This Changes Everything: Riley to SC, Michigan Stuns Ohio State, Stanford's Decline
It was a transformative weekend in college football, highlighted by a stunning hire in the Pac-12 and a shocking turn in the Big Ten.
The USC Trojans, wallowing in mediocrity since the departure of Pete Carroll in 2009, landed one of the biggest names in coaching, Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley.
The hiring sent shock waves throughout the country.
A young (38) but well-established winner, with a 55-10 record, three College Football Playoff appearances and four Big 12 championships in five years as head man in Norman, Riley is considered a great recruiter and one of football's most innovative offensive minds. He developed two Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks—Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray—and Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts.
Why would Riley leave Oklahoma for USC, a school
that fired its coach two games into the season, lost to crosstown rival UCLA by 29 points, and has a 22-20 record the past four years?
First off, he recognizes that it’s going to be much harder to win at Oklahoma when the Sooners move to the loaded, 16-team SEC (hello Alabama, LSU, Mississippi, Florida, Auburn, etc.), and that the less imposing Pac-12 offers more fertile ground to win championships.
Second, His potential in Trojanland is unlimited. Southern California is a gold mine in recruiting, the LA area is a boon to NIL possibilities, and the program has nowhere to go but up. The Trojan family has been pining for a coach like Riley for the past 12 years and will get behind him immediately. Recruits are already de-committing from other schools to go to SC.
Ironically, Riley has been one of the leading poachers stealing major prospects from the Trojans' backyard, including 2023 five-star quarterback Malachi Nelson from Los Alamitos. Nelson wasted no time de-committing from Oklahoma last night, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him follow Riley to USC.
The Riley hiring is great for the Pac-12—immediately giving the embattled conference a much needed shot in the arm—but a mixed blessing for its member schools. Riley's arrival will make things tougher for everyone.
Oregon, in particular, may no longer be able to pull so many top recruits from Southern California. Who knows? Duck coach Mario Cristobal may start listening to the overtures he's been getting from LSU and Miami.
Harbaugh Gets Over the Hump: Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh finally beat arch-nemesis Ohio State on Saturday. Frankly, I was surprised, because I thought Michigan wouldn't be able to contain the Buckeyes' passing game, which features three of the best wide receivers in college football.
But the Wolverines, led by All-American Aidan Hutchinson, pressured OSU quarterback CJ Stroud all day, kept his wide receivers in check, preventing any long plays, gave a clinic on open field tackling, and shut down the Buckeyes' ground game.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan's offensive line completely manhandled Ohio State, opening huge holes for running back Hassan Hawkins, who ran for a school record-tying five touchdowns.
Assuming Michigan beats Iowa in this weekend's Big Ten Championship game, Harbaugh will take his team to the College Football Playoff for the first time.
And I wouldn't count him out. Harbaugh can be difficult, as he proved during previous stints at Stanford and with the 49ers, but the man can coach. Credit the Michigan brass for sticking with him, despite no Big Ten championships and no wins over Ohio State in six years.
New Blood: Much of the talk around Michigan's upset centered on Harbaugh's bold off-season moves to completely revamp his coaching staff.
Six of Harbaugh's 10 assistants are in their first year at Michigan, including defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, who came to Ann Arbor after coaching for Harbaugh's brother, John, with the Baltimore Ravens. Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is in his third year at Michigan after previous stints at Alabama and Penn State.
Close observers of the Michigan program also noted another change in Harbaugh this year—a new-found willingness to listen to and accept help from others. For the first time, he accepted support and input from members of the Michigan family.
Stanford’s Decline: Perhaps Harbaugh could give a few tips to his successor at Stanford, David Shaw, whose program is in tatters.
In the finale of a miserable 2021 football season, a never-had-a-prayer matchup with Notre Dame, the Cardinal netted 55 yards on the ground and only scored in garbage time.
Stanford finished the season with the nation's 126th ranked rushing offense (out of 130 FBS schools), netting a paltry 87 yards per game, and the nation's 127th ranked rushing defense, allowing 235 per game.
Putting it more simply, Stanford had one of the five worst rushing offenses and one of the five worst rushing defenses in college football.
Stanford's record over the last three years is 11-19. The Cardinal lost seven straight to end this season, and the last four came by scores of 52-7, 35-14, 41-11 and 45-14.
Stewart Mandel, the national editor-in-chief for the Athletic, says Stanford has "hit rock bottom."
Highly-respected USA Today columnist Dan Wolken, asks, "So, does the administration at Stanford care about being good at football anymore? If they did, it would be impossible to view David Shaw with the same ironclad security he apparently enjoys these days. At some point, a string of bad seasons becomes a cry for help.
" If Stanford is fine with being the Northwestern of the Pacific time zone—a program that tolerates bad seasons as long as there’s a good one now and then—that's fine. If they want to be elite again, something needs to change."
The Cardinal locker room is full of four-star recruits who have under-achieved. As we've noted in previous blogs, Shaw's staff has become too inbred and has failed to develop the talent on hand.
To date, Shaw has been stubbornly reluctant to fire any of his assistants, many of whom have grown up in his program. But it's obviously time for a change. He needs to inject some new blood, energy and ideas into his program by replacing both of his coordinators as well as his offensive and defensive line coaches.
Otherwise, there will be more 3-9 seasons on the horizon.