A very Big East/ACC flavor to this interval while playing catch-up on the countdown.
45. Boston College. Right now, Matt Ryan looks like the best thing to come through Chestnut Hill, Mass., on this side of Doug Flutie.
By the end of the season, Chris Crane will put some of that hype to rest, and lots of people will be talking about how Ryan was partially a product of offensive coordinator Steve Logan’s system.
Here is the lowdown: Logan is the single most important person associated with the Eagles’ program. Remember some of those absurdly potent East Carolina teams in the 1990s? Yeah, that was Logan. Ryan was a good college quarterback for three seasons. Logan made him a near-great one, which was more than enough to get him selected high in April’s draft.
There’s some amazing Jedi mind tricks at work when people talk about BC. The offense will be fine, even without Ryan and two veteran tailbacks. The real issues will be on defense – particularly in the secondary, where DeJuan Tribble and Jamie Silva leave a huge void.
In B.J. Raji and Ron Brace, the Eagles have two superb run-clogging defensive tackles. But teams will quickly wise up to it, not bother to employ a power running game, and pick on a defensive backfield with some holes. If they aren’t filled, BC could fall deep into the Atlantic Division.
44. Pittsburgh. I have a friend who grew up within a couple hours of the Carrier Dome who also happened to be a huge Chicago Bears fan. We’ll call him Upstate Ron.
I figured Upstate Ron was uniquely suited to explain which coach – Syracuse’s Greg Robinson or Pittsburgh’s Dave Wannstedt – has been more disappointing during their respective three-year tenures. And by “uniquely suited,” I mean “thoroughly embittered.”
Here’s his take on this situation:
“The difference is this: Wannstedt is making a mockery of a historically strong college program in spite of bringing in some top-flight players. Robinson is making a mockery of SU with a bunch of chumps. So while you can give Wannstedt credit for his recruiting, I ultimately penalize him for fooling guys into thinking they’re playing for a winner, when in reality they’re joining a team that would be a winner if it had a different coach. Quite ironic, isn’t it?”
That’s a pretty harsh assessment, but what else would you expect from someone who still feels wounded by the job Wannstedt did in the Windy City? The truth is, the Panthers have amassed plenty of talent over the last few years and don’t have a postseason game to show for their troubles since Walt Harris bolted for Stanford.
A lot of people like the Panthers to surge up the Big East standings. I’m not one of them, and I’ll admit Wannstedt’s track record of diminishing returns as a head coach is one of the big reasons why it’s difficult to trust Pitt to manage much more than seven wins even with the amazing LaSean McCoy at tailback.
43. Miami. The Hurricanes earn this ranking on talent and talent alone.
Not that it helped them out much last year, coach Randy Shannon’s first.
Here were a couple of the lowlights from that 5-7 season:
* The U lost 48-0 in its Orange Bowl finale, its worst shutout loss ever at the venerable stadium. As a comparison to the good old days, Miami’s margin of defeat in all of its losses from 1986 to 1991 was 35 points. Granted, that was only five losses, but still.
* The Hurricanes lost two games by at least 38 points. It was the first time that happened since 1977 and only the second time since World War II ended.
* Miami lost three games by at least 30 points. It was the first time that happened since 1977 and only the second time since the end of WWII.
Shannon promised a more disciplined team, and in some ways that was true. The Hurricanes did not engage in a full-scale brawl that drew national headlines. But neither did any other team, so it isn’t exactly much to boast about.
The Hurricanes’ quarterback situation was dreadful, and that didn’t help Shannon’s case. But the defense gave up 30 points four times and 28 points twice more. Remember who the defensive coordinator was before Shannon’s elevation to head coach? Yep, Shannon.
This has all the hallmarks of being a higher-profile version of what unfolded at Ole Miss earlier this decade. There was a head coach with a decent record criticized for his recruiting ousted at the first opportunity (David Cutcliffe/Larry Coker). There was a questionable hire of a guy who never was previously a head coach and probably was never close to being a head coach (Ed Orgeron/Shannon). There was a torrent of recruiting unseen for some time. And then there were on-field results that did not meet expectations (Orgeron was fired after three seasons last fall).
The expectations are higher at The U than at Ole Miss, and Shannon will have another year or two to live up to them. He has a new athletic director, an ominous sign even if the new boss has offered great support.
Here are two off-the-wall predictions in connection with the Miami program: Shannon will not be the head coach past the 2010 season. And the Hurricanes – with a roster littered with Shannon’s recruits – will crack the top-five and perhaps contend for a national title in 2011.
Life isn’t always fair in coaching. And unless Shannon can reverse course quickly and vastly improve on last season’s travesty, he might just find out the hard way that sometimes it’s someone else who gets to reap the rewards of your labors.
42. Maryland. There’s a lot written here about the Terrapins, so here’s a bonus stat to demonstrate the program’s lack of blowout victories in recent seasons.
In coach Ralph Friedgen’s first 43 games as head coach, the Terps went 34-9 and won 19 games by at least 20 points.
In the 44 games since then, the Terps are 22-22 and have won two games (2005 at Temple and 2007 at N.C. State) by at least 20 points.
Perhaps the hiring of James Franklin as offensive coordinator will help Maryland create the separation it so clearly has not enjoyed in the last 3 1/2 seasons.
41. Connecticut. The Big East’s version of Virginia, right down to the so-so offense and impressive defense. It’s appropriate the teams will meet again this year, this time at UConn.
The Huskies had an unerring knack for catching opponents at the right time last season. That’s not to say they weren’t good, but they were a deceptive 9-4 – much in the same vein as 2006 Maryland and 2007 Virginia.
There’s a ton of starters on both sides of the ball returning. But if there’s a team that can be expected to actually be better but wind up with a worse record this season, it’s Connecticut.
A relatively tame nonconference schedule and a good defense will keep the Huskies in line to go to a bowl game, but their late-season scuffling last year (losses to Cincinnati, West Virginia and Wake Forest) provide ample reason to be wary of anticipating substantial improvement.