Thursday, September 25, 2008

How to Beat Georgia

Elliott from the Bama Sports Report and I are exchanging scouting reports on Alabama and Georgia for this weekend. Specifically, we wanted to put ourselves in the shoes of Mark Richt and Nick Saban and figure out the best ways to attack our opponents. So, without further fanfare, I'm putting on the perma-scowl because I don't have time for this shit: here's how to beat Georgia:

1. Deploy crazy stunts from the defensive front seven. This is the biggest advantage for Alabama in this game. Bama runs a 3-4 defense, which is relatively unusual in college football, and it's masterminded by a coach who knows how to stop Mark Richt's offense. (See: LSU 17 Georgia 10 and LSU 34 Georgia 13 in 2003.) Georgia has an inexperienced offensive line that has been shuffled around on account of injuries. If I'm Nick Saban, I'm throwing every crazy stunt, twist, and elaborate blitz is my arsenal at the Georgia offensive line in an effort to win the battle up front. If Alabama has early success at confusing Georgia's blocking assignments, then they'll force Richt and Mike Bobo to leave extra blockers in for pass plays. They'll also create the chance to force turnovers, which the Tide are going to need because their offense isn't going to have great success.

2. Press Georgia's receivers, especially A.J. Green. A.J. Green is the best receiver of the Mark Richt era, but he's also a stick-thin freshman. His technique at getting off of a bump can't be that good. Arizona State gave Green a big cushion and he killed them. Saban can't make that mistake. He needs his corners to be physical with Green and then leave a safety over top.

3. Force Georgia to drive the length of the field. Georgia is not very good in the red zone, which has been the weakness of the Georgia offense under Mark Richt. (Again, recall the red zone issues that Georgia had in the 2003 game against Saban's LSU team in Baton Rouge.) The Dawgs are missing Brannan Southerland, so they aren't as good in short yardage as they were last year. Finally, the Dawgs have been penalty-prone this year, so if Bama forces Georgia to be patient, they're likely to get a situation where Georgia will commit a penalty and find itself in long yardage. If you put 2 and 3 together, you get the idea that Bama's approach should be to be conservative with its safeties and force Knowshon Moreno to beat the Tide instead of Matthew Stafford. That sounds weird because Moreno is the most hyped player on the Georgia team, but Saban should prefer a bunch of five-yard carries to giving Stafford chances to hit big plays down the field.

4. Jump on Georgia early. In a weird way, this game reminds me of the 2004 Georgia-Tennessee game. If the players are anything like the fans, Georgia spent the offseason anticipating its trip to play Arizona State in the desert in prime time. That's not quite the same as playing the defending national champions from Baton Rouge, but it's in the same ballpark. After demolishing LSU in 2004, Georgia came out flat against Tennessee and spotted the Vols a big early lead. Georgia dominated the second half, but came up short. Tennessee used some funky combo routes on its first drive to push the Georgia safeties out of position and give Erik Ainge open targets deep. If Alabama has some similar plays in its arsenal, they need to go to them on the first drive. This is not a game in which Saban wants to be feeling Georgia out in the first quarter. Getting the lead and taking advantage of a potential let-down situation are critical.

5. Pray for a Julio Jones-Prince Miller Match-up. Asher Allen is an outstanding corner, but there is a drop off from Allen to Miller and Georgia's remaining corners. John Parker Wilson is not a very good quarterback (the biggest mismatch in this game is the gap between the two quarterbacks), but he can complete the occasional deep ball. JPW needs to get instructions that any time he sees Jones on a corner other than Allen and there's no obvious safety over top, the ball is going to Jones deep. I might also put Jones in the slot on occasion to get him away from Allen.

Elliott's scouting report on the Tide is here. I'm quite partial to the idea of Willie Martinez forcing John Parker Wilson to win the game.

Monday, September 15, 2008

[Insert an "our Cocks are Slightly Bigger" Joke Here]

Five Thoughts on the Dawgs:

1. Gary Danielson, I can never forgive you for being Florida's Johnnie Cochran for a weekend in December 2006, but you make it hard to quit you when you laser in on the matchup problems presented by Jared Cook. Danielson was dead on when he pointed out late in the game that Willie Martinez had promised that Georgia would defend Cook like a wide receiver, but they kept trying to cover him with a linebacker. Danielson needed to address the size advantage that Cook would have had over a nickel corner, but around the 13th pass interference penalty that Cook drew, Danielson had a point. Georgia's refusal to change its defense to account for Cook was a real "Bo kicking twice to the Rocket" moment.

1a. Do you think that Steve Spurrier ever dreamed that he'd be coaching a game in which he had no quality receivers and thus had to funnel the ball to the tight end on just about every play?

1b. Pass interference yards should count towards a receiver's total, just like a point guard should get an assist when a pass leads to a foul and two made free throws.

2. If the Georgia defensive line would like to make an appearance in Chris Smelley's backfield, please feel free. Colt Brennan had to be watching that game in Bethesda and saying to himself "where was this deference last New Year's Day?" I'm not saying anything revolutionary when I point out that Georgia is going to need a pass rush in Tempe this weekend.

2a. On the other hand, the Georgia front stoned South Carolina's running game, so there are some positives for the front four.

3. The excuse that Georgia always struggles to score in Columbia doesn't do much for me. Georgia had two games to warm up for this trip. The Dawgs have enough weapons that an opponent should be forced to pick its poison. I'm just not buying the notion that Stafford, Moreno, Green, Massaquoi, and friends can be excused one touchdown in Columbia because Greene, Gibson, Musa, and an offensive line full of seniors didn't cross the goal line six years ago.

3a. Please tell me that the receivers aren't retreating into the hands of Vaseline that they showed in 2006.

4. Was Mark Richt's comment after the game that he knew the contest was decided after Brian Mimbs' 77-yard punt more evidence of Evil Richt? Was he influenced by being in the presence of Steve Spurrier?

5. Riddle me this, Pat Forde: you determined that Missouri is clearly better than Georgia after three weeks. Here is your reasoning:

Georgia wheezed its way to 14 points against a South Carolina team coming off a loss to Vanderbilt. And the Bulldogs needed a Gamecocks fumble into the end zone to avoid a potential overtime. The Dogs haven't looked like anything special yet.

Why is it a searing indictment for Georgia to win 14-7 in Columbia, but we can gloss over Missouri giving up 42 points and a bazillion passing yards to Illinois in the opener on a neutral field? Why is it impressive for Missouri to own Nevada (a bowl team!), but not impressive for Georgia to do the same to Central Michigan (a bowl team as well!)? Put more generally, why are SEC teams criticized for playing defensive games, but other teams aren't penalized for winning shootouts?

The Best 18-point Loss to a Hated Rival Ever

Despite getting concerned e-mails from co-workers and the obligatory playing of the Notre Dame Victory March by my friend Klinsi (whose alma mater, incidentally, lost to New Mexico over the weekend, completing the Pac Ten's perfect 0-4 whitewash at the hands of the Mountain West - you don't get to talk shit when you lose to Los Lobos!), I was not bothered by Michigan's performance on Saturday. Sure, losing to Notre Dame as Tom Hammond audibly reaches climax on each Irish touchdown. I'll grant you that I'd prefer not to watch Michigan fumble the ball 89 times in a game.

But here's the thing: we have an offense! If you would have asked me before the game whether I'd prefer to win an ugly 13-10 game because Notre Dame's offense line is wretched or lose while gaining 397 yards and driving the field repeatedly, I'd have taken the latter. Fumblefest '08 isn't likely to repeat itself. Phil Steele has led the way on this subject: turnovers and points can lie, but yardage cannot (with limited exceptions). Michigan is more likely to get to seven wins if an average offense joins an above-average defense.

More importantly, Michigan will improve faster if Steve Threet takes to the offense and vice versa. Threet ran the scheme adeptly on Saturday. If you looked really hard, the slight outlines of the Chase Daniel Missouri offense could be seen over the horizon. Yeah, it's the distant horizon, but it's better than the "can't complete a pass to save my life" Threet from the previous Saturday. Brian, say it better than I can:

The most damaging part of the whole Terrelle Pryor/BJ Daniels/Justin Feagin fiasco was not necessarily the loss of player X or player Y but the crimp it put in Rodriguez’s development schedule. Until about 3:45 Saturday it appeared Michigan would have to suffer through this year with the Threet/Sheridan duo, then start all over in 2009 with freshmen at the most critical position on the field.

It was at that point Threet threw a third-and-long slant, moved the chains, and embarked on a 16-23 day in extremely unfavorable conditions. Though he fumbled twice and was partially culpable for the Minor fumble, he also looked like an actual Division I quarterback, and in ways that even a potentially horrible Notre Dame defense couldn’t distort: he threw balls to receivers. He made good decisions. He was a freshman in his first road game, played in Hurricane Katrina, and averaged 7.6 YPA.

Yeah, he’ll probably regress, probably play well only in fits and starts, etc., etc. He’ll also go into next year a threat to keep his starting job, giving Michigan a third shot at quarterback competence. That’s more relevant for the rest of this year and the next three than a slippery ball and Notre Dame waking up the Willingham echoes.

Speaking of our buddy Mr. Pryor, the Ohio State-USC ritual sacrifice on Saturday night provided further evidence that Michigan made the right decision by going with Rich Rodriguez. We saw exactly what happens when rock-ribbed Midwestern-style running, defense, and special teams meets similar talent and better coaching: "Conquest" over and over and over again. Jim Tressel coaches Lloyd Carr's style. He's better at it because his recruiting base is better, his defense is better, and his running game is better. That said, the next time you see Ohio State do something on offense that causes you to say "wow, that was interesting" will be the first. If Michigan is going to aspire to beat USC someday, they'll need to do something more than "you know what's coming; now watch us execute it well." The arch-rivals to the South illustrated that point oh so well.

Also, Michigan's loss on Saturday increases the likelihood of Weis E. Coyote sticking around for another year or two, so sliver linings abound!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

My Top 25 Says "Yarrrr!!!"

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

Dropped Out: West Virginia (#15), South Carolina (#22).
Belated Thoughts on the Weekend:
A commenter pointed out last week that I had inexplicably dropped Utah two spots after winning in Ann Arbor. I don't look at my previous ballots when I do my rankings, so this sort of movement is quite possible. I'd call my ranking style "impressionist" if I actually knew enough about art history to be confident that I was using the term correctly. (I have great confidence in my knowledge of WWII, so I'll freely throw around "Nazi" or "revanchist" or "Munich! Appeasement!") As applied to this week's poll, I hammered South Florida as if they lost to Central Florida. My ranking seems harsh, but after having watched them, they look like a #20 team and not a #10 team.
There needs to be a term for a game in which a coach like Jim Tressel who already runs a vanilla offense makes his attack even blander in advance of a big game. "Double scoop of vanilla" or "vanilla squared" don't really do it for me. How does "Bizarro Black Hole" sound?
If the Heisman Trophy was worth a damn as opposed to being a pre-ordained popularity contest (I'm still waiting for the explanation as to how Beanie Wells is the front-runner and Knowshon Moreno is not, other than the fact that Heisman voters like to reward runners who are going to have inferior NFL careers), then Patrick Pinkney of East Carolina would be the front runner. I'm not a huge fan of completion percentage as a metric, but he's completed 80% of his passes against the defending champions of the Big East and ACC. Every decision he makes is the right one and every throw he makes is on the money. When Skip Holtz gets the Notre Dame job, he ought to give a chunk of his hefty salary to Pinkney. Also, if Pinkney makes a splash in the NFL, does that make East Carolina the new cradle of black quarterbacks? Blake, Garrard, Pinkney?
Did anyone else hear Brent Musberger state in the fourth quarter of the Miami-Florida game that he was "relieved" that Florida had not put a big number on Miami and therefore would not jump Ohio State? An ESPN poll this summer placed the Buckeyes as the second-most hated team in college football behind perennial champion of the despised Notre Dame. Could Musberger be playing the same role for Ohio State that Dick Vitale plays for Duke in stoking animosity by openly rooting for one program?
If your alma mater couldn't beat its arch-rival to save its life, you'd take a bunch of cheap shots as well.
How about Will Muschamp as the new head coach in Columbia in the event that Steve Spurrier gets tired of being dependent on two or three players every year? Muschamp is a defensive ace; he can surely recruit; he's the antithesis of Holtz and Spurrier in that he's young, energetic, and has something to prove; and he has coached/played all over the conference. The fact that he's a Georgia grad would surely help in a state that is so important for South Carolina's recruiting.
Stevie Brown: Kyle Jackson with a better helmet.
A Steven Threet note: a blogger with far more football knowledge than yours truly pointed out that Threet opens his body up too much when he throws left. That causes his passes to the left to sail. Where were Threet's overthrows on Saturday? To the left. Threet's progression as a passer will determine whether Michigan remains as a 5-6 win team or if it gets to 7-8 wins and continues the four decade streak of non-losing seasons.
I'm feeling very good about predicting that Cal would start 8-0. I'm also feeling good about predicting that Ole Miss would win eight games after watching Jevan Snead play on Saturday. You have to feel good for Ole Miss fans. They have put up with some truly wretched quarterback play since Eli left, so they've earned the right to see Snead play the position properly.
Let's be totally clear on this: John Parker Wilson is not a good quarterback. He isn't terrible or anything, but lost in the euphoria of Alabama's bi-annual return to glory (they're really the Notre Dame of the South in that respect and SI has the covers in its archive to prove it) is the fact that the Tide are not great under center. 3.2 yards per pass attempt at home against Tulane? Yeesh.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Thoughts on the opening day win:

1. Holy hell, what did the Falcons do to that offensive line? The line was awful last year, but it week one, it was blowing holes in the Detroit defense left and right. Sam Baker is clearly an upgrade over the pu-pu platter of left tackles who played last year. Justin Blalock looked better in his sophomore season. Harvey Dahl is en route to becoming our dirty bastard, a guy who Falcons fans will love, but we'd hate him if he played for Tampa.

1a. Yeah, but it's the Lions.

2. Michael Turner is the truth! The Pro Football Prospectus was not high on his prospects because second-fiddle backs tend not to do especially well when they are signed to become starters. They did state a carve-out that the Falcons might have made this decision on scouting grounds as opposed to statistical grounds. After watching Turner's impossibly big thighs churn through the Lions, I can see what Thomas Dimitroff saw. The guy is a running muscle. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to tackle him with a head of steam.

2a. Yeah, but it's the Lions.

3. Not bad, Matt Ryan. Not bad at all. Ryan threw a couple dreadful passes in the second quarter that should have been intercepted, but for a rookie's first start under center, that was a good performance. The long touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins on Ryan's first NFL pass opened up Detroit's defense for the running game.

3a. Yeah, but it's the Lions.

4. The Falcons' corners are better than I had thought. They didn't get abused by Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams. Johnson's one long catch came on a crossing route on which our old friend Keith Brooking whiffed on a tackle and turned a medium gain into a long gain.

4a. Yeah, but it's Keith Brooking.

5. If it typically takes a receiver 3-4 years to become productive in the NFL, then this Roddy White-Michael Jenkins combo might be about ready to blossom.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Roundtable Comment Card

Your college football program wants to know how you, its valued customer, thinks of your consumer experience! Please help your program evaluate its performance in the first two weeks of the season! Can you feel the [INSERT NAME OF PROGRAM HERE] difference!?!

(For the record, I'm a Michigan grad and count myself as a casual Georgia fan based on the fact that I grew up and live in the state, along with a bevy of friends went to UGA. Thus, I'll play Janus and answer for both.)

1. How would you rate your program's service to you in the first two weeks of the season?

Georgia - It would be hard for a Georgia fan to complain about the team's start to the season, other than to say that the defense merely appears to be very good as opposed to totally dominant. Georgia's performance in (mostly) containing Dan Lefevour is its best accomplishment of the first two games. The offense looks like it has an embarrassment of options at the skill positions, although it has played the two weakest defenses it will see all year. With that in mind, commenting on Georgia's start is like filling out the comment card at a restaurant after getting ice water and hearing about the veal scallopini special.

Michigan - Oy. The Wolverines' offensive struggles aren't surprising, given the massive change of approach and the youth on the offense, but that doesn't make the repeated bungled off tackle plays any easier to take. It's analogy time: I know that my favorite eatery is under new management and is changing the format from Bavarian family-style to sushi. The sushi is going to be better for my arteries in the long run, but it hurts to try weisswurst rolls every Saturday.

2. How happy are you with your program's overall scheme? We are in a period in which the spread has become a total obsession in the media. If you're a fan of a spread team, are you happy with the way your program has implemented it? If you're a fan of a non-spread team, do you wish that your program would convert to this Xenu of offenses?

Georgia - I like watching Georgia's offense in the same way that I like watching the Indianapolis Colts. Georgia doesn't do anything too fancy. They pair basic I-formation football with a few shotgun looks out of Mark Richt's Florida State heyday. The Dawgs do a good job of serving a basic dish properly. I feel no great desire for Georgia to go to the spread. The defense is great fun. Georgia's defenders seem to play with greater velocity than most others, which I assume is related to the scheme, but I can't put my finger on it.

Michigan - With the number of open receivers downfield that Michigan's quarterbacks have overthrown badly in the first two games, I'm feeling good about this offensive approach. This offense really is a dose of proper execution from being good. I'm not of the school of thought that holds that the spread is a fad that defenses will eventually figure out. The basic problems that the spread presents - the quarterback as a running threat to outnumber the defense in the box, combined with the basic principle of creating running lanes by forcing the defense to defend all 53 yards of the field's width - are not subject to schematic solutions by a defense. I'm excited that Michigan has one of the architects of this scheme, even as the offense is plodding along at 250 yards per game.

3. Rate your stadium's cleanliness and menu options.

Georgia - I mostly sit in the closed end of Sanford Stadium (or at least I did when I went to games in the pre-daddy era) and the options in the plaza on that side are excellent for a college game. The TVs showing other SEC games are an especially nice touch. Sanford Stadium really came through in the miserable 2004 Georgia-Georgia Tech game, which was played in a yucky cold rain, because the concessions stands were properly stocked with hot beverages. Then again, I'm comparing Georgia's offerings against...

Michigan - If you want a game experience from the 1950s in terms of amenities, head to Ann Arbor. The lines for entering and exiting your section and then evacuating your bladder are reminiscent of Epcot Center or the Soviet Union, both circa 1983. As with the product on the field, Michigan apologizes for the inconvenience as it undergoes reconstruction to bring the stadium into the 20th century.

4. As an incentive to provide your valued feedback, you will be entered into a drawing for exciting prizes! What one prize would you like for your program?

Georgia - As tempted as I was to ask for a couple key injuries to lighten Georgia's schedule somewhat, I'm going to scale down my request to an all-night cram session for the Georgia defensive coaches with Randy Shannon & company to discuss their approach to stopping the Florida offense.

Michigan - A quarterback who can get the ball from point A to point B. You know you're in a bad place when you're watching Ball State on a Friday night and you find yourself coveting their quarterback. Actually, the period in that sentence should have come after the word "night."

5. Since we're all about choices, take one of the following two options for entertainment's sake:

a. What's your most memorable experience involving a comment card?

b. If your program were a casual dining chain, which one would it be? Yes, this is a tricky question because the defining characteristic of a casual dining chain is its sameness. No one said this Roundtable would be easy. Bonus points if you can make a compelling case that your program is Chotchkie's or Flingers.

I've tackled this one before, but whenever I see a comment card in a restaurant, I think about my beloved father batting a beef stroganoff baked potato across a table and then angrily demanding to deliver a comment card personally to the manager. Second place, but not not quite as memorable, is the footnoted comment card that I used when ending a gym membership. The list included the following:

1. Inconvenient hours that forced me to race home from work to get in a workout.

2. Unannounced closings of the gym for a variety of community events like bariatric awareness day. (Irony alert!)

3. Broken equipment.

4. Broken TVs.

5. No class options other than gospel aerobics. (On the bright side, Der Wife did get to hear the full version of "G-d is in Control," which we had previously heard only in snippets when Julio Franco would come to bat at the Ted.)

Oddly enough, the person working the desk was completely shocked when I handed in my resignation.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dropping Georgia

The question has arisen as to why Georgia was dropped from the #1 spot in the polls despite not losing. Tony Barnhart takes a crack at the question and has some interesting thoughts on the question. He does make a couple statements, though, that deserve some scrutiny:

I was a voter in the Associated Press poll for 15 years and I had a standing rule: If I put a team No. 1 at any point during the season, they would stay there as long as they won. There may have been once or twice in 15 years that I went against that rule. I think I moved Auburn to No.1 ahead of Southern Cal in 2004 after the Tigers really got it going.

To play law professor for a moment with a hypo to test the rule, is Barnhart saying that if Georgia were #1 in two weeks and beat South Carolina 14-13 with the benefit of a bad call, while USC beat Ohio State 63-0, he would keep Georgia at #1? The rule doesn't make any sense at all. There is a very easy rule to pick the #1 team in the country: who is the best team? Looking at talent, coaching, and resume, which team is superior to all the others? If you have a team at #1 and then the evidence changes, a rational voter's choice will change based on that evidence. Also, Barnhart admits to breaking the rule to put Auburn in the #1 spot, which opens him to a charge of being provincial by only breaking the rule to benefit a team that plays 90 miles down I-85.

This statement is a little weak as an empirical matter:

And you can mark this down. If Southern Cal beats Ohio State next week at the Coliseum, the Trojans will be in the BCS championship game on Jan. 8. The only question will be the opponent.

I'm not in much position to disagree with this statement in light of the fact that I've been on the USC bandwagon this season as opposed to the other four major contenders for the title, but USC's problem under Pete Carroll has not been its performance in big games. The issue has been losing to teams like Stanford or Oregon State when the players aren't focused. USC could very well clobber Ohio State and still trip up against a Pac Ten opponent.

Personally speaking, I dropped Georgia a couple spots because I view polls as fluid. Georgia can play perfectly well, as they did on Saturday, but if another team plays better, then Georgia can drop despite not having done anything wrong. In other words, Georgia didn't drop so much as other teams answered questions. Oklahoma was up 50-0 at halftime. That's the sort of number that grabs my attention. Florida's defense looked much improved against Hawaii, although the jury is out on whether Hawaii is a shadow of its former self. It stands to reason that there will be a lot of movement early in the season as we figure out how good various teams are and how good their vanquished opponents are. Georgia fans should not get their noses out of joint that there's a lot of movement early. If the Dawgs look good against South Carolina, Arizona State, and Alabama, then that will mean a lot more than the fact that they were only up 24-0 at the half as opposed to 50-0. The brutal schedule is an opportunity as well as a challenge.

Also, it bears noting that Georgia's margin at the top was razor-thin to begin with. They only needed to lose a couple votes to lose the #1 ranking. It's not as if there was a massive consensus that Georgia was the best team in the country and then that consensus suddenly shifted.

Just a Thought on College Football's Popularity

One of the thoughts that's been percolating in my head in recent months has been the notion that baseball is over-covered relative to college football in the national media. This thought jibes with most of the irrational prejudices that I use to govern my opinions on sports. It works with the "Atlanta isn't a bad sports city" theory because Atlanta is possibly the best college football city of any of the major media markets. It works with the "ESPN is too influenced by its location in Connecticut, where the Yankees and Red Sox take on out-sized importance." It jibes with my idea that the lack of a college football playoff isn't as bad as people make it out to be because it means that college football has the only useful regular season of any American sport (with the possible exception of the NFL). Hell, it even works with my left-of-center notion that players in the free market don't always identify their self interest with perfect accuracy.

Anyway, the ratings for the first weekend of college football are in and they give credence to the idea I'm working on. The Alabama-Clemson game drew a 4.0, despite the fact that it was played on Saturday night, which is typically a dead period for TV ratings, and it does not exactly involve two giant media markets (unless you take into account that the entire South was interested in the game and the South is collectively a very large media market). The 3:30 games on ABC drew a 3.2. What's most interesting to me is that the 3.2 drawn by a rebuilding Michigan team against Utah and USC obliterating Virginia was a better number than any baseball broadcast on ESPN or Fox this year (as of July 6).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My Top 25 is Shifty

1Southern Cal--
2Oklahoma 1
3Florida 1
4Georgia 2
5Ohio State--
8South Florida--
9Texas 2
11Kansas 1
12California 4
13Texas Tech 4
14Alabama 12
15West Virginia--
16Oregon 7
18Brigham Young 2
19Mississippi 5
20Arizona State 7
21Wake Forest 5
22South Carolina 3
23East Carolina 3
24Utah 2
25Penn State--

Dropped Out: Clemson (#14), Virginia Tech (#18), Tennessee (#21).

Don't ask me to explain the movement. I went tabula rasa with these rankings and we're going with a sample size of exactly one game. The Mountain West outranks the ACC and will draw even with the Big Ten is Wisconsin loses at Fresno State. Wake makes its appearance, which I should have done last week, but I didn't have the room. I struggled with Alabama's placement because they were very impressive, but if they beat a team that I proclaimed to be overrated, it can't be that much of an accomplishment. The Tide replace Tennessee, thus ensuring that only 40% of the ten all-time winningest programs are represented in this poll. That seems like a big number to me.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Other Thoughts from the Weekend


My sole experience with attending a game at Clemson was the 2003 Georgia-Clemson game, which was notable for two things. First, it was a blazing hot day and the geniuses at Memorial Stadium ran out of cold drinks in the upper deck at halftime. And who could blame those geniuses? It is, after all, entirely unforeseeable that fans would demand a high quantity of drinks on a late August afternoon in South Carolina while sitting on metal bleachers. Second, Georgia pummeled Clemson 30-0 and the Clemson call-in shows after the game were highly entertaining. To say that Clemson fans were ready for Tommy Bowden to fall on his sword would be a serious understatement. Bowden ended up saving his hide that year by beating Florida State, South Carolina, and Tennessee in a season-ending four-game winning streak that caused the Tigers to be horribly overrated headed into 2004.

I was thinking about those irate callers on Saturday night. Clemson spent the entire offseason being puffed up as the last, best hope for the ACC and within a half, they were exposed as a fraud by an Alabama team playing freshmen all over the place. When he wasn't babbling in typical fashion about the Tide playing with confidence, Kirk Herbstreit was spot-on in stating that Alabama was dominating up front on both sides of the ball. The corollary from this should have been that Clemson had no business being in the top ten with this offensive line. I had Clemson at #14 in my preseason poll, which is six spots lower than the consensus in the preseason magazines, but if I really had the courage of my convictions, I would have had them at #20 or so. Clemson was ranked high before the year out of some sort of silly obligation that a major conference should have a team in the top ten, so Clemson had to be in there as the favorite in the ACC. If Florida State and Miami were good, then pollsters would have taken one look at Clemson and put them down with the Penn States and Alabamas of the world. As Hannibal Lecter would say about Multiple Miggs, not anymore.

Alabama is now going to surge into the top 20. They certainly looked like an excellent team on Saturday night. If the tendency of coaches to do very well in year two at a major program holds, then Bama is going to be in contention for the SEC title. That said, they're still a very young team. They also had the advantage on Saturday night of Nick Saban having had a summer to prepare for Tommy Bowden. Alabama isn't going to have that preparation advantage in their big games for the rest of the year, in part because Saban won't have weeks to prepare gameplans and in part because it will be harder to coach against Richt, Nutt, Miles, and Tuberville than it was to coach against Tommy Bowden.

One other thought from the weekend: Skip Holtz is a better coach than any of the Bowden progeny. Discuss.

A Beef with Phil Steele

As Pitt was busy blowing their game against Bowling Green, I was reminded of the fact that Steele had the Panthers at #25 in the country and #3 in the Big East. Pitt is the kind of team that punishes a hyper-objective analyst like Steele. He looks at their roster in terms of experience, production, and recruiting rankings and concludes that they should be vastly improved this year. He does not take into account that Dave Wannstedt is not a good coach. For the same reason, he was late in realizing that Florida State was in decline because Bobby Bowden was strictly a figure-head and did not have a good staff under him. Steele overrating Clemson might be in the same vein, although Tommy Bowden is surely a tier above his Dad (at present) and the Wannstache.

Georgia-Georgia Southern

I didn't see the game, so all I can say is that the Jeff Owens injury sucks. Georgia has lost two of its key contributors on the lines. This is an issue in a season in which the Dawgs will be playing about eight big games.

Beanie Wells

Let's assume that Wells is going to be out for the USC game, a likely safe assumption since Wells went down like he had been shot with a gun on the play on which he was injured. Can this be a good development for Ohio State? If Wells were healthy, then Ohio State's game plan against USC would have been a healthy dose of Wells between the tackles and deep balls off of play-action. This does not work against USC. The USC defense cannot be overpowered, certainly not with Rey Maualuga fronted by an experienced defensive line. The USC defense has also been almost impervious to big plays since Pete Carroll took over. Carroll is an even better defensive mind than Nick Saban (preparing for avalanche of outrage from the state to the west in 3, 2, 1...) and had the summer to devise a defensive approach for Ohio State running Wells at his defense all game.

Without Wells, Ohio State has to, gasp, be a little creative. In the past five years, USC has lost exactly two games outside of the "we weren't paying attention and got clipped by a conference foe" variety. One was the Rose Bowl against Texas; the other was the Oregon game last year. What's the common thread in those two games? Vince Young and Dennis Dixon. Does Ohio State have a player on its roster who resembles Young and Dixon? Terrelle somebody? There's an obvious difference between a true freshman Pryor taking on USC on the road as opposed to fourth-year junior Young playing the Trojans in the Rose Bowl or fifth-year senior Dixon playing them at Autzen. Still, the point remains that the spread is probably the best way to attack USC. If Wells' injury forces Ohio State to go spread-heavy, then it's a blessing in disguise. I'm still taking USC in the game because I never pick against USC in a big game, especially at home, but Pryor could be an x-factor.

The ACC is Terrible

I don't want to be the stereotypical SEC homer, but if Ole Miss beats Wake Forest, does that make them the ACC favorites? Would South Carolina or Kentucky win the ACC this year? I hate asking these questions, but they deserve some consideration after the ACC's craptastic performance on opening weekend. I'll admit to giggling uncontrollably when Virginia Tech lost on a blocked punt. This is what happens when your coaching staff treats offense as purely optional for, oh, I don't know, two decades. Leaving aside the faceplants of Clemson and Virginia Tech, Virginia put up no opposition to USC. Maryland held on for dear life against Delaware and its sacrilegious helmets. Preseason dark horse North Carolina held on for dear life against McNeese State.

A Complaint about TV Coverage

ESPN hit a home run with its coverage of the Euros this summer and one aspect I especially appreciated was the understated pre-game coverage. The games all started with coverage of the teams coming onto the field and standing for their national anthems. If there is one American sport that has the same pageantry before games, it's college football. Take the Alabama-Clemson game for instance. You had this terrific split crowd of raving lunatics in a rocking dome. Why couldn't ESPN simply show shots of the two teams running onto the field with their bands wailing? Why did we have to listen to Brent Musberger prattle on endlessly with the happenings on the field only as an afterthought?