College football has really earned the pejorative title of the “everybody gets a ribbon” sport over the past several years.
After all, 70 of the 120 FBS programs were invited to play in a bowl game after the 2011 season. Aren't bowl games supposed to be a reward for a job well done?
If so, why did over 58 percent of all teams make the “postseason” last year?
But as laughable as it is to argue that bowl games are still rewards for a successful season, it's worth mentioning that there were still 50 programs that failed to earn a bowl trip after the 2011 season—and not all of those could be classified as “small-time” programs.
Each year, we inevitably talk about the coaches who find themselves on the hot seat. You can bet 2012 will be no different.
All of the coaches on this list can be considered on a seat of varying warmth, but one this is absolutely clear about these men: No bowl will equal no job.
Here's a list of 10 college football coaches who have to become bowl eligible in 2012.
Okay, we freely admit that Indiana University is not the center of the football world.
The Hoosiers, after all, haven't won a Big Ten title since 1967, and there's really no prospect for another anytime soon.
But with some of the non-conference matchups we've seen from teams like Indiana, you'd think the Hoosiers could at least make a run at six wins.
Last season, new Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson made $1.1 million in salary, and for the trouble, the university got exactly one win.
And eleven losses.
So what kind of superpower programs did Indiana lose to last season?
How about the likes of Ball State (6-6) from the MAC and North Texas (5-7) from the Sun Belt.
Again, we understand that Indiana isn't going to be knocking off teams like Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State any time soon. But can we all agree that the Hoosiers should be able to beat North Texas?
If Wilson can't manage to guide the Hoosiers to six wins in 2012—with games against Indiana State, UMass, Ball State and Navy on the docket—or at least somewhat close, you may find Indiana choosing to invest its $1.1 million on a coach who can.
When it comes to football in the state of Michigan, programs like Central Michigan have really become nothing more than an afterthought.
Ever since the days of Brian Kelly, the Chippewas have fallen short in almost every category—particularly wins.
Current head coach Dan Enos is entering the third season in Mount Pleasant, and he's searching for his first six-win season at CMU. In fact, his previous two seasons combined only generated six wins.
While the MAC isn't anywhere close to being relevant on a national stage, the conference has produced some great head coaching talent over the years, including the aforementioned Brian Kelly (CMU to Notre Dame), Brady Hoke (Ball State to Michigan), Bo Schembechler (Miami U to Michigan), Woody Hayes (Miami U to Ohio State), Ara Parseghian (Miami U to Notre Dame) and Urban Meyer (Bowling Green State to Ohio State).
If Enos has any hope of joining his illustrious compatriots, he needs to start turning the Chips around. Now.
Cal isn't usually talked about in a national sense, but the Golden Bears have improved their 2010 bowl-less 5-7 record to 7-5 in 2011 (only to lose the resulting Holiday Bowl to Texas).
But while California has improved year after year, from 2010 to 2011, the Bears still aren't where they should be, considering the level at which Tedford's teams were playing around the middle of the last decade: two 10-win seasons, one nine-win season and three eight-win seasons between 2003 and 2009.
Sooner or later, the powers that be in Berkeley are going to get tired of waiting.
God forbid the Bears actually take a step backwards and miss a bowl game this season. Tedford could be handed his walking papers in fairly short order, should that happen.
What ever happened to those glorious BCS championship-winning days of the late 1990s?
The Volunteers have fallen on very tough times the last four seasons, and have missed a bowl game too over that span.
In fact, the Vols are just 23-27 from the beginning of the 2008 season—not good for a program with the best win percentage among current SEC members since 1945 (518-232-23, or .685, just ahead of Alabama at 529-239-19, or .684).
To dump all of the problems at Tennessee onto Dooley's lap is probably a bit unfair. After all, he came in to a program that seemed to be in perpetual turmoil. When he was hired for the 2010 season, he was the third head coach in three seasons for the Vols (after Lane Kiffin's abortive 1-year tenure before heading to USC).
But no one had any illusions as to what his job would be at Tennessee: getting the train back on the tracks.
So far, he hasn't done that. In fact, Tennessee actually took a step backwards last season, posting a 5-7 record after a 6-7 mark in 2010.
Another bowl-less season for the Volunteers will get a lot of people asking whether or not Dooley has what it takes to get the job done in the SEC.
Tommy Tuberville was an unqualified success at Auburn, where he was the head coach from 1999 through 2008. He led the Tigers to a 85-40 record, which included at least a share of five SEC West titles, as well as the undefeated SEC Championship season in 2004—which ended with a Sugar Bowl victory.
After he resigned in 2008, many were somewhat surprised to see him resurface as the head coach of Texas Tech for the 2010 season.
Tuberville was hired to take Texas Tech to the next level in the Big 12, and the FBS at large. The Red Raiders had found their stride, winning 47 games compared to just 17 losses over the five seasons prior to Tuberville's arrival.
It wasn't crazy to think that a coach like Tuberville could help Texas Tech break through to the Big 12 championship, the BCS and maybe even compete for a national title someday soon.
But last season was an epic disappointment.
The Red Raiders have failed to improve upon—or even match—the previous season's success under Tuberville, either in 2010 or 2011.
Seeing the Raiders' 11-year bowl streak come to an end was difficult enough. If Tech fans have to suffer through another lackluster season, Tuberville may find his own difficulties staying in Lubbock too much longer.
With the recent rise of programs like Florida State and Clemson in the ACC, it stands to reason that there needs to be some programs in the conference that move in the opposite direction.
Maryland is on the cusp of becoming such a program.
The Terrapins have been wildly inconsistent over the past few seasons, going from eight wins in 2008 to just two victories in 2009. The Terps then found a way to win nine games in 2010, only to fall back to a 2-10 record again in 2011.
While Randy Edsall has only been at Maryland for one season, it was an unmitigated failure.
Under Edsall, the Terps went from a preseason contender to a mid-season laughing stock.
And as if matters weren't bad enough, former ACC Rookie of the Year and Terrapins quarterback Danny O'Brien has decided he's had enough: O'Brien has transferred to Wisconsin.
So where does that leave Edsall?
A coach who led Connecticut to two Big East titles in four years will have a little leeway with his bosses at Maryland. But Terps fans have suffered enough. Any future failures will be taken as a sign that Edsall just isn't the right fit for the job at Maryland, and athletic director Kevin Anderson may opt to start fresh with someone else.
We're going to give Boston College a bit of a pass for last season—for now.
There were excuses for why the Eagles didn't live up to their potential in 2011, finishing 4-8.
Before the 2011 even kicked off, offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers announced he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence for medical reasons.
Rather than rush in a replacement, head coach Frank Spaziani opted to move forward with the rest of the staff picking up the extra slack.
That didn't work out, as the Eagles were offensively challenged—to say the least—in 2011.
The real pity is that Boston College was actually pretty good on defense last year, led by standout linebacker Luke Kuechly.
But if Spaziani wants to prove that last season's anemic four wins was an aberration, it's bowl or bust for BC this season.
Danny Hope's name is very appropriate to the situation in West Lafayette. Purdue fans are hoping that the Boilermakers make that long-awaited turnaround soon.
After two lackluster seasons (a combined 9-15), Hope's Boilers finally broke through last season (sort of), posting a 7-6 record good enough for third place in the Big Ten's Leaders Division, and a berth in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl.
Now, Hope needs to prove that 2011's “success” was just the first step. Taking a step backwards is not an option for a program that hasn't seen a Rose Bowl Game since 2001 (which was Purdue's first taste of a Big Ten title since 1967).
Purdue has been woefully inadequate against the top teams in the Big Ten as of late, and has had to rely on weak non-conference competition to ensure bowl berths. This season, Purdue may be walking the same road, with non-conference games against FCS Eastern Kentucky (Danny Hope's previous team), Eastern Michigan and Marshall.
But with a tough Big Ten schedule to follow, the Boilers will need to find at least three conference wins to become bowl eligible, and only Indiana and Minnesota look like safe bets.
Let's not get too worked up now.
Including Mack Brown on this list is in no way a prediction that Texas won't make a bowl game in 2012.
In fact, if you look at the way things are going in Austin, the safe bet is on the Longhorns holding par to last season's 8-5 finish.
That being said, Texas and Brown just can't seem to avoid those questions about what comes next. After all, Brown has been at Texas since the Hoover Administration, and he's piled up an impressive 141-39 record.
But if you want to judge success by how Texas does when compared to other Big 12 programs—particular archrival Oklahoma—then there's a lingering question that nags your thoughts like a famished mosquito in your ear.
Under Brown, Texas has won just two conference titles in 14 seasons.
Oklahoma has won seven over that same span.
Texas has also lost a number of top-flight assistants over the years, including Will Muschamp who spurned Texas, and the title of “head coach-in-waiting, for the likes of Florida and the SEC. Can Texas afford to continue to lose the interest of top future head coaches?
There's also the little matter of the precipitous falloff Texas suffered after the loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game.
Since that game, Texas is just 13-12, failing to even make a bowl game in 2010.
So the question remains: how much longer will Brown be the head coach at Texas?
Many believe he'll leave at a time of his choosing. But if Texas fails to make a bowl game again in 2012, the decision may be taken out of his hands.
Notre Dame fans are a funny bunch.
You'd think a couple of 8-5 seasons under Brian Kelly would calm things down a bit, especially considering what the previous guy did.
But instead of calming the Irish faithful, Kelly finds his name attached to phrases like “hot seat” and worries about possible struggles for the Irish.
We'll just have to file this under the “only at Notre Dame” category.
You would think two eight-win seasons and a tight game against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl would be cause for hope.
But, as we said, Notre Dame fans are a funny bunch.
Only in South bend will you find a fan base which not only thinks its team can go from average to national champions overnight but actually expects it.
Perish the thought if Kelly and the Irish only manage eight wins against in 2012. But what happens if the Irish fail to even make it to six?
Not possible you say?
All potential losses. That right there would make for a 6-6 season.
One disaster against a team like Navy, Miami, Purdue, Pitt, Wake Forest or Boston College and Brian Kelly will find his backside not only heating up, but likely on fire.