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Thursday, December 20
Updated: December 24, 7:19 PM ET
State of the Game

Former Georgia coach Jim Donnan and former Arizona coach Dick Tomey will put their coaching knowledge and skills to the test on Verge Friday on during the Culligan Holiday Bowl (Fri., Dec. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Donnan and Tomey will also be contributing articles on bowl preparation and provide their game plans on Washington and Texas.

What do you think about the BCS?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan: The BCS can definitely use some tweaking but until there is a playoff system, you've got to have something in place. Certainly, what's transpired in the last season -- so many teams turning around and giving other teams chances to be in it -- made it very difficult for the whole BCS. Everyone has their gripe about what should've or could've happened. The bottom line is that although this is not what everybody would like to see, this is what we're committed to. If I had my way, I would like to play it on the field like the I-AA playoff system but I don't know what's going to happen.

My solution would be to try and incorporate the bowls in a playoff. Somehow you could still have the big bowl games with two or four teams and play it off there. Or incorporate it throughout the bowl system. There are a lot of different ways you could project that.

There is no question that Colorado was playing as well as anybody at the end of the season, but it's hard for me to see a team with two losses play for the national championship. The team with the most legitimate gripe would be Oregon. The Ducks had a great year. Who would have thought they'd lose a home game after winning 23 straight games at Autzen? So, they've got a lot that they can talk about.

With the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, you'll probably see a split national champion -- that's what will evolve out of all this.

Dick Tomey
Dick Tomey: Generally, the BCS -- the idea of having four games -- is healthier because the old bowl tie in system that had to do with where you were and how many people you could bring. It's a little bit better but still not trouble free.

I think it obviously needs some tweaking. Many people question how Nebraska, who didn't win their conference, could compete for the national championship. Well, look at Arizona, when they won the national title in basketball, they finished in fifth place in the Pac-10. I think obviously the tweaking that's necessary has to do with head-to-head competition -- particularly late in the year. It needs to be given more weight.

When I say head-to-head competition, when and where it happens is really important. The situation with Miami and Florida State last year is a good example. Miami traveled 3,000 miles to lose to Washington in their second game and they beat Florida State. Florida State lost in their own state later in the year. Those two events should not be viewed as the same.

Tweaks for points for conference championships would also be good. The fact that not all conferences have a championship game somehow needs to be considered as well. But, I believe that the overriding thing is the head-to-head competition. The last month of the season should be a huge factor.

In 1998, we (Arizona) were 11-1 and ranked fifth or sixth in the nation and ended up in the Holiday Bowl because the championship game was in the Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl had -- at least in my mind -- the second best team in the Pac-10 at the time. We were not attractive to the Sugar or Orange Bowls because our fans would have had to travel across the country. That still goes on -- I think it has effected Kansas State recently.

Overall, it's a little better, but the bowls are still governed by the attractiveness of an opponent nationally. For instance, if the Fiesta Bowl had hosted this year's national championship game and Oregon somehow finished second in the Pac-10, they might not have gone to the Sugar or Orange Bowls. That's just how those people operate.

They need to adjust it a little bit based on this year's experience. The biggest thing people have trouble with this year is Nebraska being in the Rose Bowl instead of Colorado. The Buffaloes lost their first game to Fresno State, but finished so strong beating Nebraska soundly in their last regular season game and avenging their regular season loss to Texas with a win over the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship. Many fans don't understand that how Nebraska passed Colorado. I can sympathize.

What are your thoughts on the national championship game?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: Being out of coaching, I had a chance to watch more football this season and certainly I saw a lot of good athletes and teams. As evident in their record and undefeated season Miami is the best. Except for the game against Boston College and some pressure from Virginia Tech, Miami has been dominant.

Nebraska looked like a great teams all year -- to get beat like that by Colorado was surprising. Particularly with my background having coached at Oklahoma, you just don't see someone physically dominate Nebraska like Colorado did. That loss takes a little luster off the game itself.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: I like Nebraska. I think for Nebraska to walk around for six weeks and have people sling mud at them -- with the pride they have in their program -- will play itself out into the best performance they have had all year. I think if there is any parity at all in the ability of the two teams and who they are, the one who gets dissed for six weeks has really got a motivational edge regardless of what anyone says. Nebraska has a tremendous psychological advantage in this game. They have a good enough football team that if they can avoid turnovers, kick the ball well and play well in the fourth quarter, they've got a good chance to win.

If you go back and look at last year, Oklahoma had to listen for weeks about how they didn't belong, how they weren't in Florida State's class -- even though they were undefeated -- and how they couldn't win. OU had a lot of pride and Nebraska does too. You'll see a lot more competitive game than I'm hearing people say it will be.

Should there be a playoff system?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: While I haven't coached I-A in a long time, I can speak from experience. In 1985, while coaching Oklahoma, we beat Penn State to win the national championship. Then in '86 and '87, we actually had a better team but stubbed our toe against Miami both times -- once in the regular season and once in the final game. A playoff system would have been great back then.

I disagree with critics who say the students would miss too much class time. Football actually misses less class than any other sport. Then consider the revenue situation: there comes a point when you've got to involve the athlete and give them some sort of stipend. It's hard for the athletes to see the dollars from TV and bowl games, going only to the program and not to the athlete.

As tough as it is to even talk about a playoff with the commissioners and the presidents, I don't think you get more than an eight-team playoff down the road. I don't think people would go for more than three games.

Ever since I can remember, bowls have been a part of everybody's college football life -- waiting to see who's going to be picked and who'll be playing. With so many bowl games, a lot of teams have the opportunity to continue their season. So, it's very difficult to get after somebody who's been so good to you like the bowls in college football.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: As far as most coaches go, they would like a playoff, but very few administrators are in favor of it. When I say coaches would like a playoff, I mean a two-game or four-game playoff after the bowls. Some would be in favor of an eight team playoff, but you'd get very little support from college presidents.

Most coaches do want to keep the bowls because it gives so many teams a positive end to their season. There's not any experience like it in college athletics. I've been to the Final Four and the College World Series and seen how those operate -- you lose and you go home and you're there for a short time. The enjoyment for the players and fans is totally different in football.

What was the strongest conference this year?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: This year was really just a roll of the dice, depending on who you were watching. The SEC, from top to bottom, didn't look as strong as it has in the past. The Pac-10 also had its share of good teams.

Certainly, with Colorado, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma, you can make a case for the Big 12. All four of those teams had a chance to compete for the national championship.

I can't really put a finger on what's wrong with the Big Ten. Even though Illinois had a great year, there were a lot of upsets back and forth. When you see that over and over, it indicates that the league is probably not as strong as it has been.

With more equity, there are a lot of good athletes in every conference.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: You'd have a hard argument this year. The difference to me right now between the Pac-10 and any other conference in the country is they have a lot more parity and balance. If you look at the scores of Pac-10 games, there are just so many close, terrific games. When Washington won the Pac-10 championship last year they had so many games that went right down to the wire against teams that were not in the top echelon of the conference in the final analysis.

You always hear about the Big 12 being a physically tougher conference. In '98 when we (Arizona) played Nebraska, we heard how a Pac-10 team couldn't beat them, can't play their run -- and we stuffed their run. Oregon played well against Texas last year. There is a lot of physical, tough play in the Pac-10. Somehow, people think that when people grow up near an ocean, they're not tough. I disagree with that. If they don't grow up in the heartland of the United States, they aren't physical. I disagree with that.

There is less parity in the Big 12, but they had some of the better teams in the country. With Colorado emerging at the end and Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas, the Big 12 arguably had four of the best teams in the nation and I don't think the Pac-10 could claim that this year. Year in and year out there is just more parity in the Pac-10. There is a lot of outstanding football played in the Pac-10, but this year those big four teams give the Big 12 the edge.

Who will contend for next year's national title?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: The SEC East looks pretty tough. Florida and Tennessee both have a lot of players returning. Any time you've got a premiere quarterback like Rex Grossman, you're in good shape (Though there's question as to whether Jabar Gaffney and some other guys will go out for the draft early). In Tennessee, Vols quarterback Casey Clausen had a great year, South Carolina with Lou Holtz is always going to be good, and Georgia came on strong at the end of the year.

In the SEC West, LSU and Auburn seem to have a lot of young players too.

If Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas continue to have national recruiting prominence keep an eye on those teams. Colorado also has a lot of good players returning.

But until someone beats Miami, they're my No. 1 for next year too.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: I'd have to say Florida State, with the number of talented players they have, will rise again. Obviously, any team that has that kind of strength throughout their program will comeback. Florida, with Rex Grossman coming back, has all kinds of players. And Miami.

The truth is that the three teams in Florida just continue to have terrific football teams. There are so many outstanding players in the state and high school football is different there than in most other states. You don't see the emphasis, number of players and full-time staffs at high schools in many other states. They all have outstanding talent all the time and do a great job of coaching. If you are looking for a champion, start in Florida.

It's just so difficult to tell who is going to emerge from one season to the next. Someone like a Maryland or Illinois can come out of the blue. That's what makes college football tremendous. You have the opportunity for someone to put together a great season. That's the magic of it, that someone can come out of nowhere.

What's your best bowl memory?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: In my last game as a player at N.C. State, we beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl. It was a fitting climax to my college football career. I was glad to go out a winner.

At Oklahoma, the Orange Bowl national championship victory over Penn State ranks up there in my coaching memories.

As a head coach at Georgia, knowing that it was probably my last game, it was nice to beat Virginia in the Oahu Bowl in Hawaii last year.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: We had two great experiences at Arizona -- and they'd be difficult to separate. First was the 29-0 win over Miami in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl. Miami only ran two plays in our territory not ever getting close enough to attempt a field goal. They had beaten us 8-7 in Miami the previous year when we missed a last-second field goal. Our guys were so ready to play and their guys didn't want to be there. Second was the 23-20 win over Nebraska in the 1998 Holiday Bowl. That win made us 12-1 and fourth in the nation. They were two great experiences.

What would you change in college football?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: I wish college football could institute an early signing period. It would take some pressure of some off the guys who already know where they want to go. If they can have it for basketball, I don't see why we can't do it for football. In addition, I would also like to be able to bring the freshman in and let them go to summer school for at least one session before fall practice starts and let them get acclimated to things and get used to the routine. To me it would be a good way to invest in these young men and ensure they have a good experience, academically and on the field.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: The thing I would most want to change would be to give the summer back to the football players. Somehow in the last 10 years, the summer has gotten away from the players.

Football players should not be mandated to stay on their campuses all summer. The NCAA needs to take control of summer conditioning programs so that the players can have part of their summer and enjoy themselves in good physical condition. I think it's come to the point where now under the guise of voluntary workouts, players are expected to be on campus all summer -- that's ridiculous.

The other thing I believe -- and this not a college football issue as much as it is a college athletics issue -- is with coaches making the kind of money they're making across the board in all sports, particularly football and basketball, scholarship aid in all sports needs to be increased. If you look at how salaries have increased in the last 10-15 years and look at how scholarship checks have increased, there is a tremendous discrepancy.

What should the Heisman Trophy be?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: I'm in favor of the Heisman being more of a career award. Similar to the national championship picture (with the exception of Miami), we saw some guys fading and coming back throughout the Heisman race. It appeared that Eric Crouch didn't have a chance after the Colorado game, but he certainly deserved the award for his career.

It's difficult for a defensive player to be prominent among those Heisman selectees. Though there are certainly a lot of awards given to defensive players, it's a tough deal for them, but that's just the way the system is.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: Right now, you read where this player is supposed to be the best in college football. But that is not what the award is, it's for the best quarterback or running back. It should be for the best player.

It's not as glamorous for that player to be a defensive tackle or an offensive guard, but if they mean for it to be the best player than they need to make it the best player. They need to not invite four quarterbacks to New York because they aren't the four best players -- they're the four best quarterbacks.

The award is mischaracterized. Right now it's not given to the best player. They need to be honest about what it is. Someone needs to stand up and say that we need to straighten this out and if we mean the best offensive skill player let's say it.

To me, the Heisman is losing some of its luster because of that. It would be a lot more exciting, creative and fun if it was for the best player. Now, it's just a matter of which quarterback or running back can control which section of the country. There are few surprises because a lot of people vote for who they think can win rather than who they think the best is.

Are there too many bowl games? Should 6-5 teams qualify?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: These days, with corporate sponsorships and fans, teams have a chance to continue their season. It's very difficult to be a dominating team and win eight and nine games -- so give those teams a lot of credit. There are so many good teams out there today, it's tough to say they shouldn't be rewarded for winning more games than they lose.

Certainly, there are a lot of bowl games, but I don't think there's anything wrong with teams being rewarded for a winning season.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: I really don't think there are too many bowl games. I go back to basketball and all these teams load their schedules with teams they can beat the daylights out of early in the year and all end up with 18 or 20 wins and they split their conference games -- you just don't have that opportunity in football. If a 6-5 team wins a bowl game, they are 7-5 which is a good year. It also gives them a chance to move ahead.

You see teams with all kinds of records get into the NCAA baseball or basketball championships and there are many fewer teams in football get to go to a bowl game than play in the NCAA Tournament in basketball and baseball. So, I don't think a 6-5 team should be discriminated against. Some have played really tough schedules and rallied at the end of the season to do well. I think a 6-5 team should qualify.

How has coaching changed?

Jim Donnan
Jim Donnan
Donnan: The evolution of talk shows, Internet, and all of the scrutiny outside of the day-to-day job itself, has added a lot of pressure. It seems like everyone is an authority on football. There are a lot of opinions out there. Throughout all sports, we've adopted more of a "win now" mentality. With those situations so evident and with so many dollars spent on athletics, sometimes you lose the focus of the whole student-athlete a little bit.

There's an extreme amount of pressure on the players and coaches that probably wasn't there 20 years ago. Though there has always been pressure to win, there's a lot more now.

Dick Tomey
Tomey: I think coaches are more interested in a balanced life and technological advances and changes in recruiting rules have played a big part in allowing this. Coaches are also much better compensated than ever before. Teams and staffs are much more ethnically diverse. This makes the whole experience more rewarding for everyone. The negative is that the head coaching community is not diverse enough.

The Internet, talk radio and cable outlets have created more interest in the game, but also provided a forum for the uninformed to voice their opinions anonymously.

There is much greater parity today. Reduction in scholarship numbers have given more teams a chance to succeed. The players have improved physically. Strength, speed, flexibility and training techniques have improved. Training is now a year round fact of life.

More from Coach Tomey

What is Verge
Tomey: How coaching has changed
The history and tradition of the University of Texas.
Player diary: Nathan Vasher
The history and traditions of the Washington Huskies
Player diary: Willie Hurst
Chat wrap: Darrell Royal
Chat wrap: Don James