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May 6, 2007

Head coaches who roll the dice

Your team trails by three points and faces a fourth-and-1 situation from the red zone in the closing minutes.

Do you play it safe and go for the field goal, or do you roll the dice and try to score the touchdown?

Rivals.com continues its breakdown of the top big-play threats in college football this week by listing the 10 coaches who show the greatest inclination to go for the big play.

Sometimes the high-risk, high-reward strategy has worked for these coaches. Sometimes it hasn't.

But you can't fault these coaches for being too conservative.

PHOTO GALLERY: Head Coaches: The Risk-Takers

1. Chris Petersen, Boise State: We really couldn't have topped this list with anyone else after watching Boise State convert more trick plays in one game than most teams attempt in a season. The Broncos won the Fiesta Bowl after converting a hook-and-lateral play, a halfback option and a Statue of Liberty all in the final minute of regulation and overtime. Boise State beat most of its opponents so thoroughly that the Broncos didn't need to try many trick plays, but that memorable Fiesta Bowl performance showed the rest of the world that Petersen isn't afraid to take a risk.
2. Pete Carroll, Southern California: USC played the two most memorable games of the 2005 season, and Carroll took a major gamble in each of them. Carroll's decision to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal in the final seconds of the Notre Dame game paid off when Matt Leinart's 1-yard sneak gave the Trojans a 34-31 victory. His gambling nature didn't work as well in the Rose Bowl when Texas stopped USC on a fourth-and-2 situation to get favorable field position in its winning touchdown drive. Carroll's gambles might not always pay off, but nobody can ever accuse him of playing it safe.
3. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: Most teams wouldn't hesitate to punt if they faced fourth down from deep in their territory while clinging to a one-point lead. Not Stoops. Oklahoma clinched its 17-16 victory over Texas A&M last year after deciding to go for the first down on fourth-and-inches from its 29-yard line. Texas A&M went on to commit a penalty on the play, which allowed the Sooners to run out the clock. It wasn't the first time Stoops had succeeded by bucking conventional wisdom. Oklahoma beat Missouri 31-24 five years ago after scoring the winning touchdown by faking a 31-yard field goal. One year later, Oklahoma faked a punt from its 31-yard line to set up a critical touchdown in a 20-13 victory at Alabama.
4. Charlie Weis, Notre Dame: Notre Dame fans have learned not to leave their seat whenever the Fighting Irish face a fourth-down situation because there's a pretty good chance they won't be punting. Notre Dame has gone 28-for-51 in fourth-down conversions during Weis' two years, including 19-of-33 last season. In fact, Notre Dame decided to go for it on 34 percent of its fourth-down situations last year. It will be interesting to see if Weis continues this trend this fall with a much less experienced offense.
5. Mike Leach, Texas Tech: Leach wasted no time establishing himself as a gambler. In his first two games as Texas Tech's coach, the Red Raiders already had as many successful fourth-down conversions (three) as they had the entire previous season. His love for the big play is obvious. Four Texas Tech quarterbacks led the nation in passing from 2002-2005. Leach also isn't afraid to attempt a trick play in a critical situation. Texas Tech was protecting a 42-38 lead over third-ranked Texas five years ago when the Red Raiders faced third-and-9 with 2 minutes left. Receiver Mickey Peters caught a lateral and threw to Wes Welker for a 35-yard gain that allowed the Red Raiders to run out the clock and wrap up Leach's signature victory at Texas Tech.
6. Urban Meyer, Florida: Meyer had the gumption last year to give five-star prospect Tim Tebow a chance to contribute as a true freshman, even though the Gators already had quarterback Chris Leak returning for a fourth year as the starter. Many coaches would have shied away from using Tebow so early because they would have feared starting a quarterback controversy. Meyer didn't hesitate to put both quarterbacks on the field. That calculated risk gave Florida the one-two punch of Leak's passing ability and Tebow's running ability, which allowed Meyer to use his entire playbook on his way to leading the Gators to a national title.
7. Bobby Bowden, Florida State: He hasn't gambled nearly as much recently, but Bowden built Florida State into a consistent winner in part because of his penchant for taking chances with his play-calling ability. Whether he was going for a two-point conversion instead of settling for the tie in a 1987 loss to Miami (a move that backfired) or the famous "puntrooskie" play that set up the winning field goal against Clemson the following year (a move heralded by Beano Cook as the greatest play since "My Fair Lady"), Bowden has always shown a willingness to think outside the box.
8. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: We mentioned earlier in this list how Florida coach Urban Meyer managed to utilize two quarterbacks last season without starting a controversy. Maybe it's because Spurrier's frequent quarterback changes made Gator fans immune from such worries. After all, this is the guy who engineered a 1997 upset of top-ranked Florida State by alternating Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise at quarterback on every play. He embraced the unconventional move again last season by replacing starting quarterback Blake Mitchell with Syvelle Newton, then moving Newton to safety when Mitchell regained his job.
9. Tommy Tuberville, Auburn: When Tuberville called a fake punt that resulted in a 42-yard gain in last year's season-opening victory over Washington State, it simply was business as usual at Auburn. After all, this is the same guy who faked a punt from his own 8-yard line five years ago in an overtime loss to Florida. One year earlier, Auburn went 3-of-4 on fourth-down attempts even converting a fourth-and-1 from its own 13-yard line in a 24-17 victory over Georgia. No wonder Tuberville has earned the nickname "Riverboat Gambler."
10. Mike Riley, Oregon State: Riley could have settled for overtime after Oregon State scored a potential tying touchdown with 23 seconds left in last year's Sun Bowl. He instead went for a two-point conversion that allowed the Beavers to beat Missouri 39-38 in regulation time. One month earlier, he made a gamble that backfired by going for it on fourth-and-one from his 48-yard line early in the third quarter of a loss to UCLA. The Bruins held Oregon State and went on to score the go-ahead touchdown.
Wild cards: Brian Kelly, Cincinnati, and J.D. Brookhart, Akron: Kelly showed his willingness to take chances last year in a season-opening loss to Boston College, though neither move paid off. Boston College scored a first-half touchdown after Central Michigan unsuccessfully went for it on fourth-and-9 from his own 27-yard line. The Eagles later made a game-clinching interception after Central Michigan lined up in a bizarre formation with the center and quarterback at the far hash mark while the rest of the linemen were on the middle of the field. Brookhart made perhaps the biggest gamble of the 2006 season to spark Akron to an upset of North Carolina State. Akron trailed 17-14 and had the ball at the Wolfpack's 1-yard line with enough time to run one more play. Instead of attempting a chip-shot field goal that would have forced overtime, Brookhart went for the touchdown. Dennis Kennedy responded with a 1-yard touchdown run that gave Akron a 20-17 triumph.

PHOTO GALLERY: Head Coaches: The Risk-Takers

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.



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