Larry Fedora will not find himself on any Coach of the Year ballots, but given the dumpster fire that has enveloped his former job at Southern Miss, he might just be one of the MVPs of the coaching world this fall.
North Carolina's first-year head coach took over the perennially "up-and-coming" Tar Heels program this past offseason, leaving behind a 10-win team and Conference USA champion. He's won five games so far. And although Fedora's yet to put his John Hancock on a program-defining victory, the team's three losses have come by a total of nine points. The future – barring the ongoing academic mishaps – looks bright.
Southern Miss, on the other hand, is losing by slightly larger margins.
The Eagles are one of only two teams nationally yet to register a win in 2012 (the other program, UMass, although it does have Bill Cosby’s support, is not even a full FBS member yet), losing seven games by an average of 19.4 points per game. Four different quarterbacks have received playing time. Players' parents are being arrested in the stands.
The current gap between Fedora and his successor, former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, could span the distance from Hattiesburg to Chapel Hill. Fedora lost just seven games over his final two seasons at Southern Miss combined — the final six by a total of just 20 points.
But he's not the only former C-USA headman that warrants this "MVC" consideration.
Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin nearly led the Houston Cougars to an undefeated season in 2011, posting a 13-1 record. His only loss came to Fedora in the conference title game. Sumlin, a former Purdue linebacker, is now doing big things for the Aggies — leading the SEC newcomers to a surprise 5-2 season with a freshman quarterback under center. And Houston? Well, it lost its first three games and is now just 3-4 under new coach Tony Levine. That's a far cry from the high-scoring blowouts Sumlin's teams put together.
And while it's true personnel losses contributed to the sudden downfall of both Southern Miss and Houston — both programs notably lost prolific starting quarterbacks Austin Davis and Case Keenum — it's hard to imagine such a drop off without a transition between coaching staffs.
Other names will understandably garner recognition for the National Coach of the Year this season — Mike Riley (Oregon State), Will Muschamp (Florida), Bill Snyder (Kansas State), Charlie Strong (Louisville) and Frank Solich (Ohio) among them — but no other coaches left a more visible void during the offseason coaching carousel than Fedora and Sumlin. Co-MVCs it is.
STIFF ARM SUSPECTS
Collin Klein, Kansas State, QB: He’s earned the nickname. Klein has been spectacular this season, delivering elite performances against Kansas State’s top competition – accounting for 592 yards and eight touchdowns against ranked opponents. He’s also the nation’s top-rated passer in the fourth quarter (233.6 efficiency). Behind their quarterback, the Wildcats are the No. 2 team in the BCS standings, and are inching closer and closer to an undefeated season. The Mask approves. Next game: Texas Tech
Kenjon Barner, Oregon, RB: Oregon backfield mate De’Anthony Thomas is receiving just as much recognition as Barner, which is all the evidence needed to show that some Heisman voters are completely out of touch. Thomas has accounted for 229 yards and two touchdowns against legitimate competition this season; Barner has 612 yards and seven touchdowns against those same teams. Why is this even a discussion? Barner’s 870 rushing yards and 12 scores both rank top-15 nationally. Quack quack, Mr. Ducksworth. Next game: Colorado
Geno Smith, West Virginia, QB: THE HALFWAY HEISMAN CURSE LIVES. Kinda. Smith has faltered in back-to-back weeks, leaving West Virginia reeling and his coach, Dana Holgorsen, searching for answers. But even though Smith threw his first interceptions of the season against Klein’s Wildcats, his overall performance still warrants recognition. His 1,680 passing yards and 17 touchdowns against AQ conference teams still place him among the national leaders. College football’s favorite artist isn’t out of it yet. Next game: TCU
Raising Suspicion: Manti Te’o (Notre Dame); Braxton Miller (Ohio State); Montee Ball (Wisconsin); Colby Cameron (Louisiana Tech); Damontre Moore (Texas A&M); Terrance Williams (Baylor); Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville); AJ McCarron (Alabama); DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson); Stefphon Jefferson (Nevada)
THE FIFTH WATCH
Georgia vs. Florida: There’s little reason to trust the Bulldogs here. Georgia has not beaten a team of significance since Nov. 28, 2009 against Georgia Tech (if you believe wins over Tennessee or Missouri matter, that’s your problem). Mark Richt is 6-15 against ranked opponents since 2008. No. 3 Florida plays lockdown defense and has been at its best in the biggest moments – basically, the exact opposite of Georgia. The Gators wrap up the SEC East in a close one. Pick: Florida
Texas Tech at Kansas State: Another Big 12 aerial juggernaut meets up with Collin Klein, as quarterback Seth Doege visits the Little Apple. Good luck. Texas Tech has only turned the ball over 11 times (tied 39th nationally), but the Wildcats’ defense has forced five turnovers in two games against ranked opponents (Oklahoma, West Virginia). If the Red Raiders fail to protect the ball, this will get ugly. Klein continues his midseason Heisman push. Pick: Kansas State
Notre Dame at Oklahoma: It’s the ‘PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY’ Bowl. While both fan bases argue over the motto, the on-field product should not disappoint. Oklahoma is coming off back-to-back-to-back blowout wins over conference foes, while Notre Dame has slogged its way to an undefeated record. In a showdown of the No. 5 scoring offense versus the No. 2 scoring defense, the Sooners will generate enough points to prevail in Norman. Pick: Oklahoma
Mississippi State at Alabama: Are the Bulldogs for real? Sure, a 7-0 record is one of the best in school history, but not a single one of those wins came against a school that could challenge the Crimson Tide for a quarter. Dan Mullen’s squad may be in trouble in Tuscaloosa. Mississippi State is allowing 139.1 rushing yards per game, and it hasn’t even seen an NFL-caliber running back or offensive line. Well, it’s about to get a front row view of both. Pick: Alabama
ON WATCH: The Trojans make their triumphant return to The Watch thanks to a road trip to the land of blondes and spread offenses. Lane Kiffin’s team has won out since its loss to Stanford, but, to be honest, the strength of schedule has been poor. Matt Barkley has put up great numbers against weak competition, but has come up short in the national spotlight. Arizona, a regular here, has an opportunity to grab a signature win for Rich Rodriguez.
THIS IS WHY…
What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas, especially when you leave a paper trail to a strip club.
And while it may be possible to find ways of paying off that debt quietly, that becomes a lot harder when you charged the "services" to a university-provided credit card. Just ask Michael Schumacher, Missouri's director of video operations, college football's newest cliché technological whiz lacking common sense.
Schumacher, traveling solo to represent Missouri in a professional conference in May 2011, ran up a $6,400 bill at the Olympic Garden strip club in Las Vegas. His spending spree included a $2,000 tip. The findings were part of a university audit that now has the Tigers' athletic department cracking down on the use of school-issued credit cards.
A university spokesperson said that disciplinary action was already handed down to Schumacher. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that conversation. It's hard to imagine a video operations guy trying to explain what in the hell was worth doling out two stacks for a tip. That's some serious bottle service.
Excuse No. 1: Loneliness. How dare the university leave him alone to fend for himself in Sin City?
Excuse No. 2: Recruiting. Or, something like that.
Excuse No. 3: Ignorance. One can picture an inebriated Schumacher convincing himself that Olympic Garden sounds like a high-end sports bar, much like Jonah Hill figuring his parents would assume 'Perfect Ten' was a bowling magazine.
This is why Missouri just might find its niche in the SEC after all. Sure, the Tigers have been embarrassed in their inaugural season, with all four losses coming at the hands of conference foes, but rare are the SEC programs that make it through a year without some sort of embarrassing moment happening off the field. Alabama has Harvey Updyke. Georgia has, well, a lot of things. And now, Missouri has Schumacher.
And this is why if you're going to run up more than $7,500 in Las Vegas, you should at least bring a friend along to share the experience. Gary Pinkel could probably use the excitement right about now.