November 12, 2013
By Bruce Marshall
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We have long believed November to be the most intriguing month of the college football campaign. That's mostly because it becomes easier to identify troubled situations later in the schedule. And with the hour glass quickly emptying for the college campaign, it behooves us to look hard for those go-against situations while there is still time to capitalize upon them before the regular season concludes.
Following are some of the college sides that look like "fade" candidates in the final weeks as they threaten to disappear into the abyss.
California...No doubt, 2013 has been mostly a disaster for new HC Sonny Dykes, presiding over what appears the Golden Bears' worst season since Tom Holmoe's last campaign as head coach back in 2001, when the Berkeley bunch waited until its last game at Rutgers (in a game postponed by the September 11 attacks) to notch its only win of a 1-10 campaign that hastened Holmoe's entrance into the world of athletic department administration. Cal has only beaten FCS Portland State this season and has not done much better against the number, dropping 8 of 10 spread decisions, continuing a disturbing trend from a year ago. Dykes' defense, already suspect entering the season, has been ripped asunder by a variety of factors (mostly injuries, but a few player defections as well), and the less said about the not-so-special teams the better after allowing Southern Cal to score three such TDs a week ago, including a pair of punt return scores by Nelson Agholor and a blocked-punt TD. True frosh QB Jared Goff is trying his best, but he's been under siege as one of the most-sacked QBs in the country as well. On the plus side, Dykes, in his first year on the job, is at least safe, and the Golden Bears might have a chance at an elusive conference win this week when trekking to Boulder to face fellow Pac-12 straggler Colorado.
Colorado...Speaking of the Buffs, things are getting worse before they are getting better for CU, on the short end of another wicked beating last weekend in Seattle against the angry Washington Huskies, a 59-7 winner. New HC Mike MacIntyre is now realizing what an empty cupboard he was left by predecessor Jon Embree, who almost destroyed the program in his two years in charge. MacIntyre remains woefully short of playmakers (especially defensively), and the Buffs' lack of quality depth has been exposed in a succession of wicked Pac-12 defeats in which CU has allowed 44 points or more (sometimes a lot more) in five consecutive conference losses. One of the few bright spots has been true frosh QB Sefo Luifau, who took over the starting job not long ago, but otherwise it is hard to find much to get excited about in Boulder. Three games still remain, including this week's toss-up vs. Cal, but the Buffs' engine has already run out of gas.
Idaho...The Vandals' season as an FBS orphan (Idaho is campaigning as an independent entry this season after the dissolution of the WAC and entrance back into the Sun Belt; competing an independent entry for this season only) has gone anything but smoothly for first-year HC Paul Petrino. Idaho at least has a straight-up win (over Temple in early October) but has regressed alarmingly in recent weeks as starting QB Chad Chalich has battled a shoulder injury. Idaho might have reached its low point last Saturday when getting trounced in the Kibbie Dome by Old Dominion, 59-38. We hope the Monarchs, transitioning to FBS status and joining Conference USA next season, don't think every game vs. the upper echelon will be as easy as was last week's romp past the Vandals.
Iowa State...The Cyclones at least managed a narrow cover last week at home against TCU, but it was also ISU's sixth straight setback, a slump that began with a bitter 31-30 loss on a Thursday night in early October vs. Texas, prompting a tirade against the referees by HC Paul Rhoads in his post-game news conference. The Cyclones have not won since, and Rhoads' status is now coming under some scrutiny in Ames, as the season has unraveled. With starting QB Sam Richardson limited by an ankle injury in recent weeks, the question is now being asked whether Rhoads can survive what could mushroom into a nine-game losing streak to close the season.
Miami-Ohio...The once-proud Miami program has rarely plunged to these depths, winless straight up into mid-November with HC Don Treadwell already dismissed and the RedHawks trying to stay afloat under interim HC Mike Bath, promoted after Treadwell's dismissal. The offense has not scored more than 16 points in a game, and the prospects of the big donut are looming, as Miami figures to be substantial underdogs against the three remaining teams (Kent State, plus likely bowl entries Buffalo and Ball State) to close the regular season. A recent season-ending knee injury suffered by starting QB Austin Boucher was perhaps the final ignominy in a forgettable campaign at Oxford.
Purdue...We wonder how AD Morgan Burke feels now about pulling the plug on the regime of previous HC Danny Hope, especially after the Boilermakers qualified for back-to-back bowl games under Hope and now appear about as far from the postseason as Ross-Ade Stadium is from the Atlantic Ocean under first-year HC Darrell Hazell, who hasn't provided a hint of the success at Kent State that got him the job at West Lafayette. Some regional observers remain skeptical about the true caliber of coaches who routinely "move up" from the MAC, reckoning that some of those coaches can parlay one big year at the lower level into a bigger assignment. Such could be the case for Hazell, as some are wondering if Purdue is guilty of purchasing fool's gold after watching the offense have trouble getting out of its own way and a general listlessness of performance. To wit: The Boilermakers have scored 31 total points in five Big Ten games, with two touchdowns coming in the final minute of play. With only one win (over FCS Indiana State), having suffered recent back-to-back shutouts, and recently turning the offense to true frosh QB Danny Etling, who has looked mostly overwhelmed, some wonder if Hazell is digging himself a deep hole that is going to probably put him in a must-win, or at least competitive status, for next season.
Southern Miss...The blame game for USM's ongoing failures continues to be a topic of debate in the South. Few seem to be willing to blame head coaches Ellis Johnson (last season) and Todd Monken for the 21-game losing streak, instead pointing the finger at predecessor Larry Fedora for not filling the pipeline with action-ready performers before he moved to North Carolina. Fedora did leave an inexperienced collection of QBs for Johnson, but the degree to which this program has plummeted almost staggers, as it has spent the better part of the past two decades as a flagship entry in Conference USA, with 18 straight bowl appearances between 1994-2011. While some in the media seek to assign blame for the fiasco, things are not getting any better for first-year HC Monken, who cannot hope to compensate for his ongoing QB issues (true frosh Nick Mullens piloting the first string) and upgrade a bullet-riddled and talent-shy defense at the same time. USM, which allowed 55 points or more in one recent three-game stretch, has also dropped the spread decision in 17 of those last 21 defeats.
Virginia...Although many on campus in Charlottesville seem to be more preoccupied with the school's lacrosse program, rest assured that HC Mike London is on increasingly thin ice as the Cavaliers have dropped from bowl consideration for the third time in London's four years on the job. Worse, Virginia has regressed steadily since a mini-breakthrough year and a Chick-fil-A Bowl invitation in 2011. It has been all downhill since, with the current back-to-back losses to Clemson (59-10) and North Carolina (minus QB Bryn Renner and still a 45-14 winner) suggesting the team has quit on London. Will London even make it to the season-ender vs. Virginia Tech? And would a long-overdue win over the Hokies be enough to save London?
Other "fade" candidates: UConn, Eastern Michigan, Florida, FIU, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Miami-Fla., Michigan, Nevada, NC State, TCU, Texas Tech, Tulsa, UTEP, Western Michigan.