Things are not exactly going well as of late for programs east of the Mississippi River, and north of the Mason-Dixon line. For the most part, they're all in complete disarray. Here's a quick overview:
Penn State: Anyone who isn't familiar with this story has been living under a rock for the past two months. In short: the worst scandal in the history of college football shattered Penn State's Lynchian facade. Pretty much everyone was fired, in disgrace, including Joe Paterno. The new school president is talking of de-emphasizing athletics. The football program is poison, with no coaches publicly showing interest, and recruits fleeing by the day into the waiting arms of Urban Meyer (with one or two a possibility to play ball on the civilized side of the Delaware River.) The longtime giant of Eastern football, with so many Lambert trophies stockpiled that they can be used as paperweights, is teetering on the brink fading from the college football landscape entirely. Good. Not that a Rutgers fan can evaluate Penn State rationally, but salting the earth in Happy Valley would be letting them off entirely too easy for their collective crimes.
Pittsburgh: Dave Wannstedt was a perennial underachiever, but he was also the most successful Pitt coach in twenty years. They thought Todd Graham was the next Johnny Majors or Jackie Sherrill, but the only quality Graham has in common with the latter two coaches was that he left Pittsburgh for another job. Now they're about to hire their fourth coach in a year! This is a program that everyone thought hit rock bottom with Mike Haywood's implosion. How, the ever-loving hell, did these guys or Syracuse get in the ACC over Rutgers again? Gotta think the powers that be in Greensboro might want a mulligan on that one. God damnit.
Maryland: Speaking of burning tire fires. Randy Edsall has positive and negative qualities as a coach, falling within the same one standard deviation of the mean as most college head coaches. He is a quality game day coach who knows how to scout and develop players. Edsall is also a world-class jerk who makes Todd Graham of all people like personable in comparison. With minimal ability to relate to other human beings, the famously misanthropic Edsall has long been renown for his terrible recruiting skills. So what people thought; Maryland won some games last year, and Edsall would overcome any personnel limitations through superior coaching. Then, of course, he hired Gary Crowton from LSU as offensive coordinator. The same Gary Crowton who led a roster full of five-star recruits to the 92nd overall ranking in total offense in 2010.
Crowton may have been the only coordinator in DI who could give Kirk Ciarrocca (hey Edsall, he's available again!) a challenge for the title of worst playcaller in the country. LSU encouraged him to find other opportunities, and it's no coincidence that they are instantly #1 again. This man, of all people, was the person to whom Randy Edsall entrusted his offense. Between that, and Edsall shattering Ralph Friedgen's country club atmosphere, players have been fleeing College Park in droves, with Rutgers a transfer possibility for rising senior OT R.J. Dill (UConn wants him too.) It's reportedly gotten to the point where current players are warning recruits not to sign with Maryland. Hence, the desperation ploy of hiring Mike Locksley. Anyone else figure that the Terps go crawling back to Vanderbilt's James Franklin, Maryland's former head-coach in waiting, in a few years?
Boston College: The embattled pair of athletic director Gene DeFilippo and Frank Spaziano, seemingly joined at the hip, would attribute blame for BC's 4-8 season on an injury to star tailback Montel Harris. It's very true that BC played better in the second half of the season, but that cannot explain away a home loss to Northwestern (without Dan Persa), a shellacking to a bad UCF team on the road, and a home loss to Duke (which lost to, you guessed it, Kirk Ciarrocca's 3-8 FCS Richmond Spiders.) That is enough to negate any late optimism, never mind the possibility that star linebacker Luke Kuechly could declare for the NFL Draft, that recruiting is in decline under Spaziani, or the trainwreck of having to dismiss a new offensive coordinator (Kevin Rogers) only several games into the season. In firing Jeff Jagodzinski, DeFilippo wanted a coach in Spaziani who would never have wandering eyes for other programs. In a roundabout way of plunging the Eagles into the bottom of the ACC, he does appear to have obtained his wish.
Connecticut: Yes, they beat Rutgers. That only makes that loss that more painful, because Rutgers is at least semi-respectable, while Husky football is a complete afterthought on their own campus, and is rapidly spiraling downward following Edsall's departure. You really have to be something special to leave two football programs destroyed and devastated in your wake. To quickly recap, UConn responded by hiring the retread of all retreads in Paul Pasqualoni. Who apparently decided to start a former walk-on quarterback on the basis of a short YouTube clip of trick passes. They don't have an athletic director any more, because the last one run afoul of Jim Calhoun, along with the booster who basically runs their football program. They were really bad this year, with the worst passing attack of any BCS conference program, and are bound to get worse as Edsall's players continue to graduate.
Syracuse: Compared to the above sorry low, the Orange are hardly in bad shape at all. They're off to the ACC in short order, and Doug Marrone has quickly revived the program from doormat status. However, Marrone's upward trajectory hit a stumbling block this season. Their continued depth issues from Marrone's Edsall-esque roster purges continue to hold back the roster. Perhaps Marrone will prove to have Edsall's eye for talent, but until his players start to graduate, he'll continue to get dinged by skeptics for signing middling recruiting classes in the eyes of services like Rivals and Scout. More troublesome for the Cuse faithful is that, up until now, embattled offensive coordinator Nate Hackett is still gainfully employed. Marrone did see fit however to give walking papers to two defensive assistants. Only the criminally insane are calling for his firing, but the bloom is finally off the rose a little bit, with an offseason full of teeth gnashing and second guessing in store on the heels of losing five straight to close out the year.
Temple's still chugging along well enough, but they're stuck in the MAC for the considerable future due to VIllanova's political malfeasance. Louisville, West Virginia, Virginia, and Virginia Tech are trending upwards, and are located in the periphery of the area, but none is a true eastern team. That is, none of those programs are going to go up against Rutgers for very many recruits (at least at the moment) or television eyes. For the Scarlet Knights, it's an almost perfect storm, with one very glaring obstacle remaining in the way to Pax Piscatawana. They have the misfortune of being the last original Big East football program still playing in the conference.
The rest of the remaining teams are all mid-majors, the rogues gallery of all nations before 2003. We're the last holdouts in a ratty old garden apartment complex, with everyone else having already traded up for a posh brownstone, or a quaint colonial in a suburb with a walkable downtown. The ACC's judgment can certainly be questioned for picking two weaker football programs over Rutgers, when football so clearly and indisputable trumps basketball in terms of revenue. They screwed up, but so did Rutgers in being content to play the equivalent of a FCS football schedule until the late 70s, and only truly starting to invest in athletics a decade ago. The program isn't too much spending now; it's that it didn't happen when it would have made more of a difference. We screwed up big time, with a healthy assist to the Big East conference for giddily strangling eastern football in the crib to benefit basketball.
So there you have it. We can be forgiven for feeling a bit overconfident or on the edge, because, I mean, goddamn. Every other program in the area decided to reenact the Book of Job, and yet we somehow can't capitalize. Just to mix analogies to the Nth degree, it's like if Sisyphus and Tantalus entered into a civil union, and then held the reception in Johnson Park (instead of the obvious candidate somewhere in Asbury Park, of course.) The past few years of Rutgers football have, more than anything, been about the frustration of being able to finally accomplish the program's goals, and now it's just gotten to a point of clear absurdity. The universe is just clearly taunting us now, practically begging for Rutgers to step up and fill the vast sucking void in the region for a program with any hint, whatsoever, of stability. How the heck are we still peers with this sorry lot instead of leaving them all in the dust?
There are no other logical explanations that come to mind. How many more things have to go the program's wayabsent a ticket out of the conference? How many more chances will come down the pike? If Rutgers football cannot take advantage of the most favorable climate imaginable over the next few years, and it is painful to imagine this, but they will be hard pressed to ever receive an opportunity this good again. For the sake of Greg Schiano and Tim Pernetti, the football program better quit underachieving while there is still time. Now that would be a true Christmas miracle.