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[+] Team Summaries

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Games to Watch

(Complete Week 1 Picks Here)
TEAM1 (Record) |Spread| [ATS] @ Team2 (Record) [ATS]

Ohio State (4-1) |-2.5| [-12.9] @ Wisconsin (3-1) [+1.0]
Why we care: Big Ten title is still up for grabs. More importantly, we get are first look at Terrelle Pryor as the number 1.
What to watch for: How much of the offense has Pryor absorbed and how healthy is Beanie Wells. Ohio State already has one of the more efficient run offenses in the country-and it should only get better. But can Pryor stretch the field? Wisconsin is good enough up front that they will stop you unless you pull back and throw it over their heads every once in a while.

Pick: Ohio State 19, Wisconsin 9

Auburn (4-1) |-4| [-2.4] @ Vanderbilt (4-0) [+15.9]

Why we care: Vandy just might win this one, and they might win because they might be the better team-that is reason enough for me.
What to watch for: Who screws up first. Don't expect this to be a game of offensive fireworks. These two teams couldn't move the ball consistently against their own scout teams. Whoever gets to 14 first wins.

Misc: Remember how the SEC East was supposed to be dominant this year? Now their last remaining shimmer of hope is the Commodores?

Pick: Vanderbilt 17, Auburn 14
Connecticut (5-0) |-1| [+5.0] @ North Carolina (3-1) [+14.0]

Why we care: UNC is probably an up and coming program under Butch Davis and has looked competitive in its 4 outings, while UConn looks to start 6-0.

What to watch for: QB play. Both teams are without their starting quarterbacks. This turn of events favors UConn who has the top rusher in the country in Donald Brown-who was a week one player that impressed. But North Carolina has looked like the more explosive team and has played the tougher schedule.

Pick: North Carolina 32, UConn 19

Thursday, October 2, 2008

ATS Rankings

(Click the image on the right to see a larger version; click here for complete week 5 Matrix picks).

I like to think of rankings against the spread as which team is the most better (or worser) than everyone thunk'em to be. You'll find teams like BYU and Alabama at the top of the list and no surprise. BYU covered by 51 points against UCLA-that's more than Clemson has covered total since the invention of football.

But more important is the name at the bottom of the list. Washington State is historically worser than anyone thought they were going to be-and no one outside of Pulman thought they were going to be worth snot. Washington State just might be the most bad worser team in the history of college football.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Matrix Picks

Here are the Matrix picks for this weekend. Some interesting picks: Kansas State over Texas Tech-the Matrix sees Kansas State out-dueling the Red Raiders, throwing for over 8 yards a pass while holding Tech to under 6. Illinois over Michigan-no big surprise to me. Vandy over Auburn-Vandy will hold Auburn to under 3.5 yards per play and score enough points to pull out the tough victory. (Click the image to see a larger version.)

Matrix Rankings

Here are the first Matrix rankings of this season. These are the performance rankings only. That means it does not give special preference to winning and losing, only the margin of victory (which is positive if the team wins and negative if it loses).
(Click here for all D1A teams)
Another thing to keep in mind is that these rankings are based on very little data. In science, trying to make conclusions from 4 or 5 data points is a joke, but this is entertainment so I tried it anyway. It's amazing to think that the Matrix is suggesting that Texas is going undernoticed, but if you look at their resume this season, it is very impressive.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Good Sign/Bad Sign

Pac 10-California Golden Bears [3-1] (beat Colorado State [2-2] 42-7)

Good Sign: The Bears, coming back from an ugly loss to Maryland, won big, beating Colorado State 42-7. More importantly, the win demonstrated a depth of scoring threats at Coach Jeff Tedford’s disposal. The special teams scored two touchdowns, the defense a third, two different quarterbacks threw for touchdowns, and two running backs producing on the ground. Colorado State had more yards in the game, but that is an illusion from Cal missing three offensive possessions.

Bad Sign: Cal has no offensive leadership, again. Riley and Longshore continue to battle for the QB job and Cal’s new superstar, RB Jahvid Best, suffered an ugly knee injury that will slow him down if it doesn’t sideline the speedster. Cal’s offense is not sturdy enough to consistently win in the Pac 10 and looks like it will crumble if they are ever hit hard in the mouth early.

Big 10-Michigan State Spartans [4-1] (beat Indiana [2-2] 42-29)

Good Sign: Indiana stacked the line on defense in an effort to stop RB Jevon Ringer. Ringer still ran for almost 200 yards on just less than 5 yards per carry and QB Hoyer threw for 261 yards on just 14 completions.

Bad Sign: Much like the Notre Dame game, Michigan State showed an inability to put a struggling opponent away. Brian Hoyer is completing less than 50% of his passes. When you need to protect and extend a lead, coaches need more completions in the passing game to move the chains and keep the clock running. As Michigan showed against Wisconsin this weekend, against teams with the personnel to stack it up against the run game, you need to have a consistent passing game to soften up the safeties and linebackers. Michigan State doesn’t have that.

Independent-Navy Midshipmen [3-2] (beat Wake Forest [3-1] 24-17)

Good Sign: Given the chance, they beat a team that was then the top dog in the ACC. The Midshipmen rushed out to a 17-0 lead and then were able to hold while rushing for almost 300 yards against a stiff defense.

Bad Sign: Wake Forest had 6 turnovers. Beating Wake when they turn the ball over 6 times is like beating Florida without Tim Tebow or beating Nebraska in the 21st century.

Big East-South Florida Bulls [5-0] (beat NC State [2-3] 41-10)

Good Sign: USF finally dominated an opponent not named Tennessee-Martin. Grothe was 20 for 29 and the Bulls rushed for 245 yards.

Bad Sign: NC State is really that bad. South Florida is going to need to develop a real running back and consistently dominate opponents through the rest of the season to garner much respect.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ten things we learned from week 5

10) Its a good idea to offer a guy a scholarship if it will help you land Jacquizz Rodgers. Its an even better idea if the guy turns out to be productive himself. And USC is just another Pac 10 team.

9) Tulsa, not East Carolina, is the potential BCS buster from Conference USA. The Golden Hurricane will score 700+ points this year and doesn't have anyone on the schedule that can put up those kind of numbers.

8) Gimmicky uniforms do not win football games by themselves. Oh, wait, Notre Dame learned that over a decade ago-over and over and over again.

7) Kentucky has a good defense. The Wildcats have kept three of their four opponents out of the endzone and under four points, including a competitive Louisville team. We will learn a lot more about this Kentucky team next week when they go to Alabama.

6) Not playing can sometimes be more impressive than winning. BYU got to enjoy a long weekend of college football-sitting on their butts-and in the meantime, they moved up 3 or 4 spots in the polls. This more or less makes up for the Cougars dropping 3 or 4 spots after beating Washington.

5) At least one team in the Pac 10 is better than a team in the MWC (Cal and Colorado State), and OU is better than any team in either conference.

4) Despite all predictions to the contrary, the ACC Coastal is better than ACC Atlantic. Navy?? If VT had started Tryod Taylor at the start of the season, the Coastal minus Virginia would be a combined 16-5 with three of those losses self-inflicted and another coming from Florida. The Atlantic, on the other hand, is a joke.

3) Penn State is the best team in the Big 10. The title doesn't mean as much as it used to, but it does mean that maybe, just maybe, the Big 10 will be able to give the Pac 10 a real game in the Rose Bowl this year.

2) Florida just isn't that good. Last year, they couldn't keep a JV team from throwing for 300 yards. This year, the problem isn't that simple. This Florida team is generally unexeptional at all aspects of the game-including quarterback.

1) You can't spot a top 10 team 31 points at the half and expect to win, but you can spot a top 10 team 19 points and pull it out. Or maybe we just learned that Wisconsin is not a top 10 team and their offense is more out of date than the slide rule.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Games to Watch: Week 5

Had I written this a bit earlier, I wouldn't have included USC at Oregon State. But now I know--if you haven't seen this game yet, to to ESPN360 right now and watch it. You'll learn couple of important things:

1) This wasn't one of those "the better team played crappy and turned the ball over 18 times and lost." Oregon State exposed weaknesses on the USC defensive line and gave defensive coordinators some very good ideas for slowing the Trojan offense down in future weeks.

2) The Rodgers brother are really, really good; Jacquizz was the best player on the field Thursday night.

3) USC has serious problems with injuries. Sanchez's knee is in bad shape and the USC linebacker corp of myth and legend will be lucky to survive through the season.

Alabama (+6.5) at Georgia

Why we care: Alabama and Georgia have gotten to this point by soundly beating the two most over-rated teams in college football (Clemson and Arizona State).

What to watch for: Line play. Georgia is better at every other position on the field, but Alabama is stronger on the lines. Alabama was in this situation earlier in the season and ambushed Clemson. Also watch WR's Julio Jones and AJ Green. Not only are they incredible talents and potential playmakers, but if they do produce they can add that second dimension to their teams and make them many times more explosive.

Misc: If wearing a black uni makes you play harder, you're not really a man. PS-I don't like Nick Saban.

Pick: Alabama by 3

Illinois (+15.5) at Penn State

Why we care: The winner, especially if its Penn State, could be taking their first big step towards getting blown out by USC in the Rose Bowl.

What to watch for: Penn State has a ton of talent on offense, but the defense hasn't been challenged yet. Can Joe Pa's boys contain Juice and Co.?

Misc: No one benefitted more than Penn State from Oregon State's win over USC. Not only does it open one more door towards a shot at the title, but it gives Penn State's 45-14 Beaver beatdown a lot more legitimacy as a meaningful win.

Pick: Penn State by 10

TCU (+18) at Oklahoma

Why we care: OU is the interim #1. If TCU wins this game, we might see a strong put to include a MWC team in the championship game at season's end.

What to watch for: OU has score 57, 52 and 55 while TCU is giving up 7 points a game. Something's got to give--and the giving will be decided at the line of scrimmage. TCU has a legitimately good defense, but they don't have the size to match up on the line against OU's All-American OL. If the DL can free up the linebackers and put some pressure on Bradford this game could get very interesting. If not (the more likely scenario), OU will cover.

Misc: If the new Big XII had brought in TCU instead of Baylor, 1) the Big XII South would be the best division in the history of college football, and 2) this game would be every bit as important as the Alabama/Georgia game.

Pick: OU by 14

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Quick Note: Week 4 Results

1) The BYU Defense-BYU has not allowed a point in two complete games now. The last points against the Cougars were score by Jake Locker and, notably, not Washington's kicker. Inexperience and lack of depth on defense were supposed to be BYU's achille's heel when the season kicked off, but the Y has pitched shoutouts even when they've thrown out the scout team in big blowouts. They aren't Auburn or anything, but as Wyoming's Devin Moore put it, "They were a little faster than I though they were."

2) Auburn/LSU-I don't care what SEC backers say, beating Mississippi State 3-2 is not a good thing, and Auburn finally got a small taste of comeuppance. This was a tight game between two very evenly matched teams that was essential decided by two injuries. The first injury was that inflicted by LSU's Andrew Hatch. QB Jarrett Lee's performance in the first half had been so bad that he was not going to see the field again--until Hatch was knocked unconscious. Then, all of a sudden, Jarrett Lee was back in the spotlight and he couldn't screw up if he tried. Auburn also suffered some breakdowns in the secondary and, for the first time in the game, LSU was able to make them pay.

The second big injury was suffered by Auburn's RB Brad Lester. Ben Tate was going to get most of the carries anyway, but the change of pace between the two was beginning to give LSU some headaches. And as time was running down, Lester could have been used out of the backfield to add a little unpredictability to an otherwise painfully predictable offense.

3) South Florida-the Bulls need to drop a few spots. Beating Kansas was a nice, but needing a big comeback at home-against a team that looks more like a 20-30 type team instead of the top 10 team of last year-does not merit a sub-teen ranking. And now that they have struggled against both UCF and FIU, they are getting no love from me. But, of course, since they play in the Big East, which might not be as good as the MWC from top to bottom this season, they'll probably finish the season with two losses and a trip to a BCS bowl.

4) One fifth of the top 25 is currently held by the MWC and the WAC. These five teams have gone a combined 17-1 over a schedule that has included Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Rutgers, Michigan and Wisconsin, not to mention in-conference foes (and teams that went bowling a year ago) in New Mexico and Air Force. The MWC teams will beat each other up a little, and TCU has a tough task ahead in going to Oklahoma, but if one the three survives the ringer, Boise State or Fresno State wins and Tulsa continues its winning ways, we could be on path to a major BCS logjam.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Quick Note: North Carolina also has a football team

I'd heard the hype about North Carolina, just like I heard the hype about Pitt, and it looks like I picked the wrong sub-.500 team to believe in. While Pitt looks like it would finish in the middle of the MAC, UNC just might be the best team in the ACC.

Last night they got an opportunity to sport their wares to the country, and they did a might fine job. They demonstrated good athleticism, plenty of speed and an adequate level of sophistication for an ACC offense.

But the thing got me all giddy was watching the defense get after people. Rutgers has obviously taken a step back from its performance a couple of years ago, but they are still a tough team. All the same, the Tar Heels were whittling down the Scarlet Knight roster. The game was still competitive at the beginning of half time, but it was over at halftime's end--Rutgers got a chance to think over what was happening to them on the field and felt the pain set in as the adrenaline wore off.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Games to Watch in Week 3

So far this season I am 9-1 picking winners and 6-3 against the spread-7-2 if Urban Meyer hadn't insisted on kicking that last second field goal against Miami. If I had avoided emotional picks (i.e. games involving Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and BYU), I'd be perfect.

Ohio State (+10.5) [-22] at USC [+25.5]

Why we care: These two schools have combined for 9 AP national championships and 1,451 wins.

What to watch for: 1) The condition of Beanie Wells' toe. Ohio State's backups proved to the world last week that the OSU O-line is overrated because it has been blocking for a super-premiere back, and when they are blocking for mortal runningbacks, the Ohio State running game suffers. The USC defense will not get worn down like that of Ohio. No Beanie, no W for the Buckeyes.
2) The matchup of the USC receivers and Ohio State secondary. Ohio State has the advantage here, and if they are able to rely on a lot of man coverage and stack 8 in the box, USC could have trouble moving the ball. Sanchez will not be able to make plays with his feet the way "Boo" did last week for the Bobcats (especially if their are still some subconscious concerns about the infamous knee) which will make USC predictable offensively.

Misc: A 10 point spread historically means that OSU has about a 1 in 5 chance of winning this game (which is remarkably consistent with Hubdub).

Pick: USC by 5

Kansas (+2.5) [+.75] at USF [-7]

Why we care: A win for USF will rank it officially as the class of the Big East, a title it might then hold indefinitely.

What to watch for: The Kansas pass rush. Kansas may have the best linebackers and secondary in the Big XII (which, by the way, is a much better conference than the Big East). But if the pass rush gives Bulls' QB Matt Grothe time to move and create, he will. On the other side, Todd Reesing is completing more than 3 of every 4 passes and Kansas has two backs getting more than 5 yards a carry. They will score their points, but USF's George Selvie will put enough pressure on an untested line to get a few stops. Kansas will also, then, need some stops to avoid getting outscored (aka losing).

Price for Kansas at South Florida. Fri Sep 12 2008 at

Misc: In 2004, these teams combined for 8 wins, a mark both surpassed individually last year.

Pick: Kansas by 5

Georgia (-7) [+15.5] at South Carolina [+2.75]

Why we care: The wrong team came out on top of this one last year.

What to watch for: The over/under. The line opened at 8, but money was heavy on South Carolina +8. This tells me that people expect the game to be low scoring. If South Carolina can stay within 7 into the 4th quarter, this could be anyone's ball game. If Georgia can score some points early, SC won't be able to keep up.

Misc: Its been a really, really long time since Spurrier had a quality season.

Pick: Georgia by 10.

Michigan (+1.5) [-5] at Notre Dame [-14.5]

Why we care: If you thought Ohio State and USC had combined for a lot of championships and wins . . .

What to watch for: Can Sam McGuffie break out? I see no reason to believe that Notre Dame will score an offensive point in this game. Last year, ND finished 116th in scoring (near the bottom) and 119th in total yards (that is the bottom). To kickoff this season, Cal Poly outgained them by 141 yards against a mutual opponent. And Michigan actually plays solid D.
On the other side, Notre Dame returns a secondary that was 2nd in the nation in pass D. Against a typical Rich Rodriquez team, that stat would be pointless, but Michigan, if you haven't noticed, doesn't have a mobile quarterback. The Domer run defense, though, was exploitable and had to be rebuilt after last season. With a good scheme and better execution, UM RB McGuffie could have a big day, helping Michigan score those 3 points it will need to win.

Misc: Scouts Inc. gave ND the advantage in terms of coaching. Huh?

Pick: Michigan by 3

Temple (+6.5) [+12.5] at Buffalo [12]

Why we care: (Bet you weren't expecting this one) In 4 games against D1A opponents, these two perennial crappers are +39 in margin of victory and +24.5 against the spread.

What to watch for: I'll be frank-I haven't watched either of these teams in a couple of years, so I could regurgitate something I've read in Athlon or Scouts, but instead I'll advice you to seek it yourselves. I am excited to watch these two teams duke it out on ESPN360, though.

Misc: Temple does actually have a football team and they, like the more distinguished BB team, are called the Owls. Both Buffalo and Temple are in the MAC (East). Eleven of the 119 D1A teams play in smaller stadiums than Buffalo.

Pick: Buffalo by 6.5

Other Don't Missers: Wisconsin at Fresno, UCLA at BYU--When power conference reps travel to meet the mid-majors, interesting things can happen.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, September 8, 2008

People's Poll 3: Never Underestimate Idiots in Large Numbers

In week 5 I will begin releasing the Matrix rankings with the People's Poll. But until I have enough weeks of data for the Matrix we will have to rely on good ole fashion, misdirected, emotion-ridden and sometimes just plain stupid human intuition as summarized in the weekly release of the People's Poll.

After a relatively vanilla weekend, this week's People's Poll looks much like the one from last week. Georgia regained its preseason position at number 2 after OSU soiled themselves against The (other) Ohio University. OU jumped to two spots after another dominant performance. Alabama rode last weeks momentum and gained another three spots after an unimpressive performance against Tulane while West Virginia tumbled 14 spots to number 21.

This week's shocker has to be Oregon, who shot up into the poll and up to #13. Another big win and signs that last week's victim (Washington) might not be so bad have impressed the masses.

BallHype: hype it up!

Good Sign/Bad Sign Week 2

Non-BCS: Notre Dame
Good Sign: They won. In fact, they are now on pace to win 4 times as many games as they did in 2007. Clausen was solid, completing 57% of his passes, averaging just under 7 yards per pass, and got better as the game progressed-managing an almost heroic 4th quarter. The O-line was able to get a push and showed a recognition that they have blocking assignments, which allowed the Domers to scratch out more than 100 yards on the ground. The 4th quarter domination also demonstrated that the Domers have a little depth and are better conditioned than last year-and maybe, just maybe, they got their fight back.
Bad Sign: The score was 13-7 when SDSU fumbled in the Notre Dame end zone early in the 4th quarter. San Diego State had more total yards than Notre Dame and should have won, but the Aztecs gave the game away. San Diego State is really bad but still had a better chance of beating the Irish than they did Cal Poly. This is the easiest game on the schedule for Notre Dame and the Domers barely snuck by with a W.

Big East: USF

Good Sign: South Florida unofficially won this game by 3 touchdowns. They more than doubled UCF in yards and first downs. Grothe put up impressive numbers while he comfortably waited in the pocket as long as he needed for receivers to get open. Statistical domination is a better predictor of future performance than domination on the score board.
Bad Sign: A bad special teams mistake (91 yard touchdown return in on UCF's first offensive touch) and an inability to get the ball in the end zone allowed UCF to hang around, and then a complete inability to establish the funning game let UCF make their run in the 4th quarter. Grothe was the teams leading rusher, getting 20 carries-way too many-and just 2.7 yards per attempt. Being one dimensional makes it harder to convert in the red zone and to effectively run out the clock, both weaknesses that haunted the Bulls on Saturday.

Big Ten: Penn State

Good Sign: Here's why Penn State is quickly becoming my Big 10 favorite. First, Daryll Clark. He can stretch the field through the air (15 yards per completion, 215 yards passing against Oregon St), and then he can tuck it and run (12 yards per carry, 61 yards rushing)-that combo has given many of the Big 10 defenses fits. RB Evan Royster will get over 1,000 yards rushing (141 yards against Oregon St), so the offense is far from one dimensional. Then defense is solid, but more important, Penn State has demonstrated an ability to jump out early on teams and force them into a passing contest. With Wisconsin's and Ohio State's combination of lines and backs, that could be invaluable. I am officially off the Ohio State bandwagon and on the Penn State one.
Bad Sign: I don't know . . . their coach is really old?

Big 12: Texas Tech
Good Sign: On a day in which Graham Harrell struggled, Tech still won. Inconsistency has been a big problem for Tech, but they now have the depth of options that it didn't bite them too hard. They got a special teams touchdown early when the offense was completely out of whack and then 3 rushing touchdowns to pull away. The backs were productive, which gives Leach one more option if the day-to-day offense isn't clicking.
Bad Sign: Saturday's numbers may be more of a trend than a hiccup. Coordinators have had an off-season to analyze the Harrell to Crabtree connection, which is one reason it might be less reliable-take out the 82 yard reception against Nevada and Crabtree's numbers are quite pedestrian this season. Nevada outgained Tech as they moved the ball effectively on the ground and through the air, so aspirations for the defense might have been premature. Tech is still averaging 8 yards per pass attempt this season, but if that numbers drops to 6.5 against stiffer Big 12 defenses, folks in Lubbock might be very disappointed this season.

SEC: Kentucky
Good Sign: 5, 0, 370 = total points, total touchdowns, and total yards allowed this season. And one of those opponents was Louisville. Granted this is not the Louisville of the Bobby Petrino era and Norfolk St does not scare many opponents, but those numbers are the mark of solid, mistake free defense regardless of the opponent.
Bad Sign: Kentucky will need a very good defense to succeed in the SEC, because the offense isn't there. Kentucky has been trying to replace former QB Andre Woodson, and the dismissal of QB Curtis Pulley didn't help. Consequently, the Wildcats have managed only 147 yards passing in each of their first two games. They racked up 298 yards against Norfolk St., but those yards will be harder to come by against real opponents. The 210 yards of offense against Louisville might be the norm for this Kentucky team, which could make for a very long season.

ACC: Georgia Tech
Good Sign: The Yellow Jackets took a triple option offense to Boston College, faced off against one of the best run defenses in the country, and came home a winner.
Bad Sign: Tech's offense did not win this game. They managed only 162 yards on the ground on Saturday and dropped it 3 more times. The defense played well, but if Boston College had been able to convert its three short field goals into touchdowns, this game wouldn't have been close. At some point you start to wonder if this team this season with this group of athletes will ever get Paul Johnson's offense rolling.

Pac 10: Oregon
Good Sign: It is a statistical fact that demonstrating an ability to throw the ball against much weaker opponents is a better predictor of future success than running the ball, because it doesn't require any offensive sophistication to boll over 150 lb nose tackles. But running for 408 yards against a D1A opponent, even if that opponent was Utah State, is still impressive. Oh yeah, and they threw the ball effectively with two different quarterbacks. And the defense's work against Locker a week earlier now looks more impressive after he ran free against BYU.
Bad Sign: Their quarterback still isn't named Dennis Dixon and the running back dares to be someone other than Johnathon Stewart. That step down in athleticism will catch up with them against the more athletic defenses in the Pac 10.

Quick Note: The Brewing BCS Crisis

What do East Carolina, BYU, Utah and Fresno State all have in common? They might all be better than the automatic BCS invitees from the ACC and Big East. This could be a very big problem.

After Clemson, Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Pitt were dismantled last weekend and West Virginia was manhandled on Saturday, new ACC and Big East frontrunners Wake and USF needed a long last second field goal and overtime,respectively, to stay unbeaten. If West Virginia is down and Pitt, Virginia Tech, Miami and Florida St are trying to rebuild, these two conferences are mediocre at best.

This kind of thing has happened before. Pitt was no match for Utah in their 2005 BCS showdown and Boise St proved it belonged at the party by beating Big 12 champ OU.

But this year we could have the four non-BCS standouts finish with one loss between them while the ACC and Big East send 3 or 4 loss champs. Things could get even more complicated if Notre Dame is good again and Ohio State plays in another national championship game. All of a sudden, you've got to tell Utah or Fresno State that they got to take their undefeated record and top 12 ranking to the Crap Bowl in early November-or lock out Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn, Missouri, OU, etc. from a BCS bowl because they couldn't win the Big 12 or SEC-whose divisions are more talented this year than the Big East and ACC combined.

This talk might be a little premature-BYU still gets UCLA, Wisconsin is awaiting Fresno St, and East Carolina has road games against Virginia, UCF and Southern Miss. Wake and USF are still undefeated despite the scares. But you got to believe that the non-BCS conferences will be producing at least two solid representatives, and the Bowl Championship Series picture will get very crowded.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Locker's Excessive Celebration

Things to keep in mind: Rule 9-2, Article 1(a)(2) "After a score or any other play, the player in possession immediately must return the ball to an official or leave it near the dead-ball spot." Jake Locker violated this rule and was accordingly awarded a 15 yard penalty. You might not like the rule, but referees are not Supreme Court Justices, sitting in court to judge a rule's constitutionality. But more to the point, the penalty is not the reason Washington lost.

I repeat, the excessive celebration penalty is not why Washington lost the football game.

The extra point was blocked near the point of contact, so the yardage makes little difference. BYU had three guys in the backfield with a chance to block it. Washington lost the football game because they didn't block on the kick attempt.

He didn't miss the extra point--it was blocked, and blocked by a team that consistently gets a good rush on pressure kicks.

BYU was the better team throughout the game and deserved to win-and probably would have won in overtime. I feel sorry for Locker-he played a great game-but maybe he should spend a little more time with the rule book before their next game.

Quick Note: South Carolina and Vanderbilt

Remember, just because South Carolina beat NC State does not mean they're ready for a breakout year. NC State has now lost two straight games with a final score of a lot to zero, the last defeat coming last season at the hands of Maryland-not a top 25 team.

And just because Vanderbilt beat SC does not mean they're good. They upset an SC team last year that everyone thought was one the verge of a breakout year, but the Commodores were not good last year either.

There are plenty of elite teams in the SEC. I'm not convinced that South Carolina or Vanderbilt are among them.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Games to Watch in Week 2

Miami (-21.5) [NA] at Florida [1-0, +11.5]

Why we care: Two big names, one big rivalry and a Saturday at the Swamp. And if that’s not enough, throw in a Heisman winner, three Mr. Floridas, and a ton of trash talk from U fans on the comment boards because their team looked good against Wilson Academy for the Deaf and Blind.

What to watch for: With speed and playmakers at the skill positions for both teams, this game will be decided . . . at the line of scrimmage. The Miami #1 and #2 at QB are both freshmen with 1 game of experience between them. The receivers also don’t strike fear in anyone, which is really too bad for the Canes, because that was Florida’s achilles heel last year. Instead, Miami will need to run the ball behind a massive offensive line that should be able to wear down the smaller Florida front.

On the other side, Miami will use a lot of nickel and dime packages to keep tags on Florida’s receivers and speedy, but not bulky, running backs. If Miami can get pressure on Tebow with the four down linemen, Miami may be able to slow down the Gator offensive juggernaut.

Miami’s inexperience may play a role, but it was Florida’s lack of execution against Hawaii that kept the Warriors in the game for the first 18 minutes.

Misc: Miami and Florida are currently 16th and 17th all time in average margin of victory, respectively (7.24 and 7.19). If Florida wins this game by 30 points or more, they will pass Miami and move up to 16th all time.

Pick: Florida by 20

West Virginia (-8) [NA] at East Carolina [1-0, +14]

Why we care: If East Carolina can win this game, watch out BCS because you might just have a very deserving party crasher. And West Virginia looked beatable as they got outgained by Villanova.

What to watch: How many people does East Carolina put in the box and get away with it. East Carolina’s DL isn’t bad, but West Virginia’s offensive line is arguably the best in the land. And, by the way, WVU has a RB and QB that are pretty dangerous with the ball. East Carolina has to force QB White to put the ball in the air while still having one or two guys back in the secondary to play defense. If they can hold WVU to under 400 total yards (a task Villanova achieved), East Carolina’s offense is good enough (and West Virginia’s defense bad enough) that they just might score enough points to win.

Misc: I wonder if Skip Holtz will get really goofy like his dad when he gets really old, too.

Pick: East Carolina by .5

Texas Tech (-10) [NA] at Nevada [NA]

Why we care: Last year, these two teams scored a combined 987 points and gave up 755 points. That's a lot.

What to watch for: Tech will get its first test against a good offense this season. Tech will score plenty of points to win, but if Nevada is able to get its running game going, things will open downfield and Nevada will put its own mark on the scoreboard. This will all come down to Nevada’s ability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage—if the undersized Nevada O-line can open some holes, the Texas and OU lines will open up bigger holes down the road.

Misc: Nevada was averaging 36.25 points a game last year until they were shutout in their bowl game against New Mexico. That is the largest drop in production from regular season to bowl game in college football history.

Pick: Tech by enough (covers)

BYU (-6.5) [NA] at Washington [0-1, -20.5]

Why we care: Because it’s important

What to watch for (extended edition): This year, Jake Locker was supposed to make good on all the grandiose promise he brought with him to Washington. He proved his mobility in 2007, but he completed a paltry 47.3% of his passes. He struggled with making both the correct read and then the accurate pass. But last weekend Locker was good on only 12 of 28 passes, amassing less than 4 yards per attempt. And Locker wasn’t the only Husky to struggle offensively; RB Chris Polk used 14 carries to amass 19 rushing yards, making Lockers 3.7 yards per attempt much more appealing.

BYU’s offense, on the other hand, looked like it was going through the Friday runthrough. Max Hall was 34 of 41 for 486 yards and 2 TDs, TE Dennis Pitta showed that the Cougar run of NFL quality tight ends was not coming to an end just yet, and RB Harvey Unga picked up where he left off in 2007—which means he ran like a truck with quick feet.

But all was not roses for when the Cougars had the ball. Four turnovers in one quarter helped Northern Iowa stay in the game into the 4th quarter, and, most disconcerting, one of the fumbles was another example of Hall’s small hands letting go when he gets hit. Fumble bugs make upsets possible.

BYU’s defense was good, but not far from perfect. Two of Northern Iowa’s scores (and almost all of their yards) came from plays of 69 and 76 yards, exposing again a potential weakness at the second level of the defense. QB Pat Grace also gave BYU fits, again demonstrating that the Cougar defense struggles against athletic quarterbacks (ala Jake Locker).

Oregon’s defense, on the other hand, was never given a real chance because they were forced all day against Oregon to defend short fields. If the Huskies fail to move the ball again, expect BYU to rattle off another 40+ points against Washington with Unga racking in 150+ yards rushing. If Locker can make some big plays with his legs and, more important, hit some receivers down field, Washington could make this a game.

Misc: Max Hall transferred from Arizona State because he couldn’t win the starting job at QB. In 2007, ASU QBs were sacked 55 times and BYU QBs were sacked only 20-proof that sometimes not winning can be a small victory in itself.

Pick: BYU by 15

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

People's Poll 2: The Masses Speak Again

With one weekend under our belt, the "participation" in the people's poll has increased dramatically. With this influx of new "voters", rankings became unstable. Among the more surprising victims are Miami, who fell out of the top 25 despite an impressive performance, Notre Dame, whose value fell without running a play, Georgia Tech, South Florida and Wisconsin. Virginia Tech got a boost despite losing and Kansas jumped five spots after beating the mighty Florida International.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My Statistical Crystal Ball

(Open your own statistical crystal ball here; internet explorer only)

It’s difficult to know what the future has in store based on the first weekend, but with a little statistical maneuvering, we can make some meaningful predictions.

Using data from the last couple of years and regression analysis, I’ve developed a formula to help us predict how many games a team will win. Using the points scored and the yardage in the game, and adjustments for the strength of the opponent and the conference in which the team plays (team’s in tough conferences will win fewer games than an equal team in a lesser conference), we can get a pretty good guess at how many games a team will win.

Above are calculations for a couple of Big East schools and the attached excel file (you can only view it in internet explorer, sorry) can be used to make the same or any other calculations. Three quick notes: first, the only adjustment for strength of the schedule is conference. If you know that a particular team has an unusually difficult out-of-conference schedule, subtract a little from the expected win total, and vice-versa. Also, statistical predictions have a hard time with extremes, and so the values will appear hedged—even Alabama's performance can't score it an estimated win total that is much above 10. Finally, this calculates the number of wins in a 12 game regular season. Conference championship and bowl games are extra.

Good Sign/Bad Sign

Now its time for a little Good Sign/Bad Sign. Every week I will pick out one team from each BCS conference and one non-BCS team and discuss the good signs and bad signs from their last performance.

Texas (Texas 52, Florida Atlantic 10)

The Good-The Longhorns won big against a non-BCS conference opponent, something they struggled to do last year. They are finally starting to utilize some of that athletic ability that so often goes to waste under Mack Brown.

The Bad-Texas wins in blowout fashion, but still Colt McCoy, the Vince Young antithesis, leads the team in rushing. This reflects poorly on the UT running backs, but it also has to make you worry about McCoy’s durability.

Last year Texas finished 109th in the nation in pass defense and this season they have added two freshman in the secondary. Florida Atlantic’s Rusty Smith threw for more yards in the first half (226) than McCoy in the game (222). It makes you wonder what a Graham Harrel, Sam Bradford, Zac Robinson or Chase Daniel could do against this secondary.

Auburn (Auburn 34, UL-Monroe 0)

The Good-The Tigers ran for more than 300 yards and kept another opponent off the scoreboard. That’s always good. And Auburn’s Robert Dunn returned a punt back for a touchdown, displaying un-Auburn like-offensive pizzazz.

The Bad-Auburn scored only two offensive touchdowns and threw for 85 yards in a new, wide-open spread offense. Tony Franklin, Auburn’s new offensive coordinator summarized the performance, “We stink.” Auburn will need a passing game to beat LSU.

West Virginia (West Virginia 48, Villanova 21)

The Good-WVU can throw the ball. Pat White was 25/33 for 208 yards, 5 TDs and only one pick.

The Bad-399-354. Either West Virginia’s defense is no good or . . . ? Getting outgained by Villanova makes the team look a little vulnerable against a South Florida offense that could have scored 50 points on Saturday on one leg.

Clemson (Alabama 34, Clemson 10)

The Good-Virginia Tech 22, East Carolina 27; you play in the ACC, not the SEC.

The Bad-Rushing Yards: 0. If the offensive line is really that bad, Clemson might not be good enough to win a conference championship in the Sun Belt.

USC (USC 52, Virginia 7)

The Good-Did you see Mark Sanchez’s bomb to Ronald Johnson? That kid might be something special. You always have to be happy with a 52-7 win against a team that was a serious contender in a BCS conference just 9 months ago.

The Bad-The knee dislocated in a non-contact drill. I broke a foot in a non-contact drill 9 years ago and it’s still a problem. Durability could be an issue for Mark Sanchez. And, by the way, Joe McKnight is no Reggie Bush.

Illinois (Missouri 52, Illinois 42)

The Good-Juice Williams: 26/42, 451 yards, 5 TDs. The Fighting Illini outscored Missouri 21-7 over the last 17 minutes of the game.

The Bad-Missouri’s offense slashed through the Illini defense like chopped liver; that’s two games in a row in which the defense has been thoroughly abused by a first class offense.

Fresno State (Fresno State 24, Rutgers 7)

The Good-They traveled across the country and beat a solid BCS team in Rutgers. Sophomore Ryan Mathews ran for 163 and 3 touchdowns on 26 carries. Those are very good numbers

The Bad-Bulldog QB Tom Brandstater was 11 of 24 throwing the ball. That’s not a very good number.

Monday, September 1, 2008

My Notes on Week 1

Pitt was supposed to be good this year because they have recruited well and they won the backyard brawl against West Virginia last year in shocking fashion. We learned on Saturday that Pitt is not good, Pitt had one very bad game, or Bowling Green has risen from the dust to become a top 25 team. Because Pitt has not yet been good, I would go with option #1: The Pitt Panthers are still not good at football.

We had questions about Clemson’s line and what kind of contribution Alabama would get from its host of incoming freshmen was a big unknown. We now have the answers: Clemson’s line didn’t matter because Alabama was also better at every other position. I realized 5 minutes into the game that the Tigers had no chance—Clemson’s Tommy Bowden seemed to get the hint pretty quickly, too. But before we sing the praises of the SEC, I need to see what Tennessee does against UCLA and I need an explanation for the performances of Mississippi State (lost to LA Tech) and Arkansas (4 point win over Western Illinois).

East Carolina has a solid team, and Hokey fans should not be embarrassed by that loss, but they should be embarrassed by the beatdown they received—on offense, defense and (gasp) special teams. The ACC can be scratched for this season and the rest of the decade—it will not again be a player on the national stage until 2010.

Utah beat Michigan. Watching the game I came to the following conclusions: 1) In the first half the Utah offense was decent, as was the Michigan defense. 2) In the second half the Utah offense was bad and the Michigan defense was decent. 3) Throughout the game the Utah defense was better than advertised (which shouldn’t be surprising since they were 5th in the nation in scoring defense in 2007) and even better than Michigan’s defense. 4) Rich Rodriguez must have used tapes of the 2007 Notre Dame offense to prepare his team—Michigan’s offense was atrocious. The scary thing about Utah is they usually get much better over the course of the season.

We learned very little about the top 5 teams in the country, except that Beanie Wells might have a stress micro-fracture in his foot. We also learned that Hawaii and Virginia have taken huge steps back this year from last year (which we expected). Missouri looked nigh unstoppable, but the Tiger faithful should be a little concerned that Juice Williams was throwing the ball around with ease against their defense (451 yards, 5 TDs). Or maybe Juice has evolved into a version of Peyton Manning that runs a 4.4.

Texas Tech again racked up a ton of yards, but their win over Eastern Washington did not fill anyone with fear and trepidation. There is a very good reason why Tech leads the nation in passing yards every year but had fewer points per game in Big 12 play than both Oklahoma and Missouri—it is very nice to be able run the ball in the red zone. Tech needs consistency, but they also need to be able to ground out tough yards in tight spaces to be an elite team.

And App. St.’s Armanti Edwards is quite pedestrian when he plays against elite college football talent.

Shocking state of the day: Arkansas State ran for 255 yards in their win against a Big 12 opponent.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Quick Notes: Opening Day

Head Ball Coach has a defense. South Carolina made a statement in their opener. In beating NC State 34-0, they gave up only 49 passing yards and forced 4 turnovers. But we knew SC’s defense was good. If the 4 Gamecock turnovers and offensive hiccups were just products of first game jitters, this Spurrier team could be for real—which means they finish 4th in the SEC East.

The Runaround. Miami is fast. Really fast. Or Charleston Southern has tried to field a team of professional speed walkers. It's too bad no one was there to see the performance-even the fanciest camera angles couldn't hide all the empty seats.

What could’ve been and what can be. In January, Ryan Perriloux was the projected starter of the defending national champions. Now, LSU will start a Harvard transfer at QB and Ryan Perriloux is the starting QB at Jacksonville State. The entire town of Jacksonville couldn’t fill the visitor’s section at LSU’s Tiger Stadium.

Georgia Tech showed some potential in becoming a well-oiled Paul Johnson machine. The wide receivers were either making pancake blocks 30 yards downfield or catching goofy passes from QB Josh Nesbitt after releasing from the infamous “run haphazardly and get wide open” route. Half the time I had no idea where the ball was, and then I would find that it was 20 yards downfield and in the hands of someone I was pretty confident started the play on the sideline. Jonathan Dwyer, playing the hybrid running back/fullback B-Back position in Johnson’s scheme, will run for 1000+ yards this season and make the position a sexy one at Georgia Tech despite being only two inches from the QB’s butt.

But the Jackets still have a ways to go. The 2 fumbles and 70 yards of penalties can be reduced or eliminated. Josh Nesbitt completed only 5 of 12 passes. Last year’s Navy team hardly let the ball touch the grass on fumbles or incompletions and was penalized less than 30 yards a game.

Player that impressed. UConn’s RB Donald Brown is a stud. He is a known commodity in the Big East, but doesn’t get the recognition he deserves nationally. Against Hofstra, he demonstrated great vision and the ability to pop through the seam. He doesn’t have the bulk to carry the load for an entire game, but he won’t have to.

On the Money. I made two picks for Thursday's games and was an impressive 2-0 straight up and against the spread. The problem with achieving perfection this early in the season, though, is that I can only go down from here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quick Note: Texas Tech

I've said before that my biggest concern with Texas Tech this season is not their defense but their inconsistency. This concern is now a statistical fact.

In the revised version of the Matrix (I've added independent offensive and defensive results), Texas Tech ranks 86th nationally. And they are consistently inconsistent on both sides of the ball. Tech's offense ranked 86th and the defense 92nd nationally.

A little inconsistency is fine if you are satisfied with 8 and 9 wins and the occasional upset, but I sense that Raider fans are expecting a little more this season.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Games to Watch in Week 1

You should watch every game this weekend, but if you have a job or a life or a limited attention span, here's where you should focus your energies.

Legend: Team1 (line) [ATL in ‘07] vs./at Team2 [ATL in ‘07] (location)

Illinois (+8.5) [-0.42] vs. Missouri [-10.51] (St. Louis)

Why we care: It’s the only game this weekend that puts two really good teams on the same field.

What to watch for: First, how does Illinois recover from the loss of RB Mendenhall? Second, enjoy the Daniel to Maclin show.

Misc.: Missouri was better at football than Arkansas last year. In fact, matching those two up in a bowl game was an insult to the Big 12.
Missouri coaches and players have probably all invested in second homes in St. Louis to offset the hotel expenses. Regular season college football is not supposed to be played at neutral sites-only bowl games.

Pick: Missouri by 10.

Utah (+4) [-5.12] at Michigan [3.44]

Why we care: This is the first of a series of games pitting MWC teams against beatable BCS opponents, which will be important for legitimating a BYU (or Utah) run at a BCS bowl. Oh, yeah, and Michigan hired a new head coach.

What to watch for: The Michigan offense. Michigan is only two years away from a late season #2 ranking and a year away from a preseason #5. If the offense clicks, this could be a tough team (and Rich Rodriguez might just get a big head—the shame). If not, Utah will run away with this game and the year of the MWC begins.

Misc.: Last year, Rich’s team was called the Mountaineers. Last year, Rich’s new team lost to the Mountaineers. Last year, Rich’s team almost won a DI-A national championship. Last year, Rich’s new team wasn’t good enough to win the DI-AA national championship.

Pick: Utah by 5.

Troy (-6) [-9.65] at Middle Tennessee [-2.32]

Why we care: Two of the three best teams in the Sun Belt will be taking the field in Murfreesboro this Thursday. For Sun Belt teams, conference titles and a chance to knock off a BCS team are everything.

What to watch for: Last year, Troy had a legitimately good offense, averaging 453 yards a game, scoring 41 against Oklahoma State in a winning effort and another 34 against Georgia in a loss. Troy has to replace a QB Haugabook, though, and Thursday will be our first competitive look at new QB Jamie Hampton.
Middle Tennessee, on the other hand, has to replace almost everyone. Thursday’s game will help us decide whether the Blue Raiders are competing or rebuilding in 2008.

Misc.: Last year, Troy knocked off BCS foe Oklahoma State and Middle Tennessee State came a sliver from knocking off a very good Virginia team. In the next several weeks, the Troy Trojans will travel to LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State.

Pick: Troy by 10.

Wake Forest (-13) [-3.48] at Baylor [1.75]

Why we care: The beginning of the Art Briles era in Waco. Baylor has been competitive in the past under the great Grant Teaff, and could be again if Briles is able to make more out of less talent with a quirky offense (as Mike Leach has done at Texas Tech). If Baylor does become competitive again, the Big 12 South will be the best division in college football, hands down.
Some people care about ACC football, too. If Clemson slips, Wake Forest should get their shot at Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game-a game that will belong to the Atlantic representative.

What to watch for: With QB Riley Skinner, RB Josh Adams and 9 starters on defense back from last year’s team, we should know what to expect from Wake Forest. The question marks are all on the Baylor side. QBs Kirby Freeman and Robert Griffin have the talent to run a dynamic offense, but experience in the offense and the skill players around them to make it click have gone AWOL. The Baylor defense was horrible last season and we can anticipate a repeat performance.

Misc.: I probably played in 20 high school football games in stadiums larger than Wake’s Groves Stadium. One of those games was against Waco High.

Pick: Wake by 20.

Appalachian State (NA) [NA] at LSU [-4.56]

Why we care: University of Michigan 32 Appalachian State University 34

What to watch for: The QBs. Mountaineer QB Armanti Edwards is supposed to be the real deal – Wikipedia page and all. He looked like it against Michigan last year, but then again, Oregon’s Dennis Dixon looked like he could have walked on water had it been raining a week later in the Big House. LSU is reloading, but LSU recruits well enough to reload. Inexplicably, LSU will need to rely on a 47 year-old Harvard transfer at QB in Andrew Hatch. This game gives us a sneak peak of LSU’s new team and of Heisman hopeful Armanti Edwards against legitimate talent.

Misc.: Let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, that App. State pulls this one out. Could they get Les Miles fired, too?

Pick: LSU by 25. (Les, your job is safe until Alabama comes to town.)

Clemson (-5) [-5.08] vs. Alabama [1.83] (Atlanta)

Why we care: The national sports media have collectively built a shrine to Nick Saban and his unachieving Crimson Tide. This game also represents Clemson’s first test.

What to watch: Line play when Clemson has the ball. The Alabama D-line is not going to win many games singlehandedly, but it just might win this one if the Clemson O-line is as poor as some fear. Clemson’s D is good enough to keep Alabama in check and the offensive skill guys for Clemson are good enough that, if given time, it could be a long day for the Tide.

Misc.: I don’t like Nick Saban.

Pick: Clemson by 10[0?].

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Ohio State University: Too Legit to Quit

Three minutes into the first half, Matt Flynn fell on his own fumble at the LSU 6 yard line. Twelve minutes later, LSU’s Harry Coleman fell on a fumbled punt at the LSU 16. In a game in which LSU was outgained, 2 turnovers were the deciding factors, but Ohio State lost the ball to LSU, not LSU to Ohio State. If those fumbled balls had proven too slippery for Coleman and Flynn, we would have a different national champion for the 2007 college football season.

Price represents the probability that Ohio State will be the BCS outright national champion in 2008.

Now, generally intelligent and well-informed, but myopic, college football commentators are making broad generalizations that Ohio State shouldn’t be allowed to compete for the national championship in 2008 because their schedule is soft and they don’t have the talent and speed to compete with the SEC. Garbage.

Here are some things to remember before we make that same mistake. First, the Ohio State team of 2007 was supposed to be a rebuilding project. Ohio State went to the Sugar Bowl because the rest of the contenders across the country missed the bus. Let’s review.

Georgia couldn’t even win their own division because they got blasted by a quality, though not title contending, Tennessee team. It is prerequisite that any team interested in playing for the title of best team in the country should first establish themselves as the best in their six team division. The same goes for Kansas.

West Virginia had a golden ticket, but they and Missouri got locked in a fierce game of hot potato and threw it away. I would agree that the Big East was probably stronger than the Big 10 last year, but WVU lost twice (which is more than once) in one of the weaker BCS conferences.

Virginia Tech was on a roll at the end of the season and suffered only two losses to two good teams, but the Hokies were already handed a 41 point loss by LSU. You don’t get a rematch when you call on the mercy rule in your first meeting.

Oklahoma could have made a strong argument, having lost twice in a much tougher Big 12. But after watching their bowl game performance, and considering their own record in bowl games recently, I don’t think we would have been any better off. And Missouri has no claim, suffering the same number of losses as OU with a softer schedule and, coincidentally, having lost twice to Oklahoma.

Here is a list of USC’s second order losses (teams that beat teams that beat USC): Notre Dame (3-9), Washington (4-9), Washington State, Oregon (9-4), Oregon State (2x), California (7-6), UCLA (2x) (6-7), Arizona (5-7), Arizona State (10-3), and TCU (8-5). It is somewhat remarkable that USC won the conference championship despite marking first or second order losses to every team in the conference. The Pac 10 may have been tougher than the Big 10, but USC’s work in the Pac 10 did not warrant a shot at the title.

(On a side note, speaking of second order losses, 4 teams accomplished the rare feat of earning a spot on their own second order loss list: BYU, UCLA, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. Oklahoma, Missouri, UCF and Tulsa could have joined this list if their conference championship games had turned out differently.)

USC and Georgia may have been better teams in January, but the beautiful thing about college football is that you have to perform from September through November, too. Ohio State, two seasons in a row, has punched their card to the title game by playing good, consistent ball throughout the regular season. If Ohio State is one of the best two teams from September to November in 2008, they should again be packing their bags for another trip to the BCS title game.

But we hear that Ohio State plays in a weak Big Ten and doesn’t actually have the talent to compete against the best teams in the country. Again, garbage. Any recruiting service worth its salt will tell you that Ohio State has had top 5 recruiting classes 2 of the last 3 years. The OSU not only has grabbed the best talent from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois (good high school football states), but they have also nicked five star athletes from the South. Their 2008 signees included 2 kids from Florida, 1 from Texas, and 1 from Maryland in the top 100 nationally, including ATH Lamaar Thomas who has the speed to make Trindon Holiday nervous in a foot race.

Florida only signed 5 kids from the South in the top 100 nationally.

Ohio State is too slow though, right? Sure the SEC is faster than the Big 10 and produces more pro talent at the speed positions, but the Big 10 doesn’t play for national championships—Ohio State does. Here’s a comparison of the average 40 time by unit for Ohio State and LSU in 2007:

Offensive Line and Tight End (starting 6):
OSU – 5.06 LSU – 5.05

Runnning Back (3 deep):
SU – 4.45 LSU – 4.45

OSU – 4.50 LSU – 4.60

Receiver (4 deep):
OSU – 4.55 LSU – 4.44

Defensive Line (starting 4, 1 reserve):
OSU – 4.80 LSU – 4.80

Linebackers (3 starters):
OSU – 4.65 LSU – 4.57

Secondary (4 starters):
OSU – 4.48 LSU – 4.53

I don’t know, but LSU has the advantage here.

Conclusion—LSU was faster but not “me vs. Usain Bolt” faster. The difference between the two teams was small.

LSU looked so much faster in the Sugar Bowl, despite not actually being that much faster, because 1) LSU’s defense was coached by Bo Pelini. Players both play faster and look faster because of good coaching and scheming under Pelini. 2) LSU was accustomed to a faster pace from playing in the SEC. Ohio State had the capacity to play and that speed, but up to that point, their competition had not inspired them to. 3) LSU has more speed on the practice squad. If Tressel had allowed his first teams to go at it more in December practices, I have a feeling we wouldn’t have been able to notice a speed difference between the two teams.

OSU's Coach Tressel is a smart guy—you can tell because he wears a sweater vest and only smart guys wear sweater vests. I’m disappointed he didn’t make the necessary adjustments from 2006 to prepare for LSU, but we need to remember that a healthy LSU was really that much better than everyone else. In 2008, Tressel will have his team ready (and they won’t have to play anyone as stacked on defense as LSU was in ’07).

All this is important because Ohio State has another team that is ready to make a run for a national championship. The team will be loaded with about 47 returning starters and a Heisman-caliber running back in Beanie Wells (who has demonstrated in both national championship games that he is not too slow to compete against SEC defenses). According to Athlon Sports, Ohio State ranks in the top 10 in the country at every unit but defensive line.

More importantly, Ohio State has a schedule that could earn them some legitimacy. They play at USC, Wisconsin and Illinois (all potential top 15 teams) and also have Penn State and Michigan (who wasn’t too slow to compete against Florida last year) on the schedule. Assuming we grant one spot in the national championship game to the SEC champ, Ohio State would have just as much claim as any remaining contender based on strength of schedule.

It would be a real shame if we kept a team out of a national championship game just because they had proven to be second best the two years before.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How the Irish Lost their Fight

When I hear “Irish”, I think of potato famines, soccer hooligans, leprechauns, lots of green, lots of alcohol, and the NRA. When I hear “Fighting Irish”, I envision the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus, Ara, Lou, Frank, and, of course, Knute, tradition, history, championships, four horsemen (of the non-apocalyptic variety) and everyone’s favorite diminutive college football player not named Flutie.

Last year, Coach Weis and his charges left the Fight at home.

“Three-and-nine doesn't even sound right, especially in the same sentence as Notre Dame” -Senior fullback Asaph Schwapp in Athlon Sports

That’s because the Domers haven’t been that inept since 1963. Ara Parseghian arrived in 1964. Over the next quarter century, the Fighting Irish won 4 AP national championships, a couple Heismans, and a lot of football games.

Ara Parseghian, Dan Devine and Lou Holtz did as much in that run to revolutionize football as Knute Rockne himself several decades earlier. In 1966, Notre Dame and Michigan State gave college administrators, coaches, broadcasters and journalists a taste of the potential draw for college football, and thus reinvented the way the game is marketed.

Less dramatically, in 1993 a story about a steel mill worker who gets in one play for Notre Dame inspired one of the better sports movies of all time that was alternatively titled, “Notre Dame is Cooler than Your Stupid School.” It grossed over $20 million at the box office and people will forever think “Rudy” when an athlete is carried from the field.

College football is better off because of Notre Dame, its tradition, accomplishments, and fans. College football will be better off in the future if the Irish get their Fight back.

But in 2007, the neighbor boy’s pee-wee football team would have looked like the ’85 Bears against the Fight-less Irish. More important, Notre Dame football, like the variety played in Nebraska, seems to be drifting into a state of permanent mediocrity since the resignations of the most recent members of their respective coaching pantheons in the last half of the 90’s.

The old excuse for any gridiron failure is that Notre Damers are too smart to be good at football. This justification was invented with Deemphasis in the 50’s – that good schools sacrifice athletic accomplishments for academic acumen. “Notre Dame”, administrators cried, “is not a football factory”. To retain this image, Notre Dame has theoretically restricted its access to some athletes that are talented on the field, but not in the classroom.

Paul Hornung, a Domer legend, brought this excuse to the forefront when he controversially proposed in 2004 that Notre Dame lower its academic standards to attract more black athletes.

Apparently, this fine academic institution wasn’t good enough to keep Mr. Hornung from shoving a foot in his mouth.

But even if we ignore the stupidity of publicly making that kind of comment, we can see that it’s not even true. If Paul Hornung thinks it’s hard to recruit the best talent to South Bend, try recruiting 5 star athletes to Annapolis. But high standards and military commitments didn’t keep Paul Johnson and the Midshipmen of Navy from beating our dear Irish in 2007.

Boston College is the nation’s other Catholic university with tough admission standards, but while Notre Dame sent out the nation’s least productive offense, BC spent a good portion of the season in the top 5, played for the conference championship, and graduated a Heisman candidate.

And when it comes to recruiting African-American athletes, Notre Dame has an inside track paved with gold compared to Brigham Young University, a program that has won as many national championships, produced as many Heismans, and won more games than Notre Dame since the end of the 1970’s.

If Charlie Weis, a fatter gentleman competing in a world dominated by young, flamboyant coaching personalities, can pull in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes after a 3-9 season, recruiting athletes to South Bend is not the problem.

If recruiting isn’t the issue, the next potential target of our inquisition must be the coaching.

If you would have asked a solid Notre Dame football fan about the future of Notre Dame football in early 2003, it would have been all roses. Ty Willingham had pulled out a 10 win season and a top-5 recruiting class. And the guy was as snappy dresser, the snappiest in Notre Dame coaching history. If you ignored the SC beat down, all was well in South Bend.

The situation was very similar to what Ohio State had experienced a year earlier with the arrival Tressel (assuming, of course, that you also think sweater vests are snappy). The team was scrappy and tough, winning games that they should have lost. Ty Willingham won every coaching award worth accepting, and some coaching awards were invented just to make him feel even better about himself.

Notre Dame is a school of tradition, which is a synonym for myth. Listen to a Domer talk about the four horsemen and you would think they scored a touchdown on every play. Watch “Rudy” and you’ll never realize that Notre Dame was quite mediocre in Rudy’s big year. The standards, set by almost mythical creatures, are too high to live up to, but have one successful season at Notre Dame and fans will have you convinced that Rockne-like success is your birthright. You will be labeled a “Golden Boy” until you fail and start getting the hate mail—but Notre Dame is not a football factory.

Ty Willingham bought into the hype and, consequently, his team lost that scrappy mentality. In 2003, Notre Dame lost its Fight. They opened the season with a tough win over Washington State (a good team), but then got blasted by Michigan. The wheels quickly fell off and Coach Willingham was getting death threats.

In comes the next candidate for apotheosis—Charlie Weis. The program was in disarray, but he is able to get folks to rally around him. He got the Fight back. He has two very successful seasons with Ty Willingham’s players, and praise is dumped on him faster than he can dig out from under it.

Charlie Weis, like Willingham, bought the hype. Rumor has it that Coach Weis forgot in Spring 2007 that football was a contact sport, thinking he could out-scheme opponents—he was smart enough to win games with his brain. That lack of physicality in practice led to poor performances on Saturdays. Really poor performances. “Worst offense in the country” kind of performances. And offense is supposed to be Weis’s forte. In 2007, Notre Dame lost its Fight.

This was a best case scenario for the Irish. Notre Dame, like Michigan, was engulfed in its own mythology and needed a dose of reality (which, in Michigan’s case, came in the form of Appalachian State). Charlie Weis was humbled but the situation did not become unmanageable. Some players left, but more are arriving. The coaches, players and fans have reevaluated their expectations, and, hopefully, the Irish have got their Fight back.

But let this be a warning to the college football nation (including you, Alabama). A little success creates expectations and cultures of hero worship that can be self-destructive. They lead to instability and performance-inhibiting self-aggrandizement. And impossibly-high standards of success and myths of the past are much easier to build up than to bring down.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Big East Preview, 2008

I assumed the loss to Pitt had permanently scarred the West Virginia program. When Rich jumped ship, I thought we were about see a team whither away and fade into oblivion. But Coach Stewart stepped up and the Mountaineers beat down Oklahoma, stunning the world and, apparently, Bob Stoops.

This was supposed to be a sign that all was well in Morgantown, and with White, Devine, and an imposing offensive line back, the offense was going to again be unstoppable. But I think WVU lost more talent on offense in backs Slaton and Schmitt and WR Reynaud than they have picked up with a couple of recent middle of the pack recruiting classes. And the defense, which was better than most people recognized, was stripped clean. I think WVU will really get a run for its money this year in the Big East.

Question: What do Pitt and USF have in common?

Historically, these two programs have nothing in common (except for a lack of national championships in the 80's, 90's and this most recent decade), but last season they shared one important commonality - they beat West Virginia.

They have something else in common: they both have speed out the wazoo on defense. Pitt's defense was one of the best in the country, but the offense was so bad that they had to defend short fields and, consequently, gave up too many points. USF's biggest weakness on defense is that they are too speedy and lack the size to punish bruising backfields. Noel Devine is approximately 4 feet tall and weighs as much as Juice Williams did at birth. These two things - beating WVU and having speed - are not accidents.

In 2008, after losing to Auburn at home, White and Co. will need to win at Pitt and against USF the last two weeks of the season to win a Big East championship and finish in the top 15. I don't know if they will be able to pull it off. And if things don't go well in Boulder on September 18th, WVU could be looking at 4 losses in 2008.

If West Virginia falls from grace, who will take their place. In my mind, three teams in the Big East (USF, Rutgers, and Pitt) are ready to step forward while three others (Louisville, Cincinnati, UConn) have stepped back. And Syracuse is still Syracuse (relishing the glory days of Jimmy Brown and 1959).

Rutgers will have to replace Ray Rice but is now a real program with athletes that can fill in the holes as they appear. Solid quarterback play and a more open offense will help the Scarlet Knights compete, but a tough schedule will make life hard. They have to travel to West Virginia, Cincinnati, Pitt and South Florida between October 4 and November 15. If they can win three of four of those games, they should be Big East champs and BCS bowl bound. If not (the more likely scenario) they will be looking at another 8 or 9 win season, which is nothing to be ashamed of.

South Florida put themselves on the map last season (but only figuratively because most college football fans still couldn't tell you in which city USF resides). A more mature Grothe and healty RB Matt Ford should mean the offense is better than last year. They were hit bad at corner, but the defense should still be reliable. If they can win some big games at home against Kansas, Pitt and Rutgers, the skies the limit for this team.

It's about time for Pitt to break out. Three straight years now Pitt has dominated the recruiting scene in the Big East. Injuries last season held the offense in check, but watch for Sean McCoy to have a stunning season now that defenses will have to account for QB Stull and WR Kinder. The defense will be first class again, and their performance will actually show up on the score board when the offense starts clicking. They won't be great, but it won't take greatness to win the Big East this year.

And my much awaited prediction for Syracuse? They'll suck once again and forever.