- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

The Florida football factories that defined the college game for more than two decades both are on the brink of Chapter 11.

Miami and Florida State, who between them collected seven national titles from 1983 to 2001 while appearing in an astonishing 15 of the 20 de facto championship games between 1983 and 2002, both have fallen on hard times.

In both cases, coaching isn’t just the primary issue; it’s the only issue. Given the typical surfeit of talent on hand in Coral Gables and Tallahassee, the stagnant, punt-punt routine of both squads must be offensive to more-with-less mavens (see West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez), and at least one pink slip is in the offing.

Larry Coker’s Miami teams have gotten progressively less talented, less disciplined and less successful each season removed from the Butch Davis era. The Hurricanes’ offense has been a disgrace since Ken Dorsey and Co. left campus after the 2002 season. And Coker’s retooling of the staff in the offseason seems to have left the Hurrican’ts even more anemic. Saturday’s effort at Louisville defines the entire devolution of Miami football under Coker.

The Hurricanes (1-2) trampled on the Louisville logo before kickoff, executing some vintage U thuggery far better than what they call an offense. And then Louisville trampled on Miami, strapping a 31-7 beatdown on the zephyrs with a backup tailback, a backup quarterback and a second-rate defense. The loss bumped Miami out of the AP poll for the first time in eight seasons and should seal Coker’s fate.

Coker, who bears a disturbing resemblance to Nosferatu, cinema’s monochromatic lord of the dead, is now officially starring in the “Corpse of Coral Gables” and will be lucky if he’s allowed to finish the season.

Things aren’t much better in Tallahassee, where Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles (2-1) followed last week’s squeaker over lowly Troy with the first home loss to Clemson (27-20) and son, Tommy, in 17 years. After three games, Florida State ranks 105th (out of 119) in the nation in total offense (253.6 yards), sandwiched comfortably between Vanderbilt and Army.

The patriarch of college football’s first family certainly has earned a healthy measure of mulligans for his mystifying run of dominance from 1987 to 1999, a 13-year stretch that saw the Seminoles win two national titles (1993 and 1999) and finish in the top four of every final AP poll. Daddy could jettison Jeff, the fraudigal son, to extend his shelf life by a few seasons. But let’s face it, Bowden’s run of brilliance is over. The Seminoles haven’t been a factor this decade, and it’s time for Daddy to drop the reins.

Hopefully after witnessing the shameless egotism of the Sultan of State College, Bowden’s exit will be suitably prompt and graceful.

Gameballs and gassers

This week’s congratulatory pigskins go to the defensive fronts of Michigan, Florida and TCU.

Michigan (3-0) restored its reputation as a monster of the Midwest and vaulted into the national title picture with a 47-21 thrashing of No. 2 Notre Dame (2-1) in South Bend that looked more like 60-0.

The key to the rout was a Michigan defensive line that turned Heisman candidate Brady Quinn into a pinata, tormenting the Irish quarterback and limiting Notre Dame to one first down while the Wolverines marched to a 34-7 lead. The Wolverines have two All-American locks along that front in massive defensive tackle Alan Branch (6-6, 331 pounds) and sackmeister LaMarr Woodley and might have the most complete defense seen since Alabama’s unparalleled Butkus cast of 1992. Given that defensive prowess, the Back Judge expects the Nov. 18 meeting between Michigan and Ohio State to be a title game play-in showdown of unbeatens.

Florida lacks Michigan’s superb supporting cast in the secondary, but the Gators’ front seven were responsible for Florida’s 21-20 victory over Tennessee in Knoxville this weekend. The Gators (3-0) manhandled the Vols (2-1) in the trenches, holding Tennessee to its lowest rushing output in more than 40 years (minus-11 yards on 23 carries).

Finally, kudos to the Horned Frogs, who extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 13 games by holding Texas Tech’s Xbox offense to three points. Mike Leach’s offenses usually put a touch or two on the board before the opening coin toss hits the turf.

As for gassers, there were the Pac-10 zebras at Oregon, who botched two replay calls in the last 90 seconds to gut Oklahoma.

But this week’s heaviest horns go to Virginia’s Al Groh. Five years ago, this guy was the Parcells protege ready to turn Virginia into the NFL’s 33rd franchise. And now he’s finding ways to lose to a directional school’s glorified intramural team.

Quick, name the location of Western Michigan or a single player, past or present. Anyone who can do both is either a Western Michigan alum or stewing in Charlottesville over who’s going to be coaching the Cavaliers next season.

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