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.


SmoothJimmyApollo said...

Thank you, Michael, for trying to make sense of the ramblings of a madman.

peacedog said...

Also, didn't we make a run at a national title in 02? Sure, we weren't talked about the same way various players were in 06, but that's because there were two undefeated teams. But we knew down the stretch that if we won out, and somebody lost, we might have a shot. And this came up in the media (we weren't the only such claimant, of course).

Jesus pancake Mandel. Don't be so useless.

Michael said...

Georgia was next in line for a Fiesta Bowl spot if Miami or Ohio State would have lost in the final weeks of the season. Georgia was just unlucky that a season that has been good enough in many other years to get a shot at a national title was not good enough in 2002. (Auburn has an even greater complaint for 2004; 12-0 in the SEC has almost always been good enough for a title game slot. If not for Terrence Edwards' drop, a similar clusterf*** would have occurred in 2002.)

LD said...

The way 2002 panned out was a little different, to the point where it wasn't exactly clear that UGA would've been in the title game had OSU or Miami lost late.

I tracked the BCS week by week in comments here:

There are a lot of different ways things could've panned out with late losses, but it's not exactly clear if UGA would've been in the title game (not as simple as "had OSU lost their last game, we'd have been in the Fiesta Bowl").

Had OSU lost to Michigan in their last game, they might not have dropped behind UGA, who was 5th and had a bye week that week. Oklahoma and Washington State were between OSU and Georgia. WSU lost that week, but Oklahoma didn't. Probably OU would've jumped OSU, but OSU might not have fallen behind UGA. If they didn't right then, it's unlikely that UGA would've jumped them over the next two weeks.

The situation with Miami was similar. Miami was #1 the last week of the BCS by a large margin (had big advantages in polls and computers). The gap in BCS numbers was something like Miami's 3 to UGA's 9. So, isolating just UGA and Miami, it's not a sure thing that if Miami had lost to Virginia Tech the same day as UGA beat Arkansas, Miami would've dropped behind them (for a good example of this, see 2003, when Oklahoma's loss in the Big XII title game wasn't enough to drop them behind USC). Further complicating things was how UGA was ranked third in the BCS, but ranked behind Iowa in both polls. It's also possible that, had Miami lost, they would've dropped behind Iowa in the polls but not UGA - giving UGA no boost at all, and potentially even lifting Iowa into the title game (though Iowa was punished that year by SOS and computers). And even further complicating things was USC, which was killing things in the computer polls. Had Miami lost that game, any of USC, Iowa, UGA and Miami could've been playing OSU, depending on how a few people voted. I've tried to look at it mathematically, and I have no idea how it would've turned out (though I kind of lean towards Miami getting the nod).

As for the idea that had Terrance not dropped that pass UGA would've become Auburn and definitely been locked out, I'm also not so sure of that:

The week before the Florida game, UGA was 4th in the BCS. The standings were 1) Oklahoma, 2) Miami, 3) Notre Dame (Ty Willingham!), 4) UGA, 5) Ohio State. That week, Notre Dame got beat by Boston College. Everyone else won (except UGA).

The next week, the BCS reshuffled big time, with 1) Oklahoma, 2) Ohio State, 3) Miami (Georgia dropped to 6th, behind 1-loss Texas and Wazzu). Ohio State's rise to #2 was due mainly to jumping ND and UGA in the polls. Had Georgia not lost, Ohio State very well might have remained behind UGA in the polls, and in turn the BCS.

It's pretty much impossible to say, then, what would've happened in the polls and computers the rest of the way. That season's BCS was one of the strangest because there actually was movement among the top teams. Miami and Ohio State swapped places a few times, depending mainly on SOS shifts and computers. Had Georgia been in the mix, and undefeated as well, guessing which of the three would've been left out is very hard. Georgia finished with two blowouts of Tech and Arkansas (and the thrilling win over a pretty good Auburn team). Ohio State would've had ABC/ESPN's fluffing and the win over Michigan, but also remember that they escaped with a late/lucky win over a pretty awful Illinois team that year and eked by an underachieving Purdue team the week before. None of OSU's last three games were blowouts. Looking at the final standings, OSU had an advantage in the computers, but it's impossible to tell if that was largely due to having no losses. UGA had the toughest schedule of those three teams, and had they been undefeated, it's quite possible that they would've topped the computer polls.

I think it would've been incredibly close between OSU and UGA had they all been undefeated. And had UGA been the second choice... well, I'd bet we'd be closer to a playoff/+1 system today. For as much as the SEC whines, were the Big Ten and Ohio State especially to go an undefeated and get squeezed out, I think we'd see a major shift in public opinion due to the institutional and media backers.

Fox said...

To me, a "national power" is a team that is a perennial or near-perennial contender for the national title and a team for whom a non-BCS bowl berth is a disappointment. Maybe I'm just a dumb Virginia hick, but Georgia doesn't seem to fit there.

And, no offense Mikey, but comparing Georgia to Notre Dame is a straw-man argument. Everybody worth their salt has been better than the Irish for the last decade plus.

Michael said...

Fox, by your standard, the only teams that are national powers are USC and Ohio State, since they are the only two programs that are regularly in the national title hunt in November. Maybe Texas is also in that group.

Personally, I think a national power is a team that:

1. Wins its conference fairly regularly (depending on the conference; I'm more willing to cut SEC teams slack here than other teams);

2. Finish in the top ten more often than not; and/or

2. Plays in major bowl games on a regular basis (although I might need an exception for Notre Dame if they consistently make BCS games and then get trampled).

Georgia meets all three of those criteria, as would USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State, Auburn, and possibly Virginia Tech. Louisville and West Virginia are on the cusp; they need to show that they can replace lost players and maintain their levels of excellence. Florida will be on the list within a year or two. Ideally, there should be about ten national powers, as that's a good number for an elite designation.

Comparing ND to Georgia is not a straw man except to the extent that arguing with Mandel represents arguing with a straw man. Mandel claimed that Georgia isn't a power like Notre Dame and all of the objective evidence is contrary to his assertion. His defense would likely be that Davie and Willingham drag down the average, but if he gets to drop them, then I get to drop Donnan and Goff, which leaves me with Richt and Dooley's results.

Michael said...

I meant to have LSU on the list, as well. Auburn is probably a marginal inclusion, since they have played in one major bowl since the 80s (as opposed to LSU winning three Sugar Bowls this decade). I expect Notre Dame to be on the list in about two years when they can finally trot out a complete team as a result of Weis's recruiting. Tennessee, Miami, and FSU have both been in decline for several years, so I need to see a couple years of improvement before they are on the list.

Fox said...

To me there are about ten national powers in any given period--they're the teams you expect to see in the Top 10 and are shocked, or at least, surprised when you don't. They're the same teams whose fans are bummed when they're not in a BCS game and are stuck playing in the Peach Bowl. So to me, that list includes, right now: USC, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma (although that's fading fast IMHO), Texas, and Florida. (I know I'm forgetting someone--sorry). Basically teh teams that, as a VT fan, I assume we would lose because they just have beter players across the board.

To me, Georgia's in that next tier--teams that should finish near the top of the conference, play in a good bowl every year and are psyched when they go to the BCS: teams like WVA and Louisville right now, VT, Cal, Auburn, Wisconsin and so on.

Maybe I'm being miserly but then again, I think people like Art Monk and Rafael Palmeiro (even without the steroids issue) have no business in the Hall of Fame.

And yes, you're right to pick on Mandel re ND. They're a national power in memory only, getting by on the fumes of the past and their incredible TV draw.

Anonymous said...

Seeking feedback on the Adu to Benfica move. Those of us who are total novices on the European Football scene have no idea if this is a good progression for him.

LD said...

I think it's a good mid-level step for him. If he has success at Benfica, a bigger club in a bigger league will pick him up.

It's akin to going to PSV, Ajax, Feyenoord, probably a high tier French team. Plus, he might see Champions' League football (they have to win a tie with either Copenhagen or Baitar Jerusalem - and should be favored against either - to make the group stage).

If he has a good year or two, plays first-squad, he'll have Premiership, La Liga, Serie A clubs after him. Like Miguel, Tiago, Rui Costa, Simao Sabrosa, Fernando Meira, Carlos Marchena, etc.

Obviously, I'm hoping Adu channels the spirit of Eusebio, Benfica's greatest legend.

Michael said...

I agree with LD. Benfica is a power in Portugal, which is a mid-tier league. The best leagues are La Liga (Spain), the English Premiership, Serie A (Italy), and the Bundesliga (Germany), in that order. After that, you have second tier leagues like Portugal and the Netherlands. Adu is best served going to one of those two leagues because there is a real emphasis placed on developing young players. Both Portugal and Holland produce young players at a far greater rate than other countries and their clubs rely on those players because they don't have the money to compete with the top clubs in Europe for the best talent.

Adu is now in an environment where he'll be surrounded by good, young players. As LD points out, Benfica is in the Champions League, so Adu will be able to play on the biggest stage in club football. (Benfica knocked Liverpool out of the CL two years ago and then lost a fairly close quarterfinal to Barcelona.) This is a major step up from MLS in terms of coaching and level of competition. By the same token, he isn't good enough to play for a megaclub right now, so it's good that he isn't at Chelsea or ManUtd because he would be buried on the bench there. If he performs well at Benfica over the next 2-3 years, then he'll be ready for a transfer to a megaclub.

Anonymous said...

I've got a requirement for being a national power.

I addition to all of the factors of consistency, tradition, conference championships, etc I think a team should have at least one of the following:

A national title within the last decade.

Recieved first place votes within the last 5 years.

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