Four on the decline
Louisville. Cards athletic director Tom Jurich told Sporting News Today's Dave Curtis earlier this month that coach Steve Kragthorpe is his guy, that's he's not panicking despite growing unrest among a passionate fan base that got a taste of the BCS hierarchy under former coach Bobby Petrino.
We've heard all the excuses (all aimed at Petrino; zero self-evaluation), and frankly, I don't care anymore. Any way you color it, the black and white bleeds through: Kragthorpe's teams have won 11 games in two seasons despite playing with the best quarterback in the game (Brian Brohm) in Year 1, and last season with an experienced, senior quarterback (Hunter Cantwell) who had success under Petrino.
Louisville, with its SEC geography, SEC-type lunatic fans and SEC deep pockets (these are all good things), should own the Big East. That's it.
Texas A&M. The entire coaching community shuddered when Kentucky fired basketball coach Billy Gillispie after two seasons. You better believe Mike Sherman, whose first year in College Station was awful, is feeling the reverberation from Kentucky's decision.
Competing in the Big 12 South Division is all about competing for players in recruiting, and Sherman at least made inroads with a strong class in February. But the reality is A&M now is behind both Oklahoma State and Texas Tech in the South — and Baylor, with charismatic coach Art Briles and dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin — is closing fast after beating the Aggies by 20 last year.
Perception overwhelms reality when it comes to antsy, big money boosters. And right now, A&M is last in a six-team division. That can't last long.
West Virginia. WVU had a BCS-ready team — a national title contender — in coach Bill Stewart's first season. It finished the year scrapping out a victory in a useless late December bowl game.
There were numerous instances of poor coaching, poor clock management, poor decision-making. You know, the things you didn't see when Rich Rodriguez was in Morgantown.
The most damning issue from Year 1 under good-guy Stewart: WVU lacked emotion and intensity. Say what you want about Rodriguez's demanding style, but he got everything and more out of recruits no one else wanted (see: Pat White, Steve Slaton, Darius Reynaud, Owen Schmitt). Stewart got a big bag of Meineke Bowl out of this group.
Tennessee. A decline with an asterisk: The Vols have serious personnel issues, and it's going to take more than one big recruiting class to fix it. Given time — and a ton of patience — new coach Lane Kiffin will bring championship-caliber talent to Knoxville. You can't win big games in the SEC without an elite quarterback or a team full of experience protecting a quarterback who doesn't make mistakes. Right now, Tennessee isn't close to either.
This fall won't be much better than last year, and the Vols likely will start a true freshman at quarterback in 2010. Again, not a good sign in the meat-grinder conference. By 2011, we'll know if Tennessee will make the turn under Kiffin.
CFT: Syracuse confirmed that former quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Don McPherson will have their respective jerseys raised to the Carrier Dome roof this year.
CFT: Senior receiver Wilson Van Hooser is transferring from Tulane to help care for his ailing mother.
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