Saturday, March 28, 2009

It all makes sense now

Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis, who was second-team All-Big Ten in 2007 before struggling with injuries and inconsistency in '08, is now Indiana receiver Kellen Lewis.

With over 1,600 career rushing yards and 48 touchdown passes, Lewis seems like the playmaking QB a bad Indiana team desperately needs. There's apparently some belief that he can take over for last year's leading receiver, Ray Fisher, who has since moved to cornerback (hooray for stability). The problem with that assumption is that while Lewis is an outstanding athlete, he hasn't played receiver since his sophomore year of high school -- and with the dearth of talent around him, it's not like he'll be going up against other teams' second or third corners.

Replacing Lewis at QB will be Ben Chappell, who obviously forced the position switch with spectacular results in his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons: 52% completion percentage, four touchdowns, four interceptions and a 1-5 record in games in which he attempted more than 10 passes (a 21-19 win over Northwestern last year).

To his credit, Lewis has been willing to do his part to help the team win:
"When you go 3-9, you've got to change something."
But that "something" doesn't usually involve moving your star QB to receiver and moving your top receiver to the defensive backfield.

I hate to criticize Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch, who took over in unbelievably difficult circumstances after the death of Terry Hoeppner just before the 2007 season, but coaching moves like this are what make Indiana ... well, Indiana.

All Tebow, all the time

In case there was any question as to whether the University of Florida views Tim Tebow as God or just God-like, Urban Meyer cleared things up when he ordered Tebow's passionate speech after last year's loss to Ole Miss immortalized on a plaque and placed outside the front entrance to the team's practice facility.

It might seem a little tacky to commemorate a player who's still, you know, on the team and all, but that's hardly a concern -- Tebow's jersey is already hanging at The Swamp alongside those of the school's other Heisman Trophy winners, so that ship has sailed.

And if Tebow leads the Gators to a third national title in four years and becomes only the second player ever to win the Heisman twice, I'll go ahead and prepare myself for the Florida Tebows playing at Tebow Stadium in Tebow, Florida.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Wonderlic is ridicu-lic

I took the ACT at about 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning in the middle of spring during my junior year in high school. It was way too early, but I took the practice test and felt relatively prepared, and I ended up surpassing my goal of a 30 (I scored a 32).

Years later, I look back and wonder why I cared. While it might have opened a few doors into Ivy League or other elite schools, my grades were already good and, at the end of the day, that test had no impact on my career choice and it had no ability to predict my success in any particular field.

The NFL's version of the ACT/SAT is the Wonderlic. There's always a player or two with a remarkably good or bad score, and that leads scouts and analysts to wonder whether that player is ranked appropriately.

This year, the score that jumped out was Matt Stafford's impressive 38 (the average is about a 21). Stafford was already in the running to go No. 1 overall to Detroit, and his test score only solidified that. On the flip side, Percy Harvin scored a 12 and is now suddenly being questioned for his ability to learn routes, and Rey Maualuga's 15 apparently has scouts concerned that he may not be able to run a defense as a middle linebacker.

Question: Why is Maualuga's test score linked to his ability to run a defense? For that matter, why does the Wonderlic affect a player's draft status at all?

Answer: I have no idea. Obviously, you'd prefer to have a smart player with good problem-solving abilities to a player who's a complete idiot. But as long as that player knows exactly what he's doing on the field -- and based on Maualuga's college performance, that'd be difficult to dispute -- does it matter?

While there's no official database (not that I can find, anyway), there's plenty of anecdotal evidence out there that should tell us something. Here are some noteworthy scores from QBs of the relatively recent past:

Drew Henson -- 42
Alex Smith -- 40
Eli Manning -- 39
Tom Brady -- 33
Joey Harrington -- 32
John Elway -- 29
Peyton Manning -- 28
Ryan Leaf -- 27
Brett Favre -- 22
Dan Marino -- 15
Jim Kelly -- 15
Steve McNair -- 15
Donovan McNabb -- 14

You can draw your own conclusions from that data, but a paper published by economic analyst Mac Mirabile went even further, debunking the idea that QB test scores revealed anything about past performance or future success:
The models reveal no statistically significant relationship between intelligence and college passing performance. Likewise, there is no evidence of higher compensation.
What about non-quarterbacks? If you're a numbers geek, you'll enjoy this paper -- which covers all positions -- published by a team of researchers:
The first hypothesis stated that GMA would be positively related to NFL performance. Results indicated that the WPT was unrelated to any of the NFL performance criteria.
And let's finish things off with some more results, just for kicks:

Michael Turner -- 35
Steven Jackson -- 28
DeAngelo Hall -- 23
Ronnie Brown -- 23
Demarcus Ware -- 20
Larry Fitzgerald -- 18
Roy Williams -- 17
Sean Taylor -- 10
Frank Gore -- 6

There's a wide range there, and that's pretty much the point. There's no correlation. I'm not saying that Stafford won't become a very good NFL QB -- I think he will, actually -- but if he does, it won't have anything to do with his test-taking ability, and the same holds true for both Harvin and Maualuga.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The blotter (and the fallout)

* Penn State's defensive linemen continue to rotate through the State College police blotter, this time with All-Big Ten defensive tackle Jared Odrick being cited for disorderly conduct after a fight at an apartment. Odrick was fined $430, and with this being less serious than some of the other Nittany Lion malfeasance over the last couple of years, that'll probably be the extent of the punishment.

* Pitt reciever T.J. Porter, who was third on the team last year with 25 catches, has been suspended indefinitely after a second DUI arrest. Porter would have been fighting for a starting spot alongside sophomore Jonathan Baldwin -- that spot will likely end up going to senior Oderick Turner -- but the last thing Dave Wannstedt needed was more personnel issues on an offense searching for talent after the loss of LeSean McCoy to the draft and LaRod Stephens-Howling to graduation.

* Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a junior who started 11 games last season, has pleaded not guilty to an assault charge stemming from an alleged attack on a taxi driver in Iowa City. Kirk Ferentz, who's not exactly making a name for himself as a disciplinarian or fatherly figure, stated that he'll be waiting for a result in the case before determining any punishment.

* There's your standard marijuana possession or disorderly conduct charge, and then there's Hawaii cornerback JoPierre Davis:
The 21-year-old Davis is accused of sexually assaulting the 20-year-old woman in September after unlawfully entering her dorm room. Then in January, Davis allegedly assaulted the same woman at a Waikiki nightclub, knocking her out after she slapped him for touching her inappropriately on the dance floor. The indictment Friday also accused Davis of punching a club employee who tried to intervene.
Good Lord. I don't have much to add to that, but I think it's safe to assume that if even parts of those accusations are true, Davis will be trading in his Warriors uniform for a prison one.

A look around

* Charlie Weis announced on Monday that he'll remain on the field rather than coaching from the press box, which he had been considering. This is thoroughly unsurprising -- as I've noted before, I don't think there's ever been a coach who's run the show from upstairs on a regular basis, and with this being an obviously crucial season for Weis and Notre Dame, it doesn't seem like a good time to experiment with any significant changes.

* ESPN's headline, "NCAA rejects FSU's proposal on vacating wins," is a little deceptive. The NCAA has NOT rejected Florida State's appeal of the 14 wins it has been forced to "vacate"; it has only rejected school president T.K. Wetherell's proposal to have a commission set up to review future cases and to have FSU's punishment suspended until the appeal has been decided.

* I don't know what Nate Davis did piss off all the NFL scouts, but I'm stunned that only ONE team (the Colts) showed up to watch his pro day at Ball State. I didn't expect him to be a first-round pick by any means, but I would think that with the numbers Davis put up, he'd at least be worth taking a look at. It's not like every team in the league is loaded with quality options at QB.

* Southern Miss is without all-time leading rusher Damion Fletcher for spring practice after he pleaded guilty to firing a gun into the air at an apartment complex. There hasn't been any in-season suspension announced, but I wouldn't be shocked if he misses the season opener, essentially a warm-up game against Alcorn State, only to conveniently return for the Conference USA opener a week later against Central Florida.

* Vic Hall, a two-year starter at cornerback for Virginia who made a surprise appearance at QB against Virginia Tech, is the starting signal-caller heading into spring practice. This move wasn't completely out of the blue, as Hall apparently was a dominant quarterback in high school before switching to defense in college. Whether he can transition back and be even an acceptable passer remains to be seen -- Virginia's quarterbacks (Jameel Sewell and Marc Verica, mostly) have been somewhere between mediocre and bad during Hall's three seasons, and if he was so far behind those guys that he was immediately moved to defense, that doesn't speak too highly of his passing ability. I'm expecting an offense something along the lines of what Arkansas ran with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones -- a whole lot of read-option plays involving Hall and running back Mikell Simpson.

* Houston quarterback Blake Joseph, who lost out on the starting job last year to Case Keenum after starting five games in 2007, will not return for his final year of eligibility. Joseph put up good numbers when he was on the field, but Keenum distanced himself in '08 by finishing ninth in the country in pass efficiency and throwing 44 touchdown passes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

65 reasons to love college football

Maybe I'm alone here, but I get a bit annoyed when everyone I know suddenly becomes a college basketball expert during the third week in March, discussing the likelihood of a potential Syracuse-North Carolina matchup in the Midwest Regional finals despite probably having watched less than 60 minutes of college basketball all season and not being able to name more than two starters on any team in the country.

No one really cares, of course. If not for office pools, how many of those people would even be able to identify the No. 1 team in the country? I'm guessing less than half.

It's not that the NCAA tournament isn't an amazing event with more drama than just about any other postseason in sports -- there's little argument about that. And the fact that every team that's truly deserving (along with many teams that aren't) gets to play for a title ... well, that alone gives us 65 good reasons to get excited.

I guess I've just always had a hard time fully investing myself in something with a regular season that's barely relevant, with players no one knows because by the time they're good, they're gone. Strangely, March Madness always gets me thinking not about basketball, but about college football and how much I appreciate everything about it and how it's become a day-in, day-out part of my life ... hell, that's the whole reason this blog exists.

It's not just about the players or the teams or my lifelong obsession with Michigan, of course; there's so much more, I spent an hour just trying to figure out how to summarize it. And then I gave up; there's just too much.

So in an NCAA tourney-inspired entry, here are the top 65 reasons I love college football:

65. Floyd of Rosedale. Minnesota and Iowa play for a bronze pig. Enough said.

64. Sea of Red. A great symbol of fan support and unity.

63. Penn State's uniforms. Pure, blue-on-white simplicity.

62. Helmet stickers. What else can define greatness like reward stickers?

61. Touchdown Jesus. Obviously.

60. Big East games on Thursday night. Who wants to wait a full seven days?

59. MAC games on Wednesday night. Sometimes, I just can't make it those extra 24 hours.

58. Recruiting. I'm not sure if the interest level is good or bad for the high school kids, but the vast expanse of information made available over the past few years has given us a whole new reason to get excited in the offseason.

57. Northwestern. I have nothing but admiration for a team with little athletic talent that still competes with the Big Ten's best on a regular basis.

56. The Coliseum. The L.A. atmosphere doesn't do it any favors, but the tradition and history just drip from the signature arches behind the east endzone.

55. Chief Osceola. Any pregame ritual that includes a flaming spear is good enough for me.

54. Oregon's apparel. Yeah, it's a little ridiculous. But I admire a program that's willing to say, "F it, let's just do something fun."

53. "Rudy." Even if the real story isn't quite as inspirational as the movie.

52. The Jeweled Shillelagh. The trophy just adds to the beauty of USC-Notre Dame.

51. Mascots. Sparty. Herbie Husker. Ralphie. Uga. I could go on, but there's no need.

50. Little Brown Jug. A historical oddity that makes Michigan-Minnesota meaningful despite its lopsided nature.

49. Florida State-Miami. It's lost a little luster recently but is still one of the best early-season matchups.

48. Boise State's blue turf. Needs no explanation.

47. Michigan's "M Club" banner. One of the greatest entrances to one of the greatest fight songs.

46. Autzen Stadium. There's no way 55,000 people should be able to make that much noise.

45. USC's song girls. Photo provided.

44. Texas A&M's yell practice. Who needs cheerleaders when half the stadium is already prepared?

43. Pass-happy coaches. Watching Texas Tech or Hawaii put it in the air 70 times is always an enjoyable experience.

42. The spread option. There are countless variations now, but the West Virginia version run by Pat White and the Utah version run by Alex Smith give us an idea of what this offense is supposed to look like.

41. The triple-option. College football's staple offense for 100 years still works wonders when executed correctly.

40. Quarterbacks who can't throw. Tommie Frazier, Eric Crouch and Major Harris were never going to make it as QBs in the NFL, but that didn't make them any less great in college.

39. BCS games. The system itself might be a mess, but it gives us the consistently excellent top-10 matchups we so rarely see in the regular season.

38. The playoff debate. An argument over the details of a completely hypothetical scenario has never gone on for so long.

37. Game-ending field goals (or misses). Countless otherwise-anonymous walk-on kickers (I'm talking about you, Philip Brabbs and David Gordon) have cemented their place in history with one kick.

36. Harvard-Yale. They don't give out scholarships and it's mostly irrelevant at a national level, but history wins out. "The Game" also gave us arguably the best sports headline ever: "Harvard beats Yale, 29-29."

35. "Play like a champion today." What can I say? I'm a sucker for tradition.

34. Innovators. Urban Meyer, Rich Rodriguez, Steve Spurrier ... these guys have helped shape the game we see today.

33. Institutions. Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden have been coaching at Penn State and Florida State, respectively, for 92 years. Think about that.

32. "The Play." You know which one.

31. Big Ten linebackers. J Leman's photo tells the story. And I don't know where Penn State and Ohio State keep their linebacker cloning labs, but I want one.

30. Blackshirts. Nebraska defenders earn their honor the old-fashioned way.

29. Night games at Virginia Tech. The atmosphere under the lights at Lane Stadium just can't be replicated.

28. Alabama's helmets. So simple, yet so recognizable.

27. Penn State's "Whiteout." An incredible sight.

26. The Swamp. It might not be the biggest and it might not be the loudest, but there's a reason (besides Tim Tebow) that it's so fuckin' hard to win at Florida.

25. "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party." No, I don't care that the SEC managed to get the nickname removed. If it's Florida and Georgia, it's a party.

24. Captains. It's camaraderie at its finest when team leaders, linked arm-in-arm, walk to midfield for the coin toss.

23. Polls. Is it crazy to determine a national champion by a vote? Maybe. But I get up every Sunday morning in the fall anxiously awaiting the results.

22. 2007 Fiesta Bowl. One of the greatest games I've ever seen, with every ridiculous scenario you could ask for (and a marriage proposal to cap it off).

21. Red River Rivalry. Great history, great uniforms, elite teams ... and they play the game at the freakin' Texas state fair.

20. The Big House. 111,000 people every Saturday.

19. Seniors. My biggest complaint about college basketball is that nobody who's any good sticks around for more than a year or two. But in football, we're lucky enough to be guaranteed three years (and often get four) from even our greatest players.

18. Howard's Rock. The rock's actual history is a little disappointing, but there's a reason Clemson's run down the hill has been called "the most exciting 25 seconds in college football" (although that came from Brent Musberger, so take it with a pound of salt).

17. Michigan's winged helmets. There's probably not be a more identifiable headpiece in all of sports, with the possible exception of ...

16. Notre Dame's gold. The painting of the helmets -- with real gold included -- is one of the coolest traditions in sports.

15. Script Ohio. I don't know if Ohio State's is "The Best Damn Band in the Land," but the fact that the band's signature formation may be more recognizable than anything about the football team has to count for something.

14. Hail Marys. Doug Flutie. Kordell Stewart. Those guys were great college players, but each will be remembered forever for one huge throw.

13. Marching bands.
If you've never been entertained at halftime of a Wisconsin or Michigan game, you've never enjoyed the full college football experience. And without marching bands, we wouldn't have ...

12. Fight songs. From "Hail to the Victors" to "Victory March" to "On Wisconsin" to "Rambling Wreck."

11. Year-round bragging rights. You have no idea how much it pains me to see the Columbus Dispatch sports page and its running count of the number of days since Michigan's last win over Ohio State. For the record, it stands at 1,948.

10. Tailgating. Is there a better way to spend a Saturday? (That's a rhetorical question.)

9. Rose Bowl. "The grandaddy of 'em all."

8. Keith Jackson. If someone ever puts together a video of my life, I want it narrated by this guy.

7. Traditions. This list of full of traditions already, but there are so many little things that add history to a program or a venue (War Eagle, Running through the "T", Michigan's #1 jersey, etc.)

6. Heisman Trophy. The most recognized individual award in sports.

5. The Iron Bowl. I'm not sure if hatred is the right word for Alabama-Auburn, but I can't think of anything stronger.

4. Regular-season intensity. Everyone wants a playoff, but I will always point out that there's no regular season like college football's. Every game is huge, and that's something I never want to lose.

3. Michigan-Ohio State. I'm probably a little biased, but there's a reason this game is consistently ranked as the best rivalry in college football (if not sports as a whole).

2. Army-Navy. The president shows up, the seniors are on the verge of deployment, they sing the fight songs of BOTH teams after the game ... and I get goosebumps. If I could go to only one more football game in my life, it'd be this one.

1. Saturdays in the fall. You wake up and throw on a sweatshirt, maybe an old pair of jeans. You head outside into the crisp air, with a light breeze, and you make your way down to the stadium with thousands of others through the changing colors. The tension is building, but it goes unspoken outside of a few chants and cheers, possibly with the marching band playing in the distance. Kickoff is approaching ...

It's a Saturday in the fall, and there's absolutely nothing else like it. It's what I live for.

You already know this

Uber-recruit Bryce Brown is a Tennessee Volunteer.

It seems only fitting that two of the most controversial and talked-about figures this offseason, Brown and Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, will end up together in Knoxville.

Regardless of your opinions about either one, this is a pretty big score for Kiffin, and the main reason I think that he ultimately will be successful -- he's surrounded himself with excellent assistants who are even better recruiters, as evidenced by pulling in both Brown and top-ranked all-purpose back David Oku (although Florida fans believe it has less to do with recruiting prowess and more to do with LOL TENNE$$EE cheaterz!!!).

But if he's going to build his offense around these guys, Kiffin better hope that Brown and Oku are more decisive on the field than off it. In case you're not familiar with Oku:
The prep running back who delayed his decision past national signing day, and then moved from an Oklahoma high school to a Nebraska high school, and who visited Auburn three times, stuck with the school he originally committed to a long time ago.
Brown and Oku might both be upstanding young men, but what are the odds one of these guys transfers by his junior year? 99 percent?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chip in charge

The uncertainty at Oregon finally ended on Friday when coach Mike Bellotti announced that he is stepping down on March 30 to become athletic director. Offensive coordinator Chip Kelly, who had already been declared the coach-in-waiting, will take over as head coach.

Of course, Kelly really had been in charge for some time -- Bellotti made it clear that Kelly was making staff decisions when defensive line coach Michael Gray and receivers coach Robin Pflugrad were let go shortly after the season.
"I allowed Chip to address the entire staff, talk with each coach. Those are the only two positions where he's going to bring in people."
It doesn't seem that there will be much transition for the players, and there probably won't be a whole lot for the staff, either -- the only guy who will see a significant shift in duties is Kelly. But that begs the question as to whether the Ducks' insanely potent offense will be able to maintain its, um, potency.

Make no mistake: While Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny likes pretty much everything about Kelly, his mind for offense is the reason he's now in charge. In Kelly's two years with the Ducks, the offense has set 24 school records. In 2007, Oregon was 10th in total offense and 12th in scoring offense. In 2008, those numbers improved to seventh and seventh despite the loss of Dennis Dixon and Jonathan Stewart to the NFL.

The guy knows how to put points on the board -- the only question now is whether he knows how to run a team. It's not always easy to do both, but it's certainly been done -- Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez seem like reasonable comparisons given Kelly's offensive aptitude, and if he enjoys anywhere near the success those guys have had, Oregon should be in good shape.

And Kelly might get a 6-foot, 215-pound welcoming gift this week -- running back Bryce Brown, the nation's top player according to Rivals (although one that comes with some baggage), is set to announce his college destination on Monday. It's believed to be between Miami and Oregon (although LSU and Tennessee are also in the mix), and with some debate over whether the Hurricanes are still interested, there's a good chance Brown will end up wearing an Oregon uniform, whatever color it may be.

Assuming that Brown commits, it'll cap off one of the most bizarre offseasons in recent memory. It's not often that a team loses it's star running back (LaGarrette Blount) to an indefinite suspension, has its coach resign in March and gets the top recruit in the country a full month after Signing Day.

What's even more remarkable is that despite all the drama and uncertainy, there's a good chance Oregon will come out the other end looking just as strong in 2009 and beyond.

As for Bellotti, regardless of how you want to dissect his lack of Pac-10 championships (just one) or Rose Bowl berths (none), he retires as the undisputed greatest coach in Oregon history. His record of 116–55 speaks for itself, and he just missed playing in two national championship games -- in 2001, when the Ducks got jobbed by the BCS computers in favor of a Nebraska team that was steamrolled by Miami, and in 2007, when Dennis Dixon's knee blew up and the team, ranked #2 at the time, proceeded to lose its next three games.

Simply put, Bellotti built on predecessor Rich Brooks' success and put Oregon on the map nationally (with a little help from Nike, of course). The Ducks might never overtake USC atop the Pac-10, but the fact that they're even in the conversation has to be worth something.

Dr. Saturday, the master of statistical evidence, brings it to us in chart form:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Way back in 2002

Larry Coker returned from nowhere this week to take the head coaching job at Texas-San Antonio, a program that will begin play in the FCS in 2011.

Coker was fired from Miami following a 2006 regular season in which the Hurricanes finished 6-6 and generated several weeks' worth of "Outside the Lines" material with an embarrassing brawl against Florida International.

In Coker's preceding five seasons, Miami lost a grand total of seven regular-season games. I didn't follow Miami closely enough in that time to know whether there was something specific about Coker's management style or abilities that led the Hurricanes into their current slide, but there was something going on -- Miami went from zero losses in his first season to one in his second season, two in his third, three in his fourth, three in his fifth and six in his sixth. His time as head coach directly coincided with an obvious decline in offensive performance under coordinator Rich Olson, and it's generally believed that once his players (and not those recruited by Butch Davis) made up the majority of the roster, the drop-off in play became obvious.

It seems that Coker was just a better coordinator than a coach -- Miami's version of Charlie Weis (plus 20 years, minus 150 pounds). On the other hand, his record was pretty damn impressive until his disastrous final season, and you have to wonder how things might have been different at if he hadn't come painfully close to a 25-0 record and consecutive national title to start his career:

That team was a juggernaut that probably should have gone down as one of the best of all-time. The roster was flat-out ridiculous, and outside of a one-point win over #9 Florida State, there wasn't a serious challenge all year until the thriller against Ohio State.

How times have changed ...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bobby Bowden gets his comeuppance

The NCAA brought down the gauntlet Friday on Florida State for its widespread academic scandal, announcing that the school will be stripped of scholarships in 10 sports, will be placed on four years' probation and must "vacate" all records (including wins) from games in which ineligible athletes participated.

Not exactly a slap on the wrist, but not exactly an SMU-style execution, either. There's little long-term impact outside of the scholarship losses, and even those are minimal -- six football scholarships over the next three years, a minor chip out of the standard limit of 85.

But there's one guy who probably isn't too happy: Bobby Bowden. As has been widely noted, Bowden would have entered the season with 382 career wins, just one behind Joe Paterno as the all-time winningest FBS coach.

But now:

... the instant a player cheated in class -- regardless of whether school officials knew about it -- he became ineligible, and if that athlete played in a game, it must be vacated. That could cost FSU games from 2006, when the academic fraud began.
Assuming that the NCAA holds to that ruling, and that the Seminoles will be forced to vacate all their wins from 2006 and 2007 (seven each year), Bowden will be stripped of 14 victories. And at his age, with Jimbo Fisher waiting in the wings ... unless the NCAA gives in on appeal (which is possible), the victory race is probably over. With a 15-win lead, it's smooth sailing for Paterno. The only question now is whether he'll get to 400.

I can't feel too sorry for Bowden, though. Florida State has been a bastion of questionable activity for years, dating back to the days of the Criminoles and Free Shoes University. We all knew this was coming; it was only a matter of time.

Friday, March 6, 2009


It's funny how time affects perception.

This year's list of nominees for the College Football Hall of Fame is long (82 names) and impressive, and while I'm sure that all of those players were dominant during their time in college, a lot of them elicit different memories.

Kirk Gibson, to me, was the guy limping around the bases in Game 1 of the '88 World Series. Lawrence Taylor was a terrifying blitzer for the New York Giants. And I didn't even realize that Dick Jauron and Ron Rivera were successful college players; to me, they're NFL coaches.

I'm still relatively young, so my age has a lot to do with that. But a couple of other names jumped out at me, guys who I'll always think of as college players and who were recent enough to be relevant to my generation.

I've been trying to think of a way to describe what Desmond Howard meant to me as a young fan who was just starting to become interested in college football (and Michigan in particular), but I'll let Keith Jackson tell the story -- he only needed two words:

Desmond was the football equivalent of the Fab Five -- he was flashy and fun and he made it cool to be a Michigan fan, and that's something that will always have an impact on me.

The second guy will, too, but in a much different way.

He never won a Heisman -- being named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1996 was as close as he got -- and if I didn't have connections to Arizona State, I might not even remember him. But when I picture Pat Tillman, with his long hair flowing out the back of his helmet as he, Derrick Rodgers and Mitchell Freedman wreaked havoc in a stunning 19-0 upset of two-time defending national champion Nebraska ... well, I can't help but get chills up my spine.

Following up on my follow-up

Shortly after I ripped into Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson the other day, he went in front of the BCS conference commissioners and announced that he wanted ... a playoff.

An eight-team playoff, to be precise, with a couple of interesting changes to the way the BCS rankings are utilized:
Under the MWC's proposal, a conference would qualify for an automatic bid if its teams have a winning percentage of at least .400 in games against the current automatic qualifying leagues over a two-year period.
OK, so if a conference can prove its strength by consistently beating some of the big guys, it earns a spot. That doesn't really address the problem -- that the dregs of the lesser conferences drag down the overall quality -- but it's not completely unreasonable.
Part two of the proposal suggests doing away with the BCS standings and creating a 12-member committee to pick which teams receive at-large bids, and to select and seed the eight teams chosen for the playoff.
The BCS standings are already just a guideline for picking at-large teams (other than the clauses that can kick in and guarantee automatic entry, such as being in the top four overall or being in the top eight as a non-BCS school), so that part of the proposal doesn't mean much. It appears that the committee's primary purpose would actually be seeding the playoff, similar to the role of the NCAA basketball committee. This wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, as it would allow some flexibility in avoiding rematches, trying to place teams in the best possible locations, etc.

And if you've ever heard anyone -- and I do mean anyone -- offer up a playoff proposal, it includes the requisite "The bowls could still be included if they just played the semifinals at the BCS sites, blah blah blah ... "
Under the MWC's proposal, the four current BCS games -- the Sugar, Orange, Rose and Fiesta bowls -- would host the four first-round playoff games. Another BCS bowl would be awarded to a current non-BCS game and would host the lowest ranked of the 10 teams selected in a game with no championship implications. The semifinals would be played about a week later, with the current BCS bowls given the opportunity to host those games. The championship game would be played a week after that, and again the current BCS bowls would be given the opportunity to host.
So there would still be five BCS games -- all played on the same weekend -- and the winners of the four "playoff" games would advance to the semifinals. This is basically the same concept as a plus-one, except it's really more like a plus-two (two rounds instead of one after the bowl games).

So where does that leave us? Well ... this is actually manageable. I don't think that the auto-bid proposal would end up being accepted, because what if the WAC, Mountain West and Conference USA were all strong at the top over a period of a few years and ended up meeting the winning-percentage qualification? That would leave room for only one at-large bid each year, which obviously doesn't work. Some tweaking has to be done in that area.

The bowls would certainly be accepting, though -- two BCS sites would host two playoff games each year, and one would host three. That apparently would be a rotating system similar to how the championship site is chosen now, so everyone would get their turn.

And once the bowls are on board, who's left?

"We have received the Mountain West proposal," BCS coordinator and ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement. "Some of these ideas or similar ones have been addressed before in BCS meetings. We will make sure that the proposal has a full airing by the commissioners and presidents, and we will respond to the Mountain West at the conclusion of those discussions."
Oh yeah. Well, that was fun while it lasted.

But in all seriousness, with a new TV contract starting up in 2011, Thompson acknowledged that now is the time for change, and he -- probably with some help from the conference's athletic directors -- came up with a reasonable proposal that could actually ignite some discussion at the BCS meeting in April.

Unfortunately, we all know how this story will almost certainly end. If the plus-one proposal last year from SEC commissioner Mike Slive was too drastic, an eight-team playoff is about as likely as me stumbling across the Land of Chocolate.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Following up

I wrote last week about Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson and the apparent pointlessness of his visit to Washington to meet with Congressional aides.

The upshot was this:
I'm not sure exactly what it is Thompson wishes to accomplish here other than land his own conference an automatic bid.
The answer: Nothing ... and that's creating some friction between Thompson and the commissioners of the other non-BCS conferences.

I believe that Thompson could have actually garnered support for a sweeping change to the BCS had he really pressed the issue in Washington, be instead of pointing out the flaws in the system and proposing a legitimate change, he got greedy and demanded the one thing nobody was going to support -- an auto-bid for his conference, but none of the other non-automatic qualifiers. Basically, "We want ours."

Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters, WAC commissioner Karl Benson and MAC commissioner Paul Chryst have all spoken out against Thompson's proposal, saying that it doesn't benefit anyone other than the Mountain West (obviously).

"There are only 10 slots," Waters said. "If you go from six to seven automatic qualifiers then you're filling three at-large spots rather than four. And when you've only got four, every one of them is important. I am not in favor of a seventh automatic qualifying team."

Thompson's proposal won't get him anywhere, and that's fine with me -- as I've mentioned before, the Mountain West was strong at the top last season but has no real argument for an auto-bid. Utah is still the only Mountain West team to earn a spot in the BCS -- it's been there twice in the 11 years the BCS has been in effect -- while in that same period, the Mountain West's record against all other conferences is a spectacular ... um, 159-174. To say that one strong season overrides 10 years of history is absurd.

Graham Watson, ESPN's non-BCS conference blogger, points out the hypocrisy of it all:
... that strong opposition to the BCS hasn't stopped the Mountain West from pocketing the $10 million it received from the BCS for Utah's appearance in the Sugar Bowl.
If you're willing to reap the benefits, don't go crying afterward. Thompson could have demanded change, but his proposal shows what he really wanted: Guaranteed money.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Interesting stuff

* For all the criticism I do of ESPN and its various columnists, some of the things they've been doing recently have been surprisingly simple and informative. Each conference blogger has been doing a breakdown of potential breakout candidates, guys to watch in spring practice, important position battles and guys "filling the biggest shoes."

While I hate the idea of trying to rank teams this early in the process, this type of focus on individual position battles and under-the-radar players actually gives us some info about guys who could make a big impact this fall.

Will Russell Shepard beat out Jordan Jefferson for the LSU quarterback job? How much will Tate Forcier's arrival benefit Michigan's offense next year? Who will replace Ray Rice at Rutgers, Percy Harvin at Florida and Jeremy Maclin at Missouri? How much of a drop-off will Georgia see from Knowshon Moreno to Caleb King? Is Chris Galippo the next Rey Maualuga?

This is what make college football a year-round sport ...

* Kudos to LSU and West Virginia for scheduling a home-and-home series in 2010 and 2011, starting in Baton Rouge. One of my biggest complaints is a lack of quality nonconference matchups, and the reason is obvious -- every big school wants as many home games as possible, and the way that's achieved is by bringing in sacrificial lambs in exchange for a paycheck.

This quote pretty well sums up the situation:
"Philosophically, this game falls right in line with what we are trying to do with our schedule, and that's to play one nonconference game each year against a team from a BCS league," Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva said. "We think this will be a great matchup that will benefit both universities."
Some programs -- Wisconsin and Kansas State come to mind -- manage to fill their entire nonconference slate with cupcakes every year, but at least schools such as LSU, Ohio State and USC have managed to find a premier opponent on an almost annual basis (although I don't expect the Mountaineers to fall into that category for very long without Rich Rodriguez and Pat White).

* Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, a top-five overall recruit two years ago who transferred from Michigan, was arrested and charged with public intoxication late Sunday. Mallett is a phenomenal talent -- 6-foot-7, good touch and one of the strongest arms I've ever seen -- but between this arrest and some of the behind-the-scenes problems he had with coaches and teammates at Michigan prior to his departure, it's clear that he has some growing up to do.

Despite the graduation of nominal starter Casey Dick and the transfer of younger brother Nathan Dick, who started two games last year, the Razorbacks' QB next year likely will still be a dick.