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September 16, 2008

Lack of talent dooms Robinson at Syracuse

MORE: Week 3 Power Rankings | Dienhart's Week 3 Awards | Olin's Heisman Ballot

Syracuse coach Greg Robinson is walking in the shadow of the grim reaper.

It's too bad. He is a smart defensive mind. But all he has to show for three-plus years of work is a 7-31 record, and the Orange have made little more than a whimper under Robinson. His team lost by an average of 17.4 points in his first season in 2005. Last season, that margin ballooned to 23.2. This season, the Orange has lost its three games by an average of 22 points. Add it all up, and the losses in the Robinson era have been by an average of 19.4 points.

Syracuse's struggles aren't all because of schemes. The bigger issue: a lack of talent. Programs such as Rutgers and Connecticut have moved in on the Orange's recruiting turf.

The talent drain at Syracuse started before Robinson arrived. A good measure of how thin the ranks have been for the Orange is the NFL draft. Since Dwight Freeney was picked in the first round of the 2002 NFL draft, Syracuse has had just two players selected in the first three rounds offensive tackle Adam Terry in the second round in '05 and free safety Anthony Smith in the third round in '06. The Orange have had 14 players picked in the past seven drafts.

As a sobering comparison, USC has had 11 first-round selections in the previous seven drafts. A more apt comparison is Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have had three players picked in the first three rounds of the past two drafts: running back Ray Rice in the second in '08, offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah in the third in '08 and running back Brian Leonard in the second in '07

UConn's draft numbers since 2002 are similar to Syracuse's. The Huskies have had five players picked since 2005. One player was picked in the third round or higher: linebacker Alfred Fincher in the third round in '05. Still, UConn coach Randy Edsall was 50-55 in nine years heading into this season, including an 18-18 overall record and a shared Big East title in the past three seasons. So, maybe coaching has something to do with Syracuse's struggles.

With the clock ticking on Robinson, I am guessing Syracuse A.D. Daryl Gross already has a short list of candidates in mind. In fact, if he's really smart, he sent out feelers weeks ago knowing the time may come this fall where changing coaches is a real possibility.

TOM'S TOP 13
1. USC
2. Georgia
3. Florida
6. LSU
7. BYU
8. Oregon
9. Auburn
10. Texas
12. Wisconsin
13. Alabama
ONE MAN'S WORKING HEISMAN BALLOT
1. Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern California
2. Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri
3. Max Hall, QB BYU

I fully expect Syracuse to hire a coach with these two qualities:

1. Offensive background.
2. Young.

In fact, I will be stunned if that isn't the template Gross uses. My only question: How vital will head-coaching experience be, given that Robinson had never been a head coach before. Frankly, I don't think a head-coaching background is mandatory, as long as a school hires a coach who has ample experience as a coordinator at a "Big Six" school.

With that criteria, here is my short list of candidates, listed alphabetically:

Edsall: Yes, he has a defensive background. However, Edsall, 50, is a Syracuse alum. He has a good situation at UConn. Would he want to leave a program he has so much invested in to rehab Syracuse? That seems doubtful.

Buffalo coach Turner Gill: Gill, 46, a former Nebraska quarterback, would become a hot commodity if he can lift the Bulls to a bowl.

Oregon offensive coordinator Chip Kelly: A New Hampshire native, Kelly, 44, understands and can teach offense. He'd be perfect for so many reasons.

Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley: A primo recruiter with myriad Eastern Seaboard ties, Locksley, 38, is showing his coaching skills by developing quarterback Juice Williams.

USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian: Sarkisian, 34, is one of the hottest commodities in America, but it just doesn't look like a good fit for him. He has no ties to the area and likely will sit tight in SoCal and wait for a much better job. He'll get it someday. By the way, Gross is a former USC assistant athletic director.

LITTLE GUYS, BIG DREAMS

All the buzz is about BCS-busters. There's East Carolina. There's BYU. There's Utah. And don't forget about Boise State.

Fresno State? Well, the Bulldogs are out of it after their 13-10 home loss to Wisconsin.

But while we are fawning over BYU, Utah, East Carolina, et al., keep your eye on Tulsa. I think Todd Graham's Golden Hurricane have a great chance to go unbeaten. But because Tulsa wasn't on the radar for pollsters in the preseason, it's unlikely the Golden Hurricane will be able to move high enough in the BCS standings to earn an automatic berth or even qualify to be considered.

Here are the toughest remaining tests for the non-BCS schools darlings with BCS dreams. There's no doubt Utah has the easiest path. The toughest? ECU, which goes to North Carolina State this weekend.

BYU: at TCU (Oct. 16); at Utah (Nov. 22).
East Carolina: at NC State (Sept. 20); at Virginia (Oct. 11); at UCF (Nov. 2); at Southern Miss (Nov. 15).
Tulsa: New Mexico (Sept. 20); at Arkansas (Nov. 1); at Houston (Nov. 15).
Utah: Oregon State (Oct. 2); TCU (Nov. 6); BYU (Nov. 22).

GRADING THE "BIG SIX"

Did your school and conference pass last week?

ACC
A: Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina
B: Clemson, Duke, Virginia Tech
C: Georgia Tech
D: NC State
F: Virginia

THREE QUESTIONS WITH ....
AUBURN DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR PAUL RHOADS
How has the new job gone?
We have had good attention to detail. We threw everything at them in the spring, just to expose them to all of our concepts. We introduced those concepts to them in the spring but have limited things we run. It's all about getting reps. We are on schedule.
What part of your defense do you like best?
Of all our units, I think our line may be the strongest. And that's good because I've never been part of a defense that has played well that didn't have a strong line. We can rotate nine players, which is a nice situation to have.
How does the secondary look?
Our starters are fine, but we are a little thin behind them. We have three freshmen on the second team. Our two freshmen corners are coming on strong and growing. We have taken the nucleus of what I did at Pitt and mixed it with the nucleus of what they used to do here (under former coordinator Will Muschamp, who's now at Texas). And, so far, it's working.

BIG EAST
A: South Florida, UConn
F: Rutgers, Syracuse

BIG TEN
A: Penn State, Wisconsin
B: Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue
C: Iowa, Minnesota
D: Illinois
F: Michigan, Ohio State

BIG 12
A: Baylor, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
B: Kansas, Texas Tech
C: Iowa State

PAC-10
A: USC
B: Oregon, Oregon State
D: Stanford
F: Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, UCLA, Washington, Washington State

SEC
A: Alabama, LSU, Tennessee
B: Georgia, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
C: Auburn
D: Kentucky, Mississippi State

FINAL THOUGHT

What a day for Lou Holtz. Son Skip's East Carolina squad remained unbeaten and poised to crash the BCS, and Lou was at Notre Dame for a ceremony that included the unveiling of a Lou Holtz statue. Plus, his beloved Fighting Irish thumped Michigan 35-17.

That got me to thinking: What current coaches deserve to have a statue? Well, two already do, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Penn State's Joe Paterno. Here are some others who merit the honor:

Ohio State 's Jim Tressel
Oregon's Mike Bellotti
Purdue's Joe Tiller
South Carolina 's Steve Spurrier (at Florida)
Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer
Texas' Mack Brown
USC's Pete Carroll
Virginia Tech 's Frank Beamer
Wake Forest 's Jim Grobe

MORE: Week 3 Power Rankings | Dienhart's Week 3 Awards | Olin's Heisman Ballot

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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