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May 28, 2010

Mailbag: What if Spurrier wins it all again?

Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. At least that's what legendary coach Vince Lombardi supposedly said.

Winning made Lombardi legendary. But the most victories don't necessarily identify the best coach.

Take Howard Schnellenberger, for example. He ranks only seventh among the winningest coaches at Miami with 41 victories there. Yet he might be the best coach in school history. After all, when he took over the Hurricanes in 1979, Miami's was a moribund program that had managed just two winning seasons (both 6-5 finishes) in the previous 11 years.

But Schnellenberger turned Miami around. Five years later, the Hurricanes won the national championship. Then he left.

The following Miami coaches -- Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, Butch Davis, Larry Coker and Randy Shannon -- have had success, to various degrees. But even Johnson and Erickson, who also won national championships in Coral Gables, just continued what Schnellenberger started.

Hasn't a coach who builds a program into a winner accomplished more than a coach who wins at an already established program?

And if a coach builds two or three underachieving programs into consistent winners, should he then be considered as perhaps the best ever in his field?

That's a question up for discussion in this week's mailbag.

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The Ol' Ball Coach

Please answer these questions: Will Steve Spurrier ever win an SEC title with the Gamecocks? If so, is this the year? Assuming that it is, wouldn't that also put them in the national championship game? And if South Carolina does win, would that make him the greatest college football coach ever?
D.H. in Lawtey, Fla.

Only a legitimate clairvoyant (if such really exists) could know whether South Carolina will win an SEC championship and maybe more under Spurrier. Personally, I have my doubts, but I've been around too long to rule anything out.

For example, I never saw it coming when Northwestern won the Big Ten under Gary Barnett. And Wake Forest's ACC title blindsided me. Heck, I'll even admit surprise to Oregon winning the Pac-10 championship last season.

But if the Gamecocks did win (and that is a huge "if") the SEC and maybe more, your question about Spurrier's place among college football's greatest coaches is certainly interesting. No doubt, in that scenario, a strong case could be made on Spurrier's behalf.

So for sake of argument, let's make it.

Remember, Spurrier started his career as a college head coach at Duke, where he posted 20 victories in three seasons and won a share of the ACC championship in 1989. Think about that: He won a share of the ACC championship at Duke.

The Blue Devils hadn't managed more than six wins in a season for 24 years before Spurrier's arrival. Under Spurrier they won seven in '88 and eight in '89. They've had one winning season since.

In fact, Duke has posted fewer victories (19) so far this century than it did in the three seasons under Spurrier.

When Spurrier left Duke, he took over a Florida program that had captured exactly one SEC championship (1984) and had it vacated because of recruiting violations. In a dozen years in Gainesville, Spurrier led the Gators to six SEC titles and their first national championship, in 1996.

At South Carolina, he oversees a perennially underachieving program. Under Spurrier, South Carolina has posted five consecutive non-losing seasons, a feat not accomplished in Columbia since the 1930s. If Spurrier could somehow bring an SEC and national title in South Carolina, he absolutely would deserve to be in the discussion for greatest coach ever. Yet I'd probably still cast my vote with the Bear.

Irish offense

Lindy's preseason All-America team included both wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame. What does that tell you about what to expect out of Notre Dame's offense? Is quarterback Dayne Crist expected to be that good? Is Brian Kelly's offense going to have that much of an impact with Charlie Weis' recruits?
Ryan in Phoenix

Well, I'd expect the Irish to do everything they can to get the football to those guys, especially Floyd.

Floyd is one of the country's most spectacular players. He may even be the best player in the country. Last season, he had more than 100 receiving yards in five games. But he only played in seven games. He broke his collarbone early against Michigan State and had just two catches for 38 yards in that game. Floyd is one of those players who can turn a short toss into an 80-yard touchdown.

Rudolph is one of the best in the country at his position, too. He should be utilized more often.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Notre Dame had those players last year (well, most of the year in Floyd's case) and still finished 6-6.

Expectations in South Bend are that Crist will be a good quarterback. But he's probably not going to play at the level that Jimmy Clausen did the past two seasons. So even in Kelly's version of the spread, I'm skeptical that the Irish can match their performance of last season, when they averaged 451.7 yards to rank eighth in the nation in total offense.

The concern is keeping Crist healthy. He suffered a severe knee injury last season, and the Irish offensive tackles have marginal experience. Furthermore, quarterbacks in Kelly's system took a beating at Cincinnati. Tony Pike broke his left arm last season, and in 2008, the Bearcats used three quarterbacks.

Playing it cool

I'm not sure how I feel about the Pac-10 playing it cool regarding expansion and not pushing too hard (when you have the state of California wrapped up, it's hard to complain), but do you think the Pac-10 needs to step up its efforts? After all, the western United States is the fastest-growing region and states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Utah feature fast-growing TV markets. I don't think the SEC or Big Ten is lurking about looking to grab New Mexico or BYU, but the Pac-10 needs to show some interest in lining up some other schools. If there is a movement toward super conferences, it's time to start marking your territory.
Josh in Albuquerque

It would seem the Pac-10 has marked its territory -- anything west of the Rocky Mountains. The question is whether the Pac-10 will jump to the other side of that range and how far if it does.

Commissioner Larry Scott is on record saying the conference is seriously considering expansion. Frankly, I don't see how it can't.

Big Ten expansion is coming. When that occurs, the Pac-10 and the Big East will be the only "Big Six" conferences without the requisite 12 members needed to stage a conference championship game.

The Big East's status as a "major" conference already is hanging by a thread. Surely, the Pac-10 would rather be more associated with the SEC, ACC, expanded Big Ten and the Big 12 than it would the Big East.

Furthermore -- and most important -- the Pac-10's TV contract with Fox expires in 2012, so those talks are going to pick up within the next year. Expansion would enable the Pac-10 to negotiate a better deal.

But what teams would the Pac-10 target?

The feeling here was always that it would be Utah and BYU. As you mentioned, Utah is a growing area. The Pac-10 always has had geographic pairs (Washington-Washington State, Oregon-Oregon State, etc.), so that seemed like a logical step.

But one team from the state of Utah may be enough. The Pac-10 could enhance its negotiating power by adding potential TV viewers in other states, too. Rumors already have surfaced that the Pac-10 may try to coax Colorado away from the Big 12, which may lose Nebraska or Missouri (or both) to the Big Ten.

Actually, the Big Ten's reported interest in Nebraska and Missouri provides a great reason for the Pac-10 to go slow on expansion. Here's why: If Nebraska and/or Missouri left, the Big 12 would be in danger of dissolving. In that case, Texas likely would be interested in going elsewhere. The Pac-10 could make a play for Texas and Texas A&M, which would greatly enhance the Pac-10's negotiating power.

Of course, in that case, the SEC likely would make a bid to add the Texas schools, too.

Depth question

What are Georgia's options if quarterback Aaron Murray gets hurt?
Steve in Fayetteville, Ga.

Junior Logan Gray, who considered transferring but opted to remain with the Bulldogs, likely would step in if Murray were injured.

The Bulldogs also have freshman Hutson Mason coming in, though they'd probably prefer he redshirt.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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