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Choose your own adventure 

Don't tell the kids. That seems to be the common logic uniting all the shameless denials from the Hill this past week. As if protecting your players from the truth somehow involves keeping them in the dark. As if these denials are doing anything more constructive than providing Houston Nutt the opportunity to leverage his various offers (reportedly from four different programs, including SMU and Baylor). As if trust weren't a big part of the issue here.

Smoke screens do little for the young men stuck in the middle of this mess as they head down to Baton Rouge to play a pretty high-stakes game. They might not know who's going have them running drills this spring, but they do know that a big win could land them in the Cotton Bowl and send their good friend to New York.

Meanwhile, Hog fans find themselves at a crossroads that's bound to be re-examined interminably: You're at the end of nine seasons of frustrating mediocrity. High expectations have met with the blatant limitations of a second-tier staff. Highly touted recruits have wasted away or just plain run off. The fan base is in a shambles. And trading up is hard to do.

Who's your man?

A) Butch Davis (head coach, UNC). Another native son, long rumored to be the number one candidate. Davis has little incentive to stay on at North Carolina, a school with no football tradition where he's gearing up for a big game against DUKE. His wimpy record this year with a roster full of three-star freshmen hasn't convinced me that the ACC is too much for him, but a loss to the Blue Devils would leave me very leery. In any case, Davis has only been at UNC for one year, so he'd require a hefty buyout. On top of that, his hire promises boatloads of behind-the-scenes intrigue between the athletic department and the trustees.

So how about...

B) Mike Leach (head coach, Texas Tech). Texas Tech whipped the Sooners just in time to keep their coach near the top of everybody's list. Leach's relentless offense would be the gridiron equivalent of 40 minutes of hell, a welcome antidote to the conservative play of Nutt. And his offensive philosophy would signal a decisive break with the Broyles era. But can we live with another five or 10 years of sporadic defense?

Come to think of it...

C) Bo Pellini (defensive coordinator, LSU). Voted LSU's most likely to succeed, he's a defensive mastermind who will be a head coach next year. If he doesn't end up on the Hill, he'll be in Lincoln or a more comfortable chair in Baton Rouge. I'd love to see an Arkansas defense that struck fear in the hearts of the SEC.

While we have our head in the clouds...

D) Jimmy Johnson. Some people are talking up a short-term contract for the Hall of Famer. Four-star recruits would flock to kiss his twinkling ring fingers. But JJ's 64 years old and working on his short game in the Keys.

Closer to the ground, but just as unlikely...

E) Jim Leavitt (head coach, S. Florida). Even if offered, the man who slew Tuberville remains unlikely to leave his toddler of a program in the lurch, but he's proven his ability to nab recruits in a tough region, win big games against more storied programs and shoot a fired-up glare that would make Bill Cowher blink. I'd love to have him, but he doesn't seem to be on our radar.

And rounding out the cast of characters...

F) Brent Venables (defensive coordinator, Oklahoma). Another touted defensive strategist who has yet to hold the top spot. (That rhymes with longshot.)

But wait! There's always...

G) Dana Altman. Still burns, right?

Whatever happens, we're looking at a few painful rebuilding years. The same fans who say anyone but Nutt will sing a different tune if we pull a Notre Dame. The resurrection of our program is going to take a very special hire. And if you're looking for a messiah, you might just get a crucifixion.

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