Pickin' on the Big Ten, Week 1
I hate hot seat lists because there are always names on them that shouldn't be. Some coaches haven't had enough time or are victims of misfortune. Some were sent to gunfights armed with sporks.
This year I've seen Minnesota's Tim Brewster on several lists. He doesn't belong there.
Minnesota cashiered Glen Mason after the 2006 season. I'm fairly certain this was an emotional decision, made after a humiliating performance against Texas Tech in the Insight Bowl. Mason was the best coach the Gophers have had in 35 years. He turned them from a traveling bye week into a consistent bowl team. But he didn't win the big games.
What Gophers coach has won them? Since Murray Warmath stepped down in 1971, Minnesota has become where coaching careers go to die. Murray Warmath won a national title at Minnesota in 1960. He took the Gophers to the Rose Bowl the following season. He never went back to Pasadena before he stepped down. The Gophers haven't gone back, either. Their 48-season Rose Bowl drought is the Big Ten's longest.
There were six Gopher coaches between Warmath and Brewster. Only one, Glen Mason, left the school with a winning record. Mason was 64-57 in 10 seasons. Only Lou Holtz (10-12 in two seasons) was ever a head coach again after leaving Minnesota. Five bad decades isn't a slump. That's reality. Minnesota is a five-to-seven win team. Brewster has been as successful as any other head Gopher.
Sure, he did say he was going to take the Gopher Nation to the national championship at his introductory press conference. He didn't realize that, in 2006, the Gopher Nation would have fit comfortably in a minivan with room left over for a few sacks of dog food.
Just for kicks, let's compare Brewster to another current Big Ten head coach we'll call Coach X. Brewster is 14-24 after three seasons with the Gophers with two bowl appearances. Coach X's first three seasons? How about 11-24 with one bowl appearance. Neither coach beat a ranked team in that time.
Coach X is Kirk Ferentz. Lay off Tim Brewster.
Right. The games.
Illinois vs. Missouri
I don't like hot seat lists, but some coaches belong on them. For instance, Ron Zook. His 2007 Rose Bowl trip hasn't been enough to keep the Illini fans happy, mostly because he was 4-19 before then and has gone 8-17 since.
For the last few seasons, Zook has had proven offensive playmakers in Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn. He enters 2010 without any.
Missouri has plenty of troubles of its own right now. Even so, Illinois just doesn't have enough firepower to hang with the Tigers. Missouri 34, Illinois 13.
Towson at Indiana
Bill Lynch's name shows up on those hot seat lists, too. The difference between Lynch and Zook is that Lynch has proven offensive playmakers like Tandon Doss, Darius Willis and Ben Chappell.
That, and he gets to start against a team that only had victories last season over Coastal Carolina and Rhode Island. Indiana 48, Towson 10.
Know Your Non-Conference Tomato Can: Towson
Located in the Baltimore suburb for which it is named, Towson University is Maryland's second-largest state school. The former teachers' college now enrolls more than 20,000 students.
Training teachers is still at the heart of Towson's mission, but Towson alumni have made their mark in the worlds of business, government and particularly entertainment. Kevin Clash, the voice of the Muppet Elmo, attended Towson, as did Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs.
Nonetheless, to sports fans, Towson's best known alumnus is punter Sean Landeta, who punted for more teams in his NFL career (five) than Lane Kiffin defeated in his (four). Just sayin'.
Eastern Illinois at Iowa
Expectations are high for Iowa this season, and high expectations usually spell doom for the Hawkeyes. The Hawks will be without running back Jewel Hampton, who sits out for a public intoxication offense.
Eastern Illinois players are insistent they can play the spoiler, perhaps remembering last year when Northern Iowa nearly knocked off a flat Hawkeyes squad. A surprise is not out of the question. EIU won the Ohio Valley Conference last season. This isn't just any FCS cupcake, just like Northern Iowa wasn't. But the Hawks prevailed in that game, learned their lesson, and likely won't be looking past EIU. Iowa 38, EIU 7.
Connecticut at Michigan
Rich Rodriguez is threatening to spring the Three-Headed Quarterbeast on Wolverines fans this year. That's usually not a good sign. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson showed signs of brilliance last year, while new guy Devin Gardner may also see some playing time. Rodriguez has never been averse to using multiple QBs.
He'd better not be averse to using multiple defensive backs as well, since he'll have to go the whole season without Troy Woolfolk. Fortunately for the Wolverines, UConn's offense is about as powerful as a snail on a treadmill. Michigan 27, Connecticut 6.
Western Michigan at Michigan State
Usually nothing good comes of Big Ten teams playing Western Michigan. The Broncos were distinctly sub-par last season, but they've slapped some drowsy Big Ten teams before.
The Spartans will be wide awake for this one. The rap on Sparty in the past has always been a lack of focus and mental toughness. Mark Dantonio, who doesn't lack intensity, is changing that.
Sparty partisans have every right to be upset that the list of the conference's best teams doesn't include them. They could beat any of the Big Four. They can't look soggy in this game, though, if they want to be taken seriously as spoilers. Western Michigan will give them a fight. Michigan State 31, Western Michigan 21.
Minnesota at Middle Tennessee State
Before MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher's run-in with the law, Minnesota was a 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-point road underdog to a Sun Belt team. Now that Dasher's out, the Gophers are favored ... by three. No respect.
Middle Tennessee is pretty good. That's part of it. The Gophers defense never seems to be good. That's the other part of it. Keep your antacids handy, Gophers fans. Your team prevails, however. Minnesota 24, MTSU 20.
Northwestern at Vanderbilt
First team to break out the "670 verbal ... 740 math ... 3.96 GPA ... HUT!" snap cadence gets penalized 15 yards.
I kid, I kid. That's only a five-yard foul. Northwestern 24, Vandy 12.
Marshall at Ohio State
Ohio State 56, Marshall 0.
Youngstown State at Penn State
The quarterback situation in Happy Valley has Nittany Lions fans wondering if they can get Daryll Clark re-enrolled under an assumed name. I expect the Nits to take a step back this season because Evan Royster can't do it all on offense, but it won't show in this game. Penn State 41, Youngstown State 3.
Purdue at Notre Dame
This is the most interesting game of the week. I bought my ticket for the Brian Kelly Greatness Express a long time ago when he was still at Grand Valley State. Last season also made a Danny Hope fan out of me, as he took a team in disarray and made it good enough to beat Ohio State soundly last year, while nearly knocking off Oregon at Autzen. The Boilers lost seven games last year, but only two were by more than a touchdown. They've learned to fight. I expect them to get back to a bowl game this season.
But no way, no how am I going against Kelly in his opener. I've seen what he can do with the still-steaming wreckage of someone else's team. Notre Dame 34, Purdue 31.
Wisconsin at UNLV
These two teams have a history. This will be the fifth Badgers-Runnin' Rebels game in the past nine seasons. Most of those games have been a lot closer than the Badgers wanted them to be. UNLV even beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall in 2003.
This is Bobby Hauck's debut as the Runnin' Rebels head coach. Hauck led Montana to the FCS title game three times. He lost all three, but surviving the FCS postseason isn't easy. Neither is being the head coach at UNLV. Its last winning season was in 2000. Hauck doesn't have a lot to work with, but strange things happen in these games. Wisconsin 28, UNLV 16.
Next week's games:
Southern Illinois at Illinois: If Zook loses this one, he might not make it to the conference season
Iowa State at Iowa: Remarkably, someone's season ends here
Michigan at Notre Dame: Apt to be ugly for RichRod
Michigan State at Florida Atlantic: Weather permitting
South Dakota at Minnesota: Disgusting
Illinois State at Northwestern: A little less disgusting
Real Miami at Ohio State: Canes catch Bucks flat-footed?
Penn State at Alabama: Will Ingram play?
Western Illinois at Purdue: Target practice for Robert Marve
San Jose State at Wisconsin: Nondescript