Friday, July 31, 2009

WTF happened to Louisville?

The picture above was taken almost exactly 30 months ago, when Louisville rallied to beat Wake Forest 24-13 to win the Orange Bowl and finish No. 6 in the AP poll at 12-1. That victory gave them a three-year record of 32-5, and with a shiny new stadium in a watered-down Big East, the Cardinals looked to be on their way to elite status.

Fast-forward to 2009. As Big East Media Day approaches, it's assumed that Louisville will battle Syracuse for the cellar in what's still a watered-down Big East. The obvious question: What happened?

You certainly can't blame the level of competition. The Big East has been a strange entity since the departure of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, with no one really stepping up to fill the void as the team to beat. West Virginia was approaching that level under Rich Rodriguez, but Bill Stewart ... not so much. Rutgers, South Florida and UConn have all reached impressive levels compared with their modest histories, but there's not exactly an Ohio State or USC on that list.

The consensus finger (not that one) seems to be pointed at Steve Kragthorpe, who took over for Bobby Petrino after Petrino began his bizarre journey through coaching following the 2006 season. But is Kragthorpe to blame?

He was brought in from Tulsa as a supposed offensive expert, which made sense given Louisville's makeup at the time -- with Brian Brohm returning for his senior year along with an outstanding group of receivers, you might as well play to your strengths, right? In this area, Kragthorpe didn't disappoint -- not at first, anyway. Brohm had an outstanding senior year (although he trailed off a bit late in the season) and the Cardinals finished sixth in total offense and 18th in scoring offense, which should have been plenty to compete for the Big East title. Howeva ...

After finishing 40th in total defense and 17th in scoring defense in 2006, Louisville posted these impressive numbers en route to a 6-6 finish in '07:
  • Total defense -- 84
  • Scoring defense -- 91
  • Rushing defense -- 72
  • Pass efficiency defense -- 115
Gack. And you can't blame the meltdown on a complete lack of talent: The '07 unit included players such as Malik Jackson, Earl Heyman, Rod Council, Lamar Myles, Adrian Grady, etc. Defensive coordinator Mike Cassity was fired (obviously), and Michigan castoff Ron English became the guy who would solve everything. How did that work out in 2008?
  • Total defense -- 70
  • Scoring defense -- 88
  • Rushing defense -- 37
  • Pass efficiency defense -- 99
Eh, not very well, although there was slight improvement across the board, particularly with Heyman and Grady anchoring the interior. But really, outside of two disasters -- 41 points allowed to Pittsburgh (!!!) and an explicable 63 allowed to Rutgers -- the defense was OK, which was all it needed to be in previous years.

The terrifying problem for both Kragthrope and Louisville fans is that the offense took a dive, plummeting to 45th in total yards and 68th in scoring. The Cardinals scored more than 21 points just ONCE in Big East play, and sure enough, the result was a 24-20 win over South Florida -- Louisville's one and only conference victory. And this flop came despite solid play from QB Hunter Cantwell, a breakout year from freshman running back Victor Anderson and two NFL draft picks on the offensive line (All-American center Eric Wood and tackle George Bussey).

Was this a one-year anomaly? It's possible. Kragthorpe turned Tulsa from a disaster into a relative Conference USA juggernaut, going 29-21 in four seasons while breaking pretty much every offensive school record (although that the same Tulsa team has gone 18-5 in the two years since he left, and the offense has become one of the best in the country under Todd Graham).

If his offenses can consistently stay in the top 10 or 20 nationally, Louisville should be fine (which in the Big East should mean bowl eligibility and consistently competing for the conference title). But if his defenses remain bad while his offenses continue to slide, Kragthorpe won't be around long.

And to get back to where I started, things don't look good this year. Anderson should continue to be a strong point after his impressive freshman season, but both lines are now being rebuilt and the quarterback battle -- remember how important the QB is in this offense -- is between juco transfer Adam Froman and former NC State backup Justin Burke, with no clear-cut favorite coming out of spring. On top of that, the schedule couldn't be much more difficult: the nonconference portion alone includes Southern Miss at home along with trips to Utah and Kentucky, while the Big East slate includes visits to UConn, West Virginia and Cincinnati.

I don't know if four or five wins this season is enough to save Kragthorpe's job, but there's a good chance we'll find out.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The search is over

I didn't believe some of the initial reports yesterday that presumed UConn would be Michigan's opponent for the 2010 opener in renovated Michigan Stadium, but as usual, I was wrong:
UConn has reached an agreement with Michigan on a home-and-home series that will see the Huskies travel to Ann Arbor in 2010 and the Wolverines head to Rentschler Field in 2013, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.
The thing about a rumored UConn series that I simply couldn't bring myself to believe was that Michigan would agree to play at 40,000-seat Rentschler Field, but hell, 2013 is a long time from now. For all we know, UConn could be four-time defending Big East champions by then (given the state of the conference, very little would surprise me). And although the Huskies couldn't get Notre Dame to agree to a home-and-home -- they'll instead play at Giants Stadium or Gillette Stadium -- Tennessee will visit Hartford in 2016 (yes, 2016), so UM isn't the first to be drawn by the Huskies' alluring ... um, something.

I can't say I'm thrilled -- UConn was pretty far down the list from Cal, Oklahoma State, Pitt, etc. -- but I'm not devastated. The important thing was to find a quality (non-MAC) opponent for the unveiling of Michigan Stadium's luxury boxes, and that's been accomplished.

In summary: Meh.

Catching up: Let's have a media day

* I was thoroughly unsurprised when Terrelle Pryor was named the Big Ten's preseason player of the year -- remember, we're looking ahead to THIS year, Darryl Clark fans -- but what was surprising was this poll conducted by Varsity Blue (now part of the Mgoblog conglomerate), which asked the players in attendance (as many as possible, anyway) to name the best player in the conference:
  • Arrelious Benn (8)
  • Juice Williams (3)
  • Terrelle Pryor (2)
That's some serious love for Arrelious Benn. It'd be interesting to see just how dominant he'd be in an offense with a real quarterback (no offense to Juice Williams, but every team that faces the Illini will be more concerned with his legs than his arm).

* Despite my common-sense objections, the Michigan State bandwagon continued to gather steam at Big Ten Media Day, with Sparty coming in third in the preseason poll behind Ohio State and Penn State (for some reason, the projected order of the final eight teams isn't released). For a team with a slightly above-average defense that was carried on its back by Javon Ringer -- who is now in the NFL -- and will also be breaking in a new QB ... I don't know, I just don't get it. Personally, I'd rank Illinois and probably Iowa (and maybe even Michigan, if not for my fear of disappointment) ahead of Michigan State right now. For an explanation on Illinois, see here: Other than turnovers, last year's 5-7 team was pretty much statistically equal to the 2007 Rose Bowl team, and since they return pretty much everyone of importance on offense and should still have a decent defense, it's hard to see this team not winning at least eight games.

* Texas and Oklahoma are a lot more equal in the media than they are in Vegas, finishing in a dead heat atop the preseason Big XII South poll (Texas would get the hypothetical tiebreaker with two more first-place votes). Meanwhile, Nebraska was picked as a surprise favorite in the Big XII North, just in front of what should be a fairly strong Kansas team. I have no idea if this is finally the beginning of the Huskers' reemergence from the Bill Callahan debacle, but it has to be a good sign that they're considered a threat again and not just an afterthought (which is strange to say when you consider how ridiculously dominant they were just a decade ago).

* The easiest preseason pick in college football comes in the Pac-10, where USC is the going-away favorite for the eighth straight year. Cal and Oregon were a distant second and third, while Arizona State (the Pac-10's version of Michigan State) came in at fifth despite the fact that they'll probably struggle to qualify for a bowl game.

* Chip Kelly, unlike most coaches, has a sense of humor: "Both myself and Walter Thurmond voted for Tim Tebow as first-team SEC quarterback."

* Arkansas running back Broderick Green, who until recently was one of USC's bajillion former high school All-Americans, has been cleared to play immediately by the NCAA (he transferred back to his native Little Rock to be closer to his ailing grandmother). Green certainly won't surpass first-team All-SEC running back Michael Smith on the depth chart, but he'll probably be second-string this year and the presumed starter heading into next year.

* This has nothing to do with any media day, but Hawaii coach Greg McMackin got himself into some hot water by referring to Notre Dame's team dance at a banquet prior to the Hawaii Bowl last year as "this little faggot dance." He tried to retract the word as soon as it left his mouth, and he apologized profusely afterward, but really, the only people who should be offended here are the Irish players (their dancing must have been pretty bad to inspire that kind of language from a 64-year-old). To me, the bigger issue is that McMackin decided to enact some personal revenge for Notre Dame's epic beatdown by criticizing what was apparently a nice gesture from the Irish to their opponents. The whole thing was completely unnecessary.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Michigan pleasantly surprises me

It's been a long-standing assumption during Michigan's search for an opponent for the 2010 opener that it will be somebody good, but not somebody good enough to require a return visit (the unending Notre Dame deal generally has stopped UM from scheduling other nonconference home-and-home series).

Rich Rodriguez pleasantly surprised all of us, though, with this announcement at Big Ten Media Day:
The 2010 home opener will be a “BCS home-and-home” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez confirmed today. Rodriguez said contracts are still in the works, but there should be an announcement in the coming weeks.
So much for my idea that Boise State was as good as UM was going to find. Without any real information, though (other than "BCS"), we'll have to rely on a couple assumptions:
  1. Teams like Duke (sorry, Adam Rittenberg) and Washington State aren't good enough to justify a return game.
  2. Anyone with a quality road nonconference game or two quality nonconference games overall in 2010 won't be interested in a trip to Ann Arbor.
With that in mind, the most likely candidates (courtesy of Mgoblog's scheduling research) appear to be Oklahoma State, Cal, Arkansas, Virginia and South Carolina. Teams falling into the "maybe" category are LSU, Oregon State, Pitt and NC State.

I'd love to see a series against Cal, even with Michigan's recent history of falling flat on trips to the West Coast. I'd also be pretty excited by a visit to Fayetteville or Columbia to play an SEC team under the lights (LSU would be even better, but given their 2010 schedule and the whole Les Miles fiasco, I'm not holding my breath). The only teams on that list that really don't interest me are Virginia and NC State, probably just because of the general mediocrity of the ACC.

My prediction: I'm gonna have to agree with Mgoblog here and say that the mystery opponent is Oklahoma State, which fancies itself as an up-and-coming power but lacks a premier opponent in the near future. As much as I'd like it to be Cal, their potential stadium renovation (which could force them to Candlestick Park or another nearby locale for the 2011 season) might make scheduling UM's return trip to Berkeley unreasonably difficult.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

He's the Best

If you're a diehard baseball fan, you're familiar with some of the most in-depth statistics ever devised. There are absurd numbers now (line-drive percentage, batting average on balls in play, etc.) that provide an infinitely more accurate assessment of individual players than what we had a decade ago.

In football, though, that statistical fanaticism has never really caught on. I don't think anyone could tell you how pass efficiency is calculated or what it really tells you about a QB, and even numbers that apply in multiple sports (value over replacement player, for example) have been widely ignored.

Fortunately, thanks to the magic of the interwebs, we have sites like Smart Football and Football Outsiders that are championing the statistical revolution, allowing us to compare players and statistics on even terms in a way that was never before possible.

When I looked at some rushing numbers from last year and came to the realization that Cal's Jahvid Best averaged an absurd 8.14 (!!!) yards per carry, I figured that at least part of that total came from a low number of carries, a weak schedule ... I dunno, something. Basically, that number just seemed too good to be true.

But was it? Bill Connolly at Football Outsiders posted an article last week in which he essentially determined a running back's value over replacement player, or what he called "points over expected." The math is a little complicated, but the general idea is to combine yards per carry (which can be skewed by a low number of carries ) with total yards (which can be skewed with a high number of carries) and determine a value for each running back compared with what a hypothetically average player would produce in the same circumstances. A "plus" number is good (meaning the player is better than an average replacement would be), while a "minus" number is bad.

The results:

Yeah, Best was pretty good no matter how you break it down. In fact, according to POE, he was easily the best running back in the country. His POE value of over 40 means that he produced at a 40% higher rate than the average replacement player would have in the same circumstances (the same offense against the same defenses, basically), which is pretty freakin' impressive.

Does that mean he'll be the best again this year? Well ... probably, although there's one guy in particular who I think could give him a run for his money.

Three more of the top five (in POE) running backs from last year also return -- LeGarrette Blount at Oregon, Jonathan Dwyer at Georgia Tech and Kendall Hunter at Oklahoma State -- and the name that's both surprising and intriguing is Blount, who platooned with Jeremiah Johnson but finished with the third-highest "points per play" value (essentially yards per carry) in the country. As the full-time starter in what should be an explosive Ducks offense under Chip Kelly, Blount could end up with some ridiculous numbers this year. The only thing that might keep him from putting up 1,500 yards: Jeremiah Masoli, who finished as the fourth-rated rushing quarterback in the country. In other words, Oregon's offense = terrifying.

Back to Best, though, I'll be a little surprised if he doesn't make a run at 2,000 yards this season. The loss of All-American center Alex Mack will hurt some, and the line has been shuffled a bit in Mack's absence, but both tackles (Mitchell Schwartz and Mike Tepper) should garner All-Pac-10 consideration and both Chris Guarnero at center and Chet Teofilo at guard have starting experience.

As much as he loves the passing game, Jeff Tedford has to know that Cal's best chance to win the Pac-10 this year is to put the ball in Best's hands as often as possible. And even if his per-carry average drops a full yard to a still-ridiculous 7.14, he would need only 280 carries (or 21.4 per game over a 13-game season, including a bowl game) to reach 2,000.

As Keyshawn Johnson would say, just give him the damn ball.

He didn't like the Notre Dame "crowd"

I was hoping that the headline "Montana leaves Notre Dame" would lead me to a far more tabloid-ish story, but alas:
Notre Dame backup quarterback Nate Montana, the son of former Irish great Joe Montana, has enrolled at Pasadena (Calif.) City College, although he plans to return to Notre Dame for the spring semester.

"I’m going there with the intention of getting playing time and then returning to Notre Dame in the spring to join back up with the team and compete again for the job," Montana said.
With Jimmy Clausen and Dayne Crist a country mile ahead of him on the depth chart, Montana obviously feels that his only legitimate shot at future playing time is to go somewhere and show what he can do on the field. The problem is that even if his performance at PCC is beyond spectacular, his chances of ever seeing the field in a meaningful situation at Notre Dame are still slim to none. Assuming that Clausen doesn't leave early (which seems extremely doubtful even with a great year, just because of the depth of the QB class), Montana will be a redshirt junior competing against Crist (a former five-star recruit) and whatever talented underclassmen arrive in the meantime.

But hey, you could do a lot worse than being a famous guy with no real responsibilities and a degree (eventually) from Notre Dame.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Where's everybody going?

It's become commonplace for teams to fill their schedules with fluff to boost their win totals and ensure bowl eligibility, but there are also plenty of schools that really do try to create some exciting nonconference matchups.

Arizona State has done a pretty good job of getting itself into that second category -- along with this year's game against Georgia, there are upcoming home-and-home series with Illinois, Wisconsin, Notre Dame (including a third game at Cowboys Stadium), LSU and Colorado -- so it has to be a little frustrating for the Devils to be scrambling to fill their schedule once again.

With the announcement this week by San Jose State that the Spartans are dropping ASU in 2010 in favor of a more financially friendly visit to Wisconsin, the Devils have now been left out in the cold two years in a row, resulting in an open spot on the schedule for each of the next three years (although the 2009 spot was filled a couple months ago).

The original culprit was BYU, which dumped ASU in order to play Oklahoma in the first game at Cowboys Stadium this fall (the Devils obviously then backed out of the return game in Provo in 2011). On short notice, the best replacement opponent ASU could come up with for this year was Louisiana-Monroe, which won't exactly boost the ol' strength of schedule.

That particular swap could end up being a good thing for ASU -- they won't be good, so replacing a probable loss to BYU with a probable win against Louisiana-Monroe could be the difference in becoming bowl-eligible -- but the Devils' situation is a good example of why you can't always blame the athletic department for a weak schedule.

It's not like San Jose State is anything special, but the overall trend is what's concerning: When the little guys continue to shop themselves around even after they have scheduling deals in place, more big schools will be left looking for late replacements and we'll end up with more crappy lopsided matchups than ever -- and with EVERYBODY trying to maximize revenue, this problem isn't going away anytime soon.

We should probably learn something from this

It was all Steve Spurrier's fault. The omission of Tim Tebow on his All-SEC ballot was a simple oversight, he says, and not some devious, twisted plan to screw Tebow out of all the glorious awards and attention of which he is deserving.
Spurrier explained that his director of football operations had filled out the ballot and brought it in to him. Spurrier said he glanced at it, signed off on it, and then realized his mistake much later.
Fair enough. But there's one problem with that, a problem that stretches far beyond All-SEC honors: Why do coaches regularly allow other officials (athletic directors, random assistants, etc.) to fill out their ballots, especially when it comes to the coaches' poll? An oversight like the Tebow one would probably go unnoticed 99% of the time, particularly on an all-conference ballot -- this one was only caught because of Tebow's presumed holiness among media types -- but why should people with no accountability be filling out ballots at all? Isn't that simply inviting a problem?

If I'm some grad assistant working on Pete Carroll's staff and I get handed a ballot and told to do some busy work, I'll certainly do so. But if this is really what happens at any meaningful number of schools, the coaches' poll should be disbanded immediately.

I've argued before that the premise of a coaches' poll is stupid -- even Spurrier admits that "most coaches do not know a whole lot about the other teams" -- but at least you could make an argument for having knowledgeable people directly involved in the competition having a say in the final result (I'm not sure it would be a good argument, but you could make it). If the coaches aren't the ones voting, though ...

Pat Forde at ESPN and Dennis Dodd at CBS both beat me to the punch on this subject, so I'd like to steal some info from Dodd to more accurately demonstrate the problem:
Joe Paterno used to let his SID fill out his ballot. Missouri's Gary Pinkel ranked the nation's only undefeated team (Utah) No. 15 last season. Spurrier himself used to give a sympathy vote in the preseason to Duke, the school that gave him his first head-coaching job.
The worst part is that none of this information is new, surprising or unusual. At this point, I'm not really sure how the coaches' poll could have any less credibility. Between the decision to conceal individual ballots (which was recently delayed because of complaints from the BCS) and the obvious disinterest from some coaches in actually participating, I think we've reached the point where the results are considered so biased and inaccurate that they're simply meaningless. I would advocate for something else along the lines of the Harris Poll, but that's such a bizarre group* of equally biased or uniformed people that I still don't know how exactly it was put together or how the BCS executives think it represents an accurate assessment of college football teams.

I'm not really sure there is a good answer here. Many of the coaches who do fill out their ballots don't take it seriously, and the ones who don't fill out their ballots pass them off to someone with no accountability and no guarantee of knowledge. The whole thing is a sham within a sham system.

The AP poll wasn't perfect by any means, but the fact that it was withdrawn from the BCS because of the conflict of interest shows that the voters understood their role far better than the coaches do.

* Seriously, have you ever looked at a breakdown of Harris Poll voters? The list (the most recent one I can find) includes such college football "experts" as Terry Bradshaw, Boomer Esiason and former San Jose State and Miami Dolphins defensive end Kim Bokamper, who now hosts a Dolphins radio show and owns a sports bar in Miami.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Catching up: Getting personal with Tebow

* Boise State made its big scheduling announcement on Tuesday, and unfortunately it didn't include Michigan -- the Broncos will open the 2010 season against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field. Boise certainly can't be criticized for shying away from big-time competition, but after my assumption that they'd open the season at Michigan Stadium, I'm a little disappointed. There aren't a whole lot of teams left with an opening that week that would create any sort of excitement, but The Michigan Daily put together a list:
Air Force, Akron, Arkansas, Army, Boise State, Boston College, Duke, East Carolina, Eastern Michigan, Florida International, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Houston, Idaho, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, Nevada, New Mexico State, North Texas, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, San Diego State, Syracuse, Temple, Tulsa, Central Florida, Utah, UTEP, Virginia, Wake Forest, Washington State, Western Michigan, West Virginia.
If God is a college football fan, he will send Moses back down the mountain with the commandment for a Michigan-West Virginia matchup (I would order a subscription to every newspaper in West Virginia if this happened, purely for the entertainment value). I'd also be perfectly happy with Florida State, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Pitt or Boston College; I'd be satisfied with Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Oregon State, Rutgers or Virginia.

* Amid all the talk about the Army-Notre Dame game at Yankee Stadium, MVictors put up a little historical recap on Michigan's visits to the Bronx to play the cadets in 1945-46. What caught my attention was this quote from a 1964 Sports Illustrated article regarding a coaching decision by UM's Fritz Crisler that changed football forever:
What made him decide to go to platooning in 1945?

“Sheer necessity. You see, almost all colleges were playing freshmen at the time, because the older boys were in the service. Now, before the Michigan-Army game I figured that I would have to start nine freshmen against Red Blaik's great Blanchard-Davis team. By comparison with Michigan, Army had a team of mature men. I asked myself, ‘How are our poor, spindly-legged freshmen going to stand up against these West Pointers all afternoon?’ I knew I would have to spell them off during the game. So I picked our best defensive men and said, ‘When we lose the ball, you fellows automatically go in.’ Then I got my best offensive men and ball handlers together and said, ‘When we regain possession, you fellows automatically go in.’ As it turned out, I only platooned the lines, and the linebackers on defense. We lost the game 28-7, but it should have been much, much worse."
* Robert Marve, who transferred from Miami to Purdue just a couple months ago, tore his ACL while working out in Florida last week and will be out of action indefinitely ... which would be pretty damaging for the Boilermakers except that he's being forced to sit out the season anyway due to his transfer. In other words, this sucks for Marve but probably won't have much of a long-term effect: Purdue will still be mediocre this season and Marve will still be the starting quarterback in 2010.

* The ridiculous attention being paid to Tim Tebow's "snub" (not being named unanimously all-SEC) has reached a fever pitch at SEC Media Day, with Lane Kiffin, Houston Nutt and several of the other prime suspects coming out on the record and saying that they voted for Tebow. The only guys who haven't publicly affirmed their Tebow love at this point are Auburn's Gene Chizik, LSU's Les Miles and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier (this all assumes that you believe Kiffin, of course). But the real question is why anyone actually cares about this "controversy." For the first time in the history of, a reader actually generated an intelligent comment:
Oh the pain currently being felt by the sports media... ONE coach in the SEC didn't think Tebow was the best QB. We must expose this wretched soul who dares to have a different opinion than our own!
* Speaking of SEC Media Day, I understand that there are some odd-ball questions at these events, but asking about Tebow's virginity is just going too far -- especially from a an established internet journalist like Clay Travis, the former associate editor of Deadspin and now a writer for AOL Fanhouse.

* Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon, by far the team's biggest offensive weapon, decided to turn himself into a literal weapon by apparently drinking two bottles of champagne in his car and then swerving around the streets of Starkville, according to the police report. Dixon has been charged with DUI, careless driving and failure to carry insurance, although according to USA Today, "It is unclear how (Dan Mullen) will handle disciplinary action or whether Dixon will be suspended for the start of the season." The story also points out that four Bulldogs players have been arrested since Mullen took over in December, so if he doesn't suspend Dixon, I have no idea how he thinks he's going to get the disciplinary situation under control.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's a beautiful day (for gambling)

There are a few dates each spring and summer that serve as milestones, reminding us that college football season is getting just a little bit closer. Tuesday was one of those days.

Several sports betting sites (,, etc.) posted their lines for team win totals, the BCS champion and their "games of the year," and there were obviously some interesting numbers to be found.

One quick disclaimer before we get into the numbers: Keep in mind that betting lines are often skewed to compensate for lopsided wagers on a fan favorite. For example, there was a story on Tiger Woods (I can't find the link) that included a quote from the golf expert at a particular casino. He said that while the actual odds of Tiger winning a particular major were something like 5:3, the line was set at 1:2 because so many people would bet on him at the "true" line that him winning the event would be financially devastating for the casino. In these cases, though, I'm focusing mostly on team comparisons, not the specific odds.

Anyway, let's start with the big one (these lines are from, by the way):

BCS national championship
Florida +200 (2:1)
Texas +400 (4:1)
Oklahoma +600 (6:1)
USC +700 (7:1)

There's a pretty significant drop-off after those four teams, with no one else having better than 20:1 odds. What's interesting, though, is that Texas is given noticeably better odds than Oklahoma. I've seen about a 50-50 split in various preseason magazines regarding which team should be #2, but this definitely tilts the scales in favor of the Longhorns. Also, USC is breaking in a new QB and 10 new starters on defense and I still find their 7:1 odds at the national title completely reasonable (and maybe even a little low).

Win totals (over/under)
Florida -- 11
Boise State -- 11
Texas -- 10.5
Oklahoma -- 10
USC -- 10
Oklahoma State -- 9
Notre Dame -- 8.5
Oregon -- 7.5
Michigan -- 7
Tennessee -- 7

It's a little weird to think that Boise State has entered the upper stratosphere when it comes to expectations, but honestly, I think that projection says as much about the WAC as it does about Boise. The other thing that jumps out at me is Oregon at 7.5 wins. For a consensus top-20 team that plays all its big games at home (with the exception of an early-season visit to Boise State), that seems like a shockingly low win total. As for Notre Dame at 8.5, that bet could just be renamed the "Will Charlie Weis Keep His Job" wager. Everything we've heard since the end of last season is that it's nine wins or bust for Notre Dame this year, so if Vegas is right and the Irish are sitting at 8-3 against Stanford in the final week, there will be a very large and very nervous man standing on the visitors' sideline.

Games of the year
USC (-3) at Ohio State
Notre Dame (-2.5) at Michigan
Tennessee (+24) at Florida
Oklahoma (-10.5) at Miami
USC (-5) at Cal
Alabama (+3.5) at Ole Miss
Texas (-1) vs. Oklahoma
USC (-6) at Notre Dame
Texas (-3.5) at Oklahoma State
Ohio State (+3) at Penn State
LSU (+3.5) at Ole Miss
Oklahoma State (+11.5) at Oklahoma
Ohio State (-6) at Michigan

Yup, that Tennessee-Florida line deserves an LOL. I think it's kind of interesting that Ole Miss is favored in every game despite having an over/under of nine wins -- something doesn't quite match up. Another oddity is the size of the rivalry lines (high for Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, shockingly low for USC-Notre Dame and Ohio State-Michigan). If Michigan is within six points of Ohio State in the fourth quarter on Nov. 22, I will throw a little party in my head ... actually, come to think of it, the Buckeyes aren't getting much respect here. They're home underdogs to USC, they're road underdogs against a Penn State team that returns something like nine total starters and they're only favored by six against a work-in-progress Michigan squad. This is one of those situations where I start to wonder if Vegas is seeing something that everyone else isn't.

That's about all the numbers I can handle for right now, but I'll dig a little deeper throughout the week into some of the surprising win total over/unders and some of the lines on big conference games.

One last note: I'm always surprised that people don't pay more attention to preseason (or even pregame) lines from Vegas. There's a reason casinos and online gambling sites make billions of dollars a year on sports betting -- they are very, very good at analyzing information and predicting results without the inherent bias that influences fans and even the "experts" in the media (including myself).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kurt Wermers is a liar

According to ESPN, former Michigan offensive lineman Kurt Wermers was quite confused regarding the reasons for his transfer.
Former Michigan offensive lineman Kurt Wermers was academically ineligible when he announced his transfer to Ball State last week, sources told
Wait a minute, you mean to tell me it wasn't just "the crowd" Rodriguez was bringing in? I'm stunned ...

As it turns out, I was actually giving Wermers way too much credit when I assumed on Friday that his transfer was mostly related to playing time. The guy just couldn't hack it -- on the field or in the classroom -- and his accusations were nothing but a cover.

Just one more reason to not take comments like these seriously; there's always another side to the story.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Don't hold back, Mr. Columnist

I've spent much of the past six months talking about coaching changes, players getting in trouble, etc., but with the countdown at exactly six weeks until the start of the regular season, it's time to start looking ahead.

And what better place to start than with one of the two most popular (and surprising) bandwagon teams of the offseason: Oklahoma State.

The Pokes have joined Ole Miss as everyone's favorite sleepers, with both teams appearing in pretty much everybody's preseason top 15. And while I certainly think Oklahoma State will be good -- the offense is too good for them not to be -- the prognostications of an 11-win season, top-five finish and possible Big 12 title seem a little extreme.

I know what you're thinking: Who has Oklahoma State going 11-1? Well, Sporting News' resident college football idiot Matt Hayes, for one.

But what really amuses me is analysis like this, which comes from Tulsa World writer Dave Sittler in an effort to back up his prediction of an 11-0 start:
Oct. 31, Texas: Halloween is perfect for OSU to finally put an end to the spooky, mysterious hex the Longhorns have had on the Cowboys.
That's deep. They will win on Halloween because ... well, I have no good reason, but it's Halloween, so something crazy could happen, right?

That, my friends, is unbridled preseason optimism at its finest.

Like I said, Oklahoma State will be good -- if the Cowboys can beat Georgia at home in the season opener, a 10-1 start isn't out of the question -- but besides Texas, potential landmines loom against Houston, Missouri and Texas Tech, all of whom will be competitive. One big advantage for Oklahoma State is that all of those teams (including Texas) have to visit Stillwater, but it's just too big of a leap of faith for me to believe that a team with no experience in big games will be 11-0 heading into Norman on Nov. 28, especially with the big bad Longhorns looking as strong as ever.

It's on in the Bronx

The rumored Notre Dame-Army matchup at Yankee Stadium is officially set for 2010. There will be gold helmets everywhere, and apparently this won't be a one-time deal for the cadets:
The Hudson Valley-based Times Herald-Record, citing unidentified Army sources, said Friday that Army also will play games at Yankee Stadium in the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons. Rutgers and possibly Syracuse could be involved in future games at the stadium, a person familiar with the scheduling told the AP on condition of anonymity.
My interest level in a Rutgers-Army game will be fairly low regardless of where it's played, but the rich history surrounding Notre Dame, Army and Yankee Stadium makes the 2010 game must-see TV. I didn't even know this until I stumbled across it in a story, but the two schools played at the original Yankee Stadium every year from 1925-1946, and renewing old traditions is almost never a bad idea.

Like I said two months ago, I don't care if Army is terrible or if Notre Dame falls into a relapse of mediocrity; NBC can go ahead and put me down as a viewer for this one.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Was it "the crowd" or was it playing time?

I originally included this in yesterday's post, but I decided to pull it out because I wanted to delve into the issue a bit further.

After one-time stud recruit Dan O'Neill announced last week that he's leaving Michigan to transfer to Western Michigan (he was simply unable to crack the depth chart and has a brother in Kalamazoo), fellow offensive lineman Kurt Wermers joined the MAC exodus by announcing Wednesday that he'll transfer to Ball State ... and he took a few parting shots at the UM coaching staff on his way out the door.

Wermers, much like former Michigan (and current Ohio State) guard Justin Boren, cited the coaching staff and some other vague issues in an interview with an Indiana newspaper:
"I really didn't get along with the new coaches," Wermers said. "They were bringing in a lot of different kids that were not my kind of crowd. Coach Carr's staff was a whole different ballgame. It was like a family. But when Rodriguez came in it was a whole different feeling. It was more of a business. I figured I'd get out while I could."
Yes, because once Rodriguez has you in his grasp, there is NO ESCAPE. Seriously though, there are a couple of things in his statement I just don't understand.

First, it's odd that Wermers calls the new staff "a whole different ballgame" from Lloyd Carr's "family" atmosphere considering that Wermers was still in high school at the end of the previous regime. Carr had retired and Rodriguez had been named coach before Wermers even signed his letter of intent, so it's not like he didn't have a choice (Boren did NOT have a choice, but that's a different story that I'll get to in a minute*).

But what really bothers me is the "not my kind of crowd" statement. Considering that Rodriguez's first recruiting class consisted almost entirely of Carr holdovers, the only guys Wermers played with who were Rodriguez-specific recruits (guys Carr's staff hadn't expressed interest in) were the following: Ricky Barnum, Justin Feagin, Martavious Odoms, Patrick Omameh, Terrence Robinson, Roy Roundtree, Vlad Emilien, Vincent Smith, Brandin Hawthorne and Mike Jones.

Roundtree and Omameh were both low-profile Ohio kids who could have been roster fillers in any recruiting class; it's doubtful that those are the guys Wermers was referring to. Everyone else on that list has two things in common:
  1. All are black;
  2. All (except Texas native Terrence Robinson) are from Florida, mostly from either the Orlando area or a dirt-poor town called Pahokee.
I have never met any of these players, so I have no particular insight into their character or their "type of crowd," but I don't see how I can interpret Wermer's statement as anything other than blatantly racist (and if that was truly the reason for his transfer, that's a little frightening).

In reality, though, I don't think it was the coaching staff or the "crowd" that compelled his departure -- it seems all too convenient that he decided he didn't get along with anybody right after the end of a spring practice in which he was unable to crack the two-deep, instead being passed over by a number of players in his same class.

I have no problem with a player who simply gets beat out by better players and decides to head for greener depth-chart pastures -- as I think was the case here -- but there's no reason to throw your former school, coaches and teammates under the bus while doing so.

* Boren's comments caused more of an uproar (probably just because of the shock value), but his situation was a little different. Boren had not only played for Carr but had earned a starting spot as a true freshman, and his father, Mike, is a Michigan alum. So when he spouted off before last season about the decline in "family values," his comments carried some weight.

UM offensive line coach Greg Frey had some interesting information, though, that he shared with an insider at a recent fundraising breakfast. It was widely known that Boren had an agreement with Carr that he could miss some team functions in order to help his dad with the family snowplow business, but Frey said that Rodriguez felt this privilege was being abused, which created some tension with the family. Frey also mentioned that Boren wasn't a big fan of running -- something Michigan emphasizes over strength training in order to keep offensive linemen quick and agile -- and that he once walked out of a difficult training session.

Again, these are third-hand facts that I have no way of verifying, but it's worth noting that there may have been just a bit more than "family values" involved in his decision.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Catching up: Going the supplemental route

* While Kentucky defensive end Jeremy Jarmon was the only player selected in the NFL supplemental draft Thursday -- going in the third round to the Washington Redskins -- it was announced this week that two other players had quit school to submit their draft eligibility: Texas Tech defensive end McKinner Dixon and Kansas State receiver Deon Murphy. Dixon, who had nine sacks last season, had been suspended indefinitely for academic reasons and then arrested on a gun charge in the spring, so it's not too stunning that he decided to bail on school. Still, his loss is a downer for the Red Raiders since he probably would've been the team's best defensive player. Murphy was the Big 12 newcomer of the year in 2007, had a mediocre season in 2008 next to Brandon Banks, then left the team in the spring for reasons that I can't seem to uncover. His career seemed to be trending downward, but K-State (especially the post-Josh Freeman version) isn't exactly overflowing with offensive talent.

* Speaking of Kansas State, rumor has it that Bill Snyder is trying to get the school out of its contract with UCLA for the Wildcats' home game next season (they play at the Rose Bowl this year). If you remember anything about Bill Snyder's first tenure at Kansas State, you know the following two things:
  1. His reclamation job was one of the best in college football history;
  2. Part of his success came from scheduling the softest, yummiest nonconference cupcakes he could get his hands on.
It would appear that even in old age, little has changed.

* Southern Miss got some good news and some bad news Thursday. The good news: Damion Fletcher, the school's all-time leading rusher, was reinstated from suspension and will not miss any games. Fletcher, as you may remember, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge after firing a gun into an apartment building over the winter. The bad news: DeAndre Brown, the freshman receiver who put up ridiculous numbers before suffering a horrific, Joe Theismann-esque broken leg in the New Orleans Bowl, had to have his leg put back in a boot after re-injuring it while playing basketball. Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said that despite the re-aggravation, Brown's timetable remains the same: he'll miss the season opener against Alcorn State but likely return in Week 2 for Conference USA opponent Central Florida.

* Urban Meyer will never, ever, EVER coach at Notre Dame. Ever. Meyer's statements this week conjured up images of Nick Saban, and honestly, it's pretty hard to take these denials seriously. There's just no way to know what a coach will do until a job is open and offered to him ... oh wait. The Notre Dame job WAS open and WAS offered to Meyer just four years ago, and he turned it down. So as difficult as it is for me to say this, I'm willing to take Meyer at his word on this one -- unless he has some drastic change of heart, it's hard to see him leaving Florida when he's built the program into something even better than it was when he got there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Take your shots, SEC

I imagine that when Lane Kiffin was a rising assistant at USC, he didn't envision his first collegiate head coaching job going like it has. Granted, most of his problems so far have been due to his own big mouth and lack of thinking, but I think we'll just have to file this news under the "karma" category:
With senior Austin Rogers out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Friday, the Vols now face the likelihood of going into the season without junior Denarius Moore.

Moore, Tennessee's top returning deep threat, has a broken bone in his left foot and will be sidelined for eight to 12 weeks. He's currently in a walking boot and is facing surgery.
Yikes. Kiffin was already in for a challenge at Tennessee, but I'm not sure "challenge" quite covers it anymore.

The only remaining options at quarterback are disappointing senior Jonathan Crompton and uninspiring redshirt junior Nick Stephens (third-stringer B.J. Coleman transferred and Kiffin declined a commitment from five-star dual-threat QB Tajh Boyd, who ended up at Clemson).

Talented freshmen Bryce Brown and David Oku will help Montario Hardesty in the running game, but there was plenty of backfield talent last year, too, and Tennessee finished 88th nationally in rushing offense behind a surprisingly poor offensive line.

And with three of last year's top four receivers -- Rogers, Moore and graduated senior Lucas Taylor -- now out of the equation (junior Gerald Jones is all that's left), I just don't see where the offense will come from this year unless Eric Berry (pictured) quickly learns how to pass, run, catch and return kicks.

Relying on Crompton seems like a dicey proposition at best, and unless the running game makes MASSIVE strides, competence seems like the best-case scenario at this point (and abysmal remains a distinct possibility). And considering that Kiffin -- and Tennessee, by extension -- will have a gigantic target on his back after the Piss Off Everybody Tour he's embarked on since his arrival ... well, for Kiffin's sake, I hope his offensive prowess is all it's cracked up to be.

Meanwhile, to the rest of the SEC: Enjoy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wanted: 2010 opponent

As you may or may not know, Michigan is in the midst of a massive stadium renovation. The primary reason -- as is the case with pretty much all stadium renovations -- is money, as the addition of luxury boxes will bring in all the big corporate spenders and help add to the athletic department's already-ridiculous income.

But one upside to the renovations is the opportunity to add some features that have been desperately needed, including my personal favorite: a classic brick exterior that not only ties the stadium's architecture to that of the surrounding campus, but also covers the metal framing that was terribly bland and for some reason had always been left exposed.

The first picture below is a rendering of the stadium last fall, while the second rendering is the finished product (which should be completed prior to the 2010 season).

It's been known for some time that UM has been seeking a quality opponent for the 2010 opener in the completed stadium -- the usual mid-major/Notre Dame/MAC/MAC nonconference slate doesn't really get people excited -- but that opponent has been difficult to find.

Michigan originally sought out Minnesota (a team UM doesn't face in conference play), which would have been interesting just because of the Little Brown Jug and the Big Ten rivalry and all that. A good idea, but the Gophers declined (they do already play USC that year, so I can't really blame them).

Michigan's student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, then reported that UM was discussing a possible home-and-home series with Georgia in 2010-11. I'm not sure exactly what the source was on this, but it seemed highly unlikely from the start: Georgia already faces both Georgia Tech and Colorado on the road and has only five total home games in 2010, and the 2011 schedule is completely full. And when Michigan officials said that there was "no truth" to the rumor, well ...

That brings us to Boise State. The Broncos were identified as a potential opponent early in the process by Mgoblog, and that would make sense -- they have an open date and they've made it clear that they're willing to travel in return for a decent paycheck. There'd been nothing official from anybody, though, until this intriguing quote from Boise State President Bob Kustra about a deal the Broncos have reached to fill the final spot on their 2010 schedule:
"It's going to be a good one," said BSU president Bob Kustra, who would not disclose the opponent or the game location.
There aren't a whole lot of "good" teams still looking to complete their schedules, and Bronco Nation basically narrows the list of likely opponents to Michigan and Oklahoma State. It sounds like an official announcement is coming next week, so we'll know something soon one way or another, but I'm somewhat lukewarm on this one.

Yes, I know Boise State has one of the highest winning percentages in the country over the past decade, but they still rarely start the season in the top 15. The payoff for a Michigan win would be relative low, while a loss would cause the irritating "Michigan can't even beat mid-majors" meme to continue indefinitely.

That being said, I would MUCH rather play Boise State than a MAC team or another Delaware State-type filler (heck, I'd even sign up for a home-and-home just to find out if I can watch an entire game on blue turf without having a seizure). Compared with Georgia or even Minnesota, Boise State isn't all that exciting, but from the list of available teams that would be interested in a visit to Michigan Stadium, the Smurfs are about as good as it gets.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Linebackers can't drive

It hasn't been a good week for linebackers behind the wheel.

First, North Carolina State's Nate Irving, one of the best linebackers in the ACC, apparently fell asleep while driving near Raleigh at about 4:40 a.m. Monday morning and crashed his car into two trees. Irving suffered a broken leg and a collapsed lung and has been charged with careless and reckless driving. It appears that he'll fully recover from his injuries, but his status for the season is unknown.

Fortunately for Irving, he didn't hurt anyone else or damage any property ... which is more than Texas outside linebacker Sergio Kindle can say:
Texas linebacker Sergio Kindle was treated for a concussion after crashing his car into an Austin apartment building last week while he was either sending or receiving a text message, his attorney said Monday.
Yikes. The school estimated the damage to the building at just under $9,000, but no one was injured (remarkably) because the students who live in the room Kindle crashed into weren't home at the time. And in a bizarre string of events, Kindle pushed his car back into the street, went home and went to sleep before reporting the crash the following morning.

The police haven't charged Kindle with any crime (because the crash was reported in a "reasonable" amount of time) and Texas has indicated no pending punishment, which is more than a little surprising. See, this could be mistaken for a young guy panicking and doing something stupid, but Kindle was arrested on a DWI charge less than two years ago and was suspended for the first three games of the 2007 season.

Dr. Saturday sums up the situation nicely:
So we have a legal adult with a history of reckless driving who loses control of his vehicle in a densely populated area with potentially tragic results and ... no harm, no foul?