It's that time of year again, when college head coaches start getting the ax. Several high profile coaches have already said farewell -- Gene Chizik, Frank Spaziani, Jon Embree -- and others are sure to follow.

But in this day and age, when so much money and resources are invested in college football coaches, are schools pulling the trigger too quickly? A recent piece of research suggests that some universities may want to think twice before cutting their coach.

The study is called "Pushing 'Reset:' The Conditional Effects of Coaching Replacements on College Football Performance," and it was co-authored by University of Colorado professors (Scott Adler and Michael Berry) along with Loyola University Chicago professor David Doherty. In the research, the professors analyze data from FBS teams between 1997 and 2008.

"I had always watched these teams fire coaches, pay for a buyout and then hire more expensive coaches and I wondered, 'Are they actually getting anything out of this?'" Adler told the Denver Post. "What we find is, as you go out to the fourth year, the difference between teams that did and didn't replace their coaches were just nonexistent. They were performing just about the same."

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During the 11-year span of the study, approximately 10 percent of all FBS schools fired their coach after each season. The research examines two different types of firings: Coaches cut after poor seasons, and coaches cut after "middling" seasons (where teams finished around or just below .500).

The authors compared the new coach against other similarly performing schools who did not fire their coach, and they found that when the school had done "poorly" the year before, the new coach did not have much more success.

Interestingly, schools that fire their head coach after a "middling" season tended to experience somewhat of a backfire. The researchers explain:

"...for teams with middling records -- that is, teams where entry conditions for a new coach appear to be more favorable -- replacing the head coach appears to result in worse performance over subsequent years than comparable teams who retained their coach."

Auburn and Colorado fans, you can rest comfortably knowing there's nowhere to go but up. But for all the Purdue and N.C. State supporters, do know that the grass may not be greener on the other side.

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It's the ultimate poker game. When do you hold back, save your best effort for when it really matters, and take your opponent by surprise.

Maybe you hold back bad news from your employees until it's time to tell them the company is eliminating their division, so they don't steal every last office supply and file.

Maybe you show restraint when your girlfriend asks you if the jeans she's wearing make her look fat. Probably better not to use the word "huge."

Stanford beat UCLA 35-17 Saturday evening at the Rose Bowl, but did the Bruins hold something back in the Pac-12 regular season finale, knowing if they lose they'd gain a rematch with the Cardinal on Friday for the right to go to the Rose Bowl anyway?

And, if UCLA were to have won, the Bruins would instead have had to play former No. 1 Oregon in Eugene, thought to be a tougher roadie. After all, the ultimate goal is the Rose Bowl, the only shot at a BCS game for UCLA.

"We are competitors and those guys in there don't spend all that time preparing for a game, with the sacrifices they make, to not try their best every opportunity they get," said UCLA head coach Jim Mora in the bowel of the Rose Bowl after the game. "To insinuate that our players didn't give their best effort -- I've never."

Mora continued to deny he'd even remotely consider holding anything back for Friday's bigger game.

"If we're holding something back, we wouldn't have had our starters in there at the end," he said. "I wouldn't have used timeouts with 6:30 left in the game. We are trying to create a culture about winning. The only way to win is you go for it every time you step on the field. If you don't do that, then you cheat everybody, your alumni, your fans, your students."

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One reporter practically laughed at Mora, insinuating he wasn't being honest, suggesting that Mora had plenty of practice holding back while coaching NFL preseason games.

Home-and-home matchups happen in basketball, hockey, and occasionally bar fights, but you don't see college football teams playing each other twice within six days. Stanford had to win. UCLA has to win next Friday. So the motivation was clearly different.

I walked off the field with Stanford head man David Shaw. He told me he's known the Mora family for years, and it's just not in his makeup to hold back. But what about his players?

UCLA star linebacker Anthony Barr admitted there might have been something missing. "The energy and the demeanor wasn't as upbeat as it had been in the past, say for example, last week (against USC). We pride ourselves on our energy and our enthusiasm, and it wasn't fully there today. I know we'll get it back."

Barr made it clear to me that he didn't think anyone was intentionally holding anything back, but all you had to do was watch the action. It's human nature. You can blame the Pac-12 money grab, creating a championship game that it did well without for decades.

Now, the tables are turned. Obviously there's no way either team holds anything back Friday, but Shaw has some work to do this week. Because Stanford won so handily, he has to convince his players they've got a real battle on their hands, whether UCLA was all in or not. In other words, don't hold back on fire on passion. Here's our conversation:

Shaw: "(The Bruins) are going to come up to Stanford, California and they're going to give us their best shot, and we better be ready for it."

Me: "Do you think your players are really going to believe that, when they just absolutely kicked UCLA's butts all over the field?

Shaw: "They better."

Me: "Kids are kids. You beat the crap out of somebody on the playground, it's hard to tell them that at the next recess that kid's going to beat the crap out of you. How do you really sell it?

Shaw: "These are Stanford kids. Smart kids. They understand that we can't approach a game any differently than we approached it the week before."

Translation: Just because the other kid left with a bloody nose, don't hold back.

I don't believe Coach Mora held anything back -- nor did his coaching staff. Whether the kids did or not will be determined this coming Friday in Palo Alto.

Photo Credits: AP

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Tennessee was firing on all cylinders this weekend in its 37-17 win over the Kentucky Wildcats.

Quarterback Tyler Bray had an excellent game, going 20-for-34 for four touchdowns and no interceptions. And Bray got lots of help from the Volunteers' defense, which held the Wildcats to three points in the second half.

Even Tennessee's mascot, Smokey, got in on the action.

As he led the Volunteers out of the tunnel at halftime, Smokey may have actually gotten a little too fired up. As you'll see in the video below, Smokey ran from the goal line to midfield, where he brushed by Kentucky kicker Craig McIntosh.

No mascots or kickers were harmed in the making of this video.

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As much as Smokey may have wanted to get into McIntosh's head, his ploy didn't work. McIntosh scored the Wildcats' only points of the second half on a 29-yard field goal in the third quarter.

(H/T to Kegs 'N Eggs)

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Imagine all the Arkansas fans living life in peace...if Jon Gruden took his talents to Fayetteville.

Three Razorback supporters made a creative plea this week to the Monday Night Football analyst and rumored coaching candidate. They fashioned a song to the tune of the Beatles' hit "Hey Jude," except the Arkansas guys called their masterpiece, "Hey Grude."

"Hey Grude, don't make me sad. / Become the head Hog, and make us better. / No titles since 1964. / Come through the door, and make us better. "

"Hey Grude, leave ESPN. / Come to Fayetteville to beat Nick Saban. / You are exactly what we need, / here is our plea, come make us better."

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These guys are actually pretty good. They nail some sweet harmonies and look genuinely interested.

They are also much better and less creepy than the last Arkansas fan to take to YouTube to show support for the Razorbacks.

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If there's anything Ray Lewis is better at than playing linebacker, it's giving motivational speeches. As was documented in an excellent NFL Films special in September, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker and future Hall of Famer is incredibly inspiring.

This weekend he spoke to the Clemson Tigers before their game against N.C. State. You can see in the video why Lewis is such a hot commodity on the motivational speaking circuit. Put simply, he's never short on emotion.

Lewis, who is sidelined with a triceps tear, gets especially intense when discussing the idea of motivation:

"What drives ya'll everyday? What actually pushes ya'll everyday? I'll make it simple what pushes me -- I can't let a teammate down. I can't cheat in the weight room. I can't cheat! If somebody comes and hits me in my mouth, it's personal. Because I got to let my boy know I'd die for this. Just for the opportunity to step out there and put on my cleats one more time. Nothing else matters!"

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After watching that speech, it may not be surprising to learn that Clemson scored a season-high 62 points in its win over the Wolfpack.

As Chris Chase of USA Today notes, and as you can definitely tell by Lewis's performance in this video, this isn't the linebacker's first motivational speech. He's also spoken to Stanford's basketball team, Miami's football team, Loyola's lacrosse team and Elon's football team.

(H/T to Game On!)

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Nothing, it seems, went right for Oregon this weekend.

On Saturday night the Ducks had their perfect season -- and national championship hopes -- dashed in a heartbreaking loss to Stanford.

One day earlier Oregon's mascot, Puddles, suffered a painful loss of his own. During a skydiving stunt for ESPN's College Gameday, Puddles lost his head as he prepared to jump from a plane. This looks like it hurt:

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Fortunately for Puddles, his head was found on a farmer's field and returned to Oregon. No one was injured, but maybe Puddles should consider wearing a helmet next time he jumps out of a plane.

Looking back, perhaps this was a bad omen for Oregon, which missed a field goal in overtime and lost 17-14 to the Cardinal. It's been a rough few months for Puddles, who launched a failed presidential bid before losing his head in this stunt.

And now with Oregon losing its first game of the year, you've got to feel for Puddles. Maybe he should take some time off, fly south, and return after the winter. He could use a break.

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The SEC developed into the premier conference in college football for several reasons. One factor was that it was the first to stage a conference championship game. In How The SEC Became Goliath, veteran sportswriter Ray Glier examines the dynamics of why this game boosted the conference.

Roy Kramer did not sleep well the last week in November 1992. How could he? It was partly his bright idea to widen the moat in front of undefeated Alabama and make the Tide play one more conference game that season. In other years, the 11–0 Crimson Tide would be joyriding toward the Sugar Bowl to play Miami for the national title. But now the top was not down for Bama, the sun was not out, and there was no joyride. The Tide were preparing for another SEC game and muttering all the way that somebody was out to get them.

Kramer, the SEC commissioner, with the backing of the university presidents in the SEC, had concocted this thing called the SEC Championship Game. Who had ever heard of such a thing in Division I? It looked reckless to make the SEC regular-season champion play another game, and Gene Stallings, the Alabama coach, did not let Kramer forget about it that week.

"Gene said, ‘We're eleven and oh and we haven't won nothin'," Kramer said. "He was right. They had the best record in the conference, but they were not conference champions."

The day he found out the SEC was adding a twelfth game for the winners of the two divisions, plus going to an eight-game conference schedule, Stallings emerged from the meeting where those details were finalized and declared in a somber tone, "The SEC will never win another national championship."

Majors had said the same thing in 1989, but for other reasons. The SEC was starting to stamp out more and more NFL-caliber players, particularly on defense. Crowds were revved up; stadiums shook and threatened visiting teams. It was hard to win . . . anywhere.

And now the caretakers of the SEC had created an obstruction for its champion. Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Miami, Florida State, and Southern Cal, the other powerhouses, could relax after eleven games. Alabama, and the SEC teams that would follow it to the gallows of this thing called the SEC Championship Game, had to reboot and win again in a conference postseason game proposed by Stallings's own conference. It meant Alabama, just a week after playing the hysteria-filled Iron Bowl with Auburn, would have to play again on Legion Field against Steve Spurrier and Florida.

In the same meeting from which Stallings emerged with much anguish, Spurrier looked across the table at Kramer and wondered if Kramer was violating some sort of NCAA law. "Is that legal," the Ball Coach asked of the proposed championship game. When the other conferences found out about the SEC's plan for a title game, they discussed bringing a bylaw to the floor of the NCAA convention to stop it, which never happened. In today's climate, with the rest of college football fed up with the SEC's spending and winning six straight titles, the bylaw might have passed.

The game was legal. Kramer, who was the commissioner of the SEC from 1990 to 2002, saw championship games done in the lower divisions of college football, and he had looked up the NCAA bylaw allowing for a conference championship game and kept it in his back pocket. The SEC commissioner was skewered in some columns across the South for backing this extra game. The accusations flew. It was a money grab by the conference, and it would tie a ball and chain around the league's best team.

"It was a risk," Kramer said. He paused for a moment, then chuckled. "I told Antonio Langham he was my hero that week."

Langham was an Alabama defensive back. In the first SEC Championship Game on December 2, 1992, in a 21–21 game against Florida, Langham squatted on a pass route down the right hash marks. He was lying in the weeds waiting, and waiting, then jumped a pass by the Gators' Shane Mathews with 3:16 remaining in the fourth quarter. Langham snatched the pass for an interception and zigzagged his way down the Legion Field carpet for a 37-yard return for a touchdown. On this miserable night with chill and light rain, when Langham handed Alabama that 28–21 victory, Kramer slipped his head out of the noose and saw sunshine.

The Crimson Tide then went on to thump favored Miami, 34–13, to win the Sugar Bowl and claim the national championship with a 13–0 record.

Langham's interception was trumpeted as the play that saved the SEC's skin and promoted the glory of the championship game. There wasn't exactly a happy ending for the cornerback from Town Creek, Alabama, though. The next season, Langham helped Alabama to an 8-3-1 season with an all-American type year, but he got tangled up with an agent, which was against NCAA rules, and the NCAA came down on Alabama. Wins were forfeited amid sanctions and lost scholarships.

The Kramer Bowl, meanwhile, became a launching point for some SEC teams to win national championships. It was also a nationally televised game, which meant more exposure and, yes, more television money for the SEC. This big step for Goliath was another escalation of football on an academic campus, another week when students had to be athletes.

The SEC Championship Game was one last audition for voters before the final polls, and it came when many teams had finished their regular seasons. More than that, the SEC Championship Game and the eight-game schedule were booster rockets for the conference schools. Programs had to get better. They had to gear up more on Saturdays, and that meant recruiting harder and not making mistakes in recruiting. They had to raise the level of their game because of these extra conference games.

Look back at Bear Bryant's teams at Alabama. Those squads had to play just six conference games, then seven beginning in 1988 for four seasons. Sure, in some seasons Bryant scheduled Nebraska and Notre Dame, but for many years to win the SEC, the Crimson Tide, Tennessee, LSU, and all the rest had to play just six league games. Now, with eight games, it is really a gauntlet. By the time SEC teams get to the postseason, they have seen every gadget play, stonewall defenses, the best defensive linemen, hearty tailbacks, and keen-eyed coaches on the other sideline. These last six national champions, all SEC teams, have been worked over inside their own conference, and when they hit adversity in the title game, whether it was against Ohio State in January 2007 or Oregon in January 2011, they found a way to accelerate past trouble. The two extra games helped mobilize the SEC.

Just as important as adding a layer of steel with a longer SEC season, the SEC jumped out of its box as a regional football league. Until the Big 12, then the ACC and the Big Ten, and the Pac-12, added their own conference championship games, the SEC was on the national stage by itself with the SEC Championship Game in early December. When the game was moved to the Georgia Dome in 1994, it became a spectacle. Half the fans were in one school's colors, half were in another school's colors. The noise bounced off the marshmallow roof, down into the bowl, and the cheers were thunderous. National media attended the game and saw the spirit of the conference and took note.

-- Excerpted by permission from How The SEC Became Goliath: The Making of College Football's Most Dominant Conference by Ray Glier. Copyright (c) 2012 by Ray Glier. Published by Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase at Simon & Schuster, iTunes and Amazon.

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