Another college football season has come and gone. The long, dark offseason is here. But don't fret too much. I'll be here to help you kill a little time over the next 20 weeks as each FBS conference gets the Yards Per Play (YPP) and Adjusted Pythagorean Record (APR) treatment. That will get us into May, when football is still a long way off, but at least the sun shines more. We'll take our sojourn alphabetically as we have for the past two years. That means we begin with the home of the current national champion, the American Athletic Conference.
Here are the AAC standings.
hammered Cincinnati at home in their penultimate game. In the contest, they averaged nearly two more yards per play than the Bearcats. That result would prove to be an outlier as any hope for closing the season strong evaporated the next week when Memphis hung 70 on them. All told, of East Carolina’s six conference losses, three came by at least 30 points, five came by at least 24 points, and only one came by single digits. The cumulative effect of those losses mitigated their one strong performance.
I know this is a retrospective of the American Athletic Conference for 2017, but this portion of the post will only be tangentially related to the AAC. I’ll be more AAC-centric next week, I promise.
Arkansas made what I thought was an interesting hire in poaching Chad Morris from SMU and I wanted to address it. Is hiring Morris a good move for Arkansas, and perhaps even more importantly, is going to Arkansas a good move for Morris?
Chad Morris’ career record at SMU hardly stands out. In three full seasons, his teams managed just a 14-22 mark. His record in conference play was even worse at 8-16. Devoid of context, that does not sound like a record that will net you a Power Five job. Of course, context matters, and Morris was taking over a team that won just one game the season before he arrived. The Mustangs improved each season under his tutelage, going from two wins in his first season, to five in his second, to seven in his third. Obviously, within this framework, Chad Morris appears to be a solid hire as he raised the SMU program from the depths of college football to be a competitive team in the premiere mid-major conference. Of course, SMU was also in pretty bad shape when Morris’ predecessor took over.
June Jones also took over an SMU team that won just a single game the year before he arrived. In addition, the Mustangs had posted just one winning season since returning from their NCAA-mandated death penalty in 1989. You can make a cogent argument that Jones was stepping into a more hopeless situation. And if you look at the numbers, he did better than Morris in terms of resurrecting the program, particularly in conference play.
won their division and played for the conference title. Even when the program was leaking oil at the end of his tenure, his final three seasons were comparable record-wise in the aggregate to the three Morris spent in Dallas.
Let’s drill down a little more into Morris’ three years at SMU. Where did his teams excel? Where did they struggle? Here are the conference YPP and APR numbers for each of his three teams.
2016 team to a bowl game. So Arkansas, with tremendous defensive deficiencies, hired an offensive-minded coach with a track record for bad defenses. What could go wrong?
Morris appears to understand what held his SMU teams back as Arkansas recently hired esteemed SEC defensive coordinator John Chavis. Chavis has been with the conference since Tulane and Sewanee were members and he has coordinated some fantastic defenses (most notably LSU in 2011), but his career that encompasses the YPP and APR era is a mixed bag.
I am also confused why Morris would want to go to Arkansas (other than the obvious reason of exorbitant sums of money). By taking the Arkansas job, Morris has assured that he will be coaching a team that talent-wise is optimistically fifth best in the SEC
West. Let’s give Morris the benefit of the doubt and assume he can out-recruit Ole Miss and Mississippi State. He still has to contend with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Texas A&M every season. Do you really want to push that boulder year after year? I think hanging out in the AAC West until a better job opened up would be a superior course of action. Morris did have to deal with recruiting to a private school, but two other schools in the division (Tulane and Tulsa) have the same issues and another is a military academy (Navy). Houston and Memphis are the only large public schools in the division and both could potentially lose their head coaches in the next few years, giving Morris the advantage of stability at SMU.
I think Arkansas reached on a coach with a bad defensive track record coming off a rebuilding job that is not as impressive as it appears on the surface. I think Morris could have held out for a better job that did not include sharing a division with four perennial top-twenty teams. I’ve been wrong before (once or twice), but I don’t think this marriage is built to last.