No one could have known it at the time, but on the first full-service Saturday of the 2016 college football season, the home of a McCarthy birthed a moment which enabled another Mac — Mike MacIntyre of Colorado — to make a convincing national coach of the year argument.
Mike McCarthy is the coach of the Green Bay Packers. Lambeau Field is his work office. Yet, on September 3, 2016, his normal place of business hosted a regular season football game in the collegiate realm.
No, Mike MacIntyre was nowhere near this particular afternoon encounter. He won a game in another NFL Stadium — Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos — the previous night. His Colorado Buffaloes destroyed the Colorado State Rams on Friday, September 2.
Yet, what happened in the game between the LSU Tigers and the Wisconsin Badgers set in motion the course of events which makes MacIntyre the best choice for 2016 National Coach Of The Year in college football. MacIntyre could remove a large measure of doubt if he can knock off Chris Petersen and the Washington Huskies this Friday night (in another NFL ballpark, Levi’s Stadium), but added details suggest that MacIntyre has already done enough to warrant the award.
LSU-Wisconsin forms the cornerstone.
The Badgers’ 16-14 triumph over LSU is very much a good win. On balance, it helps Wisconsin’s College Football Playoff case should it beat Penn State to win the Big Ten championship this Saturday. By extension, the win also bolsters the argument that Paul Chryst should receive serious consideration for coach of the year (which he should), and that Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox should win the Broyles Award or at least be a finalist (which he should be).
Where’s the significance in this for MacIntyre? When viewing LSU-Wisconsin through the prism of the Big Ten, the answer isn’t immediate. When using an SEC lens to consider this point, the answer jumps off the page.
If anyone can rival MacIntyre for national coach of the year, Nick Saban of Alabama has the best case. The Tide have rolled around, over and through the opposition. On nights when the Tide’s offense struggled, the defense pitched a pure shutout (LSU) or a touchdown shutout (this past Saturday against Auburn). Saban’s team did trail Ole Miss by 21… but it gained an 18-point lead in that same game thanks to a 45-6 surge. Big, bad Bama has never been seriously threatened in the final 10 minutes of any game this season, setting the Tide aside from strong one-loss teams such as Ohio State and Clemson which are primed to join Saban in the upcoming playoff.
Only one coach other than Saban has a perfect record through 12 games, but Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck has conquered a very soft Mid-American Conference. This should be a Saban-MacIntyre collision, with Chryst of Wisconsin, James Franklin of Penn State, Petersen of Washington, and Ken Niumatalolo of Navy also being in the conversation.
What gives Mac the upper hand over Saban, The Hound of the Capstone?
Back to LSU-Wisconsin.
Most folks expected LSU to be very good this season — second-best in the SEC good, 10- or 11-win good, New Year’s Six bowl good. Not everyone was sold on the Tigers because of their quarterback and offensive coordinator problems, but as Wisconsin (interestingly enough) showed, a less-than-great quarterback doesn’t automatically condemn a team to an ordinary season. Wisconsin worked past those limitations.
LSU — and so many other SEC teams — could not.
LSU’s loss to Wisconsin was not a bad loss, but the problem for Les Miles and Cam Cameron is that they didn’t develop either Brandon Harris or Danny Etling as quarterbacks. The offense didn’t improve in September, and it didn’t perform well in any game of consequence against a top-tier defense — not Bama, not Auburn, not Florida. The result is a 7-4 season in which Miles was fired and a new offensive coordinator is being sought by newly-hired head coach Ed Orgeron.
LSU — by any reasonable measurement — was a disappointment in 2016.
Yet, the Tigers were one of only three non-Alabama SEC teams to post a winning conference record (5-3). Only one non-Bama team had a better SEC record than LSU — Florida at 6-2 — but the Gators played in the cushy-soft SEC East. They also got thrown around like a rag doll this past Saturday by Florida State.
LSU couldn’t beat that Florida team at home. That’s a worse defeat than the Lambeau loss to Wisconsin… but the setback on September 3 gave us the first indication of what was to come in his awful SEC season: Not one conference team other than Alabama will finish with fewer than four losses unless Florida pulls off one of the largest upsets in college football history this weekend in Atlanta.
The SEC — beginning with that LSU stumble in Green Bay — was crap this season, to use a rough-edged and inelegant term.
If the SEC had been even modestly decent by long-term standards — LSU at 10-2, Auburn at 9-3, Florida at 10-2 — Saban might be the right COY choice.
These circumstances beg for an alternative choice, and MacIntyre is the best of them.
Yes, Niumatalolo did incredible work at Navy with a backup quarterback (Will Worth) after starter Tago Smith was knocked out on opening day. However, Navy won 11 games last year. The season wasn’t a turnaround so much as a (perfectly executed) retention operation in Annapolis.
About the Big Ten: Chryst didn’t beat either Michigan or Ohio State. He came close, but he’s still 0 for 2. That should matter in a COY discussion. Franklin of Penn State got thumped by Michigan and lost to Pittsburgh (not a heavyweight team). MacIntyre’s only losses were to Michigan — by a smaller margin than what Franklin suffered versus the Wolverines — and resurgent USC, quite possibly the hottest team in the country even though it won’t be a part of the playoff or Conference Championship Weekend.
Put all the pieces together — starting and ending with the SEC — leads to a fully-constructed argument for Mike MacIntyre as the 2016 FBS National Coach of the Year.