Tuesday, December 22, 2015

terra nova

In calling the Villanova game a potential rock fight, I didn't mean throwing pebbles into the ocean, but that's what you'd guess was happening the way the Hoos and Cats rolled the scoreboard up.  The main surprising thing isn't scoring 86 points.  The main surprising thing is doing it in only 60 possessions, the second-slowest game all year.

When you score 86 points against Morgan State, everyone eyes glaze over and they find a more interesting game to write about.  When you do it against Villanova, people notice - and now Tony Bennett is an offensive mastermind.  These are largely the same players that beat Rutgers 45-26, by the way.

It's all part of a program's metamorphosis into something special.  Mike Krzyzewski isn't known as a great offensive or defensive coach.  He's just known as a great coach.  Even before the Tennessee turnaround, Tony Bennett was getting accolades for his defense, and attention of all varieties for his desire to beat shot clocks into mewling submission.  That's great.  It's an identity, and one I truly enjoy.  I love that the arena gets its loudest for something as mundane as a shot clock violation.  I embrace the pace, and I know for sure Tony won't stop recruiting and selling his defense.

Still, it's one thing to get to the top.  UVA's climbed one Everest already by scrawling its name in the annals of the ACC championship.  Staying there is harder.  Old cliche, but so true.  You have to find and eliminate your weaknesses before the competition does.

That's why that Villanova game was a thing.  If the West Virginia game was proof of the season's chemistry experiment coming together, Villanova is proof the mortar has dried on the program foundations and the walls are ready to go up.  Take one of the really good defensive teams in the country and ruthlessly exploit their weaknesses instead of letting them jump on yours - that's how to keep on winning basketball games.  Not just this year, but in the long term.


-- The flip side to the offensive volcano is that Nova scored 75 points on those 60 possessions.  That's a lot for a Tony Bennett defense - but then, in the play-by-play I counted 11 points off of quick-change turnovers that the defense had nothing to do with.  Without those..... well, that's still kind of a lot for a Tony Bennett defense, but well within acceptable parameters for a top-20 opponent.  The halfcourt, set-it-up defense looked as good as ever.

-- Nervous nellies will rightly point out that UVA isn't going to shoot 8-for-12 from three very often.  No, they won't, but they will if they create as many open looks as they did.  This wasn't luck, it was the product of really crisp and beautiful ball rotation that resulted in probably half those attempts coming completely uncontested.

-- One of them was kinda contested, but it was my favorite of the day.  Malcolm Brogdon walked upcourt, dribbled the shot clock down to five just because Nova was letting him, then took two steps at the basket, pulled up, and nailed it.  That was pages one through seventeen of the Kobe playbook.  Normally that kind of play why I think the NBA game is much less interesting than college, but we already know Brogdon's character and there isn't a me-me-me strand anywhere in his DNA.  But I've already gone on record saying he can and must be the alpha wolf this year, and a little selfishness on his part will go a long way for his teammates when they start finding themselves unguarded.  Jay Wright's a damn good coach and he was basically throwing up his hands in surrender with his postgame quotes, asking what do you do with a problem like Malcolm?

-- A particular pet peeve of mine is the contingent of Mike Tobey haters the fanbase has.  They have a certain expectation of what Tobey should be, which he isn't, and fail to appreciate what he actually is.  This is a problem nobody else on the team has.  Tobey's lone bucket of the Villanova game, though, came from being what they wish he was.  It won't shut them up, because it's all about consistency and why doesn't he tear someone's head off every possession, you see, but still.

(His first foul was the same.  I don't know how everyone in the arena sees a jump ball and the refs see a foul.  A shooting foul!  That was completely bizarre.)

-- The last time more than one UVA player scored 20 points in a game was three years ago against UWGB, when Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris had 20 apiece.  I bet it happens again this season.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

game preview: Villanova

Date/Time: Saturday, December 19; 12:00


Record against the Wildcats: 4-2

Last meeting: Nova 73, UVA 63; 3/20/04, Philadelphia

Last game: UVA 70, WVU 54 (12/8); Nova 76, La Salle 47 (12/13)


UVA: 63.5 (#348)
Nova: 67.4 (#299)

UVA: 115.9 (#7)
Nova: 113.2 (#17)

UVA: 90.4 (#5)
Nova: 90.0 (#4)

UVA: .9455 (#1)
Nova: .9333 (#4)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (10.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.1 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (16.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.7 apg)
SF: Darius Thompson (8.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.2 apg)
PF: Anthony Gill (13.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.4 apg)
C: Jack Salt (3.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.0 apg)


PG: Ryan Arcidiacono (12.3 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 4.1 apg)
SG: Jalen Brunson (10.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.4 apg)
SF: Josh Hart (15.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF: Kris Jenkins (10.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 apg)
C: Daniel Ochefu (8.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.1 apg)

I've said this about a couple different schools, like Georgetown, but I don't know why UVA and Villanova don't play each other more.  The last time was over ten years ago and it was the NIT committee who arranged the matchup.  The time before that was also in the NIT.  The last time these two schools played each other on purpose was 1989, which seems silly.  They're a four-and-a-half hour bus ride apart and right next to each other alphabetically.  There's plenty of tradition on both sides.  It makes sense, dammit.

The Hoos jump straight from finals break to one of the most challenging games they'll have all year.  Villanova went 33-3 last season, lost three of their top players, and apparently didn't miss a beat.  Every single one of their games has been a blowout - although one of them wasn't exactly in their favor.  The flip side of that is that they haven't been tested, save for a trip to Hawaii to play a neutral-site game against Oklahoma, which got them killed.  They've played one road game - against St. Joseph's, which isn't so much a bus ride away as it is a carpool.  Nevertheless, they haven't allowed themselves to fall victim to any tripwires, as they've played a few teams that are at least capable.  They'll give UVA a handful in a game with an ACC-like feel to it.

-- UVA on offense

Villanova took Kris Jenkins out of the starting lineup after the Oklahoma disaster, and replaced him with the much smaller Phil Booth, but it's a good bet Jenkins will be back against UVA.  Nova would be laughably undermanned against Anthony Gill otherwise.  Jenkins is a little on the short side at 6'6", but he's beefy and against a lineup with Gill and a true center, he's Villanova's only hope.

Nova is, on the whole, an excellent defensive team.  Even the OU loss was more on the offense than the defense.  They stay in front of their man very well and have center Daniel Ochefu to wipe out a lot of mistakes.  He's a terrific shot-blocker, and lanky Mikal Bridges, playing forward off the bench, creates a lot of havoc on the defensive end too.  Villanova plays smart and fouls very little, and the result of all this is that teams typically have to shoot well from three to have a chance.

The hole, of course, is that they don't have much of a frontcourt outside of Ochefu.  Jenkins, really, plays a small forward's game.  Bridges and Darryl Reynolds play significant rotation minutes off the bench, but Reynolds leaves a hole on offense when he's in.  Nova has good backcourt size, but that doesn't help in scrambles underneath the basket, and second-chance points will be a concern for them all year - especially going up against a good offensive rebounding team on Saturday.  Ochefu does really excellent work on the boards, but he plays only half the time.

UVA probably won't get a lot of opportunities to drive at the rim, as the Wildcats do a good job at preventing it.  But they should be able to pound the ball inside, substituting to try and force mismatches with Gill and Isaiah Wilkins.  Mike Tobey probably won't light up the stat sheet, because Ochefu is a major handful - but simply by existing and occupying Ochefu, he'll force Nova to guard UVA's power forwards with someone who isn't well suited for it.

-- UVA on defense

This could be an exciting matchup for the pack-line.  Nova is a perplexing team on offense.  They finish really, really damn well at the rim.  Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart are both shooting 80% at the rim, and this is not on putbacks because this team, outside of Ochefu, simply doesn't do that.  When they get offensive rebounds - which isn't often - they reset, rather than going back up.  Not surprising for a team of mostly guards.  I digress.  This team does very well driving to the bucket.

Fortunately for their opponents - especially, say, an opponent whose defensive system is designed to slam the door on any attempts to drive the lane - Villanova is 1) in love with the three-ball and 2) not that good at it.  The reason they lost so badly to Oklahoma is they shot more threes than twos and hit on four of them - out of 32.

They were much better at it last year, and shooters gotta keep shooting, so eventually they might snap out of it.  Maybe on Saturday.  But so far this year, only Ryan Arcidiacono has been a threat as a distance shooter.  Jenkins, Bridges, and Jalen Brunson are all in the 20% range so far.  They've rolled their opponents anyway because they're so damn good inside the arc (against Georgia Tech, for example, 19-of-24 for two) and other than Ochefu, mostly automatic free-throw shooters, but they settle for threes a heck of a lot.  They could win a lot of games from the stripe, but they're near the bottom of D-I in free throw attempts.  They have this very peculiar statistical arrangement:

- #4 in the country in 2pt %
- #277 in the country in 3pt %
- #254 in the country in percentage of points coming from two
- #36 in the country in percentage of points coming from three

That is the fingerprint of a team that shoots way too damn many threes.  So pack-line 'em up.  This Villanova team is designed to be stopped by it.  When Nova throws it inside to Ochefu, they'll be dangerous, because dude's a hoss.  When they get past the gate sentries, they'll be dangerous, because they finish so well.  If they're content to settle for threes, and they have been all year, UVA will take it.  I suppose Nova could be an unstoppable force if they ever actually start hitting those threes, and we can't have nice things so they'll probably choose Saturday to start.  But UVA rebounds really well even against teams with actual power forwards, and it adds up to a very bad matchup for Nova's offense.

-- Outlook

This game stands a good chance of being a rock fight.  UVA's tempo is certainly up thanks to the shot clock - they're five possessions faster than they were last year and the highest they've been in the Tony Bennett era.  But still they're one of the slowest teams in the country.  Offensive average possession length is clearly faster.  Defensive possession length - hardly any change at all.  Villanova is not a run and gun team either; they're nearly as deliberate and force long possessions as well.  Add in that both teams play excellent defense and one team is a nightmarish matchup for the other's offense, and this game will likely struggle to hit the 70s, if not the 60s.

I said the other day that it looks to me like UVA's chemistry experiment is finally producing a reaction.  West Virginia was held to 54 points in 65 possessions, and just 18 in the second half.  If I'm right, UVA, playing at home and against an opponent that likes to do things that play into the hands of the pack-line, should win this one.  If I'm wrong, Villanova will find defensive breakdowns and derail the good vibes from the WVU win.  I might as well stop writing if I'm to call myself wrong a day after writing it.

Final score: UVA 63, Nova 54

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

shots in the arm

It's sort of a miniature holy grail of sportswriting to be able to call a turning point in a season right as it happens.  Sportswriters give it a shot all the time.  Cover a 162-game MLB season and you'll probably call eight different turning points as the season wears on.  It's easy to do after the fact, but not so easy in the moment; you'd have looked like a lunatic if you'd woken up on New Year's Day 2014 and made UVA a 1-seed in your bracketology.

I'm willing to give it a shot right now, though: beating West Virginia in Madison Square Garden sure as hell looks like a launchpad for the season.  To be honest, so far this hoops team has looked like they've had trouble getting out of third gear.  Putting a nasty ol' hurt on Lehigh doesn't do it for anyone.  Two struggles in two road games (and one loss) against decent but bubbly opponents doesn't scream Final Four - it says "seven seed."

MSG isn't a road venue, but it's a tournament-style venue.  And West Virginia is more than a tournament-style team.  They have really eye-popping efficiency numbers on both offense and defense.  There are things they do better than everyone in the country.  They play in what is probably the toughest top-to-bottom conference in the country (Boston College is doing the ACC no favors in this regard.)  At worst, beating them by 16 in a neutral venue is going to be worth one full seed in the selection committee room.

I think it did more than just move UVA from a 3 seed to a 2, though.  UVA took WVU's best shot, and it was a good one.  The Hoos were reeling, thanks to the Mountaineers' pressure, unable to pass the ball or rebound on defense - two of the most fundamentally simple things in basketball.  Then suddenly they punched back.

Tony told reporters that his halftime message wasn't elaborate: either you'll respond, or you won't.  Is that trust or what?  Up to you, guys.  Whatever you want to do.  Before halftime, it was a legitimate question to wonder if UVA's UVA-ness was taking a vacation this year.  After halftime, the mojo returned from the beach and went back to work, and like most teams before them, WVU found the bucket a mile away and ten inches wide.


UVA doesn't just have a football coach, it now has a whole staff.  Most of that staff is still in Provo, but Bronco Mendenhall wisely brought on (or kept) a few East Coast connections.  Marques Hagans (WRs) is the lone holdover.  Shaun Nua (DL) actually comes from both worlds, having worked with Bronco at BYU in the past but coming more directly from Annapolis where he was on Ken Niumatalolo's staff.  And best of all, UVA snapped up Ruffin McNeill, idiotically fired from East Carolina where his 5-7 record this year was used by their AD (which is no longer Terry Holland, in case you were wondering) as an excuse to win a political power struggle.

McNeill isn't likely to stay long.  Two, three years is the most likely cap.  Sooner or later, some AAC or CUSA team will find itself looking for a head coach.  McNeill will be on short lists maybe even as soon as next year; he was absolutely a success at ECU and other southeastern schools would be stupid to keep him off their short lists.  Western Kentucky isn't going to hang on to Jeff Brohm forever, FAU hasn't gained much traction, Charlotte just went 0-12....McNeill is going to look awfully good to some AD somewhere.  He's 57, so the window is just beginning to close, but it's best to assume he's a short-term staffer.

Nevertheless, ECU's loss is UVA's gain.  McNeill is said to be one of the most top-notch people in the industry, and, y'know, just look what he did at ECU.  Four bowl seasons out of six, and a ten-win season.  He can do some of his most important work right this week while the rest of the staff is preparing for the Las Vegas Bowl.  He and Hagans can give the BYU boys the East Coast high school grand tour.  And whatever he did to beat VT twice, maybe he can transfer some of that mojo too.

Speaking of which.  I sort of hate to begin comparing Mendenhall to Justin Fuente and the Blacksburg crew, but it's inevitable - hired in the same year, the competition and measuring-up is impossible to avoid.  Fuente retained a lot of Frank Beamer's staff and filled out the rest with Memphis coaches.  Both schools are taking a prudent approach.  UVA effected a near-complete overhaul, while VT held on to successful coaches (ol' Bud, Torrian Gray) and jettisoned ineffective ones - that is, most of the offensive side of the ball (li'l Shaney in particular), keeping only Zohn Burden, who produced some pretty good WRs this year.  Fuente brings a badly needed fresh start on offense for VT; Mendenhall brings an even more badly-needed discipline hand to Charlottesville and a large cadre of unified, trusted staff to reinforce the message.

From here in December, though, not even a month from the introductions, I'm willing to predict Bronco outlasts Fuente.  It's largely a question of expectations.  VT fans were mad because Beamer kept going to crappy bowls and almost losing to UVA.  If both programs go 8-5 for the next three years, just take a guess which fanbase will be happier about that.  Fuente needs to put VT in the ACC CG repeatedly or it won't be enough - and if he does produce multiple ten-plus win seasons, rumors will swirl once jobs like Arkansas or Texas A&M open up.  And he'd better not lose to UVA more than once in the next four years.  I think VT fans could handle a loss (as long as it's not in 2016) but if he allows Bronco to put UVA on equal footing with the Hokies in the state, it won't sit well.

But forget the next couple years, just the next couple months will be interesting to watch.  UVA football offseasons are fun again.  I hardly paid attention to recruiting efforts this year, for example - why bother, when there's so little guarantee that a commitment in May will sign in February?  As usual, finals break sucks for sports fans, but Saturday marks the end of boring times - UVA fans can watch one of the marquee basketball games of the year and then root for their coaching staff in a bowl game (which is liable to be a three-hour advertisement for UVA football) and then let the fun begin Sunday when Bronco and co. become full-time Hoos.

Monday, December 7, 2015

bronc and roll

UVA fans watch the Bronco Mendenhall press conference

It's been a little over six years and seven months since Craig Littlepage dropped a bomb by hiring someone other than Rick Barnes or Tubby Smith to coach the basketball team.  That was surprising, and I reacted by going "who the hell is that?" and being incredibly put out for about 10 seconds - the amount of time it took me to look up where he was coming from.  Oh.  Washington State.  I know two things about them.  They've been in the Sweet 16 lately, and they have the basketball tradition of a potato.  They're really good, it's really hard for them to be good, this might work.

But an ACC team trying to find a basketball coach can pick from a large set of possibilities, including other Power 5 conferences and the NBA, so dropping a surprise is not too tough.  An ACC team trying to find a football coach has a much smaller group of candidates.  Football is a smaller pool of teams and the ACC doesn't rank so high on the pecking order.  The media is usually pretty good at identifying the list of available coaches, and surprises are usually unpleasant.  Like when South Carolina turns to Will Muschamp and says, gee, you did such a bang-up job coaching in the SEC East with more resources than any other school in the division, why not take a crack at it with the degree of difficulty cranked way up?  Surprises are bad.

Except, apparently, when pulled off by Craig Littlepage and whatever search firm dug this up.  Littlepage saved me 10 seconds this time around - I knew exactly where Bronco Mendenhall coached.  I got to skip the "who?" stage and go right to "this might work."  The surprise lingered all weekend and into Monday and probably for quite a while.

The pessimistic view on UVA's head-coach gig has been that it's not very attractive because losing record.  I've always called that nonsense.  There's too much going for it for it not to be attractive, and coaches always think they can turn it around - I sure wouldn't want one who didn't.  Mendenhall just vindicated the hell out of that position and took it just one step further: UVA's record was a reason he came.  He had a great thing going at BYU, and there wouldn't have been any point to leaving it for a light maintenance job.  It's clear from everything that's come out since Friday - up to and including Monday's press conference - that he's looking forward to seeing his approach can make a difference.  A really big difference.

Mendenhall said all the right things at the presser about how UVA is a special place with high standards, which is what coaches always say when they're being introduced.  A certain part of fanhood of losing teams involves wanting to be told that things will be all better soon, and the place for that is the introductory press conference, but that's not why Mendenhall blew that press conference away.  He blew it away because he was very blunt and very uncompromising on certain things.  Yes, it would have been a deal-breaker to not be able to coach BYU's bowl game.  No, I'm not gonna sleep at the office.  Yes, I'm going to pay attention to things other than my job, starting with my family.  These are things usually used to demonstrate your all-in-by-golly commitment to your new job, and Mendenhall flat-out told everyone that's not what his commitment entailed.  And it made everything else ring loud, clear, and true.  Because of that, it's easy to believe that the buzzwords like accountability and standards aren't just buzzwords.

Mendenhall, in short, is Mike London with a plan.  It's funny - going back, the things London talked about in his press conference, he did just that.  He talked about being energetic, recruiting the 757, the character he wanted his players to exhibit.  The word "discipline" was not spoken once.  He never talked about the systems he planned on installing, other than a passing mention of a 4-3 defense.  He was asked about his offensive philosophy and gave a generic answer about scoring a lot, and then said, "I think there are several positions that are key" and then proceeded to list all the offensive positions on the field except offensive line.

Eerie, then, how it turned out.  Ironically, that too is reason for optimism.  If London's presser turned out so prophetic, why shouldn't Mendenhall's?  There was a lot of overlap.  Both coaches said, more or less exactly, "you're not just getting me, you're getting my family."  Both talked about academics and character and UVA being the kind of place where it matters, and that being why they wanted to be here.  The difference is that London stopped there.  Mendenhall laid out a plan, a system, and the results it's achieved so far.

And those results are impressive.  BYU has an impressive football history, which belies how tough it is to win there.  You have to convince players to go to a place with behavior restrictions topped only by military academies.  Many of them leave for two years and don't do anything more physically strenuous than ride a bike.  And Mendenhall further limited himself by being Tony Bennett-esque in demanding his recruits fit the requirements, even believing that they should have to sell themselves to him as much as the other way around.  On the one hand, right now, I could probably do a better job than Mendenhall of knowing, say, which are the pipeline schools in Hampton Roads.  (Not for long, but, y'know, this minute at least.)  On the other hand, UVA is supposed to be this hard place to recruit to, and Mendenhall is coming from one of the few places where it's tougher.

It's the splash of the year, at just the right time.  The ACC Coastal won the coaching carousel this year.  The SEC hired two coordinators with no head coaching experience and one retread in all the worst senses of the word.  Maryland and Rutgers did that too and those were the two better hires in the Big Ten, because Illinois hired a guy who was fired from Western Michigan.  USC went full inbred, making it 2-for-2 in laughable hires by schools initialized USC.  VT, on the other hand, made the best Conventional Hire in the country, and Miami took the best coach actually known to be available.  Duke still has the guy that made Duke into a good football team.  Pitt went the coordinator route last year but at least it was with the reigning Broyles winner.  None of these are the guy who actually went undefeated in conference play, which would be Larry Fedora.  UVA needed to find some way to keep up.  Consider it done and then some.  Bronco Mendenhall is both a damn good coach and the right coach.  UVA needed both.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

not with a bang

Frank Beamer played it how Frank Beamer always plays it.  One of his players hit a referee - short of committing an actual prosecutable crime, basically the single most felonious thing you can do on a football field - and that player was suspended for a half.  Because it was "unintentional."  This is sort of like when your kicker breaks into someone's house to steal back his weed and that becomes "trespassing."

And Mike London played it how Mike London always plays it.  Two timeouts burned during his final game because his team couldn't figure out how to substitute.  Three false start penalties and one dingus lined up on offense straddling the neutral zone, which latter penalty you could see coming a mile away.  And a quarterback who's been so well developed and coached that his first choice in the two-minute drill (one minute, actually) is to chuck the ball deep down the middle to a quadruple-covered tight end.  Great play design, incidentally.

Thus did the head coaching careers of two coaches end - the only way either coach knew how.  Mike London's last game could only have been more of a microcosm of his career if he had taken his last timeout to ice Joey Slye on his game-winning kick.  That would've been absolutely precious.  Otherwise it checks all the boxes.  Red zone ineptitude, poor discipline, getting outcoached at halftime, headscratchingly bad QB decisions, and just because Steve Fairchild absolutely had to get in on the be-who-you-are action, lots of third-and-long screen passes.  One of them finally worked, and I imagine that was the instant Fairchild at long last felt at peace with his not-too-illustrious tenure in Charlottesville.

Any further flowery eulogizing of the Mike London era would be literary onanism.  It's not an era much worth remembering.  It wasn't just losing football, it was bad football.  It was aimless, unplanned, unencumbered by identity.  Everything good that can be said about it, is said about the off-field aspects of running a program.  This is like house-hunting and being shown a dilapidated terrible old house with a palatial, immaculate basement.  The other way round isn't desirable either, and at least you've got a nice foundation, and foundation matters, but the world remembers the face you show it.


I'm not going to exhaustively cover the coaching search, but how about a quick tiny blurb on some of the possible candidates?  First impressions, call them, and almost nothing at all to do with probability of landing them.

Mike Bloomgren: One of several under-experienced offensive coordinators on the list, and the least connected in this area of the country.

Jeff Brohm: Impressive offense at WKU, which won their bowl game last year by coming back from a 49-14 deficit.  Experience playing and teaching quarterback a plus.  Would need a very strong DC hire.  Risk to jump ship to Louisville should anything happen to Bobby Petrino, but one of the top fallback options.

Mack Brown: The fanbase is harshly divided on whether this would be a good idea or not; count me in the Yes camp.  A Hall of Fame coach with a national championship ring and extensive coaching tree is not a guy you turn your nose up at.  His age isn't a major issue; if successful here, he could coach 6-8 years and put the program on the right track.  This is an attractive enough job to draw Brown's eye as well as other high-profile names like Mark Richt and Dan Mullen - imagine what it could do with a winning record and full stadium?  Brown would likely provide that.

Troy Calhoun: In the past he's had the reputation of being tough to pry out of the AFA.  His record at a very tough place to win is impressive, as is the accountability he demands - a very welcome departure from London for sure.  And he's got a very good mind for offense.  On the down side, there are very real reasons to be wary of Ken Niumatalolo, and Calhoun has had a tough time beating him.  Calhoun's offense, while more multi-dimensional than Navy's, only relies slightly less exclusively on the run.

Al Golden: Similar to London in that his Miami teams lacked identity.  Far more talented of a coach, obviously.  High-floor, low-ceiling hire.

Pep Hamilton: Star fell a bit after being fired as Colts OC, but was a hot wish-list name for a lot of vacancies for a while.  Seems to prefer the NFL, however, and has never been a head coach.

Dan Mullen: Was winning at Mississippi State before Dak Prescott, so concerns that he's a one-trick pony are unfounded.  Mullen was the favorite choice of the knowledgeable wing of the Michigan fanbase before it was clear Jim Harbaugh was a real thing, and a concerted effort could reel him in.  The top home-run choice now that Mark Richt is more or less off the board.

Ken Niumatalolo: Has done well at Navy, but Paul Johnson is already in the division; trying to beat the master with the student isn't a very likely proposition.  Army has been trying to beat Navy at their own game for a while now and it's not working.

Matt Rhule: Interesting career path; while at Temple, he switched from being DL coach to QB coach, then became OC a year later.  He's certainly taken a difficult situation to tremendous heights this year, but I think, more than any other current HC we could look at (even Brohm), we'd be taking a risk that he's not a flash in the pan.  Temple's defense, not their offense, is leading them to the top.

Mark Richt: The very best choice for the job, tempered only by the fact that he's pretty much turned it down.

Lincoln Riley: Has exactly one year of experience at a Power 5 school; Oklahoma's offense has improved between last year and this year, but it's too soon to tell how much of that is Riley's doing.  And ECU's offense was decent but far from explosive during his time there.  Too thin of a resume to be anything but a colossal leap of faith.

Mike Sanford: See Riley, Lincoln.

Greg Schiano: Reputation as an asshole will precede him wherever he goes.  A Sports Illustrated article painted the picture of a reformed coach hoping for a second chance, and he'll need a fresh start somewhere in order to lose said reputation.  In Schiano you'd certainly see the discipline lacking under London; if the reform job works, Schiano has potential to be the architect of a major turnaround, but you're taking a risk that leopards do change spots.

Matt Wells: Solid record at Utah State for two years - not so much this year.  Raises questions about whether he's been riding coattails.  Also has zilch connections on the East Coast.