Ohio State's Tressel casts a vote for unaccountability

Transparency is a beautiful thing -- in government, newspapers and college football coaches' polls.

Making the USA Today coaches reveal their final ballots Sunday was like shining a flashlight into an attic.

The glare was so intense for Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel he yanked down the shades -- electing not to cast a final vote because he felt voting for either Michigan or Florida represented a conflict of interest.

The question: How would Tressel have voted given the same situation two years ago when coaches didn't have to make public their final ballots.

If Tressel didn't want a rematch against Michigan, which he didn't, he could have voted the Wolverines third.

There still would have been a conflict of interest -- the only difference being Tressel wouldn't have to admit to it.

For years, the voting coaches crouched behind giant desks and handed off anonymous ballots to their sports information directors.

In 1995, two coaches dropped Florida to 11th and 13th after they lost the national title game to Nebraska, an obvious swipe at then-Gators coach Steve Spurrier.

The coaches couldn't hide forever, though.

Any pretense of credibility dissolved in 2003 when two dozen coaches had to take their No. 1 votes away from USC and give them to Louisiana State because the coaches' association mandated they award the Bowl Championship Series title to the bowl that USC was not playing in.

It got uglier the next year when the bid for the Rose Bowl came down to a BCS tug-of-war between Texas and California.

Alas, last year, the coaches reluctantly agreed to reveal their final votes and then got a lollipop with USC vs. Texas, which had been Nos. 1 and 2 the entire season.

How tough a decision was that?

This year was tough, and we got to see up close how the coaches responded under public pressure.

Tressel punted.

"I thought it wasn't appropriate for us to cast a ballot with circumstances as they were," he said.

Bottom line: If Tressel isn't ready to make difficult choices, he needs to get out of the voting business.

The American Football Coaches Assn. will certainly take up this prickly issue when it meets next month.

"Prior to 2005, coaches were never faced with the decision Jim Tressel had to make this past weekend," AFCA Executive Director Grant Teaff said in a statement. "We will have a policy in place for next season."

That policy needs to simply state: you vote or you're out.

Closer inspection of the final coaches' ballot revealed other interesting, if not unexpected, truths.

Of the 19 voting coaches who had teams ranked in the final top 25, only one had his team ranked worse than the team's final ranking: Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan voted Nebraska No. 23, one spot lower than its No. 22 ranking.

Callahan may have tipped his hand when he ripped his own performance in Nebraska's loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference title game.

"I was disappointed in everything I did," he said in a conference call this week.

Two coaches, Les Miles of Louisiana State and Dennis Franchione of Texas A&M;, ranked their teams exactly where they finished in the final poll.

Most coaches had a much higher opinion of their own teams than the consensus.

West Virginia finished No. 12; Rich Rodriguez voted the Mountaineers No. 7.

Notre Dame finished No. 11; Charlie Weis voted the Irish No. 8.

Oklahoma finished No. 8; Bob Stoops ranked the Sooners No. 4.

Conflict of interest?

Illinois Coach Ron Zook voted Florida No. 2 ahead of Michigan. Zook, of course, was the Florida coach before Urban Meyer.

Circle this date: Michigan plays at Illinois on Oct. 20.

And so much for Miles someday getting the Michigan job: The coach, who played for Bo Schembechler and was a longtime Wolverines assistant, voted Florida No. 2.

Miles has always been on the short list of possible successors to Lloyd Carr.

Well, at least he had been.

And the winner was ...

Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy two days from now in ceremonies in New York.

Wasn't it exciting?

Smith wore a tuxedo, smiled a lot and said all the right things.

It was Ohio State's seventh Heisman but the first for Smith, who trails former Buckeye Archie Griffin by one.

Enough of that foregone conclusion, let's try to identify next year's winner:

If Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma), Dwayne Jarrett (USC), Brian Brohm (Louisville) and Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech) don't turn professional, well, wouldn't that be shocking ... which would leave us with these contenders (assuming they stay):

1. Darren McFadden, running back, Arkansas. Best recovery from a preseason bar fight in recent memory. McFadden rebounded to rush for 1,558 yards and 14 touchdowns.

2. John David Booty, quarterback, USC. If J.D. (Just Deflected) Booty was actually 6 feet 3, as he's listed in the program, USC might be undefeated and playing for the national title.

Booty put up terrific numbers this season but lacked the intangible, finish-it factor possessed by predecessor Matt Leinart.

Maybe he'll find "it" in the Rose Bowl, or in the off-season.

3. Steve Slaton or Pat White, tailback, quarterback, West Virginia. You can't have one without the other? That could be the problem.

As a tandem, Slaton and White combined for 2,757 yards rushing and 33 touchdowns. Slaton averaged 7.07 yards per carry; White averaged 7.51.

The two stars, however, seem to be better as a pair than they are separately.

4. DeSean Jackson, receiver, California. Most exciting player in the Pacific 10 Conference but will need to get enough touches to make a serious run.

5. Mike Hart, running back, Michigan. His 2007 campaign started with a 142-yard, three-touchdown, 6.2-yards-per-carry, leave-it-on-the-field performance in this year's three-point loss at Ohio State.

6. Colt Brennan, quarterback, Hawaii. Incredible numbers -- 4,990 yards passing, 53 touchdown passes -- but you always wonder in June Jones' run-and-shoot offense whether it's the quarterback or the system. Remember David Klingler and Andre Ware? Brennan also suffers from playing in a, well, not-so-prime time zone for Heisman-winning purposes.

Others to watch: Boise State running back Ian Johnson, who led the nation with 24 touchdowns, Michigan receiver Mario Manningham, Rutgers tailback Ray Rice and Rice receiver Jarett Dillard.

Blitz package

* Yeah, but what did he know?

A former coach was asked five days before Ohio State played Michigan whether he thought the loser of the game deserved a rematch in the national title.

"I don't think of it as a possibility at all," the coach said. "They are not going to do that. Of course it's not fair. Once you beat a team it's over. If you're a loser, of course you want to play those guys again. But I would not be in favor of that under any circumstances."

The former coach was Bo Schembechler, who died at 77, the day before the game.

Schembechler didn't get a chance to cast his final vote in the Master Coaches poll, conducted by former college coaches, but would be happy to know Michigan finished second in that survey.

"A rematch would be totally unfair to Ohio State," Master voter and former West Virginia coach Don Nehlen said. "If Michigan won the rematch, which of the two games would determine which team was the best? That being said, I still believe Michigan is a better football team than Florida."

Huh?

* Maybe there was a playoff in college football but you missed it.

Maybe it started Sept. 2, when Ohio State knocked off defending champion Texas in Austin, and then continued from there.

Maybe Oklahoma had its chance (Sept. 16) at the national title but lost to a Pac-10 instant-replay crew.

Wisconsin had its chance (Sept. 23) but lost to Michigan.

West Virginia had a chance (Nov. 2) but lost to Louisville.

Louisville had a chance (Nov. 9) but lost to Rutgers.

Rutgers had a chance (Nov. 18) but lost to Cincinnati.

Michigan had a chance (Nov. 18) but lost to Ohio State.

Ohio State had a chance (Nov. 18) and beat Michigan.

Arkansas had a chance (Nov. 24) but lost to Louisiana State.

USC had a chance (Dec. 2) but lost to UCLA.

Florida had a chance (Dec. 2) and beat Arkansas.

Boise State?

It never had a chance.

* Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, said Wednesday he was surprised no one else has ever doubled-up on the trophy. "I've always said someone else would win it [twice]," he said.

* So how did your team fare in the USA Today ex-coaches poll? Eight out of the 63 voting coaches this year lost their jobs: Dan McCarney (Iowa State), Larry Coker (Miami), Walt Harris (Stanford), John L. Smith (Michigan State), Jack Bicknell (Louisiana Tech), Chuck Amato (North Carolina State), Darryl Dickey (North Texas), John Bunting (North Carolina).

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

For The Record Los Angeles Times Sunday December 10, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction College football: Chris Dufresne's column in Sports on Thursday said Ohio State defeated Texas, the defending national champion, Sept. 2. The game was played Sept. 9.
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