Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I hate this

Sometimes there are simply no words to describe the stupidity of a decision. Adjectives like "incomprehensible" and "baffling" just aren't strong enough.

Exhibit A: The American Football Coaches Association announced Wednesday that the final coaches' poll of the season will be confidential starting in 2010.


It was a step in the right direction four years ago when final ballots were made public, as the danger of coaches being publicly outed as biased idiots injected some badly needed credibility into the poll. The fact that the coaches' poll is included in the BCS is ridiculous to begin with, of course. It's inherently biased even if ballots are published, and it's been widely documented (and flat-out admitted on numerous occasions) that most coaches aren't able to see a whole lot of other teams' games. The media poll might have had its flaws, but at least it was put together by people who had seen a lot of different teams -- and it was fair. How do I know it was fair? Most media members publish their ballots, and if they don't, The Associated Press does it for them. There's nothing hidden.

The entire point of the AFCA's decision to publicize the final ballot in 2005 was to make sure coaches weren't vastly overrating their own teams or opponents (or underrating a competitor) in order to skew the results. This is a good thing, right? So what's the point of going back?

This move has been ripped everywhere -- do a Google search and you can read for days about the absurdity of confidential ballots -- but I think Pat Forde at ESPN says it best:
In a sham system already sagging under suspicions of bias and criticisms of inherent unfairness, this provides one more reason to doubt the BCS.
When EVERY voter has an agenda, nothing good can come from confidential ballots. I already had a hard time believing that a lot of coaches were voting fairly, but when there's not a single thing stopping them from distorting their ballots as much as necessary to benefit their team or their conference, how can I have any confidence that the results are fair and meaningful? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Like so many other decisions in the BCS era, this is nothing but a slap in the face to fans from the coaches who don't want to answer questions or worry about being publicly embarrassed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A bunch of stuff about stuff

* Bad news for Kentucky, as star defensive end Jeremy Jarmon, who was honorable mention All-SEC last season and had 13.5 sacks over the past two years, has been informed that he failed an NCAA drug test and is ineligible for the season. As a senior, Jarmon's career is over. I have a confession: I did not know that the NCAA could suspend a player for an entire season for failing a drug test. Now that I know, I think the most surprising thing is that it doesn't happen more often. Jarmon said that he inadvertently took a banned substance included in a weight-loss product -- if true, that's a crappy way to end a nice career.

* Oregon QB Justin Roper, a redshirt sophomore, announced that he will transfer after getting beat out by Jeremiah Masoli in spring practice for the starting quarterback job. Roper wasn't terrible when he found the field, but given the Ducks' potency with Masoli at the helm during their ridiculous run late in the season (49.5 points per game over the final four), it seems doubtful that Roper was in Chip Kelly's long-term plans.

* Tomahawk Nation has a great post up related to fumbles and the general randomness related to their recovery. It's been the stated opinion of numerous sites -- including Mgoblog, Football Outsiders and -- that recovering fumbles isn't something that teams are "good" or "bad" at -- it just happens, with no consistency from year to year and no trends of certain teams being better than certain other teams. In other words, if a team gets all the lucky bounces in a given season, odds are good that those numbers will regress to the mean the following year (and vice versa). I'm intrigued so much by this idea that I can foresee a lengthier post in my future.

* According to Ohio State's student newspaper, there were 21 recruiting violations by Big Ten schools this year. The breakdown: 13 for Ohio State, eight for all the other teams combined. I try to stay objective, but that's just ridiculous. And here's the best part:

"I don't view it as a bad thing. If we suddenly had zero violations, I would have to ask myself what the coaches were hiding," said Doug Archie, OSU's associate athletics director for compliance and camps.
In other words, as long as the coaches admit that they did something wrong, they didn't really do anything wrong at all. Nice.

* Michigan's game on October 17 against Delaware State has caused some craziness, as DSU has announced that it will have to forfeit its conference game against North Carolina A&T originally scheduled for the same date. How can this happen? Well, Delaware State apparently didn't have an athletic director at the time -- it's unclear who in the administration actually agreed to the deal with Michigan -- and a "miscommunication" left school officials with the understanding that a couple of conference teams would rearrange their schedules if necessary. When that didn't happen, Delaware State was left with its pants down and with an 0-1 record to start the season. Gene Wojciechowski has it right: This game never should have been scheduled, even if you're willing to overlook the general blah-ness of games between FBS and FCS schools. Speaking of mistakes, I'd like to point out to ESPN's web people that "Delware" (in the headline above the URL directory) is not correct.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Math doesn't exist in the Big Ten

Amid all the talk of possible Big Ten expansion last week, it was thoroughly overlooked when the topic of switching to a nine-game conference schedule came up at the conference meetings.

I have long advocated playing as many conference games as possible, especially with the recent development of teams filling most (if not all) of their nonconference slots with fluffy-soft cupcakes in order to pad their win total and ensure bowl eligibility. So in theory, I fully support the Big Ten adding another conference game.

There's a problem, though, that the Big Ten simply refuses to acknowledge: It isn't possible for each team to play nine conference games. This has been covered previously at Mgoblog and touched on by Dr. Saturday, so this isn't exactly a revelation. The basic dilemma is this: there's no way for 11 schools to play nine games against each of the other teams in the conference. That's a total of 99 games played, and it isn't possible to have an odd number of games played when there are two teams involved in each game.

But who cares about logic:

"By [2012], you'll probably see it," Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said. "It's hard, but we all understand the need for it."

I'm not sure I'd say there's a need for it, although it'd certainly be nice. But that's beside the point. The question I (and many others) have is how the conference could justify the only possible solution to the scheduling conflict: having 10 teams play nine conference games while only one team plays eight.

What happens if, say, Penn State finishes 7-1 and Ohio State finishes 8-1 but the two don't play each other (remember, adding another game still won't result in a round-robin schedule)? What happens if Penn State finishes 7-1 and Ohio State finishes 8-1 but the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes?

The conference would have to prepare a number of tiebreakers for scenarios like those above, and I can't imagine that the Big Ten wants its title and a potential BCS berth decided that way. Just look at the PR hit the Big 12 took last year over its own tiebreaker, which resulted in Oklahoma being selected over Texas to play for the national title. If I'm the Big Ten, I want no part of any similar controversy, and this change would open the door to all sorts of controversial finishes.

Again, it'd be nice to see Michigan be able to drop Eastern Michigan or Delaware State in favor of Northwestern or Indiana, but not at the cost of a potentially disastrous clusterfuck at the top of the conference standings.

Friday, May 22, 2009

More of the same

I'm probably in the vast minority here, but I'm having a hard time getting worked up anymore about the stupid things Lane Kiffin does (ooh, a Twitter controversy!!!). Not because he's stopped doing stupid things, of course -- he hasn't -- but because it's starting to feel like throwing a twig into a bonfire. What's the point?

So I'll go the other direction and give him some credit for not discriminating in his ability to generate anger. It's no surprise that Florida fans and the rest of the SEC hate him -- they hate everybody -- but when you can generate the same feelings within your own locker room ... as Ron Burgundy would say, that's amazing.

With new Volunteers strength coach Mark Smith leaving the program due to some undisclosed issues that "had been brewing for some time," Kiffin has now seen the departure of an assistant coach and a whopping 11 scholarship players. I should clarify here and point out that there may well be additional reasons beyond Kiffin's pure evil for those players' departure -- I don't feel like researching the background of each one -- but I can say from personal experience that this presents more of a problem than anything Kiffin has done or said so far.

I'm not referring to the long-term concern of whether players actually like Kiffin; if he wins, they'll like him. What I'm talking about is the numbers issue, and the fact that the loss of 11 scholarship players simply can't be accounted for when it comes to depth.

Watching Michigan last year, it was painfully evident that any chance the offense had at being good (after the graduation/early exit of six starters) was taken away when players continued to defect for various reasons. It was bad enough when the season began with a former defensive tackle starting on the offensive line and a walk-on starting at QB, but things became much worse when a number of players proved ineffective or were injured, because there was absolutely nobody behind most of those guys.

Significant roster turnover has become fairly commonplace after a coaching change and shouldn't by itself be considered an indictment of what Kiffin is doing. Tennessee might even be fortunate enough to avoid those issues, of course (although they probably won't if karma has any say). But Kiffin's attention-grabbing schtick, which is disturbingly pleasing to Volunteers athletic director Mike Hamilton ...
"When you think about the fact that our football program was 5-7 last year, and we've got a coach that's not coached a game yet in college football, but yet we're on the front page of USA Today sports ... it's really quite amazing."
... probably won't go over quite as well if his debut season goes anything like Rich Rodriguez's.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Turn back the clock

I'm a sucker for tradition. I'm sure part of that is due to growing up in the Midwest and watching Michigan, Notre Dame, etc., but there's also a part of me that just hates the way everything now is catered to the dregs of society.

I don't need "MAKE NOISE!!!" videos and halftime extravaganzas -- I'm perfectly happy enjoying the natural atmosphere of the game and maybe some entertainment from the marching bands (excuse me while I yell at some kids to get off my lawn).

However ... I have to admit that I've enjoyed watching the Red Wings play the Blackhawks at Wrigley Field and the NFL play games in London and Mexico City, if for no other reason than the knowledge that I'm seeing something that's never been done before. Traditions and rivalries are borne of the teams involved and the history between them, not the field the game is played on. Seeing a traditional matchup in an untraditional place doesn't make it any less interesting.

How does this relate to college football? According to the New York Times, the Yankees are interested in bringing football to old Yankee Stadium in an homage to some of the historic events it hosted many decades ago (or possibly as just a way to milk a little extra money out of a now-useless baseball stadium).

As cynical as I am about the motivations, this probably shouldn't excite me -- but it does. And despite my general loathing of Notre Dame's ability to market itself far better than it has any right to*, I'm even more excited that one of the initial proposals for a game in New York includes Notre Dame taking on Army in 2013, exactly 100 years since the game between those schools that revolutionized the forward pass.

Let's be realistic: Barring the return of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, Army won't be putting up much of a fight against Notre Dame anytime soon. But a game between two old-school powers at an old-school venue would be pretty damn cool. I would tune in just for the experience, and I think a lot of casual fans would, too.

* Note to Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick: Feel free to schedule a future "home" game against Michigan in Detroit, Ann Arbor or anywhere else that will provide you less of an advantage than South Bend. Thanks.

WTF is going on at Kansas State?

One of the oddest coaching moves of the offseason was Kansas State's decision to resurrect Bill Snyder from the dead and bring him back as coach in hopes that he can once again make the Wildcats relevant.

Ron Prince, who was never a particularly exciting hire, was cast aside with a buyout for $1.2 million and an undetermined amount of "longevity" money (probably not much since he was only at KSU for three years). This seemed like a fairly standard agreement, and Prince has since gone back to Virginia (where he was previously a coordinator) as a special-teams coach.

But to say that things have suddenly gotten weird would be an understatement. The school has sued Prince over an additional $3.2 million in deferred compensation included in a contract that was signed on the same day as his 2008 contract extension -- agreed to with former AD Bob Krause -- that would have paid him about $1 million every other year from 2015-2020 if he were to be fired without cause.

The issue isn't whether the agreement exists -- it's that the school claims it had no idea the deferred compensation was agreed to and that it was never approved by the administration. Kansas State president Jon Wefald explained the lawsuit by saying that "we do regard this secret agreement as null and void.”

Huh? Why in the world would an athletic director try to conceal the terms of a coach's buyout (if he did indeed to try to conceal them)? And if he wasn't trying to conceal them, why was the deal signed in a separate contract from the three-year extension the school had already approved? Very odd.

On the other hand, while I'm no lawyer, I have a hard time believing that the "oops we didn't know about that part" argument is gonna fly. A school official (the athletic director) signed off on a deal with someone under his authority (a coach), and unless there is some explicit requirement that a high-level administrator give his approval, I don't see what course of action Kansas State can take other than go after Krause to try to find out what the hell he was doing.

There are a lot of unanswered questions here; all I know is that there are some serious issues in the K-State athletic department.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Purdue feeling Marve-lous

After a few weeks of waffling between Purdue and Tennessee, former Miami QB Robert Marve is set to announce that he'll become a Boilermaker, according to ESPN.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, given Purdue's dire situation at quarterback (senior Joey Elliott and pretty much nobody else), Marve is all but assured the starting spot when he's eligible to play again in 2010.

In a vacuum, Tennessee probably would've been the better choice -- the QB situation isn't much better, but the tradition and national exposure certainly are. The problem was that because Miami wouldn't release Marve from his scholarship if he transferred to Tennessee, LSU or another school within Florida (apparently because of accusations of tampering), he would have had to pay his own way for a year with the Volunteers. And as anyone who's ever paid their own way through college can tell you, that's not such an attractive option when there's a scholarship on the table.

But if Marve chose Purdue in order to play under new head coach Danny Hope in the Joe Tiller-developed passing offense, I have to question that decision (although based on his high school photograph above, it seems entirely likely that he simply really likes black-and-gold uniforms and helmets with a big "P" on the side).

It's worth noting that since Drew Brees graduated in 2000, Purdue's production at the QB position has been less than impressive. I believe pass efficiency is the most accurate measuring stick of a quarterback's success, so let's go to the numbers:

2008: 76th (Curtis Painter)
2007: 46th (Painter)
2006: 45th (Painter)
2005: 96th (Painter)
2004: 10th (Kyle Orton)
2003: 52nd (Orton)
2002: 41st (Orton)
2001: 95th (Brandon Hance)

Not what you expected, right? Kyle Orton had a good senior season and had impressive peripheral numbers as a junior, but he never duplicated Brees' overall success, especially in the wins column. And after Orton, we're left with Curtis Painter -- who Mel Kiper had a man-crush on as a junior, even if the statistics didn't justify that level of praise -- and one-year starter Brandon Hance, who was clearly not good in his shot at glory.

But there's a bigger problem for Purdue, one that might not stand out on a week-to-week basis but that has to be a long-term concern for Hope. Since the Rose Bowl appearance in Brees' senior season, the Boilermakers haven't beaten either of the top two teams in the final conference standings in any season, nor have they scored more than 21 points in any of those games (the lone exception being a 31-28 road loss to Iowa in 2002). If you're going to build your team around a high-octane offense, that offense had better show up in the biggest games.

The million-dollar question is whether those struggles are due to a drop-off in QB play, a drop-off in overall talent or the rest of the conference adjusting to a spread passing attack that's no longer unique. If it's the former, Marve could be the solution. But if it's not ...

I don't mean this to be an indictment of Marve, necessarily. Let me reiterate here that he is talented -- he was considered a top-10 QB nationally coming out of high school, and even in an abysmal offense at Miami, it says something that he was able to win the starting job as a redshirt freshman.

But it'll be interesting to see how he performs. Considering that Marve is one of the highest-rated QB recruits Purdue has ever landed, if the not-so-encouraging offensive trend continues against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, I think we can safely draw the conclusion that Purdue simply will never return to its Brees-era glory days and probably can't be expected to compete for a conference title.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Catching up: Syracuse still doesn't matter

* Greg Paulus is officially a Syracuse Orange-man/guy/player/entity (I refuse to call a player an Orange). Brian Bennett, an ESPN blogger, had an interesting take on Paulus' decision, basically saying that regardless of the impact Paulus has on the field, he has at least thrust Syracuse back into the collective national consciousness (if only for five minutes). He's right in a sense: Syracuse can use all the positive attention it can get, because it hasn't been relevant in years. But I highly doubt that Paulus' mere presence on the roster is going to inspire the next Donovan McNabb, Marvin Harrison or Dwight Freeney to head to Syracuse for four years of bad football in a cold-weather city in a mediocre conference. And without a massive influx of talent, even the best coach in the country -- which Doug Marrone probably isn't -- wouldn't be able to make the Orange respectable again at a national level.

* With all the changes at Boston College this offseason, it had to be especially disappointing for new coach Frank Spaziani to find out that outside linebacker Mark Herzlich, last season's ACC defensive player of the year and the heart of the Eagles defense, is battling a rare form of cancer in his left leg. The status of his football career is uncertain, although that's probably low on his lost of priorities at this point. Best of luck to him.

* A disastrous offseason at Pitt somehow continues to get worse, as senior middle linebacker Adam Gunn has been suspended after an arrest on a charge of public drunkenness and various other offenses. I don't even know what else to say about Pitt except that I'm actually starting to feel sorry for Dave Wannstedt, and I never thought that was possible prior to the last four months. Even in a wide-open Big East, it's hard to see the Panthers making much of a run.

* Former five-star recruit Kevin Grady, who's now buried on Michigan's depth chart at running back, apparently has serious difficulty following directions. After passing out behind the wheel last July and blowing an incredible 0.24, Grady is now serving seven days in jail after a court came to this determination:
Court officials said he failed to properly report to probation agents in Ann Arbor, failed to complete a victim impact panel and alcohol highway safety education class, failed to complete 24 hours of community service and tested positive for opiates, a type of pain killer.
Nice. Grady was in Lloyd Carr's doghouse on a handful of occasions and had already been given a second chance by Rich Rodriguez after his first arrest, so I'll be surprised if he's still on the team come fall practice.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

There's no "O" in Pitt

Who'd have ever thought Dave Wannstedt would yearn for the good ol' days of 2008? It's hard to believe, but the way things are going at Pitt right now, the offense next season will have a hard time approaching even the mediocre performance of last year (LeSean McCoy excepted).

It was only about two weeks ago when I wrote this piece following the dismissal of receiver T.J. Porter:
... with LeSean McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling now in the NFL, Pitt desperately needs the passing game to step it up this year in order to have any semblance of an offense. With fifth-year senior Bill Stull at QB, stud sophomore Jonathan Baldwin and senior Oderick Turner at receiver and the talented Nate
Byham at tight end, the pieces are in place ...
Yeah, those pieces aren't exactly coming together. It was announced on Sunday that Baldwin, probably the most talented player on the team, has been charged with misdemeanor indecent assault, summary harassment and summary disorderly conduct after an alleged incident with a woman on a bus.

I never want to jump to conclusions, but a suspension -- at the minimum -- seems likely. Wannstedt obviously "wasn't available for comment on the matter," presumably because he was busy punching himself in the face and trying to figure out if Larry Fitzgerald has any eligibility remaining.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Don't mess with Texas Tech

Texas and Oklahoma will probably always be the big dogs in the Big 12 South, but Texas Tech has established itself a nice little niche, consistently positioned for a middle-tier bowl game and occasionally (as in 2008) nipping at the heels of a BCS bid.

The conventional wisdom says that in an offense so reliant on the passing game, a talented -- and preferably experienced -- quarterback is necessary to maintain that success, so a "rebuilding" year would seem to be in store after the loss of Graham Harrell.

But there's a question that seems worth asking in regard to Mike Leach's air-it-out attack: Does it matter who takes the snaps?

Survey says ...

2000-02: Kliff Kingsbury (averaged 65.6%, 3,792 yards, 30 TD, 12 INT, 7.66 wins)
2003: B.J. Symons (65.4%, 5,833 yards, 52 TD, 22 INT, 8 wins)
2004: Sonny Cumbie (65.6%, 4,742 yards, 32 TD, 18 INT, 8 wins)
2005: Cody Hodges (66.5%, 4,238 yards, 31 TD, 12 INT, 9 wins)
2006-08: Graham Harrell (averaged 69.9%, 5,124 yards, 44 TD, 11 INT, 9.5 wins)

... not so much. The five Red Raider quarterbacks in the Leach era, three of whom had only one season as a starter, all put up remarkably impressive and similar numbers in nearly every area, from completion percentage to touchdowns to yards to wins (Symons' season was somewhat of an anomaly because of a jump in attempts). Throwing out the idea that Leach has a cloning lab somewhere in the dusty unknown outside Lubbock, I think the logical conclusion from those numbers is that the system is damn near foolproof.

What does that mean for this season? Well, it DOESN'T mean that you should expect a tie for first in the division every year -- don't forget that a lot of things had to go right for Tech to beat Texas last year, and the departure of Michael Crabtree won't go unnoticed.

But if you had drastically lowered your expectations based on the loss of Harrell or the lack of starting inexperience for redshirt junior and heir apparent QB Taylor Potts, you should probably reconsider.

Friday, May 1, 2009

JoePa's good idea (seriously)

I can't say I was entirely surprised when Joe Paterno awoke from his old-man slumber Thursday and revealed that he didn't do any real coaching during Penn State's run to the Rose Bowl last year. Anyone who saw JoePa sitting in the press box for much of last season -- often not even wearing a headset -- had probably come to the realization that he is, at this point, basically just a figurehead.

But what was very interesting was Paterno's sudden outspokenness about the Big Ten's need to add a 12th team, something that's come up occasionally but has never (to my knowledge) been a serious topic of discussion.

The reason usually cited for a possible expansion is money; the addition of a 12th team would allow a conference championship game, something every conference wants because it creates a boost in revenue without raising any ticket prices. But JoePa's reasoning was a bit different:
"We go into hiding for six weeks," Paterno said, referring to the hiatus between the end of the Big Ten regular season and the BCS bowls."Everybody else is playing playoffs on television. You never see a Big Ten team mentioned. So I think that's a handicap."
First, let me say this: He's 100% right. Ever since November of 2006, when Michigan lost to Ohio State and then remained No. 2 for two weeks -- only to be jumped by Florida after Gary Danielson's embarrassing tongue-bathing of all things SEC during that conference's championship game -- it's been obvious that the Big Ten's rule requiring teams to be finished before Thanksgiving is exactly what Paterno said it is -- a handicap.

You can't sit on the sidelines for two weeks while everyone else is facing off in marquee games and realistically expect to maintain your spot in the polls. It's just human nature that the team that's been most impressive MOST RECENTLY will get a majority of the attention, and the Big Ten will always be at a disadvantage in that regard because of its scheduling regulations.

So it's good that a guy with as much respect as JoePa finally spoke out, because you'd assume that something might actually get done. Even if it's not expansion, maybe the conference presidents would at least look into extending the schedule ... right?

"You know, it's a conference that's dominated by a couple of people," Paterno said. "If I start talking, they're polite, but they snicker. They don't know I know they're snickering, but they're polite. ... I wish I were younger and going to be around [another] 20 years."

Wow. To me, the fact that even a guy like Paterno gets nothing but "snickers" for an expansion suggestion shows that the Big Ten isn't taking the idea seriously at all. It's not like he's calling for something wild and controversial here -- we're to the point where half (three of six) of the BCS conferences have championship games.

Do I want a championship game? Not really, since the entire concept is built on money. But the championship game isn't the issue -- it's whether the fans and school presidents want a highly ranked Big Ten team to receive equal consideration to the top teams from other conferences late in the season.

There are two options here (well, three if you include keeping the status quo):

  1. Try to pry away a fairly prominent school from another conference (Pitt, Rutgers and Notre Dame are most commonly mentioned), divide into two divisions and play a title game.
  2. Scrap the rule that requires all Big Ten games to be played before Thanksgiving.

The whole "which team should join the Big Ten" discussion has been played out ad nauseum on numerous sites, but let's be realistic. The Big East would fight tooth-and-nail to keep its eight teams (any fewer and it would lose its BCS auto-bid, if I'm not mistaken), and because of the money Notre Dame brings in through its NBC deal and BCS contract, the Irish will never, ever, ever join a football conference.

And really, once you get past those teams, you're really digging deep for an Iowa State or some other mediocre school that doesn't bring much of anything to the table.

My feeling is this: If the conference isn't serious about going after one of the big-name schools as part of an expansion plan, the Thanksgiving deadline has to go.There's no real reason that Michigan-Ohio State and Penn State-Michigan State can't play on the last Saturday in November -- in fact, it'd probably be beneficial to those teams to have the option of scheduling bye weeks.

Big Ten teams don't currently have that option, as there are only 12 weeks available in which to schedule 12 total games. USC, on the other hand, can schedule about three bye weeks per year, give the players a break at appropriate times and wrap up on the last weekend of the regular season. That's the way it should be done.

Either way, though, something has to happen in order for Big Ten teams to have a realistic hope of maintaining their place atop the polls late in the season -- even a guy who's almost 90 can recognize that.