Friday, January 30, 2009

Mandel: Oh, the Horrors of a Rich Man Actually Spending his Money!

As I read this piece by Stewart Mandel complaining about Tennessee spending lavishly on assistant coaches for Lane Kiffin, I kept thinking to myself "you can't possibly be this naive, Stewart, can you?" Tennessee's football program, like most other major programs in the SEC, generates an enormous amount of revenue. The SEC is about to be flush with TV cash as a result of its new deals with CBS and ESPN. Why in the world would Mandel criticize Tennessee for spending some of that money to assemble a staff that gives the Vols a better chance of winning? Put another way, with Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and LSU all spending piles of cash on accomplished head coaches, how could Tennessee do anything but spend heavily on its new coaching staff if it expects to compete with those programs? If the Vols' neighbors are building tanks, then isn't it imperative for Tennessee to move beyond the cavalry era, especially when they have the money to do so? If one accepts the premise that head coaches are overrated and assistant coaches are underrated in terms of their impact on wins and losses (Exhibit A: Penn State), then Tennessee's strategy is smart.

This argument by Mandel is especially naive:

For a handful of highly endowed athletic departments -- Florida, Texas, Ohio State, Georgia, et. al. -- these rapidly escalating assistant salaries will merely become another part of doing business. They can afford it. However, the vast majority of Division I-A schools cannot. Already feeling the pinch of massive increases in travel costs and tempered donations from boosters hit hard by the ongoing financial crisis, these programs will be hard-pressed to retain assistants that achieve any level of notoriety.

"This is what shocks me the most: We're on the front end of a very serious economic downturn," Dutch Baughman, executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association, recently told The State in Columbia, S.C. "For the first time, we're seeing coordinators receive multiple-year contracts and levels of compensation that have actually caused some schools in some conferences to be at a major disadvantage."

Uh, when was Vanderbilt not at a disadvantage against Tennessee? Tennessee draws 102,000 fans for every home game. The demand for tickets causes Vol fans to donate huge sums to the athletic department for the right to sit in choice spots. Tennessee fans regularly outfit themselves in creamsicle monstrosities, further filling the school's coffers. None of these statements can be made about Vandy fans (and that's fine with every Vandy fan I know), so why shouldn't Vandy be at a financial disadvantage next to Tennessee? If Stewart wants to write about a socialist sport with forced revenue equalization, the NFL is ready when he is. And that's before we get to the hypocrisy of Mandel complaining about a college football program seeking to benefit from its an intense, loyal fan base, all while Mandel's salary is paid by hits derived from a number of intense, loyal fan bases, Tennessee's included.

Here's the bottom line: college football's popularity is increasing, as are the ways for college programs to convert that interest into dollars. As a result, revenues generated by major college football programs are also increasing. The financial rewards for success are getting greater, as are the risks for major programs that do not win. In that environment, it is foolish for major programs not to spend heavily to increase their odds of success. Collectively, the SEC programs have greater fan intensity and interest than the programs of any other conference. SEC programs don't need to be castigated for making use of the fruits of that interest. If other conferences want to complain, then they can fill their stadia with 82,000 screaming lunatics for seven Saturdays in the fall. They can create fan bases that get into fights about the 1972 Iron Bowl at Braves games.

The seven regular readers of this blog might be wondering right now: am I the same guy who whined about the Yankees' spending on free agents? Yes, and here's why I'm not a hypocrite:

1. There are at least ten major programs in college football that can spend lavishly on coaches and facilities. The Yankees have no peer in baseball in terms of revenue and spending.

2. American pro sports are supposed to be relatively even playing fields. That's why the worst teams always pick first in amateur drafts. There is no such assumption with college sports.

3. The Yankees can spend like they do because they are the oldest team in the largest market in the country. You'd be hard pressed to show how Tennessee has a similar natural advantage. Put another way, Tennessee is a high revenue team because of decades of success and good management, not because there are a lot of eyeballs in the State of Tennessee. The Vols, unlike the Yanks, weren't born on third base thinking they hit a triple.

4. Spending on coaches and facilities is an indirect way to get talent. Offering 20% more than any other team in baseball for free agents is different. There's no baseball equivalent to Miami, a program with terrible facilities and average coaches that still recruits extremely well.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Like Picking a Rooting Interest on the Eastern Front

Call me crazy, but as a practicing Jew, I am normally inclined to take the side of the recipient of an anti-Semitic slur as opposed to the deliverer. In this case, I'm not so sure. I mean, just look at this picture:

If a picture says a thousand words, then this shot of a preening, pretentious mug is an essay on why I haven't listened to sports talk radio in this town in weeks. I don't doubt that Rocker went apeshit on Shapiro. As Chris Rock said about the Siberian tiger than mauled Roy Horn, that tiger didn't go crazy; that tiger went tiger. I also don't doubt that Shapiro did nothing to de-escalate the situation and is likely reveling in the attention that the incident has created. I can only imagine what Mayhem was like on Monday morning.

(Two notes: first, I wasn't there, so this is all speculation on my part; and second, Rocker doesn't think he referenced Shapiro being Jewish. He doesn't deny using the term "faggot," I guess because it's more socially acceptable to be bigoted against gays than it is against Jews. Just ask Ann Coulter.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Talent is Good!

I arrived home on Friday afternoon and cracked open Sports Illustrated this week to learn that teams that are proximate to talent have an advantage. In a related note, faster receivers are generally preferable to slower ones, boobs are fun to look at, and we'd all be happier if banks were properly capitalized. The basic point that USC, Florida, and Texas have an advantage over the rest of college football because of their locations makes sense, although the reasoning as to why this would be increasingly true over the past several years rings hollow to me:

The Nebraska coaches have little choice but to hit the road. Their state produced only 43 BCS-conference players in the past five years, and the annual output isn't likely to grow. If they don't get their players from Florida, then they must go to California, Texas, New Jersey or some other state rich in high school football talent. To land those players, Pelini will have to work harder now than former coach Tom Osborne did when the Cornhuskers dominated the sport for the better part of two decades. Back then, a winning program was enough to lure recruits, in part because only powerhouses such as Nebraska, Michigan and Notre Dame appeared on television regularly. Now, every BCS conference team plays most of its games on television, and 15 years of the 85-scholarship limit has slammed shut the gap between football's ruling class and the former pigskin proletariat.

In the process, the three most important factors in college football recruiting have become location, location and location. Now, the best players are more likely to stay close to home.

Nebraska reached its apex under Osborne in the mid-90s. By that point, college football had already undergone its media explosion wherein most major programs are on the tube every week. Also, the 85-scholarship limit went into effect in 1994, the year in which Osborne won the first of his three national titles in four years. If anything, Nebraska illustrated one method to get around the scholarship limit with its walk-on program. The Huskers could run a high-contact, precision offense because the program's walk-on program gave the coaches an endless supply of cannon fodder for practices.

I digress. The point is that there is no reason to think that changes in college football in recent years have increased the importance of location in recruiting. If anything, the opposite would be true. If a player's friends and family can watch his games on TV regardless of where he goes to school, then wouldn't that player be more likely to go a significant distance for college? And if the 85-scholarship limit reduces the number of players that USC, Florida, and Texas can hoard from proximate high schools, then shouldn't this help secondary teams in their regions? Shouldn't UCLA, Texas A&M, and Florida State be better because of the scholarship limits? (The counter, I suspect, is that recruiting is a more exact science now than it was before because of the multiple scouting services and summer camps on campus. Thus, Pete Carroll can get a better sense as to the best players in Southern California.)

I'd hazard a guess that players have always tended to stay relatively close to home and we are only noticing the trend now because of the increased coverage of recruiting. There is no Rivals database for recruiting in the 70s, but I'd be shocked if Alabama, USC, Penn State, and Texas weren't getting a huge portion of their starting lineups from the area within a 200-mile radius of their campuses.

The chart regarding specific programs does seem fairly interesting:

1. I could probably find justification for Michigan hiring Rich Rodriguez from an episode of The View, so it probably won't surprise you to know that I found such a justification in Staples' article. Staples notes that population is generally shifting South. Thus, hiring a coach who has shifted Michigan's recruiting strategy somewhat from the Upper Midwest to Florida makes sense. (This strategy is especially smart in a period in which Miami and Florida State are both down.) More importantly, Michigan cannot run a system that presumes a talent advantage because Michigan is not going to have a talent advantage in a game against USC or Florida. Thus, Michigan needs a schematic advantage to compensate for the fact that it is not as naturally endowed with local talent as other major powers. Rodriguez's offense, once he has the right players to run it, presents exactly that sort of advantage.

2. Mike Leach doesn't get enough credit. We see the word "Texas" in his school's name and think that Texas Tech is surrounded by a bounty of high school talent, but Lubbock is in the western part of the state, most of the population and high school talent is in the eastern part of the state, and the state itself is enormous. Texas Tech gets only 10.2% of its talent from within 200 miles of campus, a very low number indeed. The one factor that works in Texas Tech's favor is the state identity point that Staples makes:

State loyalty often supersedes straight-line distance. "If I'm a recruit in south Georgia, and it's 200 miles to Gainesville and 200 miles to Athens, the physical distance is the same either way," DuMond said. "Georgia still has an advantage because I live in that state."

Then again, Oklahoma makes a living off of Texas players, so Texas pride can't be that strong.

3. Of the top 25 programs of the past five years (as measured by total wins), Georgia comes in second to Texas in terms of the average distance traveled to campus by its players. This stat confirms the maxim that Mark Richt has succeeded by simply keeping the state's ample talent at home. Georgia's stats are very similar to Alabama's, with the one exception being that Georgia has a higher percentage of players from within its state. I suspect that that stat reflects Alabama recruiting Mississippi and the Memphis area heavily, whereas Georgia does not recruit its neighboring states to the same degree.

4. Do you think that West Virginia fans get the irony of the state pride that they get from a team that is 92% out-of-state players?

5. One counter to Staples' thesis: USC players come from a very long average distance, most likely because a large portion of the 28% of the Trojans' roster that comes from outside of California comes from the East Coast and those 2,500 mile flights skew the numbers. The players from northern California also drive the numbers up. Still, if you're trying to make the point that "location, location, location" is king in recruiting, the team that tops your rankings has one of the higher average distances traveled of any program in the top 25.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I am, in Fact, Alive

Work has interceded for the past two weeks. I was in trial last week, but that's in the rear-view mirror, leaving me with time to vomit out the thoughts that have been percolating in my spare moments for the past two weeks:

1. Co-sign on the various writers (including my old buddy Stewart Mandel) pointing out that the presence of the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl is a good argument against a large playoff. (It is not an argument against a plus-one or even an eight-team playoff as long as the eight-team playoff is the eight highest-ranked teams as opposed to six conference champions and two at-large teams.) For all the playoff advocates who demand that college football be "settled on the field," what was settled on the field when New England beat Arizona 47-7 in December? New England finished 11-5 and missed the playoffs. Arizona finished 9-7 and not only made the playoffs, but got home games against Atlanta and Philadephia, two teams that had better records against more difficult schedules. It's not just that the NFL playoffs are becoming increasingly random; it's that the system rewards undeserving teams.

2. I have a lengthy "why are the Hawks so much better?" post percolating in my head and a lot of the explanation will have to do with Mike Bibby turning the clock back by six years. So here's the new question: do the Hawks re-sign Bibby? They'll be paying for his decline years, he'll probably be overpriced, and one has to question spending a lot of money on a guy who has had such an uptick in performance in a contract year. On the other hand, the Hawks have no apparent replacement at the point guard spot. After spending years without a point guard, do we really want to go back to the days of having several talented swing men and no one to feed them the ball? Plus, Bibby's primary value is his shooting as opposed to his quicks, so he might age more gracefully than a point guard who depends on athleticism.

3. When contemplating Mike Vick's return to the NFL, I assumed that the political orientation of his new city would be important. He needs a fan base with a low percentage of PETA members. San Francisco is definitely not what I had in mind. On the other hand, people love dogs in every state (wasn't that a line in Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention?), so it might not make a difference.

3a. I really don't see Vick's return to the NFL going well. He was never strong at technique or decision-making, but his athleticism made up for his shortcomings as a passer. Two years in Leavenworth cannot be good for Vick's athleticism. Vick might make sense if a team signed him, along with Vince Young and Dennis Dixon, and employed a modified version of the zone read offense, but we all know that college offenses can't work in the NFL.

4. After the 413th rendition of the Thomas & Friends Roll Call song for my two-year old, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I started teaching him various fight songs in the guise of "animal songs." Thus, he requests the "Elephant Song" and I hum the Alabama fight song for him. There's an "Alligator Song," a "Dog Song," a "Lion Song," a "Tiger Song," a "Bull Song," a "Badger Song," a "Bumble Bee Song," and a "Goat Song." (There is no "Wolverine Song" because he already knows Hail to the Victors as the "Michigan Song"; it's a part of his post-bath routine. Last night, he warbled some of it, proclaiming Michigan the "concrete heroes.") This plan has gone off flawlessly. Occasionally, I think I can handle this whole fatherhood thing.
5. The extent of my thoughts on John Smoltz leaving: good for him. The Braves are in no position to seriously compete for the World Series, certainly not with three holes in the outfield. Smoltz probably has one last year left in his arm. He should play for a team with a chance of winning something major. He doesn't need to be toiling for a team whose upside looks to be around 80 wins, certainly not when one of his best talents is his postseason performance. At least he didn't go to the Mets. I'm also comfortable with the Braves letting Smoltz go. The Braves are a mid-market team, which means they can't compete every year. It's better for them to acknowledge that fact and plan for the future than it is for them to bust their humps to max out at 85 wins. (One counter: the "plan for the future" approach is a little inconsistent with signing Derek Lowe.) In short, we don't need to have our collective panties in a bunch that the Braves and John Smoltz went through a divorce because the divorce makes sense for all concerned.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My Top 25 Signs Off

1Florida --
2Southern Cal 2
3Texas --
4Utah 5
5Oklahoma 3
6Penn State --
7Texas Tech --
8Ohio State --
9Alabama 4
10Mississippi 5
11TCU 2
12Oregon --
13Iowa 3
14Oklahoma State 4
15Virginia Tech 8
16Boise State 5
17California --
18Georgia 1
19Cincinnati 1
20Oregon State 2
21LSU 5
22Missouri 1
23Georgia Tech 9
24Nebraska 2
25Florida State --

Dropped Out: Pittsburgh (#20), Michigan State (#24).
Random Thoughts:
I did not give serious consideration to placing Utah at #1 for several reasons. First, when I was making the case during the season that an unbeaten Penn State would not deserve a spot in the national title game over a one-loss Florida, I said that a large gap in strength of schedule could make up for a one-game difference in the schedule. Per Sagarin, Florida played the #4 schedule nationally and Utah's schedule was #56. Sagarin would also have Florida and USC as two-touchdown favorites over Utah on a neutral field. It's pretty close to impossible to make a case that Utah would be likely to beat Florida on any field in light of the fact that Florida runs a better version of Utah's offense and has better talent at just about every position. Second, I was never that high on Alabama (I had Florida ahead of them throughout the second half of the season), so Utah beating up on the Tide, while impressive, is not the equivalent of Utah beating Florida, USC, or Texas. Alabama was a somewhat limited team on offense and they were playing a third string left tackle in the Sugar Bowl. What Utah does deserve credit for is their offensive explosion in the first quarter, as Alabama had a consistently top-notch defense this year.
I did give serious consideration to dropping Texas to #5 behind Utah and Oklahoma. It's not that I think that the Utes would beat the Horns on a neutral field, but the game would be close. Also, I didn't see anything in the bowl games to change my opinion that Oklahoma is slightly better than Texas, so having the Sooners ahead of the Horns would have been fine with me. At the end of the day, I couldn't put Texas lower than #3 after a season in which they went 12-1 and were a dropped interception from perfection.
Conventional wisdom: bowl games favor great coaches because a great coach can enhance his advantage over an average one with a month to prepare as opposed to a week. Conventional wisdom: Mack Brown and Les Miles are decent coaches who win because of recruiting talent as opposed to strategy or tactics. Brown has won his last five bowl games, including two Rose Bowls and one Fiesta Bowl. Miles has won all four of his bowl games at LSU by a total of 113 points. Which of the two pieces of conventional wisdom are incorrect?
I gave no thought to ranking a Big Ten team other than Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa, which might imply that I'm overrating those three teams. What would the spread be between TCU and Ohio State? Or Ole Miss and Ohio State? Wouldn't a Georgia-Iowa game have been more interesting than Georgia-Michigan State?
The one team that Sagarin was high on that I didn't rank was Arizona. (Sorry, Klinsi.) I went back and forth between Arizona and Florida State before deciding that FSU had a better record against a slightly tougher schedule. If this ranking went to 26, then Mike Stoops would make a cameo.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Five of the Most Ludicrous Statements Ever Made!

1. To me, the game came down to Oklahoma's inability to score in the red zone. Oklahoma moved the ball fairly well (they had 25 first downs) and ended up averaging over five yards per play. It isn't as if Florida completely shut the Sooners down, but the Gators did make two incredibly timely stops in the first half inside the Oklahoma five to keep the game at 7-7. If the Sooners score touchdowns on those two possessions and lead 21-7 at the half, then Florida has to become more pass-centric in the second half instead of taking the run-heavy approach that was so successful in the last 30 minutes. What's most interesting to me about Florida's success defending in the red zone is that Oklahoma was ludicrously effective all year at scoring touchdowns when they got inside the 20. Is this an illustration of good scheming by Charlie Strong? A testament to the maxim that anything can happen when two teams play a one-game playoff after a one-month hiatus? I'm not pretending to have an answer to the question.

2. Has any position group ever come so far in one year like the Florida defensive backs did this year? In 2007, Florida had an abysmal pass defense. In their bowl game, the defensive backs were torched repeatedly by a Michigan team that had piled up a grand total of 91 yards against Ohio State in its last regular season game. Fast forward one year and you have the Gators' DBs putting forth an epic effort against the Heisman winning quarterback and and offense that was averaging 35 points in the first half of its games this year. Florida played a lot of man coverage and left Sam Bradford trying to put the ball into tight spaces for the first time this year. (I was more impressed by Bradford in this game than I was all season because he made accurate throws despite seeing a proper defense, a novel concept for Oklahoma.) Ahmad Black's interception was an epic play, but it was one of a series of excellent efforts from Florida's corners and safeties. Tim Tebow was substandard in the first half, but the Gator defense kept the team in the game. The 2007 Gators would have been out of the game at halftime.

2a. Between the national title game, the disaster that was the 2008 Michigan defense because of inept safety play, and the fact that the two best defenses in the NFL (Pittsburgh and Baltimore) are keyed by safeties (Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed), this has been the year of Michael learning the importance of good safety play.

3. Co-sign on the universal opinion in the blogopshere that Fox's coverage of the game was wretched. I watched large portions of the game on mute because of Thom Brennaman's excessive hyperbole regarding Tim Tebow. It's as if he decided that he would one-up Kirk Herbstreit and Gary Danielson in terms of love for the Florida quarterback. After all, Fox has always been noted for taking things to the extreme. Before I muted Brennaman, he was reminding me of Dave O'Brien's ham-handed attempts to call the 2006 World Cup for ESPN: a neophyte trying to call a big game after never having covered the teams before.

4. How much would we have loved to see a Florida-USC match-up this year? What sort of odds would we get that we'll see a Florida-USC national title game in the next five years (assuming that Meyer and Carroll stay put). How many "let's return to the old bowl structure" advocates are going to acknowledge that they would prevent any chance of seeing the two pre-eminent programs in the country face off?

5. In case you're keeping track, the SEC is now 5-0 in BCS Championship games. This will come into play in poll debates in the coming years.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Five Thoughts on the Fiesta Bowl

1. The first three quarters of the Fiesta Bowl played out the same as the first three quarters of the Citrus Bowl: the Big Ten team took the initiative against a more talented Southern opponent, but didn't establish a significant lead because of an affection for playing close to the vest and kicking field goals. (I truly wonder whether the 1974 Michigan-Ohio State game, which the Bucks won 12-10 without scoring a touchdown, was a formative event for Jim Tressel.) The more talented team woke up in the third quarter and took a 17-6 lead by throwing the ball all over the place. The difference between Michigan State and Ohio State is that the Bucks have more talent and depth, so they were able to survive Texas's run and counter punch. That doesn't change the fact that Ohio State squandered a first half that they controlled until a roughing the passer penalty let Texas move the ball 75 yards in the last minute.

1a. Ohio State's offense consisted of two effective plays: (1) I-formation runs with Beanie Wells; and (2) Terrelle Pryor running around for eight seconds in homage to Peach County's offense when Jacquez Green was under center.

2. My meta-thought from the bowl games is that the Big Ten is the most traditional and conservative of all of the major conferences in terms of playing style. Because the Big Ten has demographics going against it, its teams need to be prepared to play with less talent than USC, SEC teams, Texas, etc. However, they continue to play as if they have a major talent advantage. Basic I-formation, two-deep zone football works if you're Miami in 2001; it doesn't work when the other team has more talent and it definitely doesn't work when the other team has more talent and is doing sophisticated stuff on one or both sides of the ball. Despite a Gotterdamerung of a season, I like the direction that Michigan is taking because they're converting to a style that can work in a game against USC or Florida.

3. I can't recall the name of Fox's color guy, but he seemed very intent on pointing out at halftime that the key stat was Ohio State's rushing advantage was critical. This was at a time in which the overall yardage and first downs were virtually even and the score wasn't tied only because of Colt McCoy's horrendous throw at the end of the first half. What difference does it make whether a team gets to 200 yards at halftime by 80% running or 80% passing? I can understand the significance of rushing and passing at the end of the game, but only as a sign of an effect instead of a cause. The trailing team tends to pile up passing yards chasing the game; the leading team tends to pile up rushing yards killing the clock.

4. Maybe I've been doing too much WWII reading recently and have this stuff on the brain (or I'm just bitter about 3-9), but is the Best Damn Band in the Land intentionally paying homage to the SS with those blackshirts?

5. I don't think his arm is quite good enough for the NFL, but wow is Colt McCoy a great college quarterback. His release is so quick and he's as accurate as anyone I've seen. His ability to consistently zip balls into receivers sitting in holes in the Texas zone was impressive. The winning throw to Quan Cosby was the combination of a quick recognition of a blitz and an accurate throw to let Cosby catch the ball while running and beat the safety. The spin move for Texas's first touchdown was also a nice touch. I can see the argument for McCoy over Bradford for the Heisman because McCoy shines with less around him...or at least I could see that argument if I cared about the Heisman.

Friday, January 02, 2009

You Click on this Page for Tortured WWII Analogies, Right?

Michigan State came into the Citrus Bowl (I refuse to use the new name) in a position not unlike the one that Japan in 1940-41. MSU was opposed by a slumbering giant, an opponent that was complacent and unprepared for war at the outset, but an opponent with far greater talent and capacity for a long-term fight. Isoruku Yamamoto, the planner of the Pearl Harbor attack, famously predicted that a successful operation at Pearl Harbor would buy Japan six months. At the end of those six months, if Japan had not won the war or reached a favorable settlement with the U.S., then Japan had no prospect of success. Yamamoto's plan worked perfectly at Pearl Harbor, save for the inconvenient fact that none of the American carriers were home. Japan racked up success after success in the early months of the war before losing badly at Midway (almost exactly six months after Pearl Harbor). They spent the last three years of the war unsuccessfully trying to invent ways to make commitment to the cause trump technology and numbers.

Michigan State could be confident of two things going into the game yesterday. First, Georgia would not be excited to play in the opening stages. The Citrus Bowl is as good as it gets for Michigan State; it's a worst-case scenario for a Georgia team that was playing in the Sugar Bowl one year ago and came into this season as the AP #1. Second, Georgia can be pounced upon by an aggressive opponent. Florida and Alabama both shut the Georgia offense down early and jumped on the Dawgs, negating Knowshon Moreno as a running threat and forcing UGA to play from behind.

Confronted with these twin realities, Michigan State opted for the equivalent of Japan declaring war on the U.S. and then erecting a big fence in the Pacific. Georgia's offense was as sluggish at the start of the game as could be expected. The Dawgs turned the ball over twice in the first half, but the Spartans' vanilla offense was only able to turn the mistakes into three points. Michigan State was only going to win the game by jumping on Georgia early, so a 6-3 lead at the half for MSU was the equivalent of a surrender.

I didn't watch every play of the game, but Georgia's offense drove me crazy in the first half, mainly because I was counting too many instances in which Georgia was in a three-wide formation, Michigan State had seven in the box, and Georgia was running the ball at them anyway. I assume that Matt Stafford has the authority to change the play at the line, so I'll direct this comment to Stafford, but it should also go to Mark Richt and Mike Bobo: why are you running when Michigan State outnumbers your blockers? When State had three linebackers in the game, two deep safeties, and no one over your slot receiver, you knew exactly what the defense was before the snap. The defense was certainly zone and most likely cover two. There are plays that work against that defense, especially when you have two great receivers on the outside. Instead, you kept running Knowshon into seven man fronts with six blockers. I'm starting to understand why Georgia scored three points against Florida and Alabama in the first half. Maybe you caught some of the Rose Bowl, but if you didn't, please pick up a tape and watch what USC did to exploit Penn State's cover three zone. The Trojans didn't wait until the third quarter to start scoring. They don't treat the first half as a feeling out period.

Those complaints aside, Georgia did a very good job on offense in the third quarter. I particularly liked the two plays that led to Georgia's first touchdown. First, Georgia correctly guessed that Michigan State would blitz and hit Caleb King on a screen to the side from which the Spartans blitzed. On the next play, Georgia used a cover-two killer - fake throw to one side to draw the safety and then a deep throw to take advantage of the out-of-position safety - to take the lead. It was beautiful playcalling. It worked against Michigan State because the Spartans made little effort to take the initiative in the game.

Other random thoughts:

1. Either Michigan State's offensive line is suspect or Georgia's defensive ends got a lot better in bowl practices. The repeated sacks from a four-man rush have to be a major source of encouragement for Dawg fans.

2. ESPN flashed a stat early in the third quarter that encapsulated all the problems with Georgia's offensive approach in the first half: Stafford had thrown a grand total of three balls at Massaquoi and Green.

3. Stafford's throw on the first touchdown reminded me how much I'm going to miss a quarterback who can get the ball down the field with a slight flick of his wrist.

4. Mark Dantonio is Jim Tressel without the talent base. Exhibit A: punting in the first quarter on 4th and 1 from the Georgia 39. Exhibit B: an offense built around running the same guy over and over between the tackles. (At least Tressel came out of the dark ages with Troy Smith.) Exhibit C: a kicker who attempted 25 field goals this year. Exhibit D: an on-field personna that makes Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off look like Sam Kinison. With the way Dantonio's team approaches offense, I'm constantly reminded of the Japanese officer who said in 1944 that Japan didn't need radar because its soldiers could see perfectly well.