This winter season has been filled to the brim with fascinating storylines throughout college football, and with the National Championship looming, let’s take a look at some of those storylines in this week’s special edition Sports Buzz Miami College Football Journal.
First the Elephant(s) in the room… Will Win.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, the inevitable conclusion to a rather bland year of college football will end with a familiar phrase… The Crimson Tide are the national champions. Clemson is a fantastic football team that will challenge ‘Bama greatly, but at the end of the day, Alabama will pace their way to a strong second half to wrap this one up. The Tide dominant defensive line will lack the true terror in the first half we all expected as Clemson’s no huddle spread attack winds Alabama’s front seven early on. Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, Alabama is able to move the ball well enough to keep pace with the Tigers, and Jake Coker begins to make NFL scouts take one more look at his scouting report. The second half rolls around after a close first half, and the game begins to be played on Alabama’s terms. Derrick Henry and the mammoth offensive line in front of him wears down Clemson’s front seven while Coker continues to look solid in the play action pass game. On the other side of things, Clemson’s early mediocrity in the first half at running the ball worsens as the Alabama defensive line begins to live in their backfield, and Deshaun Watson is battered around resulting in turnovers. Nonetheless, Clemson is still able to keep the game in reach going into the fourth, but it is more of the same. Alabama seals the game with a killer final blow of the power run game while Clemson falls behind by more than a touchdown and struggles mightily to throw the ball downfield successfully. The Tide take home another national championship with Nick Saban bagging his 5th. Good news for the Tigers is that their roster is loaded once again next year and poised to make another run at it. Alabama must retool greatly after a dominant run to the championship but once again are to be feared by the College Football World.
Final Score: Alabama 34 Clemson 28
Mark Richt’s Completes a Good, but not Great staff in Miami
HC: Mark Richt
OC: Thomas Brown
DC: Manny Diaz
RB: Thomas Brown
WR: Ron Dugans
TE: Todd Hartley
OL: Stacy Searels
QB: John Richt
CB: Mike Rumph
S: Ephraim Blanda
LB: Manny Diaz
DL: Craig Kuligowski
ST: Todd Hartley
The staff Richt has assembled in Miami is solid but possesses many missed opportunities. This isn’t a group with a great deal of sexiness in name, but still packs a punch. At offensive coordinator, is Thomas Brown an up and comer who was formerly Georgia’s RB coach under Richt. He is known to be a talented recruiter and beloved by his players (he relates well to them due to his time at the college level). Considering Richt will in actuality be the de facto offensive coordinator, Brown is a solid hire, but one cannot help but note that this spot would’ve been better served by two co-offensive coordinators as originally intended (Brown was initially announced as a co-offensive coordinator) due to Brown’s inexperience. Brown will also coach running back’s at Miami. Wide receiver coach Ron Dugans is another example of a solid but not spectacular hire. He’s done some impressive things in his days at Louisville and USF and is very well regarded around college football. I will say however that in my view, he is the most disappointing hire. If I were Richt, I would have happily backed up a Brinks truck to former Miami position coach and Tulane head coach, Curtis Johnson’s, house while giving him a co-offensive coordinator, wide receivers, and associate head coach gig. Johnson has Miami roots, has proven to be a talented young coach, would open the Louisiana recruiting pipeline once again, and he boasts head coaching experience. Nonetheless, Dugan’s should prove a competent hire.
Todd Hartley, a first year coach, will handle tight ends and special teams, and due to his lack of experience as an on hands coach, it’s too early to make a determination on the validity of his hiring. At quarterback coach will be Mark Richt’s son, John, who spent the past year in Buffalo as quality control assistant after a stint at Georgia. Expect his father to be heavily involved in his position group, but the younger Richt is a good hire for Miami as a young up and comer with experience in the pros. At offensive line will be journeyman coach Stacy Searels whose resumes includes stops at Texas, Virginia Tech, Georgia, and LSU. This is a rather uninspiring hire due to Searel’s consistent mediocrity, but one cannot deny that he is an experienced winner who has developed some formidable talent and is a perfect fit in Richt’s power blocking offense.
Former Texas and Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will be the ringleader on the other side of the ball, and is a perfect fit for the “U”. This is a guy who grew up a Hurricanes fan in the eighties, is a stellar young recruiter, and is a proponent of the most aggressive 4-3 defense in football. Diaz in a lot of college football programs would be an average coach, at Miami he can be elite. He is a flawless fit for the program, and while one can anticipate his defenses giving up some yards and points, they’ll be the most playmaking in the nation. He will also coach linebackers. At defensive line, Richt has worked some magic by landing a top three defensive line coach in Craig Kuligowski of Missouri. He was strangely not retained after the transition to Barry Odom, and Miami capitalized. Kuligowski flatout gets kids into the NFL no matter how many stars or how much hype they have. He is an ELITE hire, and he’ll do wonders here. In the secondary, Richt once again hits it out of the park with the hire of former cane Mike Rumph as cornerbacks coach. Rumph is a Miami diehard who has been the head coach of College Football pipeline, American Heritage, the past few years, and has done a stellar job. He is a perfect hire who will kill it in recruiting while inspiring his players. The very inexperienced Ephraim Blanda will lead the safety group. He is a Manny Diaz attachment who like Hartley, is too new an addition to the game to adjudicate. Richt also made changes in the strength and training department, firing longtime Miami head S&C coach, Andreu Swasey, to the distress of many former players. But with Swasey’s failure on an NCAA issued training test that resulted in him not being allowed to enter the weight room with players, and Miami’s incessant late game/season collapses… This was a change that Miami needed, and they’ve modernized their approach to a group training staff headed by Gus Felder.
All in all, this is a good but not great staff that is sadly characterized by the missed opportunities. Miami went all in on Wisconsin’s elite defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, with a one million per year offer, but was beat out by LSU. Meanwhile, Miami missed on whatever target is sought to be co-offensive coordinator alongside Brown, and made seemingly dull hires at tight end and offensive line. And in the strength and training department, why was Gus Felder chosen over the elite (and available) Pat Ivey? There is some hollow feeling of just how good this staff could have been… Still, there is zero question that this is a good staff that while won’t blow fans away, is a quality group that has the potential to win games in bunches. Richt did an amiable job assembling his cast of characters.
HC: Mark Richt: A
OC: Thomas Brown: B+
RB: Thomas Brown: A+
WR: Ron Dugans: B
TE: Todd Hartley: Too Early To Determine
OL: Stacy Searels: B-
DC: Manny Diaz: B+
LB: Manny Diaz: A-
DL: Craig Kuligowski: A+
CB: Mike Rumph: A+
S: Ephraim Blanda: Too Early To Determine
S&C: Gus Felder and Co. : B+
Overall Grade Staff Grade: A- Without a doubt a head and shoulders improvement over the Al Golden regime. This is a staff that has Miami on the right path back to the elite ranks.
Top Five Teams I Already Love For Next Year
1. Clemson- This one’s a no-brainer; Clemson will bring the majority of its stellar roster back next year for a chance to capture a ring.
2. Baylor– They’ll once again be a stacked squad, and if they can stay healthy, I have zero doubt they can make the College Football Playoff with the weapons they have on offense and an ever improving defense.
3. Florida State– I hate to pick this team as a Canes fan, but the ‘Noles will be positively loaded next year at every conceivable position. If they can find the answer at quarterback (and with Jimbo Fisher at the realm and multiple five star options, I think they will) while improving the offensive line they’ll win big time.
4. Oklahoma- Oklahoma is another no-brainer like Clemson; they’ll return the core of an outstanding collection of talent… Plus, who else can’t be excited for Baker Mayfield’s encore?
5. Houston- Tom Herman is building something downright special in Houston, and he gets practically the entire roster back next season which should result once again in double digit wins. With the recruiting and program building Herman is doing, Power Five conferences would be silly not to add the budding Cougars program.
Teams that nearly made the list: Tennessee, Michigan, Washington State
Five Teams I Already Hate For Next Year
1. Ohio State- OSU will always have a talented roster under Urban Meyer, but the ten man exodus of studs to the NFL will have a massive toll on this program. The Buckeyes have had a truly special run the past few years, and will be able to continue to be a solid program in the future… But it will take a great deal of time to re-climb the mountaintop of College Football.
2. Michigan State- Once again, Michigan State has had a tremendous run the past few years under the phenomenal Mark Dantonio, but unfortunately, this will likely be a rebuilding year as the Spartans replace program centerpiece, Connor Cook, and a wide array of talent. Like Ohio State, expect the Spartans to turn in a solid season in 2016, but nothing like this past year.
3. Iowa- Yet another Big Ten team joins the list… I full heartedly believe that Iowa was a one year, Cinderella wonder that will come nowhere near scratching close to their prior success this coming season. The roster simply is not that of an elite team, and an embarrassment in the Rose Bowl will take a psychological toll on the team.
4. Florida- Jim McElwain is building one heck of a program up in Gainesville, but this next year will be a far cry from this past year’s ten win campaign. Like many teams on this list, don’t expect a cataclysmic fall, but a somewhat disappointing 8-9 win season. The roster is talented but with the pieces they must replace and a likely first year (even true freshman) or sub par quarterback, Florida will struggle to reclaim their early season dominance of 2015.
5. Arkansas- Bret Bielema is a good football coach, but his seat might warm after this next season. Losing Brandon Allen, Jonathan Williams, and Alex Collins is going to take something out of this team next year, and that’ll manifest itself in losses.
Teams that nearly made the list: North Carolina, Mississippi State
My One Annual I Told You So Moment
- Christian McCaffrey should’ve won the Heisman.
*Drops the Mike*
It’s been a great year of College Football, thanks for sticking with Sports Buzz Miami throughout it. Stay tuned for more fantastic articles this offseason!