Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mark Bradley's Crystal Ball

It's not quite up there with Dr. Z's announcer grades in terms of an annual treat, but Mark Bradley's annual college football crystal ball is always worth a read. He doesn't offer a tremendous amount of analysis (likely because of space constraints), but he's good at assessing the general feel of where a program is headed in the coming year. OK, and the comments section is always a blast as a collection of "YOUR TEAM IS TEH SUXORS!" reasoning. Some gems that jumped out at me:

Two comments in, we learn from NASCARfan that Florida has no defense (they must not have played any subs whatsoever on a defense that allowed 13.8 points per game last year and held Ohio State to 82 yards) and Alabama has no talent (news to most recruiting services, which gave Shula credit for assembling good talent before squandering it). The next comment lauds Georgia Tech's new offensive coordinator, who hasn't coached a down on the Flats yet. The Auburn contingent then jumps in to cite Tuberville's 3-2 record against Nick Saban, a statistically significant stat if there ever was one. Bryan Daniel disabuses the notions that we have of Wake fans being smarter than the rest by describing the "connection that happens NO WHERE ELSE." We then get the obligatory shot at USC from Wassabi, who decides that a schedule including road trips to Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, and Cal is a "joke."

Anyway, to the predictions:

Georgia will go 10-2 and come within an eyelash of rendering the reigning BCS titlist a runner-up in its own division. I see the Bulldogs winning in Knoxville but losing in Tuscaloosa. Part of me even envisions Georgia beating Florida on Oct. 27. Then another part — the brain, I believe it’s called — recalls that the Bulldogs stopped enjoying Jacksonville about the same time Vince Dooley stopped coaching.

I'm a smidge more pessimistic about the Dawgs because of the direction of the defense since Willie Martinez replaced Brian VanGorder. Georgia has shown more of a tendency to get torched and they don't have outstanding talent on defense this year. The season won't be a disaster because the offense will get better without Mark Richt calling plays (he always seemed distracted to me), but 9-3 sounds about right.

Alabama will win as many games (nine) as Auburn. That sound you hear is the Tigers’ window of opportunity slamming shut. Nick Saban isn’t a very nice guy, but he’s a very good coach. He’ll have the Tide playing for the SEC title within two years.

Auburn had the schedule to play for the BCS title last season but lost twice at home. This year the Tigers must face those conquerors — Arkansas and Georgia — on the road. They must also go to Baton Rouge and to Gainesville. That’s not a championship schedule. That’s a bound-for-the-Chick-Fil-a Bowl schedule.

I'm onboard with this pick. Auburn has lots of tough road games and they don't have any obvious strengths. Their 10-2 mark was deceiving last year, as they won every close game they played, including a pair of games (LSU and Florida) in which they were outgained. That said, Auburn does have a great history with senior quarterbacks and when they don't get much hype. I have a bad history of always selling them short.

As for Alabama, Saban is stepping into an excellent situation in terms of returning talent (not unlike Urban Meyer two years ago, although Shula wasn't quite the recruiter that Zook was). Saban's scheming to get around a weak defensive line will be an interesting sideplot.

Virginia Tech will win the ACC and will, for obvious reasons, become an even bigger story than last year’s ACC champ (Wake Forest) was.

Wake Forest will finish 6-6 as reality rears its head.

I like Florida State in the ACC because I'm not sold that Virginia Tech can move the ball, but I'm in agreement with the Wake pick, as their yardage and points last year were indicative of an 8-4 team, not a conference champion.

Southern Cal will play Texas for the BCS title. Southern Cal will win this time.

I have way too many questions about a Texas defense that got shredded regularly last year and is replacing its defensive coordinator, but kudos to Bradley for thinking outside of the box.

LSU will again have the SEC’s most talented team and will again lose twice — once when the Tigers go to Tuscaloosa and get outcoached by the guy who used to coach them and then against Florida in the SEC championship game. That will serve as payback for the Gators’ loss in Baton Rouge on Oct. 6.

11-2 would not be a bad season for LSU, or anyone else in the SEC. Reading between the lines, Bradley is part of the CW that Les Miles isn't a very good coach. Miles's sideline demeanor (bad hat, a little confused-looking, crazy eyes) causes his evaluation to go down, possibly unfairly.

Georgia Tech will go 8-4. One magazine projects the Jackets as a Top 15 team, but I can’t imagine how losing the nation’s most talented player and a four-year starting quarterback makes you better. Yes, Taylor Bennett looked good throwing to Calvin Johnson in the Gator Bowl, but Johnson could make any quarterback look good. (Even Reggie Ball — sometimes.) Tech was staring at a breakthrough season last November and couldn’t beat Georgia or Wake. Sorry, but I don’t see this year’s Jackets being quite as good.

Chan Gailey equilibrium. Bradley might also mention that West Virginia's pass defense is dreadful, which makes Bennett's bowl game a little more deceiving. I'm fascinated to see the reaction of Tech fans to Bennett. Regardless of whether he's good ("what the f*** was he doing behind Reggie Ball?) or bad ("why the f*** can't we have a good quarterback?"), Gailey will not look good. Just get it over with and replace him with John Tenuta.

I see Florida State being lots better with Jimbo Fisher calling plays. I see the Seminoles winning the ACC Atlantic.

If Bradley pairs this thought with the fact that Virginia Tech has a dreadful record against Florida State, then he might revise his pick for ACC champion.

Darren McFadden won’t win the Heisman because he’ll get hurt. (Louisville’s Brian Brohm will take the trophy.) Stripped of his best player and fan support, Houston Nutt will step down before Thanksgiving. He’ll announce his resignation via text message.

How about "McFadden won't win the Heisman because he won't be able to put up big enough numbers in the SEC to compensate for the fact that he doesn't play for Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame, the Florida schools, or USC"?

Speaking of the ‘Ville: The Cardinals will lose at West Virginia on Nov. 8 in a Thursday-night matchup of unbeatens. And the Mountaineers will go 12-0 but will be barred from the BCS title game because Southern Cal and Texas will be similarly undefeated. And the drumbeat for a playoff system will sound again. And it will, as ever, go unheeded by those in position to make it happen.

Good enough for me. If we didn't get a playoff after an SEC team (not on probation) went unbeaten and didn't get to play for the national title, then we aren't getting one any time soon.

Phillip Fulmer will be replaced by David Cutcliffe the first week in December. (The final straw will be Tennessee losing to Kentucky for the first time since 1984.) Hearing the news, Johnny Majors will laugh deep into January.

An amusing thought, but Fulmer isn't a prick like Majors was and he gets along with Cutcliffe too well for this to happen. Plus, for this to come to pass, Tennessee would have to have a bad season while the offense performs well. I just don't see the defense melting down enough for that to be possible.


Grandy said...

While some questions about ole Willie are not unwarranted, I must point out:

1) I think UT is the only team to cross 400 yards against us, factoring in KR/PR.

2) UT was the only team to cross 30 points.

3) We were -1 (30/31). We had to blow it out in the last 3 games to get to -1 (+6 over that span). In the first 9 games we were -7 with a couple of patsies on the schedule.

4) We had an ugly combination of yielded short field scores and missed FGs in our 3 losses (UT was just short field stuff, and a blocked punt TD).

The D was better last year than I wanted to give it credit for. By no means great. The Vandy and UK games probably work out differently for want of a healthy Brandon Coutu.

We should turn the ball over less, though we'll see. We might not get as many turnovers (30 is a pretty solid number. We picked up 8 or 9 in the last 3 games IIRC), but if we provide less short fields it will help the D tremendously. Further if we can sustain a few more drives and get points, it will the defense even moreso.

I don't deny the issues - we've got major questions along not one but two lines. Our most important veteran defensive player failed out. Matt Stafford broke the hearts of millions when he cheated on Brandon Sutherland with Joe Cox.

I would submit that any prediction for us this year will have an unusually high risk factor - at least for Georgia in the Richt era - associated with it. I do think that there is hope for the D, not just with returning personnel but also because schematically we might be getting "settling into" the Martinez era.

A 10-3/11-2 team last year would have been overrated in a sense - the season was really that close and 8-5 wasn't far off either. IT was nothing like those Richt/Van Gorder teams.

And I think it's not wrong to continue to examine Willie Martinez as a DC. But there's hope, if the offense is a little less cooky.

As for the playcalling, I think people are already too inclined to heap praise on Bobo though I am excited about the move. Richt was never as bad of an OC as many accused him of being, but I would agree that he seemed to do odd things at times, and we might see a little more fluidity with Bobo (though I suspect he's got plenty of growing to do, and what we see now may not be as polished as what we see in a couple of years).

And, you'll see this in different areas. Not just playcalling, or how series are called ,but also in substitution pattners (for example). Richt, freed needing to micromanage the offense, should boost the team in all respects. Possibly including gameplan and playcalling - there's no reaosn he can't still get input and the de-burdening could help stir creative juices.

Anonymous said...

Bobby P says:

I said it last year, Alabama does have some very good offensive talent. Their QB, WR's, and RB's almost all have the potential to be some of the best in the SEC. The big question on the offensive side is how tough the line is going to be. I thought they were very soft all of last year, and a part of me feels that was a product of Shula's personality and offensive style. I fully expect Saban to light a fire under their ass, and look forward to the type of physical play he prefers.

On the defensive side of the ball, I do have some questions, but again, there is talent there. Same thing as on the offensive side of the ball, I'm really hoping to see some of that physical nastiness that was a staple of Saban's LSU defenses.

Anonymous said...

As a traditionally pessimistic Auburn fan I actually like this team.

The defense should be stout, a lot of experience and depth.

Offense all hinges on Cox being healthy. If he plays like 2006 then 8 wins will be good season.

I think they can find 10 wins in there.

Also, the last 4 years Bama's Scout Recruiting Rankings were 19, 16, 18, and 22. That ensures that a minimum of 7 SEC teams are ranked ahead of you every year, 8 sometimes. So I'm not sure where this myth that they have so much talent comes from.

I'm seeing very weak OL, little SEC talent at RB, serviceable QB, and some good WR talent. Defense is always strong to quite strong, silly to think they are 10 win talent.

Saban had 2, 10 win seasons in 5 years at LSU. I think he inherited as much or more talent from DiNardo as he has now (yes, look at those LSU rosters, quite a few Leaguers and I don't see too many on this years Tide squad).

Anonymous said...


As always, well written. Always nice to see an insightful, analytical approach to SEC Football. I particularly enjoy that someone with ties to "the dark side" recognizes and acknowledges the impact of ESPN's (logically) self-serving agenda. Although there are many "victims", Peyton Manning 1997 and Auburn 2004 are the most prominent.