Hiring a college football coach is expensive. Firing one is, too.

On a warm, sunny day last month at the University of Iowa, head football coach Kirk Ferentz wore a white shirt and gold-striped tie to a special announcement about his future. He had just signed the deal of a lifetime — the biggest contract of his life, with enough guarantees to make him a rich man well into his retirement, win or lose.The new contract included several generous provisions:► Even if he’s fired after this season for not winning enough games, the 61-year-old Ferentz would be owed more than $25 million, payable in monthly installments until 2026.► He’s guaranteed an additional $22 million from 2021 through 2025 if he sticks around and wins at least seven games each season through 2020. It wouldn’t matter if he’s dismissed in 2021 after finishing 0-12.► If that’s not enough, those guarantees wouldn’t even be reduced if Iowa fired him and he took a lucrative new job somewhere else.“I certainly appreciate the trust and confidence demonstrated by athletic director Gary Barta,” said Ferentz, who also thanked Iowa president Bruce Harreld. USA TODAY Sports Coaches Salary DatabaseLess than two months later, Iowa has lost three consecutive home games, adding more buzz to a popular question about contract guarantees for college coaches: Why?Why did Iowa make Ferentz almost too expensive to fire after averaging about seven wins per season during his previous 17 years in Iowa City?And why are schools, including Iowa, increasingly willing to provide gold-plated parachutes for coaches in an industry where their success is never guaranteed?Harreld, the top decision-maker on Ferentz’s contract, declined comment. But the simple answer is leverage. Buoyed by rising revenues in college sports, college football coaches are getting paid more than ever, with at least 36 earning at least $3 million this year, up from nine in 2011 and one in 2006 — the first year USA TODAY Continue Reading

3 questions raised by initial College Football Playoff rankings

As expected, the first set of College Football Playoff rankings provided more questions than answers. At this point of the regular season, there’s simply too small a sample size for the selection committee to do more than give an outline for how it views the Football Bowl Subdivision heading into November. PLAYOFF RANKINGS: Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson are in top four BOWL PROJECTIONS:  Clemson, Ohio State join the College Football Playoff field But we’ve got questions. While time and results will eventually settle the postseason picture — well, hopefully — here are the three biggest questions to come out of the debut rankings:What about Miami and Wisconsin?There are four remaining unbeaten teams in the Power Five. Two are from the SEC in Alabama and Georgia. The other pair are flying under the radar: Wisconsin was ranked ninth in the debut rankings and Miami was ranked 10th, behind six one-loss teams.The rationale for listing these undefeated contenders behind teams already holding a loss is simple. For one, the Badgers haven’t played anybody. And Miami, while clearly moving forward under Mark Richt, has too many close calls on its schedule to be lumped among the top five.This wasn’t surprising. The better question asks: What do these two teams need to do to get into the top four? Miami’s road is clear — the Hurricanes need to win out, obviously, and get wins against Notre Dame and the winner of the ACC Atlantic Division, which might be Clemson. The Badgers also need to run the table, which would likely include a win against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. But can Wisconsin do enough with its weak schedule to move ahead of a one-loss team with a stronger résumé?Is the Pac-12 done for?Compared to the Pac-12, the Big 12 is the SEC. Let me explain. The debut rankings showed the SEC’s easy path for getting a team into the national semifinals. It’s clear that Continue Reading

Notre Dame’s resurgence could make this year’s College Football Playoff push craziest yet

College football’s championship season is officially underway.Starting in late August and continuing through a riotous final Saturday of October, the list of title contenders in the Football Bowl Subdivision has been trimmed to a select few. Rosy expectations have given way to reality: As revealed Tuesday night by the debut College Football Playoff rankings, the list of true contenders for the two national semifinals numbers little more than a dozen.If small in number, the list does encompass each of the Power Five conferences. Led by the Southeastern Conference, which placed Georgia atop the first rankings and had Alabama close behind in second, each of the major FBS leagues has at least one team ranked in the top 12. RANKINGS:  Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame, Clemson are in top four MORE: 3 questions raised by initial College Football Playoff rankings “It was passionate debate when we were discussing Georgia and Alabama over the course of the past two days,” said College Football Playoff selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt, the athletics director at Texas Tech.“What gave Georgia a very slight edge over Alabama this week in the eyes of the selection committee were really the two top-25 wins that Georgia has, over Mississippi State but specifically over Notre Dame.”At other times in the brief history of the Playoff, which made its debut three seasons ago, the dialogue around the first standings would center on which conference faced the specter of being left out in the cold. It’s happened to the Big 12 Conference, which had two teams just outside the top four in 2014, and a year later with the Pac-12 Conference. The math leads to musical chairs: four spots, five conferences.This season could be different. Instead, the question doesn’t ask which one conference will be left out but rather which conferences — meaning multiple — could find themselves without a team in the national Continue Reading

College Football Playoff announces sites for 2021-24, including Indianapolis in 2022

College football’s national championship is headed north.Indianapolis is among four cities selected to host the College Football Playoff’s national championship game after the 2020-2023 seasons. In January 2022, when the championship game is played at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, it will be the first time in the modern history of the sport its national title has been won at a location outside the South or West.“When we were talking about sites, we kept asking ourselves, ‘Why not a northern tier city?’ ” Bill Hancock, the Playoff’s executive director, told USA TODAY Sports. “‘Why does college football always have to have its championship in the Sun Belt?’ We’re pleased with our decision to go north.”Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. — site of the Orange Bowl and several Bowl Championship Series national championships — will host the national championship game in January 2021, after the 2020 season. In January 2023, Los Angeles will host at the new stadium that’s currently under construction at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif. In January 2024, the game will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston.“We said we were gonna move the championship game around when we started the Playoff,” Hancock said. “We were serious about that and now we’ve done it.” CFP RANKINGS: Notre Dame's resurgence could create chaos MORE: 3 questions raised by initial College Football Playoff rankings MORE: The top 10 college football games in November In its first three seasons of the Playoff, the national title game has been played in Arlington, Texas, Glendale, Ariz., and Tampa. The game will be played in Atlanta this season, and in Santa Clara, Calif., and New Orleans, respectively, the next two seasons.The CFP’s management committee — made up of 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director Continue Reading

Bold predictions for Week 10 in college football

It's that time again. The USA TODAY Sports college football staff — Paul Myerberg, Lindsay Schnell, George Schroeder, Erick Smith, Eddie Timanus and Dan Wolken — weigh in with their expertise and offer up some bold predictions ahead of Week 10 of the college football season: Eddie TimanusSince this is ‘fall back’ weekend and you’ll have an extra hour to recover Sunday morning, you owe it to yourself to stay up and catch this Saturday’s #Pac12AfterDark special featuring Arizona at Southern California.The Pac-12 is an extreme long shot now to send a team to the College Football Playoff. But the winner of this game takes charge of the South Division. Most of all, though, it should be loads of fun. The Trojans appear to have regained their offensive mojo with Ronald Jones II now healthy to lend ground support to Sam Darnold, and the Wildcats’ defense isn’t exactly a brick wall. But then neither is USC’s, and Arizona has dual-threat QB Khalil Tate, the breakout star of October. We’re not sure who will win, but both teams should put up a score in the 40s. FIRST-YEAR GRADES: Assessing every offseason coaching hire in college football STAFF PICKS: Predictions for all the big Week 10 games in college football WEEK 10 OUTLOOK: Plenty of Playoff implications for Big 12, ACC QUESTION OF WEEK: Which title contender has the hardest path left? Paul MyerbergWe’ll have two new teams in the top four of next week’s Playoff rankings. This isn’t to say that both Clemson and Notre Dame will lose, let alone that Georgia slips up against South Carolina or Alabama against LSU. But one team of the four will lose and Oklahoma will put together the sort of impressive win needed against rival Oklahoma State to earn at least a one-spot move into the top four.  Lindsay SchnellI feel like we’re heading toward complete chaos with the Continue Reading

USA TODAY Sports college football staff picks for Week 10

Maybe it is coincidence or just good fortune, but the turning of the calendar to November brings us the biggest weekend of the college football season.Five matchups between ranked opponents highlight the schedule with major conference championship implications in each of them.In the Big 12, the Bedlam showdown between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will start to make sense out of a competitive race that currently has four teams at the top of the conference. The Sooners, currently fifth in the Playoff rankings, need another big win for its resume. QUESTION OF WEEK: Which Playoff contender has the toughest path? WEEK 10 OUTLOOK: Plenty of Playoff implications for Big 12, ACC IRISH EYES: Notre Dame could make this year's Playoff push the craziest yet BOWL PROJECTIONS: Clemson, Ohio State join the College Football Playoff field The ACC has two big games that likely will decide the representatives in its title game. In the Coastal, Virginia Tech visits Miami (Fla.). A win by the Hurricanes would all but clinch their first division title, while the Hokies can move to the top of the standings by dealing them their first loss. In the Atlantic, Clemson and North Carolina State are the top two teams with the Wolfpack unbeaten in league play. The Tigers are right behind them with one loss.Elsewhere, the annual SEC grudge match between LSU and Alabama takes place in Tuscaloosa. The Tigers have had a bumpy season, but a victory would put them in the driver's seat of the West division. The Crimson Tide still have Mississippi State and Auburn to play, so this is just the start of a rough month.Finally, Arizona and Southern California square off to determine the leader in the Pac-12 South. Can the Trojans be the first team to stop Wildcats quarterback Kahlil Tate and his running exploits?  Continue Reading

College football bowl schedule for 2017-18

A complete breakdown of all the matchups for this season’s bowl schedule, starting with the opening contest on Dec. 16 at the New Orleans Bowl.The postseason extravaganza continues for the next three weeks through the College Football Playoff national championship game scheduled for Jan. 8 in Atlanta.The bowl lineup (all times are ET): Dec. 16 — Celebration Bowl:  North Carolina A&T 21, Grambling 14​Dec. 16 — New Orleans Bowl: Troy 50, North Texas 30 Dec. 16 — Cure Bowl: Georgia State 27, Western Kentucky 17 Dec​. 16 — Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State 38, Oregon 28​Dec. 16 — New Mexico Bowl: Marshall 31, Colorado State 28 Dec. 16 — Camellia Bowl: Middle Tennessee 35, Arkansas State 30 Dec. 19 — Boca Raton Bowl: Florida Atlantic 50, Akron 3 Dec. 20 — Frisco Bowl:  Louisiana Tech 51, Southern Methodist 10 Dec. 21 — Gasparilla Bowl: Temple 28, Florida International 3 Dec. 22 — Bahamas Bowl: Ohio 41, Alabama-Birmingham 6 Dec. 22 — Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Wyoming 37, Central Michigan 14 Dec. 23 — Birmingham:  South Florida 38, Texas Tech 34 Dec. 23 — Armed Forces Bowl: Army 42, San Diego State 35 Dec. 23 — Dollar General Bowl: Appalachian State 34, Toledo 0 Dec. 24 — Hawaii Bowl:  Fresno State 33, Houston 27 Dec. 26 — Heart of Dallas Bowl: Utah 30, West Virginia 14Dec. 26 — Quick Lane Bowl: Duke vs. Northern Illinois, ESPN, 5:15 p.m.Dec. 26— Cactus Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA, ESPN, 9 p.m.Dec. 27 — Independence Bowl: Florida State vs. Southern Mississippi, ESPN, 1:30 p.m.Dec. 27 — Pinstripe Bowl: Iowa vs. Boston College, ESPN, 5:15 p.m.Dec. 27 — Foster Farms Bowl: Purdue vs. Arizona, Fox, 8:30 p.m.Dec. 27 — Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Missouri, ESPN, 9 p.m.Dec. Continue Reading

First-year grades for every offseason coaching hire in college football

While 2017 is shaping up to be a monster year for movement in the college coaching ranks, 2016 was relatively tame. Only two elite programs went into the marketplace for new coaches, with Texas making the obvious hire of Tom Herman and LSU simply taking the interim tag off Ed Orgeron. Meanwhile, Bob Stoops’ surprise retirement in June didn’t cause much movement as the school simply moved Lincoln Riley from offensive coordinator. With a month left in the season, we have a pretty good idea of how effective each new coach has been in their first year, so it’s time to go ahead and give them grades. And it might be a surprise who leads the pack.  Grade: A Butch Davis, Florida International: Though the amount of talent in South Florida should help any coach be competitive here, it’s still a tough job. And Davis, at age 65, is knocking it out of the park with the Panthers at 5-2. His predecessor, Ron Turner, won just 10 games total in 3 1/2 seasons. Lane Kiffin, Florida Atlantic: Freed from Nick Saban’s shackles, Kiffin has found time not only to up his Twitter trolling game but also turn around a football program that finished 3-9 each of the last three seasons. After a shaky start, FAU is 4-0 in C-USA and has averaged 52 points in the league, beating the league’s traditional powers in Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky.  STAFF PICKS: Predictions for all the big Week 10 games in college football WEEK 10 OUTLOOK: Plenty of Playoff implications for Big 12, ACC QUESTION OF WEEK: Which title contender has the hardest path left? Grade: A- Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma: He has looked poised and totally prepared as Stoops’ successor, snagging a big early win at Ohio State. The only knock so far is a somewhat shaky defense, which was also a problem before he became head coach. Jeff Tedford, Fresno State: Though a home loss to UNLV last weekend knocked him down from an Continue Reading

Critical matchups that will decide biggest games in Week 10 in college football

The final month of the regular season brings high drama as teams are fighting for position in the College Football Playoff rankings and conference championships. When two teams are evenly matched, there's a small margin for error between winning and losing. The implications can be significant, however. Here's a look at five of this week's biggest showdowns and what will be the decisive factor in determining a winner (all times Eastern): Oklahoma State offensive line vs. Oklahoma defensive line TIME/TV: Saturday, 4 p.m., FS1 All of the attention in this game is going to the quarterbacks. And rightfully so. Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph are two of the players in the country. It's hard to see either defense slowing them down. The Sooners have an advantage with one of the nation's top offensive lines to protect Mayfield and give him a reliable running game. It's hard to imagine the Cowboys being able to slow them down. That's where their offensive line comes in. The unit struggled against Texas before getting healthier and bouncing back last week against West Virginia. Oklahoma's defense has been shaky at times, but much of its issues are in the secondary. The front has played pretty well against the run and has Obo Oboronkwo to provide a pass rush. If they can stalemate the Oklahoma State ground attack, it allows them to play with more defensive backs and get more help in coverage. A balanced offense would mean a great day for the Cowboys. STAFF PICKS: Predictions for all the big Week 10 games in college football BOLD PREDICTIONS: Danger for title contenders and trouble for Central Florida FIRST-YEAR GRADES: Assessing every offseason coaching hire in college football QUESTION OF WEEK: Which title contender has the hardest path left? Miami (Fla.) QB Malik Rosier vs. Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson  TIME/TV: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABCThe Hurricanes are unbeaten. But it hasn't been easy. The last Continue Reading

Lou Holtz out at ESPN, college football analyst and network agree to part ways

Lou Holtz is moving off-campus. The former Notre Dame coach turned ESPN college football analyst is leaving the network’s Bristol headquarters in a reported mutual parting of the parties. Holtz, 78, has worked as a studio analyst for the network since 2004, teaming up with Mark May and Reece Davis on ESPN’s “Saturday College Football Final” show. Sports Illustrated reported the news of Holtz leaving the network. “Lou brought a champion's perspective and a legacy of accomplishment to our coverage along with his distinctive style and humor,” an ESPN spokesman told SI.com. “We appreciate his contributions and wish him all the best in the future." In February it was announced that Davis was leaving College Football Final to take over as the host of ESPN’s premier college program — “GameDay” — leaving May as the only holdover from College Football Final. “Lou enjoyed his time and friendships made at ESPN and looks forward to other opportunities in college football,” Holtz’s agent, Sandy Montag, told SI.com. Holtz’s exit wasn’t completely unexpected. He told a Notre Dame news site, Irish247, that 2014 would likely be his last season with ESPN. Continue Reading