Steve Sarkisian

Is the Steve Sarkisian era at USC already over after 18 games?

USC athletic director Pat Haden put Sarkisian on indefinite leave Sunday to seek treatment for personal health issues, handing the reins on an interim basis to offensive coordinator Clay Helton. According to unconfirmed reports Sarkisian's drinking problems had grown worse during the season, spilling over into games, and the last straw was Sunday's practice.

Sarkisian's issues first surfaced in August at the "Salute to Troy" booster event during which he showed up inebriated and acted inappropriately, including his use of language. But Haden chose to take no action at the time except to say that Sarkisian would seek unspecified treatment.

Steve Sarkisian

But now, with USC's season on the brink after Thursday night's debacle against Washington -- in which the listless Trojans lost at home, 17-12, despite being double-digit favorites -- Sarkisian's relapse may offer just the opportunity for USC to sever ties with him.

Make no mistake, Sarkisian is Haden's guy. The AD picked the former USC assistant despite his less-than-glittering 34-29 record at Washington. Sark was brought back to Troy even though there was pressure on Haden to keep popular interim coach Ed Orgeron or hire other candidates. From Day 1, Haden had been Sarkisian's staunchest defender even as USC went through an uneven and disappointing 9-4 campaign in 2014.

But now it might be time for Haden to finally cut bait.

USC's boosters and fan base have lost confidence in Sarkisian, the ugly loss to Washington was the final confirmation anybody needed. Despite two top-10 recruiting classes and being the media's pick to win the Pac-12 this season, the Trojans have squandered their immense amount of talent and now are reduced to play for another second-tier bowl berth.

If Haden wasn't ready to pull the trigger after the Washington game, Sunday's bombshell likely forced his hand. While the school isn't officially cutting ties with Sark, it seems highly likely that he's coached his last game at USC.

That leaves Haden with another chance to get the coach who can return Troy to glory, a chance he can ill afford to whiff on again. Given what's happened at Michigan and the amazing job Jim Harbaugh has done in Year 1, USC fans will demand similar results, especially with the Trojans' loaded roster.

Can Haden deliver? Given his track record as USC's AD, that's hardly a sure thing.

Pac-12's Faltering Playoff Campaign

By picking off Cal quarterback Jared Goff five times, Utah survived the showdown of the remaining Pac-12 unbeatens in a 30-24 nail-biter Saturday night. While the Utes (5-0) are the highest-ranked Pac-12 team with a 2-0 conference record, they have yet to play a single opponent in the Pac-12 South, considered by most the toughest division in college football.

Utah Utes

For now, Utah deserves its place in the top 5 and that season-opening win over Michigan is looking better every week. But will the Utes survive the gauntlet that still includes wounded but talented USC, UCLA and Arizona State? And if not, what does that leave the Pac-12?

Commissioner Larry Scott, who attended the Cal-Utah game at Salt Lake City, sounded like someone very concerned. In fact, he didn't hold back in attacking the scheduling disparity among Power 5 conferences.

"There's always going to be differences between conferences in terms of strength of schedule," Scott told the media at the game. "I think that would be a big step forward for college football if every conference had to play nine conference games, play at least one marquee non-conference game and have a conference championship game. It'd be great if we could mandate that, but that’s not the way the governance works right now."

With preseason favorites USC and Oregon already out of the playoff picture, will the playoff selection committee pick a surprise Pac-12 champion with one or even two conference losses for the four-team playoff?

Scott is already lobbying: 'Certainly this season there’s no champion that will emerge from conference with a tougher pathway than what we’ve got."

He hopes the committee agrees.

Heisman Race Is Already Over

Leonard Fournette

The biggest upset of the weekend -- aside from Texas shocking Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl -- was that Leonard Fournette failed to rush for 200 yards. LSU's sensational sophomore running back ran for a season-low 158 yards on 20 carries, but played only three quarters in the Tigers' 45-24 rout of South Carolina.

The reality is that Fournette, who already eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark through five games, is going to win the Heisman Trophy this season, barring injury. About the only other player who's still faintly in the race is TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, who continues to put up video-game like numbers out of necessity.

Game of the Week

TCU 52, Kansas State 45: The once-vaunted TCU defense was shredded once again, giving up at least 37 points for the third time this season. Trailing 35-17 at halftime, the Frogs had to overcome a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory in Manhattan. Boykin passed for 301 yards and ran for another 124, connecting with Josh Doctson on a 55-yard strike with 1:10 to play to run TCU's record to 6-0.

Player of the Week

Michigan Defense

Michigan defense: We're awarding this to an entire unit, under the charge of defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who deserves a mountain of credit in Jim Harbaugh's fast turnaround job in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines defense pitched its third consecutive shutout in a 38-0 demolition of Northwestern. It's the first time Michigan has shut out three straight opponents since 1980. The nation's top defensive unit now has not allowed a score in 41 consecutive possessions.

Our Rankings

1. Utah, 2. Clemson, 3. LSU, 4. TCU, 5. Baylor, 6. Ohio State, 7. Michigan State, 8. Michigan, 9. Notre Dame, 10. Florida, 11. Texas A&M, 12. Florida State, 13. Ole Miss, 14. Alabama, 15. Northwestern.

Related: Understanding How Playoff System Really Works

-- Samuel Chi is the managing editor of RealClearSports.com and proprietor of College Football Exchange. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePlayoffGuru.

College Football Coaches Working At Alma Mater

 

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

As a junior in 1985, Harbaugh led the Wolverines to a final national ranking of No. 2 after a 10–1–1 season that culminated with a win against Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. Harbaugh finished third in the Heisman voting as a senior while leading Michigan to the Big Ten championship and a spot in the Rose Bowl, where the Wolverines lost to Arizona State 22-15. Harbaugh was the Bears' first-round pick in 1987 and played 14 NFL seasons.

 

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan

Harbaugh is headed back to Ann Arbor after four seasons with the 49ers that included three consecutive NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance. In his fourth and final season at Stanford, Harbaugh led the Cardinal to a 12-1 record, a win against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and a final national ranking of No. 4.

 

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Beamer was a three-year starter at cornerback for the Hokies in the 60s, when Virginia Tech twice went to the Liberty Bowl after nearly two decades of not going to a bowl at all. After working his way up the coaching ranks, Beamer became Virginia Tech coach in 1987.

 

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Under Beamer, Virginia Tech has had 22 consecutive winning seasons and bowl appearances, including six BCS games. The Hokies just capped their 2014 season by defeating Cincinnati 33-17 in the Military Bowl in Annapolis as Beamer worked the game from the press box while recovering from throat surgery. He has turned down opportunities to leave Virginia Tech.

 

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

Gundy was the Cowboys quarterback in the late 80s when he shared a backfield with Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, and helped the team win two bowl games. Gundy's streak of throwing 138 passes without an interception to begin his career stood as an NCAA record until Robert Griffin III broke it in 2008. He began his coaching career as an assistant with Oklahoma State. He also held assistant posts at Baylor and Maryland.

 

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

After serving as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, Gundy was promoted to head coach when Les Miles left for LSU in 2005. The program progressed gradually under Gundy, with the highlight being the 2011 season that featured a Big 12 championship, a 41–38 win against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl and a final national ranking of No. 3.

 

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Fitzgerald was a two-time All American linebacker who helped the Wildcats win back-to-back Big Ten championships in the mid-90s. In 1995 he won the Nagurski and Bednarik awards as the nation's best defensive player. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

 

Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern

Fitzgerald was thrust into the job at age 40 when Wildcats coach Randy Walker died suddenly in the summer of 2006. Fitzgerald led Northwestern to its first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl by beating Mississippi State in the 2013 Gator Bowl. But the team has struggled with consecutive 5-7 finishes after that 10-3 season.

 

David Shaw, Stanford

Shaw was a receiver for the Cardinal in the early 90s, under coaches Dennis Green and Bill Walsh. He made 57 receptions for 664 yards and five touchdowns. Shaw was an assistant for nine years in the NFL with the Eagles, Raiders and Ravens. He joined Jim Harbaugh's staff at University of San Diego in 2006.

 

David Shaw, Stanford

When Harbaugh got the job at Stanford, Shaw came him with him as offensive coordinator. Then after Harbaugh was hired by the 49ers in 2011, Shaw was named his successor at Stanford. The Cardinal won the Pac-12 championship in 2012 and 2013.

 

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

Kingsbury won the Sammy Baugh Award as the nation's best passer in 2002 when he threw for 4,445 yards with 41 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Kingsbury appeared in one NFL game with the Jets in 2005. He began coaching with the University of Houston in 2008. He was Texas A&M's offensive coordinator in 2012 when Johnny Manziel won the Heisman.

 

Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

Kingsbury was hired as Texas Tech coach in December 2012 after Tommy Tuberville left for Cincinnati. The Red Raiders went 8-5 in 2013, including a 37-23 win against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. Injury issues contributed to a 4-8 season in 2014.

 

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Chryst was the Badgers quarterback in the mid-80s. His coaching career has included stints with the old World League of American Football and the CFL as well as college programs, including Oregon State and Illinois State. He had two separate tenures as a Wisconsin assistant, first as tight ends coach and then as offensive coordinator.

 

Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

After seven seasons as offensive coordinator with the Badgers, Chryst became Pitt head coach in 2012. He went 19-19 in two seasons with the Panthers. When Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for Oregon State after the 2014 season, the Badgers hired Chryst.

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