Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Revisiting Marvin Williams vs. Chris Paul

In all of my wailing about the fact that the Hawks are still without a functional point guard and one was waiting for them in the Draft last year, it's nice to read some reassuring thoughts from John Hollinger on Williams. Namely, Williams is very young and has been improving as the season has progressed. There is some support for this proposition at 82games.com, which notes that some of the Hawks' most successful line-ups have been with Williams on the floor. Naturally, though, their most successful lineup is Ivey-Childress-Stoudamire-Williams-Batista, the garbage-time line-up after an opponent has thrashed the Hawks and emptied its bench. That said, the Johnson-Stoudamire-Williams-Harrington-Pachulia line-up had been fairly productive in 60 minutes of action and I'd be interested to see how they would do as a starting lineup against the best units that opponents have to offer. The success of that lineup also jibes with my subjective observation (backed up with a few stats) that Tyronne Lue is a major weak point on the team, that Josh Smith has been a significant disappointment this year, regressing in just about every category, and that Josh Childress does not bring much to the table, other than defense against similarly-sized players. Not surprisingly, Lue, Smith, and Childress have the worst plus-minus numbers of the members of Mike Woodson's nine-man rotation and the Hawks have been badly beaten by their opponents at the point guard and small forward positions.

This creates an interesting question for the Hawks regarding Al Harrington's future. I've been advocating that they trade him for whatever they can get and then give plenty of minutes to their young swing men. (That Harrington for Nene and Earl Watson trade would have been outstanding for the Hawks, but with George Karl having finally realized that Watson is a very good point guard, it's very unlikely now.) However, while Josh Smith's struggles could be the result of the fact that he should be a sophomore at Indiana this year, Josh Childress played three years at Stanford and one-and-a-half years into his pro career, doesn't look like he'll ever be much of an offensive threat. Would it make more sense for the Hawks to trade Childress, who should retain some value because he's fewer than two years removed from being the 6th pick in the Draft (and might experience a renaissance with a better point guard, just like Boris Diaw)? Harrington is only three years older than Childress, so it isn't as if the Hawks would be getting Al on the downside of his career while unloading Childress as he was heading up. Thus, the four guys at the three swing spots would be Johnson, Harrington, Williams, and Smith and the team could continue with its never-ending search for a point guard and a center to go with Zaza.

Two other Chris Paul notes: Chad Ford thinks that the Hawks passing on Paul was a huge mistake because they would have had one of the best backcourts in the NBA with Paul and Johnson. I tend to agree with that assessment over John Hollinger's more positive outlook, especially since by Hollinger's PER measure of evaluating players, Paul is already the 20th best player (and 5th best point guard in the league.) On the other hand, 82games.com's plus/minus stat reveals that the Hornets are better when Paul is not on the floor. That stat, though, possibly shows the limitations of the plus/minus stat, most likely because Paul is only off the floor when the opponents' worst lineups are in and that allows back-up Speedy Claxton to run rampant.

Monday, January 30, 2006

My Scout's Better Than You, Anonymous HeismanPundit

G-d bless him for persistence; HeismanPundit has returned to defend Chardonnay & Brie Football against yet another NFL scout who has said something mean about the Pac Ten:

I love how 'a scout' is the be all and end all of all opinions to a layman. I don't know if you have ever met any 'scouts', but not all of them are very knowledgeable of college football. Some are just guys who, frankly, are no different than your average joe. They are generally the worst-paid, lowest on the totem pole in an NFL organization. There are bad scouts and good scouts.

Scouts are impartial; they aren't pro-SEC like me or pro-Pac Ten like you. You haven't been using any impartial sources. Rather, you simply offer your own opinion and frankly, a scout who is paid to make accurate assessments of football talent is better qualified to make the sort of judgments that you and I are making than "anonymous blogger with no stated credentials." So, the fact that some scouts may know more about football than others doesn't change the fact that the scouts are still arguing against a zero, a blank canvas.

Clearly, the scout you quote from is a bad scout if he thinks that most of the SEC is five or six deep at cornerback . What does that mean? That teams in the Pac-10 don't have six corners on their rosters? Does that mean that Vandy, Miss. State, Kentucky, Ole Miss and SC are churning out corners all the time? That their third-stringers are NFL prospects? Don't think so. Why would it matter to an SEC quarterback if the team he is facing has a good third-string corner? It's not like the offense he is running requires a dime secondary package to defend him! As for the SEC corners, no one ever said the league lacks talent and since corner is the position most reliant on talent, then of course there are going to be a lot of corners coming out of that league. But you WILL note that there are very few good quarterbacks not named Manning coming out of that league in the last 10 years. Maybe it's because none of the offensive coordinators coached in the NFL. Which of course backs up my theory that SEC offenses lack the sophistication of Pac-10 offenses.

What the scout is saying is that SEC teams are deeper at corner than Pac Ten teams, which makes them more able to defend against sophisticated passing offenses (and thus acts as a deterrent from SEC teams viewing a passing offense as a panacea.) A team needs 3-4 good corners without injuries; by the end of the season when teams are depleted, then the 5th and 6th corners are relevant. That's certainly relevant when judging a quarterback like Jay Cutler, whose team did have a relatively pass-friendly offense, and it's also relevant when judging a quarterback like Leinart, who went up against crappy secondaries without the depth to handle USC's three- and four-wide looks. That said, as I mentioned in my post, Leinart also performed well against quality secondaries like those of Michigan in '03 and Oklahoma in '04, so that is in his favor. The absence of quality corners in the Pac Ten does tend to indicate that the gaudy offensive totals produced by Pac Ten offenses are the result of those offenses throwing against a series of trained monkeys instead of actual human beings with the ability to run, jump, and bat passes away with opposable thumbs. And if Pac Ten offenses are so much more sophisticated, then shouldn't Pac Ten corners be more prepared for the NFL by having more experience at sophisticated route recognition and zone coverage?

As for the point that SEC defenses have no need for a nickel or dime corner, HP might want to actually watch a game. Urban Meyer's offense, you know, that one that was supposed to come in and dominate the league? They're regularly in three- and four-wide. Tennessee's base formation is three-wide. One of Georgia's two base formations is shotgun and three- or four-wide. Vandy ran a passing offense this year because of Cutler. Al Borges regularly uses multiple receivers. So yes, HP, the days of Bear Bryant coming to the Coliseum to beat USC with the wishbone and then the rest of college football imitating him (although he was only imitating Emory Bellard's offense at Texas) are gone.

As for the lack of quarterbacks from the SEC, it's a shame that the conference hasn't produced anyone the caliber of Kyle Boller or Joey Harrington in recent years.

As for the defensive coordinators, this scout thinks that Pac-10 coordinators haven't coached in the NFL? The list currently includes Pete Carroll, Nick Allioti, Mark Banker, Tom Hayes and DeWayne Walker. That's half of the league's coordinators who have NFL experience. The SEC? They also have five defensive coordinators with NFL experience. Except the SEC has 12 teams and the Pac-10 has 10. So as a percentage, the SEC has fewer defensive coordinators with NFL experience, thus showing once again that the scout was a dumbass and your whole post a complete waste of time.

A waste of time on which HP spent 413 words to "refute." Many apologies for not tackling the important subjects, like a bunch of USC and LSU boosters with more money than sense putting up billboards to show who has a bigger dick.

Finally, you are maybe the worst Devil's Advocate ever of the Gang of Six. If you recall, that group includes only two teams from the pac-10. The rest are from the SEC, Big East, WAC and Independent ranks. Must be fun to keep refuting arguments I never made.

HP bitches that the "Gang of Six" only includes two Pac Ten teams, as if the theory isn't a variant of "West Coast offenses are more sophisticated than SEC offenses" and then in the same message makes the following statement: "Which of course backs up my theory that SEC offenses lack the sophistication of Pac-10 offenses." That's the piece I'm arguing against. To the extent that HP dissociates the "Gang of Six" from that sentiment, he might find some more takers for the theory (although it still suffers from the problem that it's nothing more than looking at the total offense stats and then proclaiming certain offenses to be intellectually superior because they throw to the tight ends.) Until then, his straw man argument is meritless. And considering that HP used the one argument that I came up with for him, I couldn't have been doing a bad job playing Devil's Advocate, could I?

I'm also waiting for HP to explain that Southern Newspapers are far inferior to those on the West Coast and that's why USC's admissions standards for football players aren't as negligible as this article makes them out to be. "Our schemes are so much smarter, even though our players...not so much."

Let's See If The National Media Picks Up On This

Next year, most ACC teams will be playing schedules that would even embarrass the SEC. Remember when Florida State could be counted upon to play Miami, Florida, and one other prominent opponent? Somehow, Troy, Rice, and Western Michigan don't count. And remember when Virginia was playing Texas, Michigan, or Auburn? Make way for Pitt, Western Michigan, Wyoming, and East Carolina. And kudos for Virginia Tech for shaking off the balls that allowed them to play LSU and USC in recent years and returning to their traditional rivalries with Northeastern, Cincinnati, Southern Miss, and Kent State.

For once, the SEC has something to brag about relative to its oft-mocked rival league to the northeast. Arkansas plays USC, Auburn plays Washington State, Tennessee plays Cal, Georgia plays Colorado, LSU plays Arizona, Ole Miss plays Missouri, Mississippi State plays West Virginia, and Vandy plays Michigan. Add in Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina's traditional rivalry games against quality opponents and the only program that should be really embarrassed by their out-of-conference schedule is Alabama.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Confirming Metaphysical Good and Evil

It's always gratifying when someone goes to the trouble to confirm which college football programs have actual admissions standards and which factories will admit anything with functional brain activity. So many thanks to the Orlando Sentinel for showing that Michigan, Virginia and Georgia all have actual standards, whereas their rivals predominantly do not. I will now do my superior dance.

(One caveat: the Sentinel's rankings are done in an apparently subjective fashion where the sources of the rankings are not disclosed. However, since the rankings conform closely to my "factory/not a factory" preconceptions, they must be right.)

Piling on the Gang of Six

Everyone needs their pinatas. Dan Shaughnessy has Theo Epstein. Dick Vitale has his imaginary Duke critics. John Kerry has the Democratic Party. (G-d, I wish he would go away.) And I have the "Gang of Six." Anyway, to continue piling dirt on a grave that was dug when Boise State visited Athens, here's a remark from an NFL scout in Chris Mortensen's article arguing that Jay Cutler should be the first quarterback taken in the Draft ($):

"It can't be fun playing quarterback in the SEC," the scout said. "I mean, most of the teams are five and six deep at cornerback -- it's not even close when you compare it to the Pac-10. The speed on defense across the SEC is ridiculous. The defensive coordinators, well, some of them should be coaching in the NFL. Some of them have, in fact. Playing quarterback in the SEC is a task. Playing it well every week is a bigger task."

Now, to play Devil's Advocate for the "Gang of Six" propagandists, they could point out that there are six Pac Ten QBs starting in the NFL, as compared to three SEC QBs and that's certainly a valid point. On the other hand, two of those six quarterbacks - Kyle Boller and Joey Harrington - are the two most vilified quarterbacks in the NFL by their own fan bases. Additionally, Mark Brunell is well past his sell-by date and is keeping his position warm for Jason Campbell, a product of the SEC. NFL depth charts do support the scout's statement that SEC teams have better corners than Pac Ten teams, as there are 15 starting corners in the NFL from SEC schools, as opposed to eight from Pac Ten schools. It's truly remarkable that the SEC produces so many good corners when they're only trained against Pop Warner offenses that make Woody Hayes' Ohio State offense seem complicated by comparison.

In the Cutler/Leinart/Young debate, Cutler probably is a better prospect than Vince Young. Texas runs the modern version of a college option offense. No NFL team has implemented a run-based spread offense based off of the zone read play, probably for the same reasons that the option hasn't been run in the NFL: the defenses are too smart and fast to be bamboozled by that offense, plus a quarterback will not be able to survive a whole season taking hits from NFL defenders in practice and in games. Thus, Young won't be in the best offense for him and it's anyone's guess as to whether he has the throwing skills to master an NFL offense. He didn't have to make that many hard throws at Texas because defenses were so paralyzed by the run threat. Does he have the accuracy and arm strength to make those throws in the NFL? I'm skeptical.

Cutler/Leinart is a closer call. Leinart has been as very productive quarterback throughout his college career. Yes, he has been surrounded by a lot of talent, but it's important to remember that he won the Heisman in a year in which USC had to replace their offensive line and receiver corps. He's very accurate and has enough arm strength to get the ball down the field. He seems like a Chad Pennington with more velocity. He seems very likely to succeed on the next level. Cutler is interesting. His stats weren't overwhelming this year. 6.65 yards per attempt is nothing special. Sure, he doesn't have much talent around him, certainly relative to Vandy's opponents, but Tim Couch put up huge numbers with less talent than his opponents (and look where all that production got him,) albeit in a different offense. I'm going on a gut feel, but I never got the sense that I was watching a great quarterback when I was watching Cutler. He wouldn't be a bad first round pick, but I don't see him as a top five guy, certainly not in a loaded draft.

An Annual Treat from Dr. Z

There are a few columns that I eagerly anticipate on a yearly basis and Dr. Z's Ranking of NFL Announcers is one of them. I share his disdain for the trend in announcing to hype the stars as opposed to actually analyzing what goes on on the field. That trend makes the whole enterprise of watching games seem cheap and manipulative, as if the game is being brought to me to convince me to by some hideous wall mural of Ray Lewis as opposed to simply enjoying a football game. On the other hand, Dr. Z bases his rankings in large part on whether announcers make his task of charting games easier and that doesn't really resonate with me since I'm not taking notes after every play. I don't really care whether Michaels and Madden keep calling the plays accurately when the Raves are beating the Packers 34-3 in the fourth quarter because no one in their right mind is watching at that time, except for Ravens fans who are enjoying more points than their team typically scores in a month and Packers fans whose dominatrix dates haven't yet shown up. That said, it does annoy me when announcers get spots or personnel wrong and there's nothing more annoying than finding out after a big play that there was a flag down. I shudder to think what Dr. Z would do with a game called by Keith Jackson.

The only real disappointment from the article is that Dr. Z doesn't annihilate the universally hated ESPN Sunday Night crew as he usually does. Sure, he gave them zero stars as usual, but this was his last chance to stick the knife in and Dr. Z, unlike a lot of writers, can actually turn a phrase well. It's mystifying to me that Theismann is actually being promoted to Monday Night Football next year, since I don't know of a single football fan who doesn't loathe him. Then again, ESPN is making that decision and one of the things we've learned this year, with a high degree of mathematical certainty, is that ESPN has replaced Nazi Germany as the most evil entity in recorded human history. (Where would I be without hyperbole?)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Our NBA Team May Suck...

...but we do have better celebrities.

There's almost no point in discussing last night's game, as it was just like any one of a dozen games this year. The Hawks were competitive with a good team for three-and-a-half quarters and then collapsed, either because the Cavs finally got serious or because the Hawks expect to lose and their expectations create a self-fulfilling prophecy. 94-93 Cavs with 3:17 to go finished as a 106-97 loss. And this year, I can't even describe the Hawks' losing as a march towards a great Draft prospect.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"Mr. Tagliabue, how do you sleep at night?" "On top of piles of money with many beautiful women!"

With an ode to my favorite Simpsons character and a hat tip to the Mighty MJD, here is a Harris poll indicating that college football has become the third most popular sport in the United States, trailing only the NFL, which has dwarfed its rivals by leaps and bounds, and baseball. (In defense of baseball, the results of the poll would have been different if it was taken in May instead of early December, when football is at its peak.)

It's interesting and gratifying that college football is apparently significantly more popular than the NBA. In fact, college basketball outpaced the NBA for the first time in the poll's history, which is a sign that David Stern is right to be concerned that the Pistons and Spurs are dominant, while not generating much casual interest because their rivalry can't be personalized into some sort of simplistic, "Achilles vs. Hector" battle on which the league thrives. You'd never know from watching SportsCenter that college football and NASCAR are so much more popular than the NBA, which leads one to question whether the geniuses in Bristol (the one in the frozen tundra, not the one with the short track) know their audience (or their potential audience.) Compare how much attention Signing Day will get, as opposed to NBA games or whatever excuse the Worldwide Leader will use to involve the Yankees and Red Sox in their flagship show.

Factors that might have increased interest in college football over the past two years:

1. The USC Dynasty;

2. Several big stars like Young, Bush, and Leinart staying in school for several years;

3. Notre Dame fans coming out of the woodwork; and/or

4. HeismanPundit and CFR's "Gang of Six" Theory

The poll also hits on the reason why I felt a little alienated from college football (and specifically the SEC) at the end of the 2004 season: it's much beloved by Republicans. It's hard for me to have a communal bonding experience when I know that the fans around me, woofing to their heart's content, probably do the same thing in their tackily-decorated living rooms when Hannity gives another ill-reasoned put-down to the hapless Colmes. "Yeah, Democrats are traitors!!!" Some of my best friends are Republicans (it's hard to work at a major law firm and not get along with conservatives,) but it always worries me when I do something that Red Staters love and Blue Staters abhor. In that period, I had the same feeling of disquiet listening to Merle Haggard, eating at Waffle House, drinking bourbon, and being outside in February. Then I remembered that my party pissed away the election by nominating a liberal from Massachusetts who had all the personality of Herb Sendek and I felt strangely better.

Next Up, Salt Lake City, the Place to be for Today's Wealthy Young Black Men!

Thankfully, I have a fairly low cholesterol count (thanks to growing up in a house where there was never enough food, combined with the fact that I had no friends and thus, no friends' pantries to raid, and now I have a wife who cooks dinner every night with recipes from Cooking Light, which are surprisingly tasty) or else I would have had a heart attack on the spot at reading that Baltimore is apparently the fittest city in America. Baltimore, the city that views itself as a poor man's Philadelphia.

The reasoning in the article, well, it seems a little fishy to me. Baltimore apparently lacks sufficient ice cream stores to be a portly city, which is news to me, since every time I eat with the in-laws in Little Italy (and no city with a thriving Little Italy can be that fit, since the point of Little Italies is to gorge yourself on Veal Parmigiana and then bitch about Roberto Baggio skying his penalty kick to conclude the '94 World Cup Final,) my step-father in law has to fight the raving masses at Vaccaro's to get his Chocolate/Vanilla Napoleon. Baltimore is famous for its crab cakes, which are apparently loaded down with mayo (as a Jew, I'm going to have to pass on having intimate knowledge of the recipe,) and yet it's the fittest city in the country? The only fit people in the city, in my experience, are the U. of Maryland undergrads because they need to look good to fit into their ribbed black sweaters before dousing themselves in Drakkar Noir in advance of a big night out at Bill Bateman's. (Wahoowa, bitches!) Every time I go to Baltimore for any extended period of time, I go on a diet when I get back. This can't be a reflection of a city of tofu eaters. (PS - I love Baltimore.)

And incidentally, how is LA on the list of least fit cities? I guess the cocaine that Los Angelinos swear by is probably an unhealthy way to stay thin?

Catching Up with the Local Sports Collectives

Hawks - Tyronne Lue continued to bolster his status as the Rafael Furcal of the Hawks (with slightly better driving skills in two different ways) by returning to the line-up on Monday night and leading the team to its 11th win of the year. Prior to Lue's return, the Hawks were playing their worst basketball of the year, which really says something. They had lost six of seven, despite the fact that five of those seven games were at home, and had been within single digits in only two of those six losses. The performances against Detroit and Milwaukee were execrable, leading Salim Stoudamire to question how hard the team was playing. Lue upgrades the Hawks point guard play from atrocious to merely below average and with the rest of the lineup being pretty good, they're a 30-win team with him around. That said, they need to get something for Al Harrington before the trade deadline, as this team is obviously not going anywhere close to the playoffs and it makes more sense for them to get something for him, give Marvin Williams some minutes to develop, and tank the rest of the year to multiply their lottery balls. Unfortunately, the upcoming draft class is apparently bereft of quality big men and point guards ($), so it appears that the team really blew it when they didn't take Chris Paul last June. Have I mentioned that before?

And one other repetitious note: Josh Smith continues to regress. He hasn't hit double-digits in points in his last seven games, despite getting at least 29 minutes in all but one of those games. He has the lowest field goal percentage and assist/turnover ratio of any of the nine players on the team who get regular run. Moreso than the record, his craptastic play has to be the most discouraging aspect of the 2005-6 Atlanta Hawks, which is similar to being the least well-adjusted contestant on Flavor of Love.

Thrashers - I was all ready to proclaim that the team had arrived after they won in Dallas last Wednesday night, but since, they have managed to follow up that big win with three straight losses. In the last two games, they've managed a hefty total of two goals against John Grahame and Tim Thomas, neither of whom are going to be confused with Ken Dryden any time soon. I kinda figured that they couldn't sustain the torrid pace they had shown through the Dallas game, which makes this recent regression a natural correction, but this team has shown prolonged streaks of excellent and abysmal play, so the worry is that this three-game losing streak is the beginning of something yucky. The power play, which is the team's source of offense, has gone dry and there's no definitive reason to explain why that is so, other than the natural ebb and flow of a season. So in other words, there's no reason to panic.

Falcons - The big news is that they have hired to Bill Musgrave as the new quarterback coach for Prince Michael. (The picture to the right is the best representation of his storied NFL career. I wanted to find a shot of him at Oregon to highlight his awkward, Kosar-esque throwing delivery, but Google failed me.) What I haven't seen mentioned yet is that Musgrave is a pure West Coast Offense guy. He played in San Francisco and Denver in his relatively short NFL career, both of which were running the WCO (although San Fran was running a purer form, since Denver was in their "toss sweep left, toss sweep right" phase) and then ran the pure WCO at UVA with none other than current Falcons back-up Matt Schaub. On the one hand, if the Falcons are going to run this offense, then it's best for them to totally immerse Vick in it, including his quarterback coach. On the other hand, if the offense isn't the right fit for him, then bringing in Musgrave is a bad idea. This is, however, the perfect coaching staff for Matt Schaub, so if Vick gets hurt, Schaub ought to do really well (and won't that put this town in a tizzy, given the rumblings that Vick might not be a savior that are starting to get louder.)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Great Read from Mark Bradley

Like Bill Simmons on the NBA, Mark Bradley is firmly within his wheelhouse when discussing college basketball (as one would expect from a Kentucky grad.) I wish that Bradley would have come of age during the blog era or would embrace the concept more, because his college hoops thoughts would be a lot more interesting if they weren't confined to the 900-word format that newspaper columns require. There's nothing to really disagree with in there, although I think he overrates Louisville a little (their best win is over Miami; what does that say?) and thereby overrates the Big East. I also get the sense that Duke is going to win the national title this year, but I always fear that my least favorite teams are going to win titles. (Look for the Yankees to win in baseball, Notre Dame in college football, and France in the World Cup. Also, look for King Kong to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. [I am NOT a Peter Jackson fan. He is in desperate need of an editor to cut down on his repetitive action sequences. Where was I, anyway?])

I fully agree on J.J. Redick (his offensive game has really matured) and Shelden Williams (Duke big men invariably have many of the characteristics of female genitalia.) I also agree on the SEC being down again. Florida is good, but not as good as their record. LSU and Tennessee are intriguing. Kentucky will play better at some stage this year, mainly because of my indefatigable faith in Tubby. The rest of the league vacillates between average and crappy.

I'm in agreement on his Final Four picks of Duke and UConn, but that doesn't exactly put me out on a limb. I'll take Villanova and Indiana as my other two, but picking a Final Four before the brackets is a less than useless endeavor.

And since I mentioned Bill Simmons earlier, I should mention that I almost linked to his ESPN the Magazine article that ran on Tuesday to say how pleasantly surprised I was that he was admitting that the Patriots played poorly and deserved to be knocked out of the playoffs, but my initial expectations that he would whine and complain like a typical Boston fan and externalize all of his team's maladies onto external forces were borne out in Wednesday's column, in which he devoted 1,171 words to bitching about two calls that went against New England. Bill, you can't spend one quarter of your column kvetching about bad calls against New England (while barely saying anything else about the New England-Denver game) and then say that you aren't blaming the loss on the officials.

The Things I Think About Driving to Work

In Scarface, when Sosa has to send someone with Alberto the Hitman to help him around New York City and translate for him, why does he send a known drug kingpin from Miami who's under indictment for cocaine trafficking and money laundering? Isn't he the most likely guy to draw attention to what Alberto is trying to accomplish? Wouldn't the Feds be tailing him? Hell, wouldn't it be hard for him to catch a plane to Bolivia after being charged? Figuring out how preposterous the end of Scarface is (leaving aside the facts that Tony would have been dead within a minute because the amount of cocaine he ingested at the end, and he wouldn't have been able to shout at Sosa's goon army after taking about ten bullets in the upper torso) is not unlike when I found out that my favorite childhood author Roald Dahl was an open anti-semite. There's a real loss of innocence there. My childhood would really be in tatters if I had a commute longer than ten minutes.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Quarterbacks For All!!!

Assuming no further indecision on the part of the somewhat indecisive Mitch Mustain and Ole Miss hauling in Brent Schaeffer, then SEC schools will have signed both of Rivals.com's five-star pro-style quarterbacks and both of their five-star dual threat signal callers. In addition, Auburn and South Carolina locked up the two four-star pro-style quarterbacks in Alabama, Neil Caudle and the hopefully not aptly-named Chris Smelley. Fully half of the teams in the conference will be bringing in highly-touted starters, which will make comparisons over the next 4-5 years very entertaining. Also, two of the major powers in the league - Tennessee and LSU - brought in hyped quarterbacks last year: Jonathan Crompton and Ryan Perriloux, respectively. That leaves Alabama as the lone major program in the SEC that has not brought in a hyped quarterback in the past two years, although Bama fans swear by the athleticism of Jimmy Johns, a three-star quarterback they brought in last year, and they have visions of him being their Vince Young. (Sure, Vince was a mega-recruit and Johns was not, but don't let Bama fans stop with their delusions of grandeur. They still think that their two decades of good, but not great football are the aberration, as opposed to their two decades with the best coach in college football history.)

The interesting question is whether the influx of quality quarterbacks will cause SEC offenses to start throwing the ball more, like they did in the second half of the 90s when Steve Spurrier was doing his Coach Bryant impression (with slightly better diction and slightly fewer national titles) and the rest of the conference was desperately trying to keep from being left behind. Since Spurrier, with Nick Saban's LSU and Mark Richt's surprisingly defensive Georgia taking leadership mantles in the league, games have become more and more defensive, with this year possibly being the zenith of offense in the SEC (or the apex of SEC defense, depending on your perspective.) This summer, I foolishly predicted an offensive renaissance because of the number of offensive-oriented coaches coming into the league. I'm still thinking that such a move will happen and the quality quarterback crop of February 2006 could be a reason why, although their impact will not be felt for a while.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Just Like the Old Days

Remember when the Braves used to trot out such luminaries as Joe Boever, Jim Acker, and Paul Assemacher as their closer? Remember when they rode Greg McMichael and Alejandro Pena to divisional titles? Well, 2006 is shaping up to be the Braves' attempt at being retro because the over-priced closer market has completely dried up and they are going to be left anointing a closer in Spring Training. I don't think that this is the end of the world. As David O'Brien points out, the closer market was very poor this year and the available options were badly overpriced. The Braves can't overpay for a closer on an $80M payroll, certainly not when they have so much committed financially to Smoltz, Hudson, and the Joneses (and are hopefully gearing up to spend on a long-term contract for Marcus Giles.) As Moneyball and the Baseball Prospectus have made clear, closers are relatively fungible and over-priced to begin with, since any bad team can put a competent pitcher in the magical "closer" spot, get competent relief from him, and then flip him in the trade market for far more than his actual value. Although they didn't know it at the time, the Braves went into 2005 without a closer and managed to cobble together a quality closer out of Chris Reitsma and Kyle Farnsworth for the final four months of the season. It's better to go into this season with the spot open so the hottest pitchers will get the role, as opposed to going through the pains of giving a guy like Dan Kolb two months to blow the role. In other words, Bobby will have a shorter leash for his closer this year and that will be a good thing.

The past few years have seen the Braves win divisions despite all sorts of personnel losses in the off-season and holes coming into Spring Training, and that has created a feeling of invulnerability when approaching issues like the Braves' closer spot. No closer? How's that different than coming into a season with major questions in the starting rotation, like the Braves had for several years running until last year when the question was replaced with "who's going to play the corner outfield spots?" Schuerholtz has figured out that it's cheaper to rent a player like a Kyle Farnsworth from cheese-eating surrender monkeys like the Tigers than it is to overpay for him in the off-season. I doubt that he explicitly learned this from Billy Beane, but that approach was one of the ones featured in Moneyball.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ten Wins!!! Sweet Mary, the Hawks Have Ten Wins!

Of course, they beat a Rockets team missing Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming, and Stromile Swift to get that precious tenth win, but who's really counting? The Rockets started a line-up that would have been outstanding in 1997, but struggled somewhat in 2006; Juwan Howard, David Wesley, and a frisky Dikembe Mutombo Mplondo Mukamba Jean Jacques Wamutombo (who got into it with Josh Smith on several occasions) were in Houston's starting lineup and contributed 44 of the visitors' 83 points. The Hawks were mostly in command from the second quarter on, which was nice to see, although I kept telling myself things like "Tracy McGrady wouldn't have missed that open baseline jumper" and "Yao wouldn't have had to elbow J-Smoove in the head to get that rebound." As usual, Joe Johnson (22 points and ten assists) and Al Harrington (28 points on 12 of 16 shooting) were the offensive stars. The team didn't have a quality third option offensively, although Marvin Williams and Salim Stoudamire both played reasonably well, but they didn't need the third option with the Rockets' wretched lineup. The local basketball collective will get a slightly tougher challenge in its next home game, when it'll be faced with the 30-5 Pistons instead of the Clinton Administration all-stars.

One discouraging note: Josh Smith turned the ball over four times, which is exactly his average over the past six games. How a player who doesn't have the ball in his hands that much turns the ball over so frequently is almost a feat of nature. Digging a little deeper into his stats, he has clearly regressed this season. He is averaging fewer points, rebounds, and assists and more turnovers per 40 minutes, while shooting a lower percentage. Ditto for Josh Childress, with the notable exception that he is shooting a much higher percentage this year, so he's a marginally more efficient player, although mainly because he can fade into the background with Johnson and Harrington doing the scoring, as opposed to last year after Antoine Walker was dealt when he was actually relied upon offensively. Childress has also become something of a defensive stopper this year, so it can't be said that his game has totally regressed. Nevertheless, the performance of the younger players is critical to evaluating whether Mike Woodson should get a third year. The "youngest team in the NBA" label is a legitimate reason for the team to be struggling (as is the "nothing approximating a quality starting point guard" moniker), but those young players need to be showing progress. If Smith, Childress, and Williams play better in the second half of the year, then Woodson will have earned a third season on the bench. If J-Smoove continues to regress and Childress is nothing more than a garbage man, then someone else will need to be brought in, and I say that liking Mike Woodson quite a bit.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Soccer is War by Other Means

If you think I'm not going to be the only Jew at Brewhouse Cafe this summer cheering on the Oranje with one of these bad boys, you're sadly mistaken. (HT: Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer.)

Mr. Shady & Mr. Sunshine

1. Mike Fish has what I suppose is an expose on Bobby Lowder here, but most of the material in the article is old news to SEC fans. It was amusing to remember that Lowder spearheaded the effort to fire Tommy Tuberville in 2003 and thus failed to show the presumed good judgment that amassed his fortunes, although on the other hand, would the 2004 Tigers have gone unbeaten anyway with a Gang of Six offense? What? Auburn had Bobby Petrino before? With that same personnel? And they didn't run roughshod over the backwards SEC? You mean this whole "Gang of Six" theory is bullshit?

2. LD grinds his annual axe that Dale Murphy isn't in the Hall of Fame. As much as I agree with him that Murph was the lone bright spot in seven years of appallingly bad baseball, I'm of the opinion that Murph's stats dropped off too quickly for him to be a legitimate Hall of Famer, which is not to say that there aren't players in the Hall with inferior credentials, but one mistake doesn't justify another and I like baseball's selectivity when it comes to the Hall. Murph had six great years, but just as there is something to be said for being the best at your position for a given time period, there's also something to be said for longevity. LD cites the low trade value that Murph had by the time the team decided to trade him; that trade value would have been significantly better and the roster would have been more talented at the start of the 90s when the pitching staff came around if Murph wouldn't have gone in the tank in 1988.

One argument that LD didn't make in his Murphy/Puckett comparison that should be mentioned: Puckett's batting average was better, but Murph's on-base percentage was better during the height of his career and that's a more relevant stat, especially because it doesn't penalize Murph for having Dion James and Oddibe MacDowell as his table-setters. Murph had a .417 OBP and 115 walks in his monster 1987 season; Puckett never had an OBP higher than .379 or more than 57 walks in a season. During Murphy's six-year run, his OPS was at least 142% of the league average in five out of those six years; Puckett reached that level only once in his career. LD makes a good point that Puckett's glaucoma actually helped his cause, partially by making him a sympathetic figure (everyone remembers him crying with a patch over one eye at his retirement ceremony) and partially by allowing him to avoid the decline phase of his career. If Murphy would have had some sort of sympathetic incident that cut short his career in about 1988, he'd probably be in the Hall.

One other factor that helped Puckett: he looked like a Teddy Bear. Writers had to like him by appearance because he was this roly-poly guy who, despite his unathletic appearance, was a great player. Sportswriters can relate to tubby guys, which is probably why they love David Wells so much. Murphy looked like the prototypical athlete, so his feats were less surprising or relatable.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"You fell, you fat pig. Have another doughnut."

That seemed like the appropriate title the day after going to a game reffed by the famous Don Koharski. Anyway, with apologies to Koharski (who obviously did a fine job last night, as evidenced by the fact that Nashville ended up with eight more penalty minutes) and Jim Schoenfeld, here are my thoughts on my first in-person immigration to Blueland of the year:

1. I had forgotten how great hockey is in person, especially when sitting behind one of the goals to see the spacing and the development of the plays. I had also forgotten how much the netting behind the goals annoys me, especially because the thick top border of the netting obscured my view of the far goal.

2. The Thrashers were clearly the better team, but the game went to a shootout because of outstanding goalie work by Tomas Vokoun, who lived up to billing by stoning the Thrashers for two periods plus, despite the Thrash creating some really good chances. Initially, the Thrashers were just getting shots on net and he was saving everything. Then, they started to get freaked out by Vokoun's Czech spell and they missed the net for a significant period of time. Finally, they broke through on a shot by Slava Kozlov (set up by a great cross-ice feed from Andy Sutton) and then had offensive success for the rest of the game.

3. Nashville's power play reminded me of Italian calcio (at least before a team takes a lead and goes into a catenaccio shell): they probed and probed and probed by swinging the puck around and it looked like they were accomplishing nothing, but all of a sudden, they had shrunk the Thrashers' formation and they were getting chances close to the goal with everyone in position for rebounds. Unlike the Italians, they didn't punctuate their probing with a series of dives, followed by histrionics and stretchers.

4. Ilya is, and will likely always be, a mesmerizing offensive talent who once or twice a game takes risks that cause me to hit myself on the forehead and exclaim "Ilya, what are DOING?" He also needs a nickname in the worst way. "Kovy" just isn't going to go into Valhalla with "The Great One," "Super Mario," "The Russian Rocket," or "The Grim Reaper."

5. It's no coincidence that the Thrashers won their first shootout of the year on a night on which Kari Lehtonen was between the pipes instead of the AHL crew.

6. As is their wont being sports radio hosts, the Mayhem in the AM crew overreacted this morning by saying that the Thrashers are almost in 6th place in the East. Their position is far more precarious than that. They're three points behind Toronto for 6th, but Toronto has two games in hand. They're three ahead of New Jersey, who just got Petr Sykora back, and the Devils have two games in hand. They're four ahead of Montreal in 10th and the Canadiens have a full four games in hand. In other words, if their competitors win their games in hand, then the Thrash will be on the outside looking in. If the team keeps playing the way they are (11-2-3 in their last 16; unbeaten at home since December 1), then the games in hand won't matter and the Thrashers will get a nice, mid-level seed (and thereby avoid playing Ottawa in the first round.) The fact that their rise has coincided with the return of their starting goalie is evidence that they can keep playing at or close to this clip. That said, it's hard to keep playing this well and if they come back to earth, there are plenty of teams who could leave the team playing golf in April again. The home game against St. Louis on Friday night is as much of a lay-up as there is in the NHL; the back-to-back roadies against Dallas (#2 in the West) and Los Angeles (#5 in the West) next week will be telling for this team's future. Last night's win over the #4 team in the West was encouraging.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


1. I just had one of those classic "It's raining! No, it's sunny!" moments. This morning, I read this article (subscription required, but who doesn't subscribe to The New Republic?) on Samuel Alito's surprisingly candid testimony before the Senate Judicial Committee yesterday. Then, I came into the office and, passing the copy of the AJC in the reception area, noticed the headline "Alito Tiptoes Around Hot-Button Inquiries". I didn't read the article, but given the mainstream media's desperate attempts to make themselves as vanilla as possible, the article probably expressed shock that he didn't come out and say that Roe v. Wade was a badly-reasoned decision or that the Bush Administration violated the law by authorizing warrant-less wiretaps. For the record, and this ranks up there with "The Hawks and Thrashers were 4-0 this weekend" among topics that I never thought I'd discuss on this blog, I find Supreme Court confirmation hearings to be as much of a waste of time as college basketball polls in January. The hearings are like first dates. The nominees do their best to avoid saying anything definite or controversial, the Senators from the party that doesn't hold the Oval Office throw up their hands, and the nominee gets confirmed (unless he smoked pot at some point in his life.)

2. Have I mentioned that I hate Ticketmaster? Two days ago, I tried to get Rolling Stones tickets and then gave up in a huff because Ticketmaster was charging an $18 "convenience fee" on $160 tickets. Interestingly, I was uneasy, but willing to pay that much money to further Keith Richards' attempts to find the purest opium on the planet, but the $18 fee from Ticketmaster was totally unacceptable. Riddle me this: why would the "convenience fee" be higher for the Stones than it would for the average Braves game, since I'm utilizing the exact same technology? Wait, I just remembered that price reflects supply and demand and has nothing to do with actual cost. Never mind. Anyway, my second gripe is that I tried to order tickets online for the Thrashers game tonight and was offered the worst possible seats in a given price category. I then spoke with someone at the Thrashers' box office and got some of the best seats in that price category. I've had the same experience with Braves games. Ticketmaster generally offers the highest seats as far down the base lines as possible. Why does Ticketmaster try to screw its customers? And better yet, if they have a clear incentive to get me to order online as opposed to speaking to an actual human being who has to be paid wages, why does their computer system try to screw me?

3. Tony Barnhart tapped Ohio State as the pre-season #1 for next year. Thus, we can lump him in with the rest of the chattering classes who think that defense is just some sort of side activity, like sherbert in between courses of a really good meal. The Bucks lose nine starters on defense, including the entire back seven. If they can go unbeaten with an average defense, then more power to 'em, but I'm doubting it.

4. The rumors in Michiganworld are that defensive coordinator Jim Herrmann, the bane of that fan base's existence for years now, has been terminated, that secondary coach Ron English has been elevated to the coordinator position, and that English will employ more aggressive coverage schemes. Having lived through the disastrous 1999 Kevin Ramsey experiment at Georgia (another secondary coach elevated to defensive coordinator,) where their defense became "more aggressive" and thus unable to stop opponents running basic crossing routes, I have a pang of "be careful what you wish for. I still enjoy mentioning the name "Kevin Ramsey" around my Georgia friends and watching them break chairs over bars in response.

5. The Hawks blew another 4th quarter lead last night. Mental block or the result of opponents focusing for five minutes and showing the Hawks' true quality (or lack thereof)?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Pointy-Headed Intellectual Way of Analyzing the Local Basketball Collective

For those of you with ESPN Insider, John Hollinger has a whole page of statistics for his NBA stats. Hollinger's premise is that gross numbers don't tell the whole story because they don't take pace into account, so he analyzes teams on a per-possession basis. (I'd like to see him index the stats further to take strength of schedule into account, but that's for another day.) What do those stats reveal about our beloved 9-22 Hawks?

1. They're primary weakness is on the defensive end, where they're 27th in the league in points allowed per possession. The offense is a more respectable 20th, which is nothing too terrific, but it less of an issue than the defensive end. Let's all hope that Billy Knight's belief that the players will play better team defense as they mature and gain experience playing with one another is correct.

2. The one stat at which the Hawks excel is offensive rebounding percentage, which can be attributed to Zaza Pachulia, the less hyped of our off-season acquisitions. Overall, the team collects almost exactly 50% of its missed shots, which means they're average in rebounding. At this stage, average = AWESOME WITH A CAPITAL "A" for this franchise.

3. The Hawks' true shooting percentage, which takes free throws and three pointers into account, places them in the middle of the league. So why are they only 20th in offense, especially when they're getting offensive rebounds at a greater clip than anyone else? Say hello to the turnover stat, where the Hawks rank 27th in percentage of possessions that end in a turnover. That, combined with the fact that the Hawks are 26th in percentage of possessions that end in an assist, highlights what we've all been screaming for a dog's year: this team desperately needs a point guard. It really isn't an exaggeration to say that with Chris Paul in the fold, the offense would run better, the defense would be better because one of the main problems with the team's defense currently is an inability to defend opposing point guards, and the Hawks would be the #7 seed in the East with a young team.

And no, I'm not regretting the decision to get season tickets, but a few more wins sure wouldn't make me break out in a rash.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Revisiting my Pre-Season Predictions

For your amusement, here are my five outlandish predictions for college football from August, along with those of my friend Ben. Happily, I'm giving myself credit for getting 2.5 of them right. I was right that Notre Dame would be better than expected and that Louisville would lose two games. I was wrong that Cal would win the Pac Ten (you need semi-competent quarterback play for that) and that USC's defense would be better than their offense by the end of the season, the equivalent of predicting smashing success for the Democrats on the morning of the '94 elections. Maybe I'm cheating, but I get half-credit for picking Maryland to win the ACC Coastal Division, not because the Terps were decent, but because I thought that Florida State would be mediocre. After an 8-5 year that included blow-out losses to Clemson and Florida, I feel vindicated in that decision, ACC Title be damned.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


The Thrashers and Hawks were a perfect 4-0 this weekend. That was a sentence that I never thought I'd be typing when I started this blog 11 months ago, so forgive my sense of glee, even though the Thrashers were playing a home-and-home against the worst team in the Eastern Conference and the Hawks were playing the bad Celtics and then the NO/OKC Hornets without Chris Paul. Anyway, the wife and I were personal witnesses to the goings on at Philips last night, so here are my observations:

1. I honestly can't tell what the Hawks are doing on offense most of the time. They occasionally run some screen and roll, but they must be the worst team in the league at making that basic set-up work, probably because they don't have a big man who can shoot or move. Otherwise, they seem to concentrate on making individual moves and ensuring that their spacing is good enough that if the ballhandler forces a double team, they can create open shots. Despite my moaning about the offensive scheme, they were shooting 56% until the final possessions when they were bleeding clock and taking bad shots.

2. The complete inability to defend an opposing point guard continued, as Speedy Fucking Claxton (as I referred to him over and over again) lit the team up for 29 points. Neither Tyronne Lue, not Salim Stoudemire were able to keep him in front of them. That said, Lue and Stoudemire both had good offensive games, so they were able to make up for their defensive shortcomings to a degree. Still, a healthy Chris Paul would have gone for 35 and 10, not that we could use a point guard or anything. (It bothers me that the Hawks could sign Al Harrington to a long-term deal if they would have taken Paul and he's a genuinely rootable player, but now, they either trade him or he'll block the development of Marvin Williams and Josh Smith. Harrington had another very good offensive game last night.)

3. Tyronne Lue remains the barometer for the team. When he plays well offensively, as he did this weekend, the team is pretty competent. When he doesn't, they lose.

4. The Hawks are leading the NBA in three-point percentage by a full .010 over the second place Bulls, although only six teams are taking fewer threes per game, so the skill doesn't translate that well for the team. It's hard for me to explain how a team without a natural ball distributor or a post threat to force double teams can be so good from behind the arc, but I think I have two explanations. First, the Hawks have a lot of good shooters on the team. When Johnson, Harrington, and Lue are on the court, they have three very good shooters from behind the arc. Second, the primary ballhandlers are all good passers, so when Harrington or Johnson beat their men, they're good at kicking the ball out for open looks. I'll be interested to see if the team looks to emphasize three-point shooting more in the coming weeks.

5. Josh Smith and Marvin Williams combined for 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting and added 12 rebounds. Not bad from the power forward spot. If Harrington is indeed traded, their minutes will go up and it'll be interesting to see how they mesh with one another at the three and four spots.

My Final Top 25

1. Texas
2. Southern Cal
3. Penn State
4. Ohio State
5. West Virginia
6. Louisiana State
7. Virginia Tech
8. Alabama
9. Georgia
10. Wisconsin
11. Notre Dame
12. Auburn
13. UCLA
14. Florida
15. Miami (Florida)
16. TCU
17. Oregon
18. Louisville
19. Oklahoma
20. Boston College
21. Texas Tech
22. Clemson
23. Florida State
24. Iowa
25. Nebraska

Not too much thought had to go into the #1 spot. I briefly considered dropping USC behind Penn State or even Ohio State, but a team that was a half a yard from winning their 35th game in a row deserves a little more respect than that, even if the defensive issues that led me to feel like a lone wolf crying in the wilderness (or at least it seemed that way as Herbstreit preened endlessly on TV that Reggie Bush could win seven gold medals at the coming Winter Olympics) finally came around to bite them. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to rank Ohio State ahead of Penn State because I'm confident that the Bucks would be favored over the Lions on a neutral field, but I didn't have the balls.

I struggled with ranking the SEC teams, as the two best teams in the conference lost their bowl games, one at home and the other to a suspect Big Ten team that I ranked 24th in my last regular season poll, while the third, fourth, and fifth teams all had good bowl wins.

By the way, has anyone noticed how the early rankings for 2006 look almost exactly the same as the rankings at the end of 2005? And do you think that the writers composing them have any idea how many players are returning for the given teams, other than a few skill position players? I do have an early nominee for most overrated team next year: Florida. They meet both of the Charles Rogers Theorem criteria perfectly: they played better in their final two games and they return everything at the skill positions, but they replace the offensive line. The schedule is brutal next year, as well. They're at Tennessee, Auburn, and Florida State. The one countervailing factor is that they'll be in their second year in Urban Meyer's offensive scheme and West Virginia showed what properly run spread option can do to a good SEC defense, but Chris Leak probably isn't the right guy to run it and that will leave Meyer coaching a scheme that isn't his natural one.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Illustration of ABC and ESPN's Conference Preferences

According to an analysis done by the Wall Street Journal and helpfully linked and summarized by Falblogs, Oregon is apparently the king when it comes to boosting bowl ratings. This is a fairly interesting way to measure national support. It did not escape my notice that ABC's Big Ten darlings, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State, were numbers three, six, and eight in the rankings, higher than any other SEC team. Meanwhile, Georgia, LSU, Arkansas, and Tennessee were all in the nether regions of the rankings, groping around unsuccessfully for viewers. Anyway, I have to think that there's some noise in the machine here, since the next Oregon or Washington t-shirt I see strolling down Peachtree Street will be the first. The most likely flaw in the reasoning is that the sample size is relatively low, so one or two minor bowl games in which the Ducks or Huskies outpaced their predecessors (or maybe they were just fortunate in being drawn against teams with big TV markets) could skew the results. Still, the rankings did confirm my sense that the reason why Gameday and the John Saunders trio give so much love to the Big Ten relative to the SEC is the fact that they're playing to their biggest audience. (This, of course, doesn't make the bias any easier to take, but it does provide an explanation.)

Just so I don't sprain my elbow patting myself on the back...

I picked USC to beat Texas by ten, on the reasoning that USC would score a lot of points because no defense can stop them and that Pete Carroll, with a month to prepare, would figure out ways to slow Vince Young down just enough to win 41-31 or something like that. As it turns out, Carroll could have been given a year to prepare and his defense still would have failed to defend Texas' offense because it doesn't matter how many players who put in position to make tackles if they're just going to bounce off of the quarterback. One of the signs I should have seen was the fact that USC had not seen a run/pass threat like Young in the Pac Ten. To turn HP's reasoning around a little, an SEC defense that had defended against D.J. Shockley in 2005 and Matt Jones in 2004 might have been a better fit in the title game, although neither of those players are on Young's level. Similarly, I would have been interested to see how an (interested) Miami team that did such a good job on Marcus Vick and Marques Hagans would have fared against Young. We'll never know and even if Miami or LSU would have gotten a shot at Texas, neither of them could have come close to scoring enough points to keep up with the Horns.

In Honor of Mack Brown, a Blast from the Past

Because, as my wife says, I like being right as much or more than I like my teams winning, here's one from the archives, a column that I wrote in the summer of 2002 for Pigskinpost.com when the "Mack Brown can't win the big one" and "Mack Brown isn't a very good coach" hype was at its height. I was an SEC columnist, but the criticism of Brown seemed ludicrous to me (including from the site's Big XII writer) and I've never been one to resist a giant pinata. My 2006 comments are in caps.

The Mack Dad’ll Make You Jump Jump:
Why Mack Brown Is Unfairly Maligned

If I didn't know any better, I'd say there is a fully-fledged anti-Texas backlash going on these days. Admittedly, I'm basing this opinion on an informal survey of message boards here and there, but something is definitely brewing. Heck, even Tom Dienhart, the biggest Texas supporter in the national media, has been making a joke or two about the Horns. [AH, THE DAYS WHEN I ACTUALLY READ TOM DIENHART. G-D BLESS THE BLOGOSPHERE FOR MAKING HACKS LIKE HIM SUPERFLUOUS.] Perish the thought!

Anyway, the crescendo of the Texas Backlash for me was my colleague John Ross Clark's article this Monday entitled Mack Brown and the Myth of Texas Football. His "closer look" at the head man in Austin essentially concluded that Mack has numerous failings and that the appearance of Mack as one of the best coaches in the country is erroneous. Is he going to bring multiple conference and national titles to the Lone Star State? "Sorry, Mack. Not this year, and maybe not ever." [I CAN'T BELIEVE I MISSED THE CHANCE TO WHACK THAT "MAYBE NOT EVER" LINE. TECHNICALLY, IT CAN BE SAID FOR ANY COACH.]

John is a good writer, I enjoy his columns, and I respect his opinion, but I'm tired of Mack Brown getting ripped for not winning every game and for failing to live up to an impossible standard against which every coach in college football would come up short. Simply put, most of the anti-Mack arguments come from Bevo’s tail end. (In fairness, I should disclose that John didn’t make some of the anti-Mack argument that I refute below.)

Mack squanders talent

I hate this argument and always have. As a note of self-disclosure, I hated this argument when I was a student at the University of Michigan in the mid-90s and critics used it to pooh-pooh the success of Steve Fisher, as if one national title and three Final Fours are only an accomplishment when achieved with a cadre of 5’11 walk-on exchange students from Myanmar.

Here’s a newsflash: the objective for a college coach is to win while not embarrassing the school, bringing in students who plainly can't hack it academically, or presiding over NCAA violations. (Fisher's shortcoming, as it turned out, came in the last category.) Almost invariably, talent wins. Of course, it is possible to have talent and fail to win, but good recruiting is a necessary pre-condition to winning in college football just like a large payroll is a necessary pre-condition to winning the World Series. [OK, THAT'S A SOMEWHAT DATED STATEMENT ON MY PART AND SOMEWHAT IRONIC SINCE THE ANGELS AND THEIR MID-LEVEL PAYROLL WERE THREE MONTHS FROM WINNING THE WORLD SERIES. LET'S MOVE ON.]

John disagrees with me on this: "[w]inning recruiting wars has seldom, if ever, resulted in a national championship on the field." Ask a Florida State or Miami fan the importance of good recruiting to their seven national titles in the past decade. Ask a Florida or Tennessee fan why they have dominated the SEC in the past decade. Ask an LSU fan why the Tigers are poised to join the Gators and Vols atop the league. Ask a Michigan fan why their team has been a consistent winner. (In the alternative, ask a Wolverine or a Buckeye how history would have been different if one Charles Woodson of Fremont, Ohio would have signed with his home state team.) They will all include the word "recruiting" in their answers. The best teams almost always bring in the best classes and send the most players to the NFL.

I'll forgive John for not realizing this reality of college football since he is a fan of the one school that escapes the rule: Nebraska. The Huskers, while certainly not slouches in recruiting, have won with a combination of the best strength and conditioning program in the country and a massive 200+ person roster that allows them to run an intensely physical offense than a smaller roster would prevent. For the rest of the college football world, winning the recruiting battles leads to winning games. To paraphrase the King, 50 million recruitniks can’t be wrong. [IRONICALLY ENOUGH, THE NEBRASKA BRAIN TRUST CAME TO THE SAME CONCLUSION AND HIRED BILL CALLAHAN BECAUSE THEY DECIDED THAT THEY COULDN'T WIN BIG WITHOUT TOP LEVEL TALENT.]

The fact that Mack Brown is a great recruiter is an asset. It is a compliment. It is not a reason to attack him. Texas is far more likely to win conference and national titles on the heels of Mack's last three recruiting classes than they were when John Mackovic was allowing the jewels of the state to escape. Sure, great recruiting creates great expectations, but isn't it better to expect 11-1 than to expect 8-4? Does anyone care how many future NFL stars are required for a coach to win as long as he wins? Don't all ten-win seasons look the same in the dark? [I THINK THAT BILL CURRY AND JOHN COOPER MIGHT HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY ABOUT THAT. GOSH, IT'S FUN FISKING MYSELF.]

Mack can’t win the big one

Here's another "rap" that is actually a compliment. This label only follows the coaches who win all the games that they are expected to win. If Mack is coaching in a big game, then it means he did something right to get his team there. Yes, Mack's great 1997 North Carolina team lost at home to Florida State, but no one would have cared if the Heels wouldn't have been unbeaten going into the game. Yes, Mack has lost the Big XII Title Game twice, but no one would have cared if Mack was eating Cheetos on his couch that weekend after the Horns failed to with their division. Is it better to go 8-3 and never coach in a big game or to go 10-2 and lose the big game?

Let’s take a look at the list of coaches who have had the label of "can’t win the big one." Tom Osborne had the label after years of failing to beat Oklahoma followed by years of failing to win bowl games. Bobby Bowden had the label after years of playing bridesmaid to Miami. Phil Fulmer had the label after years of failing to win his own division because of losses to Florida. Joe Paterno had the label after losing a number of big games in the 70s and 80s. Switching sports for a moment, Dean Smith had the label after years of almost winning the national title before breaking through in 1982. [AND IN 2006, WE CAN ADD ROY WILLIAMS TO THE LIST.]

The best description of the fallacy of the "can’t win the big one" reasoning is explained by Bobby Bowden: "the big one is always the one you don't win." Shouldn't Texas A&M be the big one for Texas? Mack is 3-1 against the Aggies. How about Nebraska, the pre-eminent team in the Big XII? Mack is 2-1 against the Huskers. Was Mack losing the big one when Texas lost the Big XII title game in 1999 and 2001? And UT beating Nebraska and Colorado in the '99 and '01 regular seasons wasn't winning a big game? Again, Mack won the big ones during the season only to have those wins forgotten by his critics when he lost the rematches. Ergo, the big ones are selectively defined as the games Texas lost.

Mack only has a .586 career winning percentage

Yeah, this is a really meaningful statistic for a coach who coached at Tulane and then at North Carolina. Tulane, well, let’s just say that isn’t the easiest place to win. As for UNC, they had won five, five, seven, and five games in the four years prior to Brown's arrival. Within six years, Mack Brown had a ten-win season in Chapel Hill. If my math is right, Mack had as many ten-win seasons at UNC (three) as the program has had in the rest of its history. [I LOVE THAT STAT. I SHOULD HAVE STOPPED WRITING AT THIS POINT, BUT I HAD VERBAL DIARRHEA, SO WE MARCH ON.] We should all be so lucky to have such a piddling resume.

If we really want to judge Mack Brown, then his time at Texas is the relevant yardstick since UT is a school where big things can legitimately be expected of a head coach. In four years, Mack Brown has a record of 38-13, which comes out to a .745 winning percentage and 9.5 wins per season. In the two decades prior to Mack's arrival in Austin, Texas averaged 7.35 wins per season for a .647 winning percentage. Gee whiz, the guy is only worth two wins and almost 10 percentage points to his program. What a failure!

Mack bungled the Simms/Applewhite situation

Yeah, I can't disagree here. Coach Brown did not do a good job with Simms and Applewhite, probably because he either made recruiting promises to Simms to induce him to matriculate in Austin or he was simply so enamored by Simms' talent that he lost sight of Applewhite's undeniable production on the field. Oh, and while we're crucifying Mack Brown for favoring Simms, let’s write off the following coaches for also mishandling quarterback situations:

Lou Holtz – entrusted the future of his program to Ron Powlus

Lloyd Carr – platooned future Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady with a talented, but unprepared Drew Henson for much of the 1999 season [A MISTAKE THAT LOOKS BIGGER AND BIGGER WITH EACH PASSING YEAR.]

Bobby Bowden – only figured out that Charlie Ward operated best out of the shotgun after Florida State lost to Miami and was trailing at the half to Georgia Tech; also had a strange affection for Marcus Outzen

Steve Spurrier – started Doug Johnson for three years

Joe Paterno – had national title talent all over the field and pedestrian quarterbacks like Mike McQueary and Kevin Thompson under center, all the while blue chip recruit Rashard Casey never progressed

Frank Beamer – left Michael Vick on the bench for a year, despite an injury to starter Al Clark that left the Hokies starting a converted safety under center during a losing effort at home against Temple (Temple?)

Here's the bottom line: coaches make dozens and dozens of personnel decisions every year and when a program is doing well and recruiting lots of talent, mistakes (or second-guessing that creates the illusion of mistakes) will be inevitable. Mack is the same as the coaches listed above: he makes occasional personnel mistakes, but he wins and that's the bottom line. [I SURE WAS OBSESSED WITH POUNDING MY AUDIENCE WITH "THE BOTTOM LINE" IN 2002.]

Texas’s tradition is overrated

There is some truth to this, especially if tradition is defined as the post-Darrell Royal era. However, doesn't this make Mack's achievements at Texas even more impressive? To this point, his performance has been far better than that of any of the post-Royal coaches. Don't we judge coaches, in part, on their ability to surpass their predecessors and elevate their programs?

Mack doesn’t win conference titles

John advances the novel theory that because David McWilliams and Fred Akers won SWC titles, the lack of a Big XII title is an albatross for Mack Brown. I will admit that if Mack doesn't win one in the next few years, this will become an albatross, but how silly is the comparison between winning the SWC and the Big XII? Can anyone say with a straight face that beating TCU, Rice, Houston, SMU, and Arkansas is the same challenge as beating Colorado or Nebraska twice in one year as Mack had to do in 1999 and 2001? Or Kansas State and Oklahoma as conference games? Even the great Darrell Royal would have significantly fewer SWC titles if the Red River Shootout would have been a conference game during his tenure.

Mack Brown will probably win a conference title in the next four years. [AND RIGHT ON TIME IN 2006, HE MADE ME LOOK GOOD.] If he doesn't, then the criticism of him will be justified. Until then, people need to realize that there are a lot of very good teams in the Big XII and winning it is no piece of cake.

Similarly, the criticism of Mack Brown failing to win the ACC is also weak. If Florida State wouldn't have been in the league at the time, this would be a legitimate criticism. However, by the time Mack had brought the Tar Heel program around to where it needed to be, he was competing with vintage FSU teams. I didn't see many other teams anywhere in the country beating the Noles. And, to preempt the inevitable follow-up argument, Ralph Friedgen, while he did a great job last year, only showed that he could beat an FSU team that had clearly come back to the pack. No one in the ACC has shown the ability to finish ahead of a vintage FSU team. [STILL HAVEN'T, BUT THE CONCEPT OF A VINTAGE FSU TEAM IS A THING OF THE PAST.]

I hate Mack because he left Carolina

As if any college football coach can be blamed for this. Mack turning down Texas to stay at UNC would be like, oh, I don’t know, Matt Doherty turning down UNC to stay at Notre Dame. (Whoops, sore subject. Better move on.) [I NEVER MISS THE CHANCE TO JIBE UNC. THAT'S WHAT GROWING UP IN CHARLOTTESVILLE IN THE RALPH ERA WILL DO TO A GUY.]

Bob Stoops owns Mack Brown

Really? A 2-1 record means Stoops owns Mack? Well then I guess Les Miles owns Stoops since he is 1-0 against his cross-state rival. Even if one admits that Stoops has out-coached Mack Brown the past two years (and I'm pretty sure that he has), then that just means Mack has been out-coached by a guy whom many college football fans describe as the best coach in America.

Steve Spurrier owned Phil Fulmer for years, but I don’t see people writing articles about how Fulmer is an overrated coach. [PLEASE FORGET THAT I EVER SAID THAT.] I don't see writers bringing up Fulmer’s loss to Memphis in 1996 the way that John cited Mack’s losses to Texas Tech in 1998 and Arkansas on New Year’s Day 2000 as evidence against Coach Brown.

Bill Snyder owns Mack Brown

Really? Two wins over Brown in Brown's first two years in Austin are a big deal? The teams that Mack will put up against Snyder in the next two years are far deeper and better-rounded than his teams in '98 and '99 with Mackovic's players. If Texas loses to K-State in both of the next two years, then I will admit that Snyder has a hex over Mack Brown. Something tells me I won’t be needing to make that admission [SCORE ANOTHER ONE FOR ME!!!] and on the off chance that I do, I might just happen to mention that R.C. Slocum seems to have a hex on Snyder, so that must mean that Snyder is overrated and Slocum is much better. (PS – For the record, I like Snyder and Stoops and I would likely have both of them slightly ahead of Mack Brown in an overall ranking. I just think that the comparisons between them and Mack Brown are made in a slanted manner against Mack.)

Mack isn’t likely to win a "few national championships"

Thanks to John for creating this impossible goal. How many active coaches have won a "few," i.e. three or more, national titles? [AND THANKS TO MACK'S PERFORMANCE ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, THAT'S STILL TRUE.] I count none. Anyway, it took Tom Osborne about two decades to win his first title. It took Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno a little less than two decades. These three guys are all considered great coaches and were considered as such before they won national titles. Why? Because they were consistent winners. They put their teams in position to win conference and/or national titles just about every year. If Mack Brown continues to average 9.5 wins per season, he will join Bowden, Paterno, and Osborne on that pedestal (or at least he’ll be in the same ballpark.)

Texas is always overrated

Ah, the last nugget in the arsenal. Mack Brown must be overrated because Texas has been picked high the past few years and hasn't lived up to billing. Umm, pardon me for interjecting a little logic, but doesn’t that mean that people should be mad at pre-season prognosticators and not Mack Brown? Is it his fault that writers think highly of his teams before the season?

Texas has been rated so highly in the past few years, in large part, because of the hype surrounding their recruiting classes, but this is fallacious reasoning by sportswriters because it takes years for the full effect of a recruiting class to be felt. A great class in February 2002 will create an aura for a program that translates to high expectations when preview magazines come out that summer, but those recruits probably won’t become starters until 2004-2006. [I MIGHT JUST GO BUY MYSELF AN ICE CREAM CONE FOR THIS ARGUMENT.]

Mack Brown's first full class will be in their fourth years this fall. As I said earlier, if Mack fails to win a conference title in the next four years, then some criticism of him will be legitimate. Until then, the pundits need to take a chill pill and count the other coaches who average 9.5 wins per season in elite conferences. I’m not saying that Coach Brown is the best coach in the land, but he has done a very good job in his first four years in Austin, the future looks bright, and the Texas-bashers (a group that I have occasionally been a member of) need to stop inventing specious reasons to run Mack down.

More Picking on HeismanPundit

I went over to his site to see how he reacted to Texas upsetting USC. (His "USC will win because Texas hasn't seen a team that uses the tight end" prediction gave me great amusement as I watched David Thomas catch ten balls. Texas does practice against their own offense, do they not? But USC had to win primarily because of more sophisticated West Coast offenses and not because they have an insane amount of talent.) To his credit, he was gracious and complimentary to Texas, going beyond simply stating that Vince Young is an incredible athlete to also give credit to the Horns' braintrust for using the no-huddle offense.

Anyway, in an effort to find something to be peeved about, I scrolled down a little and sure enough, I found pure comic gold. Here are his rankings of the best teams of the past 25 years. You'll never guess which major conference fails to place a team in the top ten. From 1980-2004, the period covered by HP's rankings, five different SEC teams won national championships: Georgia '80, Alabama '92, Florida '96, Tennessee '98, and LSU '03. I guess that none of them were that good.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Post-Mortem on the Falcons

Kudos to Matt Winkeljohn for a strong analysis of what went wrong for the Falcons in 2005. Personally, as someone who picked the team to go 7-9 in 2004 and 9-7 in 2005, I'm somewhat gratified by being right that the team is essentially mediocre. As Der Wife told her mother when explaining to her why I wasn't bothered by the Falcons' poor end to the season, "Michael often likes being right more than he likes his teams winning." (The Braves and Michigan football are probably the only two exceptions. When I'm right about Michigan playing their worst football once they take a two-score lead, I'm not exactly thrilled.) To me, the message from this season is simply that the team's 11-5 record and trip to the NFC Title Game in 2004 was a fluke, the result of the team winning a number of close games (6-1 in games decided by four points or less) and benefiting from the NFC being extremely weak. Really, was it that big of an accomplishment to beat the 8-8 Rams to make it to the Title Game? Did the Falcons really look like they belonged on the same field as Philadelphia in that Title Game? Did they look like an elite team or simply an average team that had won a number of close games against other average teams and thereby earned the right to play for the NFC Championship?

A look at the stats from 2004 confirmed what we should have known at the outset of this season. The team outscored their opponents by a whopping three points and was outgained by an average of 7.6 yards per game, despite the fact that they played a relatively easy schedule. If you want to be a little more sophisticated in your statistical analysis, then note that Football Outsiders rated the Falcons 19th in weighted yardage (26th on offense and 16th on defense) in 2004, so their prediction that the team would be average this year was far more valuable than the "well, they were one game away from the Super Bowl last year and added some new personnel, so we can expect them to take the next step" reasoning that pervaded the Atlanta Mainstream Sports Media ("AMSM") in the lead-up to the season and during the team's 6-2 start.

Why is the team mediocre? Let's start with the guy under center, since every discussion about the Falcons apparently has to start and end with Michael Vick. Football Outsiders ranked him as the 26th most efficient quarterback in the League this year. He was 25th among qualifying quarterbacks in the NFL's passer rating, he averaged a poor 6.23 yards per attempt, and despite an excessively safe passing game, he was only 22nd in lowest interception percentage. Moreover, as Winkeljohn points out, his rushing yardage fell from 902 to 597. The bottom line is that he's a slightly-below average quarterback who regressed in his third full year as a starter and the Falcons have committed a significant portion of their cap to him. (To a lesser extent, the same criticism can be made of the defense, where Keith Brooking is the second highest paid player on the defense, but doesn't seem to produce on that level, although it's always hard to evaluate linebackers individually.) Vick's running threat does open lanes for the team's running game, which is pretty much the Falcons' only significant strength, so his value goes beyond his raw passing and rushing numbers. That said, the fact that we're describing the running game as the only strength on the team says a lot.

The prevailing question now is whether Vick would be better in another system. Personally, I don't see how the Falcons can keep their current offensive system, since it's patently obvious that the franchise player is not playing well in it, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he would be better in another system. It is often said that Dan Reeves got much better production out of Vick in the one year that he coached him and there's some merit to that comparison, but keep in mind that Vick was a novelty in 2002. Over the past two seasons, teams have figured him out. They've figured out that he likes to roll left, they know that he likes to scramble if his first read is unavailable, and they've tailored defenses that keep him in the pocket and force him to rely on his oft-inaccurate arm. We're hoping against hope that he'll suddenly become a more accurate passer. Some skills change over time, such as the ability to read a defense. The skill of putting the ball where you want to doesn't seem like it would change. Thus, a new offensive scheme that takes advantage of Vick's arm strength would probably be a good idea, but we shouldn't overrate the effects that it would have. At this stage, Vick is who he is.

On defense, the team allowed 325 yards per game and 21 points per game in both 2004 and 2005. Despite the widespread belief that the defense declined this year, it played at the same level that it did in 2004, which means that our estimation of the defense in the off-season was excessively positive and the criticism of the defense this off-season will be excessively negative. Yes, the secondary does look weak and the youngsters in the front seven were often out of position, but we shouldn't act as if the defense was a disaster. It was average in 2004 and average in 2005. The best hope for the team is that they can compensate for a misfiring offense by developing a very good defense. If the young players on defense, namely Chad Lavalais, Jonathan Babineaux, Demorrio Williams, and DeAngelo Hall, progress in the next 1-2 years and the team can find a better corner to line up opposite Hall, then there is potential for the Falcons to have a top ten defense. Without that progression, then there are going to be a whole lot more season around .500.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

What the Hell?

Some results during the bowl season seemed fairly rational. Michigan playing very poorly once they had a two-score lead. Marcus Vick doing something bitchy, in this case, stomping on a Louisville defender, Darnell Dockett style. Miami completely giving up in a bowl game outside of Florida when nothing major was at stake. (Does anyone else remember the 1/1/94 Fiesta Bowl, otherwise known as the highlight of Arizona football history?)

And then there was the Sugar Bowl last night, which took me completely by surprise, not because Georgia started the game flat, but rather because a Georgia defense that had been solid all year and had allowed 30+ points on all of two occasions in the past five years, both against balanced offenses (LSU '03 and Auburn '05,) was completely overrun by a one-dimensional offense. Despite the snobby claims of SEC fans that the spread option can't possibly work against SEC defenses because of their superior athleticism, West Virginia ran roughshod over Georgia to the tune of 382 yards rushing.

Georgia's mistake was the same mistake that Michigan has made on numerous occasions against run-based spread offenses like those of Northwestern or Texas: they played West Virginia as if the presence of three- and four-receiver sets meant that the 'Neers were going to pass. From the start of the game to West Virginia's final clinching drive, Georgia played nickel defense with only six players in the box against West Virginia's base two-back, three-receiver shotgun set. Thus, the Dawgs were trying to defend against six blockers and two potential runners with six defenders. They were outnumbered in the box, which is why West Virginia had such gaping running lanes. To employ such an obviously flawed strategy when Georgia had a month to prepare for an offense than almost never throws down the field is questionable. To do so in the fourth quarter when WVU was trying to protect a lead was borderline criminal. When Georgia scored to close to within 38-35, they should have been playing seven in the box with man coverage on the three receivers and one safety shading to the side with two receivers in the event that WVU threw a screen pass out in that direction. Instead, they played six in the box and West Virginia ran out the clock, aided by a gutsy, but rational fake punt call. (Finally, a coach who understands that a punt doesn't buy that much in terms of field position, especially in a game where neither defense could stop the opposing offense.)

The game also exposed Georgia's linebackers as being fairly average. Jarvis Jackson in particular seemed to be making mistake after mistake in space. Three particular plays come to mind. One was a basic roll-out by Pat White (who I kept wanting to refer to as Stan, another quarterback from Alabama that gave Georgia problems) on a third down in the first half on which Jackson was simply beaten to the outside despite the fact that White wasn't running at full speed because he was looking downfield. The second was White's quarterback draw on third and ten from the WVU five in the fourth quarter, a play that ended up being decisive in the game. It appeared that Jackson got caught inside, allowing White to cut back and gain 13 yards. The third was on Steve Slaton's final touchdown run, when he was slanting outside for some inexplicable reason, despite the fact that most of the Mountaineers' rushing yards in the game were between the tackles. If Jackson was actually coached to give away the middle on that play, then I'll pass blame from him to an inexplicable defensive scheme.

Other thoughts on the game:

1. One nice result from the game is that D.J. Shockley's last pass in college went for a 43-yard touchdown. Also, by the end of the game, I was having a hard time keeping all of Georgia's receivers straight. They have so many guys who can present a threat down the field. Between that and their three solid running backs (although I suspect that Danny Ware sees the writing on the wall,) Georgia is loaded at the skill positions. They have the personnel to run Richt's Florida State fastbreak if they can find the right trigger man next year.

2. Did Georgia's final offensive drive remind anyone else of Philadelphia's lack of urgency down by two scores in Super Bowl XXXIX? Not that it ended up mattering because West Virginia probably could have scored again if they needed to, but Georgia could have scored quicker, given that the drive ended with the Mountaineers leaving Georgia receivers uncovered way down the field.

3. What a welcome relief Brad Nessler was after four hours of listening to Brent Musberger. A few thoughts on Brent. First of all, it's rare when any broadcaster is biased against Notre Dame, but my gosh does Brent seem to have a mancrush on Jim Tressel and the BUCKEYES!!! (Keep in mind that I was rooting for Ohio State.) His dismissive comments towards Charlie Weis for having the temerity to believe that Tennessee's defense was comparable to that of Ohio State were amusing. Notre Dame gained 348 yards against Ohio State at a neutral site. They gained 343 on Tennessee at home. Yes, Notre Dame scored 41 points on Tennessee and 20 on Ohio State, but as we pointed out after that game, Notre Dame's point total against the Vols was aided by Tennessee's less-than-competent special teams and offense. In contrast, Ohio State was supported by an offense that rolled up over 600 yards and left its defense in poor field position only once.

Musberger also brought repetitiveness to a new level. Between his constant hyping of the fact that A.J. Hawk is dating Brady Quinn's sister (in Brent's defense, he was probably told to run this angle into the ground because it would capture the casual fan's interest,) to Jeff Samardzija's pitching to Tom Zbikowski's boxing, Brent, like Dick Vitale, seems to know one interesting factoid about each player and then managed to repeat it every time that player was mentioned. Thank G-d I wasn't playing the Brent Musberger Drinking Game or else I would have been shipped to Grady Hospital to have my stomach pumped.