Wednesday, August 31, 2005

All predictions guaranteed to be wrong!

With apologies to Gregg Easterbrook for the title of this post, here are the predictions from the Sports Illustrated college football staff. My thoughts:

1. All four of them are taking Virginia Tech to win the ACC, which makes me worry that this is becoming conventional wisdom. On the other hand, the only other team I would consider for that title is Miami and they have to go to Blacksburg, where the Canes always struggle, even when Tech was in their three-year, post-Michael Vick hangover. Watch N.C. State beat the Hokies this weekend and throw the whole enterprise into flux. Speaking of which, that would be the best game of the weekend if not for the fact that it was a totally boring fixture last year.

2. Three of the four writers pick Big Ten teams to oppose USC in the Rose Bowl, with the fourth taking Louisville. That makes the SI writers consistent with the Gameday crew, half of whom had Ohio State in the title game. One has to ask the question: do these people have any empirical sense at all? In the past ten years, there have been exactly two Big Ten teams in the national title game (and that includes Michigan '97, which didn't play in the Bowl Coalition title game, but was unbeaten and would have played Nebraska under the current bowl structure.) In contrast, four SEC teams have played for the national title during that same decade and Auburn would have been a fifth last year if not for the intervening event of the pre-season #1 and #2 teams actually playing up to their rankings. The SEC just does a better job of producing national title teams, or do we need to also compare the Big Ten's two national titles since 1969 to the SEC's seven. The one major outlet that seems to get this point is, whose major writers all picked SEC teams to oppose USC. It would be one thing if this was a year in which there was one dominant team in the Big Ten and a host of competitive teams in the SEC, but with the media touting the Big Ten as being loaded this year, why is the media falling itself to anoint teams from that conference, predominantly a team that was 4-4 in the league and finished 98th in total offense, as being likely to go unbeaten?

3. How far has Penn State fallen that they are listed as a surprise team because they are predicted to beat three dreadful out-of-conference opponents, break even in the Big Ten, and make a bowl at 7-4?

4. Three of the four writers pick teams that are on my overrated list (which apparently runs tomorrow on CFN and should lead to some choice indignant e-mails) to flop, but the fourth, written by Cory McCartney, makes no sense at all:

"Georgia. No team can lose as much as the Dawgs have and not miss a beat. Six players from last year's squad are now in the NFL, including David Greene and David Pollack. The offense will be shaky at first, and trying to keep up with Boise State in the season opener could be difficult."

McCartney illustrates the prime symptom of superficial media analysis: excessive focus on skill position players. Georgia returns all of its offensive and defensive linemen, save one. The team brings back 15 starters, some of whom were not exactly world-beaters. (I'm looking at you, David Greene.) Given that, you can't focus on what they've lost and claim that they're going to suck. Now, if you wanted to make the argument that the defense has carried the team over the past three years and they have a new defensive coordinator working for a head coach who doesn't know defense, then I might be willing to listen.

McCartney goes on to proclaim Joe Paterno as the coach on the hottest seat. Yeah, a guy with 343 wins who happens to be one of the biggest donors to his own university and whose program has not seen a fall in attendance is on the hot seat. Paterno is far more likely to be coaching Penn State in 2006 as compared to the likelihood of John Bunting still coaching North Carolina or Rich Brooks still coaching Kentucky.

5. What does it say about the quality of mid-major teams that there is complete consensus that Boise State is the pick of the litter and the Broncos didn't play a shred of defense last year. At least Fresno State played competent defense when they made their run in 2001.

6. Here's the problem with the avalanche of support for Reggie Bush in the Heisman discussion: how is Lane Kiffin going to figure out ways to get him the ball that didn't occur to Norm Chow? I'm waiting, guys.

7. And in the realm of completely idiotic reasoning, here's Luke Winn on why Laurence Maroney will be a Heisman flop:

"Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota. Last year Maroney and Marion Barber formed the best 1-2 punch in the Big Ten. But with Barber and quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq gone, teams will be stacking nine in the box to stop Maroney."

Khaliq didn't play last year and Maroney still ran wild. Additionally, Barber never played at the same time as Maroney, so how would defenses treat Laurence any differently this year? Barber's absence makes Maroney more likely to get Heisman publicity because he won't be sharing the load anymore. And what defense hasn't yet figured out to load up nine in the box against Minnesota? They haven't been able to throw the ball for years! If I know these things off the top of my head, then what the hell are SI writers doing writing this drivel when it's their job to know such facts?

But just to be fair, I'll go on the record picking against the best that SI has to offer:

BCS Predictions

Rose - USC vs. LSU - although this hurricane could really screw with with this pick.
Sugar - Florida vs. Cal - ABC's fantasy.
Orange - Virginia Tech v. Louisville - ABC's nightmare (unless the Ville is 11-0 and whining.)
Fiesta - Texas vs. Michigan - worked out pretty well the first time.

Surprise Team

Maryland - Now that Kelly Johnson isn't hitting and college football is around the corner, my man crush has shifted to the Fridge.

Flop Team

Florida State - Iowa fits the Charles Rogers theorem the best, but FSU is the most likely team to finish significantly below its pre-season rank.

Best Non-BCS-Conference Team

Bowling Green - just because I don't want to pick Boise State.

Heisman Trophy Winner

I don't really care, but hell, let's just go with Leinart again. Unlike Jason White, he doesn't have to deal with the stigma of having won the award and then shat the bed in the bowl game, so there'll be no remorse in giving the award to him again. Plus, the voters would all love it if he would date their daughters.

Preseason Heisman Candidate Who Will Pull A '2004 Brad Smith' (and fall out of the race)

Vince Young - I sense bad things for him in Columbus.

Next Household Name

Joseph Addai - just because he's on my fantasy team.

Coach On The Hottest Seat

Rich Brooks - Kentucky fans don't have high standards, but 7-17 in two years will chafe just about any fan base.

If USC is going to lose a regular-season game, which one will it be?

Nov. 12 at Cal - Tedford's teams have done a great job against SC so far, so why rock the boat?

Which of these three predictions would you feel the most comfortable making?
- Charlie Weis' Fighting Irish over 6 1/2 wins.
- Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks over 5 1/2 wins.
- Urban Meyer's Gators over 8 1/2 wins

Weis - six wins are not a tall task when the schedule includes Stanford, Navy, BYU, Washington, and Syracuse and he has the entire offense returning. Meyer will likely go over 8.5 wins, but the schedule is tricky. Spurrier has nothing to work with in Columbia, so I'd almost be inclined to take the under on him.

Lines, sweet lines

And no, I'm not going to make a Tony Montana joke here, although I was in Fort Lauderdale yesterday for work and couldn't help but hum the Scarface soundtrack for the entire day. I have few talents in this world and it turns out that simulating a synthesizer isn't one of them. Who knew? Anyway, thanks to I'm a Realist, we have lines for the weekend. Often, the first weekend of the year is the best time to make money since knowledge of the teams is so imperfect and a fan who has been paying attention in the off-season can take advantage of the unwashed masses and their over-reliance on how a team ended last season. Here are the lines that jump out at me:

Bowling Green (+2.5) at Wisconsin - the Badgers are not going to be very good this year and Bowling Green seems like the kind of team against which Wisconsin will have a hard time keeping up, scoring-wise. Forget the fact that they ended last year so cold; Wiscy is replacing almost everything on their offensive and defensive lines. Maybe I'm getting too caught up in the Omar Jacobs hype, but this line screams to me: "We think Bowling Green is going to win, but we don't want to insult Wisconsin by making them an underdog on their home field against a MAC team."

Notre Dame (+3) at Pitt - Notre Dame was about as good as Pitt last year and received a better coaching upgrade than the Panthers did. Assuming that Wannstedt has his usual constipatory effects on the offense and Weis has the Notre Dame offense humming, the Irish should take care of business and make the Michigan-Notre Dame game a little more enticing. Also, homefield is overrated in this game because the crowd will be about 40% Notre Dame fans.

Georgia (-7) vs. Boise State - This will distress HeismanPundit greatly, but there are a host of reasons to take the Dawgs in this game:

1. Mark Richt has lost one home game in the past three years. Only five teams have stayed within one score of the Dawgs over that time period.

2. Since cross-country travel apparently turns finely-tuned athletes into stumbling drunken idiots (hence HP's argument that even if SEC teams play good out-of-conference opponents, they don't travel far enough to do so,) Boise State will not be able to snap the ball without incident, let alone play against vastly superior athletes. On a serious note, it's going to be pretty hot and humid in Athens on Saturday.

3. September 1, 2001 - South Carolina 32 Boise State 13 (and USC famously played poorly in openers under Lou Holtz because he liked to sandbag future opponents.)

4. September 7, 2002 - Arkansas 41 Boise State 14.

5. Phil Steele says that Georgia is going to roll.

Oklahoma fans do several things well...

but they're primary talent is Farking. I give you Exhibit A:

The entire thread can be found here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Outlandish Predictions 'R Us

Not wanting the ESPN Gameday crew to be the only ones putting their reputations on the line, my friend Ben and I exchanged "BOLD PREDICTIONS" last week. Here are his, along with my comments:

1. Iowa loses 4 conference games - Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue and either Wisconsin or Minnesota. I think the Hawkeyes are overrated (my overrated column will either run this week on CFN or I'll post it online before the season starter; it has Iowa on top of the list,) but four losses goes too far, given how good Kirk Ferentz is. I could possibly buy three. I also view the Iowa game as Michigan's most certain loss this year.

2. Texas A&M wins/ties the Big 12 South title - a nice pick in light of the Texas overhype, but I have concerns about their defense.

3. USC loses two games this year - interesting in light of Chow's departure, but the effects of that won't be fully felt for a year or two.

4. Wyoming plays UF close, and that is their only loss of the year - I have no reason to doubt that Florida will have some kinks to work out on offense and that Urban Meyer might sandbag a little in advance of the Tennessee game, but is Wyoming really that good? 7-5 in the MWC last year?

5. Alabama wins/ties for the SEC West - insert obligatory reference to Brodie Croyle's health.

My outlandish predictions:

1. By mid-season, USC's defense is better than their offense, despite the fact that almost all of their off-season losses were on the defensive side of the ball. This one is based on the idea that they'll miss Norm Chow more as the season goes on and they don't have his brain to make adjustments to the way that defenses attack USC, and that Pete Carroll will do a great job with the SC defense, but he'll need a little time to get them up to speed.

2. Notre Dame finishes in the top 25. I may be overrating Charlie Weis, but they have a very experienced offense and should score a lot of points. 8-3 doesn't seem improbable to me and that will create excessive expectations for Weis that will be hard to match, given what their depth chart on the offensive line looks like for 2006 and 2007. Thanks, Ty!

3. Maryland wins their division; I can't remember if it's Atlantic or Coastal. I'm predicting bad things for Florida State this year and one of the teams in their division is going to take advantage. One good review of Sam Hollenbach is enough for me to make this pick, although I'm also tempted by Clemson, which seems to be lying in the weeds and which improved their coordinators significantly in the off-season.

4. Louisville loses at least two games. I just don't believe that mid-majors can be great two years in a row, especially with an upgraded schedule. This is the pick about which I feel the least confident.

5. Cal wins the Pac Ten. Just chalk this one up to an abiding confidence in Jeff Tedford.

A summary of the Gameday Crew's pre-season picks

I was out on date night Friday night, enjoying the hell out of The 40 Year Old Virgin (which was better than The Wedding Crashers, incidentally, because it remained fully for two hours, rather than devolving into a tepid chick flick full of shots of a mopey Owen Wilson,) and was therefore unable to watch Gameday's pre-season special. I got the summary from my brother Dan as Chelsea bored us to tears in their win over Tottenham, but for those of you who weren't able to eavesdrop on our discussion at Brewhouse Cafe, the Gunslinger has a nice summary. Some thoughts:

1. The crew didn't do much to disabuse SEC fans of the notion that ESPN adores the Big Ten when more of their picked Ohio State to win the national title than USC. Yes, the same Ohio State team that finished 4-4 in a weak Big Ten and was finally penalized for having a terrible offense. But hey, they looked good in their final two games against a defensively imploding Michigan team and an Oklahoma State team that had collapsed at the end of the year after losing a close game to Oklahoma, so they must be totally awesome. Corso picking the Bucks doesn't surprise or bother me because his role is simply to be the court jester (hence his statement that Notre Dame has a good chance of starting the season 0-6). Herbstreit is more problematic because his predictions are usually pretty solid and one would have to assume that he knows Ohio State better than any other program. Thus, we're left with a few possibilities:

a. He's trying to get back in the good graces of the Buckeye nation after getting death threats last year for criticizing Saint Tressel and the program in the wake of their scandal-a-day regimen.

b. He's been swept up by euphoria in Columbus and isn't in control of the part of his brain that produces rational thought.

c. He's fallen prey to the facile analogy that Ohio State won a national title three years ago after going 7-5 with a big win over Michigan in November, so it's gotta happen again. (This is one step removed from the Peyton Manning/Tee Martin "Black quarterback replaces school legend, so that team's going unbeaten" analogy that was applied to Texas after Chris Simms and is now being applied to Georgia after David Greene.

2. Trev Alberts is the roller coaster of the group because he says things that are either very insightful (reminding everyone who can only remember their last game of the season that USC wasn't especially dominating last season) or completely insane (South Carolina is a sleeping giant and will be in a BCS Bowl in three years - it's called a recruiting base, Trev. Look into it.)

3. Every one of them picked LSU to win the SEC, which works nicely for me since I put $10 on them at 20:1 to win the national title, but I'm starting to worry that it has suddenly become conventional wisdom that they're going to win everything, despite the fact that they lost one of the best coaches in college football. I don't want to waver on my LSU pick, but might I want to think about switching to Florida? I know that Meyer's offense generally only takes off in year two, but has he ever coached so much talent? And am I underrating the effect of going from one of the worst coaches in America to one of the best? And conversely, no one is picking Oklahoma to win the Big XII. I know they lost a ton of talent, but Bob Stoops is still the coach, no? And he has recruited better than Texas over the past several years, hasn't he? And he does have a decent record against the Horns, right?

You gotta love Texans

Modesty ain't really their thing. Mack must really be taking that Rose Bowl win pretty seriously, because this picture is pretty much the definition of hubris. This has to be the beginning of the second tape of Scarface, for those of you who grew up on the two-tape set and not the DVD, after Tony has landed Elvira, killed Frank Lopez and Mel Bernstein, and deposited duffel bags full of money into the bank. It's all going down from here and I can't get the song "Boomer Sooner" out of my head.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Thoughts on the Falcons game last night

1. The defensive line looked outstanding. Forget Michael Vick, the biggest improvement in the team and arguably the biggest reason why they were the second best team in the NFC last year was the play of Coleman, Kearney, Jasper, and Smith (in that order) on the front four. The team piled up a great sack total using four-man rushes, which is pretty much the key to defensive football. Last night, the line was in Leftwich's face all night. He got hit while delivering passes on a number of occasions. The Falcons were regularly blowing up running plays in the backfield. The play that stands out the most was Jonathan Babineaux running down a screen pass from the weak side for no gain, on which he showed both athleticism and great recognition skills. If the Falcons are going to survive a tougher schedule, then the defense is going to have to go from pretty good to very good and the onus is on the defensive line to lead the charge. Philly is incorrectly seen as Donovan McNabb's team, but the reason why they're in the NFC Title Game every year is they play consistently great defense.

2. While some look for every occasion to rip on Michael Vick, I have no problem with him pouting about criticism. For one thing, he's very much a love him or hate him figure, so even though SI fawns over him with cover stories and the ESPN crew acts as if he's Peyton Manning and Hercules rolled into one, there are also scores of pundits who rebel against that love-in by ripping him, often as excessively as he's praised. Additionally, Michael Jordan, the most lionized athlete of my time, constantly derived motivation from slights, real or imagined. If Vick becomes a better player because he's motivated by the naysayers in his head, then more power to him. I'll be sure to thank them all when I'm watching the parade down Peachtree Street in 2007.

2a. All that being said, when Jim Mora was haranguing Matt Schaub at the end of the first half for not getting a snap off quickly to prevent the officiating crew from reviewing a fumble call, the wife and I agreed that he would never, ever treat Vick the same way, even though Michael is just as capable of making such a mistake. The Falcons organization coddles Vick in every way, which is why him deriving motivation from slights from outside is even more important.

2b. And speaking of the fumble call, no one dwells on a call with more mind-numbing repetition without saying anything original or even paying attention to the monitor like the ESPN Sunday Night Crew. I don't know a single soul who likes them. Do you?

3. Michael Jenkins, nice to meet you.

4. Another good sign: if their behavior on the sidelines is any indication, the Falcons offensive skill position players seem to really like one another. I hate making the undisprovable "good for chemistry" arguments, but is it possible that part of Vick's value is bound up in the fact that his teammates like him and he seems to have a good time with them? One of Sports Guy's few legitimate criticisms of Peyton Manning is that he, like Dan Marino, is always bitching at his teammates every time something goes wrong and not in a Jordan-esque "I'm going to put the fear of G-d into you" way, but rather in a Luke Skywalker "But I was going to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters" way.

5. How happy are Falcons fans going to be if and when Peerless Price is cut? Will Distant Replays buy back his jerseys from fans to include in their "Disgraced Atlanta Athletes" section along with Len Barker, Theo Ratliff, Damian Rhodes, and every one of Pete Babcock's first round pick.

A good day for the Worldwide Leader

They must have heard my complaints because there are two strong efforts on the front page of today. One is this piece from Gary Gilette analyzing the fundamentals displayed by the Cubs and Braves during their game on Wednesday afternoon. Although he states that the game showed why the Braves win and the Cubs don't, it seemed from the article that both teams made plenty of mistakes, mainly by swinging at bad pitches and/or not shortening their swings with two out. Neither pitcher could get a bunt down properly, which is something that starting to irk me about the Braves' pitchers, probably because I was spoiled in the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz-Avery era, when all of our pitchers did that part of the game properly. (I'm about to start sounding like Bob Feller.)

My favorite line was this one about Raffy: "With one out, Rafael Furcal does everything he can to avoid walking, taking big swings on a pair of two-strike pitches before finally taking a free pass on the 10th pitch." Incidentally, either AJC Braves beat writer David O'Brien has been reading this site or we both seem to be on the same wave length regarding Furcal, because O'Brien fronts today's AJC sports section with this piece noting that Furcal has played himself into the $8-10M/year contract range with his terrific play over the past month. I'm seriously wondering now if the Braves shouldn't pay him and give up on signing Marcus Giles, since Furcal is clearly the key to the team's offense and Giles' bat can be reproduced by other players on the team, but Furcal's work as a table-setter cannot. There's no reason Betemit can't play second, is there?

The second strong piece is Sports Guy's fantasy rankings. When he's not taking gratuitous shots at Peyton Manning and whining that the Patriots don't get enough respect, he's a very funny writer on the NFL. His reasoning on Manning is the same reasoning that I offered to my friend Ken before his fantasy draft last year: the running backs always go high, but they aren't very consistent. It's a physically brutal position and you never know whose odometer is going to hit the limit in a given season. Manning is never hurt and is a guaranteed 40+ TD player. If you're picking at the top of the draft, you can't risk a flame-out.

Incidentally, my college fantasy draft was last week and I haven't even had a chance to blog about it this week. Here's Peace/Elkon's roster:


Brian Brohm (Louisville)
Drew Tate (Iowa)
Ryan Hart (Rutgers)

Running Back

Gerald Riggs, Jr. (Tennessee)
Joseph Addai (LSU)
Cornell Brockington (UConn)
Ken Darby (Alabama)

Wide Receivers

Steve Smith (USC)
Chad Jackson (Florida)
Sean Coffey (Missouri)
Broderick Clark (Louisville)

Tight Ends

Dominique Byrd (USC)
Charles Davis (Purdue)


Florida St.

We were picking sixth in a seven-team draft and our dream was to get Brohm and Riggs with the #6 and #9 picks. The dream came true. We're betting heavily on SEC runners, which is a traditional fantasy losing proposition and if my theory on the SEC heading into an offensive upswing is wrong, or even 1-2 years premature, then this could be problematic. Addai was not on the roster initially, but when we learned that our third round pick Seymour Shaw had transferred earlier in the week, we were allowed to drop Shaw at the end of the draft and pick up Addai, who could be a major producer if Justin Vincent keeps his head in his bum. Returning offensive line plus coach who produced consistently great running games at Oklahoma State and learned under Bo Schembechler? Sign me up. Similarly, we're hoping that Jackson is Chris Leak's go-to guy over Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell; the consensus among Florida fans is that he will be, but there are some major touchdown-stealing possibilities for both of our top two receivers.

In case you're wondering, the top five picks were Cody Hodges, Adrian Peterson, Chris Leak, Marshawn Lynch, and Jarrett Hicks. Matt Leinart, Mike Hart, Laurence Maroney, Greg Lee, and Reggie Bush were all franchised. Our franchise back, Vernand Morency, will hopefully have a big year for the Houston Texans, the lying bastard.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

SI Eviscerated

I ought to be feeling good vibes to Sports Illustrated for putting a Brave on the cover for the first time since the team won the World Series in October 1995 and they were forced to acknowledge a team other than the Yankees or Red Sox. However, The New Republic, to which I am a subscriber, is running an article bemoaning the decline of SI, another magazine to which I have a subscription. The Football Outsiders discussion of the article can be found here.

The assault is on two fronts, both of which have some merit. First, the article nails SI for continuing to reflect the trend sweeping through our society of elevating personality and celebrity over all else. Look at the political sphere for instance. There was no serious debate about Iraq in the public sphere for weeks until Cindy Sheehan came along, criticizing our continued involvement in Iraq and demanding to meet the President. She raises legitimate questions, but those questions are only salient to the media when they can personalize the issue into a Sheehan vs. the President dynamic. Terri Schiavo was the same way. Hell, the Democrats nominated a Presidential candidate last election cycle mostly because of his biography, not because he had any particularly interesting ideas on governing.

SI is following the same pattern. Most of their articles are puff pieces on athletes and tend to focus far more on individual players rather than their teams. For instance, they ran a piece on the Chicago White Sox in their College Football Preview edition and rather than focusing on why the team was doing so well and what challenges they face in the playoffs, they instead bored me for three pages with the back story on Scott Posednik. Their college football preview did have an interesting article on the Utah spread offense, but most of it was devoted to "getting to know you" puff pieces on Vince Young and Reggie Bush, as if Young's father's incarceration is more important to Texas' chances this year than the offensive line in front of him. Their team preview sections used to have paragraphs from opposing coaches scouting the top teams, but now, they just tell meaningless vignettes about certain players, like the revelation in the Michigan section that Steve Breaston writes slam poetry. (Please, Steve, don't be another J.J. Redick.)

Additionally, SI spends the majority of its page space on bite-sized features for people with non-existent attention spans. The magazine used to be full of lengthy features. Now, the features only start after about 50% of the magazine has been filled with fluff, including the almost useless "Players" section. I do like the polls of players (the "which manager would you most like to play for" one was enlightening), but otherwise, that section is nothing more than irrelevant personal details about athletes. Does anyone really care if Tony Stewart knows that Brad Pitt is together with Angelina Jolie? The features have also gotten shorter over the years.

As always, we can blame ESPN for the decline of sports media. Their insipid Magazine has caused SI to US Weekly-ize itself to compete. Personally, I would have loved to have seen SI turn its nose up at the Worldwide Leader and abandoned the "350-word attention span" market, but unfortunately, that would entail abandoning a very large chunk of the sports magazine market. The market seems ripe for a thinking man's sports magazine, which would take advantage of the increasingly sophisticated analysis that has been popularized by outfits like Football Outsiders and Baseball Prospectus. The magazine could charge a higher price and go after an up-market niche of professionals who don't care that Jessica Alba was seen canoodling with Derek Jeter in Central Park. Then again, maybe the web and the blogosphere have already filled that niche.

Oh, I almost forgot the second problem with SI identified in the article: shoddy journalism. Again, because of the need to compete in a race to the bottom with ESPN the Magazine, SI has apparently forgotten most of the rules for good journalism, as evidenced by evidence that has emerged in Mike Price's libel trial against SI and Don Yaeger. When Price first sued, I thought that he was just an indignant guy who got caught with his pants down and was trying to look aggrieved to save his reputation. Now, it turns out that the juiciest allegations in SI's story were based on seriously flimsy evidence. Price probably ought to win his suit, based on the evidence that has come out, although Price will still have to prove that Yaeger and SI were malicious, rather than just really sloppy. (There's also a potential damages issue: Price concedes that he went to the nudie bar in Pensacola and dropped some serious coin. Might he have been fired at Alabama even without the allegations that he slept with two strippers?) The article absolutely trashes Yaeger and does so without even mentioning Under the Tarnished Dome, which came out with much fanfare and is now viewed as little more than a poorly-sourced hatchet job that inspired Notre Dame to an 11-1 season.

I'm not going to cancel my subscription to SI because they still have a very good group of writers and the magazine is still better than its competitors, but it has definitely lost its luster in recent years.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Our new star icer is a Slovakian named Marian

My first reaction yesterday upon hearing the news that Dany Heatley had asked for and received a trade from Atlanta was "That ungrateful jerk! We supported him through his toughest time and this is how he repays that loyalty?" Then, I was sad that a guy who was the face of the franchise and was going to be our Lemieux, our Yzerman, our Sakic was heading out of town to be replaced by another European who can score, but does not do the dirty work. Then, I listened to 680's new hockey show from 7-9 on Tuesdays and I came to my senses. I don't usually hand out plaudits to 680, which seems to cater to the angry segment of suburbia that doesn't listen to 750's parade of social darwinists, but they do have the Thrashers now, my second favorite Atlanta team (behind the Braves,) and the Billy Jaffe/Darren Elliott/Dan Kamal radio show is now going to become a staple for me. Anyway, here are my thoughts on the Heatley deal:

1. Given that Waddell had to trade Heatley after he requested a trade and the number of available trading partners was small because there aren't that many players in the league who are of equal value, getting Hossa, who's as good as Heatley, and a defenseman who gives the Thrashers something they haven't had before (the description of De vries makes him sound like a slightly less dirty Kasparitis or Ulf Samuelsson) is a great deal. Hell, Hossa for Heatley straight-up would be a reasonable deal. Heatley's upside is a little higher because he's two years younger and is a little more physical than Hossa, but he also has a more significant downside, namely that in the past two years, he's suffered a major knee injury, a fractured orbital, and has likely suffered psychological damage after his car wreck. Hossa is consistent, having scored 29+ goals for the past five NHL seasons. he's also durable. Throw in a quality defenseman that Ottawa had to unload so they can sign Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara after the season and you have a net positive deal for the Thrashers. It's possible that Heatley will light the world on fire and Don Waddell will look like he made a mistake, but keep in mind that a) he had no choice but to make a deal, and b) Heatley might play a lot better in Ottawa than he would have in Atlanta, both because of better teammates and because of the fresh start he's getting.

2. My negative feelings about Dany seemed dumber and dumber the more I thought about them. The best way to describe Heatley's decision came from Ottawa's play-by-play announcer, who had a lengthy bit on 680 last night: Heatley needing to get out makes sense in the same way that parents who lose a child almost always sell their house. Heatley went through a tremendous tragedy and remaining in Atlanta meant constant reminders of that tragedy. The best way for him to deal with the guilt of accidentally killing his best friend is to move on and get some distance from it. Additionally, Heatley went about seeking the deal the right way. He didn't pull a TO and demand a deal in the press. Rather, he thought things through, had an intelligent conversation with his GM, and then asked for a deal, thereby preserving as much of the GM's bargaining power as possible. In a way, Heatley's approach has illustrated the stupidity of Owens' scorched earth approach, which destroyed Philly's ability to keep him (with a straight face) and thus assured that they could not trade him.

3. The Thrashers got better because of the trade and ownership's willingness to take on more salary had a lot to do with the improvement. Hossa is more expensive than Heatley and the team also took on salary in acquiring de Vries, so a little shout-out is due to the much-maligned Atlanta Spirit LLC for further stocking the other resident of Philips Arena. If Steve Belkin was still involved, then the trade would have been vetoed and we'd be starting the Heatley vs. Thrashers stand-off.

4. Will Bob Hartley play Kovalchuk and Hossa on the same line? I tend to think not, although if Marian is a good defensive player, then it's a possibility. So much will depend on which players click with one another once the team starts practicing together, but my guess is that Hartley knows he has about six good offensive players and he's going to split them between two lines. Here's my guess as to how the top two lines will look:

Kovalchuk - Savard - Mellanby
Kozlov - Holik - Hossa

5. Now, the question turns to finding a back-up goalie with the news leaking out that Pasi Nurminen has a career-threatening knee injury as the result of some serious weight-lifting. (Dan Kendra, anyone?) Even if Kari Lehtonen comes right into the NHL and is ready to play on a high level, the NHL season is longer than anything he's ever experienced before, so the Thrashers are going to need someone who can play 25-30 games and not embarrass himself. After trading the franchise's centerpiece and getting full value, this will be child's play for Waddell.

A lovely afternoon at Wrigley

1. After the pain of losing to an inferior Cubs team in the '03 NLDS, winning six out of seven against them makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The fact that the Braves beat Mark Prior and Kerry Wood twice each makes it even sweeter, although it again raises the "were they really that unhittable in '03" specter.

2. Jeff Francoeur, bunter? Hell, why not. If he bunted to third every now and again and drew third basemen in, he'd make himself an even more deadly hitter because he pulls the ball in that direction all the time.

3. Jorge Sosa is going to start Game Three of the NLDS in San Diego. Discuss. I'm trying not to imagine Sosa starting game three in Houston against Roy Oswalt or Bobby Cox deciding that the rotation is dicey, so he's going with Smoltz and Hudson on short rest.

4. Kyle Farnsworth is the closer for the rest of the year. Discuss. Bobby sure managed that way during this series, which means that he's seen enough from Reitsma to know that he's not going to be closing for the time being. Amazingly, I presented four closing options last week and three of them have been ruled out in short order. Reitsma is still slumping and can't close. Joey Devine isn't ready to stop major league hitters from launching grand slams. Smoltz can't leave the rotation because neither Thomson, nor Hampton are healthy. So Kyle it is until he blows up and we start demanding Blaine Boyer.

5. Not to be too negative after the Braves took two of three in Chicago, but the bats are pretty quiet right now. They've scored 13 earned runs in the last five games and that number would be lower if Mark Prior's throwing error this afternoon caused any of those three runs to be unearned. Adam LaRoche is particularly galling right now. He hasn't been hitting recently and today's strikeout in the 7th with runners on third and second and one out in a 1-0 game could have been an absolute killer. His .305 OBP and .748 OPS just don't cut it at a power position. He needs to close this year like he did last year or else those "Chipper to first" rumors are going to be hot and heavy during the off-season.

Monday, August 22, 2005

And just when I start sensing doom...

Around the 7th inning on Sunday night, I was feeling the walls closing in on the Braves like the Death Star trash compactor. ("What a wonderful smell you've discovered.") Smoltz was petering out, as he does just about every time he gets to 80-90 pitches. (Bobby might not have figured out to lift him if his spot didn't come up second in the bottom of the 7th.) The Braves were six outs away from losing their fourth in a row on a homestand that should have seen them salt the division away and had instead seen the Phillies and Marlins close to striking distance. The offense wasn't scoring and the bullpen inspired little confidence. To make matters worse, the Braves were heading out on the road this week for a road trip that had doom written all over it: three games in Chicago, with a hot Carlos Zambrano opening the series and John Thomson and Mike Hampton pitching (and I use that term loosely, the way they've come off the DL) the next two nights, followed by a series in Milwaukee against a team with a good pitching staff that took two of three in Atlanta back in July. The end was nigh.

Lo and behold, Bruce Bochy bailed the Braves out by inserting Akinori Otsuka, who was running on fumes after throwing two stressful innings on Saturday, instead of leaving in Scott Linebrink, who mowed through the Braves on 12 pitches in the 7th, and with a little help from our friends named Damian Jackson and Mark Sweeney, the Braves rallied for a win and then made it two in a row tonight with two of our high-priced, but oft-injured stars - Chipper and Hudson - showing why they have enough money to be Bond villains. (By the way, I just watched Moonraker and started thinking what sort of hare-brained plot I would hatch if I was a fabulously wealthy industrialist. Since destroying the world to create a new one in the sea has been taken, as has a new world in space, what's left for me? New world in a volcano? No, that's been taken as well. Maybe in the center of the earth? I digress.) Hudson threw very well tonight, although he was somewhat lucky late because his location suffered, but his movement was good enough to make sure that the average Cubs bats couldn't tee off. Chipper provided all of the offense one night after he had the big hit. The guy has never missed the playoffs on any level and he's showed why for the past two games.

Other random notes:

1. After a wretched start to the year, Rafael Furcal is second among NL shortstops in VORP (value over replacement player). He's played the best defense of his career this year and his offensive surge has neatly coincided with the Braves' surge as a team. He's going to be worth at least $10M per season this off-season, but I'm coming close to thinking that he might be worth that money more than Giles, although Marcus seems to be growing into a team leader role, or at least the court jester. I'm hoping that the Braves have a plan to sign one of them, if not both.

2. The fact that Bobby let Hudson throw over 120 pitches tonight with a two-run lead tells you all you need to know about his confidence in the closing situation right now. And anyone notice that he had Farnsworth, not Reitsma up in the pen? Maybe Bobby was channeling Dusty in the home dugout.

3. Can the Braves win one of the next two? Hampton or Thomson: which one is more likely to get off the schnide first? Or are the Braves going to have to have a ten-run outburst to win one of these games? And can we see if Farnsworth can come in against his former team in an emotional situation and pitch well? Is this the test for him in advance of the October crucible? I want the truth!

Friday, August 19, 2005


Sports Guy's intern has a reasonably interesting take on Andruw Jones. The parallel at the end between Jones and the Braves - a very good team that never quite won as much as we thought it should - is interesting and if the analogy holds true, then this October should be a real treat...if we get there.

Jeff Francoeur has caught the eye of Sports Illustrated's John Donovan, who writes that Francoeur has a lot of power, swings at everything, and brings a football mentality to the diamond. Nothing too earth-shattering there for anyone who's watched the Braves over the past month, but it's nice to see Frenchy get some recognition. By the way, can you imagine the parallels between Francoeur and Vlad Guerrero if Jeff was from the Dominican?

If you've been looking for a completely incoherent take on the Hawks' disaster, Scoop Jackson is on the scene. This joke will only resonate with people who grew up on the Macon Telegraph & News, but Jackson's paragraph-to-sentence ratio must be the lowest since Harley Bowers. (My favorite Harley memory is the year that he decided that the Heisman shouldn't be given because none of the players that year deserved it. It was some time in the late 80s and for the life of me, I can't remember the exact year.) For those of you who didn't read Harley every morning, imagine Furman Bisher writing a front-page of the Sports section piece every morning, only with even less coherence.

Stewart Mandel's SEC Preview is up. Not much interesting here, other than Mandel taking Florida over Tennessee in the East. He also predicts Arkansas to have a winning record, which is a bit of a stretch, but the Reggie Herring hire might be the reason. I didn't see anything out of Robert Johnson last year to make me think that the Hogs will be able to move the ball, but he should be much better now that he's the starter and getting most of the reps in practice. Getting thrown into a tight game against Georgia's defense wasn't exactly a situation that had success written all over it.

Speaking of Sports Illustrated, I was reading the college football preview at the gym today and caught two factual errors in the space of about 15 pages. First, they say that Marshall and West Virginia haven't played since 1915, when a simple trip to would have revealed an August 30, 1997 42-31 WVU win over Marshall. Second, they printed a stat that Ohio State gained around 400 yards per game in the first half of last season and then 500 yards per game in their final five games. Those are some pretty impressive numbers for a team that finished 98th in the country in total offense at a whopping 320.8 yards per game. It's possible that SI is including return yardage in their 400/500 figures, but that's incredibly misleading because any football fan will read the stat and think that SI means total offense. And so, we ask the question again: don't these people have fact-checkers? I thought that SI had, you know, editors?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


After a flawless July, Chris Reitsma has been about as bad as a pitcher can be in August. Ever since his disastrous 9th inning in St. Louis ten days ago, he's been unable to get anyone out, save for one competent inning at the end of a 9-5 win over Arizona on Sunday. Last night, he failed to record an out while facing five batters from the L.A. Dodgers, one of the worst offensive teams in baseball.

On the one hand, we might look back on this season and think that it all went south when he deflected a double-play grounder in the 9th in St. Louis. If he doesn't touch that ball, then he's left protecting a two-run lead with a runner on third and two outs, he probably gets the save, and he doesn't go through his current crisis of confidence. On the other hand, Reitsma could be going through the same doldrums that he went through last year, when he wore out and was mostly useless for the last portion of the season. As I see it, the Braves have a few options right now:

1. Keep Reitsma as the closer and hope that he pitches through his slump. This is the strategy that Bobby will employ for the time being; the question is how long will he employ it. The Braves have a four-game lead over Philadelphia in the loss column and there are still 43 games to go. That gives Reitsma a little time to sort through the demons that scream in his head every time he goes to the hill. If that lead dwindles too much, then Bobby might be forced to go to other options...

2. Find another closer in the bullpen. The most obvious candidate is Kyle Farnsworth, who has the stuff to close games and was very effective for Detroit this year. However, he's pretty emotional and he could be another Dan Kolb: a guy who pitches well in obscurity, but blows up when faced with pressure. Otherwise, I don't see another closer in the bullpen. There is a pretty good closer on the roster, however...

3. Move Smoltz back to the bullpen. This will probably never happen because Smoltz would have to be dragged kicking and screaming, but if the closer crisis gets bad enough and Hampton and Thomson are both pitching well, then Bobby will be faced with a team that has a glut of great starters, no closer, a 13-year divisional title streak on the line, and a solution sitting at the top of his rotation. Smoltz has worn down a little this year and acknowledged last night that his endurance wasn't very good. If he's only going to be a six- or seven-inning guy from here on out, isn't it better for him to move to the pen? And would doing so, changing his work pattern, be a recipe for arm trouble?

4. Call up Joey Devine. It would be fitting, in a year in which the Braves have relied so heavily on their farm system, that they would look to it to solve a closer crisis. He has a 2.37 ERA right now at Mississippi. A 1.42 WHIP isn't especially impressive, but the sample size is small. He was described as major league-ready when the Braves drafted him and it seems likely that he'll be called up when the rosters expand, unless his pitching at Mississippi has the Braves' scouts convinced that he's not yet ready. It seems unlikely that Bobby would trust a rookie to close in big games in September and (G-d willing) October, but necessity being the mother of invention, it's not impossible. I never thought that Lloyd Carr would ever trust a true freshman in a critical role, but when Michigan was 1-1 and about to lose a home game to San Diego State, voila, Carr went to Mike Hart and Michigan rode two true frosh in the backfield to Pasadena.

Trash Talking from Lou Holtz?

I'm not sure where to begin in discussing this statement from the former head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. First of all, Holtz, when he was a head coach, wouldn't pick his team to beat Tattnall Square Academy, let alone a team like Georgia on the road. Now that he doesn't have a chestnut in the fire, he's turned into Jose Mourinho? Second, he conveniently forgets to mention that Georgia does have trouble in Columbia, but the last time Lou brought his Cocks to Athens, they left with their feathers between their legs on the heels of a 31-7 beating. Third, and most amusingly, he left the cupboard bare in Columbia. Between his average recruiting efforts and the fact that he ran such a loose ship that Steve Spurrier has been forced to cut players left and right, South Carolina isn't going to be bringing a whole lot of talent to Athens.

Fans in the SEC seem to have some sort of reflexive fear of Spurrier, but they forget that he was great at Florida because he was a bright coach and because he had talent that was better than anyone else's, save for Tennessee and perhaps Georgia at the end of the Donnan era. How's he going to do with inferior talent? Well, how did he do in the NFL when he was playing with Daniel Snyder's mismatched roster instead of blue chip athletes galore? How did Lou Holtz, another very good coach (albeit one hamstrung by his loyalty to his son as offensive coordinator,) do with South Carolina talent? 33-37.

So thanks, Lou. We appreciate your confidence in South Carolina. (Maybe your fans' famously excessive optimism has rubbed off? Care to share another story about how Cory Jenkins is faster than Carl Lewis and can throw the ball farther than Kordell Stewart and harder than Billy Wagner?) Your recommendation doesn't change the fact that the South Carolina game ranks behind Florida, Tennessee, Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Boise State on the list of games that Georgia fans should be worrying about this August.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My Top 25

I didn't put as much thought into it as I should have, but looking at the teams, regardless of their schedules, here's what I come up with:

1. Southern Cal
2. Louisiana State
3. Texas
4. Florida
5. Virginia Tech
6. Tennessee
7. Michigan
8. Oklahoma
9. Louisville
10. Miami (Florida)
11. Ohio State
12. Georgia
13. Iowa
14. Auburn
15. Cal
16. Texas A&M
17. Florida State
18. Boise State
19. Purdue
20. Alabama
21. Minnesota
22. Texas Tech
23. Oregon
24. Pittsburgh
25. Notre Dame

It's a little SEC heavy and I'm not going with my conviction that Tennessee is overrated as much as I should.

Scouting the SEC for Fantasy Purposes

My college fantasy draft is this weekend (I play in a league with people from my high school and from the "we're way ahead of Kansas in not teaching evolution" rival high school) and as always, my partner and I are scrambling to put together rankings for the season. One of our usual rules is that we stay away from SEC players because 1) they tend to get drafted very high in the South, 2) everyone knows about them, whereas we have an advantage in that I'm probably the only one in the room with good knowledge of the Big Ten and its panoply of statistically productive running backs, and, most importantly, 3) SEC players haven't put up big numbers in recent years because the defenses have been ahead of the offenses. (Cue HeismanPundit telling us that SEC offenses are coached by Farmer Fran, the assistant in The Waterboy.) SEC teams produce a bevy of good NFL runners, but those runners are typically a surprise to everyone on the next level because they didn't have big stats in college. (See: Davis, Terrell or Davis, Domanick.) The league hasn't produced a great fantasy QB since Rex Grossman won the league for one team (not mine) in 2001. We, of course, foolishly drafted him the next year during the Ron Zook malaise. In 2001, we sought to reproduce our league-winning team of 2000, which was led by Chris Weinke, and went with Chris Rix early. Nice work.

Anyway, I think that that drafting rule against taking SEC players doesn't apply anymore. The league was very defensive last year. Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU all had very good defenses and, with the exception of Auburn, did not have offenses to match. Tennessee and Florida were the only major teams in the league with better offenses than defenses. This year, the league looks like it's about to take a serious turn. Look at the major coaching changes:

LSU replaces a defensive coach with an offensive one. Specifically, Les Miles did a great job coaching the running game at Oklahoma State and ought to transfer that skill to LSU.

Florida replaces a defensive coach (albeit one who didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground in terms of defensive scheming) with an offensive one and is expected to put up huge numbers this year.

Georgia loses its defensive coordinator, but retains its offensive brain trust.

Auburn loses its defensive coordinator, but retains its offensive brain trust.

South Carolina replaces Lou Holtz (an offensive coach whose teams at USC were better on defense) with Steve Spurrier, the gold standard of SEC offensive coaches.

The only teams in the conference that made changes that should make them better defensively this year were Arkansas, who hired Reggie Herring to fix their leaking defense, and Ole Miss, which hired Ed Orgeron, a defensive coach, to replace David Cutcliffe, an offensive coach.

Offense and defense tend to ebb and flow. The SEC was in a defensive stage until Steve Spurrier came into the league and forced opponents to evolve or die. (There's another nasty evolution reference, although I suppose the Luddites can always come back with "But it was Spurrier's intelligent design that forced the change!") Within years, everyone in the league was running three-and four-wide sets and throwing the ball around. Then, defenses caught up and the league went back into a defense-first posture for the past several years, mainly after 2001, which is the last year in which the best teams in the league were all offense-heavy. Now, the pendulum looks like it's about to swing back.

Kudos for the Braves

At this stage in the season, it's always fun reading articles from outlets covering teams that have had disappointing years comparing their teams to the Braves. Here is this year's entry from Los Angeles.

Paul DePodesta, a Harvard-educated economist and one of the protagonists of Moneyball, has nothing but nice things to say about the Braves, referring to them as a "model." One the one hand, he can't be expected to say anything else, given that his team is below .500 and the Braves have the second-best record in the National League right now. On the other hand, if he is stating genuine admiration for a team that allegedly emphasizes scouting over statistical analysis, then that's further evidence that the dichotomy between the two schools is not as broad as was once thought. The Braves did make some Moneyball mistakes this year, like overrating the importance of saves in trading for Dan Kolb or ignoring the statistical declines of Brian Jordan and Raul Mondesi. However, they've been a perfect Moneyball team in the sense that they've gotten cheap production from their farm system, rather than overpaying free agents or mortgaging the future by making big trades.

The very personification of myopia

Put this piece from Bill Simmons into the dictionary next to the entry for "myopia". "Provincial" would also be a good spot. (And we Southerners are supposed to be the ones living in our own insular little world.) In case you haven't been following this blog from its diaper days, one of my pet peeves is the obsession with the Yankees and Red Sox, which has destroyed any enjoyment that I got from following the American League. Actually, that's not true. I have enjoyed following the other contenders in the AL this year just because I desperately want to see them knock the Sox and Yankees off to spare us from another Northeastern (read: national) media orgy when the two teams meet again.

Anyway, Simmons has decided that, although Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz are apparently book-ending Alex Rodriguez in the running for AL MVP, that's simply not enough: Johnny Damon needs to be in the picture as well. The closest analogy I can think of would be Ronald Reagan waking up on the morning after Election Day 1984 and whining that he didn't win Minnesota and the District of Columbia. You would think, based on Simmons' list and his bitched-about omission that the Yankees and Red Sox are both 75-40 and coasting towards the playoffs. Would you believe that they don't have the best record in the AL? Or that they are essentially equivalent to the A's and Angels in terms of wins and losses?

My major problem with Simmons' reasoning is this: it ought to be damned near impossible for a player on a team with a payroll in the Yankees/Red Sox stratosphere to ever win the MVP because their teams have so much talent that no one player is irreplaceable. Simmons himself admits that Ortiz and Ramirez are essentially redundant, save for the fact that Manny is bad-crazy and Ortiz is good-crazy. And how does one distinguish A-Rod from Sheffield or Matsui? Now, take a gander at the Angels' stats and notice how integral to their success Vlad Guerrero is. And then add in the fact that he's a defensive asset, unlike just about everyone else on the list, other than A-Rod. And are you telling me that we can't find a single MVP candidate from the best team in the AL? Is Paul Konerko's .898 OPS and 30 homers not enough for you?

And one other problem that causes me to question his judgment: he describes Johnny Damon going over the fence to pull back a homer in Tampa. I remember that game (mainly because ESPN seemed to be playing the highlights on a continuous loop) and unless Damon is as tall as Georghe Muresan and can jump like Josh Smith, he didn't pull back a home run, since the outfield walls at Tropicana Field are 9'5 and 11'4. Damon got back to the wall, waited, and timed an unremarkable jump to catch the ball. It was a very good play, but Simmons tries to turn it into some sort of Junior-Griffey-in-his-prime feat of stunning athleticism. And for G-d sakes, do we really want to give out the MVP based on a win over the Devil Rays?

Friday, August 12, 2005

22 days until...

I have to admit it's getting better

We're channeling the Beatles instead of G'n'R today (maybe "The Long and Winding Road" would have been better?) in light of the latest development in JoeJohnsonGate: David Stern has arrived to rescue the deal. Judge Gestel ruled against the majority of the Hawks' owners (hereinafter, "Owners who want to spend") on Tuesday and said that they needed approval of the NBA to remove Belkin as the team's representative on the Board of Governors. Stern has now filed an affidavit stating that the Owners who want to spend have the right to do so because Belkin's actions are material enough to trigger that right. This seemed fairly obvious to me from the outset: signing a player who would be the highest-paid player on the team by far seems like a pretty important action and one owner stopping that action from taking place seems like a pretty material action that legally binds the team. Anyway, it wasn't obvious to Judge Gestel, although something tells me that the result would have been different if the Celtics were the team acquiring the player (not that judges would ever let their personal preferences get in the way of interpreting the law.) Hopefully, the affidavit from David Stern, who has a law degree and rose from the position of corporate counsel to the commissioner's seat (see, lawyers can do productive things!), will be sufficient to get the injunction dissolved and we can all go on with our lives.

I'm something of an optimist, despite over two decades as an Atlanta sports fan, and this whole imbroglio could turn out to be a positive one for the Hawks. If it ends with Belkin getting neutered, then the net result is that everyone else in the organization will have bonded together against a common enemy. The players will view the remaining owners as willing to go to the mat for them to improve the team, especially Johnson because it will be clear to him that the Owners who want to spend were willing to fight Belkin in court to get him to Atlanta. Billy Knight ends up looking like a hero, helped in no small part by this photo:

And if the Owners who want to spend money succeed in buying out Belkin so he can cause no more mischief (a possibility that seems somewhat unlikely according to today's paper, although Belkin losing his injunction and being marginalized by the Owners who want to spend money would damage his bargaining position), then we could actually be confident in this ownership group going forward. In the end, if the Hawks end up with Joe Johnson and the whole episode brought to a head (and ultimately healed by amputation) the fissure in the group, then the franchise is better off and we can look forward to the coming years as an exciting time in which a young, athletic team will hopefully grown and improve together.

One pessimistic thought: John Hollinger,'s NBA stathead, ranked the acquisition of Johnson as the second-worst off-season signing:

"Assuming this deal happens, it was bad enough for the Hawks to offer to pay Johnson roughly double what he's worth by giving him $14 million a year. It was bad enough that Atlanta's 'plan' involves Johnson playing the point full-time, even though he gets into the paint about as often as Shawn Kemp gets into a leotard. But the real kicker for me is that the Hawks are now willing to fork out two No. 1 picks to Phoenix for the right to overpay Johnson so badly. Johnson's numbers have been inflated by all the minutes he's played, but on a per-minute basis he's a pretty ordinary player."

A couple thoughts on this:

1. I'm somewhat leery of playing Johnson at the point, but his passing and assist numbers are pretty good in limited time at the position. Ultimately, he'll be best at the two with Salim Stoudemire at the one, assuming that Salim can occasionally beat defenders off the dribble. If not, he'd be a fine match with Tyronne Lue. The problem with playing Johnson at the two is that it bumps Josh Childress into the logjam at forward, increasing the necessity to trade Al Harrington for a one or a five.

2. Is it possible that he didn't drive much in Phoenix because his role was to be a set shooter? Seriously, why would the ball be in his hands when you're paying all that money to Steve Nash? He was certainly quick enough to get into the paint when he was in college.

3. The market clearly thinks that Johnson is worth the money since teams are lining up to pay him the max and trade with the Suns if the Hawks' deal falls through. Maybe they all watched Phoenix go in the tank once Johnson was injured in the playoffs.

4. Shouldn't his durability be a positive? Does John Hollinger need to talk to the Baseball Prospectus guys about this point?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Further evidence that Georgians are better than Floridians

The Florida College Sports blog takes on an admirable task - showing how badly the BCS has failed at its mission (although it's my position that its mission is impossible) - and ends up simply showing that they need a fact-checker in the worst way. In the interests of provoking a border war, let's play count the mistakes:

1. The BCS didn't exist until 1998. Before that, it was the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance. I can't remember which came first, but it's interesting to see that all the names were picked to create some perception of consensus. "Hey, they gang's all here! No need to criticize us now!"

2. I'm pretty sure that there was no Bowl Alliance in 1994. Nebraska was obligated to go to the Orange Bowl, Penn State was obligated to go to the Rose Bowl, and if unbeaten Alabama wouldn't have been upset by Florida in the SEC Championship Game, they would have been headed to the Orange Bowl. That year simply illustrates that the old bowl system was worse than the BCS and its Alliance/Coalition buddies.

3. Texas was 8-4 after upsetting Nebraska in the '96 Big XII Title Game, so I'm pretty sure that they weren't a candidate for the Sugar Bowl. Virginia Tech was indeed 10-1, but no one took them seriously because of their soft schedule and two-loss Nebraska had their way with them in the Orange Bowl. The controversy in '96 was that unbeaten Arizona State and once-beaten (and almost unbeaten; thanks, Tai Streets) had to play in the Rose Bowl. If the BCS would have existed in 1996, then the two unbeaten teams - FSU and ASU - would have played in the title game and Steve Spurrier would still be without a national title. To summarize, '96 showed that the BCS would be an improvement because it would bring the Big Ten and Pac Ten into the fold.

4. Another problem with this article: the writer has no idea how the BCS and its predecessors work. He argues that Tennessee got the slot opposite Nebraska instead of Florida or Florida State because Peyton Manning would bring in TV viewers. I was unaware that ABC had a vote in the human polls or ran a computer poll. John Saunders must work in mysterious ways. No, Tennessee got that spot because they played a tougher schedule than Florida State, they had fewer losses than Florida, and they lost earlier in the year than either of them. Blame pollsters for recency, but don't blame the BCS for that.

5. 1998 - Again, Florida State lost earlier than Ohio State and that got them to the Fiesta Bowl. Blame the pollsters, not the BCS. Also, FSU's last game was a home win over 9-1 Florida in which they allowed something like one complete pass in the second half, possibly Doug Johnson's finest hour. (That was also the game that Dougie threw at Bobby Bowden during warm-ups. In retrospect, why were any of us surprised that he was a miserable failure as the starter for the Falcons?) The big screw-up in '98 would have been if UCLA and Kansas State wouldn't have been upset on the final weekend, as that would have created the 2004 disaster (three major unbeatens) in the first year of the BCS.

6. 1999 - Does the writer forget that one-loss Nebraska was close to nipping unbeaten Virginia Tech for that Sugar Bowl bid? Or that Michigan almost certainly would have taken that bid if they wouldn't have blown a 20-point lead against Illinois, since they would have been 10-1 with the #2 schedule in the country? Ditto for Alabama surrendering a last-gasp touchdown against Louisiana Tech, as they would have been 11-1 with the #1 schedule. (Thus, Mike DuBose would have become the first coach without verifiable brain waves to lead him team to a national title game.) The point is that unbeaten Virginia Tech could have been deprived of that Sugar Bowl slot very easily by a one-loss team, again illustrating the stupidity of a two-team playoff in a sport with 117 teams.

7. 2000 - Gee, if we're suddently treating head-to-head as important, then shouldn't Washington have been the opponent for Oklahoma, since they beat Miami who beat Florida State? And is it that hard to go to and realize that Oregon State won the Fiesta Bowl 41-9, not 51-3?

8. The post-hoc criticism of Nebraska playing in the 1/1/02 Rose Bowl really annoys me. Yes, they lost their last game 62-36, but how can you advocate Texas or Tennessee playing in the game since they also lost their last games, Texas to two-loss Colorado and Tennessee to three-loss LSU. Again, the BCS did the best it could with an impossible task. Nebraska had a much better average margin of victory than Oregon and they had a better record than Colorado, despite the head-to-head result. Yes, Tennessee or Texas could have made matters simple (and Tennessee or Florida would have been the best opponent for that Miami team,) but they didn't and we were left with the best of the rest. Blame Fulmer and Brown.

9. 2002 was clean, but if John Navarre looks off of Braylon Edwards and finds Tyrece Butler open on the other side of the end zone, then what happens? You have one-loss Georgia, one-loss Ohio State, and one-loss Iowa, not to mention two-loss USC that had played the toughest schedule in the country. Who plays Miami then?

10. LSU's home loss to Florida was worse than USC losing to 8-6 Cal? And do we forget that Oklahoma did have a bad loss, but before that, were being referred to as one of the best teams in recent memory? Does 65-13 over Texas ring a bell?

11. Oklahoma barely scraped by against overmatched opponents? What about USC beating 4-7 Stanford by three or 6-6 UCLA by five? The rest seems reasonable, although I would add that Utah was 11-0, beating the hell out of everyone they played, also failed to get a shot at the title.

Quick Braves Thoughts

Went to the game last night and have the following observations:

1. Last night was the third time I've seen Francoeur double sharply to right center. He isn't a dead-pull hitter in the same way that Andruw is.

2. The Braves were very unlucky to not blow the game open in the 5th. LaRoche and Francoeur led off with doubles and then the Braves didn't score the rest of the inning, despite Brian McCann hitting a screamer right at the second baseman with a runner on second and none out and Kelly Johnson hitting a screamer right at the rightfielder with the bases loaded and two outs. It easily could have been a four- or five-run inning.

3. Bobby left Smoltz in too long, as he has in the other two Smoltz starts I've attended this year, the loss to Pedro and the Mets in April and the 130-pitch complete game shutout against the Marlins in June. John was clearly tiring in the 8th inning. After allowing two baserunners in the first seven innings, he gave up three hits in the 8th and got out of the inning with a double play. A sign to start the 9th with Reitsma? Nope, Bobby waited until the tying run was on base, which Reitsma allowed to score. And speaking of Chris, he did nothing to alleviate my fears about him being the weak link on this team. He's taken to walking around the mound and playing with the resin bag after each pitch, which is exactly what Kolb did when he was struggling in April and May. He gives off the vibe that he's struggling mentally and wants to delay throwing the next pitch. His velocity was fine, so I don't think he's hit the wall like he did last year. Maybe he's a little shaken after his blow-up in St. Louis and needs a little time to get over that.

4. How depressing would it be to be a Giants fan and watch a team that's both bad and old? It must be like it was to root for the Hawks during the dreadful Rahim/Ratliff/Terry/Big Dog era.

5. Signs I'm growing old: I used to complain every time Dad would take my brother and I to games when we were growing up and then leave before extra innings. "How can you leave when things are just getting exciting?" So who left last night after Furcal flew out to the wall to end the 9th? This guy!

6. Andruw's two homers made me start to think that he should win the MVP over Albert Pujols, but then I checked their stats this morning and there's no way to make that case. Both players have been the key offensive piece for the two best teams in the National League, but Pujols has a 63 point lead in batting average, a 71-point lead in on base percentage, and a 20-point lead in slugging percentage. Andruw is a better defensive player and plays a position at which it's much harder to find a good hitter, but those factors aren't enough to make up the difference between the two in OBP and SLG. Andruw should finish a solid second and we should all be happy with that. Derrek Lee will get some publicity, but the Cubs' fade will hurt him. The darkhorse candidate is Miguel Cabrera, especially if the Marlins push into the Wild Card. Speaking of which, would we rather have the Astros win the Wild Card and face Clemens-Oswalt-Pettite or would we rather the Marlins get into the playoffs, given their perfect record as a Wild Card?

7. I can't believe that Adam LaRoche tried to steal a base last night. Shockingly enough, he was thrown out by a mile.

8. The first four hits of the game were all doubles. The first three hits of the game all hit the wall on the fly. Odds?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Where do we go now/a ya ya ya ya ya ya

Maybe humming a little G'n'R would make me feel better. In case you haven't heard, one Mass Hole has backed another. It's sadly ironic that an ownership group replete with lawyers allowed one figure to have veto power over everything the Hawks do. (Alternatively, they did draft the agreement properly and either their lawyers were much worse than Belkin's or the judge was inclined to side with the local boy.)

Anyway, Joe Johnson is now totally in limbo. The Hawks could try to negotiate with Phoenix to strike a deal that Belkin would find acceptable, but the Suns are unlikely to bail the Hawks out of this mess and if the co-owners and Knight's view of Belkin are correct, he doesn't want the deal to go forward anyway because he doesn't want payroll to go too high. The Hawks could also call Phoenix's bluff and simply sign Johnson to an offer sheet, but all they'd be doing there is sending him back to Phoenix.

Long-term, Belkin has to go. The Hawks will never be able to sign a free agent with him still in place, which will depress the rest of the team and the fan base. (Can you imagine what the Hawks players think right now?) More significantly, as Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Mark Bradley made an excellent point this morning: Belkin's interference with his GM is exactly what Ted Turner used to do. The example of the one successful pro sports team in this town is that ownership should put the right guy in charge of the team and then let him do his thing, rather than meddling and pretending to have expertise in the field. Belkin clearly has not learned this lesson. He always wanted to be an owner, but it turns out that he has unquenchable desires to be a GM as well.

It just gets uglier and uglier

Billy Knight has joined the chorus of Steve Belkin critics, bolstering allegations made by the Hawks' other owners that he does not want to spend money on the team. At this stage, with a phalanx of co-owners AND the GM all saying the same thing, it's hard to take Belkin seriously, not that that will matter when a Boston judge reviews the Atlanta Spirit operating agreement for the Hawks today and determines whether the other owners have the right to remove Belkin from his appointment to the NBA Board of Governors. The level of acrimony has reached such a public crescendo that the only solution is for Belkin to allow the other owners to buy him out and much of this posturing on both sides might be about affecting the price at which the other owners will do so. Belkin has always wanted to own an NBA team and he might be intransigent because he knows that if he gets booted from Atlanta Spirit, then his chances of ever owning another NBA team become minimal.

The worst possible outcome is for the judge to rule in favor of Belkin and then for Steve to dig his feet it, waiting for a buy-out offer that never reaches the levels of generosity that he demands. We'll be left with an owner hating his other owners and having veto power over every trade they make. The pall cast over the Hawks and Thrashers by a feuding ownership group with no solution on the horizon would be significant, as if the fact that neither of the Philips tenants have been to the playoffs since the facility opened in 1999 isn't bad enough. In short, today's events in Boston are really important. If they don't go well, I have a fusillade about Mass Holes ready to fly.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Great stuff from SI on "high tech" offenses

I'm interested by this subject in part because Florida is going to be running the funkiest of new offenses this year, thus testing what happens when a major superpower gets innovative as opposed to a Texas Tech or a Louisville. I'm also interested because my friend Ben has been proclaiming for years that "the spread is dead," even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
All you need to know about Ben and his Bushian ability to ignore facts and restate his conclusions is this: he went to the 2003 Texas-Texas Tech game, which allowed him to watch in person Mike Leach's offense put up 40 points on one of the better defenses in college football, and yet he returned convinced that the game did not disprove his irrationally-held belief. (On the other hand, I dismissed his argument that pitchers took steroids and it turns out that he had a point, although my overall argument that steroid use played a role in the late 90s offensive boom seems beyond question to anyone with a semi-open mind.)

Back to the article: it isn't quite as good as Blue-Gray Sky's take on the Meyer offense, mainly because Stewart Mandel has to write for a much larger, lest technically savvy audience, but it does have nice illustrations of base plays in the offenses featured in the article. Urban, for instance, diagrams his option play where the tailback takes the fullback role and one of the wide receivers functions as a trailer. Helpfully, the defense is static during the play and Meyer's quarterback gets to the corner easily. The play illustrated the importance of defensive ends getting upfield, although it also showed the brilliance of Meyer's design. Previously, a shotgun option could be blown up by defensive ends getting upfield. By adding a triple option element by using a receiver as the trailer instead of the running back, Meyer cuts down on this.

The article also makes me like Joe Tiller less. He's oft-whining about having less talent than Michigan and Ohio State and he of course does so in the article, stating that their talent overwhelms better schemes. While he's theoretically correct in saying that, it isn't as if Michigan hasn't been gashed by other schemes using less talented players (see: Michigan State.) Tiller's scheme has also been figured out by most of the rest of the Big Ten. If anything, he's basically Mark Richt: an offensive guy who relies on a great defensive coordinator, only he doesn't have Richt's talent and he inevitably makes goofy decisions in close games. Don't get me wrong, I like Tiller and he's brought the Big Ten somewhat out of the stone age, but he's complained one too many times about opposing DBs being mean to his receivers.

The BCS Explained

Eight years ago, when the concept of the BCS was announced and the scuttlebutt was that it was part of an inexorable march towards a playoff, this is not what I hoped to be reading almost one decade later. To summarize, Brad Edwards writes that the BCS has created non-stop controversy since its inception, there have been cosmetic changes made this off-season involving new polls now that all of the old ones refuse to be associated with this miasma, and his proposed solution - a committee to pick the teams - was rejected. I'm not a big fan of the committee approach for two reasons:

1. It places too much power in the hands of a few people and there are no checks on those people because their decisions are made in private; and

2. The analogy to the NCAA selection committee is misplaced because that committee makes marginally important decisions in seeding and selecting the last at-large teams, all of whom will be done by the end of the first weekend, while a football committee would have a hugely important and essentially impossible task, thus amplifying the effects of problem #1.

All that said, I'd be very interested to read a transcript of the ESPN college football analysts' review of the game tapes of USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn last year. Assuming that they aren't using the Orange Bowl for 20/20 hindsight, I'd like to hear what some people with knowledge of x's and o's had to say in separating the three teams. Personally, I thought there was virtually no good way to do so, thus highlighting the stupidity of the current system.

You gave up a game-winning homer...

to this f***ing guy?

I was all ready to throw laurels on Jorge Sosa, Jeff Francoeur, and Tim Hudson, whose decision to bring out the splitfinger pitch was likened by my wife to Derek Zoolander busting out Magnum, and then one inning of madness by Chris Reitsma ruined what would have been a 4-2 road trip, a victorious weekend in St. Louis (the Braves will beat the Cardinals as currently constituted in the playoffs, but there's no way that they'll be this unhealthy in the postseason,) and a 6.5 game lead in the division heading into the 12-game homestand against the NL West that looks for all the world like it will be the Braves' chance to put the East away. (That, for the record, is the longest sentence ever.) Now, we have to worry that if the Braves do make it to an NLCS against St. Louis (and my suspicion is that the Astros are going to vanquish both the Braves and Cardinals,) they'll do so with a set-up man who has a double-digit career ERA at Busch Stadium and a closer whose last inning there involved allowing four runs in 1/3rd of an inning against Abraham Nunez, So Taguchi, Hector Luna, Scott Seabol, and David Eckstein. You never want to read too much into one game or one appearance, but Farnsworth and Reitsma are the keys to the team now that the starting pitching and lineup are settled and they did not have a good day Sunday.

Other thoughts from the weekend:

1. A discouraging thought about a potential match-up with the Cards: the Braves didn't hit either Mark Mulder or Chris Carpenter this weekend. On the other hand, the Cards didn't hit Tim Hudson and one suspects that John Smoltz will pitch better in October, given his history in the post-season.

2. An encouraging thought: Jeff Francoeur is the new Vlad Guerrero. Seriously, are pitchers going to start throwing him nothing but balls to see if he will get himself out? Is he eventually going to be forced to take a walk?

3. In the realm of "don't read too much into one game," here's an interesting parallel: in April, I was in Charlottesville for my law school reunion when the Braves were hosting the Cardinals. On Sunday, I was driving back listening to the rubber game of the series and Dan Kolb had his finest moment as a Brave, retiring the heart of the Cards' order to protect a 2-1 lead. This past weekend, during the Braves-Cards return leg, the wife and I were in Charlottesville for a wedding party, driving home on Sunday listening to the rubber game and Chris Reitsma blew a 3-1 lead in the 9th. Conclusion: Kolb is better than Reitsma?

4. Speaking of Senor Doodie, the wife and I went to BW3 in C'ville when we got to town on Friday night and as the Braves' pen was imploding in the 8th inning, she looked at the giant TV and then excitedly told me to avert my eyes because "IT'S DAN DOODIE!!! AAAAAHH!!!" I spun it positively, saying that an 8-1 game is exactly the sort of situation that's appropriate for Dan. (BW3, by the way, has terrific spicy BBQ sauce and the one in C'ville has great local color. On Friday night, the wife and I were treated to a local proclaiming that he could drive drunk all the way home to Waynesboro and a middle-aged floozy in a turquoise get-up with a bad blonde dye job breaking down because she forgot to pay her bill and was flagged down in the parking lot by a waiter. You gotta love rural Virginia.)

Friday, August 05, 2005

"I am not a committee!"

So says our beloved leader Steve Belkin from his perch in Boston. Rather than defer to the judgment of the other owners and investors of the team, he's done what any self-respecting American would have done: sue his partners.

A little legal background: Belkin obtained a temporary restraining order, which is just that: temporary. TROs are often granted without notice to the other side, or at least with minimal notice. In other words, Belkin's lawyers had time to draft a complaint and a motion for a TRO, while the lawyers for the rest of Atlanta Spirit LLC did not know what was coming. On the other hand, it's possible that the other owners had a good idea that Belkin was about to haul them into court, in which case they should have been prepared. If they were and they still lost, then that's a worrying sign because it means that Belkin is either standing on firm legal ground or has found a sympathetic judge. Anyway, there'll be an injunction hearing on Tuesday and that's where the matter will be decided because the judge will be deciding whether the TRO should be extended throughout the discovery phase of the litigation, which will last beyond the NBA free agent signing period. The legal issue will come down to the NBA's rules on removing individuals from the Board of Governors and/or the Atlanta Spirit LLC's operating agreement's provisions on the same subject. It sounds from the AJC article that the other owners can remove Belkin if he takes an action against the wishes of the rest of ownership, so the question becomes whether this is that sort of decision.

The article details Belkin's beef with the deal and it makes it clear that he was OK with signing Johnson, but he isn't OK with giving up Boris Diaw and two first round picks. He's not absolved from the fact that he should have stopped the deal at the outset if he felt that way, although it's possible that Billy Knight was being pulled in two different directions and decided to listen to the majority of the owners when they told him to make the deal.

Belkin does have a point in the sense that the Hawks are giving up a lot, especially if the Suns weren't going to match the contract offer anyway. (An interesting development would be if the deal falls through and the Hawks still sign Johnson, calling the Suns' bluff. On the other hand, if Johnson hasn't formally signed anything, then another team could come in, sign him, and offer the Suns a similar package of players and/or picks.) He could argue that he has the long-term interests of the team in mind and if the rebuilding project doesn't go well, then the team could ultimately end up giving lottery picks to the Suns in several years. Billy Knight knows that he won't be around in several years if the rebuilding project doesn't work, so he has no incentive not to make this deal. I'd really like to know the particulars of the draft picks given up by the Hawks and no one has printed the details yet. I assume that one of the picks is the first rounder from the Lakers, which, assuming the Lakers make the playoffs as a low seed in the West this year, would be between 15 and 20. I don't know what the timing is on the other pick. How long do the lottery protections change into mere top three protections? Sekou, where are you?

All that said, Belkin is still being penny-wise and pound-foolish. At this stage, given the hit that the Hawks will take with future free agents and their own fan base, they can't back away from the deal. Belkin, by dividing the team's ownership and embarrassing his GM, has damaged the franchise for which he paid millions. All of this because he's worried about future draft picks? One can't help but get the sense that Belkin is a schmuck. He mouthed off during the NHL Lockout about using replacement players, a useless idea that served only to further antagonize all involved and garner him a $250,000 fine. He's had problems getting along with the rest of the owners before. Now, he's reached a stand-off with his GM and fellow owners and brought a legal action, which is embarrassing and makes resolution of the matter less likely.

Yup, I'm a season ticket holder for this team.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Pope Urban's Offense Explained

My formative Michigan football experiences have all involved losses to Notre Dame. I first started rooting for the Wolverines in the late 80s as my second favorite team (behind Auburn, but that's another story) because of the giant stadium, the great fight song, and my understanding that the school was full of Jews. Every September, the sign that college football had started was Michigan playing Notre Dame in a tight game and then losing. And Michigan had the most creative ways of losing. Loss despite not allowing an offensive touchdown? Check. Loss because of stubborn desire to show that Rocket Ismail could be tackled on a kickoff return? Check. Loss because of colossal mistake by Elvis Grbac? Check. Tie because of colossal mistake by Elvis Grbac? Check. (The bright side from those last two games was that I got to warn all of my in-laws, who are Baltimoreans, about Elvis when he signed with the Ravens in 2001.)

I matriculated at Michigan in 1993 and our first big home game was against a Notre Dame team that was a ten-point underdog. Michigan had walloped Washington State the week before, while Notre Dame and unknown quarterback Kevin McDougal had struggled to score against Northwestern. Lee Corso was predicting a 41-10 Michigan win. We were at home on a sunny day with an offense full of future NFL stars, playing a team missing almost all of its skill position talent from the previous year. So naturally, Notre Dame marched down the field on the opening drive, culminating in a long McDougal run (see, mobile quarterbacks and Michigan have a long history of making memories,) they got their obligatory touchdown from the return game, and ND won 27-23. I was taunted on the way home by a carload of elderly Irish fans and I was too young to know to blame them for the Holocaust.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I have no great love for Notre Dame, and therefore, my wholehearted endorsement of Blue Gray Sky as a great blog should mean something. Their piece on Notre Dame enemies is outstanding and someday, I hope to shamelessly adapt it for the Braves so I can bitch about Kent Hrbek and Eric Gregg once again. The splendidly-named Michael from BGS has written a great explanation of the Urban Meyer offense on Every Day Should Be Saturday, another fine publication. I highly encourage you to read it. Here are my thoughts:

1. The Meyer offense seems to be designed to make it easy for a quarterback to read a defense by spreading a defense out and forcing it to reveal its intentions, while the offense still retains the ability to do anything it wants. (It's the reverse of the dreadful Michigan offensive designs of the late 90s and early 00s, in which the personnel and formation determined what play was going to be run. Those Michigan offenses had a bunch of formations and few plays, which is the reverse of the Meyer or Charlie Weis offense. For that matter, the great Nebraska option offenses under Tom Osborne were also premised on running a few basic plays from a variety of looks.) In that sense, the Meyer offense is the perfect offense for college quarterbacks because it simplifies the game for them, although it also forces them to make a lot of decisions.

I'll be most interested to see how the Meyer offense does against a team like Miami (if they play in a bowl game,) which utilizes a basic 4-3 and basic coverages and relies on the superiority of its athletes, multiplied by the fact that they don't have to make too many complicated decisions. Would Miami stay in their basic 4-3 against Meyer's formations, thereby depriving his quarterback of the chance to read the defense before the play? By doing so, the defense would reveal that it's certainly in zone, but they would still be able to hide their blitz intentions. Georgia and Florida State also employ relatively simple defensive formations that ought to negate some of the advantages of the Meyer offense. I can't wait to see how his teams react to them.

2. Part of what excites me about the Meyer offense is that it smartly breaks down the barrier between receivers and running backs. Would anyone be upset if I started referring to it as Total (College) Football in homage to the Oranje? Can you imagine what a genuine hybrid player like Reggie Bush would do in an offense like this, not that Norm Chow lacked ways to use him or anything.

3. I'm intrigued by which defensive approaches will work best against this offense. The ideal would be a team that has great corners who can cover man-to-man and allow the safeties to come up to stop the run, but how many teams have four good corners who can be trusted not to get burned? And how many defensive coordinators will figure out that their best corners need to be in the slot, rather than out wide? (I can't wait to see where Jason Allen lines up for Tennessee on September 17. I bet that Chavis has him out wide because "that's where corners go.") Another ideal would be to have a dominant defensive line that can penetrate the backfield and redirect the option at the outset of every play. Absent an assumption that the defense has superior talent to the offense, what's the best scheme? Man coverage and blitzing? Two-deep zone? Man with deep safeties? I'm out of ammo on this one.