College football notes: Arkansas ‘wins’ battle of SEC schools looking for new coach

Some news and notes as we all try to deal with the sobering realization there is just one regular-season game left (Saturday’s Army-Navy clash) in the 2012 season:

Why is this man smiling? Because Bret Bielema knows he can do a good job at Arkansas, which snagged a coach who had guided his team to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. (Beth Hall–USA Today Sports)

Arkansas’ hire of Bret Bielema is the best in the SEC this season

Why all the criticism of Arkansas’ hiring of Bret Bielema as coach? Bielema has taken Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowls – something that not even the sainted-by-Badgers-fans Barry Alvarez was able to do. No, Wisconsin wouldn’t be in the Rose Bowl this season had Ohio State not been on probation, but the reality is that the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason and that Wisconsin is going to the Rose Bowl because it rolled up 70 points in embarrassing a 10-win Nebraska team in the Big Ten championship game. Bielema had four 10-win seasons in seven years as Wisconsin’s coach; that’s as many as Alvarez had in 16 seasons with the Badgers. Bielema took what Alvarez built and made it better. Much has been made of Bielema’s recruiting abilities, with critics noting that he had just one top-40 class as Wisconsin’s coach. What’s more important – recruiting rankings or wins on the field? Expect his recruiting to be ramped up at Arkansas. He’ll be recruiting in a more-fertile area, and while he has criticized cut-throat recruiting policies in the past, Bielema is a smart guy and knows the recruiting “rules” are different in the SEC. Besides, it’s not as if Bobby Petrino was reeling in top-ranked classes at Arkansas: He had one top-20 class and three 34th or worse in five recruiting cycles. Bielema is a proven winner and will do fine at Arkansas. His style of offense (smash-mouth running game behind physical offensive linemen) certainly worked quite nicely for a handful of teams in the SEC this season. Bottom line: Arkansas certainly did better with its hire than any other SEC team looking for a coach this offseason.

Baylor QB Nick Florence is a gun-slinger 

Baylor QB Nick Florence, who had huge shoes to fill as the guy replacing Robert Griffin III, has a good chance to finish the season as the nation’s leading passer. He has thrown for 4,121 yards, third-most behind Marshall’s Rakeem Cato (4,201) and Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron (4,147). But neither of those guys will get to play in a bowl; Florence and Baylor will be going against UCLA in the Holiday Bowl. Florence needs to watch out for the three guys directly behind him. West Virginia’s Geno Smith is fourth with 4,004 yards, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones fifth with 3,989 yards and Texas Tech’s Seth Doege sixth with 3,934 yards. The upshot: The Big 12 could (should?) finish with the nation’s top four passers.

Ellis Johnson is a proven winner on the defensive side of the ball 

Ellis Johnson may have been abysmal in his one season as Southern Miss’ coach – he “led” the Golden Eagles to a 0-12 mark this season after they went 12-2 last season – but he has a long track record as a proven defensive coordinator, and was a good hire in that position by new Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.

 Mack Brown is not an elite coach

Texas is 8-4 this season, including 5-4 in the Big 12 (which wasn’t as strong as it had been in recent seasons), and easily could fall to 8-5 with an Alamo Bowl date with Oregon State pending. A loss to the Beavers would give Texas 17 losses in the past three seasons; that is just two fewer than Texas lost in the previous 10 seasons combined. Yet University of Texas president Bill Powers said this week that Brown “unequivocally” has his full support. “Put succinctly, Mack Brown is and will remain the Longhorns’ head football coach,” Powers said. Is Brown a bad coach? Of course not. Is he a truly elite coach? No. Granted, those are hard to find. But Texas has underachieved as much as any program in the nation over the past three seasons.

 Bowl season prop bets

The Bovada online sportsbook has posted some proposition bets on how each conference will fare in the bowls. Among them are the total bowl wins by conference. The over/under on bowl wins by the ACC is two, by the Big Ten is two, by the Big 12 is 4.5 and by the SEC is six.

 BCS ranking history

This is the third season in a row the teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the next-to-last week’s standings have met for the national title. It’s also the eighth time in the 15 seasons of the BCS it has happened.

[Related: Ranking the BCS bowls, from worst to first]

Jordan Lynch is will try to run circles around the FSU defense. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Some love for Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch

Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch ran for 160 yards in the Huskies’ victory over Kent State in the MAC title game, which makes him the NCAA record-holder single-season rushing yards by a quarterback. He has 1,771 yards; the record  had been 1,702, by Michigan’s Denard Robinson in 2010. Lynch has one game left, against Florida State in the Orange Bowl. His overall rushing total leads the nation.

 Orange Bowl notes

Staying with the Orange Bowl, the FSU-NIU matchup has been widely panned. But answer me this: Why is it that a lot of people panning the matchup are the same people who have been whining about needing a playoff “for equal access for everybody”? Would a playoff matchup between FSU and NIU all of a sudden be palatable? One sure bet, though: Look for this Orange Bowl to have the worst TV ratings ever for a BCS game. The current “record-holder” is last season’s Orange Bowl, with a 4.56 rating. The second-worst is the Cincinnati-Virginia Tech Orange Bowl following the 2008 season.

 The only team in the top 20 in both offense and defense?

Fourteen of the nation’s top 20 teams in total offense are in a bowl; 18 of the top 20 in total defense are in the postseason. (To be fair, one top 20 in total offense is ineligible for a bowl and another was bypassed.) And you want to win a bet? Challenge a friend to name the only team in the nation this season that is in the top 20 in both categories. It’s Fresno State, which is 14th in total offense (QB Derek Carr, David’s brother, threw for 3,742 yards, 36 TDs and just five picks) and 19th in total defense.

 SEC vs. Big 12: offense vs. defense

Five SEC teams are in the top 20 in total defense (actually, the five are in the top 17) but just two in the top 20 in total offense. Conversely, the Big 12 has five in the top 20 (actually, the top 12) in offense and just one in defense.

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