Sunday, August 31, 2008

This Chicken Salad Sure Smells Funny

Let's get this out of the way right off the bat: Michigan's offense was terrible against Utah. The offense scored three touchdowns off of short fields created by the defense and the special teams, but it only managed one possession where it created anything approximating a drive and that ended with Brandon Minor fumbling the ball away. The Michigan offense is a perfect storm of bad factors. It is:

Inexperienced: only three returning starters. The starting backfield was a sophomore walk-on and two freshman running backs.

Ill-fitting: Michigan does not have a quarterback who presents a running threat, nor does it have any dangerous slot receivers.

Learning a New Scheme: Rich Rodriguez is presented with the dual challenge of developing the basic technique of a pile of young players, along with teaching them a new scheme. The playbook is already limited by the fact that the talent isn't a good fit for the system; it is further limited by the fact that Rodriguez has to spoon-feed the offense in small doses.

Possibly Bad: It's not just that the quarterbacks are bad fits for this offense; they might simply be bad fits for any offense. Nick Sheridan does not have the arm to threaten a defense down the field except with moonballs down the sideline. Stephen Threet might turn into a good player, but he takes an awfully long time to read a defense. There's a reason why Michigan was so leery of throwing the ball down the middle of the field yesterday. That reason is most likely the fact that the quarterbacks showed themselves to be bad decision-makers and likely to throw interceptions when they did so in Fall practice.

(The only throw down the middle that I recall was a streak route by Brandon Minor that was wide open in the second quarter and Sheridan overthrew it. That was a great call by Rodriguez and Calvin Magee.)

All that said, yesterday illustrated that the transition to the spread is a good one for Michigan. Utah runs the spread and created all sorts of issues for a good Michigan defense for a half. Oregon, Missouri, Illinois, and Florida all scored 40+ points running variants of this offense. It is clearly the way to go. Michigan has one of the inventors of the offense running the show. One bad game or even one bad season does not change the fact that Michigan made the right decision going in this direction.

Yesterday also illustrated that struggles for first-year coaches are to be expected. Bobby Petrino was down by ten points at home to Western Illinois before Arkansas saved themselves. Mike Sherman lost his opener to Arkansas State. Washington State got blown out in Seattle by Oklahoma State. The only new coaches for BCS conference teams who got wins were playing I-AA opponents (Duke and Georgia Tech) or walked into a perfect situation (Ole Miss). If Jim Tressel and Pete Carroll combined for 11 losses in their first seasons at Ohio State and USC, then it's probably fair to assume that a good coach won't create magic overnight.

So what are the positives to be taken from the game yesterday?

1. The Barwis effect is real. The defensive linemen didn't become man-eating centaurs liked I'd hoped, but the team did show a major conditioning advantage. The defense was dominant in the second half. Speaking of which...

2. Michigan has a defensive coordinator who can make halftime adjustments. Michigan's defense was disappointing in the first half, but they came out in the second half playing a 3-35 and shut down a quality offense. Speaking of that quality offense...

3. Utah is a good team. If Utah were in the Big Ten, they would be smack dab in the Wisconsin-Penn State-Illinois jumble below Ohio State. Hell, they'd probably be towards the top of that clump. The Utes' indiscipline aside, Utah runs a well-designed offense with a terrific quarterback at the controls. Brian Johnson is probably the best quarterback that Michigan will face all year. He made some terrific throws in the first half when he had time and only clammed up in the second half when the coverage improved and he was being hit consistently. Utah has the requisite number of kick-ass Polynesians and a ludicrous cyborg kicker who put every field goal dead-center between the uprights with room to spear. If they win fewer than ten games, it can only be because of an injury to Johnson or Kyle Whittingham getting too conservative with a lead.

4. Michigan's special teams were quite good. The Wolverines blocked a PAT and a punt, they forced a fumble on a punt return, the kickoff returns looked dangerous, and they got a 50-yard field goal.

All in all, I was thinking at halftime that this would be a repeat of Oregon 2007 and ended the game thinking that it was Virginia 1995. Given that my expectations for the season were for seven wins and my expectations at halftime were for total humiliation, 25-23 isn't so bad. If only Michigan were in the ACC...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Fourth Annual Installment of "FIVE OUTLANDISH PREDICTIONS!!!"

LOUD NOISES!!! My friend Ben and I have an annual tradition of making five off-kilter predictions before the start of the season. In the interests of preserving a historical record, here are our efforts from 2007, 2006, and 2005. There have been some gems - Ben picking Arizona State's ascent last year, me picking Notre Dame to be good in 2005 - and some duds - Ben picking Tommy Bowden to win a conference title, me picking Notre Dame to be good last year. With that in mind, read on with caution:


1. The SEC retains 11 of their coaches after the season. All are safe, but lo and behold, the Ol' Ball Coach steps aside. He has a good year by SC standards, but still finishes fourth in the East. He is fed up with the inability to win there and steps down at year's end coming off an 8-win season.

[Ed. - This seems plausible. I don't see Spurrier having the frustration tolerance to be the South Carolina head coach. I'd bet that deep down, in places he doesn't talk about at parties, Spurrier was shaken by the impact of the injuries to Jasper Brinkley and Captain Munnerlyn last season. This didn't happen at Florida.]

2. West Virginia loses 6 games this year and Bill Stewart gets replaced as coach by...the man who should have got the job in the first place: Butch Jones from Central Michigan.

[Ed. - I'm not so high on West Virginia, but six losses seems strong. The effect of losing an alpha male head coach isn't usually that severe in year one, although there are a number of Louisville fans who are anxious to chime in with their disagreement.]

3. Colorado is back as a player on the Big XII scene. They win 8 games and finish second in the Big XII North as they miss Oklahoma and get Texas at home. They begin to contend for the Big XII and BCS bid starting in 2009.

[Ed. - This is an annual prediction for Ben, most likely because Colorado was good when we started watching college football. You know what they say about always loving the music you were listening to when you first got laid... I'm excited to see what Dan Hawkins can do with Darrell Scott and I also gave some thought to Colorado over Texas as my upset of the year.]

4. Clemson rolls through the ACC and regular season undefeated only to lose in the ACC Championship game. Because "Tommy can't win the big one." Mind you, the other 12 were all big.

[Ed. - This won't look so good, come Saturday night at 11:30.]

5. This is not so outlandish, as I think others are saying this, but the biggest game in the country on November 22, 2008 will be undefeated BYU at one loss Utah. BYU has two Pac-10 teams on the schedule, and they should be able to handle both. If they win, they crash the BCS, and not just as an after thought. There will be folks who scream that they should be in BCS NC game because I don't think two other teams get through unscathed. Gameday will go there, and Utah will beat them because that is what happens in rivalry games when one team, here BYU, looks past the rival and onto the big stage.

[Ed. - I doubt that BYU is going to look past Utah any time soon. I don't doubt that we could have a 1984 redux, although there is such confidence in the consensus top five this year that it will be hard for BYU to convince voters that they are on the level of Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and USC. BYU is going to give up too many points for that to happen.]


1. Ole Miss wins eight games and finishes third in the West.

2. North Carolina wins the ACC...whatever their division is called. (I know the other five teams in the division, but I can't keep the names straight.) Sean Glennon surrounded by suspect skill position players is not a recipe for success and the rest of the division is not good. Great coaches tend to break out in year two at a school. Butch Davis might not be a great coach, but he's close and he has a ton of players coming back. The ACC is generally the place to make crazy picks because the elite of the conference is so non-elite.

3. Cal has a resurgence and finishes second in the Pac Ten. They will be 7-1 or 8-0 when they play USC. A pro-Tedford pick is also an annual occurrence.

4. Upset of the year: East Carolina over West Virginia. I was tempted by the idea of Arkansas over Florida because of Petrino's passing game against that secondary, but the game is in early October. If Arkansas is going to pull a big upset, then it will be later in the year.

5. The major coaching casualty this year: Ralph Friedgen. It pains me to say this because I really like Friedgen, but he made the mistake of winning too much too soon and Maryland fans are not accepting of 6-6 anymore. Ferentz would be my guy for this spot if not for a massive buyout that will scare frugal Iowans. I'm tired of picking Phil Fulmer for this spot every year, only to be let down when he saves his job with convenient false starts from his offensive linemen and opponent's field goals bouncing off the iron.

Monday, August 25, 2008

First you Get the Money, then you Get the Power, then you Get Erin Andrews 14 Saturdays per Year

Say hello to a new TV deal for the SEC. Say hello to $15M per school annually. Say hello to ESPNU on Comcast. Say goodbye to the Daves and watching college football on MyATL 36. Say goodbye to SEC fans ever being able to portray our teams as victims of the media ever again. (I reserve the right to revoke that statement the first time that Herbstreit says something dumb about Georgia's intangibles.)

Some thoughts:

1. The SEC and the Big Ten are leaving the rest of college football (minus Notre Dame) behind in terms of revenue generation from TV contracts. $15M per school is a huge chunk of change. Pair that revenue with the fact that the Big Ten and the SEC are always #1 and #2 in average attendance and are making a killing in gameday revenue in an era of luxury boxes and PSLs and you have those two conferences developing a significant financial advantage. Whether that advantage translates on the field is another matter entirely. Texas and USC will still get to dominate recruiting in two of the three best states for talent. Florida, on the other hand...

2. Think about the position that Miami and FSU are in. They are already up against one of the top coaches in college football, coaching at the most popular school in the state. Now, add in the fact that Florida will be widening its financial advantage significantly because the SEC's TV deal is so much better than that of the ACC. On the other hand, Da U's recruiting appeal has never been based on nice facilities.

3. In a certain respect, college football is going the same direction as other sports. TV has caused a general explosion in sports revenue, only that revenue is never distributed evenly (except in the NFL). Just as the gap between the top revenue MLB or EPL teams has widened, so has the gap between the top college football conferences and the rest. As noted above, there is less of a correlation between revenue and talent accumulation in college football than there is in baseball or English footie, but there should be some effect. The SEC and Big Ten teams (especially the ones with massive ticket revenue) will be able to build all sorts of palatial facilities for their programs and that can have an impact on recruiting.

4. I know that correlation does not equal causation, but does anyone else think that there's a link between two off-seasons in which SEC schools launched themselves into a full-blown arms race for coaching talent and this massive TV deals. A league containing schools that are willing to break the bank for the Petrinos and Sabans of the market has to be attractive to networks. ESPN had to tell itself "if Arkansas is willing to spend crazy money for Bobby Petrino and Arkansas is in the lower half of the SEC in terms of potential, then this league is crazier about football than we previously thought. Where's the checkbook?"

5. The SEC's deal is also a result of the Sunbelt getting bigger and richer. We're going to have to stop thinking about ourselves as a marginalized region at this rate. Let the Sports Reporters keep acting as if college football doesn't exist; the network that airs that dreadful show just forked over a ten-figure commitment to show regular season college football games. Speaking of which...

6. These are massive TV deals for regular season telecasts. You think the revenue would be the same with a 16-team playoff? By resisting the urge to turn the sport into just another sport, college football (or at least the conference that represents college football in its highest [or most drunken] form) has cashed in.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Annual "Brazil aren't what they Used to be" Post

I'll admit that I've enjoyed the Olympics more than I expected. Going in, I assumed that NBC would ruin the Olympics by hausfrau-izing them. I was also thinking that the Olympics are second-rate as compared to the World Cup, the Euros, and other international footie competitions because countries actually care who wins and loses those tournaments. There were no celebrations in the streets when Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal. The Olympics, like the NFL, represent forced excitement without a soul.

I still think that, but I have enjoyed my individually packaged, plastic wrapped excitement. The swimming caught my attention, as did the totally phenomenal Usain Bolt. (If anyone deserves to be cocky, it's the fastest man in history.) The USA Hoops team has been fun to watch, certainly more so than the pouty, selfish team of four years ago. More than anything else, I've been enjoying the soccer and that enjoyment was leading to a crescendo last night with the Brazil-Argentina match. Brazil have never won an Olympic gold medal in football. This is the only empty spot in their trophy case. Additionally, football at the Olympics is a bigger deal for South American countries because the powers of the continent announced their supremacy in world football by winning Olympic gold in 1924 and 1928. The fact that Brazil and Argentina produce so much young talent probably doesn't hurt their interest in a U-23 tournament, either. You add that context to the fact that Brazil and Argentina are bitter rivals and yesterday's game was shaping up to be a highlight of the Olympics...

Or at least it would have been a highlight if Brazil played like Brazil instead of a second-rate Ireland. To paraphrase Fat Bastard, Brazil were crap. They barely created a good chance in the entire match. True to their recent traditions, the only offense came from the wing backs, specifically Rafinha on the right flank. They don't bother to create any offense in the middle of the park. It's one thing for Brazil not to have a player like Riquelme who can spray perfect passes around; it's another thing for Brazil to not have a player like Fernando Gago, a decent, but not inspirational central midfielder.

We covered this topic last summer when Brazil were looking pedestrian at the Copa America. Oddly, Brazil ended up winning the tournament despite the fact that they never looked very good. At the time, I discussed an outstanding article by Tim Vickery regarding Brazil and Argentina's response to Total Football. The post-script to the article should have been that Brazil bringing home the Copa America title against the run of play was a bad development for Brazil long-term because it delayed the country's reckoning of its own shortcomings. It pushed back the point at which Brazil will look at itself and decide to play like Brazil are supposed to play. Hopefully, a 3-0 hammering by Argentina at the Olympics, combined with a precarious position in World Cup qualifying, will push Brazil to that point. They can start by giving Dunga a pink slip.

And while we're on the subject of Brazil in decline, a word about Ronaldinho. Unfit. Ronnie still has the passing ability and the tricks with the ball, but it's kinda hard to be a top-level footballer when you don't run. He was absent from the game because he never moved. If Ronnie's poor performance at the 2006 World Cup is what started his decline (the Vickery theory), then this showing certainly won't help.

The disparity between Barcelona's present (Messi) and its past (Ronnie) was striking. Ronnie never moved, never linked up with Brazil's left back, and never chased the ball. Messi was chasing the ball from start to finish. His run created the space for the opener, his work in the box set up the second, and then his pass put Aguero in position to draw a penalty for the third. It was an outstanding performance, even though Messi didn't have a goal or an assist. Barcelona fought tooth and nail to prevent Messi from going to the Olympics, but the club is now one game away from a perfect result: Messi returning in form with a gold medal (to go with Xavi's, Iniesta's, and Puyol's medals from the Euros) while the club is virtually qualified for the group stage of the Champions League and perfect in its preseason record.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My First Top 25 Whistles Dixie

1Southern Cal 25
2Georgia 24
3Oklahoma 23
4Florida 22
5Ohio State 21
6LSU 20
7Missouri 19
8South Florida 18
9Texas Tech 17
10Auburn 16
11Texas 15
12Kansas 14
13Arizona State 13
14Clemson 12
15West Virginia 11
16California 10
17Wisconsin 9
18Virginia Tech 8
19South Carolina 7
20Brigham Young 6
21Tennessee 5
22Utah 4
23Oregon 3
24Mississippi 2
25Penn State 1

Dropped Out:

As an initial note, these are the teams that I believe to be the 25 best in the country. I have not taken schedule into account at all. Leaving matchup issues aside (such as the presumption that Ohio State would lose to Vandy or Mississippi State because of their hoo doo against the OMG!SEC), I imagined that the hierarchy of these rankings is based on how the teams would do against one another on a neutral field.

My Rationale for USC at Number One - Because one can never go wrong picking a team with a two-deep composed almost exclusively of top recruits. Because Pete Carroll paired with just about the entire defense returning is a frightening thought for the rest of the Pac Ten. Because USC has three five-star bullets in the chamber to find a quality quarterback. Because this team will be better without John David Booty. Because the offensive line is the only major question on the team and all of the four new starters have started games before. Because they're due.

My Biggest Disappointment with my Poll (There's a line that looks much better in print than it would sound if transmitted orally.) - I went with the same top five that everyone and their mother has used. I wanted to go with someone, anyone else in the top five spots, but I couldn't. I came close with South Florida, which has a ton of starters returning and now the best coach in the conference with Petrino and Rodriguez elsewhere. (I guess Schiano and Kelly would have something to say about that.) In the end, their offense reminds me a little too much of Florida's in the sense that it is a tailback away from being very good. I also came close with LSU, but the quarterback situation, paired with a hangover from winning the national title and a step down at defensive coordinator, keeps them out of the top five. Missouri was the third team that I considered, but I can't get past lingering concerns about Gary Pinkel. Plus, I'm inherently suspicious of offense-heavy upstart teams.

What do we make of Kansas? They were a consensus top five team at the end of last year, they return 15 starters, and now they are on the fringes of the top 15? I'm as guilty as anyone since I have them #12, but isn't this an admission that we were all too impressed with their record last year and didn't account for a gaudy schedule? Or are they being punished by pollsters for playing a tougher schedule this year, which seems a wee bit unfair.

If you can't tell, I don't think much of the ACC or the Big Ten. The lesson? If a conference confers a degree on yours truly, then it must not be able to produce quality football teams. I wavered a lot on Illinois. Along with Alabama, North Carolina, and Wake Forest, they were the team that I struggled with excluding. At the end of the day, I think that Juice Williams' passing deficiencies will be more pronounced without Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield. Also, Ron Zook. Res ipse loquitur. I'd rather go with Penn State, a team that I know can run the ball and play defense, over a team with a good spread running game and little else. I didn't really consider putting Michigan in the poll. If you were hearing the things that Michigan fans are hearing about the quarterback situation, you'd understand. I don't expect a total nightmare, but 7-5 or 8-4 seems plausible.

About West Virginia, I smell the scent of Bobby Williams. Think Louisville without Petrino, only Bill Stewart doesn't have Steve Kragthorpe's resume. I'm not expecting a collapse to 6-6, but don't underestimate the impact of a powerful coach leaving and the aw-shucks assistant taking over.

Ole Miss? Really? What fun is a poll without a little risk-taking? Hear me out on this one. They have 16 starters coming back. Ole Miss was better than 3-9 last year, as they came close against a number of quality opponents. The Orgeron recruited well, but couldn't coach, especially in close games. Conversely, Houston Nutt is a coach who could always get a little more out of his talent than expected. He's innovative and adaptable. His first Arkansas team was a horrific Clint Stoerner fumble in Knoxville from being 9-0. Finally, Ole Miss's weakness even since Eli left has been the quarterback position and now they have a VHT to man the helm. This season sets up very well for them.

My Obligatory Dig at Unranked Notre Dame - Behold, the Irish play exactly one team in my preseason top 25. Very challenging.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tommy Bowden, Football Historian

What does a coach do when his program hasn't won a thing in 17 years and his conference hasn't won a BCS bowl in eight seasons? Naturally, you talk s*** about the achievements of other programs in the league:

"Not long ago, it was Florida State and Miami dominating college football. Where was the SEC then?" said Clemson coach Tommy Bowden. "These things go in cycles. The SEC has had a nice run. I'm sure that the ACC or another conference will take its place."

Yes, where was the SEC back when Miami and Florida State were so good in the 90s?

Honestly, will writers reprint absolutely anything a coach says without comment?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

SEC Coaches as Bond Villains

Yes, the whole "compare people or programs to pop culture figures" has been done a thousand times before, but I always wanted to combine two of my great loves - SEC football and Bond movies - into a tasty mix. SEC football, like Bond movies, is fun because of its villains. So why don't we dispense with the notion that our guy is good and the other 11 coaches are all evildoers in volcano lairs threatening to blow up the world? Let's just imagine all 12 SEC coaches in Nehru jackets, surrounded by pirhana and incompetent henchmen.

Steve Spurrier as Dr. No in Dr. No

The original villain. Dr. No was driven by a desire for vengeance for perceived slights. Dr. No was an evil genius whose skills were refused by the East and West, so he moved to SPECTRE to get revenge on both. Spurrier, an offensive genius, was similarly motivated by a desire to punish his enemies: Georgia for the '66 game and Vince Dooley's decision not to hire him; Bill Curry for his desire not to hire him at Georgia Tech, Tennessee for...who knows what reason? Also, Dr. No meets his end in the book by being buried in bird dung, which is a fitting metaphor for a coaching legend ending his career at South Carolina.

Nick Saban as Auric Goldfinger in Goldfinger

Likes to cheat in Miami. Famous for bombs in Kentucky. Wants all the money. Not noted for being especially nice to his henchman. You have to know that Saban would off an enemy by painting him/her gold if he could.

Urban Meyer as Vargas in Thunderball

"Vargas does not drink... does not smoke... does not make love. What do you do, Vargas?" More than any other character in the Bond movies, Vargas is obsessed with his job. He wants to kill people and that's it. If only he referred to himself in the third person.

Sylvester Croom as Dr. Kananga in Live and Let Die

A trailblazer. The first of his kind. Possessor of a great voice. There are definite parallels between being the head of a remote backwater island and being the head coach in Starkville, Mississippi. Croom's performance last year in gutting Mississippi State to eight wins entitles him to a comparison to a Bond villain with a genuinely original idea: giving away free heroin to create addicts.

(And yes, I know that I like to have a run at analysts who uniformly compare white players to white players and black players to black players, but now I've compared the one black coach in the SEC to the one black arch-villain from a Bond movie. I never said I was consistent.)

Phil Fulmer as Hai Fat in The Man with the Golden Gun

This one just writes itself. If you want more than a cute pun from the "desperately trying to be funny" era of Bond movies, try this on for size: Hai Fat's downfall was getting involved in an activity that didn't suit him. If he would have stuck with being a wealthy industrialist instead of dabbling in hiring hit men and running after the Solex Agitator, he wouldn't have ended up on his mausoleum prematurely. Does this remind anyone of Detective Fulmer's turn as Deep Throat? Also, Hai Fat's devotion to old school killing - sending Bond to "school" as opposed to letting Nick Nack fillet him - fits with Fulmer's devotion to the old ways of moving the football.

Bobby Johnson as Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun

If there's a better metaphor for being the coach of Vanderbilt than a villain who goes into a battle with James Bond with one shot to Bond's six and a sole ally in the form of a French midget, I'd like to hear it.

Rich Brooks as Karl Stromberg in The Spy who Loved me

A grumpy old dude who spends his time in the water.

Tommy Tuberville as Drax in Moonraker

Let's review Drax's career as a Bond villain. He is betrayed by his assistant Corinne Dufour and is forced to punish her by having her eaten by dogs. He is betrayed by Dr. Holly Goodhead, so he attempts to cook her with a space shuttle. He is betrayed by Jaws when Jaws refused to "EXPEL THEM!!!" Does that sound like someone whose defensive coordinators keep going to Texas and who was famously betrayed by Bobby Petrino at an airfield in Louisville. And who better to represent a guy with ears that make him look like he could take off and orbit the earth than a villain who shot himself into space and wanted to live there forever?

Bobby Petrino as Aristotle Kristatos in For your Eyes Only

Kristatos worked for the English in World War II, then switched sides to help the Russians after the War. Arthur Blank is nodding furiously at this parallel. Kristatos treated Bibi, the athlete under his wing, like total crap. Warrick Dunn and the rest of the 2007 Atlanta Falcons are nodding furiously, as well. In the end, Kristatos was just a mercenary looking to get paid. Arkansas fans will one day be nodding their heads furiously.

Mark Richt as Kamal Khan from Octopussy

Maybe I'm saying this because I've seen Octopussy 457 times and gave my youngest brother a written exam on it after his first (forced) viewing, but Kamal Khan is the most likeable of all the Bond villains. He's totally smooth with the ladies, which makes him different from most Bond villains who seem like they want to blow up the world in retaliation for never getting dates in high school. He dresses well, reads the classics, is well liked by the locals, and wears proper dinner attire. He isn't obsessed with his day job, but rather balances smuggling a nuclear weapon onto a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany with generally being a pimp in the Monsoon Palace. This is how I imagine Mark Richt to be. Charming, well-liked (even by his enemies), and not obsessed by football like a Meyer or a Saban. That said, Richt has a subtle evil streak. Kamal keeps his enemies hanging on meat hooks in the cellar; Richt instructs his players to show up Florida after scoring a touchdown.

Les Miles as General Orlov from Octopussy

The total opposite of Kamal Khan. Orlov is temperamental and impulsive. While his colleagues want to achieve world socialism peaceably, Orlov wants to nuke an American Air Force base, then sweep through Western Europe with his tanks. Les Miles is the one coach in the SEC who could deliver Orlov's tirade at the Politburo against disarmament. If only Orlov would have finished with "have a great day!" With his love for ballsy attacks on the ground, Orlov is the one Bond villain would appreciate Miles's performance in the Florida game last year. Also, both love big hats.

Houston Nutt as Elliot Carver from Tomorrow Never Dies

This comparison works beautifully in my head, but I have a hard time explaining it. Maybe it's the penchant for grandiose speeches? The high-pitched voice? Even though I think he's a good coach, Nutt gives off the vibe that he's not above doing something bat-shit crazy, which puts him right in league with a media mogul who thinks that a worldwide nuclear war is a solid investment. Also, if Nutt is Carver, then Reggie Herring is Herr Stamper and that really appeals to me.

Ryan Doesn't Suck!

Since I spent the better part of the spring wailing about some sort of Yankee conspiracy to build Matt Ryan into a franchise quarterback despite a plethora of evidence to the contrary, I ought to come clean and say that Ryan looked good in his first preseason action on Saturday night. Mike Smith made a point of playing Ryan against the Jacksonville first team defense. Ryan looked very shaky on his first possession, but once he calmed down, he was good on the second possession. He made intelligent reads. Ryan was also somewhat inaccurate, but got bailed out by Roddy White, who caught everything that came close. It's possible that Jacksonville was simply playing vanilla coverages and Ryan will struggle once NFL defenses get funky when the bullets start flying for real. That said, Der Wife and I watched on Saturday night expecting to have a good chuckle at the local professional football collective, but we came away pleasantly surprised.

The other player who stood out was Brent Grimes. Grimes is a corner of whom I'd never heard before Saturday night, but he was all over the Jags' (admittedly underwhelming) receivers. He seems plenty athletic and had pretty good technique, other than an instance where he accidentally kicked the ball out of his own hands in the end zone.

The Falcons' corners are going to need to be good because the defensive line looks dreadful. The best example I can point to is David Garrard's sneak for the opening touchdown of the game. I don't think I'd ever seen a quarterback end up six yards into the end zone on a sneak before Saturday night. The line got no pressure and Jacksonville had ample space on running plays. This is going to be an issue all year.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Excuse Making for Bowden the Elder

Tony Barnhart has an theory as to why Florida State has declined so precipitously this decade: difficulty recruiting in Georgia and Louisiana. Barnhart's theory is interesting, but to me, it ignores the 800-pound gorilla in the room: like the Soviet Union when the Party was propping up ailing leaders like Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko, Florida State has a doddering figurehead as its leader. Let's think about all of the reasons why this theory fails:

1. Mark Richt's predecessor at Georgia was Jim Donnan. Do any Dawg fans want to take the position that Donnan was a poor recruiter or that he let too many players get out of state? Didn't think so. (OK, I'll grant you the decision to go after Jasper Sanks instead of Jamal Lewis. Other than that...)

2. Which major out-of-state program is most dependent on recruiting in Georgia? Give yourself a gold star if you said "Auburn." How have the Tigers done since Richt was hired? 66-23, good for 9th nationally. Apparently, Mark Richt's hiring wasn't a death knell for every program that depends on talent from Georgia, just the programs with incompetent sons of the head coach installed as the offensive coordinator.

3. Barnhart overstates the significance of out-of-state recruiting to Florida State. Sure, the 'Noles got the occasional player from Georgia or Louisiana, but those players were typically gravy. The program's emergence was the result of Florida becoming a hotbed for high school football talent, on par with Texas and California. I'd submit for your consideration that Florida State's recruiting problems were not so much the result of Saban and Richt being hired as they were Steve Spurrier, a somewhat ambivalent recruiter (especially towards the end of his tenure), being replaced by Ron Zook and then Urban Meyer, two aggressive, outstanding recruiters.

In Barnhart's defense, he's at least trying to come up with an interesting, non-conventional explanation for FSU's slide. His theory isn't totally off, as it has some significant applications for Tennessee, another program that depends on recruiting in Georgia and has seen its fortunes fall off since Richt was hired. (I don't quite know what to make of Clemson, the fourth program that depends on talent from Georgia. Would we say that Clemson has had a good stretch in this decade? They've played marginally above their historical winning percentage in a more competitive ACC. On the other hand, Tommy Bowden has constantly flirted with termination, so it hasn't exactly been a banner stretch for the other Tigers.)

Generally speaking, Barnhart's dispatches from fall practices have been outstanding. His piece on the spread with Auburn's Tony Franklin was especially good. If the rumors are true that Barnhart has taken a buyout from the AJC, it will be a sad day for the paper that covers the South like dew.

Monday, August 04, 2008

RIP Skip

I clearly shouldn't ever start a post by saying that a team has reached rock bottom. I wrote that about the Braves last Tuesday. Since then, Teixeira has been traded, Hudson confirmed that he is going to undergo Tommy John surgery, the team lost four of six, and, worst of all, Skip Caray died yesterday. For fans who grew up in the state in the past 30 years, Skip and Larry Munson were the two icons of the local media. Both were unabashed homers. Both had a wonderful, gruff persona. Larry's comes out in the form of constant pessimism, while Skip's came out in a biting, critical voice that is sadly absent from most announcers these days.

(Note: I struggled whether to use past or present tense in that last paragraph. While Caray is gone, Larry is still thankfully with us. Do any grammarians out there want to weigh in on how one writes about to people, one living and one dead?)

I'll miss Caray announcing that that last foul ball was caught by a fan from Huntsville or Albany. I'll miss him mocking the wave. I'll miss him going off on umpires and their strike zones. I'll miss "there's a drive..." I'll miss his totally dismissive responses to callers who wanted him to explain why batters get three strikes and not four. Hell, I'll even miss him opining that baseball isn't too slow, a position that I couldn't get behind. For me, Caray was one of those stars in the constellation from childhood. I grew up listening to him call games (lots and lots of losses), so I couldn't be critical of him, even when he said something that I thought was wrong.

And speaking of memories, my favorite Skip Caray memory is no doubt a favorite for a lot of Braves fans. On October 14, 1992, I was the only one in a family of five who stayed up to the bitter end of Game Seven against the Pirates. I had an AP Calculus test the next day, so I'd been in my room, studying and listening to the game. OK, I was probably listening to the game more than studying. To paraphrase Francisco Scaramanga, math never was my strong suit. The Braves had been owned by Doug Drabek for eight innings. By the ninth inning, I was sitting in my room in the dark, listening on headphones. I remember Caray's excitement when Jose Lind's error put the tying run on. I remember him getting very excited when Ron Gant flew out to the warning track with the bases loaded. I remember him prefacing Cabrera's winning single by saying "lots of room in the gap in left center. If he hits it there, we can dance in the streets." Most of all, I remember "line drive left field, base hit!" like it was yesterday, Caray's voice rising with the crowd. I had this feeling of incredible anticipation. I couldn't wait to hear the next words from him. And then, that great pause before he yelled "SAFE! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN!"

(To the extent that Caray's death gets national coverage [let's hope that ESPN can come up with a Yankees or Red Sox angle], I feel bad for Pirates fans because their worst memory is about to come rushing back. Then again, Pittsburghers have two good pro teams and we have none, so I don't feel that bad.)

Skip was lucky enough to call one of the great games in baseball history and he absolutely nailed the call of the winning hit. Beyond the personality and the honesty, he was just great at his job. The past several seasons have been a constant change for the Braves as everything that made them great for a decade and a half has slowly bled away. Losing Skip Caray is part of that change.