Three-Point Stance: New hires, most important players, Pac-12 coaches
Rivals national columnist Mike Farrell is here with his thoughts on recent hires at Miami and Oklahoma, the 10 most important players in the College Football Playoff and an evaluation of some Pac-12 coaching jobs this season.
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1. NOT EVERY NEW HIRE IS AN UPGRADE
You don't have to be excited about every hire made by major college programs. Were we really supposed to run into the streets screaming with joy about Charlie Strong, Jeremy Pruitt or, heck, even Manny Diaz when, deep-down, we suspected they would struggle.
Here's my take: Miami hit a home run in luring Mario Cristobal away from Oregon, while Oklahoma made a nice hire with Brent Venables. Cristobal is a man coming home on a mission to make The U great again and he can recruit with the best of them. Venables' success in Norman, meanwhile, is not nearly as certain.
Lincoln Riley had things cooking for the Sooners and was recruiting elite offensive talent each year. He positioned Oklahoma to be the prohibitive favorite in the Big 12 every season. Yes, Riley inherited a great program from Bob Stoops but he didn’t set it back and, in the eyes of some, actually moved it forward. Hiring a defensive coach like Venables could hurt that momentum. Perhaps Venables can hire the right offensive mind to run that side of things, but this feels like an odd fit based on what OU has become.
Venables is a great coach, but there isn’t much room to move up at Oklahoma while it will be almost impossible for Cristobal not to improve things at Miami. Cristobal will lead the Hurricanes to division titles while the Sooners may be regrouping in a few years as they head to the SEC.
I’m a fan of Venables as a coach and person – he’s always been great to me – but he’s going to have to surprise me to take OU to new heights.
2. THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS IN THE CFB PLAYOFF
Sometimes winning it all isn’t solely about talent, it’s about the right players playing the right role at the right time. With that in mind, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett leads my list of the most important players in the College Football Playoff.
1. QB Stetson Bennett, Georgia - The Bulldogs' Achilles' heel is their offense, specifically their quarterback play and it got exposed against Alabama in the SEC title game. Bennett was simply not able to keep up with the production of Bryce Young and had trouble with the speed of Alabama's defense. Michigan presents a different test, as they've got the best edge-rushing combo in the country, and will be after him all day. He'll need to make better decisions if the Dawgs are going to advance.
2. QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati - Ridder has been under the radar as far as quarterbacks on top-five teams go, but he's had his second consecutive strong campaign in as many seasons. He'll be asked to do a ton against Alabama, but his dual-threat ability gives him as good a shot as anyone to exploit what few weaknesses the Crimson Tide have on that side of the ball.
3. DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan - The best and most consistent defensive player in the country this season, Hutchinson's job will be to make life a living hell for Bennett in the national semifinal. He and David Ojabo will need to be especially disruptive if the Wolverines are to pull off the upset.
4. QB Bryce Young, Alabama - If Bryce Young plays the way he did against Georgia in the playoff, no one is going to stop Alabama from a second consecutive national title and seventh in 12 years. He was flawless against the Dawgs, and locked up the Heisman Trophy with his performance in that game. However, with John Metchie III unavailable due to a torn ACL, Young will have to find options in the passing game beyond Jameson Williams.
5. WR Jameson Williams, Alabama - With John Metchie III out with a torn ACL, Williams becomes even more of a focal point in the Crimson Tide's aerial attack than he already was. To be fair, if there's anyone in the country that can shoulder that load it's Williams, who has been a breakout star all season both as a receiver and on special teams.
6. CB Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati - The man primarily tasked with covering Jameson Williams, "Sauce" has his work cut out for him. But if anyone is up to the job, it's him. He has yet to allow a touchdown in his entire collegiate career, and this season has only allowed a completion percentage of 47 percent when targeted for a paltry 6.9 yards per reception, both top 10 in the nation.
7. DT Jordan Davis, Georgia - The big man in the middle of the Dawgs' defense had a rough outing against Alabama and will need to step up against Michigan's rushing attack. The mammoth defensive tackle will need to plug holes and occupy blockers so that Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum are not able to get to the second level with ease.
8. RB Hassan Haskins, Michigan - Haskins has clearly established himself as the go-to guy for the Wolverines, and he will be called upon early and often to grind out tough yards against what is still the best defense in the country. Haskins and his backfield mate Blake Corum haven't been tested by a run defense this tough since they played Wisconsin early in the season, and will need to be on their A-game if they are going to pull the upset.
9. QB Cade McNamara, Michigan - The QB who is least central to their team's offensive attack, McNamara is still going to be a central figure in the game against Georgia. He will need to do enough through the air to keep UGA's defense honest and prevent it from just stacking the box against the run. Expect him to target Erick All a lot, as the big tight end is probably the best mismatch they have in the passing game.
10. RB Jerome Ford, Cincinnati - The Cincinnati tailback will be looking for revenge against his former team and will be a key component to the Bearcats ' offense. Ford will need a big game on the ground if Cincinnati hopes to pull the upset, if for no other reason than the more they run the ball and control the clock, the less amount of time Bryce Young can be on the field.
3. PAC-12 COACHING COMPARISONS
Let’s continue our coaching comparison and look at some of the jobs done in the Pac-12 this season.
Chip Kelly vs. Herm Edwards — Both former NFL coaches have had their moments this season and plenty of ups and downs but give me the job Kelly did this year especially with the balanced offense.
Justin Wilcox vs. David Shaw — Bad seasons for both but Stanford has been downright awful despite the win over Oregon. Maybe more was expected of Wilcox but I still think he did a better job.
Jonathan Smith vs. Karl Dorrell — An odd comparison? Kind of but with Washington State, Washington and USC all punting coaches there isn’t much left. Smith did an amazing job this year while Colorado regressed.