By Jack Bogaczyk
IF it's a good spread that Gary Danielson wants, chances are he's looking at a buffet line rather than the football field.
Danielson, in my book, is the premier college football game telecast analyst. He works Southeastern Conference games for CBS -- in other words, the big games. A former Purdue and 12-year NFL quarterback, Danielson isn't afraid to say what he thinks.
He also has a strong family Kanawha Valley connection. His late father-in-law was George King, a basketball playing and coaching legend from Stonewall Jackson High, the Charleston YMCA, Morris Harvey College (2,535 points) and West Virginia University (not to mention Purdue and the NBA).
Since an SEC visitor to these parts has been rare -- Auburn plays at WVU a week from tonight -- a call to Danielson for a primer was in order. He delivered much more than frank analysis on the suddenly struggling Tuberville Tigers.
WVU is in its eighth season running a spread option offense, and Auburn tried it -- with great success in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson, and then with such ineptness that the Tigers (4-3) are ranked No. 108 in total offense and already have fired offensive coordinator Tony Franklin.
Danielson, 57, also recently made a comment to a newspaper in his native city (Detroit) that should enrage Michigan followers and warm those in these parts who are reveling in the 2-4 start at the Big House by former WVU Coach Rich Rodriguez, who took his spread to Ann Arbor.
"What I said, and it was before the season, was that I think the spread has peaked, like the wishbone did in the mid-70s," Danielson said by phone Tuesday. "I predict that Michigan will be the last of the top major programs running only the spread.
"It's going to go the opposite way, and it's going to go back to the way LSU, Ohio State, USC and Alabama are using it.
"Instead of teams going more to it, I think you'll see teams going to it as part of an offense. The top schools can get the best talent. For them, there's no need to do it ... I love it as a part of my package, not as the only package."
Danielson, who will work the CBS telecast of Ole Miss' visit to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday with play-by-play veteran Verne Lundquist, said West Virginia's use of the spread isn't as much of a stretch as it is at programs that can recruit superior talent.
"What has West Virginia gotten, maybe three of the top 150 players in the last five years?" Danielson figured. "When you're in that situation, I can see it, because you need to keep people off balance, and the spread can do that.
"Still, it's somewhat of a high-wire attack, and as West Virginia has learned recently, when you're quarterback (Pat White) gets nicked, you lose your passing game and a good part of your running game. You go away from that, and it's not a great fit.
"When an Alabama, LSU or Ohio State falls (from their offensive scheme), they land on the sidewalk, brush off the scratch and walk away. When a Missouri, Kansas or West Virginia falls from the high wire, they break their legs. You've got to have more that you can do."
Danielson said Auburn's move to the spread "just didn't fit the mindset there. To (Coach) Tommy Tuberville's credit, he properly cut it out quickly."
The mindset at Michigan is similar.
Danielson's opinion is that Rodriguez's introduction of the no-huddle spread at Michigan "was just too much of a culture shock. I'm not saying Rich won't succeed there.
"What I'm saying is that he shouldn't put all of his eggs in the spread basket. He doesn't need that. Michigan can get the players so he doesn't need to do that.
"The spread officially peaked (early this season) when I saw Michigan spread out and running a fake snap count, (with the quarterback) looking to the sideline, trying to fool Miami of Ohio ... which Michigan used to just line up and run over."
The CBS analyst recalled a conversation he had with Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops about the Sooners moving away from the spread. After Stoops said he wins with defense first, he told Danielson he was going back to more I-formation sets "because we can recruit downhill(-running) tailbacks."
Danielson said the spread's weakness was displayed late in the Illinois-Missouri season opener when Mizzou needed one more first down to seal the win, "and on third-and-3 they had nobody in the backfield to run the ball except (Heisman Trophy-candidate QB) Chase Daniel.
"I don't mean we're going back to grind-it-out football. I think every team will have to have their four-receiver sets, but I think in the future coaches are going to realize they have to be able to hand the ball to the tailback, too."
Before Danielson said goodbye, he provided some recollections of his father-in-law, who died of pancreatic cancer two years ago. Danielson and his wife, Kristy, met while King was the Purdue basketball coach and AD. The Danielsons live in Naples, Fla., near Kristy's mother, Jeanne.
"I heard a lot about Charleston from George over the years," Danielson said. "He was a wonderful man, one of my favorite people. The guy had a really great eye for talent. He just could tell and very quickly.
"He was quite an athlete. When he was 60 (Danielson would have been 37), I played him in ping-pong. No chance ... just whipped me. It was bad."