and who else? Well, I guess we'll see, but really good coaches do not lose games they should win on a regular basis.

That was from our friends at Block U on October 22nd of 2006 in Whittingham’s second season after taking over for Urban Meyer. I only point that out is because despite all the consternation, Whittingham just completed an undefeated 12-0 season in Utah by destroying BYU. And people call us at BN bunch of "impatient haters"? ;-) No seriously, congrats to our friends at Block U. They have had a remarkable season.

Just something to keep in mind when we are experiencing tough losses in Neuheisel’s second year at UCLA.

I am sharing all these thoughts up to make a simple point. There are lots of good coaches around college football. However, no one is perfect. Everyone has their flaws and issues and no one really represents a sure fire quick fix. What is important for a program is to make sure it hires the right coach with a credible track in coaching, who fits the personality of the program and culture around it. We have gone over CRN’s issues time and time again. Yes, he has an imperfect record when it comes to issues of the field and his certain recruiting decisions. However, what we believe is we got someone last year, who is as good as anyone when it comes to game day coaching, and has the right mindset, which fits the big picture and long term vision of what we have for UCLA football. It will take time and there will be more tough moments along the way. However, that doesn’t mean we are going to lose perspective, and pining for a quick fix.