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2008 Hoops & Helmets Rankings
Posted Mar 18, 2008

Tennessee, Wisconsin, Kansas, someone else? Which schools have the best combination of football and basketball programs, at least in terms of results? Richard Cirminiello gives his annual look at the star athletic departments in the 2008 version of hoops and helmets.

Hoops & Helmets 2008

Which schools had the best year in football and basketball?

By Richard Cirminiello 

- Ooops & Helmets 2008 - The Worst BCS School Combinations
- Hoops & Helmets 2007

Once again, it’s time to rerank the nation’s programs, Hoops and Helmets style.

If you’re a graduate, current student or fervent supporter of a particular school’s football program, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re investing some discretionary time into the basketball team as well.  That’s especially true when the month on your calendar tells you it’s March.  If that program happens to be Kansas or Tennessee, for instance, the odds are even better that you haven’t stopped howling since Labor Day.  As a fan, your school has given you plenty of reasons to smile, sing fight songs and pump out your two-tone chest these past six months.

Some campuses like LSU and Boston College, for instance, have had little to crow about since the bowl season ended.  Countless others, like North Carolina, Duke, and Washington State, could not wait until the football season was over and Midnight Madness kicked off.  And then there are Miami and Notre Dame fans, neither of whom can understand how their football teams dragged down the basketball squads in 2007.  Only the truly fortunate have feasted their eyes and their emotions on quality products in both major sports.

As in the past, the focus of this unconventional ranking is on those fans that have had their cake and dunked it, too.  They bowled in the winter and now they’re preparing to soft shoe into the postseason for at least one more game. 

20. Boise State – The 10-3 Bronco football team took a back seat to Hawaii in the WAC and East Carolina in the Hawaii Bowl, but the basketball team was there to pick up the slack.  Boise State capped a solid 25-8 season under Greg Graham by winning the WAC tournament with a thrilling triple-overtime victory against New Mexico State in Las Cruces.  Following one of the most amazing wins in program history, the Broncos ended a 14-year drought in the tournament by landing a No. 14 seed in the East Regional.

19. Arizona State – Surprise squared.  Both hoops and helmets delivered their best seasons in years in Tempe.  In football, Dennis Erickson sparked a revival in the desert, leading the Sun Devils to their first 10-win season in a decade and an unexpected No. 13 ranking in the final Coaches poll.  On the hardwood, James Harden led a young ASU squad into the Top 25 for the first time in 13 years, taking nine league games in the rugged Pac-10 a year after winning just eight total games.  The Devils’ season moves on in the NIT Tournament.

18. Mississippi State – Although the Bulldogs are headed back to the NCAA Tournament behind the play of Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes, the biggest news in Starkville occurred in the fall.  The Mississippi State football team authored its best season since 2000, going 8-5 with signature wins over Auburn, Alabama, rival Ole Miss, and UCF in the Liberty Bowl.  For a program that had won three or fewer games in six straight seasons, it was just the kind of turning point that Mississippi State needed under head coach Sylvester Croom.

17. Oregon – It was not easy, but the Ducks grabbed a No. 9 seed in the South, despite winning just 18 games and finishing 9-9 in the Pac-10.  Oregon navigated a very difficult schedule to get to this point, and have a group of seasoned sharpshooters that could surprise for a couple of rounds.  Football was headed toward a possible national championship berth before Heisman contender Dennis Dixon tore his ACL in November.  The Ducks slumped to three losses down the stretch before ending the skid with a 56-21 rout of South Florida in the Sun Bowl.

16. Georgia – Are you kidding?  About a week ago, Georgia had no business even being in this discussion.  And then the impossible happened, four wins in four days and an SEC tournament title for a hoops team that was 13-16 and not even on the NIT’s radar.  Not much is expected of the 14th-seeded Dawgs, but last week’s run, which included two wins on Saturday, will live for many years in school lore.  In the fall, the football team also showed quite a final kick, winning its final seven games, including games against Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.

15. Arkansas – The Hogs haven’t been spectacular this past year, but they have been steady, going 8-5 in football and 22-11 in basketball.  Houston Nutt’s kids featured the running tandem of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, and were one of two teams to knock off the eventual national champs, LSU.  Although Arkansas didn’t beat a Top 25 team during the regular season in hoops, it did handle Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the conference tournament, providing momentum for the No. 9 seed in the East regional.

14. Michigan State – The Spartans never quite met preseason expectations in basketball, finishing in fourth place in the regular, but the play of Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan was good enough for 25 wins and a No. 5 seed.  In recent years, the fly in the ointment in East Lansing has always been the football program.  That, however, might be changing.  In his first season at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio guided the school to seven wins and its first bowl berth in four years.

13. Virginia Tech – For the second time in their first four years in the league, the Hokies were ACC champs in football, avenging an earlier loss to Boston College in the title game for win No. 11.  Indoors, Virginia Tech was streaky all season, riding the hot hand of A.D. Vassallo late in the year, yet falling just short of the NCAA Tournament.  Still, for a football school, a fourth-place finish in the ACC is something Tech and conference Coach of the Year Seth Greenberg can crow about.       

12. Purdue – Football had a decent season, going 8-5 and beating Central Michigan in the Motor City Bowl, but it’s the basketball team that has really boosted Purdue’s H&H resume.  The Boilermakers are 24-8, carrying a No. 6 seed into the NCAA Tournament.  Freshmen Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore have been the catalysts for Matt Painter, the Big Ten Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Naismith Award.    

11. Indiana – If nothing else, the Hoosiers have proven to be resilient, rallying from the death of football coach Terry Hoeppner and the late-season resignation of basketball coach Kelvin Sampson for NCAA rules violations.  In the fall, IU fulfilled Hoeppner’s dream of playing in a 13th game, securing a bowl berth for the first time in 14 years after knocking off Purdue, 27-24.  In the winter, the Hoosiers have remained on course all year, going 25-7 and landing a No. 8 seed in the tournament.

10. Connecticut – It’s been a glorious winter for Husky fans, who’ve witnessed their football team shockingly finish second in the Big East and their cagers crank out 24 wins and a No.4 seed in the tournament.  Defense was a key for both programs, as the helmets held all but one opponent below 27 points and hoops boasted massive center Hasheem Thabeet, a modern day Dikembe Motumbo and the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.   

9. Clemson – While a championship has escaped the school in 2007-2008, it’s been a nice, solid half-year of athletics at Clemson.  In football, the Tigers went 9-4, just missing out on winning the ACC Atlantic division.  Cullen Harper developed into an unexpected star at quarterback, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and 27 touchdown passes.  In hoops, Clemson third in the ACC in the regular season, and begins the NCAA Tournament 24-9 and fifth-seeded in the Midwest bracket.

8. Oklahoma – For the fifth time this decade, the Sooners were Big 12 champions in football, pounding Missouri a month before getting dumped by West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl.  Oklahoma was No. 5 nationally in scoring, getting a magnificent year from freshman QB Sam Bradford.  Jeff Capel’s basketball squad enters the tournament 22-11 behind a monster season from Blake Griffin, who looks like he belongs on Bob Stoops’ roster.

7. West Virginia – Forward Joe Alexander and the Mountaineers got hot when it mattered, using a strong final kick to go 24-10 and earn a spot in the Big Dance.  For West Virginia, it’s been the second straight solid season under head coach Bob Huggins.  While football had some dramatic swings during the season, it’ll be remembered for the way it ended, with a Big East championship and an upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

6. USC – With the exception of a mind-blowing loss to Stanford on Oct. 6, it was a typical season for the Trojan football team that included 11 wins, a sixth straight Pac-10 title in-a-row, and a rout of Illinois in the Rose Bowl.  Freshman wunderkind O.J. Mayo has been a scoring machine for the 21-11 basketball team, averaging more than 20 points a game, while earning a spot on the All-Pac-10 First Team.  The Trojans will begin the tournament this week as a No. 6 seed.     

5. BYU – Whether the ball was round or made of pigskin, BYU has owned the rest of the Mountain West this winter.  The Cougars swept the league in football and won 11 games for the second straight year, surpassing BCS-buster Hawaii in the final rankings.  In hoops, BYU ran away with the regular season title, going 27-7 behind the sharp-shooting trio of Lee Cummard, Trent Plaisted, and Jonathan Tavernari.  The Cougs begin the tournament as a respectable No. 8 seed.  

4. Wisconsin – A Hoops and Helmets fixture through the years, the Badgers are back again with teams that have combined to go 38-7 this winter.  On Saturdays, Bret Bielema’s team went 9-4, but struggled to get past the Big Ten’s better teams and lost to Tennessee in the Outback Bowl.  Wisky finished the season ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls.  On hardwood, Wisconsin has been one of the nation’s premier teams, rolling down the stretch to a Big Ten regular season and conference championship and a 29-4 record.  Brian Butch was named All-Big Ten, the seventh straight year a Badger has landed on the First Team.

3. Texas – One of the steadiest Hoops and Helmets programs of this decade, the Longhorns are one of just two schools ranked in the top 10 in both sports.  Mack Brown’s kids rallied from back-to-back losses to finish 6-1, capped by a blowout of Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.  Rick Barnes’ basketball team also went on a tear down the stretch, heading into the tournament with a 28-6 record and a No. 2 seed.  Sharp-shooting sophomore D.J. Augustin is a finalist for national player of the year awards. 

2. Tennessee – Rocky Top has been rocking since September, cranking out wins at an impressive pace.  The helmets were good, winning 10 games, including the Outback Bowl, and nearly tripping up LSU in the SEC title game.  For a change, hoops was even better in Knoxville.  The Vols have been streaking behind the trio of Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, and Tyler Smith, going 29-4 and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

1. Kansas – All hail the Jayhawks.  A basketball school for decades, Kansas got unexpected help from Mark Mangino’s upstart football program.  The Jayhawks were the surprise of the 2007 season, going 12-1 and finishing No. 7 in the country with an upset of Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.  The basketball team has been predictably tough to beat, going 31-3, winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament title, and copping a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.