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?


Anonymous said...

You are dead right about the pregame coverage. There was much gnashing of teeth in my living room Thursday night as the barely audible background strains of 2001 were drowned out by "Prattle, prattle, prattle" from the talking heads.

Anonymous said...

Sure, jump on the stereotypical ACC bashwagon. Every time an ACC team loses a football game, experts come out of the woodwork with "the ACC is weak" sports fans, we all know that ANY team can beat ANY other team on any given day. The better team doesn't always win, and the losing team is not terrible simply because of a loss - especially in the first game of the season. Come on - don't fall prey to predictable commentary brought on by your love for the SEC. I'll be watching for your equally critical comments when a couple of SEC teams lose in the same week.

Yes, Clemson looked bad...that doesn't mean they ARE bad. I know better than to judge a team from watching one opening-season football game.

And what's wrong with Wake Forest being the class of their conference? It seems some people find that to be amusing. WFU has a top-notch athletic program and has been building it's football status for years.

Michael said...

CHG, I had the exact same thought on Thursday night.

Anon, it's not just that the ACC had a bad weekend. The weekend comes in the context of the ACC not having won a BCS Bowl or gotten an at-large bid in eons. The sample size here is much larger than one weekend. The conference needs something to go right. Its two marquee programs are in the doldrums and no one has stepped into the breach.

There's nothing wrong with Wake being good. Wake is, by far, the best coached team in the conference. The problem is that Wake will never have the athletes that a major program will have. Thus, if Wake is winning the conference, then that means that the teams with the top athletes are not maximizing their resources. Look at the Big Ten when Northwestern won the league twice. NW did so because they didn't play Ohio State and the rest of the league was down. In Vandy ever won the SEC, that would be a bad sign for the SEC.

Anonymous said...

So now we're judging conferences by BCS standards? I despise the BCS, and so do many other sports fans that I know. I won't be using anything BCS to rate the strength of a team or a conference, but I've read your exact words in articles written by other ACC haters, so it isn't unexpected - just biased. I'm not even going to comment further on your ACC bashing...I'll just stop reading this forum. There is better reading elsewhere - but I enjoyed it until now.

So Wake Forest isn't a major sports program - man, that's news to me. Small enrollment (on purpose), big money, big academics...sounds like a good combination. Just because Wake hasn't had a consistently strong football program in your lifetime doesn't mean that it can't in the present and future. Remember when Minnesota was a big football powerhouse? Remember when Alabama was unbeatable? Things change, and there is nothing to keep Wake Forest from having a top rated team every year except non-believers like you.

susieandrew said...

Anon, good for Wake Forest - no, GREAT for them for being an ACC contender the past couple of years and, it seems, this year. However, you're missing the point, which is that the reason why ACC is a contender (and a recent champ) in the first place is that the power programs like Miami and FSU (and some might argue Clemson, even GT) are not nearly as good as they were in years past.

WF has improved significantly - nobody is denying that. They've raised their game. However, the top teams' games have also declined, so there is a lower ceiling to reach as compared to the SEC and Big 12, and Big Ten (which is in the doldrums right now).

The fact is that the ACC is just not as strong as its peers at the moment.