Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Random College Football Thoughts on a Beautiful July Morning

Riffing off of Blutarsky's post about the inane "First Four" concept being floated by the NCAA, every mistake made at the world's biggest sporting event by a referee from Mali or the Seychelles is an illustration that a sport run by the major powers in a less-than-egalitarian fashion is not a bad thing. When you have hundreds of minnows making demands that have to be honored, then you end up with the First Four or a ref in a big match coming from a league that averages 500 fans per game. The NCAA and FIFA are not especially dissimilar in the political issues that they face as a result of having a broad-based membership, although the NCAA can't approach FIFA's level of corruption, so here's to small victories. The BCS is run as an old boys' club, but the old boys who run it happen to be stakeholders in the sport, so you end up with a structure that maligned, but maligned by people who miss the bigger picture.

I used to be chomping at the bit to buy Phil Steele when it first hit the newsstands and then EA's NCAA [INSERT YEAR HERE] when it would arrive at Best Buy. This summer, I bought Phil on a lark weeks after it came out and I have no interest in NCAA '11. The latter can be explained by having kids, as I haven't played a video game in over a year. The former is harder to explain. The World Cup is obviously one factor. A second is that after years of buying Steele's previews, I feel like I can predict what he is going to write before I ever open the pages. A third is that after reading the Pro Football Prospectus, Steele's use of stats comes across as outdated. I'm quite certain that he has more sophisticated ways of measuring players and teams, but he uses vanilla numbers in his preview.

Is there anything more tired than the summer ritual hand-wringing over the drinking and driving (although not necessarily drinking and driving at the same time) habits of Georgia football players? If there is a bigger "who the f*** cares!?!" story out there, I'd like to see it. Did I miss the announcement that July is Petty Soapbox Moralizing Month?

Sitting here seven weeks before the start of the season, the most interesting potential story line is how Nick Saban will coach a team that is heavily skewed to the offensive side of the ball. Here is one of the two reasons why Football Outsiders ranks the Tide #1 going into 2010:

The offense could be ridiculous. Despite the fact that they have a Heisman winner in the backfield, it is almost easy to forget about the Alabama offense. Their defense was just that good last season, ranking first in both FEI and S&P+. But this year it is the offense projected to rank first. It's certainly not hard to see why: eight starters return, including almost all skill position players. Heisman winner Mark Ingram and his almost-as-capable backup Trent Richardson grace the backfield again, receiver Julio Jones returns, and underrated signal caller Greg McElroy is back as well. There is solid depth on the line, and the Tide lost only nine draft points as a whole from this unit. As with teams like Ohio State or Virginia Tech, they could compensate for defensive regression with offensive improvement. This is just a scary, scary team.

Has Saban ever coached a team with a "ridiculous" offense? The only one that comes to mind is his first SEC Championship team, the 2001 LSU team that survived an appalling pass defense to win the conference and the Sugar Bowl on the strength of Rohan Davey throwing to Josh Reed. Just as the 2007 LSU team was the weakest in recent memory to win a national title, the 2001 LSU team was one of the weakest in recent memory to win the SEC (unless you think that losing 44-15 at home to Florida is a sign of strength). Since 2001, Saban's teams have come off of an assembly line: functional offenses with quarterbacks who don't make mistakes, a rotation of athletic running backs pounding away, and a superlative defense highlighted by defensive backs who demonstrate the fruits out outstanding coaching. If the defense is a notch below that (and I'm not expecting TOO much of a regression), then the Bama offense will have to improve for the team to be better than 10-2. Can that happen? Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer met in the 2006 national title game with teams that played against their coaches' types. I'm fascinated to know if Saban can do the same.


Frank Wren said...

Feelings on Escobar leaving the ATL?

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