The Hotline mailbag is published each Friday. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me on Twitter: @WilnerHotline. Due to volume — and in some cases, the need for research — not all questions will be answered the week they are submitted. Thanks for your understanding.
Some questions have been edited for brevity.
Have you ever seen a program go from pinnacle (two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year) to implosion (“Will the last player turn off the lights before entering the portal?”) as quickly as Washington and coach Mike Hopkins? Especially without some obvious catastrophic event? Is there something more to the story here? — @justgale
No, we have not.
The collapse on Montlake is as swift and severe as any we can recall — and we have spent a lot of time recalling.
The Hotline dug through the Pac-12 record books a few months ago and discovered the following:
Washington is the first team to finish in first place one year (2019) and in last place the following year (2020) in the conference’s modern era.
The last time it happened was 1948, with UW as the team.
The Huskies avoided the cellar this season, but 4-16 is not exactly cause for optimism.
In the past, we have pointed to the offense as a continuing issue, and the numbers are worth noting here.
UW’s national efficiency rankings in the Hopkins era, per the KenPom advanced metrics:
But downturns of this magnitude aren’t caused by a single flaw, and anyone watching UW on a regular basis can see there are problems in all areas: recruiting, player development, scheme … all of it.
And we cannot claim complete surprise at the downturn, either.
Back when Hopkins was hired in the spring of 2017, the Hotline took a deep dive into the risks associated with the hire.
Specifically, we examined every Pac-12 coaching change in the 21st century and found only three instances of schools hiring a head coach who 1) wasn’t elevated from within the program and 2) had not been a major college coach elsewhere.
In other words: Hiring a career assistant from outside the program.
Of the dozens of coaches hired throughout the conference this century (including Utah and Colorado, prior to membership), we found just three examples: Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins, Oregon State’s Jay John and Washington State’s Paul Graham.
None of them worked out.
* John: No NCAAs in six seasons prior to termination.
* Graham: Never made the NCAAs in his four years in Pullman.
* Dawkins: One NCAA appearance trip in eight years.
That’s one trip to March Madness in 18 combined seasons.
Given that context, Hopkins did well to get the Huskies into the NCAAs in Year Two.
Then again, Washington is far better positioned for success than the three programs cited above, and Hopkins inherited a roster that included two players currently averaging double-digit minutes in the NBA (Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle).
The results since 2019 are more in line with the historical performance of coaches with similar backgrounds.
We do not expect the Huskies to make a change this spring; nor do we believe they should: Two bad seasons isn’t enough to justify a change.
But if Washington doesn’t make significant progress in 2022 — and only athletic director Jen Cohen knows what that means — then Hopkins could follow the path of Dawkins, John and Graham.
The Playoff inevitably expands to an eight team field with all Power Five conference champs in the field. When this happens, would the conference not be better served by eliminating divisions, playing 10 conference games to balance the conference schedule and having the two top teams play for the conference title? — Jon Joseph
The Big 12 has shown a single division can work, but I suspect the division format will remain unless the Pac-12 eliminates the conference championship game — not likely but not outside the realm of possibility.
The timing of the third round is key to solving the CFP expansion puzzle. It’s likely to be a held on the campus of the higher seed, but there are issues with playing in the middle of December, either during exams or after students have scattered for the holidays.
For that reason, the weekend currently used for championship games (the first Saturday in December) is an option for the quarterfinals. Of course, the title games are cash machines for the conferences, especially the SEC, so there will be resistance on the front, too.
Now, expanding the conference schedules to a 10-game format is something we believe the Pac-12 should consider when renegotiating its media rights in a few years.
In some ways, increasing round-robin play to 10 makes more sense than dropping to eight if the Pac-12 champion is assured of a berth in the playoff.
It would create more high-quality content, especially with an accompanying mandate that at least one non-conference game must be against a Power Five opponent.
That would be well received by potential network partners, and it would clearly help with ticket sales.
Not for nothing: Nick Saban believes Power Five teams should play “at least 10” games against each other.
With many rules bent if not ignored by some with little or no penalties (Sean Miller, the worst recent) the broad impact to money flowing to athletes — via compensation for the use of their name, imagine and likeness — will be uncontrollable. Recruiting alone will be completely out of control. You think the gap between the have and have not conferences is widening? — Mike
Let me think about that for a sec- YES!
The gap was widening before NIL became reality, and it will widen after NIL is implemented — only at an accelerated rate.
The degree of disparity depends on your definition of haves and have nots.
If the spectrum is limited to the Power Five, with the likes of Ohio State and Alabama at one end and Kansas and Wake Forest at the other, then the gap will be substantial but perhaps not game-changing.
If you’re including Ohio State and Alabama in the same space as UMass and Middle Tennessee State — the entire FBS, in other words — then the gap could soon be a canyon.
The implementation of NIL will add massive economic pressure to a sport whose core is as stable as uranium.
Whether the Power Five breaks away from the rest of the FBS or there’s separation within the Power Five — separation that creates two tiers of competition (perhaps with advancement and relegation) — we cannot state with any degree of certainty.
But change is coming in the next three or four years.
When are you going to remove Fauci’s mug from Heisman photo? He’s been wrong on everything from lockdowns, masks, school closures, states like Florida & Texas re-opening, and safety of Covid vaccines. He doesn’t care about anything except fame, fortune, and his vaccine programs. — @olympiccard1
His prominent position on my Twitter bio has absolutely nothing to do with his role as one of the most trusted voices in science during a once-a-century global pandemic.
It’s entirely because of his touch football exploits as a middle schooler; the guy was a street football legend in Brooklyn. Didn’t you realize they called him ‘Crazy Legs Tony’?
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