Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Big Ten was busy while I did nothing

The Big Ten revamped its BCS tiebreaking procedure this week, adding a controversial provision and removing one that was unusual but beneficial to the conference and its fans.

Based on a little-known clause that was adopted several years ago, games against FCS teams were penalized when the conference championship came down to the second tiebreaker (after head-to-head results), so a school that played an FCS team would be passed over for a BCS game in favor of one that didn't. While this never actually came into play, it was obviously meant to be a deterrent to regularly scheduling cupcake opponents, which seems like a positive thing ... so when the conference announced that it was dropping that tiebreaker -- as well as the third tiebreaker, an old rule that eliminated the team that most recently reached a BCS game -- it was a little surprising.

Barry Alvarez, former coach and current athletic director at Wisconsin (which always has a fluffy soft schedule, coincidentally), announced the changes to the university's board and may have been the initiator, although it's unclear from the available information whether he actually proposed the change. But regardless of who offered up the suggestion, for a conference that's generally done an admirable job of avoiding some of college football's annoying problems -- oversigning, scheduling a glut of games against FCS schools, adding a conference championship game purely for monetary gain -- this seems like a step in the wrong direction.

What's even stranger, though, is the tiebreaker that was added: The Big Ten took a page from the Big 12's book, swiping the heavily criticized procedure that takes the school with the highest BCS ranking and declares it the winner if head-to-head results aren't applicable. This caused an uproar last year when Oklahoma jumped Texas late in the season, and rightfully so.

The BCS has no relation to conference play, and using it to break a tie -- when there are numerous conference-specific comparisons that could be used -- seems a little ridiculous. This will simply lead to more politicking and less sportsmanship, something none of us want to see.

The problem is that the conference has no way to go to a true round-robin format, so there will always be scenarios in which two tops teams don't play each other or three top teams all beat each other (like in the Big 12 last season). Even if the conference went to a nine-game schedule, there would still be one team missing from every schedule (the Big Ten has 11 teams). And a three-way tie like we saw between Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will always make things difficult -- you're going to have a complaint from someone no matter how you set up a tiebreaker, because one team can claim to have beaten the team that gets selected.

There's no perfect solution, obviously, but what I'd like to see is a few direct comparisons thrown in after the head-to-head tiebreaker -- overall record would be the obvious one, but you could go even further, with each team's record against common conference opponents, for example. That would add a strength-of-schedule factor, mitigating the benefits of playing a fortunate conference schedule that doesn't include, for example, Michigan and Ohio State in a given year. Point differential in conference play could also be included, although that could lead to some ugly blowouts in an effort to pad the numbers.

Those statistics would certainly have more relevance to the conference title than the BCS rankings, though. With the added likelihood of a controversial finish and the added incentive for scheduling ugly nonconference matchups, I don't see what the Big Ten is gaining from this change.

The conference isn't really losing much in terms of a tiebreaker -- I never would have wanted the winner to be decided by the FCS provision -- but this move certainly has some negative side effects, and it's sure to cause a firestorm if it comes into play.

On a related note, the Big Ten athletic directors have discussed expanding the conference schedule to nine games, but the logistics would be a nightmare -- one team would have to play eight games to make it work mathematically, and all sorts of bizarre tiebreakers would have to be established if that happened.

In other words, don't expect that change any time soon -- just expect Wisconsin to schedule an FCS team every year from now until eternity.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fighting the good fight

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has already stated his case for the conference to be given an immediate auto-bid into the BCS. The response from the other commissioners was, "Come back in three years," when the four-year conference evaluation period ends in 2011.

Thompson wasn't too happy about that, obviously, so he recently went to the one place that might have the power to do something about it -- Congress. I've heard people say that not even Congress can order any change in the system as long as the schools agree to it, and while that might technically be true, just look at baseball's steroid testing policy to see what the threat of political interference can do.

What's disappointing about Thompson's stance, though, is that he doesn't appear to be calling for the BCS to be dissolved.
"I'm not certain that we're ultimately looking for government intervention; we're trying to raise public awareness," he said. "We're going to try and work within the system. Our proposal is going to go to the BCS commissioner."
If you're hoping for a playoff, a change that furthers the cause of the non-BCS schools while still avoiding a playoff is the worst possible scenario, as there would be even fewer potential landmines when the system comes up again for review.

And I'm not sure exactly what it is Thompson wishes to accomplish here other than land his own conference an automatic bid (which is a bad idea, in my opinion). There are already three at-large spots available, and any non-BCS team in the top eight is guaranteed to be taken (any team in the top 12 is eligible). Maybe the auto-bid could be extended out a bit further or go to whoever finishes highest among the non-BCS schools, but that's really just a superficial change.

Unsurprisingly, Thompson is an expert in vague generalities:
"We're simply here to educate, inform, make awareness about the BCS and we're trying to help our cause -- the Mountain West's cause and other conferences -- with the entire BCS system," Thompson said. "We are planning to submit within the next two weeks a proposal for changes in the BCS system. ... Our proposal will basically be for a more equitable system and we will have some suggested changes in the determination and a little more performance-based results and determination."
We'll find out soon exactly what that proposal entails, but I'm not really hopeful for any drastic changes. It just seems strange that Thompson's going to this extent for what will likely be a minor adjustment to the contract.

If you're putting in the effort to take your argument to Congress and are truly "trying to help college football fans and basically institute a more equitable system," you might as well go all the way. Barack Obama is already on your side, Mr. Thompson -- why not see if you can do some real damage?

Andre Smith is an idiot

The NFL combine is essentially the world's most in-depth job interview. It includes a full array of medical tests, a thorough mental evaluation (often with 32 different interviews), an intelligence test, physical competitions and probably a lot of other annoying crap.

Personally, I usually go into a job interview with the goal of making a positive impresson, but apparently that isn't a concern for Alabama tackle Andre Smith.

The PA announcer in Lucas Oil Stadium told the assembled teams Saturday morning that Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, one of the top prospects in April's NFL draft, had gone AWOL.

While he made the announcement, Smith was in the air, flying to Atlanta to go meet with his personal trainer for the first of two previously scheduled workouts. After he landed, and questions were raised, Smith explained that he made a mistake in failing to communicate to the people at the combine that he was leaving Indianapolis earlier than previously scheduled.
Smith explained later in the day that after recently switching trainers, he didn't feel ready for workouts because of a change in his regimen. Fair enough. It probably wasn't a wise move to make that change so close the combine, but plenty of top prospects don't work out in Indianapolis.

But at an event that's basically, as mentioned, a giant job interview, how do you skip town at 6 a.m. -- without telling anyone that you're done -- and think no one will notice?

Smith thought he had accomplished everything he had wanted. He weighed in for NFL scouts at 332 pounds, interviewed with the teams, answered any questions teams had about any potential weight issues, and even told teams that he was unsure whether he was going to work out Saturday. Then, when the day came and the announcement was made, no one at the combine knew where Smith was or what he had done.
Smith and his agent have been attempting to mitigate the damage ever since, but even if his motives were pure and his intent was to get started right away on preparations for his Pro Day, the lack of maturity and communication have to be a concern for NFL teams.

I'll let Will Ferrell speak for me and the various NFL scouts who were in attendance Saturday:

video

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Crisis averted

After a bizarre series of events that ranged from a verbal agreement on a contract extension to a near-firing by the school's Board of Regents, Texas Tech and coach Mike Leach agreed on the details of a five-year, $12.7 million deal late Thursday.

As for the small print that was causing the contentious negotiations:

The new agreement includes no buyout clause for Leach if he were to find another job. Tech's original offer included a clause that would have required him to pay $300,000 for each year remaining on the contract. Leach now will have to notify Tech officials if he plans to interview for another job, but there will be no penalty for doing so.
In other words, Leach won this standoff. It's hard to call the school a loser, though, when the whole thing ended with Tech wrapping up one of the best coaches in the country for the next five years.

Even if Leach happens to leave at some point during the life of the contract -- which is doubtful, given his previous lack of interest in high-profile openings -- it's probably worth risking $300,000 (or whatever) to to keep him around for as long as possible rather than fire him over a minor detail in an extension that had already been agreed upon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The future is now ... and that's good

I've been a little surprised by the reaction to Steven Threet's transfer from Michigan. A good amount of the responses I've seen so far -- from both fans and media -- have been negative in regard to the impact his departure will have on Michigan in the long term.

Dr. Saturday, in particular, had this to say:
Threet was the only buffer preventing the starting job from falling to either an incoming freshman (early-enrolling Tate Forcier or late signee Denard Robinson) or the most hopelessly overmatched quarterback in the country, walk-on Nick Sheridan ...
Obviously, losing a player is never ideal -- especially one who demonstrated the ability to be a solid starter. But I also don't know a single person who follows Michigan closely and expected Threet to retain the starting job throughout the upcoming season (and not very many expected him to start the season opener).

From the day he committed, it's been assumed that the job was Forcier's to lose -- he's a highly rated dual-threat quarterback who has been praised for his accuracy, received far more training than most recruits and enrolled early in order to spend as much time as possible adjusting to the offense. Robinson won't be in Ann Arbor until summer camp, but his ratings weren't far below Forcier's and he may also have surpassed Threet on the depth chart. It would have been nice to have Threet around as an insurance policy, of course, as there's no substitue for game experience. But to say that the job now is "falling" to a freshman simply isn't accurate.

And while I agree in general with Dr. Saturday's follow-up assessment that pointed out the danger of relying on a freshman quarterback, my disclaimer is this:

Michigan won't be relying on a freshman quarterback.

This might not be a team loaded with overwhelming talent, but the running game improved significantly at the end of last year: the yards-per-carry average finished just under 4.0, nearly equal to that of 2007, when Michigan boasted Mike Hart, Jake Long, all-Big 10 guard Adam Kraus and the actual threat of a passing game with Chad Henne, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. And as someone who watched nearly every down last season, I can tell you that the mere presence of a quarterback who commands respect with his legs will improve the rushing attack by leaps and bounds.

On top of that, every starter on offense returns (other than Threet, of course), and for a unit that had 10 (yes, 10) first-year starters last season, experience alone should provide a drastic step toward competency.

I'm not expecting a dominating, Oklahoma-caliber attack all of a sudden, but I'll be stunned if there isn't notable improvement in almost every category. This isn't an offense that relies heavily on its quarterback's arm to produce points -- Michigan was 89th in pass attempts in '08, despite trailing for much of the season -- so Forcier doesn't have to be better than Chad Henne, Terrelle Pryor or Matt Stafford when they were true freshmen; he just has to guide the offense to a better season than Threet and Sheridan did, which should be enough to get Michigan into a bowl game and create some positive momentum (not to mention media attention).

And with his athleticism and the improvement in the players around him giving him a huge head start, there's little doubt in my mind that he will.

What's going on in Lubbock?

According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, Texas Tech is considering firing coach Mike Leach.

To say that this is stunning would be an understatement. Leach and the school have been working on a contract extension for some time, which is logical given that he just led Texas Tech to an 11-2 season and has averaged just over nine wins per season over the last four years.

Some debate has come up, though, regarding a couple of clauses Texas Tech wants included in the extension, the most notable of which would allow Leach to be fired -- and force him to pay the school $1.5 million -- if he interviews for another job without the athletic director's permission. The school presented Leach with a contract proposal that included the controversial clause and set a deadline for him to sign it. That deadline was 5 p.m. Tuesday, and since Leach has refused to sign, the Board of Regents is now set to meet Friday and make a decision on his future.

The strange thing is that Leach has already turned down a number of job opportunities, including Washington this offseason, so he's obviously not that eager to leave Lubbock. And the financial details -- about $2.5 million per year -- have already been agreed upon, so there's no issue there.

The problem lies in Texas Tech's concern for its own pride. The school's stance on this issue is similar to that of Boston College, which fired Jeff Jagodzinski for breaking a "gentleman's agreement" when he interviewed for the New York Jets' head coaching vacancy. What Texas Tech is saying is that it's so desperate to hang onto Leach that if his long-term commitment can't be guaranteed, he'll be fired.

Um ... what?

I just don't see how that makes any sense at all. I'll ask the same question now that I asked after Jagodzinski's firing: As an athletic director, if you're concerned that you're going to lose an outstanding coach at some point in the foreseeable future, why in the world would you want to voluntarily accelerate that departure?

I understand that the school doesn't want to be left out in the cold if and when Leach moves up in the college football world, but when he's done nothing to indicate that he has an interest in leaving -- and has already agreed to the terms of a contract extension -- why does the school feel that it's necessary to insert this clause and risk losing him now?

And let's keep in mind that while Texas Tech has a decent history, it's not exactly Oklahoma. There won't be a candidate anywhere near Leach's quality knocking on the door, and the school simply doesn't have the resources to compete annually in the Big 12 South without an excellent coaching staff. For comparison, the Red Raiders hadn't won more than nine games in a quarter-century prior to Leach's arrival.

The most likely scenario is that Leach sticks around for the remaining two years on his contract, but assuming that there's no significant change to the extension offer in that time, he's probably gone at that point (if not before). There's a reason Leach was one of the most sought-after coaches in the country this offseason, and there'll be a line at his doorstep if Texas Tech is foolish enough to fire him or let him walk.

On a side note, Leach has to be one of the strangest characters in college sports. He's obsessed with pirates, he occasionally works as a weatherman and he knows how to treat a lady:

Monday, February 16, 2009

A fond farewell

Michigan quarterback Steven Threet announced on Sunday that he intends to transfer.

"I have decided to transfer from the University of Michigan," Threet wrote in the statement. "I have requested and received my release. I do not yet know where I will continue my collegiate career, and have no further comment until that decision is made."
Since he used his redshirt year in 2007 after transferring to Michigan from Georgia Tech, Threet will lose a year of eligibility if he transfers to another FBS school. It seems likely that he's headed somewhere in a lower division.

His departure had been rumored for a couple of weeks, and the reason is obvious: With the arrival of highly touted freshman Tate Forcier, an early enrollee, and four-star athlete Denard Robinson on his way this summer, Threet probably saw the writing on the wall and decided to move on to a place with a better opportunity for playing time.

While Forcier will likely be the starter, I don't think it's a given that Threet would have been relegated to the bench -- there certainly would have been a competition in the spring, and there's never a guarantee with freshmen quarterbacks -- but I also can't really blame him for leaving.

Many people will look at Threet as the reason for Michigan's disastrous season, but that's simply not accurate. He struggled with accuracy at times, but he was also battling injuries to both elbows and still put up respectable numbers while surrounded by fellow freshmen in an offense clearly not suited to his skills.

After losing the battle for the starting job in training camp to walk-on Nick Sheridan, Threet nearly rallied the team to a win over Utah in the season opener, did rally the team to a win over Wisconsin, was outstanding on the road against Notre Dame and had Michigan in position for wins over Toledo and Penn State before being forced out with the aforementioned elbow injuries.

Some will see him as part of an ugly 3-9 campaign and say, "Good riddance." Personally, I'll always remember him rumbling 58 yards through the Wisconsin secondary as he led Michigan to its biggest home comeback ever.

Good luck, kid.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

More fun for Kiffin

Lane Kiffin has been thoroughly (and rightly) criticized for the controversy he's caused since taking over at Tennessee, so when he was cited for a third minor recruiting violation this week, the consensus response was, "Can't this guy stop screwing up?"

For once, though, there's really nothing to criticize. His "violation" was using a recruit's name (Bryce Brown, to be specific) when talking on a radio show in Knoxville about the growing trend of players delaying their commitment past National Signing Day.

Yes, Brown is considering attending Tennessee, and there is a rule that forbids coaches from publicly discussing uncommitted recruits. But citing a high school player as an example of something completely unrelated to the Vols' recruitment of him seems like a pretty insignificant slip of the tongue.

This is one instance in which Kiffin's previous remarks -- and the frenzy they caused -- have brought unnecessary attention to a mostly harmless remark. Normally I'd defend the guy, but ... well, he's the only one to blame for the intense spotlight he's now under.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Things are changing at Notre Dame

A couple of interesting announcements came out of South Bend on Friday, one of which garnered most of the headlines.

Charlie Weis announced that he will take over play-calling duties for the Irish next season, a task he ripped away from offensive coordinator Mike Haywood for the final four games of 2008. Haywood has since left to become head coach at Miami (Ohio), so this wasn't too big of a surprise. The big question is: Will it make a difference for the Notre Dame offense?

In Weis' four games as de facto offensive coordinator, the results were as follows:

* 27-21 win over Navy -- 110 passing yards, 230 rushing yards (one touchdown came on a blocked punt)
* 24-23 loss to Syracuse -- 292 passing yards, 41 rushing yards (one touchdown came on what was essentially a Hail Mary to Golden Tate on the final play of the first half)
* 38-3 loss to USC -- 43 passing yards, 50 rushing yards (the Irish managed four first downs and 1.9 yards per play)
* 49-21 win over Hawaii -- 413 passing yards, 65 rushing yards (one touchdown came on a kickoff return)

I think it's safe to say that USC and Hawaii were outliers compared to the normal defenses Notre Dame will face, but altogether -- not including the special-teams touchdowns -- the Irish averaged 24 offensive points, 162 passing yards and 97 rushing yards.

For a point of reference, Navy, Syracuse and USC all allowed slightly more points on average than the Irish scored against them, and all of those teams allowed far more yards on average than the Irish accumulated against them.

Obviously, Weis wasn't a big boost to the offense overall (I have a feeling that Pete Carroll isn't too terrified about this announcement).

The only real difference in the win over Hawaii -- other than the Warriors' terrible defense -- was that Weis, because of his mangled knee, was in the booth rather than on the sidelines. Weis pointed out in his press conference that this is something he's considering doing on a permanent basis, but I'm not sure there's ever been a major college head coach who's tried that.

And don't forget this quote from almost exactly one year ago:
"I think that when you're play-calling on offense, you might not necessarily be the best head coach. So what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to be a better head coach," he said Friday.

Weis decided to move away from play-calling after meeting with his old boss, Bill Belichick, before the Patriots played the New York Giants in the regular-season finale Dec. 29. Weis said he talked more with Belichick about how to be a better coach than about X's and O's.
I can't see Weis staying in the booth as a realistic long-term option, even with his apparent desire to focus almost exclusively on the offense. And even if he does, it's doubtful that it would make that big of a difference on a game-to-game basis.

What will make a difference, though, is this nugget that was buried a little further down in the stories that matriculated out of the press conference.
Weis also announced that defensive coordinator Corwin Brown has been promoted to associate head coach and now will be co-defensive coordinator with linebacker coach Jon Tenuta.

Tenuta, who joined the team last year and helped change Notre Dame's scheme to a more attacking style, will call the defensive plays in 2009.
Tenuta was considered one of the best and most aggressive defensive coordinators in the country during his tenure at Georgia Tech, with his teams finishing in the top 25 in total defense every year he was there (from 2002-07). What was surprising was not Notre Dame's interest in him last offseason -- a lot of teams were seeking his services -- but that he was willing to take a lesser position on the defensive staff under Corwin Brown.

Now, though, with Tenuta calling the plays, the Notre Dame defense suddenly has the brainpower behind it to actually strike fear into opposing offenses. The Irish had 27 sacks last year -- good for 50th nationally -- while Georgia Tech was first in the country with 48 sacks in 2007. Even with somewhat of a discrepancy in pass-rushing talent, the scheme had a lot to do with each of those numbers.

With some young talent in the front seven -- defensive end Ethan Johnson, nose tackle Ian Williams, outside linebacker Steven Filer, freshman defensive tackle Tyler Stockton (an early enrollee) and uber-recruit Manti Te'o -- Weis and the offense might have to carry just a little less of the load, which I think every Notre Dame fan would agree is a good thing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

No nonsense or no sense?

Mike Bellotti, who may or may not be Oregon's coach by the start of the season, is suggesting a couple of key changes to the NCAA rules committee.

Bellotti, the NCAA football rules committee chairman, said Wednesday officials should eject more players for flagrant personal fouls, and agreed to seek input on whether some celebration penalties should be live-ball penalties, which could result in losing points.

While the ejections will be a point of emphasis next season, the celebration recommendation is not even a formal proposal yet.

The part about ejections seems fairly obvious. If you purposefully attempt to injure another player, you should be ejected. There's no question about that.

The celebration part, though, ventures into a bit of a gray area.

Bellotti said the change was not likely to take affect for at least two years, and even if approved would likely apply only to players who begin taunting opponents before crossing the goal line. The penalty would be assessed from the spot of the foul, like offensive holding calls in college football. Teams would not be penalized, Bellotti said, for a group celebration after the score because the NCAA wants to emphasize the team concept, not individuals.

I like the elimination of penalties for team celebrations -- if a guy can't celebrate a touchdown with his teammates, how is he supposed to celebrate? College football is still a game played mostly on emotion, and it's ridiculous to think that it can be cut off as soon as the whistle blows.

The other part, though, seems like a typical NCAA proposal: Good in theory, not so good in practice.

In no way do I condone taunting, but there are a whole lot of situations that are borderline in that regard. Pointing at an opponent as you go into the endzone certainly qualifies, and the idea of treating it the same as a typical holding or illegal formation penalty seems reasonable. But what about a backflip or a dive over the goal line? What about high-stepping?

Think of some of the ticky-tack "unsportsmanlike conduct" calls you've seen over the last few years and consider that under Bellotti's proposal, those would have resulted in the reversal of a touchdown.

The idea itself is fine, but if it's instituted, there needs to be a clear definition of what constitutes taunting -- and, most importantly, the officials need to stick with it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Not yet

I won't do it. With one of my general rules as a writer being not to humiliate myself, I refuse to put up a "way too early" top 25 for next season -- I'll start in on something along those lines after spring practices.

You've probably seen all these rankings -- most of which came out immediately following the national title game --on various other sites, but I think we all know that by acknowledging the "way too early" part, the writers are admitting the general stupidity of attempting such an endeavor.

Their only real benefit is providing the general public with a vague idea of which teams have the most talent coming back from last season, while not accounting at all for incoming recruits, position battles that have yet to be decided, etc.

I lend a little more credence, though, to the ones from nationally recognized writers and organizations -- ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Rivals -- because those tend to provide a pretty good point of reference for what the national media think of certain players and teams.

The elite teams are usually pretty easy to identify. This fall, it'll be Florida, Texas, USC and Oklahoma (probably in something close to that order) at the top of the polls. Further down in the top 10 -- and even more so in the top 25 -- it gets a little sketchier.

One team at the rear of most of these rankings ... well, let's see if you can identify it based on these numbers from last season:
  • Rushing offense - 77
  • Passing offense - 62
  • Pass efficiency - 85
  • Total offense - 74
  • Scoring offense - 62
  • Rushing defense - 67
  • Passing defense - 69
  • Pass efficiency defense - 37
  • Total defense - 58
  • Scoring defense - 41
  • Turnover margin - 49

With numbers that poor, it must be a talented team -- maybe a Florida State or Miami -- that simply underperformed last year, right?

Wrong. Those numbers belong to Michigan State.

The statistics themselves aren't surprising -- they're about what you'd expect for a mediocre team that played a weak schedule but was obliterated by the two excellent teams it played (Ohio State and Penn State) and lost to the only two other teams that could be considered good (Cal and Georgia).

But the Spartans seem to be getting a surprising amount of love from the media, showing up in the top 25 or in the "honorable mention" section of the pre-preseason rankings by Rivals, Mark Schlabach at ESPN, Stewart Mandel at Sports Illustrated ...

All this for a team that was 9-4, lost the star running back (Javon Ringer) who accounted for over 87% of the team's rushing attempts, lost the fifth-year senior QB who saw pretty much every meaningful snap the last two seasons and lost the right side of its offensive line -- and those are just the offensive departures.

On defense, linemen Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw are gone, as are all-conference safety Otis Wiley (probably the best player on the unit) and nickel corner Kendell Davis-Clark.

Sack leader Trevor Anderson returns, and the linebacking corps is young and fairly talented ... and I guess the receivers should be good, assuming Mark Dantonio can find a quarterback (the favorite appears to be redshirt sophomore Kirk Cousins).

I don't know, I just don't see this as a top-25 team. Pretty much the only thing the Spartans really have going for them is a relatively easy schedule -- they don't have to play Ohio State (Illinois takes the Buckeyes' place in conference play), and Cal is replaced in the nonconference portion of the schedule by Western Michigan.

But assuming that these rankings are mostly an analysis of returning talent, including a team in the top 25 because of a weak schedule seems a little strange.

A few other notable oddities:

* Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury-News has Mississippi ranked fifth and Oklahoma State sixth -- and that's a drop for the Cowboys, who were second in his rankings before Sam Bradford announced his return to Oklahoma. The Cowboys are also ranked fourth by Joe Person at The State (Columbia, S.C.). Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant give Oklahoma State one of the best offensive trios in the country -- maybe the best -- but those rankings are still a little shocking to see in print.

* Bruce Feldman at ESPN has Oregon fourth -- well ahead of USC -- and Mississippi sixth. In fact, Ole Miss is in the top five in two other rankings and in the top 16 in every significant one I've found so far. Granted, the Rebels were very strong late in the season -- they won their final six games, including impressive victories over LSU and Texas Tech. They also were the only team to beat Florida. However, let's not forget that this team lost to Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and South Carolina (as well as Alabama) and loses its best lineman on each side of the ball (Michael Oher and Peria Jerry)

* Alabama is ranked fourth by Dennis Dodd of CBS, Matt Hayes of Sporting News and Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The defense should be very good, but I have big-time concerns about the offense after what Utah was able to do in the Sugar Bowl with Andre Smith suspended. Smith is now gone, as are guard Marlon Davis, center Antoine Caldwell, running back Glen Coffee and quarterback John Parker Wilson. Julio Jones and the stable of talented young running backs will make some big plays, but I don't think the offense will be good enough to justify a top-five ranking.

Bryce Brown has a handler

If you follow recruiting closely (or much at all), you're probably somewhat familiar with Bryce Brown. He's a running back out of Wichita, Kan., who happens to be the top-rated player in the country, according to Rivals.

Brown has had kind of a wacky recruitment -- after committing to Miami last year, he apparently reconsidered and chose to delay his decision beyond Signing Day. He is now scheduled to make an official announcement on March 22, and at least one more official visit (to Tennessee) is on his itinerary between now and then.

Brown's older brother, Arthur, was a five-star linebacker last year who ended up at Miami. During his commitment, a guy named Brian Butler appeared on the scene as the brothers' "manager."

Butler has since become prominent in the Midwest as an organizer of high school camps, spokesman for various recruits and a personal trainer (although at 5-foot-8, 350 pounds, Butler may not be the best guy to go to for health advice).

The New York Times recently did a little research on Butler and uncovered some interesting tidbits:
In his representation of about 30 players from around Kansas, Butler has upset many local high school coaches. They say he persuades players to skip school-organized summer workouts in favor of his own — an assertion Butler denies. Coach Brian Byers of Wichita East High School said he suspected Butler of telling the Brown brothers to “shut it down” in games once they piled up big statistics.
Additionally, Butler has been selling website subscriptions for information on Brown's recruitment. It probably goes without saying, but this is bad.
“We’ve got to the point where a handler or a street agent starts a Web site to charge money for an update,” said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPN and Scouts Inc. “I’m not in line with that. I think that is a precedent that could become very scary and very ugly.”

Bryce Brown, who graduated from Wichita East a semester early, said he did not mind that Butler was trying to profit from their relationship.

“If there’s anybody that needs to be making money off of me, it needs to be the person that’s put the time in,” he said.
I think the worst part is that Brown realizes he's being exploited, and he doesn't even care becuase of his twisted understanding of loyalty.

Butler's version of the story, of course, is that he's just trying to help these kids out. But we all know what's really going on -- the coaches certainly know:
Many coaches in the city of Wichita have discouraged or prohibited Butler from training their players, and Butler acknowledges that most of his business comes from the suburbs.
If Butler was truly making these players better through training while helping them land scholarships -- which would also help promote the high school -- don't you think the coaches would be a little more cooperative?

The reasoning for this "discouragement" quickly becomes even more obvious a little further into the article in regard to the recruitment of a running back named Huldon Tharp.

Tharp's coach, Dave Fennewald, was attempting to help him land a scholarship by sending out tapes, calling college coaches, etc. But when Butler told him that Tharp had been offered a scholarship by Miami, he was "very surprised."
Tharp said he never knew Miami was recruiting him as a fullback. Late Tuesday night, Tharp said that he never received a written scholarship offer from Miami. He said he “was just talking to them.”

Asked if Butler told him that he was going to tell people that he had a Miami scholarship offer that did not technically exist, Tharp said, “Yeah.”

Late Tuesday night, Butler said he spoke to a Miami assistant, who told him that he had verbally offered a scholarship to Tharp. “There’s not a problem,” Butler said, adding, “It’s a 100 percent fact that he was verbally offered.”

Miami officials confirmed twice late Tuesday that they did not offer Tharp a scholarship.
It's one thing to push and prod a little to help a guy find a place on a D-I roster, but it's quite another to flat-out lie in an attempt to gain publicity. Butler has also had the requisite "unsuccessful business ventures," including a failed career as a rapper, a forgery conviction in 1997 and a warrant for unpaid state taxes this year.

This has been a problem for years in college basketball -- players have "handlers" or "mentors" who leach onto them at the first sign of success and exploit them to land jobs with colleges or camps, where they can hook up with even more talent in an effort to ride someone's coattails to fame and riches.

College football has been remarkably free of these guys, but unfortunately, it appears that those days are coming to an end.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

News and notes

* Former Penn State quarterback Pat Devlin, a highly sought-after recruit in 2006, has transferred to Delaware. This isn't too surprising considering Daryll Clark's stranglehold on the QB job, but keep in mind that Devlin stepped in and led the Nittany Lions' winning touchdown drive against Ohio State last season. Devlin was obviously concerned about a lack of playing time, especially with the secural of top QB recruit Kevin Newsome as Clark's heir apparent. He'll have two years left to wear the coolest uniform in the FCS.

* Maryland joined the coach-in-waiting party by naming offensive coordinator James Franklin as the successor to Ralph Freidgen. Freidgen has three years remaining on his contract -- although his weight might have a say in how long he actually coaches -- but Franklin is only 37, so he's got plenty of time. He's only been Maryland's O-coordinator for the past year, but he held the same position at Kansas State for two years before that and was recruiting coordinator at Maryland in 2003 and 2004. His career path demonstrates a fast track to a college head coaching job, and considering his relative youth, the Terps seem to have done well in locking him up.

* Tony Franklin, who was fired after six games as Auburn's offensive coordinator last season, was hired Thursday as O-coordinator by Middle Tennessee State. Franklin was very successful in his two years at Troy, when he was actually able to run his version of the pass-happy Air Raid offense (as opposed to his tenure at Auburn, where nobody's quite sure what was going on). Assuming Middle Tennessee State gives him that freedom again, there's no reason he shouldn't be able to replicate the success he had in 2006 and 2007.

* LSU defensive tackle Charles Alexander was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Alexander has had an injury-plagued career, but he started six games in 2006 and eight games last season and will be the most experienced player on an otherwise young defensive line. He's technically the only returning starter as well, but don't feel too sorry for LSU. With Al Woods and Drake Nevis competing for the other starting job at defensive tackle and '08 sack leader Rahim Allen taking over at one end spot -- not to mention redshirt junior Lazarius Levingston trying to hold off youngsters Sidell Corley and Chancey Aghayere for playing time -- this will still be a ridiculously talented unit.

* Miami hired Philadelphia Eagles "offensive assistant" Mark Whipple as offensive coordinator. Whipple has spent most of his career as a college head coach -- at New Haven, Brown and UMass -- and his offensive numbers have been pretty impressive everywhere he's been. I won't go through all the statistics, but suffice it to say that he likes to throw the ball -- not in a Texas Tech way, but in a West Coast-ish type of way, probably closer to what you've seen with the Eagles. Smart Football points out that Whipple's career has been in neutral since his national title at UMass in 1998 -- his teams tailed off and he was eventually hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers as quarterbacks coach, then fired, then hired by Andy Reid as an offensive assistant. But assuming that he has a pulse and that at least some of the widespread praise is accurate, this will be a clear step up from Patrick Nix, who oversaw offenses ranked 110th and 89th in total yards his two-year tenure. Whipple, by the way, is not related to this guy.

* In one of the strangest Signing Day announcements in the history of bizarre announcements, three-star linebacker Kalial Glaud flipped a coin to decide between Rutgers and West Virginia. The coin came up tails, and Glaud committed to Rutgers. Seriously.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hooray for mismatches

Michigan filled the final opening in its 2009 schedule on Friday with a game against Delaware State on Oct. 17. Delaware State, by the way, is a historically black college in the FCS that finished 5-6 last season.

You're probably expecting the typical complaint here about the OUTRAGE of scheduling an FCS opponent and the indignity of it all, but here's my dirty little secret: As a Michigan fan, I wanted the worst possible opponent to fill that opening.

Here's the thing: Rich Rodriguez is entering a crucial year, with many fans furious over the team's 3-9 record last season. He isn't in danger of being fired, even if he finishes with another losing record -- the school invested a ton of money into buying him out of his contract with West Virginia, and athletic director Bill Martin has no interest in conducting another coaching search -- but there's a lot to be said for positive momentum, both on the field and among the fans and media.

The schedule isn't particularly difficult next year ...

... so I don't think Michigan will struggle to reach a bowl game, but you never know. Utah didn't look like such a tough opponent heading into last season, but I'll bet that in hindsight, Martin is wishing he'd gone out and scheduled Michigan Tech instead.

And for all the criticism about scheduling, I don't think people always realize that finding an opponent in real life is nothing like picking your opponents in NCAA Football 09. Michigan's administration has admitted that it doesn't want to lock itself into another home-and-home series besides Notre Dame, so the top-tier options are all but eliminated. And with a lot of non-BCS schools looking to soften their schedules in an effort to get bowl-eligible, there aren't a whole lot of teams jumping at the chance to travel to the Big House.

Martin had this to say in his official statement:

"It's very difficult to line up an opponent this late in the process and we appreciate the efforts made by each institution that we spoke with."

Delaware State obviously wasn't the first choice, but at the end of the day, it might be the best. No one will remember after the season that a win over an FCS school was part of Michigan's resurgence, just like nobody remembers that Florida hammered The Citadel, Alabama routed Western Kentucky and Texas Tech beat two FCS opponents last year.

In a few years, I'll be back to whining about the lack of a premier nonconference game other than the annual tradition-fest against Notre Dame. For now, though, I'll take wins wherever they're available.

On a mostly unrelated note, if you're not familiar with the long-standing feud between Delaware State and Delaware, which refuses to play its in-state counterpart, check out this 2007 article by ESPN.com writer and Delaware alum Jeff Pearlman. It'll make you appreciate some of the great rivalries in college sports.

Going above and beyond

I mentioned last week that North Carolina was looking at an epically large recruiting class -- 29 recruits had already committed, and a couple more were considering the Tar Heels. Fortunately for those recruits (and even more so for the players already on the team), 29 was the final tally.

Regardless, I was quite critical of Butch Davis. But Davis' efforts paled in comparison to those of Houston Nutt, who hauled in an astonishing 37 recruits at Ole Miss.

I haven't had a chance to look at the roster and see if there's room for a full 25-man class, but it doesn't matter. 37 does not equal 25, and it's not even close. It's been pointed out that players who enroll early can count toward the previous year's class if it had fewer than 25 recruits, but here's the problem: Ole Miss had 31 recruits last year.

South Carolina was another offender this season, finishing with 29 recruits and getting kicked out of a high school in the process.

And I'm not even sure how this is possible, but somehow Troy has 39 recruits signed, as well as one more who has committed but hasn't officially signed his letter of intent.

I'm not trying to beat a dead horse here -- I've already said my piece on blatant oversigning -- but with eight schools signing 29 or more recruits this year, this epidemic seems to be spreading.

I'll give the Big Ten credit for trying to limit this problem by instituting a cap at 28 scholarships and requiring an explanation of each recruit past 25 in a given class, but why should one conference be at a disadvantage because it tries to be fair to recruits?
According to numbers compiled by the recruiting service Scout.com, SEC teams lined up an average of 101 commitments during the four-year period from 2004-07. Big Ten teams averaged 85 recruits in the same period.
I'm firmly behind mgoblog on this one: If a school can't explain where a scholarship is coming from, the NCAA shouldn't allow a recruit to be locked into that spot.

Lane Kiffin does what he wants

This is Lane Kiffin:




He seems to be on a mission to piss off everyone in the SEC, which ... well, when you're going up against Urban Meyer, probably isn't a good idea.

In case you haven't heard about Kiffin's slightly overboard pep talk at a Tennessee function Thursday morning, this is what went down:

Earlier in the day, Kiffin told fans at a breakfast celebrating UT’s recruiting class that Meyer violated rules by phoning Nu’Keese Richardson while the wide receiver prospect was on an official visit at Tennessee.

“I love the fact that Urban had to cheat and still didn’t get him,” Kiffin said, according to a WVLT-TV report.
It's one thing to talk a little trash -- gamesmanship and all that -- but it's another to accuse a peer of cheating, especially when you're not even right.

Florida, of course, made sure to point this out in a statement:

“It is obvious that coach Kiffin doesn’t know that there is not a rule precluding phone contact with a prospect during an official visit on another campus during a contact period,” Florida athletic director Foley said in a statement.

“His allegations are inappropriate, out of line and, most importantly, totally false. It is completely unfair to Urban Meyer, our coaching staff, our football program and our institution,” he said.
So you think Florida will let up when it's leading by four touchdowns on Sept. 19 at The Swamp? Yikes ...

The worst part for Kiffin, though, isn't the response from Florida; it's the SEC commissioner jumping in and basically calling Kiffin an idiot.

"We expect our coaches to have an understanding and knowledge of conference and NCAA rules," read Slive's statement.
Kiffin issued a non-apology apology in an attempt to cool things down, saying that "my comments were not intended to offend anyone at the University of Florida.”

I'm sure that makes them feel better. I'd like to think that a head coach with Kiffin's bravado would be enough of a man to stand up for himself and apologize when he makes an egregious error, but apparently not.

Kiffin's digging himself a hole here, as pointed out by Gene Wojciechowski at ESPN in a fairly critical article. Everyone knows how tough it is to win in the SEC, and when you've made yourself a whole list of enemies in your first two months on the job, it doesn't get any easier. Also, the conference commissioner is usually somebody you'd prefer NOT to upset.

Steve Spurrier was never a popular figure either when he was a Florida, but there's one big difference: Spurrier won a whole bunch of games and established himself as an outstanding coach before pissing people off, while Kiffin has done absolutely nothing. If Tennessee struggles early on in Kiffin's tenure, he probably won't be given the same benefits as someone who actually gets along with people and doesn't publicly embarrass the university.

With all the attention Kiffin has brought on Tennessee -- from the assistant coach shopping spree to Spurrier's complaints about his recruiting tactics to this "misunderstanding" -- any grace period he might have had is over.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

I'm confused by this

Manti Te'o is a consensus five-star recruit out of Hawaii and one of the top linebackers in the country. There's no real debate about that -- he was ranked as the #2 overall prospect by ESPN, #6 by Scout and #12 by Rivals. He's the real deal, according to everyone with an opinion that means anything.

Te'o committed to Notre Dame on Wednesday, choosing the Irish over USC and UCLA and others. This was an odd choice on a couple of levels, but what confuses me most is this: Te'o is Mormon, and has stated that he plans on taking a mission after his freshman year in college. Notre Dame = not Mormon.

I realize that not everyone who goes to Notre Dame is Catholic, of course, but it seems that if your faith is important enough that you plan on interrupting a portion of your young adult life (and career) to go on a two-year mission, it would certainly have an impact on where you'd choose to spend the surrounding four years.

This makes me wonder if we might see a rehash of the Ben Olson situation. Olson, you may recall, was the top QB recruit in the country and 2002. He was also Mormon and committed to BYU, only to leave for a two-year mission immediately upon his arrival. Olson never played a down for BYU, instead transferring to UCLA in 2005, where he played off and on while battling a series of bizarre foot injuries.

There are two things about Olson's situation that are relevant for Te'o.

First, there's no guarantee that he'll return to Notre Dame. This has already become a concern on Notre Dame message boards, and rightly so. Because Te'o will be on leave from his NCAA eligibility during his mission (similar to a military exemption), there's no additional penalty if he chooses to transfer during that time. Te'o would basically be a free agent, and you can be sure that USC, BYU, UCLA and probably a whole bunch of other schools will be vying for his services upon his return.

The other issue is whether Te'o will be the same player, both physically and mentally, when he returns after a two-year absence from football. There's no way to know whether Olson's injuries were layoff-related or not, but it's worth considering. Linebacker is also more of an instinct-based position than quarterback, but if Te'o returns and can't tackle or is slow to react, he obviously won't have as much of an impact.

With all that said, I think Te'o might be the biggest pickup for Charlie Weis in his tenure at Notre Dame -- and yes, that includes some of the five-star offensive players he's picked up, such as Jimmy Clausen and Sam Young.

The Irish certainly haven't had a bad defense the past few years, but they also haven't had an impact defensive player who could take over the game and force offenses to adjust, a la Rey Maualuga or James Laurinaitis.

If -- and again, this is a big if -- Te'o returns to Notre Dame for the 2011 season and hasn't lost much in terms of skill, he could end up being that guy. And while I may be looking too far into the future, if the Irish can build their defense around Te'o while their young skill-position players on offense continue to improve ... look out.

It'll be interesting to see whether Te'o ends up back at Notre Dame after his mission and -- regardless of where he plays -- if he becomes the force everyone thinks he can be after missing out on two crucial years of development. Weis doesn't have a great track record in terms of developing highly touted recruits, but this is one guy who might not need much help.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Preston Parker has issues

Florida State receiver Preston Parker, who led the team in receptions each of the last two seasons, has been dismissed.

Coach Bobby Bowden announced the junior receiver was dismissed from the team Monday in a one-sentence statement released by the school. Parker, who met with Bowden before the announcement, will remain in school on scholarship.

The 21-year-old Parker, from Delray Beach, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence after Tallahassee police found him asleep in his running car early Saturday.
Unfortunately, The Associated Press left all the good stuff out of this story; the Palm Beach Post, on the other hand ...
According to a Tallahassee police report, officers found the former Atlantic High standout at 4:42 a.m. Saturday, "passed out" behind the wheel of his Dodge Charger in a McDonald's drive-thru lane. A witness stated the car had been there nearly 20 minutes.

The report states the car was in drive with Parker's foot on the brake. When police woke him up after several attempts, Parker took his foot off the brake, the car moved forward and the officers yelled for him to stop.

Parker agreed to field-sobriety tests and was arrested on the DUI charge. He submitted breath and urine samples at the Leon County Jail, where his blood alcohol content was .054 -- Florida's legal limit is .08 -- and his urine sample was a presumptive positive for marijuana. Parker admitted to drinking and smoking marijuana that night.
Parker doesn't have Alex Boone's tolerance level, apparently -- and he certainly couldn't keep up with Michigan running back Kevin Grady, who blew a phenomenal 0.281 after falling asleep while driving -- but this was his third arrest in the last two years. One of those ended with a felony weapons charge (along with weekly drug testing), while the other involved him stealing a DVD from Best Buy. It's good to see that Florida State hasn't tainted it's stellar reputation.

Anyway, Bowden finally decided he had seen enough. And when Florida State can't handle your problems, you've got serious problems.

Personally, I think it's ridiculous that he's remaining on scholarship -- why should the school put up however many thousands of dollars for a guy who can't stay out of trouble? And if that's counting toward the Seminoles' limit of 85 scholarships, it makes even less sense, because the receiving corps next year will need all the help it can get:

Taiwan Easterling and Bert Reed combined for 53 catches good for 617 yards and four touchdowns as freshmen last season. Reed, however, was suspended three times last season and arrested once for his role in a campus brawl in November that resulted in five receivers, including Easterling, being suspended for one game.
The tradition lives.

He had a few too many

Most of us know Alex Boone as the former uber-recruit offensive tackle who ended up at Ohio State and had a pretty successful career, although he was mildly disappointing as a senior. By all accounts, though, he was one of the Buckeyes' leaders and a good teammate.

Police in Aliso Viejo, Calif., know Boone a little differently:

Ohio State offensive lineman Alex Boone was arrested after being subdued with a Taser during an alleged drunken tirade, authorities said Monday.

Boone, 21, was taken into custody late Sunday for investigation of resisting arrest after Orange County sheriff's deputies responded to a disturbance call outside of a home in Aliso Viejo. When they arrived, the 6-foot-8, 312-pound tackle had been jumping on car hoods, yanking on a tow truck cable and trying to break a window, said sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino.
I'm not sure whether this is funny or terrifying. While I would normally make some comment along the lines of "ha ha Ohio State," I can't even imagine trying to take down an enraged man with about 7 inches and 150 pounds on me.

The obvious question here: What the hell ... oh, wait:

Boone ran away from deputies and was found hiding underneath a patio, authorities said. Boone was combative and uncooperative and had to be taken down with a stun gun, Amormino said.

"He was yelling obscenities at deputies and had a strong smell of alcohol," Amormino said. "His blood alcohol level was at least three times the legal amount."
Nice. That must have been one, um, thirst-quenching evening for a 310-pound man to get his blood alcohol level up to three times the legal limit. Based on our handy-dandy DUI chart ...

... and extrapolating out to 310 pounds (going upward in increments of 20 pounds), it appears that Boone would need about eight beers to reach a 0.08. So to get to the remarkable "at least three times the legal amount," Boone needed somewhere in the range of 24 beers. Wow.

Let's get stalker-ish

Today, of course, is National Signing Day, the semi-creepy day when all the stalking of our favorite recruits' Facebook pages and high schools pays off and we get to find out which 17-year-olds will be attending our school of choice. It's like March Madness mixed with "To Catch a Predator."

Are we crazy? Yeah, probably. But what fun would the offseason be without something else to immerse ourselves in? And in case you're wondering if you care too much, just check out your friendly neighborhood message board -- trust me, there's always someone crazier. But I digress ...

LSU appears to have the inside track on the No. 1 class, especially with top-ranked receiver Reuben Randle -- who dominated the Army All-American Game -- expected to sign with the in-state Tigers tomorrow.

USC also has a loaded class (big surprise), with top QB Matt Barkley and three other five-star recruits on their way to L.A. Several other elite recruits, including top linebacker Manti Te'o, will announce today and are considering the Trojans, so this could end up as a monster class.

Alabama appears to be in great shape again this year, while Florida, Texas and Ohio State will all likely end up in the top 10 with all the major recruiting services.

Rich Rodriguez has done an outstanding job coming off a 3-9 season and will almost certainly end up with a top-1o class at Michigan, and I'd also like to commend Dennis Erickson at Arizona State, which has received a commitment from four-star DT Corey Adams and is expected to get a favorable announcement today from five-star linebacker Vontaze Burfict (who originally committed to USC).

It looks like North Carolina will end up with at least 30 recruits -- again, this is ridiculous -- and South Carolina isn't far behind with 28 (and that's before any last-minute commitments). Both of these classes are highly rated (and overrated), of course, just due to sheer volume, but that'll take care of itself in the long run.

You can get updated coverage throughout the day at Rivals, Scout and ESPN (although ESPN is a little unreliable at times when it comes to recruiting).

There are plenty of big names still out there, of course, so I'll try to get up a post with an update on some of the notable commitments and the surrounding craziness, which there's always plenty of on Signing Day.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Everybody's doing it

I'm not one of those people who will sit and debate for hours on end about the best way to set up a college football playoff. I've accepted the fact that it just isn't going to happen, so there's no real point in conjuring up brackets and ways to get the bowls involved and all that.

Do I want a playoff in college football? Well ... a few years ago, I would have unequivocally said yes. But I'm not so sure anymore.



Actually, let me clarify that. It's not that I don't think a playoff would be better than what we have now -- it could be better, but only if done the right way. And that's my concern -- I'll bet you can't remember the last time the NCAA put something together and you thought, "That seems fair and well-planned."

There are so many people with a financial stake in the process that I just don't see how it could be limited to a reasonable number of teams, and that's the only way that a playoff would be a legitimate way to determine a national champion.

I've heard people throw out ideas for a 64-team playoff along the lines of March Madness, and all I will say to that idea is this: No. Absolutely not, even if you could figure out the logistics. The one thing that almost no one will dispute is the need to keep the regular season as meaningful as possible, because once that intensity is gone, college football will never be the same.

Here's a question for you: Which was the best team in the NFL last year? It wasn't the Giants. They might have been the best team over the final four weeks, but I would argue that the Patriots were better at every point throughout the entire season except for the one game that arbitrarily determined the championship.

The Patriots beat the Giants -- in New York, no less -- in the final week of the regular season. But that game meant absolutely nothing, according to the NFL. The Super Bowl was the only game that counted, because ... well, just because. That's the way a playoff is set up, of course -- whoever wins the final game is the champion, no matter what happened at any point prior to it.

And this year isn't much different. As a Phoenix resident, I'm loving the Cardinals' run to the Super Bowl -- but regardless of what happens, there's no way I could possibly justify declaring the Cardinals the champion of the NFL. They got hot at the right time, but I also watched them lose 47-7 to New England, 48-20 to Philadelphia and 56-35 to the N.Y. Jets. They scored 427 points this season, and they allowed 426. Basically, they were a slightly above-average team.

The best team doesn't necessarily win a playoff. The hottest team wins a playoff -- just ask any college basketball national champion in the last ... well, ever. And the more teams you include, the better the chance of a mediocre team winning it all.

I've also heard arguments for a plus-one, but tell me this: Who would you have picked for a plus-one game this year? Obviously, there would be no Florida-Oklahoma matchup in a plus-one scenario, so no matter how you arrange the bracket, you'd still be left choosing from at least three teams -- out of Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas and Utah -- for only two spots in the national title game. This year, a plus-one would have solved nothing.

The only way -- again, the ONLY way -- I can see a playoff serving its purpose is if it's limited to either six teams or eight teams. If there was a way to get those top teams together -- something that would ensure that the legitimate contenders all had a shot, but that no (or a minimum number of) undeserving teams were included -- that would probably be ideal. A top-five team that's won two or three games against other top-five teams would have by far the strongest resume of any team in the country and would have earned the national title. There would be no possibility of a Cardinals-type run, because an 8-4 or 7-5 team would never qualify.

There are some pretty interesting proposals out there -- I've always liked Brian's at mgoblog, particularly in regard to using bye weeks and home-field advantage to reward the top teams -- so I'm sure that there's a way this could be done.

But with conference tie-ins, the lawsuits from the non-BCS conferences, the bowls reaching in for their slice of the payout ... I just find it unlikely that the NCAA will ever allow that type of a setup. And until I see proof otherwise, I'll have a hard time supporting a hypothetical playoff that will most likely be pointless (a plus-one) or will take college football in a direction we don't want it to go (a devalued regular season and a system that declares a "playoff" champion, not a season champion).