Friday, August 31, 2007

Our Weather is Hotter and our Teams are Meaner

So sayeth Mr. College Football, who says that the ACC and SEC teams are not going to lose this weekend (except in obvious instances where they play one another). I like Barnhart, but he does play to his audience and that can cloud his judgment. He knows he can never go wrong by picking all the local teams to win, but that devalues his opinion.

What further devalues his opinion is analysis like this:

Oklahoma State at Georgia: This one’s pretty simple. If Georgia can run the ball with that baby-faced offensive line, then things will be okay at Sanford Stadium Saturday night. But if the Dawgs can’t run the ball and Matt Stafford has to throw it 35 times, this one turns into a shootout with one of the best offenses in the country. The Dawg Nation does not want that. Georgia 24, Oklahoma State 20.

Did Lloyd Carr write this? Let's think about what Barnhart is saying here: if the running game doesn't work, the Georgia will have to throw the ball 35 times, they'll score more, and this will be a bad thing. If the Dawgs do run the ball well, they'll score 24 points and win a tight game. All Barnhart is saying is that the tempo of the game will be different if Georgia runs effectively. This has nothing to do with the actual result, unless one team is clearly better than the other, in which case the superior team wants a quicker tempo and more possessions because that reduces the chance of the anomalous result. Assuming that Georgia has better players, then they would prefer a game with more possessions. Barnhart (and Carr) drive me crazy when they babble about "shortening the game and protecting the defense," as if these should be goals for teams chocked full of four- and five-star recruits.

What Barnhart should be saying is this: if Georgia's young offensive line cannot open holes for their backs, then the passing game will become less effective, Georgia will struggle in the red zone, and the Dawgs won't be able to take advantage of Oklahoma State's weakness, which is a green defensive line. An ineffective running game is bad because it affects the ability of the team to score touchdowns. Additionally, Barnhart ought to mention that the offensive line affects the passing game in the sense that they have to protect a pocket passer who presents a giant target for pass rushers. (As a Michigan fan, I have a little experience with this concept.) Regardless of the game's tempo, Georgia will have significant problems if they cannot protect Matthew Stafford.

Personally, I think that Georgia's young offensive line will present problems during the season, but Oklahoma State doesn't have the defense to exploit this weakness. Thus, Georgia is going to be able to run and pass well. Oklahoma State will also be able to move the ball, although their effectiveness is more variable because we have no idea if Good Bobby Reid or Bad Bobby Reid are going to show up. Assuming that Good Bobby shows up, then the shootout that many have predicted ought to materialize. I still like Georgia in the shootout because of their depth and homefield advantage; I don't like Barnhart's reasoning for how the Dawgs will get from point A to point B.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The 2007 Version of Five Outlandish Predictions

My friend Ben and I have an annual tradition of coming up with five ludicrous predictions at the start of every college football season. As you can tell from last year's picks, I'm not always very good at this whole "predicting the future" thing. Undeterred by a track record of failure, we trudge on with 2007:

Ben's Picks:

1. Purdue will finish second in the Big Ten. They have two big road games, at Michigan and at Penn State. If they lose both, I still think they can finish second in a tie with Penn State, as Penn State is at Michigan and has to play Ohio State and Wisconsin. On the other hand, Michigan may lose to Ohio State and Penn State and Purdue ties for second again.

[Ed. - I am not at all high on this pick. I much prefer Iowa as a Big Ten darkhorse.]

2. Nebraska finishes third in the Big Twelve North and Callahan gets the boot. They lose at Wake and USC at home to start the season 1-2. They lose at Columbia, at Texas and at home to A&M. Now they play CU the last game of the year in Boulder, I think CU trips them there and they end the year 6-6. This is the year Callahan's dismantling of the past 40 plus years starts to regress after incremental progress last year. Too tough a schedule for them.

[Ed. - Ben and I are both still offended by the concept of Nebraska running the West Coast Offense. And the irony of the move is that Nebraska abandoned the option because they thought that modern defenses are too fast, but subsequently, the spread option has taken the nation by storm.]

3. Kentucky will finish last in the SEC East. I know this in accordance with Phil Steele, but he is spot on with this one and they are very hyped right now. They are the Charles Rogers Theorem in action.

[Ed. - The CRT is not alarmed because the Cats return a lot on the lines, but we aren't high on a team with a wretched defense that was outgained by 75 yards per game last year.]

4. Arizona State opens 7-0 and gets a ton of media hype, and then proceeds to lose 4 in a row before rebounding to beat Arizona in their finale.

5. Three black head coaches lose their jobs - Croom, Dorrell, and Ty.

[Ed. - Ty is safe for at least this year at Yoo-Dub. Croom is a possibility, especially if Ole Miss looks like they have moved ahead of Miss. State, and Dorrell is an outside possibility although I think that UCLA looks like a good bet for eight to nine wins.]

My Picks:

1. South Carolina wins the East. They take two of three from Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida, they split with LSU and Arkansas, and they finish 6-2 in the league, which is enough to make the title game in am Eastern Division that shows a lot of parity this year. They then lose to Clemson.

[Ed. - I should have put in a caveat to the effect that South Carolina has an unfavorable schedule. Oh, and that they're South Carolina.]

2. Notre Dame wins at least eight games and Evan Sharpley starts every one of them. (If this sounds suspiciously like my "Tereshinski will start every game and Georgia will win the SEC" pick from last year, then you're right.)

[Ed. - It really takes some ineptitude to be wrong before the season even starts, as it appears that Demetrius Jones will be the starter. Let Charlie's Rich Rodriguez impersonation commence!]

3. Vandy goes to a bowl. My concern is that they'll pull one or two upsets and then blow a bowl bid with a loss to a minnow, like they did in 2005.

4. The million dollar donation aside, Philip Fulmer will be fired at the end of the year and replaced by Rich Rodriguez. Bonus: Dennis Franchione will also be looking for employment at the end of the year and Nick Saban will offer him a position as a grad assistant in charge of team laundry.

5. Virginia goes into the rivalry game with Virginia Tech with a chance to win their division. You may have missed it in the avalanche of mediocrity that was the ACC generally and Virginia specifically last year, but the Cavs had an excellent defense. They return almost the entire team from last year, so with any degree of improvement from Jameel Sewell, the team should be good. The schedule is ludicrously easy (7-0 headed to College Park is quite possible) and Al Groh knows that the pressure is on to win. The major factor that concerns me about the Hoos is the fact that, with Jeff Bowden gone, Mike Groh has taken the mantle of "offensive coordinator through nepotism rather than merit" for the conference.

Ohio State Football: "Absolute Drunken Orgies"

It's clearly time for me to work myself up into a lather for football season, because we're going to follow the Mike Hart article with a few gems from former Ohio State President Karen Holbrook:

When you win a game, you riot. When you lose a game, you riot. When spring comes, you riot. African-American Heritage Festival weekend, you riot...They think it's fun to flip cars, to really have absolute drunken orgies. … I don't want to be at a place that has this kind of culture as a norm.

I Heart Hart

I don't normally get into human interest stories in the college football context, but this profile on Mike Hart is outstanding. Every so often, a player comes along who, in addition to being a great player, seems like a really good guy off the field. (David Pollack would seem to be the equivalent for Georgia.) Hart has always appealed to me above and beyond the normal "good player for Michigan" levels, partially because of his hard-ass running style, partially because he doesn't look that athletic (and thus I can relate), partially because I saw his first career carry live (and immediately proclaimed that he was the best running back on the team, not that this was a major news flash), and partially because he seemed like the leader of the offense from a fairly young age. Michigan has been lucky in that the leadership of the offense for the past several years has been in the hands of Braylon Edwards and Hart, two guys who seem to be great, rootable guys. I won't lie; I'd probably root for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad if he could run for 250 yards against Ohio State. However, it's still a nice perk to root for a back who has good grades and a tattoo of his deceased baby sister on his arm.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You Disappoint me, Danny

I expect parochialism from Kirk "My alma mater has the best gameday atmosphere, the best band, the best new running back, the second best linebacker, and the third best corner in the country" Herbstreit, but not from a grizzled gambler like Danny Sheridan. I like reading opinions from gamblers because they have accountability in ways that talking heads do not. (Can anyone imagine the fallout if Mark May and Lou Holtz actually put their money where their mouths are?) So that's why I was a little disappointed in Danny Sheridan's take on the SEC.

As an initial matter, Sheridan deserves credit because he predicted Georgia's downfall last year. At the time, I thought he sounded like Jim Donnan's old high school sweetheart for claiming that Richt had only won with Donnan's players, but he was right and those of us who picked the Dawgs fourth in the country were wrong. That said, he has a couple picks this year that don't make sense to me. The most perplexing is that he's high on Tennessee, whom he has winning the East. On a certain level, I can't really criticize any pick of a victor in the East this year because there is precious little separating the four contenders (and not as much as usual separating those four from Vandy and Kentucky). However, I just don't see what Tennessee brings to the table. The great myth remaining in Southern football is that Tennessee is a great blocking and tackling team. They haven't a dominant running game since the Travises left Knoxville. (Florida fans are piping in right now to reference Jimmy Ray Stephens's time on Rocky Top.) They had an excellent passing game last year, but how much of that was Erik Ainge and how much was it the result of having three experienced, blue-chip receivers? Their defense was alright, but nothing special and their secondary is quite green this year. I just don't see anything especially good about this Tennessee team, but Sheridan has them winning the East.

What's more inexplicable to me is that Sheridan has Phil Fulmer tied for the second best coach in the conference and Urban Meyer seventh. How many Big Orange fans would agree with this statement? How many SEC fans with IQs over 80 would agree with this statement? How many programs, if confronted with a choice of Meyer or Fulmer for a head coaching spot, would take Fulmer? In two years in the SEC, Meyer has won more SEC titles than Fulmer has this decade. He's 22-4 over two years and that record is not a surprise after his success at Bowling Green and Utah. In other words, the usual defense of Fulmer - he's a consistent winner - pales when compared to Meyer.

And then this paragraph really irked me:

Q: What do you think of the BCS and who do you like to win?

A: It's all political. To get there, it certainly helps to have a good team but it's more important to have a good schedule and no conference playoffs. This gives the Pac-10, Big Ten and the Big East a huge advantage. Florida getting in last year was a fluke. If UCLA, a two-touchdown underdog, doesn't upset Southern Cal in the last game, Ohio State would have played Southern Cal. Bottom line: Southern Cal has a one-game schedule (eight-point favorite over California) and double-digit favorite over everyone else and no conference playoff game. West Virginia from the Big East will be favored over everyone they play and has no playoff game. Michigan, from the Big Ten, has a two-game schedule. At Wisconsin and home against Ohio State and that's it. No conference title game. Hawaii figures to go undefeated and will beat Boise State. But who cares? Because the SEC is the toughest conference from top to bottom, and has a playoff game, and its two top teams could meet twice this year, it will not place a team in the BCS this year.

I really expect better for someone who thinks rationally (and not in sound bites) like Sheridan. Florida was ranked behind USC and Michigan going into the SEC Championship Game. The Gators' win over Arkansas propelled them over Michigan into the title game after USC lost. The SEC Title Game was clearly a benefit to the Gators. Conversely, the absence of a Big Ten title game was a negative for Michigan, as it deprived the Wolverines a neutral-field shot at the Buckeyes on a surface that didn't resemble that of the Mistake by the Lake in the 80s, assuming that Michigan and Ohio State would be in different divisions. (If Michigan and Ohio State were in the same division, then Michigan would have been aided because Ohio State might have lost the title game, thus opening another spot in the BCS title game.) SEC fans in general and Sheridan in particular really need to get over this notion that the SEC Championship Game is some sort of colossal negative. It can be a great asset to SEC teams because it gives them a chance to make the closing argument to poll voters. In practice, it has only deprived one SEC team (2001 Tennessee) of a spot in the national title game, while it has been a springboard for five SEC national champions. SEC fans also need to get over the notion that USC plays a bunch of nobodies. I'm certainly not in the camp that thinks that the Pac Ten has the same depth of quality that the SEC does, but it isn't as if USC plays cupcakes for every game. Given their results against the SEC under Pete Carroll (4-0 against Auburn and Arkansas; only one of the games was competitive), we don't need to be making statements like "they have a one-game schedule." That would be news to the '06 Trojans, who lost two games, and even Sheridan's statement was true, it would only be as a testament to Pete Carroll accumulating a ridiculous amount of talent.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My First Top 25

1 LSU 25
2 Southern Cal 24
3 Louisville 23
4 Oklahoma 22
5 Virginia Tech 21
6 Michigan 20
7 West Virginia 19
8 Ohio State 18
9 Texas 17
10 Auburn 16
11 California 15
12 Florida 14
13 Oregon 13
14 Arkansas 12
15 Penn State 11
16 South Carolina 10
17 Wisconsin 9
18 Rutgers 8
19 Florida State 7
20 Boise State 6
21 Georgia 5
22 Oregon State 4
23 Oklahoma State 3
24 Notre Dame 2
25 Tennessee 1

Dropped Out:

As a preliminary note, I am basing this assessment solely on the teams that I think are the best in the country. It is not meant to be an assessment of where I think they will finish. I refuse to discuss schedules in ranking teams before the season, except to say things like "South Carolina will end up being a better team than their record or ranking will reflect because their road schedule (Arkansas, LSU, Georgia, and Tennessee) is brutal." And with that said, a few thoughts on the rankings:

1. It never crossed my mind to rank a Big Ten team after the first four. Indicative of the fact that the conference lacks depth or am I having a "fighting the last war" problem where I assume that last year's Big Ten will be the same as this year's? In contrast to the Big Ten, I ranked seven SEC teams and would have been perfectly content putting Alabama in the top 25, as they should be good.

2. I feel queasy taking LSU as my #1 team, especially since I'm not sold on Gary Crowton or Les Miles, but by the same token, I'm not sold by the coaches running the USC offense, either. The bottom line is that this USC team shouldn't be getting the absolute consensus #1 ranking that everyone is bestowing upon them (especially in light of the fact that their focus waxed and waned last year to a significant degree) and if I have to be Jeannette Rankin, then so be it. I am high on LSU's defense, Bo Pelini, Matt Flynn, and LSU's running backs. I also like both of their lines.

3. I am higher on Auburn than most. They return a decent number of starters, they should be better balanced on offense with a healthy Brandon Cox, and they have a great history when little is expected of them. The combination of the West being awarded to LSU in the off-season, combined with all of the focus on Nick Saban, leads me to believe that Auburn will be extremely motivated this year. Combine that fact with a pair of excellent coordinators and I think the Tigers should be a real threat. I refuse to downgrade them simply because they, like South Carolina, play a lot of difficult road games this year.

4. I'm not going to lie: the thought of bestowing spots in the top five to teams quarterbacked by Sam Bradford and Sean Glennon scares me, but those teams are so loaded at every other position that I'm willing to hold my nose and rank them high. I generally operate on the assumption that teams with great defenses will have great seasons. Defense, incidentally, is the reason why I have Louisville ahead of West Virginia, even though WVU is the favorite in the Big East because they get the Cards at home. Doing the rankings reminded me, by the way, that the Virginia Tech-West Virginia series ended just as it was about to get really, really good.

5. I got really stuck on the "O" portion of the alphabet. If Frank Solich can show me a little this year, then the Bobcats could make it a clean sweep for "O" teams in my rankings. Oregon State over UCLA was a tough call, but Karl Dorrell brings so little to the table that I am willing to overlook 20 returning starters. That's probably a mistake. Actually, I could be persuaded to put the Bruins in the rankings in place of Tennessee, which I see as having little going for it this year.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Vickkampf: We've Reached the Schoolhouse at Reims

Surprising no one, Michael Vick looked at the mountain of evidence confronting him - seven witnesses, along with (one would presume) bank statements, credit card receipts, telephone records, digital pictures, etc. - and decided to plead guilty yesterday. The guilty plea won't end this oft-exasperating story, but it will at least end the "did he do it?" questions and it puts us in the place of evaluating the impact:


Assuming that Vick misses two years through a combination of incarceration and a suspension from the NFL (a reasonable assumption at this stage), he is going to be an interesting test case for the proposition that America will forgive anyone who appears contrite. There's no doubt in my mind that Vick will offer a tearful apology. Whether the apology is perceived as sincere or as an attempt to pave the way for a return to the NFL is another matter entirely. Once he makes that apology and serves his time, the normal course of action would be for the general public to forgive and let him get back to earning a living. Memories tend to be short and the freshness of the allegations in the indictment against Vick will fade.

That said, Vick is accused of a unqiue crime that will really test the tendency to forgive. There is a reason why "puppy-killer" is a euphemism for the worst sort of crime that a person can commit. There is a reason why men cry during Bambi, but not in any one of a bevy of movies where humans (including totally innocent humans), are killed. People will forgive a lot, but cruelty to animals is one of the deadliest of sins. The fact that Vick will be pleading guilty to hanging, drowning, and beating dogs that didn't meet his standards for fighting will be hard to forgive. The fact that he bought the Moonlight Road property shortly after being drafted, which implies that having a dog-fighting operation was a dream for him in the same way that I dream of taking an RV from coast to coast if I won the lottery, is even worse. This might be the first instance of an athlete apologizing to absolutely no effect.

The Falcons

I've said this before, but Vick's ultimate surrender to the charges against him is a good thing for the Falcons, at least in terms of the long term prospect of fielding a legitimate Super Bowl contender. After four seasons as a starter and six seasons as an NFL quarterback, Vick had showed us where he was and probably what his peak level would be. He had a terrific arm and unbelievable running ability, but his ability to read a defense and throw accurately and with touch to his receivers was not great and had not improved in several years. He was a slightly above-average quarterback being paid to be Manning or Brady. He left us no reason to think that he would progress beyond that level, as he did not show significant improvement and his work ethic was questionable.

Thus, the Falcons were in a bind. They could not build a great team around Vick because of his huge salary cap number. Vick was good enough to keep the team at the 6-8 win level, thus ensuring that they would not bottom out and get to rebuild immediately through the Draft. He was not good enough to get the team beyond that level. Additionally, because he was so popular with the fan base and because the Falcons' fan base isn't equal to the fan bases in other cities as a result of the devotion to college football in the area, Vick could not be dealt. Thus, the Falcons were stuck with almost no prospect of moving from average to very good until Vick had a major injury or did something off the field that would end his tenure in Atlanta.

Now, the Falcons are out of that bind. They will likely bottom out this year (unless Joey Harrington is better than we think), they'll take a quarterback at the top of the Draft next year, and they'll be able to build a more promising team. Call me crazy, but a team with a nucleus of Brohm/Norwood/Anderson/Hall/Houston is fairly appealing to me. If Petrino's system works in the NFL and Rich McKay hits on his draft picks (and I like what he did last year), then this team could be very good in three years. (After evaluating Brohm's stats for my college football fantasy league, it occurs to me that Petrino's system, which puts a premium of short, accurate passes, would not have been a good fit for Vick. It would have been a great fit for Matt Schaub. Harumph.) Additionally, losing Vick will make McKay a better drafter because instead of worrying about surrounding Vick with the right pieces (and thus reaching for questionable receivers), he can simply focus on building a complete team.

Len Pasquarelli makes a valid point about the fact that winning won't necessarily lead to butts in the seats:

It could well be that Atlanta finds it easier to win games, after absorbing the initial shock of having to play without Vick, than to win back the allegiance of a city in which many patrons now feel betrayed.

Only a few weeks ago, the Falcons announced that they were making available a few more season-ticket packages, this after everyone had been led to believe the Georgia Dome was sold out for the 2007 campaign. Whispers are that the tickets were returned by fans distraught at the accusations against Vick (and the possibility that those charges might be merited). At least one group of Falcons' ticket holders has already met to discuss the potential for a class-action suit against the Falcons because they feel Vick's absence has devalued their investment. And unless the Falcons sever ties to Vick before the club's first regular-season home game, on Sept. 23 against rival Carolina, there almost certainly will be picketers at the Georgia Dome.

From a business and socioeconomic standpoint, there is also the issue of the demographics of Atlanta, a town in which the majority population in the city proper is African-American. That the Falcons have played to full houses for much of Blank's tenure isn't attributable mainly to the fact he sold tickets in the upper reaches of the Georgia Dome for $10 a game, it's because of the presence of Vick, who has been embraced by the black community.

Vick was the perfect player for this city: an exciting, African-American player at a traditionally white position who put the Falcons on the map. The African-American fan base is critical for the Falcons because it tends to be a little less enamored with the local college football teams and thus represents the core fan base for the local NFL product. It is going to be hard to maintain that fan base, even if the team does win, because there's something less appealing about a conventional NFL team (white QB and coach) as opposed to what the Falcons represented with Vick. There will also likely be feelings that the Falcons did not do enough to defend Vick, even though it's painfully obvious (at least to me) that there was no defending him once the indictment was made public.

The Vick experience also illustrates the danger of marketing a player as the embodiment of a team. That concept is usually far more prevalent in the NBA, but the Falcons became associated with Vick more than just about any team in the league is associated with a particular player. (The Colts and Manning are the only team that comes close.) The PR blowback from Vick's Untergang is going to be harsher for the Falcons than it would be for just about any other NFL team. This is the problem with the NBA model of marketing.


The NFL is far too strong for an episode like Vickkampf to derail its surging popularity. That said, the Vick experience will almost certainly impact the way that owners and GMs view their players, although there are a couple different directions that the reaction could take. Jonathan Cohn argues that the Falcons acted as an enabler for Vick, thus confirming for him the lessons he likely learned in high school and college that he was above the law. In the end, he skated on a series of petty offenses and thus got nailed on a really big one.

One reaction that management might have is that such enabling needs to stop. Intense background checks might become the norm before teams spend high draft picks or make serious contractual commitments to players. (This ought to be an even bigger imperative in baseball and the NBA, where contracts are guaranteed.) Management will decide that it needs to become more distant towards and skeptical of its players. On the other hand, different teams might decide that the need for handlers for their players is even greater. A rational owner could read Cohn's article and conclude that the Falcons' mistake was that Billy "White Shoes" Johnson wasn't around him enough. If only the Falcons would have been even more paternal towards Vick, then they could have stopped him from pissing away his best years in a federal pen.

And one final note

I chose the "Vickkampf" title to this series of posts not to compare Vick to Hitler or the Nazis, but rather because I like using German phrases. That said, I was struck by the irony today that if I were tasked with the idiotic task of distinguishing Vick from Hitler, I'd start with the fact that Hitler was a vegetarian who loved animals in general and his Alsatian Blondie in particular. So there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Holy Groupthink, Batman!

Per ESPN's "experts" (and I put that word in quotes when Schrutebag is involved), USC is going to win the national title. How convinced are they of this fact? So convinced that that all 12 pick the Trojans. There is also a significant consensus on most of the leagues. 12 of 12 pick Virginia Tech in the ACC. Ten of 12 pick Michigan in the Big Ten. (Eek.) Ten of 12 pick Texas to win the Big XII. Nine of 12 pick Nebraska in the Big XII North. (Kudos for Todd McShay for being the only one to make an interesting pick, as he goes with the Manginos in that division. With the Big XII North as mediocre as it is, that's a great place to pick an upset.) Ten of 12 pick LSU to win the SEC and all 12 pick them to win the West. (Tommy Tuberville, your bulletin board awaits.)

A few thoughts:

1. Does ESPN breed a complete lack of original thought or do they simply select people who are unlikely to think for themselves?

2. This is why I love Phil Steele. He does agree with a lot of the consensus expressed by the ESPN pundits, but his willingness to go out on a limb (such as taking Oklahoma in the Big XII) is in short supply these days.

3. If the powers in each conference are so obvious, then why is USC a consensus pick to win the national title? If Michigan, Texas, LSU, and Virginia Tech are so great that they are clearly the best teams in their conferences, then why is it obvious that USC would beat them, especially with the national title game not being played in Pasadena? Is this not the same USC team that lost two games last year to significantly inferior opponents? The same USC team that had close calls against sides with the word "Washington" in their team name? The same USC team that had to abandon running the ball at times? USC is obviously the favorite, but are they so dominating that no one wants to take anyone else? And is this what East Coast Bias looks like?

Vickkampf: Himmler Goes to Switzerland to Try to Strike a Deal

The team prosecuting Michael Vick are now three-for-three in getting his co-defendants to plead out and offer testimony against Vick, so the soon-to-be-former Falcon is considering a plea himself. It seems highly likely to me that Vick is going to take the offered plea, given that his lawyers are presumably advising him that the case against him just went from strong to quite strong with seven cooperating witnesses instead of five. The open question is what sort of deal is being offered by the U.S. Attorney (along with the variable that the presiding judge is always free to increase the sentence that the prosecutor recommends). If the Feds are taking hard line and demanding five years or more, then Vick might decide to fight it, since a plea will probably mean the end of his football career. On the other hand, if the Feds are offering a year or less (either in terms of the actual sentence or the practical equivalent of "three years and you'll be out in one" [not that the U.S. Attorney can really control that]), then Vick will take it. He'll miss this season and then be back in 2008, assuming that Roger Goodell decides that his year in prison counts as his NFL suspension.

As for a destination, with the Raiders having just spent a #1 pick on a quarterback, the most likely refuge becomes Dallas, especially if Tony Romo doesn't light the world on fire. If there is one owner who would: (a) love the spectacle of signing the most infamous player in the NFL; and (b) not care about the PETA protests (especially with PETA's relative popularity in Texas), it would be Jerry Jones. Vick is in some serious trouble, but the people who think that he should be banned for multiple seasons (or for life) have lost all sense of proportion. If Leonard Little and Ray Lewis can play in the league, not to mention the various players who have been convicted of crimes involving violence against human beings, then Vick can play too. He deserves to be punished. Given that it's looking inevitable that he will miss this season, lose all his endorsements, and be cut by the Falcons before signing an sure-to-be inferior deal with another team, he will certainly be punished. At a certain stage, the piling on will need to stop.

Worst Arbitrary Ranking Ever likes to write in list form. Ever wonder what your top five potential Starbucks orders are when you leave the house on Saturday morning? Do you ponder who the top 25 right guards in the history of the Southwest Conference were? How about ten best pom-poms in college football? CFN has you covered. That said, they have struck a new level of total and absolute indefensibility (is that a word?)with their rankings of 2007 offenses. (HT: HeismanPundit.) In the same way that opposition to Gay Pride (or gay anything) brings together Hamas and Shas, this article causes me and HP to see eye-to-eye.

The placement of Wisconsin in the top ten is probably the most egregious error. The Wisconsin team that required a late touchdown to hit double-digits at home against San Diego State. The Wisconsin offense that managed 13 points and 248 yards against Michigan, 13 points and 341 yards against Penn State, and 17 points and 201 yards against Arkansas. With the Badgers' Bill Snyder-endorsed schedule, that's the complete list of quality defenses that Wisconsin faced. Oh, and they're replacing a three-year starter at quarterback and the #3 pick in the Draft at left tackle. Inexplicably, the Badgers rate nine spots higher on offense than they do on defense, despite the fact that anyone with two eyes and a functioning brain stem could see last year that Wisconsin was a defensive team. They return almost as many starters on defense as they do on offense and defense is clearly their head coach's strong suit.

The inclusion of Oklahoma as the #3 offense in the country is similarly ludicrous. When your justification starts with "if a quarterback comes through," you know you don't have the #3 offense in the country. When the guys vying for the job are two relatively unheralded recruits and a true freshman, you know you have a major if. When you're replacing a top ten pick at running back, you have a defensive head coach, and defense was your strong suit last year, you know that CFN was trolling for outraged e-mails from Texas fans. And speaking of the Lone Star State, A&M in the top ten? The same Aggies who scored 12 points and 10 points in their last two games last year? Honestly, if you had one game to win, would you really take the A&M offense (including coaches) over Oklahoma State or Texas Tech? A&M has the fifth-best offense in their own division, but CFN thinks that they have the eighth-best offense in the country. Go figure.

I especially liked Miami (19.6 points and 313 yards per game) being one step ahead of Arkansas (28.9 points and 378 yards per game). I'm sure that college football fans around the country would prefer trusting their life to Kyle Wright's throws as opposed to Darren McFadden's runs. Either Patrick Nix is the greatest genius in human history or this ranking is worthless.

Oh, and one other thing. CFN projects Hawaii to go unbeaten and play in the Sugar Bowl, but they have the Warriors' offense ranked a pedestrian 23rd in the country. If Hawaii isn't going to a BCS bowl on the back of their offense (and their schedule, it must be said), then what the hell is their strength?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Charles Rogers has a Sore Bum, but He's Going to Tough it out

In the summer of 2002, perplexed that Michigan State was being hyped as a top 20 team despite the fact that they had no defense and were replacing their offensive line, I created the Charles Rogers Theorem. The Theorem is a means to identify overrated teams based on the confluence of two factors:

1. Lots of returning skill position players, but few returning linemen; and

2. Playing much better at the end of the season (typically in an end-of-year rivalry game and then the bowl game) than they did over the first 10-11 games.

The Theorem rolled along nicely for several years, spotting overrated teams like '02 Michigan State, '04 Clemson, and '05 Iowa and Tennessee. Last year, to paraphrase Merle Haggard. Charles Rogers let me down by flagging Florida as the most overrated team in the country. Yes, the Florida team that won the national title. Because I'm blessed/cursed with the intellectual self-confidence to believe that my baby can't be wrong, I'm ploughing ahead with the theorem. When it flagged Auburn as overrated going into 2004, I created an exception for teams that undergo dramatic coaching improvement, such as going from Hugh Nall calling the plays to Al Borges. After the Florida debacle last year, there are two new lessons:

1. The Theorem isn't responsible for hasty misapplication by its operator. Florida did indeed play much better in 2005 in its last two games and it was replacing four starters on the offensive line, but the defensive line was returning virtually intact. The only new starter was Jarvis Moss, a much-hyped recruit going into his senior season. Sure enough, Florida's offense struggled (at least by the standards of a national champion, or even an SEC champion), but their defense was outstanding and carried them to Glendale, where they played Sonny to Ohio State's Carlo. I was too eager to flag the Gators and didn't appreciate that their defense was going to be excellent.

2. Good coaching can hedge against a team being truly overrated. Urban Meyer did a really good job last year of improvising a run game despite a suspect offensive line and an absence of a competent running back. He and his defensive brain trust (Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison) unleashed hell on SEC offenses with a combination of Ron Zook's wonderful recruits and terrific defensive scheming. The defensive scheme in the National Title Game, specifically the blitz looks that ensured single-blocking on the defensive ends, stands out as an especially salient example. In the Theorem's best years, it flagged teams coached by people with names like "Bobby Williams" and "Phil Fulmer." It was up against it when it went after Urban Meyer. This exception to the rule is the one source of hope for the team that screams "OVERRATED!!!" this year...

Category One – Red Flag – won last two games (at least) and an imbalance between skill position and lines or between offense and defense:


Georgia played much better in its last three games, all of which were wins over ranked opponents, than it did for the first ten games of the season, when the Dawgs eked by luminaries like Colorado and Ole Miss before giving up 51 at home to Tennessee and then losing to Vandy and Kentucky. I just don't buy the explanation that Georgia became a different team in those last three games. Rather, the better explanation is that they were a flawed team that had slightly underperformed in a 6-4 start before correcting themselves in their final three games. It must also be said that Georgia corrected itself against three ranked teams that happened to have really bad quarterbacks. Brandon Cox isn't terrible, but he was slumping badly and was probably hurt at the end of the year. (He followed the Georgia game with 137 passing yards in the Iron Bowl and 111 passing yards in the Cotton Bowl. Hats off to Tommy Tuberville for finishing on a two-game winning streak without a real passing threat.) Reggie Ball and Sean Glennon were ridiculously easy pickings. A superficial look at the Dawgs says "hey, they matured and beat three ranked teams!" A more realistic look says "they didn't magically transform from the team that was mediocre for ten games and they picked on some flawed opponents in their final three."

Going into 2007, every discussion of the Dawgs (at least from 30,000 feet) has focused on two aspects: Matt Stafford's maturation and a pair of excellent running backs. If you think that returning linemen tend to matter, then the picture is bleak. Georgia returns two starters on the offensive line and have a true freshman penciled in at left tackle. That couldn't be a problem against Derrick Harvey or Quentin Groves, could it? On the defensive line, Georgia returns one starter. Its projected starters at defensive end are a junior college transfer and a senior who has never started before. (Warning!) The Dawgs start the year against Bobby Reid (2nd in the Big XII in passing efficiency) and Blake Mitchell (threw for 275 at Florida, 284 at Clemson, and 323 in the bowl game); you think that quality defensive ends who can generate a pass rush will be important?

The one saving grace for Georgia is that Mark Richt has been a consistent winner at Georgia. The Dawgs had to replace their entire offensive line in 2003 and yet they won the East. That said, the 2003 Georgia team returned seven starters (including David Pollack) from the defense that led Georgia to the 2002 SEC Title. Additionally, that defense was helmed by Brian VanGorder, who was more confidence-inspiring than Willie Martinez. All told, Georgia won't have a disastrous season this year, but their pre-season #13 ranking is significantly overstating their merit. This looks like an 8-4 team that will lead fans to blame Matthew Stafford for not improving when his pass protection is the real reason that the offense struggles.

Conversely, Georgia's friends on the Flats look underrated this year, as they played worse in their final three games than they did for the rest of the season and they return almost everyone on the lines while replacing Calvin Johnson. The factor cutting against Georgia Tech being underrated is the consensus that they are better without Reggie Ball, which leads to a push in the conventional wisdom that they'll be better this year. Also, in the realm of bowl games being over interpreted, Taylor Bennett's performance against a bad West Virginia secondary is a problem, as is the fact that a significant portion of his 326 yards passing was of the "I'll throw it up and Calvin will go get it" variety.

Category Two – Yellow Flags – Either played better at the end of the season than they did for the first 11 games or have an imbalance between returning starters at skill positions and on the lines, but not both:

Penn State

After Georgia, the Theorem feels the strongest about the Nittany Lions. Penn State's win over Tennessee in the bowl game was the first time the Lions beat or were ever competitive with a good team, such that even Stewart Mandel figured out that the Outback Bowl could cause the Lions to be overrated this year. They replace two starters on the offensive line and three starters on the defensive line. The lost defensive line starters will be replaced by sophomores whose job it will be to keep opposing offensive linemen and fullbacks off of Dan Connor and Sean Lee. That preseason #18 ranking looks awfully optimistic. Don't be shocked if they lose to Notre Dame.

Actually, I'm kinda hoping that that happens because the Michigan-Notre Dame series has been VERY friendly to the underdogs and Notre Dame will be a decided underdog if they come to Ann Arbor at 1-1 or 0-2. Incidentally, I think that Notre Dame is underrated this year, mainly because they have the Theorem working in reverse. They were beaten decisively in their last two games and they lost their glamour boys. That said, they lost a ton of players on the lines and will be starting a parade of young players because of the Ty Willingham Experience, so they aren't a perfect fit for the mantle of underrated. Still, 8-9 wins wouldn't surprise me in the least.


Cue the definition of insanity as doing the same stupid thing and expecting the result to change. Florida did play better in its last two games than it did for the first 12 games, especially on offense when the Gators finally broke the 26-point barrier against a living, breathing opponent. Additionally, Florida is replacing all of its defensive line, save Derrick Harvey, and the replacements aren't as VHTerrific as the players they are replacing. Florida is returning four starters on the offensive line and, as we have seen before, coaching matters. Thus, they are by no means a perfect fit for the Theorem. That said, they are massively overrated as pre-season #3. Phil Steele agrees, as he has the Gators at #14, but he also has Georgia at #11, so I can't cite the guru approvingly for everything.


If ever there was an obvious instance of the coaching exception overruling the Theorem, it was the '04 Cal team, which was excellent despite being flagged. I heart Jeff Tedford, so it's with significant trepidation that I point out that Cal returns DeSean Jackson and played its best game of the year in the bowl rout over Texas A&M, but they have to replace two offensive linemen and three defensive linemen. They're preseason #12, but Phil Steele has them at #28, which means that either the guru is wrong or we can prepare for an "I was the only one..." intro to the Cal section of Phil Steele's 2008 spectacular.


I don't really think that the Tigers fit the Theorem because they return so much on the lines, but they did play their two best games in the two last games of the year. Additionally, Les Miles seems like the sort of coach who will eventually preside over a team that is significantly disappointing. Plus, you can almost never go wrong dubbing the preseason #2 team as overrated. All that said, I'd be surprised if they don't win at least ten in the regular season.

South Carolina

Like LSU, they return a ton on the lines, so the only reason to think that the Cocks are overrated is that they played better in their final two games. Oh, and because they're South Carolina and they don't exactly handle expectations well. They're sure to make me feel dumb for picking them to win the East, which is what I'm doing right now. They're also outside of the preseason top 25, so they can't really be overrated except by people like me, Phil Steele, and Orson Swindle.

South Florida

The only flag here comes from the fact that they beat West Virginia and thumped East Carolina after starting 7-4. They return almost everything on the lines and they're 37th in the preseason coaches poll, so the Theorem doesn't really apply. That said, if they flame out this year, I'll be sure to claim that I saw it all along.

Texas Tech

The Red Raiders started last year 6-5 before winning their final two (including an epic comeback in the bowl game) and they replace four on the offensive line and three on the defensive line. On the other hand, they are chronically underrated and as a result, they're 38th in the preseason coaches poll. They don't belong on this list.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Apparently, a 50+ Year Pattern is not "Tradition"

Since this is apparently my first Defend Michigan Day since the aftermath of Florida's selection to play Ohio State (and that turned out so well for my credibility), I suppose I'll point out that the Big Ten's claim that it has a traditional tie to the Rose Bowl is "bogus." Hmmm. From 1947 until 2001, the Rose Bowl game was exclusively the champion of the Big Ten against the champion of the Pac Ten. According to our charming friends at Rambling Racket, 54 years is insufficient to establish a tradition. That reasoning is wretched. Apparently, because the Pac Ten's tie to the Rose Bowl is longer (at least on a consistent basis; the first Rose Bowl was, shockingly enough, a game between Michigan and Stanford), they have a claim to the tradition of the game and the Big Ten does not. By that standard, Rutgers and Princeton have a claim to football tradition and no one else does because they have been playing football longer than any other program. By that standard, African-Americans cannot claim to have any tradition in connection with to Southern major-conference college football because they have been playing since the 50s and before that time, major-conference teams in the South were all white.

And yes, I do find it amusing to be lectured on tradition by a program that has a past, but no present. Georgia Tech hasn't played in a major bowl game since the 1966 Orange Bowl. Its fan base is not exactly well-positioned to lecture on what conferences or teams do and don't have ties to major bowls. I have a sneaking suspicion that fans of Michigan (16 appearances since Georgia Tech last made a major bowl) or Ohio State (9 appearances since Georgia Tech last made a major bowl) feel a greater connection to the Rose Bowl than fans of Georgia Tech. Heck, I might even be so sassy as to say that those teams have a traditional tie to the game, even if the game was once played in Durham because of fear of Zeros.


I am going to go off-topic a little and defend the ol' alma mater against a really weak article by Pat Forde on the Jim Harbaugh/Michigan scrap. What really galls me about the piece is the lack of internal consistency. Forde complains that "Michigan doth protest too much" and then complains that they did not return his calls or e-mails until after his story ran. Forde says that Michigan does not want to discuss facts with Harbaugh, but then he cites a lengthy description by Cathy Conway-Perrin, director of academic standards and academic opportunities in Michigan's LS&A, that explains exactly what the General Studies major is and refutes Harbaugh's point entirely.

If Forde would have spent any time thinking about the explanation offered by Conway-Perrin, he'd recognize that General Studies makes sense for athletes who have an extremely time-consuming sports demand because it has no language requirement (language classes tend to be the most time-intensive and inflexible in terms of scheduling) and it presents fewer schedule issues. For instance, certain majors might require a class that is only taught at a certain time that wouldn't work for a football player. The overall point is that General Studies majors take as many or more upper level classes as students with specific majors, so Harbaugh's point that students come out of Michigan unprepared is bunk. Forde deserves credit for putting out the facts that support Michigan's position, but then he draws conclusions that are at odds with the facts that he printed. And the closing line about Michigan being defensive is ludicrous. Harbaugh made very serious charges about Michigan exploiting its athletes. Maybe a commuter school (such as Forde's beloved Louisville) wouldn't take that seriously, but Michigan's harsh response to Harbaugh is understandable given that the school takes its academic reputation pretty seriously.

This quote from Harbaugh is also weak:

"I learned from a great man named Bo Schembechler that you speak the truth as you know it. It may not be the popular thing, but you speak your mind. Everything I said is supported by fact, but the thing that has come back is the personal attack on me, not looking at the issue whatsoever."

I apologize in advance for making a Mandelian unprovable assertion, but there is no way in hell that Harbaugh would be saying these things while Bo was still alive because the old coach would not be especially pleased. The fact that Harbaugh said nothing about Michigan's alleged corner-cutting academically until he got a head coaching gig at a I-A program detracts from his credibility. If he was genuinely concerned about the fate of Michigan players, then why didn't he say anything until he landed a position in which he will likely be competing with Michigan in at least a few recruiting battles. The fact that Harbaugh was passed over for a position as the quarterbacks coach at Michigan in 2002 when Scott Loeffler was given a full-time position might also seem germane to Harbaugh's motivations in attacking his alma mater.

Harbaugh's narrative is also wildly inconsistent. He lauds Schebechler left and right, but his original criticism was that: (1) he was steered away from a history major when he was at Michigan; and (2) Michigan doesn't take care of its players after they leave. These are criticisms of the program as it was run under Schembechler. Is it too much to ask Pat Forde to actually ask these questions of Harbaugh as opposed to using his column space to repeat everything that Jim says? Or was Pat expecting Michigan to do all of his work for him and was let down when Michigan wouldn't take part in the argument (except to make ad hominem attacks through Lloyd Carr and Mike Hart, which Forde is right to point out skirt the issue).

[Update: Forde botched his criticism of Michigan for having too many undeclared juniors, as he was looking at a previous media guide. The "juniors" in question were sophomores at the time and all but two have since declared majors. I'll look forward to Forde's correction...never.]

I Always Wondered what Ennis Del Mar Thought about the Hedges

Just so we're clear, the test for a national power according to Stewart Mandel is not those conventional yardsticks like wins, titles, and trophies, but instead, it's that ever-so-precise "what would an average person in Montana know?" test. That makes perfect sense. Let's make sure that there is no objective way to measure which programs are truly national powers by making the test an irrefutable, subjective (and thus worthless) mental exercise as to the perceptions of a rancher. Mandel will no doubt giggle to himself when he gets the avalanche of e-mails from fans of programs who disagree with his rankings and can dismiss them all by pointing out that he has created completely subjective criteria and thus, there is nothing to argue.

What really galls me about the Penn State/Georgia comparison is that there is a self-fulfilling prophecy aspect to it. The national media (of which Mandel is a significant member by virtue of being the lead college football writer for decides that certain programs are worthy of hype, so it overexposes them. Penn State can't come close to Georgia or LSU in terms of football accomplishments over the past 5-10 years, but Mandel and others decide that they are more famous and are thus a national power instead of a regional one. And how do they justify this national power status? By pointing to the coverage that they themselves decide to bestow and its resulting effects on our imaginary rancher who occasionally glances at's college football page.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Atlanta and Race

ESPN is either being contrarian (good!) or apologetic (bad!) in running a lengthy piece attempting to explain why so many African-Americans in Atlanta support Mike Vick. The piece is well-written and acknowledges the importance of history, which is a good start. It does a good job of explaining why race tends to permeate so many issues, including sports issues, in Atlanta. We all sometimes forget that legally-mandated discrimination was a fact of life not that long ago and that that experience will naturally affect the worldview of the people who were on the receiving end of that discrimination. My worldview is affected by being Jewish, even though a lot of the events that I use to base my perceptions took place in the more distant past than the end of Jim Crow.

All that said, I'm not buying the goods that Wright Thompson is selling at all:

1. The piece does a little to acknowledge that Atlanta is far more progressive on racial issues than the rest of the South, but this point really needs to come through harder. In the 1950s, Atlanta was roughly the same size as Little Rock and Birmingham. How did this city grow to 4.5 million residents? How did this city become a home to numerous huge multinational corporations like Home Depot, UPS, Coke, and Delta? How did this city get teams in the three major professional sports in the second half of the 60s, not to mention the Olympics in 1996? There are a variety of explanations, but as compared to Birmingham and Little Rock, one factor is that we didn't have Orval Faubus or Bull Connor. Atlanta always had a more moderate city government that ameliorated the worst aspects of Jim Crow. As a result, the city avoided the pariah status that much of the rest of the South gained when images of fire hoses and police dogs were beamed into living rooms in the rest of the country in the 50s and 60s. Atlanta's mayors have been African-American since 1974. The district attorney in Atlanta is African-American, as is the chief of police. These seem like fairly relevant facts to me in describing the question of race in Atlanta.

The article, to paint a more lurid picture of racism in Atlanta, does a little bait and switch by devoting a lot of attention to the Monroe lynchings. Monroe is 45 miles outside of the city. I doubt that many Atlantans would dispute the notion that there is a lot of prejudice in rural Georgia, just as there is plenty of prejudice in rural Michigan (Michigan Militia, anyone?) or rural Idaho (death threats to Ian Johnson, anyone?). I don't think there's a real connection between what happened in Monroe and what goes on in Atlanta, but the article subtly implies that they are connected, as if Monroe is nestled on the edge of the perimeter.

2. One historical aspect that the article totally misses is the fact that the federal government, which is the entity prosecuting Vick, was a major ally for the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s. African-Americans may have some legitimate historical grievances with the FBI (especially the Hoover FBI and its treatment of major civil rights leaders), but the FBI and the federal courts were one of the progressive elements in the South in the 50s and 60s. Often, federal judges were the only judges in the region who were willing to enforce laws to protect African-Americans. Similarly, the FBI often stepped in to investigate crimes when local law enforcement sat on their hands. The defensiveness on the part of many African-Americans regarding the federal charges against Vick is irrational for a number of reasons and one of those reasons is that the charges are being brought by a U.S. Attorney instead of a local D.A., as the latter position brings with it a lot of connotations from the 50s and 60s that the former does not.

[Update: I brought this point up to an African-American friend at lunch and he countered by saying that I'm not taking Katrina into account when considering how African-Americans view (or should view) the federal government. I thought that was a good point.]

3. Fundamentally, the biggest problem with the article is that it seeks to excuse an irrational response. I will freely concede that African-Americans are justified in being distrustful of law enforcement based on their historical experience, but can that be used to justify anything? If Dwayne Wade was caught on camera shooting a girlfriend and there were 27 witnesses to the crime, all of whom told consistent stories, would it be defensible to take Wade's side? No. Regardless of the role of collective historical experience in framing opinion, there has to be a rational consideration of the facts as presented.

In this instance, you have four witnesses and a co-defendant all saying that Vick was an active participant in a dog-fighting ring. At least one of those witnesses was apparently able to tell the FBI where there were dogs buried on the property, which enhances that witness's credibility. You have a property owned by Vick that has numerous, obvious signs that it was used for dog-fighting. You have an 18-page indictment that is notable because of the specificity of the allegations. Just about any rational observer would look at that evidence and say that it is more likely than not that Vick is guilty. It's fine to say that we are free to change our minds depending on the defenses asserted by Vick at trial, but right now, the case against him is compelling. Historical experience is important, but it shouldn't be an excuse to crowd out rational thought. In fact, one could make the case that there is a subtle paternalistic prejudice in arguing that African-Americans shouldn't be expected to view the charges against Vick in an analytical manner.

To his credit, Tyrone Brooks gets it:

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), however, said [SCLC President Charles] Steele called him last week to talk about honoring Vick. Brooks, a lifetime SCLC member, said he counseled against it.

"I said, 'Stay on point, the convention is bigger than a particular man,' " Brooks said. "There are a lot of young people who need our help. Michael Vick is not one of them."

Vick had the money to pay for a top-notch legal defense, Brooks said, and he noted the quarterback hadn't been an SCLC supporter.

The veteran legislator said the SCLC should recruit Vick to assist in its programs after the convention but not become his public defender.

"What has he ever done except throw a football, run a football?" Brooks said. "I don't think he has done anything to deserve any special recognition."

As with any political organization, the credibility of civil rights organizations like the SCLC and the NAACP is critical. Some members of the civil rights movement already damaged their credibility in the Duke lacrosse case (which is what makes some of the criticism of a "rush to judgment" a little weak); the movement does not need to further hurt its credibility by jumping to the defense of Michael Vick, especially since (as Brooks points out) Vick does exactly lack for a competent legal defense. The time will come when the SCLC and NAACP will need to defend someone or something important and they don't want to be the boy who cried wolf because of Michael Vick.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Just When I Think I'm Out...

HeismanPundit writes something so inane that it pulls me back in. I don't know how I missed this gem last week, but HP has now decided that a Plus-One game is a bad idea because he's a "stodgy traditionalist" who doesn't want college football to be more like the NFL (as opposed to: (1) a Pac Ten supporter who will likely back up anything that comes out of Tom Hansen's mouth; and (2) one of the few allegedly sentient beings on earth who doesn't realize that Auburn going 12-0 in 2004 and not getting a shot at the national title was a little problematic). No sooner has HP taken on the mantle of Harley Bowers and voiced his support for tradition than he comes up with a ham-handed scheme to standardize just about everything relating to conference size and scheduling in college football. Right, because one of the traditions of college football is clearly that every conference should have the same number of teams and that the NCAA should be able to mandate what conferences look like. I can't think of any other league that is quite so standardized.

This is going to be an exercise in demonstrating to a child that Darth Vader isn't really hiding in his closet, but I'll do it anyway. Why is this plan a bad idea?

1. College football would generate significantly less revenue under this "plan" because teams with large fan bases would be forced to play road games against teams with small fan bases. It makes no economic sense for Tennessee to play a road game at Middle Tennessee State when Tennessee's stadium holds more than three times as many people. This plan only makes sense if you support the Pac Ten, which has relatively small fan bases as compared to the Big Ten and SEC and therefore their teams have to play name opponents in their non-conference games in order to sell tickets.

And more importantly, the TV networks would gag at the thought of the MAC, WAC, and Sun Belt champions getting automatic BCS berths and thus getting mandatory prime time exposure. On occasion, one of these programs will produce a team worth seeing (such as Boise State last year or Miami (Ohio) when they had Ben Roethlisberger) and expanding the BCS by one game has taken care of that problem. I was originally opposed to the BCS adding on an extra game (except to the extent that it was a precursor for a Plus One format), but last year's Fiesta Bowl changed my mind. That said, the prospect of Houston and Troy in a BCS game would make most programming directors run for the nearest open window and would therefore reduce the negotiating position of the major conferences. Additionally, removing conference title games would be a third way in which the plan would be a revenue-negative, as those games have been cash cows for the conferences and the TV networks.

2. If every conference has to be the same size and every conference has to play a round-robin, then you have one of two likely possibilities. If the standard size is ten, then the SEC, Big Ten, and Big XII would have to evict teams that would then have nowhere to go because all the other major conferences are full. In the end, you would have some bizarre amalgamation of castaways from various geographic spots forming a new conference. That sounds like a result that a "stodgy traditionalist" would support.

Conversely, if the standard size is 12 (and this really makes the most sense) and a round-robin schedule is mandated, then each team is going to play one non-conference game. Teams would have all sorts of problems synchronizing their conference schedules with their non-conference schedules in terms of home and road games. More importantly, the opportunities to compare conferences against one another would be severely reduced, which defeats the whole point of this half-baked plan, which was to standardize the world so better comparisons can be made.

3. This statement is a unique blend of myopia and lack of understanding of history:

But, all this talk of the BCS and how someone is getting screwed every year...that gets tiresome. I remember the old bowl system. Nothing was really solved at the end of the season. The polls voted on the teams and it was great. No one bitched or moaned--we were too busy enjoying the Rose Parade to care.

You're right. No one ever bitched about the old bowl system. Alabama fans didn't bitch when their two-time defending national champions went 11-0 in 1966 and finished behind a Notre Dame team that tied in East Lansing. Notre Dame fans didn't bitch when their team lost close votes in 1989 and again in 1993. USC fans didn't bitch when their team had to share the national title in 1978 with an Alabama team that the Trojans beat in Birmingham during the season. Penn State fans didn't bitch when their team went unbeaten in 1969 and was ignored in the national title discussion. Something tells me that fans in Tuscaloosa and State College weren't saying to themselves "we're too busy enjoying the Rose Parade."

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Official Braves & Birds Communique on Tom Glavine

While I was not rooting for the Mets by any means last night because the Braves winning the East would be an expected treat, I'm happy for Glavine that he won his 300th game. Moreover, I don't like fans who boo Glavine when he pitches against the Braves. Glavine threw a one-hitter in Game Six of the World Series and thus prevented the Braves from becoming the Buffalo Bills of baseball. After that victory, Glavine could have pitched for the Mets for the next decade while summering as a hitman for the Khymer Rouge and I still would have been grateful towards him. After 16 years and 242 wins for the Braves, Glavine had earned the right to do whatever he wanted for the rest of his career. The fact that he made a decision to accept a four-year, $42M contract as opposed to a three-year, $30M deal only strengthens his argument. There are very few people out there who would eschew a guaranteed $12M (or 40% of the value of the deal offered by the Braves) to stay in the same place.

The fans who boo Glavine when he comes back with the Mets strike me as behaving a little bit too much like New Yorkers, which is what we're trying to avoid to begin with. We're supposed to be a little more realistic and a little less demanding in Atlanta, which is part of why players like to play here. The fans who boo also strike me as the sort of people who didn't go to games in July and August in the 80s to watch one of the worst teams in baseball play in a cookie-cutter stadium with no amenities and seats in a different zip code from the field. Call me crazy, but the people who suffered through the Braves' years in the wilderness are likely to be appreciative of a guy who arguably did more to lift the Braves out of those doldrums than any other player. But maybe that's just me.

A couple other random thoughts on the Braves:

1. Francoeur had a fantastic at-bat in the 10th yesterday that led to a double. It was the type of at-bat - fighting back from 0-2 to 3-2 and forcing the pitcher to give in and throw a fat pitch that could be laced to left - that Frenchy never would have pulled off last year. It learns!

2. Maybe Octavio Dotel's 1.52 WHIP in Kansas City was a concern after all.

3. This weekend was the reverse of the previous weekend in Arizona: the Braves won two close games and lost a blow-out. In the end, they took two of three while being out-scored 18-14. It is mildly concerning that the Braves allowed six runs per game despite starting their three best pitchers in the series. Speaking of which, Chuck James is 5th in the NL in most homers allowed. The gopher ball has always been his bugaboo and he has not solved that problem. It worries me that he will be the best Braves hurler throwing next weekend in Philadelphia. The games Wednesday and Thursday against the Mets are going to be critical, as they are the only starts from the Braves' big two in a very important stretch of six games.

4. I might be the only person bugged by this, but the list of audio clips that play at the outset of Budweiser's Hardball on 790 (which is otherwise an excellent show to listen to on the way to a game:

Willie Mays's catch for the New York Giants in the '54 Series
Lou Gehrig's farewell speech
Joe Dimaggio getting a big hit in a World Series
The final out of Don Larsen's perfect game

Notice anything in common with the locale in common for those four events?

5. I hope that fans elsewhere in baseball are aware of the season that Tim Hudson is putting in for the Braves this year. His ERA+ puts him close to his two-year apex in Oakland in 2002-3 and among the top five pitchers in the National League. He's allowed four homers and 37 walks in 158 innings, which isn't quite Greg Maddux in his prime, but he's in the neighborhood. On the one hand, you can say that he's been keeping the Braves afloat and we ought to be eternally appreciative. On the other hand, you can rue the fact that the Braves' pitching depth has been so negligible this year and with decent fourth and fifth starters, the team would have the best record in the NL.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mandel Tries his Hand at the SEC. Hilarity Ensues.

There is lots of fun material for our old friend Mr. Mandel this week, so I'll quit with the opening pleasantries and get right to the mockery of the new Mailbag:

Big Ten Expansion

Where to begin? Oh, how about here:

Any decision to expand would ultimately be made by the Big Ten's presidents. Do you really think they'd make such a monumental move for the benefit of a start-up cable network? Remember, these guys are pretty snooty about their academics, too. They're not going to accept just anybody.

Mandel makes this argument...and then goes on to speculate that academically uninteresting Nebraska would potentially be the 12th team in the league. If you're going to allege certain criteria as being important to the conference, then wouldn't it make sense to apply those criteria when discussing the team that the league is most likely to add? The case for Nebraska, by the way, is fairly weak. They don't bring much to the table other than football. Also, I wouldn't be certain that Nebraska would bring their tradition of great gridiron success to the Big Ten, since they have decided to be like every other program in terms of style, only they don't have the recruiting base to support out-talenting their opponents.

It's not like adding a 12th team would net the conference additional network money, because the league just locked in a 10-year extension with ABC and ESPN. I suppose a conference championship game could fetch some extra cash, but as Delany reiterated Tuesday, the conference has always been anti-title game. "If we were [interested] , we would have had one 15 years ago," he said.

You're right, I'm sure that ABC wouldn't be at all interested in adding a Big Ten title game, given that the SEC Championship Game has been an absolute cash cow (thus motivating the Big XII and ACC to expand to the magic number of 12 teams so they can have inferior copy games) and the Big Ten probably commands more TV sets than even the SEC does. I can't see the Big Ten getting any revenue from an Ohio State-Penn State title game in Chicago the week after Ohio State beats Michigan (again).

And how does Mandel let Delany's comment about possibly having a title game 15 years ago slide, given that there is an explicit NCAA rule that says that a conference needs 12 teams to have a title game?

The West Coast Offense in the SEC

Has a "West Coast" offense ever worked in the SEC? I ask because it seems new LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton used similar offensive styles at Oregon.
--Rusty Bergeron, Baton Rouge, La.

Just because a guy comes from the West Coast doesn't automatically mean he ran the "West Coast Offense." What Crowton ran at Oregon was a version of the increasingly common spread offense, which usually involves one or no tailbacks and four or five receivers. The West Coast Offense, by contrast, is far more traditional, often with two backs, a tight end and two receivers. There's a lot of confusion out there as to what exactly constitutes a "true" West Coast Offense, but its usual signatures are short drops, precision-timing passes and an endless array of formations and play variations. In honor of the departed Bill Walsh, the most noted West Coast guru in history, think Joe Montana's San Francisco 49ers.

The only attempt I know of to import the West Coast system into the SEC was when offensive coordinator Al Borges came to Auburn in 2004. Much was made that year of Borges' impact on the Tigers (when they went 13-0), but from what I've been told, that was a very, very simplified version. Borges' smartest move was simply getting Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown on the field at the same time. Meanwhile, despite much mockery when he first arrived, Urban Meyer has obviously showed that the spread is perfectly capable of working in the SEC (and we'll see more of the "spread-option" this year now that mobile Tim Tebow is the full-time starter), but I don't expect LSU to switch to a full-on spread. More likely, Les Miles will have Crowton run much the same, pro-style offense as predecessor Jimbo Fisher but mix in some elements of the spread -- particularly if new QB Matt Flynn shows he can run.

First of all, I hope that Rusty from Baton Rouge isn't representative of the caliber of questions that Mandel gets, because if so, I weep for the future. Stewart picks out a real softball here, a question that is ignorant of: (1) the offense that Gary Crowton is bringing to LSU (the guy coaches at Louisiana Tech, so he's not exactly foreign to Louisiana); and (2) the offense run by LSU's primary rival for supremacy in the SEC West.

Second, Al Borges did a lot more than simplify the Auburn offense. The abortion of an offense that took the field in 2003 wasn't especially complicated; it just involved a lot of running, some ill-conceived fly patterns that did not take advantage of defenses overloading against the run, and absolutely no blocking whatsoever. Borges diversified the offense and made it much more difficult to defend. He didn't just put Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams on the field at the same time; he forced defenses to account for both of them by using them as runners and receivers, which is a classic aspect of the West Coast Offense. Look at their reception totals in 2004 as compared to the rest of their careers:

Cadillac: 24 receptions in 2001-3, 21 receptions in 2004
Brown: 24 receptions in 2001-3, 34 receptions in 2004

But yeah, Borges must have succeeded at Auburn because he simplified the offense. That must be the reason why Jason Campbell finished third in passer rating the year after finishing 40th in that same category.

And let's not forget this gem of a statement:

Urban Meyer has obviously showed that the spread is perfectly capable of working in the SEC

I must have missed Meyer proving that his offense works in the SEC last year when the Gators never scored more than 26 offensive points on any SEC defense. If Mandel had any historical sense (and we use the term "historical" very loosely, then he would note that Hal Mumme and Mike Leach showed that the spread can work perfectly well in the SEC when they coached at Kentucky. Hell, we can probably dub the '97 Auburn offense that rode Dameyune Craig to the SEC Title Game as a spread attack. If those offenses haven't shown that the spread can work in the SEC, then Urban Meyer sure as hell didn't when he rode a great defense and an average offense to a national title.

Jordana Spiro

After watching the TV Guide clip of Jordana Spiro, I'm going to say it would be a bit too difficult to have a crush on a girl with a deeper voice than mine. I'm sticking with Jenna for another year.
--David, Chicago

You know, I've been watching the HBO show Big Love intently all season (it's just so darn intense!), and the most recent episode got me to thinking: You know, besides the overwhelming financial burden, the perpetual need for secrecy, the constant threat of arrest, the loopy parents, brother and sister-in-law and the ongoing feud with two creepy, homicidal cult leaders -- Bill Henrickson's got himself a pretty sweet set-up. When he wants the support of a strong, matronly woman, he can go to Barb. When he's feeling the need for a little warmth and tenderness, there's Nikki. And when he just wants to get his groove on with a hot, young wild child, he's got Margene.

So I was wondering -- how would the Mailbag audience feel about multiple Celebrity Crushes? That way we could continue to enjoy both Jenna's sweet and subtle beauty and Jordana's sassy, tomboy cuteness. Of course, we'd need to add a third wife ... er, crush (and not Ginnifer Goodwin herself, because that would just be corny). In fact, much like Bill's coffee-shop waitress, I've already got a potential candidate in mind. She's not exactly under the radar, but I wouldn't call her obvious, either. Her recent hit movie has been on TV non-stop lately, and I think I'm starting to develop a certifiable crush.

That is, of course, if it's OK with you guys. (And, I suppose, Jenna and Jordana.)

Christ, Mandel, you can't even address a question when it criticizes your celebrity crush. It's a simple statement: David thinks that Spiro's voice is too husky. How does that lead you to discussing Big Love? Are you asking for someone to start

Georgia's Delusions of Grandeur

For two years you've been dodging my question. When will Georgia coach Mark Richt start to feel the heat for never making the BCS title game, let alone bringing a national title to Athens? It seems like every year the Bulldogs are overhyped and every year they load the NFL, but it never translates to the BCS Championship Game. What gives?
--Jeff, Atlanta

It's not that I've been dodging it -- I just can't believe anyone would ask that with a straight face. The last time I checked, Richt has produced four 10-win seasons and two SEC titles in a six-year span. That's two more titles, by the way, than Georgia had won in the previous 20 years. Perhaps you'd prefer to go back to Jim Donnan? Or Ray Goff?

Not that Jeff represents the average Georgia fan (I hope), but I lived in Atlanta for five years, and it always baffled me just how inflated a perception people have there of that program's place in the national landscape. Keep in mind, because of my age, I didn't start following college football until about the mid-'80s, so I missed the Herschel Walker glory years. To me, Georgia was just an average, top-20 type program for most of my life. But to listen to their fans, you'd think Georgia was a USC or Notre Dame. They've won two national titles in their entire history, the last one coming 27 years ago. BYU won one more recently.

I think part of the problem is that many old-school Georgia types still view arch-rival Florida as their measuring stick. Yes, it's true, the Dawgs used to beat up on the Gators regularly in the '70s and '80s, but that changed in a big way after Spurrier took over Florida. (The Gators have won 15 of the past 17 meetings). Times have changed, and both because of Spurrier's legacy there and because it's the flagship school in the most talent-rich state in the country, Florida is now one of the elite programs nationally; Georgia is still more of a regional power. Which is not to say the Dawgs shouldn't beat the Gators from time to time or make an occasional run at the national title, but to hold Richt or any other coach to a national-title-or-bust standard is just plain ludicrous.

This is a perfect Mandelian storm, a confluence of cherry-picking an idiotic question and then fumbling around at a response like a 15-year old working on his first bra. The question is stupid because no Georgia fan can rationally argue that Mark Richt is a failure for not getting Georgia to a BCS Title Game in his six years in Athens. He has two SEC Titles, three SEC East titles, and Georgia is the 8th winningest team in the country since he arrived. What's the difference between Richt and Nick Saban, who had the good fortune to play for a national title against a wounded Oklahoma team in his backyard when LSU had a one-loss season, while Richt's team was dumped into a meaningless Sugar Bowl the year that Georgia lost only once because two major programs went unbeaten?

That said, Mandel's response lacks a certain, how do I say this, competence? As an initial matter, Richt should not be defended by pointing out that he's better than Ray Goff. This is like saying that Brezhnev was a great leader because he wasn't Stalin.

As for Mandel's actual argument, what's his basis for saying that Georgia isn't a power? The fact that they have two national titles. You know who else only has two titles? How about Florida and Florida State. They must not be powers, either. Michigan has one title since 1948. Notre Dame has one title since the 70s. Tennessee has one title since the 50s. Auburn has one title in its history and that was won while the Tigers were on probation. In short, Stewart, you picked an idiotic yardstick to measure Georgia, unless you think that BYU is equivalent with Auburn.

The better way to approach this question is: what makes a team a national power? The reason why Mandel can't ask this question is that Georgia has absolutely everything that most great programs have. There's nothing that separates Georgia from Ohio State. They both have great facilities, loyal fans, plenty of resources, and a talent-rich state with little or no domestic rival. Ohio State has had slightly better coaches over the course of its history and that's why it's #4 in all-time winning percentage, while Georgia is #12, but the difference between the programs right now is relatively small. (Speaking of which, how does a program that is #12 in all-time winning percentage not get labeled a major power?)

And what's the difference between Georgia and Notre Dame, other than perception based on Notre Dame's media profile and national following? Notre Dame is certainly more popular than Georgia (or any other program) and has a greater tradition than any other program (although Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan, Nebraska, and USC might argue that point), but why are the Irish a major power and Georgia only a regional one? Let's look at the tale of the tape:

Winning percentage in the last ten years:

Georgia - .761, 6th nationally
Notre Dame - .615, 31st nationally

Winning percentage in the last 25 years:

Georgia - .697, 13th nationally
Notre Dame - .672, 17th nationally

Bowl record in the last ten years:

Georgia - 8-2
Notre Dame - 0-7 (and exactly one of those games were decided by single-digits)

Non-winning seasons in the last ten years:

Georgia - 0
Notre Dame - 4

In short, there is no objective measure that would put Georgia behind Notre Dame in the hierarchy of national powers. I'll concede that Notre Dame's upside is probably ahead of that of any other major program because of their profile and recruiting pull (perpetuated in part by the reflexive placement of the Irish in the category of major power when their results have not matched that status). I'll also concede that if you put a gun to my head and asked me whether Georgia or Notre Dame are more likely to win a national title in the next decade, I would take Notre Dame because of Weis's recruiting and the Irish softening their schedule. (Georgia doesn't have that option. They play Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, and South Carolina every year, plus the SEC Championship Game in years when they are a national title contender.) However, that's all projection. If we just look at evidence, which is admittedly a tall order for Mandel, there is no reason for him to blithely dismiss Georgia as a tier below Notre Dame.

Similarly, Mandel engages in a bit of retrospective analysis when he claims that Georgia can't expect to be in the same tier as USC. If Mandel lived in Atlanta at any time prior to 2002, then he would never have claimed that Georgia can't be on USC's level because USC's level was decidedly underwhelming. Southern Cal was 41st nationally in winning percentage in the 90s, 16 spots behind Georgia despite the fact that the Dawgs were coached by Ray Goff and Jim Donnan, previously reviled by Mandel, for the decade. Southern Cal is a major power now because they have a great coach who has assembled an excellent staff. They have also benefited from the fact that the two other traditional powers in the conference - UCLA and Washington - have been playing with their navels this decade, thus allowing USC to dominate recruiting in one of the most talent-rich areas in the country. Where would Mark Richt be if all of his primary rivals (Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn) collapsed and left Georgia with its pick of players in Georgia and north Florida? In sum, Georgia is clearly behind Southern Cal right now, as is every other program in the country, but a good deal of that gap can be explained by external factors, rather than USC's status as inherently better than "regional power" Georgia.

And as for his last paragraph, that makes no sense at all. Is he saying that old school Georgia fans don't like Richt because he doesn't beat Florida much? I have yet to encounter such a crusty old dog. Is he saying that Georgia fans are angry that they are behind Florida right now? Who the hell knows. I can't make heads or tails of it. I'm going to bed. Hopefully, I won't have dreams about Jordana Spiro's voice.

Feeling Bullish on the Braves this Morning

Maybe it's the fact that the team clobbered the Astros last night while the Phillies and Mets both lost. Maybe it's the result of me taking a gander at the standings and realizing that the Braves' run differential (+36) is essentially equivalent to that of the Mets (+35) and the Phillies (+42), which means that the 3.5 game differential between the Braves and Mets could be expected to tighten even before the team added Teixeira, Mahay, Dotel, and Ring. (The Braves also have a marginally better run differential than the Dodgers [+31], who currently are currently 1.5 games ahead in the race for the wild card spot.) Maybe it's the euphoria of the Braves importing talent for the first time in years as opposed to developing it on the farm and then trading it away. Maybe it's the color of the sun caught flat and coverin' the crossroads I'm standin' at. Whatever the reason, I feel really good about the Braves this morning. This feeling of excitement could surely fade with a further reminder of the lack of depth in the starting rotation or another Wickmanian collapse, but right now, it's good to be a Braves fan.

A couple other thoughts:

1. Those of you who thought that Kelly Johnson would be second on the team in slugging percentage and tied for third in homers on August 1, please raise your hands. Even with my man-crush, I underestimated the Braves' second baseman. I thought in 2005 that Johnson was underrated in the avalanche of Francoeur excitement and he's shown that to be the case this year. Kelly's slugging and on-base percentages are both .050 higher and he has the same number of homers and extra-base hits in 48 fewer plate appearances. In retrospect, Johnson was miscast as a lead-off hitter; he should be hitting fifth behind Chipper and Teixeira in the new lineup. Bobby is far too loyal to demote Andruw that far down in the lineup and there's nothing wrong with that, but I reserve the right to change my mind if Andruw makes the last out of the season against the Cubs in the playoffs with Johnson on deck.

In case you're wondering, I'm feeling the Braves' and Cubs' destinies intertwining again. Prepare for more stories about how Atlanta fans suck. Speaking of which, contrast the apathetic ratings that the NBA gets in Boston with the fact that Atlanta is one of the strongest markets for the NBA, as measured by TV ratings for markets without teams involved in the playoffs. I'm confused by this disparity, as I always thought that Atlantans were supposed to be provincial and Bostonians were cosmopolitan, but as it turns out, Atlantans watch the NBA regardless of whether our team is involved (maybe years of experience at watching teams other than the Hawks in the playoffs has made us good at that) and Bostonians only watch when their team is involved. I digress.

2. After the acquisition/retention of Rafael Soriano, Mike Gonzalez, and Bob Wickman to give the Braves a potentially dominant trio for the end of games, who thought that the Braves' top reliever in terms of VORP (or most other statistical measures) on August 1 would be Peter Moylan?

3. A few random notes based on a glance at the Expanded Standings:

a. The Braves have the best record in the NL against teams with winning records and are one of only two teams with a winning record against teams with winning records.

b. The Braves have a winning record against all three NL divisions. That 4-11 mark against the AL really stands out like a sore thumb. If the Braves fail to make the playoffs by a game or two, they'll have some very legitimate complaints about their interleague schedule. Then again, there are probably a bunch of teams that will miss the playoffs in the AL who will be able to legitimately claim that they would have been one of the favorites in the NL.

c. If you want an indication as to how tightly bunched the NL is, look at the Pythagorean Wins and Losses. The Cubs are at 59, then there are five teams (including the Braves) at 57 and another at 56. The poseur among the contenders is Arizona, which has a run differential that is indicative of a team far worse than a 59-49 division leader.