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December 14, 2009

Monday with Mike: Best men getting the jobs

Four Big Six schools hired new coaches in the past week: Kansas with Turner Gill, Louisville with Charlie Strong, Notre Dame with Brian Kelly and Virginia with Mike London.

Much has been made that three of those men -- all but Kelly -- are black. The flipside is that that trio brings the number of black Big Six coaches to just four; Miami's Randy Shannon was the lone black Big Six coach before these hires.

It's a good sign that Big Six athletic directors finally appear to be willing to move from the norm when making coaching hires. Moving from the "norm" doesn't mean hiring black coaches for the sake of hiring black coaches. Rather, it means finding the best man for the job and hiring him. Given some of the coaching hires this decade, it's truly hard to believe that some of those hired truly were the best man for the job.

Of the new quartet, Strong -- who had been defensive coordinator at Florida -- would seem to be walking into the best situation. Louisville got good relatively quickly, then went south even more quickly. Becoming bowl eligible is not that difficult in the Big East. Conference teams have five non-conference games annually, and judicious scheduling means a 4-1 or 5-0 non-conference record isn't that difficult. That means winning just one or two conference games makes a team bowl eligible.

Strong has a solid coaching background and has worked for three coaches who have won national titles -- Lou Holtz, Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier. Given his background at Florida, Strong obviously has excellent recruiting ties to that state, which is important given the relative paucity of high-echelon Kentucky high school prospects.

Strong's first task is to make Louisville nationally relevant again. That's the same task for London, who had been coach at Richmond. The Spiders won the FCS title last season in London's first year as coach. London is a former Virginia assistant, so he should be familiar with the pros and cons of the UVa program. London is known as a solid recruiter, and given the large amount of talent available in Virginia's Tidewater region, his first recruiting goal should be to re-establish the Cavs in that area. Virginia is a clear-cut No. 2 in its home state, and London needs to cut into Virginia Tech's recruiting base to change that.

As for Gill, who had been coach at Buffalo, he has to make sure Kansas remains nationally relevant -- which can be as difficult as becoming relevant. Predecessor Mark Mangino had success at KU, even though his departure was a messy one. But what helped Mangino is that Big 12 North foes Colorado, Kansas State and Nebraska underachieved during his tenure at KU. Nebraska definitely appears on its way back, but good news for Gill is that the direction of the Colorado and K-State programs remains a bit of a mystery. Yes, K-State played for the Big 12 North title, but the division was mediocre this season and K-State isn't even bowl eligible.

Gill went to high school in Texas and was a star at Nebraska before becoming a Huskers assistant, so he knows the area he must recruit heavily and he knows the landscape in the conference. He did a phenomenal job in a relatively short amount of time at Buffalo, which was one of the three or four worst FBS programs in the nation when he took over. His task at KU isn't as difficult, just much more in the spotlight.

Kelly's job is vastly different from the others mentioned. Notre Dame obviously is relevant and always will be so. Right now, though, the program just isn't that good. The Irish expect to be at least a top-20 team nationally; now, they're more like a top-50 program. Remember, the Irish have won 16 games in the past three seasons. Among Big Six schools, those are numbers hoped for by the likes of Indiana, Mississippi State and Baylor.

As with predecessor Charlie Weis, Kelly is an offense-minded guy. Unlike Weis, though, Kelly arrives at Notre Dame with a track record of his offenses being productive -- highly productive -- on the college level. Say what you will about the stature of the programs Kelly has led; what cannot be denied is that he has had loads of success. He won two national titles at Division II Grand Valley State (Mich.). He started Central Michigan on its turnaround -- three MAC titles in the past four seasons, including one under Kelly -- and signed Dan LeFevour, who will end his career as one of the most productive quarterbacks in college football history. And he guided Cincinnati -- Cincinnati! -- to back-to-back BCS berths.

Kelly made Cincinnati -- again, Cincinnati -- nationally relevant. That's far tougher than what Strong, London and Gill have to do. Now, though, comes the tough job for Kelly.

His offense should be highly attractive to a lot of talented skill-position players. The problem for him and his yet-to-be-named staff is getting high-quality linemen on both sides of the ball and some defensive playmakers on campus. As Weis learned, it doesn't matter how prolific your offense is unless you can occasionally stop the opponent. Kelly's success will depend on his defenses.

Bowl talk
The first bowls are next Saturday, which means you'll be hearing a lot in the next three weeks about which conference has exceeded expectations and which hasn't in terms of bowl results.

But make sure you keep the wins and losses in perspective. Each of the Big Six leagues has at least six bowl teams this season, but the quality of the opposition is far different for the conferences.

Let's take a closer look:

The SEC has 10 bowl teams, and nine -- all but Arkansas -- will be playing teams from other Big Six conferences. The Razorbacks will play Conference USA champion East Carolina in the Liberty. SEC teams are playing three games against Big 12 foes and two games each against teams from the ACC, Big East and Big Ten. There are two games against teams that were .500 or worse in their league (Georgia against Texas A&M in the Independence and South Carolina vs. Connecticut in the Papajohns.com). Along with Arkansas, SEC teams also are playing champs from the Big 12 (Alabama vs. Texas in the title game) and Big East (Florida vs. Cincinnati in the Sugar). The only Big Six league the SEC is not playing in the postseason is the Pac-10.

The Big 12 has eight bowl teams, and seven -- all but Missouri -- are playing teams from other Big Six conferences. Mizzou is playing Navy, an independent, in the Texas Bowl. The Big 12 is playing three bowls against SEC teams and two against Big Ten and Pac-10. There are four games against teams who were .500 or below in their league (Texas Tech vs. Michigan State in the Alamo, Iowa State vs. Minnesota in the Insight, Texas A&M vs. Georgia in the Independence and Oklahoma State vs. Ole Miss in the Cotton). There is one game against a league champ: Texas against SEC champ Alabama in the national title game. There are no games against ACC or Big East teams.

The ACC has seven bowl teams, and all seven are playing against other Big Six programs. The ACC is playing two games each against teams from the Big East, Big Ten and SEC and one against the Pac-10. There are no games against the Big 12; there also are no games against any league champs. There are two games against teams .500 or under in their league (Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A and Clemson against Kentucky in the Music City).

The Big Ten has seven bowl teams, and all seven are playing against other Big Six opponents. There are two games against teams from the ACC, Big 12 and SEC and one against a Pac-10 team; there are no games against Big East programs. There are two games against league champs: Ohio State against Pac-10 winner Oregon in the Rose and Iowa against ACC champion Georgia Tech in the Orange. There are two games against teams .500 or under in their league (Minnesota vs. Iowa State in the Insight and Northwestern vs. Auburn in the Outback).

The Pac-10 has seven bowl teams, and four will have games against other Big Six programs. UCLA (against Temple in the EagleBank), Oregon State (against BYU in the Vegas) and California (against Utah in the Poinsettia) are playing non-Big Six foes. Two games are against Big 12 foes and there is one each against ACC and Big Ten opponents. There is one game against a league champ: Oregon vs. Big Ten winner Ohio State in the Rose.

The Big East has six bowl teams, and four will play other Big Six programs. Rutgers (against UCF in the St. Pete) and USF (against Northern Illinois in the International) are playing non-Big Six teams. There are two games each against ACC and SEC opponents; there are no games against Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-10 opponents. There also are no games against league champs. There are three games against teams .500 or under in their league (West Virginia vs. Florida State in the Gator, Pittsburgh vs. North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care and UConn vs. South Carolina in the Papajohns.com).

Conference USA has six bowl teams, and two will play Big Six foes: champ East Carolina against Arkansas in the Liberty and UCF against Rutgers in the St. Pete. The other games are against teams from the other non-Big Six conferences -- one each against the Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt and Western Athletic. There are no games against conference champs. There is one game against a team .500 or under in its league: East Carolina against Arkansas in the Liberty.

The Mid-American has five bowl teams and two will play Big Six programs; Temple meets UCLA in the EagleBank and Northern Illinois plays USF in the International. The other bowl games come against teams from Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the WAC. There is one game against a conference champ: Central Michigan against Sun Belt winner Troy in the GMAC. There are two games against teams that were .500 or under in their league (Northern Illinois vs. USF in the International and Temple against UCLA in the EagleBank).

The Mountain West has five bowl teams and two are playing Pac-10 opponents: BYU against Oregon State in the Vegas and Utah against Cal in the Poinsettia. There are two bowls against WAC teams and one against a C-USA program. There is one game against a league champ -- TCU against WAC winner Boise State in the Fiesta.

The WAC has four bowl teams, and none will be playing a Big Six opponent. There are two games against Mountain West foes and one game each against C-USA and the MAC. There is one game against a league champ: Boise State vs. Mountain West winner TCU in the Fiesta.

The Sun Belt has two bowl teams, and neither one will play a Big Six foe. There is one game against a C-USA opponent and one against a MAC school. There is one game against a conference champ: Troy vs. MAC winner Central Michigan in the GMAC.

There is one independent in a bowl: Navy vs. Big 12 member Missouri in the Texas Bowl. Mizzou was .500 in league play.

Let's extrapolate
The FCS title game is set, as top-seeded Montana will meet second-seeded Villanova on Friday night in Chattanooga, Tenn. Montana, which won the Big Sky Conference, advanced by holding off fifth-seeded Appalachian State -- which won the Southern Conference title. Villanova, which won the Colonial South Division title by virtue of a tiebreaker, moved on by edging sixth-seeded William & Mary, which was third in the Colonial South.

As everyone who follows college football knows, the FCS has a 16-team playoff. Using the final BCS standings and how the commensurate FCS seedings played out, here's how a 16-team FBS playoff would've looked:

In the first round, top-seeded Alabama over No. 16 West Virginia, No. 2 Texas over No. 15 Miami, No. 3 Cincinnati over No. 14 BYU, No. 4 TCU over No. 13 Penn State, No. 5 Florida over No. 12 LSU, No. 6 Boise State over No. 11 Virginia Tech, No. 10 Iowa over No. 7 Oregon and No. 8 Ohio State over No. 9 Georgia Tech.

In the second round, it would've been Alabama over Ohio State, Texas over Iowa, Boise State over Cincinnati and Florida over TCU.

In the semifinals, it would've been Alabama over Florida and Texas over Boise State.

You can't be serious
Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal reported last week that the NCAA was in exploratory stages about whether to expand the size of the field for the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

The NCAA can opt out of its deal with CBS after this season's tourney. As part of its exploration, the group reportedly is discussing taking the tourney to cable TV and -- as part of that -- potentially increasing the size of the field.

SBJ reported that the preliminary talks deal with increasing the size of the field from 65 to 96 and adding an extra week to the tournament; in that scenario, the top 32 teams would get a bye.

There is no reason -- zero -- other than financial to increase the field. Moving to cable is one thing, but adding 31 teams would water down the field. Let's hope the NCAA comes to its senses and doesn't mess with a great thing.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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