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News and Features
2008 Final College Futility Rankings
At the professional level, teams that finish at the bottom refer to this time of year as the beginning of golf season. And given the paychecks of most players and coaches, they don’t have to worry much about competing with retirees for tee times. The one disappointment in 2008 has been that in writing about the college game, the Sage can’t slam the Detroit Lions. The pitiful old motor city franchise looks as it has finally blown all it’s gaskets and not even the team ownership seems to care. At least Lions players get paid something for losing. Professional players have a paycheck coming in and a vacation to look forward to. At the college level though, players on losing teams are compelled to visit their respective Religious Studies Departments to seek inner peace. Their coaches seek employment.
Surviving Football Withdrawal
College Football’s season ending ‘hurrah’ that is bowl week heralds the conclusion of the 2008 season. For the more balanced among us, this signals the start of a new year and the chance to focus on surviving winter and to enjoy not having to cut the grass. For others, this time of year marks a merciful and justified end to more than four months of yelling, beer swilling, nacho loading and relationship damaging behavior.
Worst to First - Building a College Football Winner

December 27, 2008

Building a successful college football program requires several key ingredients. Now that the 2008 campaign has concluded for some truly awful programs, the work to build losers into winners has begun. It is appropriate now, to look at some of the significant elements required for building a winning football program. Included on this list are:
- Finding enough Murray State and Western Kentucky football programs to build a schedule around,
- Identifying enough alumni who really believe in the institution’s academic focus to give thousands of hard-earned dollars so they can be entertained on autumn Saturdays, and
- Luring enough respectable athletes that are also capable of constructing complete sentences.

Early pioneers of creative scheduling used to rely on sportswriters to simply pick their team as a contender for the National Championship. In years past, the Cornish Game Huskers of Nebraska routinely scheduled unbelievably weak opponents to open their season. They would fill Memorial Stadium in Lincoln with throngs of beer basted, red nosed (and clad) fans to watch the Huskers thrash teams that could hardly assemble eleven people for the kick off.

The advent of the BCS scoring system changed all that. Instead of arranging weekly massacres of poor opponents in September, the Big and Red administration had to try and bring in some quality opponents such as Southern Cal and Virginia Tech. It is bad enough that Nebraska has to face serious competition in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas during their conference schedule. Now, that danged BCS has made the Big and Red Fans (BaRFs), actually see some real games during the harvest season.

The University of Michigan – another of the hallowed monster football programs – used to try the weak-sister scheduling method to gather steam for a national championship run. Unfortunately for them (and a blessedly for the rest of us), over the past two seasons, they scheduled in Appalachian State and the University of Utah as part of their September Patsy Parade. The really bad news for the Wolverines is that both AppState and the Utes actually showed up. In 2008, an early loss to Utah set the stage for a remarkable skid into the grey land of bowl ineligibility. Now, all the snow choked Wolverine fans have to make up a reason to go drink beer in Florida while other teams continue to play football.

The Indiana Hoosier football team didn’t harbor any realistic thoughts of attending a bowl game this year, but they followed the scheduling methodology perfectly. They then hit the tank after a 2-0 start. In taking a closer look, those two early season wins against Western Kentucky and Murray State didn’t actually qualify as genuine games. Still, the Hoosiers actually played the games and managed to defeat both. It just didn’t prepare them for the rest of the Big Ten schedule, which quickly relegated Indiana to their usual place sweeping up the stalls at the bottom of the heap.

Alumni Relations
It has been said that to be successful as a college administrator, one must provide three things to three different constituencies. Students want sex, the faculty wants parking and alumni want winning sports. While the student interest generally takes care of itself and a modest effort can pacify the faculty demand for parking places and hook ups for electric cars, the Alumni demand is quite a bit more challenging.

Some of the more creative administrators remember that alumni were once students themselves and therefore might be more closely attuned to the student demand. That is why cheerleaders are instructed to perform in front of the alumni section as much as in front of the student cheap seats.

Free beer and chips also keep alumni pacified during losing seasons, but at some point, the administration needs to deliver either a winner on the field or provide the hope for delivering a winner. It is this last point that impacts the career of football coaches. Coaches are motivators – not only of players but of alumni as well. Players provide the muscle for on the field execution, alumni provide the funds for the weight room as well as the recruiting parties. Some of these alums attend as well.

A tribute to Dan Hawkins (currently coach of the Colorado Buffalos and formerly of Boise State), seems appropriate here. Motivational speaking can only accomplish so much. However, Hawkins has achieved a level of success rarely touched by others. Convincing a star pampered athlete to leave the comfortable confines of his San Diego prep school to play football on the frozen prairie wasteland of Idaho is a remarkable feat. It is so cold there that the field turned blue. Still the ‘Hawk’ hacked a powerhouse program out of that wilderness due to superior coaching ability and outstanding motivational skill.

Now, the University of Colorado – from its stunningly beautiful Boulder, CO campus - thinks that Hawkins should never lose another game. Unfortunately for the Buffalo Steaks, that hasn’t quite panned out just yet. Still, Hawkins has had some solid recruiting success and the CU program at least appears headed in the right direction. The Buffalos are the Sage’s pick for the surprise team of 2009.

When it comes down to it, there is only so much the coaches can do to produce a winner. They have to put talented athletes on the field. Unfortunately, they have to put these same athletes in Freshman English. Have you heard some of these athletes try to give a radio interview? Ask what it is to conjugate a verb and many will just ask for the key to the restroom. Success on the field does not guarantee success in the classroom. This may be why Duke has such a problem putting a competitive team on the field. Spelling one’s name correctly on the Duke entrance exam is but one requirement. Athletes need to be academically able to attend the Stanfords, Northwesterns, Notre Dames and Dukes of the football world. To these schools, the Sage sends his kudos. You can’t put students in the classroom who have trouble distinguishing verb from pronoun, even if they can run 40 yards in 4.25 seconds.

There will be a number of new coaches and staffs in place for the 2009 season. Usually, season one for a new coaching staff is a disaster. Little recruiting has been done and there is no history for a star recruit to look at to help in his decision to attend. It is in these first years though, that the average viewer really learns who can coach and who can’t. If you have a team made up of essentially walk-on players taking the field to play Oklahoma, you are going to find out who can motivate his team to play its best. And every now and then, you get a huge upset. That is why we keep tuning in and buying the College Football Executive Package from our cable companies. So keep an eye on Sarkisian at Washington next year... Should the Huskies win a game next year, it will be because of solid coaching and not necessarily great recruiting.

Winning football traditions bring multiple of factors together for a successful season. But it’s the losers that figure out interesting ways to blow it. The Sage of College Football will be here to bring you all the fun and interesting tidbits for 2009. Have a comment for the Sage? Please click the feedback link and send us a note!
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