Thursday, May 17, 2007

Meet the New Season, Same as the Old Season

And now, moving on from criticizing the output of a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a writer for two of the finer publications in political journalism, we move onto a little lighter fare and easier prey: Stewart Mandel. I'm not going to say that his latest Mailbag is on the level of Joe Morgan's infamous "I don't have enough information on the subject about which I'm paid to know something" responses, but it's close in terms of uselessness. Let's take his answers one by one:

1. Conference Strength

Kudos to Mandel for being responsive to his readers and indulging them on the question of conference strength. Personally, I find arguments about conference strength to be overblown and usually poorly argued using small sample sizes and silly, anecdotal arguments. (I am prey to this exact problem. Do a search of this blog for "Heismanpundit" if you desire examples.) That said, the debate clearly drives hits and Mandel doesn't have the luxury of ignoring a hot-button topic, seeing as how he actually gets paid to opine as opposed to doing so in his free time.

The problem with Mandel's conference rankings is that they project 2007 to finish pretty much the same as 2006, both in terms of the order of the conferences themselves, as well as the order within the conferences. Lazy lazy lazy. Take the SEC for example. Mandel has the same top six and bottom one. Would it be so hard for him to project that certain teams will be better or worse this year? Here's a start: Arkansas will take a step down because they were senior-laden last year and played just about every big game at home, while South Carolina will take a step up as this year's Arkansas. Is it so hard to conceive that things might change a little in a sport where a quarter of the rosters turn over every year?

Or take the Big Ten. Mandel says that the league will be an elite of Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin, with Penn State knocking on the door and then Iowa a notch behind them. Where have I seen this before? Oh yeah, it was last year's Big Ten!

2. Kirk Ferentz

Here's what Mandel has to say: Ferentz did a really good job when his teams were putting up double-digit win totals on an annual basis, but last year's team wasn't very good. It might have been a blip, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out this year.

There is a minute of my life that I'll never get back.

3. Virginia Tech-LSU

This is what happens when a sportswriter tries to invoke a non-sports concept:

That's going to be a good one, all right. I don't know who's going to win, but I bet the final score will be something like 10-9. I also think it's going to be an extremely important moment for the Virginia Tech community in its ongoing healing process. Assuming that's the "game of the week" nationally (Notre Dame-Penn State will get plenty of attention as well, but those teams aren't going to be ranked in the Top 10), I can only imagine how uplifting it will be for Hokies fans to see their school return to the national spotlight for something besides the recent tragedy.

This really bugs me. Mandel is far from the only opinionista to make this vile point, but I was terribly vexed (HT: Commodus) last year when the national media drove down my throat the concept that New Orleans was healing because the Saints were having a good season. No it wasn't. The Saints didn't rebuild the city or provide new homes or jobs for the tens of thousands of displaced residents. The Saints essentially became a cop-out symbol so the rest of American thinks that everything is fine in New Orleans, as opposed to the reality that the Federal Government has been inept from the outset of its Katrina response.

And the Virginia Tech shootings aren't even in the same ballpark as Katrina. A crazy guy got a hold of guns and shot 31 people. Yes, it's terrible, but turning it into some sort of kabuki theater of "grief" and "healing" is just annoying. Virginia Tech people would have been excited for the LSU game, regardless of whether the shootings ever took place. The notion that they need a football game five months later to get over the shooting deaths of 31 students when over 30,000 people are killed by guns every year in the United States is senseless to me.

And yes, I'm rooting for LSU. Call me heartless or a contrarian, but I'm rooting for the Tigers partly because they're an SEC team, partly because Virginia Tech's fans provoked a number of fights with LSU fans when the teams played in 2002 and Tech then delayed their trip to Baton Rouge for years, and partly because this off-season has convinced me that Virginia Tech seems to have an inordinate number of pricks on its football team, starting with the most prominent Hokie in the NFL.

4. Eighth-Year Seniors

Blah blah blah. I did like the bit on Glenn Sharpe.

5. Maryland's Quarterback Situation

Finally, a useful piece of information. Naturally, it came from someone else.

6. Use of "we" by fans

Agreed. Let's move on.

7. NFL coaches in college football

I generally agree with the point that many NFL coaches are too stodgy for college football and don't have the right skill-sets, namely the personality to recruit and keep players motivated and the political skills to handle the program's supporters. That said, the one piece of evidence that Mandel cites - last year's Cotton Bowl - is asinine. Nebraska lost that game despite allowing 178 yards to Auburn in large part because they gifted Auburn a touchdown on a failed fake punt reverse that set Auburn up for a 14-yard drive for a touchdown. Is the Cotton Bowl really the example Mandel wants to use to show that former NFL coaches are too conservative?

8. 2007 Celebrity Crush

Cheap excuse for a beaver joke, plus a disappointing lack of cheesecake.

9. Misuse of "cyclical"

How many times are you going to keep insisting that the relative strength of conferences is "cyclical" when you simply mean that it's mutable? If you can find a cycle in any of this, you should apply your talents to the stock market. For crying out loud, you're a professional writer.
--Kurt S., Chapel Hill, N.C.

Listen, smarty pants. I write about football for a living. Therefore, I don't have the foggiest idea what you're talking about. But once upon a time I did buy stock in a rising computer-software company. It had a funny name I kind of liked -- Microsoft. A few years later, I got a call from my stock broker saying I wouldn't have to worry about money anymore. Which is nice. It gives me more time to worry about the important things.

Like whether the Pac-10 is better than the Big 12 or vice versa.

(P.S. Parts of the aforementioned story were exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Greatly.)

I can't make heads or tails of this, except to say that Kurt is exactly right about conference strength not really following a definable cycle (maybe we should get Arthur Schlesinger on the case?) and Mandel's response is a total non-sequitur. I'll give Mandel credit for printing an e-mail that pointed out his misuse of the language, but shouldn't a graduate of Northwestern have a better defense than "I'm a football writer?"


Benjamin said...

Arthur Schlesinger is dead, sorry to burst your bubble.

Michael said...

Then Mandel needs a Ouija board.

Please don't get in the way of my efforts to insert "I'm so well-read" references into posts with actual facts that make me look bad. :)

Benjamin said...

The appropriate response would have been, "well, cross him off then."

VT_MikeO said...

Check your facts dude, it was LSU fans that started the riot in Blacksburg the night before the VT/LSU game.