June 3, 2011

Mailbag: Why would Stoops ever leave OU?

Maybe Luke Fickell will prove to be the long-term replacement to Jim Tressel at Ohio State.

Perhaps the Buckeyes will post at least 10 victories this season and Ohio State administrators decides its best that Fickell -- a Columbus native who is a former starting nose tackle for the school -- continues leading the Buckeyes well into the future.

It's possible.

Of course, it's also possible the Buckeyes will look for a proven big-name coach who already has won championships. It would be a bonus if that coach has ties to Ohio.

One of the coaches who fits that description is Bob Stoops, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, who has dominated the Big 12 in his 12 seasons at Oklahoma.

Stoops has turned down opportunities to leave Norman before. Could he be compelled to leave Oklahoma to return to his home state? That's a question to be considered in this week's mailbag.

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What about Bob?

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' name surfaced when Notre Dame and Florida were searching for a head coach, and he's now mentioned as an Ohio State candidate. Every time, he denies interest in a different job. Besides his being a phenomenal coach, is there a reason his name if floated? Does he privately indicate an interest in switching? Even if he did want a change, wouldn't a new challenge be the NFL and not a lateral move?
Jon in Westminster, Colo.

It does seem like every time a high-profile college coaching job comes open, Stoops instantly is listed as a potential candidate.

I get that. Stoops is one of the top five coaches in the country. Actually, make that top three behind Nick Saban and ... heck, make it top two.

The Sooners are 129-31 under Stoops, with seven Big 12 championships, a national championship and three more appearances in the BCS national championship game. And when his starting quarterback was involved in a scandal in 2006, he dismissed Rhett Bomar from the team.

So, sure, it would make sense that Ohio State would be interested in him.

But would Stoops be interested in Ohio State, a program that's under NCAA scrutiny and could be facing major sanctions?

Stoops' name also surfaced as a possible candidate at Florida, Notre Dame and even the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. Each time, Stoops has put a quick end to speculation by announcing he is content at Oklahoma and isn't interested in leaving.

Why would he leave OU? It's one of the best coaching jobs in the country. He makes more than $4 million per year, his program is dominating the Big 12 and he'd have to uproot a family that has spent 13 years in Norman.

Of course, he is from Ohio, so that could make a difference. But he also had ties to Florida, where he once was defensive coordinator. I question just how that would influence Stoops at this point in his life.

Some have suggested Stoops might be ready to leave Oklahoma because he needs another challenge. But isn't there the challenge of winning another national championship at Oklahoma?

Funny, Bo Schembechler never needed to leave Michigan to pursue another challenge. Bobby Bowden didn't leave Florida State for another challenge. Joe Paterno apparently has been sufficiently challenged at Penn State. Frank Beamer has been challenged at Virginia Tech.

There also is the theory that Stoops may want to get out of the Big 12, a conference which may have an unstable future. But no matter what happens to the Big 12, OU will continue to play a high caliber of football.

Now, I wouldn't completely rule out any possibility that Stoops might eventually move to Ohio State or somewhere else at some point. Never take anything for granted in college football. A few months ago, I thought of Jim Tressel as a coach of great integrity. Obviously, things aren't always as they seem.

Still, the bet here is that Stoops will remain at Oklahoma for a long time.


Georgia on my mind

I'm a soldier in Afghanistan, and here's my question: How do you think the 2011 season will go for the Georgia Bulldogs? Also, who could replace coach Mark Richt and start winning right away at Georgia?
SPC Ryan Danila in Afghanistan

First of all, Ryan, thank you so much for your service and sacrifice for our country. But it's tough to know what to expect from Georgia in 2011 because the Bulldogs may need some significant contributions from freshmen such as running back Isaiah Crowell, defensive end Ray Drew and tight end Jay Rome.

Georgia's 2011 recruiting class was ranked fifth in the nation, so there are some excellent players coming on board. But freshmen often need time to develop and aren't always ready to play right away.

We'll see.

But Aaron Murray is one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC and the defense figures to be better in its second season under Todd Grantham. In addition, every team in the SEC East has its issues, so I wouldn't be surprised if Georgia won it. On the other hand, the Bulldogs could finish fourth, too.

Overall, I think Georgia will have a good year, though it may not meet the demands of most Georgia fans.

Frankly, barring a complete disaster, I think Richt should be retained. Georgia has won at least 10 games in six of his 11 seasons and has had just one losing record in his tenure.

But in college football today, especially in the SEC, past success doesn't mean much. Programs demand to win now, and based on the coaches' salaries, that's probably how it should be.

If Georgia doesn't win enough for Richt to remain, there will be plenty of coaches interested in what is one of the top 10 coaching jobs in college football. If the job comes open, I'd guess Georgia would pursue Kirby Smart, a former All-SEC defensive back at Georgia who has done a great job as Alabama's defensive coordinator.

If you really like to bet on long shots, how about Urban Meyer? He may be ready to resume coaching next season. The state of Georgia produces a lot of talent, so he could recruit regionally, and he has a daughter, Nicki, who plays volleyball at Georgia Tech.

It's doubtful Meyer would resurface at Georgia, but why not dream? That would make the Cocktail Party even more fun.


Turning it around?

How good of a chance does Florida quarterback John Brantley have of turning his career around in 2011?
Jason in Biloxi, Miss.

Considering that Brantley threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (nine) last season and his most productive passing output was 248 yards against Kentucky, he obviously needs to improve.

Brantley, a highly rated prospect coming out of high school, never really seemed comfortable in Florida's spread offense. A dropback passer, he's a better fit in new coordinator Charlie Weis' pro-style system.

A different system and a year of experience as a starting quarterback should be major benefits for Brantley. Other quarterbacks have struggled in their first year as a starter, then played well later in their careers.

For example, former Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Stull threw 10 interceptions and nine touchdown passes (just like Brantley) in 2008. The next season, Stull had 21 touchdown passes and eight interceptions while completing 65.1 percent of his attempts.

Brantley also could do that, although concerns rose after he was just 4-of-14 for 45 yards in Florida's spring game. But injuries left him playing behind a makeshift offensive line, so it's unfair to criticize him too much based on that game.

Still, Brantley needs to show progress quickly or new coach Will Muschamp may start building for the future and opt for redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy or true freshmen Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett.


Happy Valley issues

Penn State struggled to a 7-6 record last season, its worst finish since 2004. What do you see as the Nittany Lions' biggest problem and how will it be addressed?
Grant in Eau Claire, Wis.

The Nittany Lions have a few issues. Last season, the running game sputtered like a never-oiled machine, while the defense had problems stopping the run and could hardly muster a pass rush.

I'm optimistic about the running game. Even though tailback Evan Royster completed his eligibility, the Lions are in good shape there with Silas Redd and Stephfon Green. In addition, four starters return on what should be an improved offensive line.

The defensive issues seem more pressing. The Lions have to get more production up front. Senior defensive tackle Devon Still has drawn praise from the coaches. He played well in the bowl game to close last season and had a good spring. And junior tackle Jordan Hill was cited by the defensive coaches as the most improved player this spring.

But the line's effectiveness depends heavily on the health of ends Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore, both of whom missed significant time to injury last season. Their health is especially important because the Nittany Lions already have lost junior end Pete Massaro to a knee injury.

There also is some uncertainty at quarterback. Rob Bolden played sparingly in the second half of last season after sustaining a concussion and has hinted he might transfer, though he remains in Happy Valley. Matt McGloin played OK in Bolden's place, but struggled against strong competition. He threw a combined eight interceptions in losses to Ohio State, Michigan State and Florida.


Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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