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College Football Weekend Preview: Coaching Carousel Starts Spinning Early

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College Football Weekend Preview: Coaching Carousel Starts Spinning Early

What a fantastic weekend on tap, including three match-ups of undefeated teams, including Florida State-Maryland in the morning, Ohio State-Northwestern in primetime and Stanford-Washington late night.

But first, cue the merry-go-round music. It might make a perfect complement to the rest of this column.

The season hasn't yet reached its halfway and already we have the first two coaching casualties of the year: Lane Kiffin at USC and Paul Pasqualoni at UConn.

Obviously getting the most attention of the two is the high-profile job at Southern Cal where any coach would be under the Los Angeles microscope.

Kiffin was fired in the immediate aftermath of last weekend's loss to Arizona State by athletic director Pat Haden, continuing a larger trend seeing the Trojans drop eight of their last 11 games dating back to last year.

There was a built-in excuse for Kiffin's struggles early on in his tenure, given the scholarship reductions at USC. But the late-season collapse of last season combined with the slow start to 2013 proved too much to overcome.

USC's only wins this season have come against Hawaii, Boston College and Utah State. The losses were to Washington State and Arizona State, not exactly traditional powerhouses.

Had the losses come to Oregon and Stanford instead this year, Kiffin might be getting the benefit of the doubt. But you're not afforded that luxury at an institution where expectations are high even when NCAA sanctions make the ceiling a little bit lower.

The argument can be made that Kiffin never should have been hired at USC in the first place, and no shortage of analysts have, including Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, Bill King of SiriusXM and Paul Finebaum of ESPN, who rather amusingly compared Kiffin to Miley Cyrus this past week.

The job at UConn doesn't move the needle like USC, but the fact is, this is a team that should have been on the rise after a making a BCS appearance in 2010's Fiesta Bowl.

Pasqualoni failed to keep the momentum going, not qualifying for a bowl in either 2011 or 2012 and it's all but guaranteed the Huskies will be home for the holidays this season too.

 

Where College GameDay Is At

One name sure to pop up with regularity as jobs continue to open is Northwestern's Pat Fitgerald, who will be getting a lot of face time on Saturday evening during ABC's broadcast when the Wildcats host Ohio State at 7:00 p.m. CT.

Fitzgerald has guided Northwestern to new heights as their all-time winningest coach and has taken them to five straight bowl games, including their first postseason win since the 1948 Rose Bowl when they defeated a ranked Mississippi State team in the Gator Bowl last season.

On Saturday night, he'll lead the Wildcats in their most meaningful game since arguably the 1995 season when Fitzgerald helped them qualify for the Rose Bowl as a player.

As part of their wildly popular pregame show, ESPN will air College GameDay from the Lakefill near Lakeside Field on the Northwestern campus.

While the Wildcats have already put together an impressive season to date, they'll be bolstered by the return of running back Venric Mark, who's coming back from an early season leg injury that limited him to only a handful of plays in the season open and has been sitting out since that time.

Mark rushed for 1,366 yards a season ago and was named a first-team All-American as a punt returner by the Football Writers Association of America, so he's not exactly someone playing a bit role.

Northwestern squares off against Ohio State following a big victory over Wisconsin in primetime a weekend ago, perhaps the perfect time to catch a team coming off an emotional high.

Despite the teams being in separate divisions, the winner essentially becomes the Big Ten's front-runner for a spot in the Rose Bowl and perhaps even the national championship if the chips fall perfectly.

Prediction: Northwestern has the motivational edge and home-field advantage, but the Buckeyes have the edge in talent, including the quarterback position behind Braxton Miller and especially on defense with the likes of cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier. OSU wins 31-24.

 

What Happened Before Saturday

Continuing the coaching-carousel theme, Texas coach Mack Brown might have saved his job––at least temporarily––when he escaped Ames with a victory at Iowa State on Thursday evening.

The Longhorns proved lucky when two goal-line fumbles went their way, allowing them to eventually score the go-ahead touchdown with just minutes left in the game to win 31-30.

Considering that the Cyclones have been good for at least one upset per season in the Paul Rhoads era, Texas should consider itself fortunate it didn't become the latest victim.

Brown's fate could very well be decided this upcoming week when they face Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry, having lost the last three games to its opponent to the north, the last two in blowout fashion.

Win next week and Brown is given new life. A loss, however, and Brown's career in Austin is likely coming to a close, even though a coaching legend will probably at least be given the dignity of closing out the season, no matter what the outcome.

 

The Annual College Football Road Trip

In an update to last week's diary of my own personal travels, I had the good fortune to see arguably the biggest upset of the college football season thus far when my wife and I went to Morgantown to see West Virginia take down No. 11 Oklahoma State as a 19.5 point underdog.

As usual, we had a terrific time, having the opportunity to tailgate with locals and see a great game on top of it all.

This group was very kind to show a pair of Badgers how to tailgate in West Virginia.

I had the opportunity to try real home made West Virginia moonshine. It was potent.

Inside Milan Puskar Stadium.

West Virginia players celebrate a turnover.

Dana Holgorsen roams the sidelines.

The Mountaineer celebrates a victory.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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