Watching the Week 7 outcomes unfold, a theme arose: Some schools aren’t getting a good — or even adequate — return on investment from their high-dollar coaches. The college football coaching market has ballooned and universities hand out massive contracts like candy on Halloween.
Texas A&M is the poster child for this with its humungous, fully guaranteed deal for Jimbo Fisher, whose team is now 4-3 after a 20-13 road loss at Tennessee. Mark Stoops is making over $9 million dollars a year at Kentucky, and he’s lost his last two games by a combined score of 89-34. Stoops’ status within the program is unwavering, but the price per win is notable.
Some programs pay a king’s ransom to attract a top-billed coach from another program. Miami ran off a Manny Diaz to sign Oregon’s Mario Cristobal to a 10-year contract worth $80 million. The Hurricanes are off to an 0-2 start in ACC play in Year 2 under Cristobal following one of the worst blunders in college football history against Georgia Tech and a follow-up loss to North Carolina.
USC made Lincoln Riley the fourth-highest paid coach in the sport, and now the Trojans appear, at best, to be the third-place team in the Pac-12. Their 28-point loss to Notre Dame was a thorough dispatching. The Sooners, meanwhile, are paying Brent Venables, Riley’s replacement, just over $7 million a year — nearly $4 million less — and he has Oklahoma right in the thick of the College Football Playoff race.
To be fair, some of these crazy extensions and big-money deals work out. Coaches like Alabama‘s Nick Saban and Georgia‘s Kirby Smart deserve staggering figures. They are rare, though. Instead, schools routinely overpay for promise hoping for sustained success and stability. It’s getting out of hand. Maybe 2023 serves as a reality check for some administrations.
Fisher reaching point of no return
Speaking of Fisher, the Tennessee loss is proof that the Aggies are going backwards. His fate may ultimately be sealed — even if not officially for some time. Tennessee scored just one touchdown on offense, had 100 yards passing and 25 more yards in penalties, yet the Aggies couldn’t capitalize.
Fisher made plenty of questionable decisions for a second-straight week, too. Taking a knee up 10-7 with 50 seconds remaining before halftime, with all three timeouts, is a bad decision. And on the first drive after the half, the Aggies went three-and-out. Tennessee returner Dee Williams housed a punt a few minutes later, putting the Vols in control from there.
Texas A&M got whooped on both lines of scrimmage, too. The Vols gashed the Aggies for 232 yards rushing and the defensive front had two sacks, five TFLs and 11 QB hurries. There’s a strong chance that Texas A&M won’t pony up the buyout money to fire Fisher this year unless the season enters complete disaster territory, but the writing’s on the wall.
Elko deserves coach of the year consideration
On the other end of the spectrum, Fisher’s former defensive coordinator is doing a great job at Duke. Mike Elko’s team bounced back from the heartbreaking and costly loss to Notre Dame with a 24-3 win over NC State. Without injured star quarterback Riley Leonard, the Blue Devils completed just four passes — all in the first half — went 1-for-9 on third downs and still came away with a 24-3 win. The Blue Devils defense allowed a field goal on NC State’s opening possession before shutting out the Pack for the rest of the game.
Elko is now 14-5 in a season and a half at Duke. He led the Blue Devils to their first win against Clemson in 19 years and their largest win against a ranked opponent since 1942. Duke is right in the thick of a heated ACC title scramble just two years removed from three-straight losing seasons. Elko needs to be in the running for every applicable coach of the year award.
Heisman Trophy conversation might be over
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will be in New York for December’s Heisman Trophy ceremony. But now he might be the runaway favorite to win college football’s most prestigious individual award. He outdueled Oregon quarterback Bo Nix — another Heisman hopeful — by throwing for 302 yards and four touchdowns in the 36-33 win. Penix was on the field for exactly 33 seconds in the last 6:33 of the game but threw the game-winning touchdown to star wide receiver Rome Odunze.
Penix’s biggest competition to this point has been USC quarterback and reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams, who crumbled against Notre Dame Saturday night with three interceptions. Penix now ranks second nationally in passing yards (2,301) and third in touchdowns (20) through just six games.
Pac-12, Big 12 are two-team races
And both championship games will be rematches. It’s clear that Washington and Oregon are on a different level than other teams in the Pac-12. The same can be said for Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12.
USC’s loss to Notre Dame dispelled any lingering notions that the Trojans are ready to compete for a conference title. They have way too many issues this deep into the year, and a brutal stretch of four ranked games over the last month does them no favors. As for the Big 12, the third-best team is a crapshoot. Teams outside of the Longhorns and Sooners just keep beating up on one another.
Oregon getting another crack at Washington in the Pac-12 Championship Game and Texas seeking revenge against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game seem like certainties at this point. Each game should have major College Football Playoff implications as well.