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Pirate Notebook No. 313
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

By Denny O'Brien

Coaches sound off on ‘mid-major’ label

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

NEW ORLEANS — The formation of the Bowl Championship Series is credited with widening the gap that exists in Division I-A football. That gap is evident by the results on the field, and even more so by cash in the coffers.

The national media has further emphasized that division by its use of labels, with the most prevalent terminology being recycled from college hoops. Now BCS and non-BCS football programs are commonly distinguished by their ‘major’ and ‘mid-major’ labels.

It’s the latter that generates heartburn for many fans of non-BCS schools. But for some Conference USA coaches, the label isn’t a source of much frustration.

“I think in a way it’s offensive, but I understand it,” Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower said. “And I probably agree with it.

“This league’s reputation and how it’s viewed upon is gonna be based on how you do in your non-conference schedule. I’m so used to it, it doesn’t bother me anymore. Just don’t call us ‘Giant Killers’. That’s like you don’t have any business out there with them.”

Memphis coach Tommy West also isn’t phased by the term. Instead, he’s focused on increasing the frequency with which C-USA members beat BCS opponents.

“Doesn’t bother me in the least,” West said. “What bothers me is if we’re not beating some of those BCS guys. I don’t know why that would bother somebody – that’s just a term.

“This league is not going to be where we can compete consistently with the top three in (BCS conferences). But those bottom three? We’ve got to be where we can consistently beat those guys. That’s more important to us than what somebody wants to call us. They can call us whatever they want to call us.”

Scheduling views

Non-conference scheduling has received a lot of focus due to the increased opportunities generated by 12-game schedules. At East Carolina, AD Terry Holland has parlayed that into long-term agreements with several attractive regional opponents, including North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia.

Though West likes the presence of BCS opponents on the schedule, he doesn’t exactly favor Memphis pursuing ECU’s scheduling philosophy.

“That’s crazy,” West said with a chuckle. “Really, you want to have a team and then you go and play those guys out of the league?

“I don’t agree with that, but that ain’t my problem. That’s Skip’s problem. I’ve got enough problems. I’m not trying to solve his. He can’t say that, but I can.”

Unlike East Carolina, Southern Miss has struggled to piece together a viable non-conference schedule. As a result, Bower is open to adding conference games to the current eight-game gauntlet.

“I’m not so sure that I wouldn’t like to play another conference game,” Bower said. “Instead of playing eight, play nine just for ease of scheduling.

“We have a difficult time with scheduling. It would make it easier to do that. We can’t get a sniff out of (Mississippi State or Ole Miss).”

Strategy shift

Among the rule changes for the upcoming season is the movement of kickoffs from the 35 to the 30-yard line. C-USA coaches believe that will mean an increase in returns and an overall shift in kickoff and game strategy.

“We’re bringing every one of them out,” West said. “I don’t care how deep they go, because the coverage can’t get there. There are always holes in kickoff coverage.

“I really think it’s going to have a huge impact to where I see offenses starting at the 35-40 yard line. That’s points right there. We’re going to try to be really creative with sky kicks and squib kicks.”

Bower said the new rule might not alter his approach to kickoffs, but it could mean a change in pre-game philosophy.

“I think it’s going to change your decision at the coin toss,” Bower said. “You win the coin toss now, and I think you’re going to see teams receive the ball.

“Now you’ve got a chance to establish field position on that first possession even if you don’t score. You get a first down or two and then punt the ball, you’ve got a chance to establish good field position.”

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08/01/2007 03:19:41 AM

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