Thursday, September 29, 2011

Me, I’m Still On The Road / Headed For Another Joint

What is there to say that hasn’t been said repeatedly over the past two weeks as the prospect of a historic collapse became a reality?  Fredi Gonzalez proved to have Bobby Cox’s bad tactical decisions* without his grand strategic sense of how to handle a team over a long season without letting small bumps in the road turn into major detours.  The Braves’ offense completely collapsed, especially after the first few innings on Monday and Thursday night.  O’Ventbrel, the strength of the team for five months, simply ran out of gas in September.**  The team seemed to be in a psychological fog, like a condemned man waiting for the end.  Freddie Freeman’s double-play grounder to first was the end that we all saw coming for weeks.

* – What was your favorite last night?  I’m stuck between Scott Linebrink pitching to Hunter Pence and Scott Linebrink being in the game at all.  Michael Bourn not moving an inch after getting a one-out single in the tenth was also a nice touch.

** – Venters and Kimbrel combined for five walks in one and two-thirds innings last night.  If that game was played in July, they mow through the eighth and ninth and the Braves win.  If Kimbrel doesn’t blow three ninth inning leads in September – one on a Friday against the Cardinals, one on a Monday against the Marlins, and then one last night against the Phillies – then the Braves’ season would not be over.  Gonzalez over-pitched O’Ventbrel over the course of the season, but I don’t blame him.  What choice did he have with an underperforming offense that led to a bevy of close games?  No, this one falls on Frank Wren for his decisions in filling out the back of the bullpen.  Oh, and Peter Moylan’s treacherous back also deserves a mention.

At the end of the game, I had two lines in my head.  The first was “this is what you get from Radiohead’s "Karma Police."  We had the joy of the Braves being money in the regular season for a decade and a half.  We never experienced what it’s like to collapse in September and now we know.  Let’s not go through this again.*  The second was Edward R. Rooney’s line to Sloan in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “between grief and nothing, I’ll take grief.”  The line is meant to show Rooney being an emotionally closed-off clown, but it actually made sense to me last night.  The events that bind a fan base together are both great victories and horrendous defeats.  This is the latter and it will become a topic that random Braves fans will discuss when they are pumping gas at adjoining pumps at a Marathon.**   

* – Thankfully, because baseball does not exist outside of the Acela corridor, this debacle will be a footnote, nationally speaking, because the Red Sox had an even more stunning collapse on the same night.

** - Fueling the American Spirit!  What I will miss most about this season is listening to games.  I really grew to enjoy Jim Powell.  And yes, Richard Petty’s spots for Marathon.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Moneyball in College Football, Bill Connelly Edition

Here is a post that I wrote in May after reading the comments of various coaches regarding the stats that they consider to be important.  Money grafs:

The general sense that I got from the article is that college football is a barren wasteland for statistical analysis among coaches. It's possible that some of these coaches have advanced stats for measuring their teams' performances and they just aren't sharing those stats because they want to retain an edge, but there is no hint of that sort of collusion. I doubt that dozens of baseball managers would say that they use batting average and RBIs to measure players and if they do, most GMs almost certainly don't. Since college football programs don't have general managers, it falls on the coaches to seek out and use better stats, but it appears that they don't, although at least some of them are curious enough to have read studies on the importance of turnover margin.

And here's the funny thing about innumeracy on the part of coaches: they have a ready-made solution at their universities. Do you really think that there aren't a dozen students (or professors) in the stats department at Alabama who would be thrilled to apply their regression analysis tools to help Nick Saban understand what stats have the strongest correlation with winning? Or what traits are most important for recruits at given positions? I'm not saying that coaches should use these sorts of analyses to make all of their decisions. As in baseball, stats are best used in conjunction with traditional scouting and coaching, and that's in a sport that lends itself to statistical analysis more than football. Likewise, I'm not saying that coordinators need to start spouting off about adjusted yards per play or S&P. Their jobs are still primarily to develop schemes and then to coach players to perform their roles in those schemes. However, there can be no doubt that they would be more effective at their jobs if they had better guidance as to what numbers matter.
And here is Bill Connelly on the same subject:
What role do statistics play in college football's version of Moneyball? It is still unclear. Though teams have long figured out their own ways to evaluate their own and other teams' success, the fact is that the only group even more resistant to changes in approach and bookworm tendencies than than the stereotypical, old-school "baseball guy" is the stereotypical "football guy." Be they boosters or long-time coaches, they have long internalized that there is one way to win a football game, and attempts at change will be met with extreme resistance...

It is still quite noteworthy and unique when a coach searches out innovation through numbers. But that means that the same market inefficiencies that Billy Beane attempted to exploit a decade ago still very much exist in college football, and those who best figure out how to exploit it will win quite a few football games. Baseball has caught up to Billy Beane in a lot of ways, but there is simply no question that he changed the approach to winning baseball games. Who will do the same in the world of five-star recruits, tailgates and traditionalist fanbases? And when they figure out how to exploit statistics for wins, how will they do it?
I'm flattered.


From Each According To His $15M Salary, To Each According To ... Good Lord, We Really Are Going To Blow This!

What the f***?

Those three words best describe the collective feeling of Braves fans on the morning of September 28, 2011? The Braves are one loss from completing one of the great collapses in baseball history. After all of their terrible play over the course of the month, they woke up on Saturday morning with a three-game lead and five games to play. Since that time, they have lost four in a row, scoring a whopping four runs in the process. Last night, with the season very much hanging in the balance, Fredi Gonzalez pulled a Bobby Cox in October special, sticking with the underperforming veteran - Derek Lowe - until it was far too late. Yes, the Braves are in a difficult spot because of the injuries to Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson,* but the rookies who have replaced them have been perfectly fine. Of the Braves' five starting pitchers this month, Randall Delgado and Mike Minor have the lowest ERAs of the five.  How much better would Jurrjens and Hanson have done than a 3.11 ERA in 52 innings?  Maybe they would have pitched a smidge deeper into games, but that's it.  Meanwhile, Derek Lowe, a guy who is taking up a smidge over one-sixth of the team's payroll, has an 8.75 ERA and a 1.99 WHIP in five starts.  He has been the losing pitcher in all five.  If by some simple twist of fate the Braves do make the playoffs** and Lowe pitches in any capacity other than long relief, then Frank Wren ought to relieve him of command on the spot.

* - Was anyone else completely non-plussed when Hanson and Jurrjens failed to return from the All-Star Break with their arms intact?  That's how baseball is now.  You have a good young pitcher and you immediately start counting the days until some arm injury that initially sounds innocuous, then the team can't figure out what's wrong, and then he's finally seeing Dr. Andrews.  Baseball manages to combine a turtle's pace with high-impact injuries.  Bravo, Abner Doubleday!

** - I'd put the odds at this stage at around 30%. They should win tonight with a favorable pitching match-up, but their odds in a one-game playoff will not be good.  The playoff would just be insufferable.  The Cardinals will be up 6-2 in the seventh and then Tony LaRussa will prolong our misery with a bevy of "look at me!" switches.  And G-d only knows what happens when he gets into the One-Game Playoff Supplement to his Compendium of Unwritten Baseball Rules.  Fredi could redeem a season's worth of frustration by decking LaRussa in a stupid, futile gesture at the end of a dispiriting collapse.  That would make the whole thing worthwhile.

And then, let's discuss the offense.  It has been a sore spot all year, with just about every offensive regular underperforming his PECOTA (or whatever Baseball Prospectus is calling it these days) projection, but September has been a total freefall.  The top of the order - Michael Bourn and Martin Prado - both have sub-.300 OBPs this month and have walked a grand total of nine times.  Brian McCann is in free-fall, having slugged .313 in September.  The team collectively has a .301 OBP in the month.  By way of comparison, the Giants - a team that is having a historically bad offensive season - have a .303 OBP for the year.  Parrish raus!

The glass half-full thought for a morning that desperately needs it is that I wouldn't trade places with a Cardinals fan for a second.  Yes, the Cards look likely to pull off a remarkable comeback.  All that gets them is a likely defeat at the hands of the Phillies.  Their franchise player is a free agent, which means that they are either going to lose him or they are going to have to sign him to a payroll-crippling contract.*  They don't have a single good, young position player now that their cantankerous manager chased off Colby Rasmus because his stirrups weren't perpendicular to his big toe or whatever else it is that LaRussa views as necessary to baseball success.  They rely on Dave Duncan to stitch together a pitching staff every year.  Their farm system is blah.  In contrast, the Braves have young keepers at first (Freeman), third (Prado), catcher (McCann), and right (Heyward), assuming that Parrish has not done permanent damage to some or all of them.  We finally have a lead-off hitter.  The Braves have five quality young starters and three quality young relievers, assuming that Fredi hasn't destroyed the relievers with overuse this year.  Do you detect a theme here?  The Braves' future is very bright if the on-field coaches don't screw it up.  Maybe the real silver lining here is that a collapse like this requires at least one fall guy in the dugout.

* - If you think that Derek Lowe making $15M next year is bad, think about paying twice that amount for Albert Pujols' age-39 season.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Wisconsin Tapeworms (and Other Random Observations from the Weekend)

This weekend is the fifth week of the 2011 football season.  We are already one-third of the way through the campaign.  We are at a point where we can make intelligent judgments about most teams because we have seen them against quality opponents.  LSU is the new #1 team in the country, having won on trips to Jerryworld, Starkville, and Morgantown.  Alabama has whipped Penn State on the road and Arkansas at home.  Oklahoma went to Tallahassee on a Saturday night and showed that maybe a Big XII can actually play defense.

And then we have Wisconsin, the parasites of college football.  The Badgers have played nobody.  Barry Alvarez lined up UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, and South Dakota, three of which were at home and the fourth was at Soldier Field against a MAC fan base, requiring Badger fans to drive a whopping two or even three hours to see their team play a de facto home game.  While the vast majority of college football powers have played at least one good opponent, thus giving us entertaining games to watch, the Badgers have been engaged in a glorified preseason.  If every team scheduled like Wisconsin, then no one would watch games not involving their own teams in September.  Wisconsin does no useful work, but benefits from the efforts of the larger organism.  Hence, they are parasites, just like a rich soccer or baseball team whose youth team/farm system produces no good players and they instead buy the quality players produced by other teams.

My disdain for Wisconsin is especially pronounced because Barry Alvarez built a program on disgraceful scheduling, but whereas most upstart programs eventually outgrow their tendency to play Hucklebuck U, Barry just keeps lining up tomato cans as if Wisconsin were still the upstarts of the Big Ten.  If F***ing Kansas State just played at Miami this weekend, then maybe the Badgers are a little behind the curve in non-conference scheduling.  You know, like 15 years behind?  Brett Bielema is in his sixth season as the coach of the Badgers and here is the complete list of non-conference road games that Wisconsin has played during his tenure:

UNLV (twice)
Fresno State

Way to step out on a limb against the WAC/MWC!  Maybe last year’s Rose Bowl should have been branded as the MWC Championship Game.  And here is the complete list of BCS Conference opponents that Alvarez has lined up for his prodigy:

Oregon State
Arizona State
Washington State

We’re really going after the cream of the Pac Ten crop, aren’t we!  As a committed college football fan, I am eternally grateful that Barry Alvarez has gone to the greatest length possible to give me watchable games.  He makes Frank Beamer look like Knute Rockne or Bobby Bowden.  “We’ll play anyone anywhere at any time, as long as ‘anyone’ is someone from a non-BCS conference that has a massive resource disadvantage compared to us and ‘anywhere’ is somewhere that my fans can treat as a vacation.  There’s nothing quite like rows of cheddar-stretched bellies lined up by a pool at the Bellagio or a beach in Maui.  Go Badgers!”

Other thoughts from the weekend:

  • We all made fun of Arkansas fans when they went FOIA-crazy in their efforts to get rid of Houston Nutt, just as Nutt was having some success with his McFadden/Jones teams.  It bears mentioning that everything that Arkansas fans said about Nutt and how he would fare at Ole Miss has turned out to be accurate.  He did well initially when he was coaching players recruited by The Orgeron, but now, his half-assed recruiting effort is coming home to roost.   Meanwhile, Arkansas ran off Nutt and replaced him with a significantly superior coach, so who says that lunatic fan behavior doesn’t pay off?
  • Greg Mattison’s Michigan defense has held consecutive opponents to single-digit scoring.  GERG’s defenses held two opponents to single digits in two years and one of those opponents was a low-level I-AA team.  In the eternal “what matters more: coaching or players?” debate, Michigan’s defense is illustrating the value of competent leaders on the sideline.  And speaking of Michigan coaches, Brady Hoke went a long way to dispelling the comparisons to Lloyd Carr by going for a fourth and two just inside of Michigan territory late in the second quarter against San Diego State on Saturday.  Naturally, Chris Martin thought that it was a bad idea.  Coaches are way ahead of color analysts in understanding risk/reward calculations. 
  • We’re too early to reach any conclusions, but one interesting comparison this year will be between Al Groh and Todd Grantham in year two of their efforts to install 3-4 schemes.  Paul Johnson has his offense fully in gear, so Tech will not need to be better than decent on defense to be a contender in the ACC.  Tech will be a significant favorite in its next three games, so 7-0 headed to Miami looks like a distinct possibility.  Groh seems to have his defense playing a little better than they were last year.  Grantham’s efforts look inconclusive right now.  Boise State had success against the Dawgs, but how much of that was simply a result of playing an excellent offense with a senior quarterback?  The numbers in the South Carolina game were bad, but Georgia surrendered three non-offensive touchdowns.  The Dawgs have faced two tomato cans since the opening two-game challenge.  Two big tests are coming up for Grantham.  Mississippi State and Tennessee both have good offenses, but are by no means unstoppable.  With Georgia’s margin for error gone, Mark Richt really needs Grantham and his charges to produce.
  • My father-in-law was trying to tell me this weekend that Randy Edsall was a great hire for Maryland.  Do you ever find yourself in social situations where you want to respond with “that’s ludicrous for the following six reasons” and then come to the “what’s the point” realization?  Anyway, thank you to Temple for making my point for me.
  • LSU is becoming an interesting test for the notion that yardage is more important than points.  The scoreboards at the end of the games against Oregon and West Virginia were impressive; the box scores, not as much. 
  • Alabama held Arkansas to 226 yards on 3.8 yards per play.  I think that the hype for the Alabama defense has proved to be well-founded.  To come back to the start of this post, a one-loss SEC Champion ought to get a spot in the national title game over an unbeaten Wisconsin.  At some stage, the Badgers should be punished for being [insert euphemism for lady parts] and that would be the way to do it.  Plus, Wisconsinites in New Orleans would be a crossing of the streams in terms of the least healthy fan base meeting the country’s most unhealthy, decadent cuisine.  That event could single-handedly destroy the cost curve that Obamacare is designed to bend.   

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Collapse

Jonah Keri nailed the Braves' collapse yesterday.  In short, the team's two best starting pitchers are hurt, O'Ventbrel has been the strength of the team but are now running out of gas after having been used all year, and the offense isn't good enough to pick up the slack with Heyward, Gonzalez, and Prado all having had disappointing years at the plate.  It's surprising that the Braves have blown most of a giant lead, but they were overachieving to have that lead in the first place.

My first impulse when the collapse started was to miss Bobby Cox.  Bobby had plenty of shortcomings as a tactician, but he was a master of keeping an even keel in the clubhouse and creating an environment where players didn't panic.  Cox didn't leave a trail of players with whom he had major fallings out like Tony LaRussa has.  Cox's teams never collapsed during a season.  In fact, the Braves had a lifetime's worth of playoff disappointments during Cox's tenure, but there were no instances of the team blowing a big lead in a series.  (OK, maybe the '96 World Series was a collapse, but I view that more as an instance of bad luck.  Game Five was especially galling.)  Fredi is presiding over a phenomenon that did not occur during the Cox years. 

That said, there are at least two ways to defend him from this criticism.  The first is that it is unfair to measure him against a Hall of Fame manager.  The second is the point that Keri makes.  It's not really Fredi's fault that Jurrjens and Hanson are sidelined.  I doubt that it is his fault that Derek Lowe is in the toilet.  He bares some responsibility for O'Ventbrel running out of gas, but it's not like he had a lot of options during the season, given the players who were rounding out the rest of the bullpen.  Maybe he is responsible for the disappointing season from the offense, but that's more of a general criticism than it is a placement of blame on Fredi for what has happened in September.

Overall, this race to the playoffs seems a little pointless.  Yes, the baseball playoffs are a game of chance, but the Braves would be sitting at the Blackjack table with a 15 and the dealer showing a face card.  Does anyone have faith that the rotation as currently constituted would be able to hold up against a playoff-quality lineup?  Or that O'Ventbrel will suddenly find their second winds?  Or that Jason Heyward will make up for a lost season with a burst of hitting that reminds us of the form he showed last year?  This is my 27th season cheering for the Braves, but I am having a hard time working up the emotional energy to care about what would seem on the surface to be a devastating prospective collapse.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nerd Alert

If you haven't figured it out yet, I like numbers. I get annoyed when mainstream sports analysis either dismisses statistical analysis as the province of nerds who never put on pads or uses the wrong numbers to try to make a point. Part of what is great about sports is that results can be quantified and compared, so we have have a more rational discussion about the best college football team in a given year as compared to the best movie or TV show. That said, there are limitations to statistical analysis. As SABR afficianados will tell you themselves, the appropriate use of stats is to complement scouting, not to replace it. Ideally, the numbers tell us what our eyes are already communicating. If a number seems totally out of whack with reality, then it is time to question the number.

That is exactly what is going on with Nate Silver's attempt to quantify the size of college football fan bases. I love Silver's writing on politics and baseball, but you can tell from his post that he is not a college football fan. If he were, then he would know that he needs to go back to the drawing board when his methodology produces a conclusion that Georgia Tech has 1,664,088 fans, while Georgia has only 1,098,957 fans. Anyone who follows college football in this market (and according to Silver's number, Atlanta has more college football fans than any other city in the country, save New York, which is a very confusing argument for the "Atlanta is the worst sports town in America" crowd) immediately knows that this number is wrong. Georgia sells out every game in a 90,000 seat venue, regardless of opponent. Georgia Tech struggles to fill a 50,000 seat stadium unless the opponent brings fans. Georgia has a fan base that will make massive donations in order to have the right to buy tickets; Georgia Tech has to offer ticket packages to get casual fans in the door. Georgia's student body is twice as big and the Dawgs also command lots more support from residents of the state who never went to college.

So how does Silver make his mistake? Look at his inputs. First, he is looking at the top 210 TV markets. In Georgia, that covers Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta, Macon, Columbus, and Albany. That leaves a lot of the state unmeasured. The list of TV markets linked by Silver puts the population of those six cities at about 3.6M in a state of over 9M people. If I were to start surveying people in Cordele, Dublin, or Luthersville, I'd guess that I'd find a lot more Dawg fans than I would Tech fans. College football is a very popular sport in rural areas, so Silver is missing out on a big piece of the sample by looking at TV markets.

Working from only a portion of the pie, Silver then relies on Google search traffic and an online survey of college football fans to divide up the 210 TV markets. It's here that Georgia fans' stereotype of Tech fans as computer geeks really kicks in. As my friend Bob shouted at some Tech fans during our unsuccessful attempts to scalp tickets to the 1999 Tech-Georgia game, why don't you download yourselves a beer! Silver is doing the best he can to use publicly-available data so as to replicate the sort of market analyses that the major conferences are doing in making realignment decisions, but there are holes here. Any online measure of fan support is going to skew urban and white collar. Maybe that's how you end up concluding that Miami has a bigger fan base than Florida State. Silver does try to limit the damage by including revenue information, but again, this will tend to favor a fan base like Georgia Tech's that is small and wealthy. It's a compliment to Tech as an institution that it produces successful graduates, but it is a limiting factor when we are trying to look at the number of eyeballs watching the Jackets play North Carolina and the Dawgs play Tennessee.  Likewise, Silver's methodology will tend to overrate the size of Auburn's fan base and underrate the size of Alabama's because there are a bevy of Harvey Updykes out there who don't live in urban areas and don't respond to online surveys, but instead express their love of the Tide by amateur efforts at horticulture and then by calling the Finebaum Show to brag.

The last point to be made here is that Silver is looking at the size of fan bases as being the dominant factor in realignment.  There's no doubt that demographics matter, but there are other considerations.  Take branding as an example.  The SEC is the best college football TV product for a variety of reasons, one of which is that the games are played in stadia packed with fans screaming their heads off for three hours.  That intensity comes across on the tube.  I wrote about this issue during the winter in making an analogy between what the English Premier League has achieved worldwide and what the NHL could learn from the EPL:

Tim Vickery made a great point on the World Football Phone-in a few weeks ago regarding coverage of futbol in Brazil and the point applies to the NHL. He was talking about the discussions in England regarding whether the new tenant of the London Olympic Stadium, either Spurs or West Ham, will tear out the track when one of the clubs moves in after the Olympics. In the process of making the point that having a running track kills the atmosphere for a match, he said that Brazilian TV companies can't get enough of the English Premier League in large part because the atmosphere is so good. The fans are screaming and singing the whole time and significantly, they are close to the action, so the cameras can pick up the facial reactions of the fans when goals go in.

Vickery's point has applicability to the NHL, specifically as an illustration of yet another way in which Gary Bettman has got things all wrong. He expanded hockey throughout the Sunbelt because of the size of the markets here. In the process of doing so, he reduced the value of the NHL as a TV property. Hockey already struggles on TV because it's hard to follow the puck. The sport needs to make up for this shortcoming in other ways. One such way is passion from the fans. Hockey fans tend to be screamers, especially in places where the game has deep roots. Leaving aside the fact that I live in Atlanta and want our city to have an NHL team, what is going to be more appealing to an average viewer: a playoff game in a beautiful, but somewhat sterile arena in Atlanta or Nashville or the same game played in front of crazy fans who live and breathe the game in Quebec City or Winnipeg? The NHL already has something of a spectacle problem by virtue of iconic franchises leaving their great old arenas for new, less interesting venues. (Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, and Boston all come to mind; Hockey Night in Canada just isn't the same without Maple Leaf Gardens. Now, if you'll excuse me, there are some kids on my lawn who require shooing.) The league adds to the problem by moving its product outside of its sweet spot.
Apply this reasoning to the SEC potentially adding West Virginia as team 14.  West Virginia is a small, rural, poor state.  In terms of eyeballs, it is not worth adding.  However, if you imagine the scenes when Alabama and Florida go there for games, you can see the SEC adding to its EPL-style brand.  Hell, just watch what happens when LSU arrives this weekend.  Now, the question that Mike Slive & Company have to be asking themselves is whether their brand really needs cementing.  Isn't the SEC going to be the same, outstanding TV product without West Virginia?  Maybe, but there has to be a way to figure out the value of further salting away the perception of the SEC as the best TV product for fansanity. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Vickkampf: the Panther is in the Shop Again

At the end of the Falcons-Eagles game last night, I had the same feeling as I did after Michigan-Notre Dame: should I be happy that my team won or concerned by the manner in which they won.  On the one hand, the Falcons got a critical win to avoid an 0-2 start.  They kept pace with the Saints and Bucs.  They came off the mat when they were down by ten in the fourth quarter.  With the game in the balance, they mounted two long touchdown drives against a defense that had been shelling them for most of the game.  And they did all of this against a team that is clearly one of the two best in the NFC.  (The hierarchy in the NFC: Green Bay and Philly are clearly on top, the Saints are third, and then everyone else fills in behind in some convoluted order.)

On the other hand, yeesh.  The Falcons pretty clearly won because Michael Vick sustained an injury in the third quarter.  Prior to Vick’s injury, the Eagles were pretty much moving the ball on the Falcons at will.  After the injury, the Eagles had to deploy third-string quarterback Mike Kafka, leading a bunch of NFL types to make the same Metamorphosis jokes that college fans exhausted several years ago.  Despite this good fortune, the Falcons still let the Eagles mount a late drive, a drive that ended not because the Falcons made a great defensive play, but rather because Jeremy Maclin – a player who had killed the Falcons all night – dropped a pass on fourth down.  At one point before Vick’s injury, the Falcons were being outgained 350 to 152.  The local pro football collective looked at times like they belonged in the NFC West.  Only the good fortune of scoring touchdowns after a lengthy fumble return by Ray Edwards (great play by Peria Jerry to force the fumble, but everything that happened thereafter was luck) and then an interception that wasn’t really an interception by Kelvin Hayden* had kept the Falcons in the game in the middle stretches. 

* – All of Andy Reid’s game management issues that Bill Simmons has lampooned for years were on display in this game.  Reid erred by not using his timeouts at the end of the first half when the Falcons were inside the Eagles ten and time clearly wasn’t an issue.  He didn’t challenge the Hayden pick.  He wasted a timeout discussing the fourth down play at the end with Kafka, thus depriving the Eagles of a chance to mount a drive after the fourth down attempt failed.  Reid is a good coach in most areas, but he is usually found wanting in the areas that fans can most easily judge. 

There was really no aspect of the Falcons team that looked good.  The running game was productive on Michael Turner’s first two and last two carries, but in between, there was a whole lot of nothing.  Matt Ryan threw two picks and averaged only 5.6 yards per attempt.  Whether the failings of the passing game were the result of Ryan playing poorly or the offensive line getting abused on just about every dropback is an open question.  If the NFL is a passing league and the key on defense is getting a pass rush without blitzing, then Eagles fans have to be feeling a lot better than Falcons fans this morning.  On defense, the Falcons struggled to cover Maclin and DeSean Jackson and they didn’t get a sack on any of the Eagles’ 37 pass attempts.  But hey, the Falcons injured Vick by throwing him into one of his teammates, so there’s that.

On the surface level, this was a win straight out of the 2010 playbook in that the Falcons got outgained, but still managed to beat a good opponent.  However, the formula isn’t even working anymore.  The Falcons won last year despite pedestrian yardage numbers because of three strengths, but none of the strengths were evident last night:

1. They were fourth in the NFL in first downs, showing a low variance offense that was able to control the clock and score.  Last night, the Eagles had 27 first downs to the Falcons’ 20.

2. They were third in the NFL in fewest turnovers surrendered.  Last night, the Falcons threw a pair of picks.  In a similar vein, the Falcons were third in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed, but last night, Ryan was sacked four times and was running for his life on most of the rest of his dropbacks.

3. They were excellent on special teams.  Last night, the Falcons had an 18-yard punt from Matt Bosher (Bosher is a major step down from Michael Koenen) and also saw Pro Bowler Eric Weems make a series of dreadful decisions on punt and kickoff returns.

There are two possibilities here.  The first is that the Falcons simply played two bad games to start the season and they will right the ship in the coming weeks.  The second is that the 13-3 season in 2010 was a mirage based on factors that will not or cannot be repeated and regression to the mean is going to hit with force this fall.  I’m leaning towards the latter.   

My Top 25 Believes in a Healthy Chest

With apologies to Mr. Osato from You Only Live Twice, this season is starting to round into shape.  The top five on my ballot fell together nicely.  I suppose that one could quibble with Alabama being the #1 team in the country despite the fact that its marquee win isn’t as good as those of LSU or Oklahoma, but I started the year with the notion that Bama is the best team in the country and I haven’t seen anything to disabuse me of that notion.  Put the Tide on the field against the Tigers or Sooners and I think that Saban/Smart’s defense would strangle either one.  Alabama and LSU really look like mirror images of one another.  After a season in which the SEC was dominated by high-powered offense, led by Auburn showing that a team can win a national title with an average defense, the elite teams in the conference look like mirro images of one another: deep, athletic, well-schooled defenses, paired with physical running games and game manager quarterbacks.  It’s a Tony Barnhart wet dream.  Jarrett Lee versus A.J. McCarron can take him back to John Lastinger against Randy Campbell.

However, my pick for the other half of the national title game is lnot exactly looking strong on the defensive side of the ball.  What the hell, Brothers Pelini?  Seven returning starters on a defensive unit that finished seventh nationally in yards per play allowed and you allow 38 points on 6.2 yards per play to Washington?  At home?  The week after you allowed 29 points and 5.5 yards per play at home against Fresno State?  That date in Madison in two weeks is not looking good for the Huskers.

And speaking of the Midwest, in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, I did enjoy filling out a ballot that did not include Michigan State, Notre Dame, or Ohio State.  My only regret from the weekend is that aesthetically speaking, the Miami-Ohio State game would have been better if it were in the Orange Bowl.   

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why I Love College Football, Reason #1,536

I am a creature of habit.  I eat fish on Monday, steak on Thursday, and Raging Burrito on Friday.  My wife gets me a new Michigan t-shirt each year before the start of football season.  We have had the same vacation on the Delaware shore with the in-laws every summer since we had our first child.  I make the same smoked turkey with a Cajun rub each Thanksgiving.  I wore the same tie on my first day of work with my first employer and then again on my last day with that same employer, 11 years later.  I wore the same tie (not the same as the first day of work tie) to my high school, college, and law school graduations.  I have had exactly two cars in 20 years of being a driver.

It occurred to me this morning as I was listening to the Solid Verbal podcast on the way to work and the discussion turned to the Tennessee-Florida game that college football appeals to me innately because more than any other sport, it has its own biological clock.  Ever since the SEC went to divisions, we get South Carolina-Georgia and Tennessee-Florida early.  We famously get Tennessee-Alabama on the Third Saturday in October.  We get Georgia-Florida around Halloween, then LSU-Alabama shortly thereafter.  We get Georgia's closing kick of Auburn and Georgia Tech, along with Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson, Auburn-Alabama, and the Egg Bowl.  Outside of the South, we get Michigan-Notre Dame early, the Red River Rivalry in early October, and then a host of rivalry games around Thanksgiving.  If realignment knocks out some of the games that act as temporal markers for the college football season, am I going to feel like my Circadian Rhythms have been disrupted?  Like I'm awake at night and asleep in the day, i.e. back in college? 

Is there another sport that Chronobiologists would like as much as college football?  Is there another sport whose games would make sense to migrating wildebeests?  The same games fill the same spots in the calendar, year-in and year-out.  Professional sports, whether in this country or in Europe, get their schedules now from computers spitting out lists.  Other than knowing that Dallas and Detroit are going to be at home on Thanksgiving and (more recently) that the Super Bowl Champion will be home on a Thursday night, do we know when any rivalry games are going to be played?  Do we know when the Red Sox and Yankees will play, other than too damn much for the tastes of everyone outside of the Acela Corridor?  Do we know when the Lakers and Celtics will play?  Do I know when Real and Barca are going to meet?  Or Manchester United and Liverpool?  Or the Milan Derby?  I suppose I know when certain college basketball games are going to be, but: (1) that is not true for the non-conference schedule; and (2) in a sport that has been reduced to a three-week season, does anything about the regular season really matter? 

It's a total cliche, but part of what makes college football great is its uniqueness.  It's regional, it places tremendous importance on conference titles, and it has an anachronistic bowl system with no playoff.  When Tennessee and Florida meet at the Swamp this weekend and my internal clock checks off another mark in an annual cycle, I'll be reminded of another way that the sport I love is a very different animal.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vickkampf: He's Back

Well, this has been a fun week to be a Falcons fan. After much excitement in the offseason and a prediction from Peter King that the team will make the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history, the team laid an egg in Chicago on Sunday, getting buried by a Bears team that no one respects. After being promised a more explosive offense, we saw a damp squib of an attack produce exactly six points. The concerns from last year - Mike Mularkey's bland play-calling, Matt Ryan playing like crap on the road, etc. - appear unresolved. So why has it been a fun week? Because Mike Vick is coming to town with the NFC favorites, which has forced a critical analysis of where this team is four years after Vick's departure. This isn't just any week in an NFL city where the home team got off to a bad start in week one. With a significant portion of the Falcons' fan base still sore over the fact that Vick is no longer under center for the Falcons (how the Vickstapo think that the team could have waited patiently for him while he served a stint in a federal penitentiary, I'll never know), the question of "how much better off are we?" is a pertinent one.

The funny thing for me is that I've been listening to 790 the Zone, which can come off like Pravda Flowery Branch, and the defense of the Falcons is remarkably similar to the same defense that we heard in 2005 and 2006 when the team was obviously heading off the rails. (OK, my criticism here is mainly of Steak Shapiro, a living embodiment of the maxim that one does not have to be good at one's job in order to be successful.) Back then, when it was becoming apparent that the Falcons were not a contender in the NFC, the defense of Vick and the Falcons was "he's a winner." In Vick's first three years as a starter, the Falcons made the playoffs twice and the third season, Vick was out for 12 games with a broken leg. Moreover, the Falcons won playoff games in each of Vick's two trips to the postseason before losing in Philadelphia both times. So yeah, the Falcons didn't look good in 2005-06 and there were worrying signs that Vick was regressing (his accuracy was spotty, his footwork was bad, he wasn't dropping back in the pocket properly, etc.), but Vick is a winner! Look at his record as a starter!

How did that turn out? If any fan base should be wary of "look at the quarterback's record as a starter," it's the Falcons' one. As it turns out, building a team properly and coaching it well matters. The Eagles built excellent rosters, they are well-coached, and they have won consistently. The Falcons had a pair of flash-in-the-pan seasons, we thought that we were the Eagles, but our two trips to Philly in January should have told us that we were not. Now, Vick is playing in Philly, he's twice the quarterback that he was in his final two seasons in Atlanta, and we ought to be reminded that judging a quarterback based on wins and losses is a fool's errand.

The second defense of the current iteration of the Falcons' offense that Shapiro repeats ad nauseam is that they were fifth in the NFL in points scored last year. I can't tell if Steak is being willfully blind here, if he isn't smart enough to understand his poor use of statistics, or if the format of sports radio simply eschews intelligent use of numbers. Shapiro is a former gambler, so maybe he ought to consider the fact that most Vegas sharps - the guys who pay their hefty mortgages by making better predictions than the general gambling public - base their statistical models on yards per play. By that measure, the Falcons were 25th in the NFL offensively in 2010. The Ryan-led passing game was 25th in yards per pass attempt. Account for touchdowns and interceptions and the Falcons jump all the way to 13th in adjusted yards per attempt. (The numbers are all here.) Or, let's look at Football Outsiders' numbers. They pegged the Falcons has having the tenth-best offense in the league, which is good but is a far cry from fifth. Using their weighted DVOA, which gives extra weight to performances later in the year (and remember that Shapiro is a guy who bitches about the lack of a playoff in college football because the point of sports to him is to get a team playing well at the end of the season), and the Falcons drop to 13th.

There is all manner of noise in the points scored stat. If a team has good field position, then it will score more points. If a team has a defense that forces turnovers, then it will score more points. If it has a defense and special teams that score touchdowns, then it will score more points. If it is playing against a weak schedule, then it will score more points. All of these factors were in play for the Falcons last year. Their special teams ranked second in the NFL. They scored five non-offensive touchdowns. They were seventh in turnovers forced. Moreover, fully half of their schedule was composed of the worst team in football (the Panthers), the worst division in football (and possibly in NFL history - the NFC West), and the Bengals and Browns (combined record: 9-23). That's how you end up scoring the fifth-most points in the NFL despite an underwhelming offensive coordinator and a young quarterback who is giving off a worrying aroma, just like the last young quarterback who excited Falcons fans.

Al Borges and Jesse Pinkman

Take a gander at this post from Jonathan Wilson and tell me that you don't think of the odd mix of West Coast Offense guru Al Borges coaching Denard Robinson and other players recruited for the Spread 'n' Shred. Or better yet, just read this paragraph:
Again, given the make-up of the squad, you wonder why Gasperini was ever appointed. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with his 3-4-3 or his high-tempo style, but tactics do not exist in isolation; they must always be fitted to players, opposition and circumstances. There is no "best" system or formation; although there are styles of play that, thanks to other developments, become outmoded. It would be wrong to say that it makes no sense for a coach to have a preferred system, but there must always be a compromise between theory and resources.
Michigan's season (and probably next season, as well) will be determined by the compromise between theory and resources. Can Borges modify his offense to the talent? Can Denard learn to make reads in the passing game so he can do more than simply throw jump balls (what he did on Saturday night) or hit wide-open receivers (what he did last year)?

The analogy that keeps coming to mind is between Borges and Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.  For those of you who aren't watching the best show on TV, Jesse has always been Walter White's right-hand man in cooking a particularly potent, pure form of meth.  At the start of the show, Jesse was a f***-up, a former high school student of White's whom White got involved in his cooking operation because White needed contacts in the drug world to sell the product that he was producing.  As the characters have evolved, Jesse has become more important, to the point that Gus Fring, the kingpin for whom the pair now work and share an uneasy relationship, is going to respond to a demand from the Mexican cartel for instruction on cooking "the blue" by sending Jesse instead of Gus to Mexico.  When Jesse explains this development to "Mr. White," he makes the obvious point that he knows how to run the cooking process from start to finish, but he doesn't understand the chemistry involved like White does.  He has a superficial understanding, but he doesn't know how the parts of the process fit together and therefore, would struggle to answer questions about it.

Borges is in the same position.  He's pragmatic enough to realize that the best way to move the ball with the talent on-hand is to use some version of the run-based spread.*  He's obviously looked at tape from 2010 and sees the plays that worked for Michigan.  However, he is in the position of being an imitator.  He doesn't quite understand how the plays fit together, how one play acts as a constraint play by punishing a defense for a natural counter to another.  This isn't a criticism of Borges at all.  He's making the best of the circumstances, but despite gaining 457 yards and putting up 35 points against Notre Dame, he's still Jesse trying to explain how to cook blue meth.

* - After two games, it's pretty safe to say that my caterwauling about Hoke forcing a Manball approach on Spread talent was a waste of time.  This is most certainly not a situation where Hoke and Borges are trying to squeeze 4-2-3-1 talent into a 3-4-3. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Brady Hoke and Gene Stallings

As I have tried to come to grips with Brady Hoke as Michigan’s head coach after some initial misgivings, the most comforting analogy has been between Hoke and Les Miles.  No one would accuse Miles of being an x’s and o’s savant, but he does three things very well: (1) he recruits; (2) he hires good coordinators and position coaches; and (3) he makes ballsy end-of-game decisions (although the ‘09 Ole Miss and ‘10 Tennessee games damaged that last reputation severely).  The early returns are positive in the first two categories and Saturday night, he checked the third box emphatically.*  So yeah, Hoke’s upside is Miles.  His recruiting base isn’t as good, but he can make up for that with Michigan’s national profile and an “I love the s*** out of this school” pitch that worked for Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.  His predecessor didn’t leave the program in as healthy a condition as Nick Saban did, but Rodriguez did leave Hoke with Denard Robinson. 

* – For those of you who (quite rationally) gave up on the game with Notre Dame leading 24-7 in the fourth quarter, Michigan had the ball on the Irish 16 with eight seconds left, plenty of time to take a shot at the end zone.  Kirk Herbstreit, who is usually on the right end of the bell curve for intelligence for color guys, immediately advocated for Michigan to center the ball, kick the field goal, and go to overtime.  Is this some sort of rule for analysts that they need to take the Rick Perryiest position when it comes to risk?  Let’s review the facts.  Michigan has not kicked a field goal all year.  They were 4/13 on field goals last year and have the same starting kicker this year as they did at this time last year.  They had momentum.  They had rallied in the game with a series of jump balls.  As Miles intuited four years ago, a fly pattern to the end zone is a very safe play with eight seconds remaining.  

But what if the better analogy isn’t to Miles, but instead to another SEC coach who ultimately won a national title: Gene Stallings.  Here are the parallels:

  • Stallings had a losing record as a head coach when Alabama hired him.  If Michigan fans think that Hoke’s 47-50 record is bad, then imagine how Tide fans felt when Stallings was hired with a 27-45-1 record at Texas A&M and a 23-34-1 record with the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals?
  • Stallings was replacing an outsider who was fired after three years because of a lack of success against the in-state rival.  We’ll see what details emerge from John Bacon’s soon-to-be-released book, but there is a good argument to be made that Rich Rodriguez was never accepted by large segments of the Michigan fan base and the local media because he did not have any ties to the Schembechler-Moeller-Carr lineage.  Does that sound like Alabama fans rejecting Curry because he was the coach of Georgia Tech (a major rival for the Tide in previous years; look at the lyrics of their fight song if you need proof) and had no ties to the Bear?  Stallings didn’t have a great resume in terms of wins and losses, but he did bring the possibility of unifying a fractured, somewhat disgruntled fan base.
  • Stallings was a defensive coach who didn’t wear a headset (although that was more common in the 90s than it is today) and relied heavily on his assistants. 

So obviously, Michigan is going to have an epic defense in 2013 and win the national title with Blake Countess stealing the ball out of the hands of an opposing receiver en route to the end zone. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Survivor’s Guilt

Is it better for one’s team to play poorly and win or play well and lose?  That is the question that I found weighing on my brain as I tried to decompress on Saturday night after a ludicrously entertaining day of football.*  Georgia gave a strong account of themselves against South Carolina, outgaining the Gamecocks (albeit by a mere 41 yards) and getting eight more first downs.  Georgia certainly seemed to dominate the first half, but found themselves trailing at the half because of red zone issues (that old Mark Richt bugaboo) and a highly improbable fake punt touchdown for South Carolina.  Georgia lost because the Dawgs gave up three non-offensive touchdowns.  Thus, the sense I left with was that Georgia is a good team that keeps doing dumb things and those dumb things blunt the team’s overall quality.  Yeah, every team will give up a fake punt every now and again, but Georgia seems unique in letting a fake punt turn into a 68-yard touchdown.  Every team will give up a sack every now and again, but Georgia managed to let their sack turn into a back-breaking touchdown.  In short, Georgia lost because they did their best to turn Melvin Ingram into a household name.**

* – During the NFL games yesterday, I found myself question the tastes of the American viewing public.  How in the world do most people find the NFL to be a more entertaining product?

** – Saturday’s games were a nice illustration of the fact that SEC defensive linemen are the major difference between the conference’s teams and everyone else’s.  I was flipping between the Georgia game and the Alabama game and Penn State’s defensive line seemed to be inert compared to the other three teams I was watching.  And the difference between South Carolina, which can throw Ingram and Jadaveon Clowney at opponents, and Michigan, which barely got any plays from its defensive linemen against Notre Dame, was jarring.  Michigan and Penn State are two of the elite programs in the Big Ten; if they have fewer quality defensive linemen than South Carolina, then something has gone wrong for Jim Delany’s conference.

In contrast, Michigan won on Saturday night despite the fact that they seemed for long stretches of the game to be the second-best team on the field.  Notre Dame dominated from the outset, jumping out to a 14-point lead and only failing to end the game in the first half because Tommy Rees threw two interceptions when he was excessively eager in forcing the ball to Michael Floyd.  Michigan rallied in the fourth quarter on the strength of an epic play by Denard Robinson – the one where he fired a strike to Junior Hemingway to get the Michigan offense going when they trailed by 17* – and then a series of jump balls from the Jeff Bowden school of offensive coordinating.  This will be an odd statement about a team that gained 452 yards and scored 35 points, including an 80-yard drive in 26 seconds with the game on the line, but Michigan’s offense looked broken.  Michigan got nothing out of its tailbacks or the running game generally when they lined up in the I-formation.  Denard Robinson missed open receivers throughout the first half and got little help from his receivers with a number of drops.  Michigan looked stuck in the no man’s land between the spread ‘n’ shred and the pro-style offense that Borges favors.  At some point in the game, Borges apparently said “f*** it, let’s see if our receivers can out-jump their corners” and lo and behold, Michigan emerged from their first night game with an epic win against a rival.**  In short, the Michigan defense is still highly suspect,*** the offense is searching for an identity beyond “Denard, do something awesome,” and the pleasure of an epic win is tempered by the knowledge that this Michigan team is going to struggle in the Big Ten.  Again.

* – Is it fair to say that Michigan won and Georgia lost because of what happened when their quarterbacks were draped by defenders on key plays in the fourth quarter?  Aaron Murray was entangled with a defender and fumbled; Denard Robinson was draped with a defender and threw an inch-perfect pass to Hemingway for a huge game to ignite the Wolverines’ rally.  It’s easy to say that Murray should have known to take the sack, but you can’t take the impulse to make plays out of guys like Robinson and Murray.  You just hope that they will avoid killer mistakes.

** – I came of age as a Michigan fan in the late 80s with a series of heartbreaking losses to Notre Dame.  In 1988, Michigan didn’t allow an offensive touchdown, but watch Reggie Ho make kick after kick and then missed their own game-winning field goal on the last play in South Bend.  In ‘89, Bo kicked to the Rocket twice.  In ‘90, Michigan had their foot on the throat of the Irish and then the combo of a terrible interception by Elvis Grbac and a typical Holtz-era play of the Irish completing a long pass that deflected from one of their receivers to another contrived to extend Michigan’s losing streak against Notre Dame to four.  With that context in mind, there is no team that I enjoy deflating more than Notre Dame.  Suffice it to say that I don’t feel the slightest amount of guilt about how Irish fans feel about losing three straight to Michigan in the final minute.    

*** – After Michigan’s first go-ahead touchdown with 1:12 remaining, I seriously pro/conned in my head whether an onside kick was a good idea.  42 seconds later, Michigan blew a coverage and the Irish were back in the lead. 

Despite the fact that one team is 2-0 and the other is 0-2, Michigan and Georgia both look like 8-4 teams.  The Dawgs are a good team that played the two best teams on the schedule in weeks one and two.  As long as they don’t have an emotional implosion, they should turn the ship around.  Conversely, Michigan leaves the two best teams on its schedule for the last two games of the season and it’s questionable as to whether the team is very good at all.  The question is how the two fan bases will feel about 8-4.  For Michigan fans, that will likely feel like a success, as Michigan hasn’t had a better record since 2006.  As long as the team (and specifically the defense) improves over the course of the year and Hoke keeps the outstanding recruiting class together, then 2011 will be a success.*  For Georgia fans, 8-4 will be ambiguous.  On the one hand, that would be an improvement.  If it includes a win in Jacksonville, then that would be a decent season.  On the other hand, 8-4 in a season in which Georgia has the easiest possible draw of teams from the West isn’t a major accomplishment.  Would that be an endorsement that Richt isn’t in terminal decline?  I suspect that one way or another, Georgia fans would like 2011 to be a definitive season.  Either Richt conclusively establishes that he still has it or he loses enough that the program can move on.  8-4 would be the worst of all worlds because it would be ambiguous.

* – In trying to understand why I wasn’t as tense as I would normally be in the late stages of a close game against a hated enemy, I came up with two reasons.  First, because I am not intellectually committed to the Hoke hire the way I was with Rich Rodriguez, I can simply enjoy Michigan games without feeling like my worldview is at stake.  Second, first-year coaches aren’t supposed to win too much.  If Bob Stoops, and Jim Tressel lost five games apiece in their first years at Oklahoma and Ohio State and Nick Saban and Pete Carroll lost six in year one at Alabama and USC, then it’s fair to say that winning a bunch of games in the first year of a tenure is not a prerequisite for future success.  As long as he doesn’t go 3-9, then things are fine.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Say Hello to my Little Friend

So I don’t know if I’m getting old or what, but I totally forgot to get in a preseason Blogpoll ballot until it was too late.  Subconsciously, I suspect that I didn’t want to get a ballot in because the exercise pulls me all over the place.  Do I make picks based on where I think the teams will finish?  Do I rank based on where I think the teams are in August?  If it’s the former, then I am rewarding teams for playing weak schedules and doing my little part to create self-fulfilling prophecies.  If it’s the latter, then how the hell do I know?

Anyway, some thoughts on the ballot:

  • OK, it was only against a I-AA team, but assuming that William & Mary is an above-average I-AA team because they are one of the traditional powers in the CAA (they are, aren’t they?  Jon Stewart, help me out!), then I am feeling good about my optimism regarding Virginia.  This is what a box score should look like when a good team plays a minnow.  UVA had a 300-yard advantage and almost doubled William & Mary in yards per play.  By the way, this paragraph is not exactly a ringing endorsement for the sport of college football.  I am trying to divine meaning in the fact that one team beat a hapless minnow from a lower division worse than other teams did.
  • I took the position last week that Texas A&M is going to end up overrated, but based on the evidence so far, they look good.  Holding SMU to 14 points is no joke.  If you would have told me in the summer of 2008 that Rich Rodriguez would be a total failure at Michigan and fired after three years while Mike Sherman would have Texas A&M rolling by year four, then I might have keeled over right there.  Of course, you then could have revived me by saying that Rick Neuheisel will be on his way out at UCLA by 2011.  Some things can be predicted, after all.
  • Speaking of cardiac events, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of a Michigan defense that made adjustments to what the opponent was doing and got better as the game went on.
  • Yeah, Braxton Miller scares me.  Chris Spielman is not known for being an excessive hyper and he was saying by the fourth quarter that Miller is going to be potentially better than Terrelle Pryor.  An interesting question for Buckeye fans: is it possible that the offense will be better under Luke Fickell because Fickell doesn’t pretend to know that side of the ball and is therefore more likely to give autonomy to offensive coaches?  I guess this theory dies when one realizes that the authority is being given to Jim Bollman.
  • So let me get this straight.  The fourth-best coach in college football took his team to a quasi-neutral site to play the worst coach in college football.  The worst coach, a guy who delegates a lot to his coordinators, came into the game with his offensive coordinator just having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  His starting quarterback was suspended for his active participation in a bar fight.  So what happens?  LSU 40 Oregon 27.  It’s just amazing that LSU keeps winning games against quality opponents despite the fact that they have a coach who is worse than Ron Zook, worse than the Queen of England, and worse than Mike Locksley.