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June 18, 2008

Browning has work to do at Syracuse

Mitch Browning knows why he's at Syracuse: The offense is broken, and he needs to fix it. If things don't improve this fall, Orange coach Greg Robinson's job could be in peril.

"I don't feel any pressure," Browning says. "I have been pleasantly surprised by the talent here."

We should heed Browning's words. This is a guy who coordinated some terrific offenses at Minnesota, where he was known for having punishing ground attacks. Under Browning – who didn't coach last season, but visited numerous schools to enhance his knowledge – Minnesota had two 1,000-yard rushers in 2003, '04 and '05. That's the only time a school has turned that trick.

But Browning faces a big challenge at Syracuse. The Orange offense ranked 115th in the nation in 2007 (291.9 yards per game). The ground game was even more abysmal, ranking 119th (62.8).

"We have to make sure we aren't asking people to do things they aren't capable of doing," Browning says. "It's important to get good at something to establish an identity because it's difficult to do everything well."

Robinson wasn't the only sitting head coach who changed offensive coordinators. Here is a look at the four other new coordinators who will work for coaches who, like Robinson, face a lot of pressure this fall.

James Franklin, Maryland. Terps coach Ralph Friedgen thinks so much of his new coordinator that he is relinquishing play-calling duties to Franklin, who was the OC at Kansas State the past two seasons. Franklin, a Maryland assistant from 2000-04 who coached receivers with the Green Bay Packers in 2005, is an innovative mind who has installed a West Coast scheme that will feature quick passes out of short drops. Maryland ranked 93rd in total offense in 2007, the season Franklin's K-State offense became the first in school history to boast a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,500-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher. Franklin, 36, faces the pressure of trying to sort out a muddled quarterback picture plus deal with the loss of two good running backs in Keon Lattimore and Lance Ball.

Frank Cignetti Jr., California. With Jeff Tedford wanting to step back and be more of a big-picture coach, he needed someone to call the plays. Cignetti is the guy. The Golden Bears' offense needs help after ranking 51st in the nation. Don't expect radical changes, but Cignetti, 42, will tuck and twist here and there. His father, Frank, was coach at Indiana (Pa.) and West Virginia. Frank Jr. arrived in Berkeley in January from the San Francisco 49ers, where he was quarterback coach. Cignetti also has coached with the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, but he earned his rep as offensive coordinator of Fresno State under Pat Hill from 2002-05. He also was coordinator at North Carolina in 2006.

Jim McElwain, Alabama. Like many before him, McElwain used the Fresno State offensive coordinator post as a launching pad to a better gig. He was the brains behind a Bulldogs offense that averaged 420 yards and 33 points last season. McElwain also coaches quarterbacks, which should help John Parker Wilson take the next step as the Tide looks to upgrade its passing game with multiple formations. It's all about delivering the ball to playmakers. Before coaching at Fresno, McElwain was quarterback coach of the Oakland Raiders. He also coached at Michigan State (2003-05) and Louisville (2000-02) under John L. Smith.

Tony Franklin, Auburn. The nation got a glimpse of his version of the spread in the Tigers' Peach Bowl victory over Clemson. All Franklin did was help Auburn roll up a season-high total in yards. Tommy Tuberville hopes Franklin – a Hal Mumme disciple – helps Auburn's offense continue to evolve. The idea: a hurry-up, go-go attack that spreads the field and features quick passes. That's a contrast to the "Gulf Coast" offense of former coordinator Al Borges. Franklin's biggest issue is settling on a quarterback and finding playmaking receivers.

I THINK I SHALL NEVER SEE …

Today, an Alameda County, Calif., court is expected to finally decide a prickly issue in Berkeley that involves the construction of a student-athlete performance center at California.

Protesters have sat in trees on the property over time, pleading for construction to not take place. But protecting trees isn't the biggest issue that has held up construction. Rather, the new facility sits near the Hayward Fault, which runs under Cal's Memorial Stadium.

There has been much speculation that Tedford has an out in his contract that will let him walk if the performance center isn't built. That's not true. Tedford has a clause that will earn him a bonus if he's still coach after the facility is built.

Still, some wonder if Tedford might have a wandering eye if the student-athlete center isn't built. Without it, many feel Cal would fall farther behind other Pac-10 schools in the facility arms race.

CAN HE BAIL THEM OUT?

Circle Aug. 28 on your calendar. That's the first permissible date schools can start playing games. And that day gives us an intriguing matchup: Wake Forest at Baylor.

It's a good contrast: Two small, private schools trying to keep pace with massive public schools in mega-conferences. The game will be nationally televised at 8 p.m. Eastern on Fox Sports Net.

Wake Forest has what Baylor wants—relevancy. The Demon Deacons are coming off a 9-4 season and have 20 wins in the past two seasons, including an ACC title in 2006. Don't look now, but Wake could win the ACC again.

Baylor? It has stunk. But new Bears coach Art Briles thinks his program is closer to breaking through than you'd think. And that's saying something, considering Baylor hasn't been relative since, well, Grant Teaff was coach from 1972-92. Chuck Reedy, Dave Roberts, Kevin Steele and Guy Morriss have tried but failed to get the Bears to a bowl while a member of the Big 12.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the worst BCS program in the nation west of Duke.

"We don't have any two- or three-year plan," says Briles, who will be paid $2 million annually after leaving Houston. "We want to win now for our seniors and fans."

The issues are many at Baylor, which hasn't been to a bowl since 1994 and has won just 11 Big 12 games since the conference was formed in 1996. Another dubious note: Baylor has gone O-fer in league play four times.

"I feel more of a sense of urgency here than I did when I took over Houston," says Briles, who went 34-28 in five seasons coaching the Cougars. "Houston was more of a building process. They were in dire straits when I got there coming off an 0-11 season. These people at Baylor are hungry."

The biggest issues are along the lines. There just isn't enough talent. And who will be the quarterback?

"I think we may have to wait until near the end of camp to find out," Briles says. "(True freshman) Robert Griffin is off prepping for the Olympic Trials (400 hurdles). (Junior college transfer Jeremy) Sanders has only been on campus a few weeks. We also have Blake (Szymanski) and Kirby (Freeman)."

Don't bet against Briles, who is one of the most astute offensive minds in the business. If he revives Baylor – as Scott Drew did with the basketball program – it will be one of the better stories in college football in recent history.

TV TALK

Word from a spy at ESPN is that the network may not marry announcing crews to certain time slots. In the past, a crew worked the same time slot each week. But there's talk ESPN will move its announcing teams around from week to week this season.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.



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