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2005 HATERS' BALL: COLLEGE TEAMS ON THE FAULT LINE THIS FALL

Stewart Mandel fights off the boredom with another strong bit of totally irresponsible and utterly necessary speculation on the national power rankings following the close of spring practice. No real surprises, though we think Florida is riding a bit too high, even after a spring where Urban Meyer made fans swoon with his discipline, innovative offensive schemes, and immaculate hair.
Which got us to thinking: everyone runs their power rankings. But who's really going in the tank in dramatic fashion this season? Or more intriguingly, who's got the most to lose this season? And will spectacularly lose it? We include those programs who historically have had hope, so don't expect the Temples and Dukes of the world to make any appearances, haters.

We won't hate on the lowly, people. 'Scuse us, but we've gotta go home and put more water in your momma's water dish...
1.Florida State. Jeff Bowden, Jeff Bowden, Jeff Bowden.

I could write it for a paragraph and not state enough what an albatross the boy has become to his diddy, Pappy Bowden. Since the departure of Mark Richt to UGA the track-meet offense of FSU has devolved into an eight-play variant of the wing-T incapable of making the players within it perform up to their potential. Heap all the blame you like on Chris Rix, but one thing is for certain: Rix didn't get any better while he was at FSU, a flat learning curve created by the hamhanded tutelage of the most inept coordinator at a major college program. (Dare you to name one worse in the comments section. Just try. There isn't one.) This isn't just adjustment to a new system or mere poor coaching: this has been a grand mal seizure of an entire system, culminating in the ultimate "repuS bowl" of collegiate coaching, Jeff Bowden's offense versus Ron Zook's Gators last year in a humiliating 20-13 loss on newly named Bobby Bowden field. The short bus offense has put the brilliant D in horrid spots, and for the first time ever Seminole defenses got shoved around in the 4th quarter due to fatigue. Nepotism could be the end of Bobby Bowden, and we'll be the first to get on the bandwagon in saying it will be.
2. Penn State. This is an obvious one, but also a testament to the importance of Joe Paterno to the game: even in decline he's worth mentioning. Paterno has had his share of grumblings to this point, but the shutout of Penn State in the NFL draft this year followed up by another 4-7 season without a bowl will push the tide even more firmly against Paterno's staying another year. We think people at Penn State are especially loath to push him out because they fear another Bear Bryant-style exit-meaning not having the job could literally kill him. And while no one wants that, Penn State football is big money. When sentiment meets financial interest, we'll bet on the money having its way. Even with JoePa on the line.

3. Oregon. Media take, 2000: Mike Bellotti is the best coach in college football. His uniforms are soooo groovy. The Ducks rule. I totally want to kiss him on the face and call him honey and make manicotti for him. Media take, 2005: Mike who? Exactly. Bellotti has gone from the next college coach to take the jump to the bigs to a guy with a 5-6 team, holes all over the roster, and a sneaking feeling spreading that the real brains of the operation went south to Cal-Berkeley a few year ago. After getting pasted by in-state rival Oregon State last year, Bellotti is a duck in danger of getting roasted by the increasing heat of an ever-more competitive Pac-10: Stanford and Washington look to improve under new coaching, Mike Riley is doing well enough at OSU, and USC and Cal are sure to pound you as the undisputed 1-2 powers of the conference. And if you read a more tortured animal metaphor this year, please point it out to us, since we're pretty sure that's as bad as it can get.

We hope it doesn't come to this at Oregon when it comes to another 5-6 season for Mike Bellotti.
4. USC. What the fuck, you say: didn't you just say they were the undisputed power in the Pac-10? Returning national champs? Owners of the most sexually suggestive team name in the business? Damn right. And as proud owners of the highest expectations in the country, they automatically get the burden of meeting impossible expectations in securing a third straight national championship. Competitive factors aside-like a Cal team that's come close to knocking them off two years straight, a tough Pac-10 schedule, and an intriguing game against Notre Dame-the Trojans have some legitimate organizational issues threatening their primacy. Pete Carroll runs off Norm Chow, the greatest offensive coordinator ever, period, and replaces him with a 27-year-old assistant. He loses tough-man coach Ed Orgeron to the Ole Miss job, and faces serious issues with academic eligibility involving key players like LenDale White. Oh, and USC's performance in the NCAA's new APR stats guarantees some scrutiny, especially since their lowly academic compliance has coincided directly with their dominance of the national football scene. We don't have any physical evidence yet, but the circumstantial stuff is adding up to a program with some problems in need of attention, which could translate into trouble on the field this season. And by trouble, we mean two losses, which is a kind of trouble that while unacceptable at USC but would be heaven to fifty other programs in D-One football. It's all relative.