College Football Lagging Behind In Diversity

Who knew sports and politics had so much in common. In America, both are rooted deep in our social fabric and possess a certain irony. In fact, a bizarre connection is evident. The nation’s first African American president was inaugurated Jan.20. If you think that alone is a telling sign of the times, then you should focus on the sidelines of college football fields across the U.S. If you focus hard enough, it will become very clear.

It’s unfortunate that the giant step occurring in American politics isn’t true of college campuses across the United States — primarily at Division 1-A schools with football programs. At least in terms of perceived value, the sport is larger than the institutions which house them.

Frankly, it is astounding that a black man is ready to lead a nation in a state of economic decline, but black men are perceived to be incapable and unqualified to lead some of the nation’s top college football programs. The election of Barack Obama as our 44th president certainly serves as a sign of progress at the highest level, but there’s a lot of work to be done below the executive branch, where irony exceeds logic.

Over a month ago, only three of the men who served as head football coach at 119 Division 1-A schools were of African-American descent. That number increased to seven. It was not an attempt to catch up with other sports, but rather to save face by exercising a certain degree of political correctness. Furthermore, those seven have been reduced to coaching jobs at lesser schools, signifying the long overdue trend still has not made its way to a larger platform.

Not even college football’s governing body can offer a watershed moment. Although the NCAA cannot select head coaches, it can legislate change beginning with a rule that requires teams to interview a black candidate before hiring a coach. But the real power lies within the institution itself – one even more powerful than the NCAA that governs it. School presidents and athletic directors are pressured by wealthy boosters and a board of directors alike. Thus, those in power are forced to make their subordinates a priority, rather than much needed diversity.

Will college football ever change its rigid ways based on old traditions? Essentially the issue and politics are one in the same. Both involve a society seeking change in the current white-dominated system. Both bring large masses to congregate and unite. Citizens’ views comprise the approval rating of politicians, while college football uses a grading system to evaluate the aspect of fairness in the hiring process. Politics and sports are parallel even in their end results. Both try, to a certain degree, to succeed in reaching change.

If America can do it, college football can too.

USF’s Third Loss Puts Season in Serious Jeopardy

For the second time in less than a week, USF fell to another Big East opponent on the road. The 24-10 loss to Cincinnati will surely drop the Bulls out of the Top 25, and as the Bulls’ schedule drags on, this season proves not so different from the last. In both 2007 and 2008 USF got off to a strong start. Then came those painful mid-season slumps that transformed high expectations into utter disappointment. Thursday’s defeat marked USF’s third loss in its last four games, bearing an eerie parallel to the three-game losing streak of 2007. Last year’s loss to Rutgers came on the heels of a flawless 6-0 start, putting a damper on the remainder of the season.

“It’s miserable. It’s almost like last year all over again,” center Jake Griffin told the St. Petersburg Times. “I hope the university never schedules another Thursday night game.”

In fact, last year is looking better than what this season is shaping up to be. In 2007, the Bulls climbed all the way to the second spot in the BCS poll, but this year USF’s highest rank stood at #16. Last year’s upsets over Auburn and West Virginia proved the Bulls could compete against big programs, but three unexpected losses this season to less formidable teams left fans to reconsider.

Much like last Saturday’s loss at Louisville, USF gave up big plays, failed to score in the red-zone and were laden with penalties, but the Bulls’ struggling offense proved to be the difference maker that separated a much-needed win from a season-toppling loss. On the eve of Halloween, Matt Grothe’s performance appropriately resembled a nightmare. He threw three interceptions and only passed for 174 yards, half of his last game’s total. Trailing by 14 in the third quarter, Grothe failed to get the Bulls into the end-zone twice, once from inside the 10-yard line and again from near the goal line.

“When we had the ball inside the ten [yard line], not to convert there two times, there’s no excuse for that,” head coach Jim Leavitt told The St. Petersburg Times. “We have got to score points there.”

The Bulls defense proved just as futile. They allowed Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike to throw for 281 yards and two touchdowns while completing 20 of 28 passes. Pike’s performance contributed a large part to his team’s 39-point outscoring of the Bulls in the last two meetings.

A tough and emotional loss, the game really harmed USF in the standings. The Bulls currently sit in seventh place in the Big East, just atop woeful Syracuse, a single-win team so far this season. If the upcoming schedule is any indication, the Bulls may very well maintain their depressing state. After a much-needed week off, the Bulls return home on November 15 to take on Rutgers, who fortunately for the Bulls, is struggling. UConn, another victor against USF, then comes to town before the season’s conclusion.

Considering the Bulls’ season wraps up in Morgantown against Big East power West Virginia – a team likely to win the conference title – will the Bulls see another win all season?

Recent Upset Trend Makes Stop in Tampa

At the top of the Big East standings, a content, confident and possibly complacent Bulls team entered Thursday’s Big East opener with an undefeated 5-0 record. As a result, however, USF played with a target on its back and Pittsburgh hit the bull’s eye with a 26-21 win that is sure to drop USF severely in the AP poll.

Although the first official BCS standings don’t debut until later this month, there’s a very good chance USF’s national title hopes are over. Before Thursday’s game, Matt Grothe told The Tampa Tribune he felt the Bulls were in the same position as #1 ranked USC last week before they were upset by unranked Oregon State, and that hopefully the Pittsburgh game wouldn’t have the same outcome.

Unfortunately it did.

USF now joins Georgia, Florida, Ohio State and even USC as another one-loss team who expected to make a run at the Orange Bowl, but came up short.

In most cases, one loss will ruin a season. Both Miami in 2000 and Michigan in 2006 can attest. While it’s not impossible for one-loss teams to win it all – it’s even possible for a rare two-loss team to do it as LSU did last season – it is unlikely that USF will have the same luck.

Pittsburgh’s season-opening loss to unranked Bowling Green will haunt USF’s resume come December. Consider that any one-loss team from the Big 12 and potentially five from the SEC would jump the Bulls in the BCS because of schedule strength, their elite conferences and the number of “quality wins”, a term with a very ambiguous meaning.

The Bulls are now 0-2 on ESPN Thursday night games, with one more ESPN appearance still to come this season on October 30 at Cincinnati. USF must win out in order to receive a bid to a respectable bowl, but that includes beating West Virginia at Morgantown and UConn, who is considered to be the “sleeper” team in the Big East.

Luckily the Bulls don’t play again until October 18, giving them ample time to prepare for the tough opponents who lie ahead. Now the question shifts to whether the Bulls will even win the Big East conference, much less earn a spot in the BCS national championship game.

USF Starts to Fulfill Expectations

After three consecutive close wins, no one knew which USF Bulls team would show up against NC State on Saturday night: last year’s Bulls, who started the season 6-0 and pulled off upsets against high-ranked teams, or this year’s squad who continues to scrape by lesser opponents. USF’s 41-10 win over NC State in Raleigh better resembled last year’s team.

“I don’t think we’ve put our A game together yet,” USF center Jake Griffin, a senior, told The Tampa Tribune. “I think that’s what we need to do to prove we are a pretty good team.”

As they did in a win against Kansas two weeks ago, the Bulls earned their rank with a win over a tough ACC opponent. Hopefully the victory gave Bulls fans peace of mind for the remainder of the season, leaving little doubt which team will take the field this Thursday as Big East play kicks off.

Despite battling both the Wolfpack defense and a torrential downpour, USF scored on its first three possessions and set the tempo early while former Countryside high school standout quarterback Harrison Beck struggled to get NC State’s offense rolling.

Entering the game, the USF defense ranked fourth from the bottom in the nation in forced turnovers, causing only three all season. NC State, on the other hand, ranked sixth-best in Division I with twelve.

But Saturday defied these figures.

The Wolfpack turned the ball over twice in the second quarter, leading to two USF safeties. Even with key defensive players Brouce Mompremier and George Selvie out with injuries, the Bulls defense and special teams gave an equally impressive showing.

Looking ahead to Thursday, USF’s biggest concern is staying healthy. Carlton Williams left Saturday’s game in the third quarter with a badly bruised left hip, leaving his status against Pittsburgh uncertain, along with that of Mompremier and Selvie.

Matt Grothe continues to pick apart defenses each week, as USF dominates opponents in first-half total offense. In Saturday’s game at NC State, Grothe totaled 327 out of the team’s 502 yards of total offense by himself – let’s hope Thursday’s game at Raymond James continues the winning trend.

Spread Offense Making its Way Across the Nation

A variation of one of college football oldest offensive systems has been revised again: it’s called the spread offense, and it’s making frequent stops in college stadiums across the nation.

Thirty years ago, Western Oregon head coach Mouse Davis drew the blueprint for the original system, calling it the run-and-shoot offense, which set 20 Division 1-AA records. In the 1990s, Steve Spurrier made some changes to the traditional setup and won a national championship at Florida with his own version, which he dubbed the fun-and-gun.

In today’s game, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is credited with tweaking both Davis’ and Spurriers systems to create the spread offense, which has been the most effective out of the three forms.

The formation looks something like this: no huddle, shotgun snap, one running back (if any), and four or five wide receivers. Its primary goal is to spread defenders from sideline to sideline across the whole width of the field, allowing for the running back and receivers to run to open spaces.

College football’s elite conference, the SEC, has long been known for its offensive innovation, so it’s no surprise that is where the spread has been most successful. Urban Meyer instituted the spread in his first season with the Gators, and led them to a national championship just one year later. Last year, LSU took home the grand prize by running an offense that combined elements of the spread with another formation, the Power-I.

Due to its recent success, the spread is rapidly expanding outside of Division 1, and college football for that matter. In Texas, Florida and California, several high schools have instituted the system in order to prepare players for the next level.

No matter where it is used, it has had a huge impact on the game. Football, whether high school or college, is now faster and much more entertaining. The options that are created from the spread make players more versatile, and almost superhuman. Don’t be surprised if wide receivers occasionally take direct snaps at the quarterback position, or if a quarterback scores more touchdowns rushing than he does passing.

For a relatively new system, the spread has rapidly evolved into the most significant factor in the formula to win games. It has done a lot for college football already, except give insight to defenses on how to stop it.

TO BATTLE, OR NOT TO BATTLE

by Peter Pupello

A rather anti-climactic series on the field in years past, the continuing war of words off the field fell nowhere short of Ohio State and Michigan.

The disagreement between both schools’ coaches, players and fans has less to do with wins or losses and more to do with continuing or ending the series.

“One side gets it, but as far as the other side goes, I don’t know what the problem is,” UCF head coach George O’Leary told the Tampa Tribune regarding why USF won’t continue the rivalry

Here’s some food for thought: As USF continues to build a reputation and climb the college football ranks, the Bulls, who play in a competitive BCS conference, have moved on to bigger and better things.

The Bulls want to star in one of five BCS bowl games in January, and they have to play tougher teams to get there. Not to mention, the risk of losing to UCF is far too great for the Bulls: a loss to the Knights would cause a plummet in the polls.

Saturday’s thriller was too close for comfort. The Bull’s sealed their perfect record against the Knights and ended any UCF hope of breaking it (for now), but for USF fans, it was fun while it lasted.

The Bulls End the Series With A Close Call

In the final matchup between the cross-state rivals, USF capped its perfect 4-0 record against UCF Saturday night with a 31-24 win in overtime.

Matt Grothe found Cedric Hill in the end zone twice, scoring back-to-back touchdowns with three minutes to play. The Bulls led most of the game, but Grothe’s next pass was intercepted, leading to a monumental Knights comeback.

According to a quote from the St. Petersburg Times, coach Jim Leavitt said, “We made a lot of mistakes, and we didn’t use our judgment with three minutes to go in the game. We had the game under control, but we have to make better decisions.”

First, UCF quarterback Michael Greco hit tight end Corey Rabazinski from 15 yards out to pull within one score, and less than a minute later Greco connected with wide receiver Rocky Ross to tie the game.

The Bulls escaped disaster when UCF’s final play on 4th and 6th in overtime fell just inches short.

“When the defense made that stop, I was down on all four knees just praying, saying thank God we won the game,” wide receiver Taurus Johnson told the St. Petersburg Times.

14 USF seniors earned lifelong bragging rights in the win, while it rendered UCF 0-18 against ranked opponents.