Month: March 2016

The Big Lebowski (1998) vs. Fight Club (1999)

Today I’m doing a compare-and-contrast episode, featuring two films that I believe are very similar to each other: The Big Lebowski and Fight Club.

Now on the surface, you may not find that many similarities between these two films. But after digging deeper, I believe that both have a lot in common than just being late-90s cultural artifacts.

For the uninformed, let’s go over the plots of both films, starting with The Big Lebowski.

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Lovable loser Jeffrey Lebowski (colloquially known as “The Dude”) gets mugged in his home in a case of mistaken identity. Shortly thereafter, he learns of the intended victim, a millionaire also named Jeffrey Lebowski. The Dude informs his friends and bowling buddies – dopey Donnie and quick-tempered Walter – about the situation. When the millionaire Lebowski’s trophy wife gets kidnapped, the Dude is commissioned to deliver the ransom to bring her back.

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Fight Club, meanwhile, deals with the unnamed narrator, who finds himself alienated in his dingy city and boring white-collar job. After meeting the mysterious Tyler Durden, the Narrator becomes involved in underground “fight clubs” as a means of relieving stress and escaping the mundane realities of life. Eventually, the Narrator gets pulled into a violent underworld which eventually threatens his life and will leave no one unscathed. It is based on the 1996 novel by Chuck Palahniuk.

Now, let’s compare the two:

  • Both films were disappointments at the box office, but became cult classics after their DVD releases.

The Big Lebowski grossed only $17 million in the U.S. on a $15 million budget, making it a box office disappointment for the team behind it (the venerable Coen brothers).

Similarly, Fight Club opened at the No. 1 spot, but fell quickly, and studio executives were rumored to be unhappy with the final film. On a budget of $63 million, Fight Club tanked in U.S. box offices, grossing only $37 million in North America.

However, both films developed underground followings when they were released on DVD, and to this day, both films are regarded as classics by critics and audiences alike.

  • Both films feature strange characters and non-traditional protagonists.

Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski is a likable guy – in a stoner/slacker kind of way. He seems to enjoy his life and has a laid-back demeanor that is admirable during the difficult circumstances he encounters during the film. When he’s not smoking pot or bowling with his buddies, he’s just taking life as it comes.

There’s also an eclectic mix of supporting characters in The Big Lebowski, including a nude artist (Julianne Moore), a quirky bowling rival (John Turturro), and the millionaire Lebowski’s socially awkward assistant (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

In Fight Club, the main supporting character is Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), a seductive stranger who has similar interests as the Narrator and ends up turning his life upside down.

The Narrator himself is someone who is fairly relatable. He’s frustrated with his mundane job and lives vicariously by visiting support groups for people with life-threatening illnesses. When Marla Singer and Tyler Durden enter his life, the Narrator’s existence becomes crazier and crazier to the point where he questions his own sanity. Even if the Narrator’s circumstances aren’t similar to one’s own life story, the character himself certainly is.

  • Both films feature a unique blend of genres and styles.

The Big Lebowski is basically a satirical comedy about mistaken identity, but it’s also a caper film that blends surrealism, mystery, and even some Western elements.

Fight Club is simultaneously a satirical comedy and a mystery thriller, equally humorous and intense in its subject matter. The production design and cinematography (always a staple of David Fincher films) are top-notch and suggest a more industrial action-thriller genre, but the dialogue and characters are more typical to a satire.

 

I’m sure there are plenty of other similarities between these two great films – but these are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head. If you haven’t seen either of these flicks, I highly recommend them…they really hold up under scrutiny and deserve repeated viewings.

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Directed by Joel Coen

Produced by Ethan Coen

Written by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, David Huddleston, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, John Turturro

Rated R for pervasive strong language, drug content, sexuality and brief violence.

 

Fight Club (1999)

Directed by David Fincher

Produced by Art Linson and Ceán Chaffin

Screenplay by Jim Uhls

Based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Starring Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, Jared Leto

Rated R for disturbing and graphic depiction of violent anti-social behavior, sexuality and language.

Players to watch (defense)

As the Aggies finish spring practice, here are some players to watch on the defensive side of the ball:

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Derek Watson, DE (Redshirt Freshman)

Watson impressed the coaching staff as a true freshman last fall, but suffered a shoulder injury during fall camp and redshirted. The son of two former Aggie student-athletes, Watson should be able to make a difference in group of young-but-talented defensive ends.

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Austin Shaw, CB (Freshman)

A grayshirt freshman from Frisco, Texas, Shaw has excellent speed and coverage skills. It’s a lot to ask for a freshman to start right away, but Shaw seems to have the ability to at least be an immediate contributor.

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Christian Gibson, S (Redshirt Freshman)

Gibson is a raw, physical product out of the Dallas area who looks to be hungry to prove himself as a safety. With his speed (4.35 in the 40), he could also end up as a mainstay on special teams. Gibson grabbed two interceptions in the spring game, making a case for immediate playing time.

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Garron Nash, DE (Redshirt Freshman)

Like Watson, Nash is another redshirt freshman who looks to make an early impact in his Aggie career. The Wichita Falls, Texas native has the physical tools necessary to be an all-conference player in the future.

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Deshawnte Lloyd, DT (Junior)

Lloyd is a former basketball player who played JUCO football at the College of the Sequoias in northern California. The 6’1″, 325-pound defensive tackle is an excellent run stuffer who can also rush the passer very well for his size. He could start right away when fall camp rolls around.

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Will Clement, LB (Sophomore)

With fellow youngster Javahn Fergurson out for the spring following surgery, Clement has a chance to be a major contributor after mostly playing on special teams in 2015. At 6’3″, 211 pounds, he’s a rangy tackler with good speed.

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Jassavia Reese, DE (Sophomore)

NMSU has depth at defensive end, but don’t count out Reese, who started five games last season, recording 23 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Coaches love his intensity and are expecting him to have a big year now that he’s bulked up.

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Shane Jackson, LB (Redshirt Freshman)

Jackson is undersized (6’0″, 236 pounds), but he’s got the speed and savvy to be a quality middle linebacker in the future. He hails from the highly-regarded Manvel High program in suburban Houston.

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Malik Demby, S (Sophomore)

Demby is a solidly built 6’2″ safety who struggled with injuries in 2015, but he forced a fumble in the spring game and will look to make an impact in an improving secondary. Demby recorded over 70 tackles in his final two years in high school in Chino, California.

Players to watch (offense)

As the Aggies finish spring practice, here are some players to watch on the offensive side of the ball:

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Conner Cramer, QB (Junior)

Cramer should be considered the dark horse in the quarterback competition; the transfer from New Mexico Military Institute has a strong arm and solid mobility. He competed for first-team reps with redshirt junior Tyler Rogers and sophomore Nick Jeanty, and made a case for himself with a strong showing in the spring game.

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Jaleel Scott, WR (Junior)

The 6’6″ junior college transfer enrolled early to help out at receiver. He has some outstanding athletic ability for a player of his size, and he should push for playing time alongside returnees Tyrian Taylor and Greg Hogan.

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Sebastian Anderson, OT (Redshirt Freshman)

Aggie coaches are high on this redshirt freshman, who is looking to replace three-year starter Houston Clemente at left tackle. The Goodyear, Arizona native has quick feet and great size (6’6″, 262 pounds).

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Josh Aganon, WR (Junior)

Coming from Mesa (AZ) Community College, Aganon was a late flip from Sun Belt rival Georgia Southern during the recruiting process. He replaces emotional leader and walk-on success story Josh Bowen at inside receiver, so Aganon will have big cleats to fill, but he’s a hard-working athlete who seems to be up to the task. He enrolled early and will participate in spring ball.

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Brandyn Leonard, RB (Redshirt Freshman)

Coaches were tempted to play Leonard last season, but held off. The 6’0″, 168-pound Phoenix native put up impressive numbers at the prep level, and he should find himself busy as a backup behind All-American Larry Rose III. He missed the spring due to an injury, but should be able to push his way up the depth chart in fall camp.

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Izaiah Lottie, WR (Redshirt Freshman)

Lottie is a tall, rangy kid who showed some potential in the spring game as an outside target. The Colorado native has 4.5 speed and soft hands, and has been improving his route-running ability.

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Sage Doxtater, OT (Freshman)

The Aggies’ lone early enrollee true freshman is a 6’7″, 320-pound behemoth who looks to push for early playing time. Coaches rave about his footwork and flexibility, and with little depth along the offensive line, Doxtater should be able to contribute quickly.

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Osirius Burke, RB (Junior)

Burke, who sat out last season after transferring from San Jose State, is a solidly-built, speedy tailback who will be expected to play a key role alongside Larry Rose III. Burke is the younger brother of former Aggie wide receiver Taveon Rogers.

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Johnathan Boone, WR (Sophomore)

Boone was the best of the Aggie newcomers at wide receiver, showing terrific speed and reliable hands in the spring game. The transfer from Ellsworth (IA) Community College has three seasons of eligibility left.

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O.J. Clark, WR (Sophomore)

Clark showed flashes of his explosive speed as an all-purpose playmaker last season before breaking his leg against UTEP in Week Three. He’ll prove to be invaluable on end-around plays, reverses, and kick returns.

 

2015-2016 coaching carousel (pt. 2)

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#15 – Mike Norvell, Memphis

PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Arizona State

PROS: Norvell is an Arkansas native who has had serious success under Todd Graham at Arizona State as their offensive coordinator. He’s a solid recruiter and has mentored players such as all-Pac 12 quarterback Taylor Kelly and running back/slot receiver D.J. Foster. Prior to ASU, Norvell coached with Graham at Pitt and Tulsa.

CONS: The 34-year-old Norvell has never been a head coach before, and while he’s great in terms of football IQ and enthusiasm, the expectations at Memphis are certainly different than when Justin Fuente took over a dreadful program in 2012.

BOTTOM LINE: Memphis’s rise from cellar-dweller to contender under Fuente was nothing short of meteoric. Norvell will be hard-pressed to recapture that magic, but he’s got a group of talented, overachieving athletes that are hungry as ever to stay at the top.

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#16 – Tracy Claeys, Minnesota

PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator, Minnesota

PROS: Claeys is a well-respected coach who has support from the university community. Like former coach Jerry Kill, he brings a disciplined, blue-collar approach that is popular with fans and players alike.

CONS: He has only coached with Jerry Kill in his career and been exposed to only one system.

BOTTOM LINE: Minnesota has the benefit of continuity with Claeys. To some extent (given Kill’s health issues), they had time and hindsight to make a good decision, too. There’s turmoil elsewhere in university administration, so the Gophers made a good choice.

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#17 – Barry Odom, Missouri

PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Missouri

PROS: Odom is a familiar face who has built a reputation as a defensive mastermind, and he’s popular with fans and players, having been at Mizzou under former coach Gary Pinkel in two separate stints (2003-2011 and 2015-present).

CONS: While Odom is a natural fit, his defensive background might not be. The Tigers were solid defensively and atrocious offensively in 2015, compounding their issues on a team that was already lacking chemistry.

BOTTOM LINE: Odom has the resources and support, plus a team with a history of recent success. The Tigers have the talent to contend in a down SEC East, but they’ll need the offense to come around soon.

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#18 – Lovie Smith, Illinois

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

PROS: Smith has legit NFL coaching experience—both with the Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears—and he’s been an assistant at several Big Ten programs before, including Ohio State and Wisconsin. He also grabbed his old friend, Garrick McGee, to run the offense.

CONS: Despite his impressive resumé, Smith’s star seems to have fallen in recent years. At Illinois, he inherits a program with so-so facilities and a roster that has lacked toughness. Is the 57-year-old Smith up to the task?

BOTTOM LINE: He may seem like an odd fit at first, but Smith brings stability to a program that has been treading water lately. The real question is can he win immediately? Smith is undoubtedly a great coach, but he faces an uphill battle trying to make the Illini relevant in the Big Ten again.

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#19 – Will Muschamp, South Carolina

PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator, Auburn

PROS: Muschamp is a proven coach with a proven track record, and he’s a familiar face that fans can buy into after Steve Spurrier’s retirement. The Gamecocks have fallen far and fast, but better days are ahead.

CONS: Muschamp’s tenure at Florida will continue to be an sore spot unless he proves otherwise. His work as Auburn’s defensive coordinator last season wasn’t exactly inspiring.

BOTTOM LINE: Questions abound, but Muschamp has familiarity with the SEC, recruiting prowess, and a big chip on his shoulder. He could rebuild the Gamecocks into a contender in time, especially in a weak SEC East.

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#20 – Frank Wilson, UTSA

PREVIOUS JOB: Running Backs Coach/Recruiting Coordinator, LSU

PROS: Wilson is considered to be one of the nation’s best recruiters. He dominated the talent-rich New Orleans area as a recruiter at LSU, while also playing a key role in the development of numerous NFL-bound running backs. He also has experience coaching at Ole Miss and Tennessee under big names like Ed Orgeron and Lane Kiffin.

CONS: Wilson lacks head-coaching experience and steps into a tough situation in terms of facilities and fan support. UTSA started off fast since becoming an FBS program in 2012, but they fell to 7-17 in the past two seasons in a mediocre Conference USA.

BOTTOM LINE: Wilson certainly has the enthusiasm for the job, and his recruiting prowess should serve him well in Texas, a state that certainly doesn’t lack for gridiron talent. The Roadrunners have taken a lot of recent lumps, but they should be much more competitive under Wilson.

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#21 – Tyson Summers, Georgia Southern

PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach, Colorado State

PROS: Summers is a Georgia native and an outstanding recruiter who developed future NFL players at mid-major schools likes UAB, UCF, and most recently, Colorado State. Former coach Willie Fritz electrified audiences with his pistol-option offense, but Summers brings a reputation as a defensive guru. Plus, he coached safeties at Georgia Southern in 2006.

CONS: Summers has only two seasons as a coordinator under his belt and is still very young (35). He inherits a program with sky-high expectations and a rich gridiron history. Can he put together the right pieces to be successful immediately?

BOTTOM LINE: In a conference full of parity, GSU must work hard to remain on the same level as their peers. Summers seems to have the moxie to pull it off, but any drop off will be felt acutely in the Sun Belt.

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#22 – Everett Withers, Texas State

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, James Madison

PROS: Withers has a proven track record as a defensive assistant, both at major colleges (North Carolina, Ohio State) and in the NFL. He also has a year of FBS coaching experience (as the interim coach at North Carolina in 2011), and his offenses at James Madison the past couple of years were explosive.

CONS: Withers hasn’t been a full-time coach before, and he doesn’t have much experience as a recruiter in Texas. It will be crucial for Texas State to be competitive in recruiting, not just against other in-state teams, but in the Sun Belt as well.

BOTTOM LINE: There’s plenty of reasons to believe in Withers; he has a solid track record of success, and he inherits a solid situation in terms of facilities and local talent. The Bobcats are still a young program, and they could get back to Sun Belt prominence soon if the ball bounces their way.

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#23 – Seth Littrell, North Texas

PREVIOUS JOB: Tight Ends Coach, North Carolina

PROS: Littrell has proven experience as a play-caller at several different Power Five programs, including Arizona, Indiana, and (most recently) North Carolina, where he also coached the tight ends. An Oklahoma native with great recruiting connections in the region, he could immediately boost the enthusiasm for Mean Green football.

CONS: He has never been a head coach.

BOTTOM LINE: Littrell has a lot of benefits at UNT, including a new stadium and a quality recruiting ground. The cupboard isn’t entirely bare, either—the Mean Green made a bowl game as recently as 2013. This is a good job for Littrell to take.

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#24 – Kalani Sitake, BYU

PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator, Oregon State

PROS: The 40-year-old Sitake is an engaging personality, a noted recruiter, and an LDS church member—three immediate prerequisites for the BYU job. The Tonga native and BYU alum spent almost his entire career in the state of Utah before moving to Oregon State last year under coach Gary Andersen. He has worked wonders as an assistant coach, especially as a defensive coordinator.

CONS: He has never been a head coach at any level, and BYU is a tough job playing a tough independent schedule. Recruiting has always been a challenge in Provo. Sitake knows the program’s culture well, but can he translate that to immediate success?

BOTTOM LINE: Sitake is a rising star in the coaching business for a reason, but his lack of head coaching experience certainly works against him. Were it not for his LDS background, he probably wouldn’t be a serious contender for many other jobs—at least not yet.

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#25 – Nick Rolovich, Hawaii

PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Nevada

PROS: Rolovich is a young assistant (36) with an excellent resumé. He coached at Hawaii from 2008-2011 and was offensive coordinator at Nevada for the past four seasons. A California native and a Hawaii alum, Rolovich takes over a stagnant Warrior program that has won only ten games in the past four seasons.

CONS: Rolovich has never been a head coach, and the UH athletic department has been under significant financial turmoil in recent years, so money for assistant coaches could be an ongoing issue. In addition, scholarship numbers are down, as former coach Norm Chow relied heavily on transfers, and Aloha Stadium needs to be renovated.

BOTTOM LINE: Rolovich is up against it in an ever-improving Mountain West, but as an alum and former assistant, he’s familiar with the program and its various challenges. Give him time and he’ll turn the Warriors around.

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#26 – Mike Jinks, Bowling Green

PREVIOUS JOB: Running Backs Coach, Texas Tech

PROS: Jinks has been an assistant coach for 20 years, including 16 years in the Texas high school ranks. He was part of Kliff Kingsbury’s original staff at Texas Tech in 2013, and did some great work as running backs coach at a school that isn’t traditionally known for its power running game.

CONS: While Jinks is a good recruiter and a nice face for Bowling Green’s program, he has never lived outside the state of Texas. In addition to his lack of head-coaching experience, Jinks only has six seasons of experience as a coordinator—and that was at the high school level.

BOTTOM LINE: Wait and see. Bowling Green had enjoyed euphoria under Dino Babers for two seasons, so the fans should be relatively satisfied during the upcoming transition. But Jinks still has much to prove as a first-time head coach.

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#27 – Matt Viator, Louisiana-Monroe

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, McNeese State

PROS: Before a decade-long tenure at McNeese State (his alma mater), Viator was a long-time high school coach. He has spent his entire 30-year coaching career in the state of Louisiana.

CONS: Viator has never even been an assistant at the FBS level, so he isn’t a proven commodity as a recruiter of top talent. ULM is a tough job, to be sure, and he’s bound to take a few lumps before getting his system and recruits in place.

BOTTOM LINE: Viator is a decent fit at the right time for a struggling program, but can he take ULM any further than Todd Berry did? The Warhawks are used to being underestimated, but Viator needs to prove early on that he’s not in over his head.

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#28 – Mike Neu, Ball State

PREVIOUS JOB: Quarterbacks Coach, New Orleans Saints

PROS: Neu is a Ball State alum with over a decade of professional coaching experience, mostly in the NFL and the Arena Football League.

CONS: His only job at the collegiate level was two years (2012-2013) as quarterbacks coach at Tulane.

BOTTOM LINE: This wasn’t a particularly inspiring hire. Despite his status as an alum and Indiana native, Neu doesn’t seem to possess the obvious chops as a play-caller or head coach.

2015-2016 coaching carousel (pt. 1)

It was a busy offseason for college football, with 28 head coaching vacancies being filled. Here is my ranking, from first to last:

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#1 – Mark Richt, Miami

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Georgia

PROS: Richt is one of the few proven commodities in the coaching circuit, and the Hurricanes are certainly lucky to have him. He won 145 games in 14 seasons at Georgia, and he brings a sterling reputation to his alma mater.

CONS: Miami will continue to wear the label of underachiever until Richt and his team prove otherwise.

BOTTOM LINE: The Canes are still dripping with talent, and Richt might be their best hire in years. If he can put all the pieces together, the U might finally get to that elusive ACC championship.

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#2 – Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, BYU

PROS: Mendenhall’s departure from BYU after 11 seasons was the shocker of the offseason, and it was even more shocking that he chose the vacant UVA job. Still, Mendenhall has never had a losing season as a head coach, taking the Cougars to 11 bowl games in 11 years.

CONS: BYU is a unique job with significant recruiting challenges, but Mendenhall has never proven himself as an elite recruiter—or at least in the traditional sense of the word. It’s a big move from going from Mormon homes across Utah to attempting to dominate the Tidewater region of Virginia (one of the biggest hotbeds of talent on the East Coast). Also, BYU teams were known for their penalties and disciplinary issues.

BOTTOM LINE: Mendenhall might be an out-of-left-field candidate, but there’s no questioning his coaching acumen, even with the odd geographical location. Can UVA stop being a perennial underachiever and take the next step to being an ACC contender?

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#3 – Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Memphis

PROS: Under Fuente’s leadership, the Memphis Tigers went from zeroes to heroes, becoming an elite program in the American Athletic Conference. He won only 26 games in four years, but keep in mind that the change from Year One to Year Two was dramatic—3-9 to 10-3—and Year Three was nearly as good. Fuente’s hiring has been well-received in Blacksburg, where they’re coming off 29 years of the legendary Frank Beamer.

CONS: Fuente hasn’t proven to be an elite recruiter, which is definitely needed, given the fact that VT’s traditional recruiting grounds have gotten bigger and hotter than ever.

BOTTOM LINE: Fuente has all the tools to succeed at Virginia Tech, a program that has enjoyed serious success in the ACC. The Hokies have an established recruiting footprint, excellent facilities, and a history of winning. Fuente could have gone to plenty of other programs, but he seems like an ideal candidate to replace Beamer.

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#4 – Kirby Smart, Georgia

PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator, Alabama

PROS: Stingy, smash-mouth, hard-nosed—all of those are adjectives that describe Alabama’s defenses under Smart. Smart has been with Nick Saban in Tuscaloosa since day one, and developed a sterling reputation as a defensive mind. He is also a UGA alum who has one year of experience coaching at his alma mater; he was running backs coach at UGA in 2005.

CONS: Smart’s resumé borders on brilliant, and there’s plenty of reasons to believe in him, but Georgia fans aren’t exactly the patient type. Given the fact that Mark Richt was fired after winning 145 games in 14 seasons, it’s safe to say that expectations are through the roof.

BOTTOM LINE: A quality hire for Georgia. Smart had basically done all he could at Bama, and he’s happy to return to his alma mater, this time in the head coach’s chair. With their talent level, the Bulldogs should expect an SEC championship soon. How soon?

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#5 – Matt Campbell, Iowa State

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Toledo

PROS: Campbell provides the shot in the arm that the Cyclones need, and he has the enthusiasm required for what is one of the more difficult Big 12 jobs. Campbell is a coach’s son with an offensive background, and he won 35 games in four seasons at Toledo.

CONS: Iowa State hasn’t been able to enjoy consistent success in a long time, and it’s a challenge recruiting kids to come to Ames. Campbell’s biggest hurdle will be raising support on and off the field for a program that has been spinning its wheels in recent years.

BOTTOM LINE: Campbell is one of the bright young minds in college football, and he built quite the well-oiled machine at Toledo. Most of his assistants from Toledo are joining him, so it seems like a natural fit for all involved.

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#6 – Dino Babers, Syracuse

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Bowling Green

PROS: Babers is from the Art Briles coaching tree, so his offenses are bound to be exciting. After four mega successful years at Eastern Illinois (2012-2013) and Bowling Green (2014-2015), Babers was bound to move up in the world. He takes over a Syracuse program with a lot of challenges, but also some young talent.

CONS: Babers doesn’t have much experience working at a program with limited resources. While he played a big role in Baylor’s meteoric rise to the college football elite, both Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green were fixer-upper jobs. The point is that he hasn’t taken over a mediocre program and done a complete turnaround before.

BOTTOM LINE: Syracuse needed to make a splash, and they got it with the charismatic Babers, a great offensive mind who will begin turning the Orange into a dark-horse. They’ll spring a few upsets in 2016.

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#7 – Clay Helton, USC

PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, USC

PROS: Helton is extremely popular with players and has proven himself as a play-caller at USC previously. He’s also been a successful running backs and wide receivers coach. He understands the Trojans’ rich gridiron history and the frequent media access to the program.

CONS: Helton is perfectly qualified to be promoted, but Trojan fans and boosters were undoubtedly expecting a bigger name than him. The fans have been grumbling for several years now. Are there more glory days ahead for USC?

BOTTOM LINE: Well, the ending to the Steve Sarkisian era sure was…weird. While Helton’s not the big name that the fan base craved, he provides stability for a program that desperately needs it.

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#8 – D.J. Durkin, Maryland

PREVIOUS JOB: Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach, Michigan

PROS: Durkin is an Ohio native who has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most relentless recruiters. He has coordinated defenses at some of the nation’s elite programs, including Florida and Michigan. The Terrapins also have outstanding facilities and are surrounded by loads of high school talent.

CONS: Durkin will have a challenge trying to build the Terrapins into a hard-nosed, smash-mouth Big Ten team. The Terps have recruited well at the skill positions, but they need a lot more on both lines in order to succeed in the Big Ten.

BOTTOM LINE: Given his recruiting prowess and defensive acumen, Durkin seems to have what it takes to build the Terps into a Big Ten contender. The process may be slow, but to some extent, this isn’t a complete rebuilding project.

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#9 – Scott Frost, UCF

PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Oregon

PROS: Frost brings his fast-tempo spread offense from the drizzly scenery of Eugene to the swamps of Orlando. In addition to his experience at one of the nation’s elite programs, Frost played in the NFL for six seasons and for the legendary Tom Osborne at Nebraska.

CONS: Frost has to reclaim a team that shot itself in the foot repeatedly with penalties and turnovers last season. You can’t turn that around overnight. Frost also doesn’t have any experience coaching in the South.

BOTTOM LINE: UCF was dreadful last season (0-12), but they’ve got plenty of high school talent surrounding them and some quality facilities. Frost won’t work miracles overnight, but he seemed to be ready to move on from Oregon and has most of the qualifications needed for the job.

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#10 – Scottie Montgomery, East Carolina

PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Duke

PROS: Montgomery is a North Carolina native who played wide receiver at Duke and in the NFL before embarking on a coaching career. Now, he gets his first head coaching gig at the age of 37. He has coached with the Pittsburgh Steelers and in two separate stints at Duke.

CONS: While Montgomery has proven himself as a recruiter and position coach, he has only two years of experience as a play-caller. Not that Duke was bad offensively—far from it—but Montgomery takes over a program that is known for spectacular offensive numbers. He’ll have to deliver quick results.

BOTTOM LINE: It was definitely a surprise when Ruffin McNeill got the axe after leading ECU to four bowl games in six years. Montgomery seems to be a good fit for a program that has lacked consistency since moving to the American in 2014. At the very least, the Pirates have been entertaining in recent years. But can Montgomery take that talent and do what McNeill couldn’t?

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#11 – Chris Ash, Rutgers

PREVIOUS JOB: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach, Ohio State

PROS: Ash built the Ohio State defense into a juggernaut, and before that, he worked under Bret Bielema at both Wisconsin and Arkansas. He is an Iowa native who has a great reputation as a recruiter and a fundamentals coach.

CONS: Ash doesn’t have much in the way of proven offensive playmakers at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights need a shot in the arm in a lot of areas, and they especially need to upgrade their facilities and in-state recruiting. As for Ash himself, he’s unproven as a head coach and it was a bit of a surprise when Rutgers hired him.

BOTTOM LINE: Ash inherits an underachieving Rutgers program that has really struggled against elite competition since joining the Big Ten. The Knights don’t have enough successful pieces in place to contend right away, but they should be more consistent than they were under Kyle Flood.

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#12 – Willie Fritz, Tulane

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Georgia Southern

PROS: Fritz became a hot name and a proven commodity after leading Georgia Southern to the FBS ranks (17 wins in two years). Fritz is an offensive coach who prefers an exciting pistol-option scheme. His past two recruiting classes at Georgia Southern were ranked the best in the Sun Belt.

CONS: Fritz has a tougher schedule ahead, and also a tougher recruiting ground to dominate. There’s plenty of talent in Louisiana, but the Green Wave have often gotten stuck with the leftovers.

BOTTOM LINE: This program needed excitement, and they got it with Fritz. He’ll definitely be able to put fans in the stands and attract some quality recruits, but can he win immediately in an improving American Athletic Conference?

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#13 – Jay Hopson, Southern Miss

PREVIOUS JOB: Head Coach, Alcorn State

PROS: Hopson has coaching roots in Mississippi, having been an assistant at two previous stops in Hattiesburg (2001-2003, 2005-2007). He also did a nice turnaround job at Alcorn State, where he went 32-17 from 2012-2015.

CONS: Hopson isn’t known as an elite recruiter, and expectations are high at Southern Miss following a nine-win season. Can he assemble the right pieces to keep the momentum going?

BOTTOM LINE: Southern Miss seemed to find an excellent replacement for NFL-bound Todd Monken. With little time before National Signing Day, athletic director Bill McGillis made a nice hire in Hopson, who has familiarity with the program and a proven track record of winning at lower levels of football. In a pinch, this seems like a very solid hire.

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#14 – Jason Candle, Toledo

PREVIOUS JOB: Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach, Toledo

PROS: Like Matt Campbell before him, Candle is a young offensive coordinator who is getting his first chance to run a successful mid-major program. He’s got great facilities and a history of recent success to sell to recruits, and has been an assistant with the program since 2009.

CONS: Candle is still young, and he didn’t inherit many assistants from the previous staff.

BOTTOM LINE: The Rockets have been on a roll lately, but Northern Illinois and Western Michigan are breathing down their necks in the MAC West Division. Candle was offered to follow Campbell to Iowa State, but turned it down in order to stay at Toledo and become a head coach for the first time. Will he keep the magic going?

****TO BE CONTINUED****

Punters from Down Under – the next big thing in college football

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If you’re a fan of college football, you may have noticed a growing trend in the NCAA – punters using a roll-out style kicking method and enjoying a serious string of success by using said method.

These are no ordinary punters. In fact, most of them come from a completely different continent 10,000 miles away.

In the past five years or so, there have been over 30 Australian punters making the transition to American football. Most of them have come to the States by way of a unique training academy called ProKick Australia.

In Australia, the majority of children grow up playing Australian rules football, or as they call it, “footy.” It’s a rough, fast-paced, high-scoring game that requires a unique style of kicking. Many young Aussie boys dream of one day playing footy professionally in the Australian Football League (AFL).

One of those young kids was Nathan Chapman. Originally from the small town of Kangaroo Flat, Victoria (90 miles north of Melbourne), Chapman was drafted into the AFL in 1992 with the now-defunct Brisbane Bears. After four years with the Bears and their successor, the Brisbane Lions, Chapman struggled with injuries and was traded to the Hawthorn Hawks.

After further injuries sidelined him, Chapman, then age 29, decided to go to America and give the NFL a shot. He played in a few preseason games with the Green Bay Packers, but didn’t make the cut, so he went back to Australia and started ProKick a couple years later.

Chapman believed that American colleges afforded more opportunities for young Aussie rules players to make the leap into American football.

“When I went over, there was not much happening with Australians and the college system, and because the NFL can sign you today and cut you tomorrow, I thought the better focus was to put kids into college,” Chapman said.

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Helped by another ex-NFL punter, John Smith, Chapman began tutoring numerous punting candidates at ProKick. Several years later, they’ve enjoyed a remarkable track record of placing Aussie punters at Division I colleges, including Brad Wing (LSU), Michael Dickson (Texas), and Tom Hornsey (Memphis). Several have already reached the NFL, including Wing (who plays for the New York Giants), and Jordan Berry, who played collegiately at Eastern Kentucky and is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In fact, the No. 1 punter currently on NFL Draft boards is Tom Hackett of the University of Utah. Hackett, who won the last two Ray Guy Awards (given to the top punter in college football), hails from Melbourne and is another ProKick alum.

“I grew up playing Australian rules and had never really even watched much American football….It still hasn’t really hit me yet to think I’m going to go and try and play in the NFL,” Hackett said.

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So what’s the secret to their success? While Hackett is quick to give credit to Chapman and his other coaches at ProKick, he believes the real success of Australians in college football stems from their Aussie rules training, which starts at a young age.

“American kids grow up trying to be the pitcher on the baseball team or the starting quarterback on their football team,” Hackett explains. “A lot of the punters that end up being punters in college that are American picked it up when they were around 12 when they realize that their career wasn’t in the quarterback position or whatever other position they wanted to play in. In Australia, we grow up kicking the ball as soon as we can walk. The muscles that it takes to kick have been developed for longer and generally there’s benefits in punting that way.”

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Another recent ProKick success story is Nick Porebski, currently a junior at Oregon State University. Originally from McKinnon, Victoria, Porebski looked to have a promising footy career before a series of shoulder injuries derailed him.

“I got a letter from Nathan when I was about 15 or 16 asking if I’d like to try punting. I didn’t really know what it was at the time, so I just continued playing Aussie rules,” he said. “Once I had those injuries, I had another look at the letter and decided I might pursue it and see what happened.”

Porebski enrolled at ProKick and got the attention of Snow College, a small two-year school in Ephraim, Utah. After a successful year there, Porebski was offered a full-ride scholarship to Oregon State. Now, he has a year as the starting punter under his belt, averaging 41.1 yards per boot in 2015 and earning all-conference honors.

Perhaps most impressive is the way that Hackett, Porebski, and other ProKick alums are able to get their one-way ticket to America punched. With little access to professional-looking highlight reels and no American football competitions in Australia, ProKick punters’ de-facto highlight reels are just little bits of film shot on Chapman’s iPhone.

At first, many NCAA coaches thought of the Aussie experiment as purely a fad or a gimmick. But their success has proved itself, with Hornsey and Hackett together collecting the past three Ray Guy Awards. Still, Chapman admits that some coaches go for it, and some coaches don’t. It took awhile to build relationships with coaches in the States, but Chapman takes a pragmatic approach.

“If we’ve sent the right guys over, our reputation then holds. Some coaches still can’t take that jump, but there are others who are more than happy.”

Here’s a list of notable ProKick alums, where they’ve ended up, and where they’re originally from in Australia:

  • Jordan Berry (Eastern Kentucky) — Essendon, Victoria
  • Oscar Bradburn (Virginia Tech) — Sydney, New South Wales
  • Geordie Bunn (Weber State) — Brisbane, Queensland
  • Kirk Christodoulou (Pittsburgh) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Steven Coutts (Louisiana-Lafayette/San Diego State) — Brisbane, Queensland
  • Michael Dickson (Texas) — Kirrawee, New South Wales
  • Joel Dixon (UAB) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Alex Dunnachie (Hawaii) — Heidelberg, Victoria
  • Thomas Duyndam (Portland State) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Davan Dyer (Louisiana Tech) — Gilston, Queensland
  • Christian Eldred (Minnesota) — Mentone, Victoria
  • Pete Fardon (Buffalo) — Brisbane, Queensland
  • Bailey Flint (Toledo) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Tim Gleeson (Wyoming/Rutgers) — Viewbank, Victoria
  • Will Gleeson (Ole Miss) — Viewbank, Victoria
  • Josh Growden (LSU) — Sydney, New South Wales
  • Tom Hackett (Utah)* — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Scott Harding (Hawaii) — Brisbane, Queensland
  • Ollie Holdenson (Georgia State) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Leon Holderhead (Tennessee State) — Leongatha, Victoria
  • Owen Hoolihan (Prairie View A&M) — Oberon, New South Wales
  • Tom Hornsey (Memphis)* — Geelong, Victoria
  • Sam Irwin-Hill (Arkansas) — Bendigo, Victoria
  • Nick Jacobs (Memphis) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Cameron Johnston (Ohio State) — Geelong, Victoria
  • Jamie Keehn (LSU) — Rockhampton, Queensland
  • Alex Kinal (Wake Forest) — Adelaide, South Australia
  • Marcus Kinsella (Indiana/Portland State) — Ringwood, Victoria
  • Wade Lees (Maryland) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Sean O’Kane (Middle Tennessee) — Blackburn, Victoria
  • Harry O’Kelly (James Madison) — Wynnum, Queensland
  • Blake O’Neill (Weber State/Michigan) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Dominic Panazzolo (Texas Tech) — Adelaide, South Australia
  • Matt Panton (Columbia) — Shoreham, Victoria
  • Daniel Pasquariello (Penn State) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Nick Porebski (Oregon State) — McKinnon, Victoria
  • Dane Roy (Houston) — Bunyip, Victoria
  • Jamie Sackville (SMU) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Jack Sheldon (Central Michigan) — Echuca, Victoria
  • Tom Sheldon (North Carolina) — Echuca, Victoria
  • Michael Sleep-Dalton (Arizona State) — Geelong, Victoria
  • Chris Tilbey (USC) — Sandringham, Victoria
  • Haydon Whitehead (Indiana) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Joel Whitford (Washington) — Warragul, Victoria
  • Brad Wing (LSU) — Melbourne, Victoria
  • Mitch Wishnowsky (Utah)* — Gosnells, Western Australia
  • Stephen Witkowski (New Mexico State) — Diamond Creek, Victoria
  • Keith Wrzsusczak (Eastern Kentucky) — Geelong, Victoria

*Ray Guy Award winner

Breaking down the new signees – grayshirts

***For the uninformed, the term “grayshirt” refers to a player who voluntarily takes a year off, either to recover from an injury, to bulk up and add weight, or to improve their academic standing. If a player grayshirts, they technically count against the next class rather than the class they originally signed with.***

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Isaiah McIntyre, WR (Las Cruces HS)

It’s always encouraging to get a local kid to join the NMSU program, and McIntyre was an outstanding player for the Las Cruces Bulldawgs. In addition to his 4.4 speed, McIntyre has great hands and can make people miss in the open field. A knee injury ended his senior season after only four games, but he enrolled at NMSU last fall and got a head start in the classroom before he officially joins the team this spring. McIntyre also played safety and was dynamic as a punt returner; he was ranked the #3 recruit in New Mexico by 247Sports.

“We’re thrilled to have Isaiah here because he has a passion for this university. He’s grown up around Aggie football, and this is where he wanted to be,” said wide receivers coach Cory Martin.

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Jared Phipps, CB (Martin HS)

A native of Arlington, Texas, Phipps is a smaller corner who has outstanding speed. He made two interceptions and broke up 14 passes in two years as a starter. The Aggies need some more depth at cornerback, so Phipps will have a chance to come in and stake a claim for playing time. He was also a track star, competing on a nationally-ranked 4×4 relay team.

“Jared ran on that 4×4 relay team with (fellow NMSU signee) Jason Huntley. He’s already enrolled, so he’s going to be ahead of the game a little bit. He’ll be able to provide us with great stabilization at corner,” said recruiting coordinator Kevin McKeethan.

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Austin Shaw, CB (Frisco HS)

Another Dallas area product, Shaw possesses great speed and instincts. A former District Defensive MVP, Shaw also played a little bit of running back and wide receiver, as well as returning punts and kicks. At 6’0″, 160 pounds, he has room to fill out, but has the raw skill set and the intangibles to succeed at NMSU.