2009 Hoops & Helmets Rankings
Oklahoma's Blake Griffin & Chris Brown
Oklahoma's Blake Griffin & Chris Brown
Posted Mar 17, 2009

What fan base got to have the most fun this year? 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 2009 version of hoops and helmets.

Hoops & Helmets 2009

Which schools had the best year in football and basketball?

By Richard Cirminiello 

- Ooops & Helmets 2009

- Hoops & Helmets 2008

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

It’s March, which means 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 Oklahoma or Utah, for instance, the odds are even better that you haven’t stopped cheering 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 over the last six months.

Some campuses, such as Oregon and Texas Tech, for instance, have had little to howl about since the bowl season ended. Countless others, like Washington and Syracuse, could not wait until the football season was over and Midnight Madness kicked off. 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 amalgam is on those fans who have had their cake and dunked it, too. They bowled around the holidays and now they’re preparing to soft shoe into the postseason for at least one more game in this memorable winter. 

20. Villanova – ‘Nova has had a fantastic season on the hardwood, getting steady production from Dante Cunningham on the inside and Scottie Reynolds on the outside. The 26-7 Wildcats will open the tournament as the No. 3 seed out of the East region. In the fall, Villanova went 10-3 behind an aggressive defense and one of the best ground games in the FCS, making an unexpected appearance in the playoffs. Even after losing to James Madison, the Wildcats finished the year as a top 10 team.

19. LSU – While the defending national champs in football slumped badly to a 3-5 mark in SEC play and played in a December bowl game, Trent Johnson’s basketball team picked up the slack. Unranked before the season began, the Tigers clawed as high as No. 12 nationally in early March, courtesy of a torrid 10-game winning streak in conference games. They’ve cooled off a little since, but will still enter the tournament as a respectable No. 8 seed.    

18. Boston College – The Eagles set the tone in the fall, winning the Atlantic Division of the ACC the year after QB Matt Ryan ran out of eligibility. They delivered a typically solid nine-win season, falling a bowl win shy of finishing at the end of the Top 25. It was an odd year for the Boston College basketball team. Want proof? Three days after stunning No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, it somehow gagged at home versus Harvard. Although the inconsistency continued for this group, it got enough wins and enough big games from Tyrese Rice to land a No. 7 seed.

17. California – The Bears sure had chances to elevate higher than this spot, but pivotal wins had a way of eluding them. On grass, Cal won nine games, including the Emerald Bowl, and occupied the last slot in the Coaches Top 25. However, they were awful away from Berkeley, and finished in fourth place in the Pac-10. On the hardwood, Cal used a 22-10 record to land a No. 7 seed out of the West bracket, soaring past preseason expectations.

16. Wake Forest – By its recently elevated standards, it was a disappointing season for the Wake Forest football team. The Deacons started fast and finished strong, but stumbled in close games in between. They did win the inaugural EagleBank Bowl to go 8-5. The basketball team has been far more successful, climbing to No. 1 with a 16-0 start and finishing in second place in the ACC regular season. As long as Jeff Teague keeps lighting up opponents, fourth-seeded Wake has a chance to go a long way in the tournament.

15. BYU – Although the Cougars haven’t dominated the Mountain West like in recent years, they did more than enough to keep the locals happy. For about half a season, BYU looked as if it would be the state’s representative in a BCS bowl game, but that was before it got spanked by TCU and Utah. It finished 10-3 and just inside the Top 25. In basketball, the Cougars and Utes tied for the league title, splitting their two regular season games. In last week’s tournament, however, BYU lost to San Diego State, missing out on a third crack at its rivals.     

14. Oklahoma State – At 14-9, Travis Ford’s Cowboys looked as if they’d be playing for a crack at the NIT. That, however, was before they caught fire at the end of the year, including an upset of Oklahoma in the Big 12 tourney. That strong stretch run, combined with a 22-11 mark, earned the team a No. 8 seed in the tournament. In football, the ‘Pokes had one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses, climbing up to No. 7 in the polls before settling down and finishing No. 16 following a Holiday Bowl loss to Oregon.

13. Ohio State – Although it wasn’t a great year in Columbus by any measure, there were enough good moments to warrant consideration. Jim Tressel’s football team went 10-3 and finished No. 9 in the AP poll, but went 0-3 against USC, Penn State, and Texas, the meat of the schedule. In basketball, the Buckeyes had to break a sweat to qualify for this week’s tournament with a terrific stretch run in Big Ten play. In the end, the play of Evan Turner and a 22-10 record was enough to land an at-large invitation.

12. West Virginia – In an up-and-down year for the basketball squad, the Mountaineers had enough quality wins in a tough Big East to get to 23-10 and earn a No. 6 seed out of the Midwest bracket. The stirring upset of Pitt in the Big East tournament provides momentum heading into the opening round. Although the football team underachieved in Bill Stewart’s first year as the head coach, it did go 9-4, win a bowl game, and finished ranked in the final AP poll.

11. Kansas – Sure, there was some slippage after being last year’s No. 1 Hoops and Helmets school, but not enough to be ignored. While there was no Orange Bowl or run toward perfection for the football team, it did win eight games, closing strong by beating rival Missouri and Minnesota in the Insight Bowl. Allen Fieldhouse was predictably boisterous this winter, as the Jayhawks ran their record to 25-7 and landed a No. 3 seed in the Midwest bracket.  

10. Connecticut – The Huskies have become a fixture in these parts, thanks to a perennial top 10 basketball team and a football squad that’s played in back-to-back bowl games. In the fall, Connecticut used a familiar formula of solid defense and the running of 2,000-yard back Donald Brown to win eight games, including a blowout of eventual Big East champ Cincinnati. Jim Calhoun’s team is one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Detroit, bringing a 27-4 record and a No. 1 seed into the tournament.  

9. Florida State – How about this for a sign of the changing times? Leonard Hamilton’s basketball team has been every bit as good as Bobby Bowden’s football team this year. Florida State finished in a very respectable fourth place in the ACC, its best finish since 1993, and is returning to the Big Dance for the first time since 1998. Even after going 9-4, the ‘Noles moved another year further away from their glory days in football. For the third straight year, the ‘Noles failed to win the Atlantic Division or play a January bowl game.  

8. USC – You can say one thing about the Trojans—they sure know how to finish strong. In basketball, Tim Floyd’s team knew its only chance of making the Big Dance was to win the Pac-10 tournament, which is exactly what it did for the first time in school history. In the fall, Pete Carroll’s kids rallied from an awful loss to Oregon State in September to win another conference championship and their final 10 games, including the Rose Bowl. USC finished No. 3 in the AP poll and No. 2 in the Coaches Poll behind the nation’s best defense.    

7. Texas – Although it sure wasn’t as easy as recent years, the ‘Horns worked their way into the tournament, making this ranking possible. This is a mid-level Big 12 team that sputtered toward the end of the regular season, and will begin the tourney as a No. 7 seed. Let’s face it, Texas is this high because of Colt McCoy, Brian Orakpo and the rest of the football team. The No. 4 ‘Horns went 12-1, beat Oklahoma, and had a legitimate beef about not making it to the league championship and national championship games.    

6. North Carolina – For the first time since early in the decade, Carolina’s football team gave some support to a basketball team that’s a fixture in the deep recesses of the Top 25. The Heels moved a step closer to being really good under Butch Davis, going 8-5, contending for an ACC title, and securing a monster recruiting class. Behind Tyler Hansbrough, No. 1-seeded Carolina is predictably loaded for a national title run in hoops, winning the conference in the regular season and putting together an impressive 28-4 resume.  

5. Michigan State – Mark Dantonio has the Spartan football team back on a path to prosperity. Tom Izzo never left. In his second year with the program, Dantonio led Michigan State to nine wins and a New Year’s Day bowl game, its best season in almost a decade. Led by a balanced attack, Izzo’s kids ran away with the Big Ten regular season crown and have been a fixture in the top 10. For their 26 wins, they’ll begin the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed.

4. Missouri – While the Mizzou football team was supposed to be a powerhouse, the basketball team has exceeded expectations with a 28-6 record and its first-ever Big 12 Championship title. They’ll be a tough draw in the tournament. Gary Pinkel’s team actually underachieved a bit in the fall, winning the North, but losing four games and failing to earn a January bowl berth. Both programs wrapped up the year in the Top 25.

3. Pitt – As usual, basketball has carried its weight this season in Western Pennsylvania. For a change, so did football. The Panthers ended their four-year bowl drought, going 9-4 and beating rival West Virginia for a second straight year. On the hardwood, Pitt has authored a very special season under Jamie Dixon, rising all the way to No. 1 in January, and beating mighty Connecticut twice in the regular season. The Panthers’ quest for a national championship begins in the East as a No. 1 seed.

2. Utah – The tone in Salt Lake City was set this winter by the Utah football team, which capped a perfect season by blowing out rival BYU and shocking Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. In the greatest season in school history, the Utes finished No. 2 in the final AP poll. The cheering, however, did not stop in New Orleans on Jan. 2. Jim Boylen’s basketball team finished in a three-way tie for the Mountain West regular season crown and took last week championship, rallying from a rough 6-5 start to the No. 5 seed in the Midwest bracket.

1. Oklahoma – For Bob Stoops’ football squad, another year meant another Big 12 championship, another BCS bowl loss, and a ridiculous string of 60-point games. With so much focus on the loss to Florida in the title game, it’s easy to forget that Oklahoma was home to a dozen wins, a No. 5 finish, and Heisman winner Sam Bradford. Jeff Capel’s basketball team has also been in the top 10 throughout the year, led by Naismith Award favorite Blake Griffin. The Sooners enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed in the South.