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Around the Scorn: Gene Chizik's final countdown

Auburn prepares the scaffolding, Virginia Tech lets another one slip away and Chip Kelly looks for the next challenge, all in today's roundup.

John Reed-US PRESSWIRE

GOOD JOB, GOOD EFFORT. If you haven't been keeping track of Virginia Tech's season, here it is in brief:

Virginia Tech's official site actually described the Hokies' 28-22 loss to Florida State on Thursday night as a "great effort", which in some respects it was: The defense stopped FSU on 11 of 14 third downs, sacked E.J. Manuel five times and held the Noles to a season-low 326 yards of total offense, including –15 yards rushing. Tech also turned the ball over three times, failed to convert either of two FSU giveaways into points, had a touchdown called back on a penalty and settled for two field goals in the red zone, a succinct microcosm of the very un-Beamer-like mistakes that have accompanied their slide to 4-6 for the season.

With the loss, the Hokies are mathematically eliminated from the race in the ACC's Coastal Division, and are one upset away from their first losing record since 1992, before at least a third of the current roster was born.

PLEASE WAIT UNTIL THE RIDE COMES TO A COMPLETE STOP. Barring a miracle Saturday against Georgia – we're not even going to pretend the Iron Bowl is play – Auburn is three weeks from closing out a nightmare of a season without a single win over an SEC opponent, and Gene Chizik may be three weeks from being out of a job:

AUBURN - Auburn president Jay Gogue has told some members of the Board of Trustees he is making preparations to possibly replace head football coach Gene Chizik, multiple sources confirm.

Gogue also told the trustees to whom he talked that he plans to retain athletics director Jay Jacobs and reassign executive associate athletics director Tim Jackson, who oversees football.

In telephone calls with some members of the Board of Trustees last week and early this week, Gogue said he intends to form a committee to help with the decision and plans to move quickly, ideally naming a new head coach within days after the end of the season should the decision be made that Chizik will not be retained.

Assuming the math works – firing Chizik would put the university on the hook for $7.5 million to cover the remaining three years of his contract – and barring the aforementioned miracle down the stretch, there's plenty of reason to suspect the decision has already been made. For one thing, there's the timing: The only team in the conference that's endured an even worse season than Auburn, Kentucky, has already fired its coach, and may well be honing in on a potential Auburn target, Bobby Petrino. The name floated on Thursday, Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, makes so little sense for Auburn on so many levels it's almost certainly a smokescreen.

Gogue has already assured fans in a statement that the "football program will be evaluated" at the end of the season, but for all intents and purposes, the season is over: At 2-7, the Tigers cannot salvage a winning season, cannot make a bowl game and have nothing in particular to build on heading into 2013. All that's left to evaluate is whether the championship rings from two years ago are enough to buy Chizik another chance, and whether the contract extension that followed made the prospect of ditching him too expensive.

MAXIMUM STRENGTH LANE RELIEF. Everybody is having a good laugh at Lane Kiffin's expense over USC's deflated balls, which honestly struck me as a fairly minor footnote in the Trojans' lopsided, 62-51 loss against Oregon. But at least one venerable member of the L.A. media, Bill Plaschke, thinks the "scandal" – combined with the Trojans' uninspiring record – could be enough to send Kiffin packing if the program incurs another black eye:

Off the field, Kiffin has dragged the team through an array of distractions and ethics dilemmas that have tarnished the athletic department's sterling post-probation image cultivated by Athletic Director Pat Haden.

Kiffin was not hired by Haden, and there is now real doubt about his ability to keep his job beyond this season as the department sinks deeper into embarrassment. Kiffin was a Mike Garrett guy, and there are indications that Haden is ready to rid the program of the last traces of that legacy. As always, winning solves everything, and it appears Kiffin is going to have to do plenty of it in these final three regular-season games.

Like, maybe, win all of them?

"All of them," of course, would include rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, both of which are ranked ahead of USC at the moment with a combined record of 16-2 and a genuine sense of optimism and opportunity – the same feeling USC had at the beginning of the season, before it went up in smoke along with the defense. The Trojans are nine-point favorites at home Saturday against Arizona State, a team that beat them by three touchdowns last year in Tempe and has more than enough firepower to make the defense pay for a post-Oregon hangover. If an enormously talented outfit that opened the season at No. 1 falls out of the polls altogether, with its two biggest games of the season on deck, that's when Kiffin's seat will start getting really hot.

GONE KELLY GONE. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's Chip Kelly, whose mastery of the college ranks at Oregon is nearly complete save the national championship he hopes to claim in January. If he does, according to his old boss in Eugene, Mike Bellotti, then we've probably seen the last of Kelly on campus – at least for awhile:

"It's just inevitable that he will eventually be in the NFL," Bellotti said. "Chip is one of the ultimate competitors and he sees that. It actually surprised me he changed his mind [with the Bucs] last year.

"Whether they get to the national championship and whether they win the national championship, I don't know. To think he'll stay there when ultimately his idea of top jobs is to get to the Super Bowl, it won't happen, unfortunately, at the college level."
[…]
"There are nine chances in 10 if he wins out [this season] he's gone," said another source who did not want to be identified.

Of course, Kelly came within a hair's breadth of taking the bait last December, when he was oh-so-briefly the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and even the best offense in the league has picked his brain for help running the hurry-up. If the only thing that pulled him back was the prospect of winning the big one, he may not be carrying that burden much longer, which is only fitting for a guy who's still only six years removed from his gig as an obscure assistant at New Hampshire.

QUICKLY…
ESPN opens the bidding on a college football playoff at nearly $500 million per year.
Virginia Tech safety Michael Cole tested negative for fracture and was expected to be discharged from the hospital overnight after a frightening injury against FSU.
The relentless injury bug in College Park claims Maryland's leading rusher and receiver for Saturday's visit to Clemson.
Arizona quarterback Matt Scott has been downgraded to "doubtful" for Saturday's game against Colorado.
West Virginia loses a freshman wide receiver because he "just didn't want to play football here anymore, I guess."
Cal fans review their nightmare candidates for replacing Jeff Tedford.
Taylor Martinez was Johnny Manziel before Johnny Manziel was Johnny Manziel.
Auburn's official program for the Georgia game could double as a "Captain Planet" comic book.
And Tuscaloosa police are hot on the trail of the Saban Bandit.