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August 19, 2008

Could Friedgen really be on the hot seat?

Is Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen facing a make-or-break season?

It depends on who you ask. But there's no denying this: The Terps have flattened out since the Fridge bolted out of the gate with a 31-8 record (19-5 in the ACC) in his first three seasons in College Park, Md.

The Terps won the ACC in his debut in 2001 and played in good bowls those first three seasons. In the four seasons since, Maryland is 25-23 (14-18 in the ACC) and has been to two middling bowls.

Some whisper Friedgen has to win at least seven games and go to a decent bowl or else his job could be in jeopardy. There is the thought he let his team get away from him two years ago, and he now is only getting players under control.

Two other coaches worth keeping an eye on this fall: UTEP's Mike Price and Minnesota's Tim Brewster. Neither sits squarely in the crosshairs, but the cause of each would be augmented by more wins in 2008.

Price interviewed for the Arizona State job that eventually went to Dennis Erickson. That caught the eye of UTEP officials, making them a bit leery. On-field struggles also have dogged Price. In his first two seasons at UTEP, Price forged consecutive 8-4 seasons and trips to the Houston and GMAC bowls. The last two years have produced 5-7 and 4-8 seasons, giving Price a 25-23 record. That's a marked improvement over the 14-34 record Gary Nord posted from 2000-03. Still, should Price, 62, have another poor season, don't be shocked if school officials make a change. In all likelihood, UTEP brass would look to hire a young, energetic coach.

Brewster's hiring shocked many. It looked as if the school was honing in on then-USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, TCU coach Gary Patterson and Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, among others. But Brewster blew away Minnesota A.D. Joel Maturi in the interview process, landing the job even though Brewster never had been a head coach - or even a coordinator. Some felt Brewster was in over his head during a 1-11 debut last fall. Brewster reportedly was encouraged to bring in some experienced assistants, and former Duke coach Ted Roof has come aboard as defensive coordinator. But Brewster needs to win a few games to build momentum as the Gophers move into a new stadium in 2009.

IF I WERE …

GEORGIA, I may not stress too much about a daunting schedule that includes games at South Carolina, at Arizona State, at LSU and at Alabama, as well as visits from Tennessee and Alabama and a neutral-site contest with Florida. If you're the best team in the nation, who you play and where you play 'em doesn't really matter. To wit, in 2006, Florida played at Tennessee, at Auburn, at Florida State and vs. Georgia in Jacksonville – and the Gators, of course, still won the national championship.

MISSOURI, I wouldn't get too big-headed. Listening to locals yammer about how Missouri now "doesn't recruit, it selects" makes me laugh. You'd think the Tigers were on the precipice of being the next USC. Settle down, folks. While I love everything Gary Pinkel has done and believe the Tigers are legit in 2008, ask yourself this question before painting your face black and gold: Who has Missouri beaten in the Big 12 since Chase Daniel has taken the program on a big run? Nobody. Until Mizzou topples Texas and/or Oklahoma, it has no place in a conversation about "elite" programs. For the record, Pinkel is 0-5 vs. the Sooners and 0-3 vs. the Longhorns. Missouri doesn't play the Sooners this fall but it travels to Austin on Oct. 18. I know Tigers fans are jacked about going to Texas a week after the Longhorns play Oklahoma, but know this: Mack Brown is 10-0 in games following the Red River Shootout. Those triumphs have been by an average of 19.8 points, and four of the victories have been vs. ranked foes.

THE SEC, I'd still launch my own TV network even though I just signed a big deal with CBS. Sure, live football games may not be a big part – or any part – of SEC TV, but that doesn't mean the channel still couldn't work. Fans in the southeast talk football year-round, meaning myriad programs could be structured around the gridiron. That would give the product even more attention and build excitement, making SEC football an even hotter commodity. And, more than anything, a conference-run TV network is a recruiting tool and giant public-relations arm that bolsters and enhances the image of a league. Also, SEC TV would be a boon to non-revenue sports on each campus. South Carolina women's softball, anyone?

POLL-AXED

A quick glance at The Associated Press preseason poll made me shake my head for several reasons.

Ranked too high: Arizona State. While I like the Sun Devils, I feel they are a tad high at No. 15. My biggest issues: a rebuilt offensive line that struggled to protect last season and a defense that lacks any dominating features. Yes, Oregon is looking for a quarterback, but I think the Ducks overall are a better team and will finish second in the Pac-10.

Ranked too low: It's Tennessee. The Vols check in at No. 18. Many are shying away from embracing Tennessee because of the inexperience of QB Jonathan Crompton and questions along the defensive line. But I'm not buying it. In fact, while everyone is blowing kisses at Georgia and Florida, I wouldn't be shocked if the Vols emerge and win the SEC East.

Why are they ranked? Alabama. Look, I love what Nick Saban is doing, but I think it's too early for the Crimson Tide (No. 24) to be ranked. The team is coming off a 7-6 record, has issues at receiver and the front seven on defense is peppered with questions. Bottom line: There's a good chance Alabama could have a losing record when the calendar turns to October.

Why aren't they ranked ? There's no doubt Fresno State is one of the 25 best teams in the nation. For now, the Bulldogs are No. 27, having received 83 votes. Yes, the defense needs to be more opportunistic and create more turnovers, but it's a veteran crew that will get better. The offense? Well, it really doesn't have any holes as it works under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was quarterback coach of the St. Louis Rams last season.

How did this team receive any votes ? UCLA. Shameful. Amazingly, six folks gave votes to the Bruins. Am I missing something? Yes, UCLA will have a strong defense, but the offense looks like a mess. The dire situation at quarterback is well-chronicled, but the offensive line looks atrocious and that rarely gets mentioned. This team has no business being mentioned among the nation's best now – or likely at any point this season.

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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