Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Thought on Program Evaluation

The one aspect of the Mark Richt discussion that has bothered me has been the fact that I have a natural revulsion to people overreacting to the last piece of evidence. Way too much commentary focuses on whichever team is doing well at a particular moment as if the current moment is a totally accurate representation of the entities being evaluated. A good example of this is the treatment of Kirk Ferentz. When Iowa was very good from 2002-04, he was seen as one of the best coaches in college football. When Iowa swooned in 2006 and 2007, he was seen as damaged goods, a guy who had been found out. (I'll admit to being one of the people who reached this conclusion.) Now that Iowa is good again, he is again seen as a good coach.

When we're evaluating coaches, we need to be careful to distinguish between trends and natural oscillations. College football traffics in small sample sizes. The scarcity of product is one of the reasons why we love it so much. Those small sample sizes mean that it's hard to make definitive judgments when we could be looking at the result of random blips or correctable problems. Maybe a coach suffers for a few years because he brings in a bad crop of players (or a good group that is led astray by a few bad apples). Maybe a coach has a period in which the rest of the league catches up to what he's doing, but his next innovation to put his team ahead of the curve is right around the corner.

In Richt's case, I think we're seeing more than a natural oscillation in Georgia's fortune. With the exception of a half a season in 2007, we're looking at a five-year trend of relatively poor results. The numerous off-field issues speak to a team that doesn't seem like it respects or fears the coach. I don't put a lot of faith in Richt and Bobo to have any big ideas on offense coming up on the horizon. That said, I'm willing to acknowledge that I may be wrong about Richt and that things might be on the upswing with the inevitable turnover of the roster (maybe Richt has different priorities in recruiting now?) and a better defensive coordinator. In short, this stuff isn't as simple as "2-7 in the SEC! Fire him!"

Please Remind us why all SEC Fans over 50 Hate Alabama

Short version of Roll Bama Roll's SEC round-up: everyone in the conference is crap. Bama should replace Jacksonville in the AFC South.

Quick question: if the rest of the SEC is so mediocre, then why should Alabama go to the national title game over an unbeaten Ohio State and an unbeaten Boise State? I kept reading in the hopes I would find a nice statement about someone in the SEC, but it was all in vain. Is it me or does the Alabama fan base produce a disproportionate share of fans who view the Tide as being above and beyond the rest of the conference, almost in the same way that Notre Dame fans felt about the rest of college football before two decades of reality hit?

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Sunday Splurge has a Warm Tush

Bob Barker Would be Proud; these Dawgs Have been Neutered

Last night’s game felt like the end of an era at Georgia. When Mark Richt was on his game, Georgia played at 3:30 on CBS and they were money on the road. Last night, Georgia just felt marginal. They were on Fox Sports South with Bob Rathbun (if I am reminded of the Hawks, that’s a sure sign that a team is marginal) and Tim Couch (reminder of the Donnan era) calling the game. They were in Starkville (official review from my brother: “the tailgating is fun, but otherwise, it sucks”) getting taken to the woodshed by the Vandy of the West. My least favorite of the Richt problems – struggles in the red zone – made an unwelcome return. The offense put up yards, but not points. The defense couldn’t get stops when they needed them. Altogether, it was one of those games where a less talented team outplays a more skilled opponent and you think to yourself “this talented team sure seems disinterested.”

The most uncomfortable reminder last night was the notion that Mark Richt might get Croom’d. Losses to Mississippi State were the end for Ron Zook in 2004, David Cutcliffe in 2005, and Mike Shula in 2006. When you lose to Mississippi State, especially as a power program, the inevitable conclusion is that you aren’t getting the most out of your talent. When you lose to the other Dawgs a week after Mississippi State lost by 22 at Baton Rouge (and no one is going to confuse the current LSU Tigers with their 2003 or 2007 versions), the impression hits even harder.

At this point, Georgia fans have to be hoping for 2007 all over again. Sadly, the Dawgs have been mostly disappointing since winning the 2005 SEC title. They lost four games in 2006, they lost three despite being preseason #1 in 2008, and they lost five last year. The exception was 2007, when Georgia went 11-2. That Georgia team started the season 4-2 and was a late fumble away from losing at Vandy to drop to 4-3. Georgia somehow survived that game and then was a different team after the bye, winning every game by double-digits en route to finishing #2 in the country. I remain unable to explain what happened to transform that Georgia team, but it does serve as a glimmer of hope that Mark Richt can turn a season around. And for his sake, he needs something like that. If Georgia continues on its current path and finishes 6-6 with losses to Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech (and Richt should be thanking his lucky stars that Tech doesn’t look good or else the ribbing that Georgia fans would take at the office would only increase their angst), then Mike Adams is likely to ask the question that ended up ending Jim Donnan’s reign in Athens: does anyone think that if we give him another year, we won’t be back in this same position next year, having this same discussion?

The Myth of the Irreplaceable Quarterback

As I was watching the highlights of Trey Burton’s big night in Gainesville, I was reminded of a point I’ve been wanting to make: there are plenty of guys who can run the Spread 'n' Shred properly. One criticism of the offense is that it is hard to find good quarterbacks who can run, read a defense, and throw with power and accuracy. There is a school of thought that Tim Tebow was a once-in-a-generation talent and that Florida would never replace him. There's no doubt that Tebow was a great college quarterback (his ability to convert in short yardage and not get hurt was especially impressive), but the idea that Florida couldn't find a new quarterback with something approaching his skill-set is silly. Similarly, some Michigan fans claimed in the summer that Rich Rodriguez's resume isn't that good if you remove the Pat White years and they claimed that White is a once-in-a-generation talent, but lo and behold, Rodriguez has found a better version. (Denard is already a better passer than White ever was.) If a coach is a good teacher (and Urban and Rich are both great offensive teachers), then there are plenty of guys who can run their offenses very well. The guys they pick just have to be able to run.

Cue up the DVR for Saturday night at Eight

Assuming that Stanford makes an appearance in the top ten of this week’s polls, we are going to have two top ten match-ups in the same timeslot on Saturday night. I’m not sure if I would have preferred that Stanford-Oregon stay in the 11:15 timeslot so I could focus on it (and then inevitably fall asleep by halftime) or get moved to the 8 p.m. slot so I can watch it in the commercials for Florida-Alabama. I’m wondering if the CBS crew are going to be able to resist taking shots at the game that has stolen a bit of the spotlight from what they must have been thinking of as their big game for months. I am looking forward to those two games especially because the contrast in styles will be entertaining. If the SEC game is played in the 24-17 range and the Pac Ten game is played in the 45-38 range, then the two leagues will live up to their stereotypes and there’ll be something for everyone. Plus, people in our part of the country will get to make dismissive “you can’t win a national title with no defense” statements on the following Sunday.

Speaking of Top Defenses…

Alabama did not look like the best team in the country on Saturday. Arkansas was the better team for the first three quarters. Bobby Petrino and Ryan Mallett had their way with Alabama’s young secondary. It was only last-ditch defending in the red zone that kept the Hogs from putting up a really big number in the first half. That said, Alabama survived because one of two things happened (or maybe both). Either: (1) Nick Saban and Kirby Smart figured out what Arkansas was doing in the passing game and gave the right instructions to their young secondary to turn off the spigot; or (2) Ryan Mallett lost his cool. If #1 is the explanation, then Alabama has turned the corner, survived the biggest threat to their crown, and are well-positioned to make a trip to Glendale. If #2 is the explanation, then Alabama are going to find themselves having to show the “heart of a champion” (HT: Rudy T) again and again this season, with the likely result being a loss or two that keeps them from repeating.

By the way, if the Heisman were decided in anything approaching a rational fashion, then Mark Ingram would be the clear favorite. How is it that when a team wins the national title and returns a ton of starters, they get to be #1 the next year until someone knocks them off their perch, but when a player wins the Heisman and then returns, we immediately look for someone else to win the award?

When Florida State joined the ACC...

The question was this: will FSU change the ACC or vice versa? We now have our answer:

I loved listening to Mike Hogwood interview John Swofford during halftime of the Virginia Tech-BC snoozefest. It reminded me of a Ron Popeil infomercial, only in this instance, the softball questions were lobbed to Ron as the Set It And Forget It burned down the kitchen.

Question Time

The right honourable gentleman from Unincorporated DeKalb has the following queries:

How’s that return to a pro-style offense working out for you, Mack Brown?

Has any program won more games because of opposing kickers missing makeable kicks than Tennessee? Add UAB ‘09 to Florida ‘98, South Carolina ‘07, and a pile of games that my memory tell me exist, but I’m struggling for specifics. It’s good to see that Derek Dooley is taking baby steps to mimic that Phil Fulmer specialty: the bullshit win.

Did you ever think that LSU fans would openly pine for Jarrett Lee?

I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again: Auburn fans, if you could have only one, would you rather have Gene Chizik or Gus Malzahn as your head coach.

Mike Lupica, are you still sure that New York City is football nirvana?

Will the commenter who asked before the season why I didn’t have any Big East teams in my preseason top 25 raise his hand? (We could be headed for the worst Orange Bowl in history.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

They’re Used to Hostile Attention from the National Media

Last winter, I posited that if Nick Saban were truly running players off, then a national media outlet would find the players and run with their stories:

Paging Bob Ley: In Scenario Two, Saban either tells a player directly that he needs to transfer or implies it with something along the lines of "we're going to make your life very difficult." If that's the case, then the Oversigning.com authors are absolutely right that Saban and other coaches like him in the SEC are deriving a competitive advantage from bringing in large classes and then cutting players who don't pan out. I don't see any evidence of that occurrence, but maybe some media outlet will do some reporting on players in the Alabama Diaspora. I can't imagine that it would be very hard to get a former player to say bad things about Saban and his staff is they are indeed cutting people. I don't see any media outlet in the State of Alabama taking up the cause, but ESPN? Yahoo!? Sports Illustrated? If the story is there, they would be foolish not to take it. Media attention to cutting players should be one of the two checks on oversigning. The other is negative recruiting from rivals. If Alabama really is intentionally cutting ten players per year, then that would be an awfully effective recruiting tool for Urban Meyer or Mark Richt.

Take it away, Wall Street Journal:

Former Alabama football players say the school's No. 1-ranked football program has tried to gain a competitive edge by encouraging some underperforming players to quit the team for medical reasons, even in cases where the players are still healthy enough to play.

At least 12 times since coach Nick Saban took over the program in 2007, Alabama has offered players a "medical" scholarship, according to public statements made by the team. These scholarships, which are allowed under NCAA rules, are intended to make sure scholarship athletes who are too injured to play don't lose their financial aid. A player who receives one of these scholarships is finished playing with that team.

A few thoughts:

  • Bama’s rivals in the SEC ought to use this story against Saban in recruiting.  In the end, I’m not sure that it will have a huge impact because: (1) high school players never think that they’ll be the ones who are seen as underperforming players; and (2) this is a relatively minor factor as compared with Saban’s ability to prepare players (especially defensive players) for the NFL.  That said, I’d be very interested to hear a blue chipper pick another school and cite Bama’s practices in cutting players as a reason why.
  • Because Bama is so far ahead of the rest of the SEC in using medical hardships, this isn’t a situation in which the SEC is taking advantage of the other major conferences in an unethical manner.  Rather, it’s a situation in which Alabama is gaining an advantage over the rest of the SEC.  The concern at this point is going to be that other SEC coaches are going to try to mimic Saban’s practices.  “Hey, I never thought about politicking the team doctor to declare that a player can’t play anymore.  Good one, Nick.”  Since winners are always copied, the Tide deserve extra scrutiny for what they are doing.
  • One semi-positive thought: is Saban less likely to cut players now that there are fewer Shula recruits on the roster?  It’s shady for Saban to run off players recruited by his predecessor because he wants to make room for his own recruits, but once he has his style of players in the program, the incentive for Nick to be the Axeman goes down, right?
  • Captain Louis Renault is shocked (shocked!) that the media outlets in Alabama didn’t find this story.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The ACC: Why Does it Suck?

Mandel tackles the subject:

I surrender. I've been defending the ACC for years now, mainly by pointing out respectable regular season records against the other BCS conferences despite persistent BCS bowl failures, but now I don't even have that. This conference stinks. Period. The only thing I can't figure out is why. The ACC annually produces among the most NFL talent, and the coaches are largely respected in some form. Maybe the answer has something to do with only two quarterbacks being drafted out of the ACC over the last six years (Matt Ryan and Charlie Whitehurst)?
-- J.D. Bolick, Denver, N.C.

You know I believe strongly in the cyclical nature of conference strength, but admittedly the ACC has yet to hit its "up" cycle. And the interesting thing is, you can actually divide the league's seven seasons since expansion into two cycles.

The quarterback void was definitely a prominent factor for several years, starting after Phillip Rivers (NC State) and Matt Schaub (Virginia) played their final seasons in 2003. Around 2005-06, the ACC had arguably as much defensive talent as any league this side of the SEC. Florida State and Miami were still churning out elite defenses but bumbling around on offense with QBs like Kyle Wright and Drew Weatherford. NC State had three first-round picks (Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo) on its 2005 defense, but couldn't break seven wins. (Our old pal Chesty Chuck might have had something to do with that.) Georgia Tech endured the four-year Reggie Ball era. It was ugly.

Now, the league finally has a whole bunch of good quarterbacks -- Russell Wilson, Christian Ponder, Jacory Harris, Josh Nesbitt, Tyrod Taylor, Kyle Parker and the much-improved T.J. Yates -- but the defenses have gone in the toilet, most notably Florida State's. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are struggling on that side of the ball, too. North Carolina was expected to be an exception before suspension city kicked in. Bottom line: I think most schools in the league have the right coaches in place and a good number of NFL-caliber players, but just can't seem to put it all together. Things are better than they were in the latter half of the 'aughts, but not there yet.

It’s good that Mandel acknowledges that his belief that conference strength is cyclical is refuted by the example of the ACC.  (The official Braves & Birds position is that conference strength is best thought of visually as a series of sine waves.  The SEC’s wave is set higher than the waves of the other conferences.  On occasion, the SEC will be at a low-point on its wave and one or more of the other conferences will be at a high-point [such as 2005, the last year in which Mark Richt won an SEC title], but on the whole, the SEC will be higher most of the time.)  His explanation lacks punch, although there’s nothing wrong with a cursory opinion in the mailbag format.  It’s not as if Mandel threw up his hands after writing a long feature piece.

I’m usually not a fan of obvious explanation, but there’s a basic one for the ACC’s lack of football prowess: the schools of the ACC don’t care that much about football.  Yes, the schools have generally shown a commitment to football through stadium and facilities improvements, but are they on the level of the SEC and Big Ten in terms of spending?  No.  Are they on that level in terms of attendance?  No.  Are they on the level of the SEC in terms of paying for top coaching talent?  Absolutely not.  The ACC programs sit in talent-rich states, but they aren’t turning that talent into winning teams.

This is a free market economy and more often than not, you get what you pay for.  The SEC (and to a slightly lesser extent, the Big Ten) cares more about football because the conference is full of historical powers supported by fans who were weaned on college football fanaticism.  That fanaticism pays for Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier.  (There is no SEC equivalent to Miami, a potential superpower program that doesn’t spend money on football and thus has to skimp on coaching hires.)  That fanaticism cannot be created overnight.  That’s why the ACC is languishing in football.

(Note: an ACC fan might point out that the conference generally has higher academic standards than the SEC and there is some merit to that argument, but the academic standards of certain ACC programs ought to make it easier for the conference to produce elite teams, not harder.  If Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Wake, and Georgia Tech are all limited in football by their entry requirements, then it should be easier for Florida State, Miami, Clemson, and Virginia Tech – schools with SEC-level entry requirements and therefore bigger recruiting pools – to whip up on their conference brethren and produce gaudy records.  [See: 1992-2000.]  That’s not happening.)

We Can’t Hit. We Can’t Field. The Division is Gone. The Wild Card Lead is Almost Nil.

Other than that, Bobby Cox’s farewell tour is going just swimmingly.

Last night’s game made me as frustrated as I have been watching a Braves game all season. There’s no shame in losing two games in Philadelphia to the best team in the NL when the Braves were throwing a pair of rookies who were in the minors at the All-Star Break. The Braves were competitive in both games. It is what it is.

In the final game of the series, the Braves finally got to throw one of their front-line starters and Tommy Hanson lived up to billing. He shut the Phillies out for six innings, allowing only two hits and three walks while striking out four. He had to be lifted after six, having thrown 109 pitches. His pitch totals were so high in no small part because he had a labored fifth inning that started with Nate McLouth fumbling a sinking fly to left. It was not an easy catch, but it was one that a major league outfielder should make, especially a centerfielder in left.

McLouth’s bumble was symptomatic of the team’s defensive issues throughout the game (and indeed, for the past several weeks). Martin Prado couldn’t hold onto a great throw from Brian McCann in the seventh that would have gotten the Braves out of an inning. And then the Phillies scored in the eighth when McLouth missed the cutoff man on a double to the corner by Raul Ibanez, whom I hate, but I can’t tell why.

That said, the Braves could have played for 18 innings and it didn’t look like they were going to score. Cue Bob Uecker: one G-ddamn hit? Three baserunners? No Brave made it to third base? The offense has disappeared. The Braves prospered all summer because they worked counts and got on base. That skill picked a fine time to leave us, Lucille. I would say “thank goodness we have the Nats this weekend,” but I remember last week.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Top 25 Feels Deserted

I felt like Andy Rooney when I was filling out my ballot. If I'm right about the top ten teams in the country, then this is the total list of top ten match-ups that are going to occur for the rest of the season:


Yes, Boise State and TCU don't play murderer's rows, but it's not like the other contenders are getting challenges on a regular basis. (Exception for Alabama, which plays five of the top 20.) Part of what is working for the Broncos and Horned Frogs this year is that they are going to point to the slates played by non-SEC and Pac Ten contenders and they're going to say "we're not that far removed from your schedules."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Question for Mr. College Football

You work at CBS.  Phil Fulmer works at CBS.  Fulmer has taken shots at the management of the Tennessee program since he left, saying “I know my last few years if you talked about only winning nine, it was an act of terror, and now they’re pushing and hoping to win six to get in a bowl game someway.”  You’ve happened to notice that Tennessee doesn’t have any talent left:

When I looked at the Tennessee team Saturday afternoon at Florida, I saw a bunch of guys who should be playing at Middle Tennessee State. I’ll give the Volunteers credit for this: They played hard for 60 minutes against Florida and were still within striking distance of the Gators in the fourth quarter. They didn’t go in the tank when adversity hit like they did against Oregon.  But it’s been a long time since Tennessee was this thin in SEC caliber talent.

You want to ask Fulmer how it is that his recruiting classes left Tennessee with “a bunch of guys who should be playing at Middle Tennessee State?”  Seems like a relevant question to me, especially for someone who seems to be angling to get back into coaching.  Or is CBS just in the business of taking shots at Lane Kiffin because it’s so easy and fun?

The Sunday Splurge Forgot its Man

“Oh, Wide Open”

There are ways to lose and there are ways to lose.  If I could put myself inside the head of a hardcore Georgia fan, the loss in Columbia was more acceptable than the loss to Arkansas over the weekend.  Georgia lost in Columbia because the offense mustered only six points in a redshirt freshman quarterback’s first start on the road (and without his best receiver, to boot).  Disappointing, but understandable.  Yes, the offensive approach was vanilla, but it’s been vanilla for most of Mark Richt’s tenure and that never stopped the Dawgs from winning (especially in Columbia, where offensive touchdowns have always been optional for Richt’s teams).

The loss on Saturday was not acceptable because it hewed to the perception that Richt’s teams have become talented, but dumb.  Defense was always the strength of Richt’s successful teams in Athens, so allowing 433 yards at 7.7 yards per play is not good.  More importantly, Georgia was beaten not because their players were not athletic enough, but instead because they made big mistakes.  Two of Arkansas’ first three touchdowns were the result of Bobby Petrino calling plays that led to uncovered receivers downfield.  Then, the winning touchdown came on a play speciifcally called to beat cover-two, which is exactly what Georgia deployed on the play.  It’s one thing to give up scores because a top five pick threw laser beams in narrow windows; it’s another to give up scores because a corner decided not to cover a receiver or didn’t realize that he had to slide back from underneath coverage.  Those instances smack of “their coaches are smarter than ours.”  (Ditto for Georgia’s offensive approach.  Richt and Bobo coached the first three quarters as if they were calling plays for Herschel instead of Washaun Ealey.  When they spread Arkansas out in the fourth quarter, the passing game magically improved.) 

Jim Donnan’s downfall was not his regular losses to Florida and Tennessee.  Georgia fans are generally rational people (as compared to, say, Alabama fans) and could understand losing games to two teams that were perennial fixtures in the top five.  What killed Donnan was his three-game losing streak to Georgia Tech.  Georgia fans will not tolerate their coach losing games to teams with obviously inferior talent.  How exactly would we characterize losses to South Carolina and Arkansas to open the 2010 season?  Yes, the Gamecocks and Razorbacks have better top-end talent (especially with A.J. Green suspended), but if you compare the 22 starters for the three teams (or the 44 players on the three teams’ two-deeps), there is no doubt that Georgia has better players.  Move me into the “Richt is in some trouble” camp.  Maybe not this year, but certainly by next year.

The counterpoints: (1) how would Arkansas and South Carolina have looked with their best players suspended; and (2) Georgia is implementing a new scheme on defense, so some bumps in the road are to be expected.  Let’s see the finished product before we decide that the Georgia coaches are squandering talent.

I Heart Chris Spielman.

Does anyone else think that ESPN has the wrong Buckeye as its top college football analyst?  Herbstreit is perfectly good as a color guy, but I love listening to Spielman call a game and I have ever since he predicted Michigan’s plays during a Carr-era broadcast based on the placement and movement of the fullback.  I’m glad that SEC fans are getting a taste of Spielman now that he isn’t stuck in the ghetto that are noon games between Minnesota and Illinois.  For instance, Spielman noted on Saturday before Georgia’s big third and five on their penultimate drive that they needed to have some short, quick options for Aaron Murray to get the first down.  Instead, Georgia ran a series of deep routes that took too long to develop and Murray got sacked.  Spielman jumped on the playcall and justifiably so.  How many analysts would have given a good description of the pass routes on a key play?  And is that a compliment to Spielman or a criticism of most analysts removing football from football games?


Florida’s offense remains weak, plus the Gators also blew a pair of coverages against Tennessee, allowing receivers to run free in their secondary.  (See, it’s not just an issue with Georgia!)  If Mark Richt wants to make Georgia fans feel better about the direction of the program, a win in the Cocktail Party against the one team that is clearly more talented than Georgia would be a fine tonic.

Far be it for me to Pick on a Guy who Just had a Heart Attack…

But Michigan State’s fake field goal was not a brilliant call.  It’s not as if Notre Dame was selling out for the block and left a receiver open.  There was a defender assigned to Charlie Gantt who simply fell down/was knocked over.  Maybe going for the fake was a better option than a young kicker trying as 46-yard field goal or MSU lining up for a regular offensive play, but if Gantt isn’t uncovered as the result of a collision at the line of scrimmage, then that play would have had no chance at all.

By the way, I’m not ranking Michigan, Michigan State, or Notre Dame this week.  I’m not enamored with the defenses of any of those three teams.  Michigan contrived to allow 37 points at home against a I-AA opponent, most likely because Greg Robinson realizes that he has very little to work with in the secondary and is playing very conservative schemes as a result.  That might be a rational response, but it doesn’t change the fact that any team can nickel and dime the Wolverines down the field.

Told you so.

And I better do my crowing now about Arizona beating Iowa, because those other four predictions aren’t looking strong right now.

The Gary Crowton Experience

Congrats to LSU for getting to 3-0 without a functional offense.  I was expecting to take a look at the Tigers’ box score and see improvement after they beat Mississippi State 29-7, but I found 264 yards, including only 97 yards passing.  Mississippi State’s offense sounds like a complete disaster.  Famous last words.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Thought on Hype

On my way back from lunch on Monday, I was listening to the Two Live Stews and they were discussing whether Denard Robinson is: (1) faster than Mike Vick; and/or (2) a more accurate passer than Mike Vick. (For the record, Vick is a better comparison for Robinson than Pat White. White was not as good a passer as Robinson, certainly not at this stage of his career. Vick has a significantly stronger arm than Robinson, but I don't remember him being this accurate. We'll know more when Robinson plays Iowa and Penn State. Notre Dame and UConn aren't going to make us forget the '92 Tide anytime soon.) This morning on the way to work, David Pollack was discussing the advantages of defending against Ryan Mallett as opposed to Robinson.

If Denard Robinson is being discussed on a regular basis on sports talk radio in Atlanta, then he has invaded the national picture. Normally, this would make me uncomfortable. Robinson is receiving a ton of attention for two brilliant performances against teams of questionable defensive quality. My alarm bells are going off for "overreaction based on a small sample size! Hyping a popular program to generate clicks!" However, in this case, the hype is good for Michigan, so I'm all for it.

This is a get-over-the-hump year for Rich Rodriguez. If he wins at least eight games and shows the offense that got him hired, then he'll make it into year four. In 2011, Rodriguez will have: (1) an experienced team (there are two senior starters on the offense and four on the defense); (2) his best corner back (Troy Woolfolk is out for the season with a broken ankle); (3) a running back who projects as Slaton to Robinson's White (Dee Hart, who has Michigan, Alabama, and Auburn in his final three and Michigan probably leads as long as Rodriguez keeps his job); and (4) Ohio State, Nebraska, and Notre Dame all at home. Thus, positive national buzz is a big deal to make sure that this confluence of events happens in 2011, as opposed to Jim Harbaugh trying to figure out the best way to move the ball with players recruited for the Spread 'n' Shred.

Positive national buzz can also perpetuate itself by leading to recruiting victories. It can't hurt Michigan's chances with Hart or North Carolina linebacker Kris Frost (another blue chipper who could start from day one at a position of need) when LeBron James is tweeting about Denard. (This would seem to be a good point at which to worry about the attention getting to Mr. Robinson's wonderfully coiffed head. One imagines a montage of the past two weeks with "Take it to the Limit" playing in the background. That said, Denard seems to have a Leo Messi-style humility to him [from what little one can tell so far].)

The way the media portrays a team or individual will shape our perceptions. To steal an idea from Jonathan Chait, TV producers can make or break a coach by showing him after particularly good or bad plays so we associate that coach with success or failure. (A great example from this morning: at the close of the highlights of the Yankees-Rays game, a no-name Yankee rightfielder made a phenomenal throw to cut down Carl Crawford at third for the last out of the game, pushing the Yankees back into first place in a pennant race that would have mattered 17 years ago. The camera immediately pans to Derek Jeter for the obligatory fist pump. We [consciously or unconsciously] associate Jeter with the win. Footnote: Crawford was only on second because Jeter dropped a perfect throw from Jorge Posada when Crawford was attempting to steal the base.) To date, the media narrative on Rodriguez has been that the team has been losing and that he got Michigan football its first NCAA sanctions. The latter was driven by the Detroit Free Press in vendetta fashion and it became part of the national perception. Denard's first two games have changed the story arc. I hate the cliche that perception is reality, but it does matter (especially in college football), so it's a big deal that Michigan is on the lips of sports talk hosts 700 miles from Ann Arbor because the quarterback is good.

All that said, if non-Michigan fans get annoyed by the hype, I'll understand.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Top 25 is So Easy When I Can Ignore Two Conferences

OK, I didn't ignore the ACC completely, though the thought did cross my mind. I had the temptation to punish Clemson for the sins of the rest of its league, but then I relented and played a four-team Tiger parlay in the middle of my ballot.

Other thoughts:

  • Alabama and Ohio State have established themselves as the top two teams in the country. Sometimes, the preseason consensus is right. The Bucks and Tide were on top of most preseason polls and lo and behold, they look the best of any contender right now.
  • Was it Cecil Hurt who asked via Twitter "does this mean I need to rank James Madison #2? Whomever it was, that was the line of the weekend.
  • I look forward to my friend, the anonymous Ute's latest invective about how I am not giving any love to the team of the Aughts that should have won multiple national titles. Because really, there's no difference between 12-0 seasons.
  • I know that giving Oklahoma a massive bounce for beating an unranked team might be a little much, but we do know that Florida State has an excellent offense, so the Sooners shutting down that passing game is worthy of kudos. Phil Steele says "thank you, Bob Stoops."
  • Take one look at Nebraska's schedule and you too will understand why Vegas pegged the Huskers for ten wins this year.
  • Blogosphere debate of the week: is Jacory Harris overrated or is he a victim of a terrible offensive line. Saturday's game reminded me a little of the '95 Orange Bowl, when Nebraska pummeled Frank Costa more and more as the game progressed, to the point where he was chucking the ball immediately by the end. (Little remembered fact from that game: after Nebraska tied the game at 17 in the fourth quarter, the Huskers blew a coverage and Costa overthrew a wide open receiver on what would have been a sure touchdown, most likely because the pass rush had made him gunshy. That overthrow was the difference between Penn State winning the national title and being remembered as a nice 12-0 team. See, Boise State, luck comes into play even for the major conference teams.)
  • Michigan's ranking is brought to you by Desmond Howard, Tim Biakabutuka, Ryan Mundy, Junior Hemingway, Rumeal Robinson, and Ray Jackson.