Illinois Fires Ron Zook: Big Ten Keeps Former Florida Head Coaches In The News

Lost in the recent news that Urban Meyer has been named the next head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, is the tale of another former Florida Gators’ head coach.

Ron Zook was fired by the Illinois Fighting Illini on Sunday for conduct deemed detrimental to the program (i.e. he loses more games than he wins). In seven seasons at Illinois – or about two too many – Zook compiled a 34-50 record while going an unacceptable 18-37 in the Big Ten. It initially looked like Zook wouldn’t make it past season three, but after going 4-19 in his first two seasons, he used his wish-granting genie to produce a 9-4 record and a Rose Bowl appearance in 2007. Keep in mind, Zook only gets three wishes. Being named the head coach of Florida was wish number one. 2007 was number two. He only has one left. We assume he’ll be named the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars with a fully guaranteed multi-year contract any day now.

Zook will always hold a place in the minds (notice how I didn’t say hearts) of Gators’ fans as the man that followed Steve Spurrier and gave way to Meyer. He was a great recruiter, but so are so many others these days. In the end, he wasn’t a head coach. Or at least not a highly effective one.

What keeps Zook’s Florida story alive is the fate of current head coach Will Muschamp. Zook finished his first year with Florida at 8-5. Muschamp is staring down the barrel of a possible losing season. While circumstances are different, parts are somewhat the same. It took Florida approximately two and a half seasons to realize Ron Zook was, well, Ron Zook. It took Illinois seven seasons to figure out the same. How long will it take the Gators to learn who Muschamp will be?

6-6 Teams, You Need to Go Home

NEW ORLEANS - NOVEMBER 07:  Quarterback Trevor Vittatoe #10 of the UTEP Miners at Louisana Superdome on November 7, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The BCS and bowl system anger many.  Odds are any type of playoff will as well.  We’re years away from change of any kind, but we have an issue that should be fixed now.  Well, we have lots of issues that should be fixed now, but we have one that needs to be.  It should be a step in the direction of making a college football postseason truly mean something.  Like everything else, it won’t be because of money, money, and, of course, money, but it’s a plague on the bowl season as we know it.  It’s the 6-6 team.
There’s a certain amount of pride in going to a bowl game.  There are only a handful of programs that have a legitimate shot at winning a National Championship year in and year out.  For many others there is the dream.  And for even more there is just the hope of finding success.  For those that success if being selected to play in a bowl game.  It’s something you earn and should be a reward for the team and its players (and sometimes the fans depending on where you end up).
While a number of things diminish what the bowl season once meant, the sheer number of games is probably the most discussed.  This season there are 35 bowl games, meaning 70 teams are selected.  You don’t need to be a mathematician to know that’s more than half of the country.  Quite a bit more.  Which means it’s way too many.  The bowl season started on December 18 and lasts until January 10.  Remember when the bowls revolved around New Year’s?  Not so much anymore.  The first bowls were 14 days before January 1.
My desired scenario consists of a team having to win at least two-thirds of their games to become eligible.  In other words, you should go at least 8-4.  That means you’re good.  Not great, but also far from bad and definitely not just average.  That change won’t happen, again because of that money thing, but even if we can’t eliminate the 7-5 teams, the 6-6 teams have to go.  If for no other reason than they could come out of bowl season with a losing record.  If a loss could push you to 6-7, you do not belong.
Take Saturday for instance.  The bowl season kicked off with a matchup of 6-6 teams.  Hours later, UTEP had lost to finish their year 6-7.  That’s not good.  There should be no “at least we went bowling.”  Going bowling doesn’t negate the fact that your final record is a losing one.  You were the worse team on the field more times than you were the better one.  Sure you won as many as you lost during the regular season, but why should you be rewarded for that?  You should have to win more.  Bowls are a reward.  Or at least they should be.
Tomorrow night, we’ll see another 6-6 team in action.  Louisville will battle 8-4 Southern Miss in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s We Need More Apostrophes Bowl.  I’m happy for Charlie Strong for having a season deemed more successful than predicted.  I believe good things are ahead for Strong and the Cardinals.  I do not, however, believe they should be bowling.  They played better than expected and lost some close games, but again they didn’t win more than they lost.  It may not be that simple, but it really should be.
FIU, Georgia Tech, East Carolina, Illinois, Army, Tennessee, Washington, Clemson, Georgia, Middle Tennessee, and Kentucky also went 6-6 (way to represent SEC East!).  Add those to Louisville and the two that already played – BYU and UTEP – and there are 14 teams in the postseason that finished .500.  Not above. 500.  Exactly .500.  That’s seven bowl games worth.  Or 20% of total bowl participation.  Way too much.  Only two of those teams face off against each other, meaning there is a chance (however remote it might be) that 13 teams could come out of bowl games at 6-7.  The BCS isn’t the only problem we have.
The reward of going 6-6 should be just that – going 6-6.  You didn’t have a winning record, but you didn’t have a losing one either.  It’s something to build upon and work toward the goal of making a bowl game next season.  But they’ll continue to be rewarded because bowls aren’t being cut.  Ones that fold are replaced and 6-6 teams fill the slots.  Three bowl games wouldn’t be discontinued, let alone seven, so we’re stuck with the middle of the pack.  The teams most of us wouldn’t pay to see and the ones fans don’t even go out to watch.  We watch the games on television and wonder why the stands are so empty.  The reason is simple: no one wants mediocrity.  We want the bowls to mean more than a chance to not finish 6-7.

The Sixth Man (6/29/10)

College basketball brought to you by the first man off the bench.
The powers that drive the NCAA tournament are trying to determine if 68 teams is where the dance is headed.  Instead of one play-in game, the idea of having four is being thrown around.  The problem is that most schools don’t seem to like it.  The big schools aren’t in favor of play-in games and neither are the small schools.  But think of it this way, 68 is much better than 96.  We were close to reaching tourney overload.
It’s already time to start thinking about who the NBA will steal from college next year.  Take a look at the top prospects and it seems very clear one-and-done will continue as long as it’s allowed.  Five of the top nine on this list will only be freshman during the upcoming season and another three are international players.  Expect this trend to continue as long as the NBA only requires draftees to be one year removed from school.
One name that won’t appear on the list for at least another year is that of James McAdoo.  McAdoo had toyed with the idea of heading to UNC a year early, but decided to stick around for his senior season in high school.  It’s hard to say how the NBA would deal with McAdoo had he decided to become a Tar Heel a year early and then enter the draft.  The rule doesn’t just revolve around age, but also being a year removed from when your high school class graduated.  Luckily, David Stern doesn’t have to deal with things like that just yet.
UCF will have both of Michael Jordan’s sons playing for them during the 2011-2012 season.  Jeff Jordan – who played for three years at Illinois – will transfer to UCF where he’ll john younger brother Marcus Jordan.  The older Jordan will have to sit out this season before being eligible to play.  Fun fact: Marcus scored more than twice as many points in one season at UCF as Jeff did in three at Illinois.

Shocking! The Big Ten Will Play Games in December

In a stunning development, the Big Ten (actually the Big Eleven, probably soon to be called the Big Twelve or Big Fourteen, and Big Sixteen is even a possibility) has decided “hey, let’s play some games in December!”  Why not?  Everyone else is doing it.
Although there’s usually a huge gap between the last game of the regular season or conference championship game and a BCS contest for those teams that make it, it’s always been much bigger for the Big Ten.  For instance, in 2006, when Florida destroyed (yes, that’s right, it was an annihilation) Ohio State in the championship game, the Gators has played their previous game much closer to the title game than the Buckeyes.  It was Ohio State’s first game in 51 days.  For Florida, the layoff had only been 37 days.  While both numbers seem high considering teams are off for over a month, 51 days is bordering on insane.
Part of the reason has to do with the SEC having a championship game (something the Big Ten is looking to remedy), but the other part has to do with the Big Ten and their wacky school scheduling.  Teams are typically playing their final game in November and sometimes even before Thanksgiving.  At least, the Pac-10 and Big East (also without championship games) extend their regular season into December.  Of course, for schools in those conferences, weather isn’t as much of an issue.
Two Big Ten programs have taken note and are moving their matchup to the final month of the year.  In 2011, Illinois will host Wisconsin on December 3.  And in 2012, the Fighting Illini will travel to battle the Badgers on December 1.  The goal is to prepare both teams for better for their upcoming bowl games.  Okay, okay.  The goal is to prepare non-Ron Zook-coached teams for their upcoming bowl games.
This is where I would typically say “follow suit other Big Ten schools,” but that probably isn’t needed.  Expansion will solve this problem soon enough.  But in the meantime, the longer layoff only hurts.  Keep your players fresh and get those December games scheduled.

Ron Zook Will Coach Illinois in 2010; Other Big Ten Teams to Start 1-0

Numbers are fun.  Let’s do the numbers.  Ron Zook lost 14 games in three years as the…gag…head coach of Florida.  It took Steve Spurrier seven years to lose the same amount.  In five and a half years, current leader Urban Meyer has lost nine.  Zook’s propensity to keep a national power out of titles talks led to his release and his subsequent pick up at Illinois.
After two years and a 4-19 record, it looks like Zook was better suited coaching an intramural fraternity team, not a BCS conference program.  Then 2007 happened, chaos ensued, and the Fighting Illini went to the Rose Bowl.  Since then, Illinois returned to earth and has gone 6-13, bringing Zook’s record at the school to 19-36.  A mind-altering 10-27 in the Big Ten.  In his eighth year as a head coach, Zook is 42-50.  The question you’re asking yourself is something to the effect of “how does this man keep his job when I forget the coversheet for one measly TPS report and I get a written warning?!?”  There is no answer.  At least not one that won’t make you want to shove a spoon into your eye.
But wait, it gets better.  Illinois athletic director Ron “I Think I’m a Good Judge of Results” Guenther has come out and said the blemish on Jeremy Foley’s record will return in 2010.  Clearly, winning one of your last 10 games means progress in the right direction.  Even if Zook does make it to the 2010 season, we can’t imagine him being at Illinois for the long run.  He’s on a career in reverse and we’re more than excited to see him follow it through.  From power, to middle of the road, to small school, to police athletic league, to summer camp flag football.

Morning Reading: Charlie Strong’s Resume Continues to Get Stronger

I’m a TV sleeper. You know the kind of person that has to fall asleep with the television on. From time to time this causes problems because I become engrossed in something and end up losing sleep because I just couldn’t miss a Different Strokes marathon. But I may have found a cure. Last night while flicking through the channels, I came across the UFL. That’s right, another new football league. We might as well do the list: USFL, XFL, AAFL, even the Arena Football League eventually met its demise. The UFL is a decent idea – shorter schedule during the NFL season so players are ready if NFL teams need to fill roster spots – but these leagues always miss the point. People don’t care. Count me among them and now I have something that puts me to sleep within minutes.
I would be perfectly happy if Charlie Strong remained Florida’s defensive coordinator forever. Any Gator fan would. Besides the secondary debacle of 2007 and some questionable years during the previous regime, Strong is as talented a coordinator as they come (we’ll go ahead and blame 2007 on youth and the pre-Urban Meyer era on that guy Illinois will be firing any minute now). He’s fired up, passionate, knows how to game plan, recruits as if committing to Florida means you’ll be bringing peace to the world, and is on the short list of every athletic director looking for a head coach.
What’s that? He’s not considered for most head coach openings??? You’ve got to be kidding! The race side of this discussion is always brought up even though it shouldn’t be. So Strong is black. So what. If he were purple with green stripes it wouldn’t change the fact that he’s a great coordinator and definitely qualified at this point to be considered for virtually any opening in the nation.
What made former Florida assistant “Iron” Mike Locksley more qualified? What made current “head coach in waiting” Jimbo Fisher more qualified? What made Dan Mullen more qualified? Nothing. Strong has experienced success similar to all of those individuals. But he’s passed over for every opening. Something’s not right. You can say Strong being a black man is the reason, but at this point, you’d have to think some athletic director out there was able to look past that. Is there something else? Is Strong a bad interview? Does he not play nice with others?

Whatever the case, Strong will eventually get what he deserves and it may come soon. After Florida’s performance against LSU, people are taking notice again of his impact on the Gator defense. Where he’ll end up is a mystery, but Strong’s next job will be as a head coach somewhere. What about South Carolina, where in 1999 Strong became the SEC’s first black coordinator? When Spurrier steps down, the Gamecocks would be crazy not to consider him.  (H/T: One Eyed Willy)

Morning Reading: Penn State Is Still Better Than Iowa

Remember when Hawaii used to score points? It wasn’t that long ago. Last night, however, they put a total of two field goals on the scoreboard. Blame June Jones for taking his “system” elsewhere. The Warriors have lost the one thing that made them remotely exciting to watch.

I don’t actually think Penn State is better than Iowa. After Saturday night, the Hawkeyes proved on the field that they are better than the Nittany Lions. No one knows what would happen if the two were to play again. Penn State could avenge their loss or Iowa could win again and by even more. All we have to go on is what happened on the field on Saturday and that’s why I (and the AP Poll for that matter) have the Hawkeyes two spots ahead of the Nittany Lions in the rankings.

On the other hand, the Coaches Poll and Harris Poll believe the title of this post is true. The Harris ranks Iowa two spots below the team they just beat and the Coaches takes it one step further with Penn State at #13 and Iowa at #17. The Harris does believe, however, that Houston is better than Oklahoma State, but the Coaches, again, does not. It makes you wonder what exactly individuals base their ballots on.

The first thought is that many voters rank based on how they see the season finishing. They’re looking ahead, not behind. 4-0 may be better than 3-1 right now, but it doesn’t mean much to them if they think 3-1 will turn into 11-1 while 4-0 turns into 9-3. But looking at the schedules, there’s no reason to believe Iowa can’t finish as well or better than Penn State.

Each team has eight games remaining with seven of those against Big Ten opponents. Of the eight, six are the same. You could say Penn State may match up on paper better against those six opponents and you may be right, but on the field – not on paper – Iowa beat Penn State, making me think Iowa should stand just as good, if not better, of a chance against those six. The other Big Ten opponent for the Hawkeyes is Wisconsin and for the Nittany Lions is Illinois. You may have to give the edge to Penn State here since Illinois has looked awful and Wisconsin appears to be the tougher opponent. However, you never really know with either of those teams. The Badgers have crapped the bed against lesser opponents in recent years and the Fighting Illini have had their share of upsets. We can go ahead and throw out the final game on the schedule; Arkansas State for Iowa and Eastern Illinois for Penn State.

Basically I’m saying I don’t see how you could have Iowa behind Penn State regardless of how you’re voting. If you’re looking back, the Hawkeyes won, plain and simple. They don’t get another chance to play each other. That was it, and Iowa won. And if you look behind, the Nittany Lions don’t necessarily have an easier road. After eight more games, Penn State could have the better record, but right now, they don’t. They have a loss to the very team they’re being compared to.

College Football Pick ‘Em – Week 1 – The Picks

The picks…

Georgia @ Oklahoma State – 3:30
Georgia: KP, One Eyed Willy; Oklahoma State: gatrmike, The Bull Gator; Georgia +5: KP, One Eyed Willy; Oklahoma State -5: gatrmike, The Bull Gator; Over 61: –; Under 61: gatrmike, KP, One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator

Baylor @ Wake Forest – 3:30
Baylor: –; Wake Forest: gatrmike, KP, One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator; Baylor +2: –; Wake Forest -2: gatrmike, KP, One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator; Over 53: –; Under 53: gatrmike, KP, One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator

Missouri @ Illinois – 3:40
Missouri: –; Illinois: gatrmike, KP, One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator; Missouri +6.5: One Eyed Willy; Illinois -6.5: gatrmike, KP, The Bull Gator; Over 61: One Eyed Willy; Under 61: gatrmike, KP, The Bull Gator

Louisiana Tech @ Auburn – 7:00
Louisiana Tech: –; Auburn: gatrmike, KP, One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator; Louisiana Tech +13: The Bull Gator; Auburn -13: gatrmike, KP, One Eyed Willy; Over 43.5: gatrmike, KP; Under 43.5: One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator

Virginia Tech @ Alabama – 8:00
Virginia Tech: gatrmike, One Eyed Willy; Alabama: KP, The Bull Gator; Virginia Tech +6.5: gatrmike, One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator; Alabama -6.5: KP; Over 38: gatrmike, KP, One Eyed Willy, The Bull Gator; Under 38:

Morning Reading: What if Jarred Fayson Had Stayed at Florida?

I’m a late adopter on many things. My friends always give me a hard time because I didn’t see many of the good Tom Cruise movies until years after they were hits. Case in point: I saw both A Few Good Men and Days of Thunder for the first time less than two years ago. Last night another undiscovered gem was brought into my life. Kettle corn. I remember a few years back when kettle corn was all the rage, but I scoffed. Salt AND sugar! You’re out of you GD mind! But I have now been set right. It’s glorious! How did I go so long without this wonderful food? It has become an instant favorite. And now on to something that has nothing to do with me discovering kettle corn…

There’s always a “what if?” present with players who end up leaving a program. What if they had stayed? What could they have become? Did they make the right choice by leaving? A perfect example is Brock Berlin. Berlin transferred from Florida to Miami to get a chance to play. However, in the end, he could’ve started just as many seasons for the Gators as he did for the Hurricanes. Who’s to say it would’ve worked out that way, but it could have. Remember, when Berlin came to Florida, he was one of the most sought after recruits in the nation. Unfortunately, we never got to see him reach his potential in the orange and blue.

The current what if surrounds Illinois athlete Jarred Fayson. After transferring from Florida two seasons ago, Fayson will finally be eligible to suit up for the Fighting Illini. But what could’ve been at Florida? The Gators are searching for a player (or players) to fill the “Percy” position and who would’ve been more perfect than Fayson? He’ll most likely play a similar role for Illinois, who seems to be a team that could end up anywhere between 5-7 and 9-3. But he could also be getting ready to assume that role for a team that is coming off a national championship season. And he is probably better suited to fit that position than anyone on the current Gator roster.

This isn’t to say I pine for Fayson to be at Florida. Would it be nice? Maybe. But I’m perfectly happy with what the Gators currently have. This is just to say, what if? What could Fayson do in 2009 if he was wearing a different shade of orange and blue? (H/T: KP)

College Football Pick ‘Em – Week 1

That’s right. Like The Long Snapper and the season itself, College Football Pick ‘Em is back. Last year, yours truly took home the trophy, but was accused of cheating in the process. Of course, I was accused in a sarcastic manner, but it did get me thinking it’s not completely fair that I compile the picks while making my own at the same time. So this season, I will post the game choices for the week every Wednesday and then on Thursdays, I will post my picks in the comments section of that post. Feel free to send me your picks (or just post them in the comments section) at anytime once I put the game choices up, just know mine won’t come until Thursday.

The rules are simple:

1. You are picking three things with each game: 1) winner, 2) winner based on the spread, 3) over/under. This is an important one to remember. You’d be surprised how many times people forget to pick the winner. There will be five picks each week, so there are 15 possible points.
2. Only Saturday games will be used. It’s too annoying to bump up the picking deadlines for some random Thursday night game. I try to stick to close spreads, interesting games, or ranked matchups. Obviously, there aren’t always five games for that, but I’ll try to throw good ones into the mix whenever possible.
3. As long as they are playing an FBS opponent, Florida and USF games will always be included. This site is called The Bull Gator for a reason.
4. Picks are due by Friday each week. You can take up until midnight if you want, but if you haven’t made a pick by the time I wake up on Saturday, you are out of luck (unless of course you are one of my close friends and I can get picks out of you before the games start…what can I say, I play favorites). Feel free to change your picks if you change your mind about something, but I will take whatever the last pick I have from you is on Friday.
5. Either email your picks in or post them right in the comments section. It’s up to you.
6. There is no prize to the winner. This is merely for fun. Do you really expect me to spend money to buy and then send you something? If you do, you haven’t been paying attention.
7. I get the spreads and over/unders from Doc’s Sports Service. They post the numbers for each game from six services and I take whichever ones occur the most out of those six.

Week 1 Games

Georgia @ Oklahoma State (-5) – Over/Under: 61
Baylor @ Wake Forest (-2) – Over/Under: 53
Missouri @ Illinois (-6.5) – Over/Under: 61
Louisiana Tech @ Auburn (-13) – Over/Under: 43.5
Virginia Tech @ Alabama (-6.5) – Over/Under: 38 (UPDATE: Mark Ingram and Julio Jones will play.)