Chip Kelly had plenty of suitors lined up for his next coaching gig, but it was UCLA that rose above the rest to claim this year’s coveted hire.
On ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast Saturday morning, Kelly, who is employed by the network as an analyst, called in to announce that he had accepted as head coach of the Bruins football program.
It had been reported that Kelly had narrowed his final choice to UCLA and Florida, but signs seemed to point toward him landing with the Bruins. Yahoo reported Wednesday that the Gators were looking elsewhere after meeting with Kelly.
Leaving UCLA, which was always an intriguing possibility simply because of what it could be, what it hasn’t done and how it isn’t the center of the universe in its particular town.
Any rundown of Kelly’s aims usually included cutting out as many non-football responsibilities as possible, something easier to do in Los Angeles than in a Southeastern Conference town. He’s also familiar with the Pac-12 after going 46-7 at Oregon in a four-year stint.
The Bruins, though, might be the best fit largely because it’s not an impossible job but also one with realistic expectations. Four qualities go a long way in determining how good any job is, with a strong coach putting a school over the top: access to talent (geography), resources (money/facilities), tradition (i.e. has it been done before) and institutional commitment.
UCLA is blessed with some of the best access to talent in the country, and that alone makes any resource concerns less of an issue. The Bruins have finished a season ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll as recently as 2014 and eight times since 1982. They also have only three top-25 finishes (and one top-10 finish) since 1998.
And UCLA was committed enough to becoming a better football program that it was willing to pay Jim Mora Jr. about $12 million not to coach the Bruins for the next four years and give Kelly “full control of its program and a top-10 salary,” according to Schlabach.
UCLA might want to win national titles, but it would probably be quite happy with a coach who could finish in the top 20 three years in a row (which it hasn’t done since the 1980s) and win 70 percent of his games (a level no Bruins coach since Dick Vermeil has achieved over a full stint). Kelly’s background in the college game, and the copious talent available in Southern California, suggests he could meet both of those standards.
As for Florida, Schlabach said Florida had turned its attentions toward its Plan B: Central Florida’s Scott Frost, who led his program to an undefeated regular season with Friday’s win over South Florida.
“Florida officials were hoping to meet with Frost and/or his representatives in Orlando on Sunday,” Schlabach said, “… But certainly Scott Frost is at the top of Florida’s wish list.”
Frost is also reportedly being pursued by Nebraska, where he was the starting quarterback in 1996-97.
Here we go again
Another week brought another batch of complaining about playoff committee rankings, this time from American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco.
Whether Aresco is correct or not about Central Florida getting a bit snubbed — he probably is right, even if his invocation of victories by his conference’s teams in past seasons is pointless and irrelevant — it once again illustrates the incredible level of attention the playoff can generate for what are ultimately meaningless rankings.
This is another chance to plug the “just don’t look” philosophy of approaching the committee’s weekly utterances. Until the first Sunday in December, whatever rankings it puts forth are inconsequential in the long term. Rationale and priorities seem to shift from week to week, which mean the late-season stabs at transparency just muddy the waters.
Because there are only four playoff berths and just 13 games per team, this was never going to be as tricky as sizing up an NCAA basketball tournament bracket. And the four things that seemed certain when the playoff was initiated remain true:
- An undefeated power conference team is getting in (and if it somehow misses, the countdown clock begins in earnest for an eight-team field).
- A one-loss power-conference team will get consideration.
- A two-loss power-conference team needs a great resume plus a league title (as an 11-2 Auburn would own this year).
- And a team outside a power conference has virtually no prayer unless it navigates an absurdly tough nonconference schedule without a loss.
Everything else is background noise and a distraction — especially weekly rankings that in the final analysis affect very little beyond the blood pressure of coaches, athletic directors and conference executives.
Running down the scenarios in all nine leagues with championship games next week.
American Athletic: Memphis (9-1) will play Central Florida, which moved to 11-0 and clinched its berth in the title game with Friday’s breathtaking 49-42 victory over South Florida.
Atlantic Coast: Clemson (10-1) and Miami (10-0) have clinched their respective divisions, but can turn their league title game into a de facto national quarterfinal with victories this weekend (Clemson at South Carolina, Miami at Pittsburgh).
Big Ten: Wisconsin (11-0) and Ohio State (10-1) will meet in Indianapolis regardless of their regular season finales.
Big 12: Oklahoma (10-1) will make the trip to Dallas for the league’s first conference championship since 2010. Texas Christian (9-2) can take the complexity out of the chase for the second spot by defeating 1-10 Baylor, though it will win tiebreakers in any potential logjam that doesn’t include Iowa State (and some that do involve the Cyclones).
Conference USA: It’s already on the calendar — Lane Kiffin-led Florida Atlantic (8-3) will host North Texas (8-3) in a rematch of the Owls’ 69-31 victory on Oct. 21.
Mid-American: Akron (7-5) claimed the East Division with a victory over Kent State on Tuesday. Toledo (9-2) would win the West with a victory Friday over Western Michigan or a Northern Illinois loss to Central Michigan. If Northern Illinois wins and Toledo loses, the Huskies (8-3) claim the division.
Mountain West: Maybe the oddest scenario of the bunch. Both Boise State (9-2) and Fresno State (8-3) have already sealed their divisions. They also play Saturday in a regular season finale to determine who will host the league title game.
Pac-12: Southern California (10-2) has an open date after playing 12 consecutive weeks. It claimed the Pac-12 South and will meet Washington State (9-2) if the Cougars beat Washington in the Apple Cup. A Cougars loss would hand the Pac-12 North to Stanford (8-3).
SEC: Georgia (10-1) wrapped up the SEC East weeks ago, while the Alabama-Auburn winner on Saturday will take the SEC West title.
Bowling along (without sub-. 500 teams)
For the first time in three years, it looks like the bowl system won’t have to dip into the ranks of teams with 5-7 records to fill out its hefty holiday schedule.
There are 70 bowl-eligible teams entering the week, and 21 more that can get there to help fill out the final eight spots. With California-UCLA, Indiana-Purdue, Old Dominion-Middle Tennessee and Colorado-Utah all guaranteed to produce a 6-6 team, only four of the other 13 teams that can still get to 6-6 (or 6-5) need to win to shut out those with a losing record.
There’s a good chance that happens. As for why there will probably be enough eligible programs this year after some 5-7 teams were rewarded the last two seasons, the elimination of the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego has played a part. One less game, means two fewer spots and plenty less yowling from folks determined to complain about games they probably weren’t planning to watch anyway.
Five games to watch
No. 15 Central Florida 49, South Florida 42 (Friday): It will be hard for anything on Saturday — or all season — to top what had been the most anticipated Group of Five game of the year. The Knights scored on a 23-yard touchdown pass to take an eight-point lead with 2:21 remaining. The Bulls tied it with an 83-yard pass and a two-point conversion with 1:41 left. Then the Knights returned the ensuing kickoff for the winning score. Quinton Flowers passed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 102 more and another score — as the losing quarterback. Wow.
No. 9 Ohio State at Michigan (Saturday, noon, Fox): Urban Meyer has yet to lose to “That School Up North” in five tries since taking over at Ohio State (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten). With J.T. Barrett and J.K. Dobbins on his side and the Wolverines (8-3, 5-3) unable to do much damage against the better defenses in the Big Ten, he should stay undefeated in the rivalry game.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 6 Auburn (Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS): The winner of the Iron Bowl heads to the SEC title game. The Crimson Tide (11-0, 7-0) hasn’t lost to an SEC team since September 2015 and hasn’t dropped an Iron Bowl since 2013. For Auburn (9-2, 6-1), this is a matter of remaining in the playoff picture for another week.
West Virginia at No. 4 Oklahoma (Saturday, 3:45 p.m., ESPN): Baker Mayfield vs. Will Grier vanished in a span of a few hours last week. Grier suffered a broken finger and won’t play for West Virginia (7-4, 5-3 Big 12), while Mayfield won’t start after his crotch-grabbing sideline antics at Kansas last week. Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1) will try to stay in the national title hunt with a victory.
No. 3 Clemson at No. 24 South Carolina (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN): The visiting Tigers (10-1) have claimed three straight over their Palmetto State rivals, but South Carolina (8-3) has played well and exploited a diminished SEC East in its second season under Will Muschamp. Expect something a lot closer than the 56-7 walloping Clemson administered last season.
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