Monday, August 31, 2009

One last note (hopefully) on the Michigan story

I've had a few concerns about Rich Rodriguez since the time he was hired, but his supposed blatant disregard for NCAA rules was never on that list (and still isn't). And if you can't figure out why I feel that way -- and why I support him even more now than I did a month ago -- you obviously didn't watch his emotional press conference on Monday:

You can rightfully criticize a few things about the guy's coaching, but I simply refuse to believe that the man in that video has no regard for his players' well-being or academic success and runs the football equivalent of a boot camp.

I know I'm biased, and that will always affect my view to a certain extent. But if there's anyone who would be biased in the opposite direction -- anyone who would just love to bury RichRod in a pile of allegations and ruin his career forever -- it would be his old friends at West Virginia. What do they have to say on the matter?
West Virginia university's compliance office began reviewing its own records immediately after a weekend Detroit Free Press story alleged that former Mountaineers football coach Rich Rodriguez broke NCAA rules at Michigan.

"There were no student-athlete complaints during the time (Rodriguez) was here."

Former players who agreed to speak to the Daily Mail anonymously after learning of the allegations first raised Saturday night said they knew of nothing similar happening at WVU during at their time with the team.

Wait ... what? West Virginia is defending Rich Rodriguez? That's like an ex-wife defending her former spouse even though she's still bitter about the divorce settlement and the fact that he left her for a 21-year-old model.

If there were any concerns among the Michigan fan base regarding RichRod's compliance record, they should be gone now.

The one positive about all the media attention has been that nearly everyone of importance has come out publicly in defense of Rodriguez and the Michigan staff -- current players, former players, players' parents, the school's compliance office, West Virginia, etc. The Free Press story is losing steam by the minute as more and more information comes out, and I'm confident now that its lifespan will be similar to that of the "Greg Paulus to Michigan" storyline that plagued ESPN for a solid week before disappearing.

At some point in the near future, UM will issue a statement saying that its internal review revealed no major NCAA rules violations, the NCAA will do nothing and the whole story will be quickly forgotten (after a few more follow-ups by ESPN, of course). And once these things happen, all that will matter will be the results on the field.

It's four days until kickoff at Michigan Stadium, and I'm ready for some football.

What do you call a non-story that lacks details?

Everyone's still talking about it, so I want to make one more comment on the Michigan story. I think I made it clear in my post on Sunday that the players are obviously required to spend more than 20 hours a week, and therefore the NCAA's time rule is probably being broken (at least in spirit). What I was also trying to say, though, is that everyone spends significantly more than 20 hours a week, and it really just comes down to the way that time is registered according to the NCAA.

The thing that's been bothering me about the Free Press story is that writers made no real attempt to determine via the NCAA rulebook which activities counted as "voluntary" and which activities counted as "mandatory," and that's really the crux of the allegations.

Statements such as "I was there on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., depending on if guys needed treatment," are taken to mean that the players spent 12 hours a day on mandatory activities, and that's a ridiculous assertion. I used to spend about 12 hours every weekday in UM academic buildings as a student, but that doesn't mean I took 60 credit hours a semester.

A simple review of the the rulebook shows the following exemptions, which are just the portions applicable to the Michigan investigation:
a. Training-table or competition-related meals;
b. Physical rehabilitation;
c. Dressing, showering or taping; …
h. Medical examinations or treatments; …
m. Voluntary individual workouts, provided these workouts are not required or supervised by coaching staff members, except that such activities may be monitored for safety purposes or conducted by the institution's strength and conditioning personnel who have department wide duties.
o. The provision of videotapes to a student-athlete by an institution's coach that include a personalized message and athletically related information (e.g., discussion of plays, general workout programs, lectures on strategy related to the sport), provided the viewing of the videotape by the student-athlete is voluntary;
p. Use of an institution's athletics facilities (which may be reserved) during the academic year or summer by student-athletes, provided the activities are not supervised by or held at the direction of any member of an institution's coaching staff.
Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder made no attempt to determine how much time was being spent on voluntary activities and how much was being spent on mandatory activities, which is simply incomprehensible to me.

Were there violations committed? Probably minor ones, but there's no way to know. I'm not saying this purely to defend Michigan, just to point out that there's a huge gap between saying that the players were at the facilities for 12 hours and saying that the players were involved in mandatory activities for 12 hours.

Yes, this is a ridiculous technicality. But a technicality is the only way to turn this into a story when surveys show that the average amount of time spent by NCAA athletes on "football-related activities" is 44.8 hours a week. If 20 hours of "mandatory" activities is the limit, we have to know which parts of UM's daily activities were considered mandatory by the NCAA to know if there were any violations. We don't know, because no one bothered to find out the details after the players said "it was mandatory."

The allegations were certainly worth reporting, but so are the claims of current or former players Carson Butler, Tate Forcier and Sean Griffin and the parents of current players Michael Schofield and Obi Ezeh, all of whom have directly disputed the reported violations. This would have been nice to know about, but obviously their side of the story went unreported.

And that doesn't include freshmen JeRon Stokes and Brandin Hawthorne, who were both quoted in the Free Press story talking about the team's fall workouts. Hawthorne was obviously upset over the way his quotes were used in the story, and he responded accordingly:
"I told them I lift weight at 8 until 10:30, go to class, and come back and work ... [Then] we go watch film. They turn it all around."
Both Stokes and his parents, meanwhile, went to Rivals with some of their own critical comments:
"They took and twisted and misconstrued [his quote], when Ronnie was just simply saying he's doing the regulated hours required by the coaches within the rules."
If you're going to make claims that Michigan is committing "major violations" (in Rosenberg's words), you'd better make sure you have your facts straight. And because of a half-assed effort to report the details and a complete failure to provide an opposing view or relevant context (other schools' time usage), there's no way to know if this was simply a one-sided slam job or a truly meaningful investigation.

Of course, even if the reported claims are essentially true, it doesn't change the fact that the total time commitment is no different than at every other big-time school. As I said before, this is a non-story as far as I'm concerned, and I think most people that really follow college football feel the same way.

My favorite line on the situation comes from Orson at the wonderful Every Day Should Be Saturday:
Please, don a rat-cap and wave a pom-pom with your letterman’s sweater over in the bathtub gin and jazz section over in the stands where fans from the 1920s sit if any of this shocks you. This is illicit professional sports charged with the loony tribalism of the regional, sponsored by universities in the same way universities have always helped develop young talent. If computer programming majors at Georgia Tech can code until their eyes bleed, the same should apply for anyone with a sponsored talent on scholarship who wants to work extra hours. This message brought to you by the 21st century, reality, and having a fucking clue.
Exactly. I hate to use the "everybody's doing it" excuse, but a reality check from the Free Press, ESPN and everyone else blowing this way out of proportion would be nice.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Free Press loves a good Michigan controversy

This wasn't how I intended to begin my weekend, but alas:

... yikes. The Detroit Free Press put together an extremely lengthy and detailed report regarding Michigan's offseason and in-season training programs, coming to the conclusion that UM goes far beyond the allowed time limits for mandatory workouts.

It includes a lot of quotes from anonymous "former or current players," as well as a general description of the players' workout regimen from a couple of freshmen who weren't enrolled until fall and thus wouldn't have known about the offseason workouts, but the alleged violations can basically be whittled down to this section:
"It was mandatory," one player said. "They'd tell you it wasn't, but it really was. If you didn't show up, there was punishment. I just felt for the guys that did miss a workout and had to go through the personal hell they would go through."

In addition, the players cited these practices within the program: Players spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall. NCAA rules mandate a daily 4-hour limit. The Wolverines also exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours, the athletes said.

Players said members of Rodriguez's quality-control staff often watched seven-on-seven off-season scrimmages. The non-contact drills, in which an offense runs plays against a defense, are supposed to be voluntary and player-run. They are held at U-M's football facilities. NCAA rules allow only training staff -- not quality-control staffers -- to attend as a safety precaution. Quality-control staffers provide administrative and other support for the coaches but are not allowed to interact directly with players during games, practices or workouts.
In summary:
  • Workouts that were supposed to be voluntary were actually mandatory, and "there was punishment" for non-participation.
  • More than four hours (the NCAA daily limit) were spent on "mandatory" activities on Sundays during the season.
  • Weekly "mandatory" workouts constituted more than 20 total hours.
  • Quality-control staffers (which I'll explain momentarily) observed drills that were considered voluntary and therefore must be run by players.

First of all, let's state the obvious: "Voluntary" workouts that aren't really voluntary happen everywhere, and everyone knows it. The article even includes a saying used by the Michigan coaching staff: "Workouts aren't mandatory, but neither is playing time." It's not like the players aren't aware of this:

"Every team does that, more or less," said another former Michigan player. "Everyone knows voluntary workouts you don't have to be there, but you have to be there. A lot of guys don't even know about the rule, but everybody signed the sheets (indicating you kept to the 20-hour rule). It was never a big deal."

And if you're looking for a specific numerical comparison, USA Today provides it:

"Football players in the NCAA's Division I Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) said they spent an average of 44.8 hours a week on their sport — playing games, practicing, training and in the training room — compared with a little less than 40 hours on academics."

So there you go.

Also, the claim early in the workout story that "the Wolverines were expected to spend two to three times more" hours than the NCAA allows is obviously an exaggeration. Both the anonymous players and the coaches point out that a chunk of the time they're referring to is not considered "required" by the NCAA, and the story seems to base its time estimates partially on in-season numbers (with a 20-hour weekly limit) and partially on offseason numbers (with an eight-hour weekly limit).

As always, Brian at Mgoblog has the situation thoroughly and accurately covered, and he points to the following calculations from the Free Press story in relation to the 20-hour weekly maximum ...

With three hours on Saturday and a full day on Sunday, players tallied about 12 hours on those two days. They were off Monday. Players said they would spend an additional three to four hours with the team on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
afternoons, bringing the weekly total to 21- 24 hours.

... and realizes that "if any section of any of those days fit the definition of voluntary, that's not a violation." Again, the Free Press numbers are clearly exaggerated, and even if most UM players are spending another 21-24 additional hours each week on football-related things that are only quasi-voluntary, that would only put them near the NCAA average cited by USA Today.

The time aspect (to me, anyway) is a non-issue. It might be more of a concern if any of the players' quotes actually contained some specifics that would implicate Rodriguez or UM in knowingly breaking the rules, but they're so so incredibly vague that there's no way to know exactly what they're referring to. Let me repeat the quote from above:

"It was mandatory," one player said. "They'd tell you it wasn't, but it really was. If you didn't show up, there was punishment."

If the coaches tell you it isn't mandatory, what is it that makes it mandatory? The "punishment"? If so, why are no details about the punishment provided? What was the punishment, and was it actually required or was it just considered make-up work to get back in good graces with the coaches for not working hard when they weren't around?

This is a problem with the story in general. It comes to a lot of conclusions about time alottment, but it uses generalities taken from various quoutes without actually gathering any specific, informative details.

As for the quality-control staffers' oversight of voluntary seven-on-seven drills (note that the Free Press story says "quality-control staffers provide administrative and other support for the coaches"), the NCAA rule is pretty gray in this area:

Institutional staff members involved in noncoaching activities (e.g., administrative assistants, academic counselors) do not count in the institution’s coaching limitations, provided such individuals are not identified as coaches, do not engage in any on- or off-field coaching activities (e.g., attending meetings involving coaching activities, analyzing video involving the institution’s or an opponent’s team), and are not involved in any off-campus recruitment of prospective student-athletes or scouting of opponents.

The rule does not limit oversight to training staff, but it's not entirely clear if quality-control personnel fall into the "administrative assistants" exemption or not. I could give the Free Press the benefit of the doubt, but based on some of the other assumptions in the story, I'm not sure that'd be a reasonable thing to do.

I'm more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to Rich Rodriguez, who has been an NCAA head coach for 17 years and probably has a pretty thorough understanding of the rule book. Considering that he has no record of NCAA violations and that no previous players have complained about the workload -- many have even been documented as returning to noted strength-and-conditioning monster Mike Barwis to prepare for the NFL -- it seems unlikely that he's suddenly gone off his rocker and demanded a completely absurd and unreasonable level of training while breaking rules left and right now that he's at Michigan.

On top of that, Barwis and Rodriguez both stated that the team's training program has been approved by the NCAA, and while Rodriguez obviously is a biased voice in this discussion, the school's compliance office immediately came out and disputed the report:

Michigan compliance officer Judy Van Horn said her department conducts "in-person spot checks of practice during the academic year and summer. We have not had any reason to self-report any violations in this area with any of our sports."

The best way to avoid any NCAA punishment these days is to self-report everything and administer meaningless minor penalties, so the fact that the school issued the above statement tells me two things:

  1. UM is confident that no rules are being broken (at least not blatantly enough to warrant reporting).
  2. The compliance department has documentation to back that up.

It should also be noted that Van Horn is the elected president of the National Association for Athletics Compliance. She knows what she's doing.

Are there some violations occurring? Technically, I'm sure that there are. But they're of the "voluntary workouts that aren't really voluntary" variety, and it appears that the school can document that everything it's doing is by the rules (even if those rules are being distorted).

What this all means is that any worrying over possible NCAA penalties is unnecessary. Back to Mgoblog, a quick review of the recent Southeast Missouri State investigation shows that after some similar allegations there as well as an impermissible recruiting trip, coaches or boosters paying for some players' tuition and the head coach lying about the whole thing to NCAA investigators, the resulting punishment "added up to three years of probation and one scholarship taken away for one year, AKA nothing whatsoever."

Any punishment for Michigan -- in the event that any violations are actually revealed -- would be in the form of a meaningless year of probation or something. The only real damage would be the negative publicity, which UM has already received plenty of in the last year.

There are a couple things that have me worried and frustrated, though, mostly relating to the fact that some current players (it's unclear how many) came out with statements like these the week before the start of the season. The former players obviously have an axe to grind, and some of them are probably the same ones who publicly criticized the program's "family values" (Justin Boren) or "type of crowd" (Kurt Wermers) on their way out. Their accusations mean nothing to me.

But I don't understand why a player on the team right now would get involved in this, even if they think that the training program goes above and beyond what's technically allowed. None of them were worried enough to go to the school's compliance office, according to the Free Press (which brings into question the validity of their concerns), so why speak out now, just a week before the season opener?

Former Michigan QB Chad Henne said what we're all thinking today in an interview with

“I really think whoever’s saying it really doesn’t want to be there,” Henne said. “If they’re saying that then they’re not really worried about the team, they’re not worried about what they’re going to do during their season and they’re kind of just giving themselves up. That’s just negative talk right there. So whoever it is just really doesn’t care about the team, I would say.

“If they’re complaining about that, then they don’t want to be the best they can be, and that’s their own fault.”

The fact that this type of tension exists, though, is a legitimate concern. Some uncertainty is to be expected after a coaching change, and we've already seen that with the departures mentioned above. But I would hope that anyone still stuck in the 17th-century methods of the Lloyd Carr regime would have either bought into the new program or moved on, and that doesn't appear to be the case.

My hope is that the players making these comments are backups who are frustrated with the amount of work they're putting in for the minimal playing time they're receiving, and if that's the case, this probably will have no real effect on Michigan's season. I guess we'll never know unless someone comes out and acknowledges their anonymous remarks.

But considering that the chance of meaningful NCAA sanctions is virtually zero, there are only two possible scenarios for Rodriguez and UM:

  1. Michigan shows significant improvement, beats one of its rivals to get to seven or eight victories and plays in a solid bowl game, at which point this all will have been forgotten.
  2. Michigan again disappoints, losing at least one of its first two games, finishing below .500 and missing a bowl, at which point this will be just another log on the "fire RichRod" blaze. The consecutive losing seasons, on the other hand, will be the gasoline.

All I can do is hope for scenario No. 1, which I obviously was already doing anyway.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

It's not getting any easier

When I said just two days ago that "circumstances are conspiring to make it more and more likely that is the year someone finally rises up and dethrones USC in the Pac-10," I had no idea how right I was:
USC receiver Ronald Johnson will be out six to eight weeks after breaking his collarbone during the No. 4 Trojans' mock game.
Ouch. And what must be particularly painful for USC fans is this line, which shows up in about the fourth paragraph of the AP story:
Johnson was hurt during the second series of the mock game when he was tackled after catching an underthrown 34-yard pass from Barkley.
There's nothing more encouraging than when a bad pass by your starting QB results in a broken collarbone for one of your top offensive weapons.

As usual, USC is stacked at receiver -- former five-star recruit David Ausberry (yes, pretty much everybody on USC is a former five-star recruit) will step into the starting lineup -- but replacing Johnson's 33 catches, eights touchdowns and general explosiveness won't be easy. And even more importantly, if there wasn't already enough pressure on Matt Barkley, he's now lost half of his starting receiving corps before the season has even started. Damian Williams, who transferred from Arkansas along with Mitch Mustain and was a revelation last year as USC's leading receiver, will continue to be the go-to guy, but he'll also get a little more attention from opposing defenses this season now that Johnson's speed has been removed from the lineup.

I'll repeat what I said originally: With all the obstacles USC is facing this year -- freshman QB, almost entirely new defense, every meaningful game on the road, and now a nearly season-long injury to a starting receiver -- if the Trojans once again win the Pac-10 and finish in the top five, Oregon and Cal might as well call it a day and move to the WAC until Pete Carroll retires.

Although if it makes those teams feel any better, they can check out these SportsNation polls results, which of course are unbiased and come entirely from educated voters:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

USC goes with the young gun

Pete Carroll apparently got enough of a look at Aaron Corp in practice on Wednesday, because today he announced that freshman Matt Barkley will be USC's starting quarterback.
"He has exceeded all our expectations," Carroll said in a statement. "He has all the physical ability. He has the mentality and temperament to handle the position. His personality is very well received by all the players, and he's extremely talented. At this point, he's ready to be the guy for us."
Barkley might have been the top-rated high school QB in the country, but Carroll is entering unprecedented territory here. Since taking over at USC in 2001, his quarterbacks have been:
  • Carson Palmer (junior)
  • Carson Palmer (senior)
  • Matt Leinart (redshirt sophomore)
  • Matt Leinart (redshirt junior)
  • Matt Leinart (redshirt senior)
  • John David Booty (junior)
  • John David Booty (senior)
  • Mark Sanchez (redshirt junior)
Leinart had the least experience of any of Carroll's starters, and he was already in his third year in the system when he took over. In fact, no true freshman has ever started for USC, which is pretty remarkable. The obvious reason is that true freshmen usually don't perform very well, but that sort of clashes with USC's recent QB production, which has been extremely good and eerily similar regardless of who has been under center. In other words, something's gotta give.

While Barkley's inexperience might not be enough to knock USC from the ranks of the elite this year, it does open the door just a tad farther for Oregon or Cal to make a run at a Pac-10 title. It's hard to completely dismiss the less-than-glowing practice reports on Barkley and his 5-for-18 performance in the Trojans' scrimmage last week.

Everyone keeps saying, "USC loses a ton every year and they're still just as good the next year," and that's obviously true since they've finished in the top four of the final AP poll every year since 2002. But they've always had one dominant unit -- either the offense or the defense has been so good that any deficiencies were irrelevant -- and I'm not sure that'll be the case this year. The running game -- with Joe McKnight, Stafon Johnson, C.J. Gable and a dominating offensive line -- should be very good, but there's just no way the defense doesn't suffer a drop-off. And taking a true freshman QB on the road to Columbus, Berkeley, South Bend (OK, it probably doesn't matter who plays QB in that one) and Autzen Stadium won't make things any easier.

Here's the deal: If USC wins the Pac-10 and finishes in the top five again this year, we can all acknowledge that there is no end in sight to the Trojans' dominance. They won't face a more challenging "reloading" project than they will this year. But all good things must come to an end (or at least a temporary delay), and circumstances are conspiring to make it more and more likely that this is the year someone finally rises up and dethrones USC in the Pac-10.

Oh, and one last thing: When USC is dismantling Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, try to forget that I wrote this.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Catching up: We're almost there

* Just about everyone who hadn't picked a quarterback as of last weekend has picked one now. Tennessee is going with Jonathan Crompton (no surprise there), Texas A&M is going with Jerrod Johnson (also no surprise, although ex-receiver Ryan Tannehill made things interesting in camp and will now play QB full-time) and Louisville will start NC State transfer Justin Burke. Michigan will apparently play everybody, and Pete Carroll (he just has to be different, doesn't he?) wants a little longer to look at Aaron Corp in practice before deciding between Corp and Matt Barkley.

* Speaking of quarterbacks, Miami could use a couple after backups Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith both announced Wednesday that they plan to transfer. Neither was likely to challenge sophomore starter Jacory Harris for playing time, but with Cook, Smith and former starter Robert Marve all out of the picture, the Canes' depth chart is now frighteningly thin. If Harris were to get hurt, the offense would be left in the hands of the only remaining scholarship QB on the roster -- true freshman A.J. Highsmith.

* I was planning on making this a separate post, but Brian over at Mgoblog so thoroughly covered the stupidity of the situation that there's really not much left to say. Indiana has agreed to play Penn State at FedEx Field in Washington in 2010, which at first seems like minor news -- neutral-site games happen all the time. But in-conference neutral-site games, especially ones that are moved much, much closer to the visiting team? Not so much. In fact, Brian's research shows that the only Big Ten game since World War II that was moved out of the home team's state was when Wisconsin played Michigan State in Tokyo in 1993, and I doubt that created much of an advantage for either team. Indiana had 3 million reasons to make the switch, but this is still frustrating as a fan of a team that hopes to compete with Penn State (which will now have one fewer Big Ten road game to worry about) for a conference title. I'll let Brian explain:
Let's stipulate that schools have the right to do whatever they want with their nonconference schedules. The effect on the rest of the conference is minimal there. ... Once we start talking about conference schedules, though, people have a right to bitch. Every team is playing for a conference championship. The schedules need to be as equitable as possible. ...

Not so with Indiana's decision to sell a home game, which benefits exactly one team, has been approved by no one, and compromises the integrity of the league schedule.
I won't steal his entire post, but you get the idea. This is a bad thing, and the Big Ten needs to step in and forbid this type of manipulation of the conference schedule.

* Buffalo running back James Starks, a first-team All-MAC pick last year, suffered a shoulder injury in practice that will end his season. And because Starks is a redshirt senior, his career is over. The Bulls had already lost QB Drew Willy to graduation, and it now seems extremely unlikely that they'll have enough offense to defend their MAC championship. Turner Gill might be an excellent coach, but he can't turn water into wine.

* Tennessee uber-recruit Bryce Brown will not be suspended by the NCAA after an investigation into his eligibility. It's unclear if the NCAA had actually decided to punish Brown before Tennessee appealed or whether the initial investigation just ended with a decision to forgo punishment, but either way, Brown is good to go for the Vols' opener against Western Kentucky. I'm not sure how an investigation into quasi-agent Brian Butler ended without scandal, but whatever. I guess Lane Kiffin finally got some good news ... the only problem is that it came on the heels of finding out that starting receiver Gerald Jones will miss three to six weeks with a sprained ankle. With Austin Rogers (torn ACL) and Denarius Moore (foot injury) already out of the lineup, Tennessee's running game had better improve significantly on last year's 122 yards per game (ranked 88th nationally). It should get better with the addition of Brown and fellow freshman David Oku, but if it doesn't, it will be a looooooong year in Knoxville.

* Nebraska running back Quentin Castille, who rushed for almost 500 yards and six touchdowns last season and was set to platoon this year with Roy Helu Jr., was dismissed this week for a good ol' violation of team rules. There haven't been any reports of legal problems or anything serious, but Bo Pelini sounded less than thrilled when making the announcement to the media:
It's pretty black and white my expectations and what we lay out as a staff, and if someone doesn't follow those policies and guidelines, they're no longer going to be with the program.
There is now little to no experience behind Helu at running back, and with the Huskers breaking in a new QB (Zac Lee) and a new receiving corps this season, expect Pelini to put a lot of weight on Helu's shoulders, especially early in the year. Whether he's up to the task remains to be seen, but Helu did rush for 803 yards last season (at an impressive 6.4 per carry) while earning honorable mention All-Big 12 honors.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Three's a crowd

Depending on how you want to interpret Rich Rodriguez's quote from Michigan's media day, when he said "maybe we'll have three starting quarterbacks," you could come to the conclusion that there isn't really a favorite for the starting QB job.

That would be false. It's been clear since early in spring practice that Tate Forcier is the front-runner, and anyone else taking the first snap against Western Michigan would be a major surprise. Redshirt junior Nick Sheridan has a slight edge in experience, but almost every report from practice has said that of the three quarterbacks (Forcier, Sheridan and Denard Robinson), Forcier has been the most impressive, both physically and in terms of running the offense.

The obvious question is why all three would play when one appears to be the most talented AND the most game-ready, and it's a legitimate question. Personally, I'd start Forcier, give him every opportunity to show what he can do and hope for the best. Rodriguez apparently won't be doing that, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he hasn't settled on a QB. What it means is that he's getting snaps for all of them, and he's doing it as insurance in the event that one of the following two scenarios comes to fruition:
  • Forcier gets injured (this isn't entirely unlikely for a spindly, 160-pound freshman)
  • Forcier struggles and the coaching staff decides that he needs a little time on the sidelines
Realistically, the chances of Forcier starting all 12 games this season are probably less than 50/50, just because of the possibilities mentioned above. And with that in mind, I understand what RichRod is doing: It makes sense to have your secondary options prepared.

My guess is that Sheridan and Robinson each get about one series per half, with Forcier taking the large majority of the snaps. And if Michigan is trailing in the fourth quarter, I'd be absolutely stunned if Forcier isn't on the field -- he's by far the best passer in the group.

If Forcier does live up to expectations, expect Sheridan's playing time to decrease quickly. It was clear last season that he simply doesn't have Division I talent (which isn't surprising for a walk-on), and when you have two talented freshmen on the sidelines who need to gain experience ASAP, there's no real upside to having Sheridan on the field.

Robinson, though, will probably continue to be a significant part of the offense. The guy has unreal speed (despite not tying his shoes, which is pretty bizarre), and when the quarterbacks coach is comparing him to Pat White, that tells you all you need to know. The extent of his playing time probably depends somewhat on Forcier's production ... although you could probably say the same thing about a lot of questions surrounding Michigan's offense.

If Forcier is as efficient, smart and athletic as promised, he'll likely relegate Sheridan to the bench and Robinson to a change-of-pace role that involves a lot of zone-read option plays.

If Forcier struggles ... well, then I guess I'll be glad that Rodriguez got the other guys some meaningful snaps.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Get this man into a home

Lou Holtz has been bordering on senility for a while now. It's reached the point where I look at him more as an entertainment figure than an expert, simply because his "analysis" consists of explaining why Notre Dame will beat its opponent each week. If only I could persuade him to put his money on the line in a pick 'em contest, I'd be a rich man.

But it's clear now that Holtz is past the point of no return:

As the words were coming out of his mouth, all I could think was, "No, tell me he's not serious. He can't be picking Notre Dame for the national championship. Please don't be that insane. Please ... yeah, he did it."

I'm not even gonna bother disputing his points; they're so ridiculous that to do so would simply be stating the obvious. Trying to reason with Lou Holtz about Notre Dame would be like trying to reason with a 2-year-old about cookies.

I know the guy is an unabashed homer (and always has been), but he's into Beano Cook territory now, where reality simply doesn't affect his view of Notre Dame football.

Gator love


Florida is No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason Top 25 released Saturday, followed by Texas, Oklahoma, Southern California and Alabama. But the Gators are in a class by themselves, the most overwhelming preseason No. 1 in the history of the media poll.

Florida received 58 of the 60 first-place votes, or 96.7 percent. Texas got the other two first-place votes.

When you think about some of the most dominant teams in college football history and consider that NONE of them were as overwhelming of a favorite as this year's Florida team -- despite Oklahoma and Texas each returning a Heisman finalist at quarterback -- it kind of puts the expectations in a new light.

The two polls ended up nearly identical throughout the top 25, although the AP obviously showed a little more support for Florida at No. 1. It's a little surprising that Oklahoma didn't get any first-place votes, but there weren't exactly a lot to go around after Florida's take. Other than that, the only significant changes from the coaches' poll were Ole Miss and LSU each moving up two spots into the top nine, Oregon sliding down a few spots to No. 17, BYU jumping up to No. 20 and Kansas sneaking into the very bottom of the poll. Nothing too noteworthy in the poll at large.

It is interesting, though, to look at some of the beat writers' ballots and get an idea of how they assess the teams they follow on a day-to-day basis. For example, Ohio's two representatives, Doug Lesmersis (Cleveland) and Matt McCoy (Columbus), both have Ohio State at No. 10, behind Penn State. On the flip side, Kevin Gorman (Pittsburgh) has Penn State at No. 11 and Ohio State at No. 4. Louisiana's two voters, Glenn Guilbeau and Garland Gillen, have LSU at No. 13 and No. 11, respectively, while the collective poll has them at No. 9. And depending on who you believe, Notre Dame is somewhere between No. 13 (Kirk Herbstreit) and unranked. Also, if you like complete mayhem, check out the insanity submitted by Jon Wilner (San Jose).

Back to Florida, though, this pretty well puts to rest the idea that there are three "favorites" (Florida, Texas and Oklahoma). Not to take anything away from the Red River Shootout, but right now, there's Florida and there's everyone else. ESPN's story includes the standard "preseason polls don't mean anything" qualifier, and in a sense, that's true. But all things being equal, I'd rather start first in a marathon than have to make up ground later -- I'm sure USC would agree.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I wish I could bet on stuff like this

We have a new candidate for the Least Surprising Headline of the Year Award:

Really??? You mean a high schooler with an agent might have eligibility issues?

Yes, I'm aware that Brian Butler isn't technically an agent, but he can call himself an "adviser" until he's blue in the face; anyone who handles your press, schedules your visits and takes care of your marketing -- while attempting to profit from it -- is an agent. The NCAA might do a lot of stupid stuff, but their compliance officers aren't blind.

There's been no official announcement regarding any punishment, but according to several media reports, Tennessee has already received a ruling and has filed an appeal. Since there'd be no reason to file an appeal unless the punishment included a suspension, I think we can draw our own conclusions.

A brief suspension wouldn't have a significant effect on Tennessee's season -- between senior Montario Hardesty and freshmen David Oku and Toney Williams, the Vols have plenty of quality options at running back -- but I'm sure Lane Kiffin would like to have some positive press at some point in his career.

Great expectations

The Wiz of Odds posted early Thursday that Florida was listed by USA Today as a 73-point favorite over Charleston Southern, which ... ummm, yeah.

Dr. Saturday did some fact-checking and discovered that the line was actually 63 points, but the shock value remains the same. I have never seen a line above 60, and there's a reason for that: According to the Wiz, the highest lines in history were 59.5 points (Hawaii over Northern Colorado in 2007) and 59 points (Houston over SMU in 1989), although it's a little difficult to keep track of lines that often fluctuate or are never posted in Vegas (the sports books don't post lines for FBS-FCS games).

But whether or not this is the biggest in history, 63 points is a ton. The sad part is that I don't think anyone would be surprised if Florida covers, and that has little to with the the fact that Charleston Southern plays in a lower division. Personally, I have a hard time getting up in arms over FBS-FCS matchups, and this one is no different. The preseason No. 1 team -- which returns almost everyone, is the defending national champion and has a dominating offense led by a Heisman-winning quarterback -- should obliterate a significantly inferior opponent, regardless of that school's classification. Do you think the line would be lower if Florida was playing Western Kentucky or North Texas? I doubt it.

And believe it or not, there are positives that come out of these games: has an interesting story up about how this one game will pay for Charleston Southern to build a fieldhouse that will include lockers and an academic resource center, both things the school's athletes currently lack.

I'd always rather see FBS teams playing each other, but unfortunately for us, fan entertainment isn't the top priority for athletic directors. And don't bother criticizing Florida for scheduling a cupcake: Some research in the comments on the original story shows that after Sept. 5, Notre Dame will be the only FBS school to have never played an FCS opponent. "Everybody's doing it" is a crappy excuse, but the reality in college football is that money dictates everything. In other words, there's a reason everybody's doing it.

The only thing that the NCAA should do, in my opinion, is expand the rule that limits the number of FCS wins each school can count toward bowl eligibility. The current rule is that only one win over an FCS team can be counted every two years, so all this really does is stop schools from scheduling an FCS opponent two years in a row. Personally, I don't see why any of these wins should count toward bowl eligibility. If you want to schedule what amounts to a warmup game, that's fine. But if you want to play in a bowl, you should have to beat at least six FBS teams (yes, I wish the standards for postseason play were higher, but that's an argument for another time).

As for this particular game, I'm taking the under. I can't really bet on it, obviously, but season openers can be a little sloppy at times, and you know Urban Meyer won't be taking any chances with Tim Tebow and the rest of the first-teamers. For historical reference, Florida has beaten three I-A/FCS teams in the past three years, and none of those wins has been by more than 62 points.

But whether the Gators end up winning by 40, 60 or 80, the fact that we're even discussing the likelihood of them covering a 63-point spread just demonstrates how ridiculously good this team is expected to be. I don't see a game on the schedule in which they'll be favored by fewer than 10 points, and that's saying something.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Catching up: Pickin' quarterbacks

* If Doug Marrone fails as head coach at Syracuse, it won't be because of an inability to drum up interest in his program. Marrone officially named Greg Paulus the starting quarterback on Tuesday, which probably says more about his opinion of Ryan Nassib (No. 1 on the depth chart in spring) and Cameron Dantley (last year's starter) than it does about Paulus, who hadn't picked up a football in four years when he began his quest for a team in April. Paulus might be exceptionally talented, but when you're starting a guy with one year of eligibility who has no college football experience, you're basically just saying, "Yeah, we're gonna be terrible no matter who plays QB, so we might as well make it interesting."

* I can't believe I'm starting this with two notes about Syracuse, but the Orange (that still sounds awkward) decided that they wanted a little of the neutral-site spotlight Army and Notre Dame have been hogging, announcing Tuesday that they'll play at the new Meadowlands against USC in 2012 and the Fighting Irish in 2014 and 2016 (by the way, will Notre Dame be playing any games in regular stadiums anymore?). Unfortunately for Syracuse, Pete Carroll will probably still be at USC in 2012 and Charlie Weis probably won't be at Notre Dame in 2014.

* Clemson coach Dabo Swinney surprised just about everyone on Monday when he named redshirt freshman Kyle Parker the starting QB and former top recruit Willy Korn the backup. Parker is apparently an obnoxiously good athlete (he's also an All-ACC designated hitter for the Clemson baseball team), but Korn has put up impressive numbers in his two seasons as a backup. Swinney said that he expects to play Korn in every game, and while that's a noble gesture to try to keep everybody happy, there's a saying as old as football itself that if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none. So if (or when) Parker struggles, don't be surprised if Tigers fans do this and Korn gets a shot at the starting gig.

* I'm guessing that Texas Tech running back Baron Batch doesn't have magical healing powers, so it seems that there was some misinformation regarding the severity of his arm injury. While reports last week said he'd be out for three to six weeks, Batch apparently is already back at practice and is expected to participate in full-contact drills next week. Assuming that ESPN's "source" is accurate (which may or may not be a reasonable assumption), Batch should be ready to go for the Raiders' opener on Sept. 5.

* Utah quarterback Corbin Louks announced Tuesday that he'll transfer to Nevada, which wasn't surprising after it had become clear that he had slipped from presumptive starter to third on the depth chart. Louks is a fantastic athlete, but he came to camp as the only QB on the roster with FBS experience and still couldn't win the starting job (it's now between true freshman Jordan Wynn and juco transfer Terrance Cain), which doesn't say much for his passing skills. The Utes apparently wanted him to move to safety, but Louks instead will redshirt, sit behind Colin Kaepernick for a year at UNR and then hope to make an impact as a fifth-year senior in 2011.

* It's not easy for the QB of a top-25 team to undergo shoulder surgery and lose his starting job without anyone noticing, but that's what happens when you're located in Corvallis. Lyle Moevao quietly had an strong 2008 season for Oregon State, completing just under 60 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, but a shoulder injury in a win over Arizona State put him on the sidelines and kept him there until fall camp. Sean Canfield, who started in 2007 but lost the job because of his own shoulder injury, then played well enough late in the season and throughout spring and fall practice that Mike Riley now appears to have come full circle, all but naming Canfield the starter. It's not clear if this is because Moevao isn't fully recovered or if Canfield is just playing that well, but all that really matters for the Beavers is that someone is capable of handing the ball to Jacquizz Rodgers 30 times a game.

* Somebody get South Florida a running back, and do it quickly. After freshman Jamar Taylor -- who was competing for the starting job with senior Mo Plancher and talented but problematic junior Mike Ford -- injured his knee in the Bulls' scrimmage this weekend, Ford promptly went out and got himself suspended for the first two games of the season for a "violation of team rules." No specifics were provided, but tells us that Ford's punishment matches the school's guidelines for a substance-abuse suspension, which probably isn't a coincidence. Mo Plancher, the stage is yours.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Did Bret Bielema grow a conscience?

For a guy not exactly known as a disciplinarian, Bret Bielema came down pretty hard on his two starting safeties this week:
Wisconsin has suspended safeties Aubrey Pleasant and Shane Carter. Coach Bret Bielema did not say in his statement on Saturday why the two seniors were being suspended.
Pleasant and Carter apparently weren't too thrilled: Both have publicly proclaimed that they've done nothing wrong and have appealed to the school (along with threatening to bring in lawyers) to have their suspensions lifted, which I can't say I've ever heard of before. The two seniors have started a combined 34 games at safety in their careers, although Jay Valai and Chris Maragos had pulled even atop the depth chart in spring practice. There's no word as to exactly what caused the suspensions, so it's kind of difficult to know how long "indefinite" might actually turn out to be, but any extended period of time and Wisconsin will be battling a real lack of depth in the secondary.

This all makes it especially surprising that the two were suspended at all: Bielema's history has been one of "internal" punishments that resulted in little or no playing time lost for any of Wisconsin's players. I know some coaches are just a little more lax than others, but Bielema's problems started early on in his tenure and have bothered me ever since.

In his first season (2006), when Wisconsin traveled to Ann Arbor to play Michigan, Bielema ignored the mid-week arrest of linebacker Elijah Hodge on suspicion of stealing a moped and allowed him to play. Then, during the fourth quarter of the same game, special-teams gunner James Kamoku was involved in one of the dirtiest plays in recent memory, grabbing the knee of UM punt returner Steve Breaston after the play was over and twisting it as far as possible. This was captured by ESPN's cameras and roundly criticized by everyone, and Bielema's response was this:
"I don't think there was any particular thing directed at Breaston," Bielema said Tuesday during the Big Ten Conference coaches' teleconference. "He had had a very successful day and our coverage unit had had some struggles. Everything boiled up at that minute. I've seen what everybody has seen on film. I addressed it with James and I'm going to handle those things internally."

When asked if Kamoku would play Saturday at Indiana, Bielema reiterated: "I'm handling those things internally."
When your own fans think it's ridiculous that such a dirty play can be let go without a suspension, you know you have a problem.

And the worst part is that the lack of discipline is just one aspect of his douchebag repertoire. Jump ahead to the 2008 Champs Sports Bowl and you have complaints from Florida State about inappropriate remarks and gestures from Wisconsin players at the luncheon before the game followed by Bielema blowing off Bobby Bowden's handshake attempt (something Bielema has been known to do) after FSU's 42-13 ass-whooping. Oh, and then there's the classy recruiting letters Bielema sends out to high schoolers that include this beauty of a line:
It should be noted that Bielema played and was an assistant at Iowa. In summary, the guy is an ass.

I didn't really mean for this post to turn into a catalog of Bielema's unsportsmanlike actions, so let get me get back to where I started: I have no idea what Pleasant and Carter did to earn their suspensions or whether the punishment was deserving at all, but if their absence somehow ends up costing Wisconsin a game or three, I certainly won't be crying about it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

More is less

Like most Americans, I'll consume all the football I can handle. I have to admit, though, that until Friday's comments from Rich Rodriguez, I had never thought about the possibility of preseason college football.
"If there was one rule I'd change in college football -- if they'd allow you to have a preseason game against somebody else ... no crowd or anything, just someone else to judge yourself a little bit better," he said.
That would be absolutely amazing, no question about it ... and it would also be incredibly stupid and impractical. I understand what he's getting at, basically just wanting some sort of measuring stick and preparation outside of intrasquad scrimmages, but I see the same problem here as with NFL preseason games: At a certain point, it becomes less important for your starters to get a few competitive snaps than to keep them healthy (or as healthy as possible) heading into the real games.

I suppose you could have the game a few weeks before the season to give your guys a little time to heal any wounds, but then you'd be doing it right at the beginning of fall practice. How would you get an accurate assessment of your team at that point?

Rodriguez also says that there would be "no crowd or anything," which would never happen in a million years. With athletic departments being what they are, is there any possible way that this wouldn't turn into another opportunity for ticket sales and a TV payout? RichRod even acknowledges the impossibility of an empty stadium about two sentences later:
Imagine the crowd we'd have at the Big House if we had somebody here and didn't charge them?
Considering that 60,000 turned out for the Michigan spring game -- and more have turned out at places like Ohio State and LSU -- there's little doubt that most big-time schools would fill the stadium. Fan support wouldn't be an issue.

Maybe I'm overstating the difference between a "scrimmage" and the regular practices -- having never participated in D-I football, I can't really say -- but I don't see how you could have a game that helped your team learn anything useful without putting the players in a situation where they'd be more likely to suffer an injury. You could limit the rules like they do in the Pro Bowl and the Army All-America Game, but then what do you gain?

No blitzing? Your quarterback isn't getting any work reading defenses or facing pressure, and your offensive line doesn't learn anything in pass protection that it couldn't in a regular practice. No hitting quarterbacks? Again, the QB doesn't have any real fear of pressure and gains no more than he would in an intrasquad scrimmage. No tackling? There'd be no point in having the defense take the field at all.

And I don't even want to think about the issue of scheduling, which would create a whole separate layer of problems. How do you work it out so everyone can have a game in the last two weeks of fall practice? And if it becomes similar to regular-season nonconference scheduling, where the little guys auction themselves off to the highest bidder, do the fans of those teams ever get to see a home scrimmage?

The idea, in theory, is a great one for the fans but a crappy one for the players, and it would be almost impossible to implement.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Stop getting hurt, everybody

The damage continues to mount from preseason injuries, with today's biggest news coming out of Lubbock: Texas Tech running back Baron Batch "sustained an arm injury" in practice Wednesday night and will miss three to six weeks, meaning that the Raiders will have an entirely new backfield for close to a quarter of the season.

While this probably seems like the equivalent of Oklahoma's punter getting hurt, Batch actually ran for almost 800 yards last year at 6.7 per carry, moving ahead of senior Shannon Woods as the season went on. And since Texas Tech is Texas Tech, it's not like there are experienced backups.

On the plus side, the early-season schedule isn't exactly punishing: Texas Tech opens at home against North Dakota and then hosts Rice before visiting Texas on Sept. 19, which would seem to be the ideal time for Mike Leach to call in the reinforcements.

About 1,500 miles to the east, NC State got some bad news of its own when star linebacker Nate Irving was declared out for the season because of lingering effects from his June 28 car crash.

Irving garnered All-ACC honors last year with 84 tackles, but the one positive for the Wolfpack is that they were almost certainly preparing for Irving's unavailability based on the extent of his injuries -- as you may recall, he fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the highway into two trees in rural North Carolina, resulting in a broken leg and a punctured lung. It's not entirely clear if his career is over, but he'd receive a medical redshirt and have two years left to play if he's ever able to come back.

Oh, and considering that three of the best players in the conference are already out for the season -- Irving, Virginia Tech's Darren Evans (knee) and Boston College's Mark Herzlich (cancer) -- everyone else in the ACC might want to sit down their starters (don't be stupid, Paul Johnson).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Catching up: Aaron Corp has bad timing

* USC starting quarterback Aaron Corp (pictured) suffered a small fracture in his leg on Wednesday that will keep him out of practice for about two weeks. Sounds minor enough, right? The problem for Corp is that Matt Barkley, the top-rated QB recruit in the country last year, has been just a step behind Corp since spring and will now be taking snaps with the first-team offense until about 10 days before USC's season begins against San Jose State. And considering that one of Corp's biggest strengths is his mobility, a leg injury just evens the playing field a little more. With Pete Carroll not exactly going out of his way to stem any controversy -- "Matt's going to try and make the most of this opportunity" -- don't be surprised if Corp ends up getting the Wally Pipp treatment.

* The details are pretty fuzzy, but after suffering some sort of head injury during a scuffle at a family wedding in Florida, Ohio State linebacker Tyler Moeller will sit out the season. Moeller actually returned from the trip and then suffered a seizure, which caused him to be hospitalized until Tuesday. Jim Tressel said he expects Moeller to be able to return next year, but a brain injury isn't something to take lightly. Fortunately for OSU, linebacker is one position at which a season-ending injury isn't devastating. Brian Rolle appears to be next in line after a couple years of backup duty, but Jermale Hines is also likely to see playing time on passing downs and there are several former top recruits (Etienne Sabino, Andrew Sweat, Storm Klein, etc.) waiting for an opportunity.

* I didn't even bother posting about the dismissal of Michigan QB/WR Justin Feagin last week because he was so far down on the depth chart that he was the functional equivalent of a walk-on. But the Detroit Free Press got its hands on some of the details from a police report, and they're just too juicy to pass up:
Feagin’s downfall started with a cocaine deal, detailed in U-M Department of Public Safety police reports. The coke deal ended with a U-M dorm room on fire, a fellow student headed for jail and Feagin back home in Florida.
Well, that's one way to go out. I knew it was something bad when a guy with no previous trouble at UM was kicked off the team without so much as a "we'll wait and see how this plays out," but this one was certainly deserving. And as I mentioned above, Feagin's loss is all but irrelevant on the field. He was moved to slot receiver in spring practice but had no real chance of seeing the field behind Martavious Odoms, Jeremy Gallon, Terrence Robinson, JeRon Stokes and Roy Roundtree.

* Speaking of guys buried on the depth chart at Michigan, outside linebacker Marell Evans announced Wednesday that he's leaving the program, albeit on far better terms than Feagin. Evans actually praised Rich Rodriguez on his way out the door (hey, that's different!), adding that he simply didn't fit into Greg Robinson's defensive scheme and that he wants to finish his career "a different way" (not sitting on the bench, basically).

* While the Free Press was busy criticizing RichRod's character judgment because of the Feagin incident, this was happening just an hour away in East Lansing:
Michigan State has reinstated sophomore running back Glenn Winston, who was released from jail after serving four months for his role in an off-campus fight that seriously injured a Spartans hockey player.
"You're out of jail? Great! Get your helmet on." I'm all in favor of second chances, but the guy seriously injured another student-athlete at his own school. As usual, winning solves everything: Mark Dantonio can get away with this because he's riding a wave of fan support after an impressive start at MSU, but I guarantee you that Rodriguez would be tarred and feathered while the college football world lost its collective sanity if he let a convicted criminal walk out of jail and onto the practice field.

* If you have 2010 in the "When will Bobby Bowden retire" office pool, things are looking good: Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews, who has been in his current position for a ridiculous 26 years, told on Monday that this season will probably be his last. It seems extremely likely that Bowden and Andrews will be stepping aside together, and with offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher contractually guaranteed to take over by the end of the 2010 season, the only question has been whether it'll happen this year or next. It would appear that Andrews has answered that question for us.

* The Alamo Bowl decided to move itself up a few pegs in the bowl pecking order, offering $3 million a year to the Pac-10 to slide ahead of the Holiday Bowl and match the conference's second-best team against the No. 3 team from the Big 12. Unsurprisingly, "Pac-10 officials were receptive," according to the Seattle Times. The overall effect is that the Holiday Bowl, Sun Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, Emerald Bowl and Poinsettia Bowl will each be knocked down a slot in the Pac-10 selection order, but I can't blame the conference for jumping at the opportunity. The Pac-10's bowl tie-ins are probably the weakest of any BCS conference except the Big East, and with the Alamo Bowl moving to January 2 next year, the conference now has one more post-New Year's bowl game in which to showcase one of its top teams (other than perennial Rose Bowl contestant USC, of course).

Over before it started

It's hard to call a top-10 team underrated, but I really had a good feeling this year about Virginia Tech. The defense is always elite (finishing in the top 10 nationally in yardage and scoring four years in a row), and with Tyrod Taylor finally getting the starting QB job and Darren Evans returning at running back after a spectacular freshman year, it seemed that the perfect storm was forming in Blacksburg.

Until this:
Virginia Tech leading rusher Darren Evans, who set several school records as a freshman, will miss the entire season with a torn left ACL he suffered in practice on Tuesday, the school announced.
Ouch. Evans had legitimate All-America potential, and while Ryan Williams and Josh Oglesby were both highly touted recruits who should be able to fill in capably, an offense that was already overly reliant on its backfield talent just took a serious hit.

An ACC title is still within reach, as the Hokies' defense alone gives them a good shot against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami, but hopes of anything bigger probably disappeared along with Evans' ACL.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No, he didn't

Terrelle Pryor is fast. I will not dispute this.

It's hard to tell exactly how fast, though, because he's one of those strange guys who moves much faster than he appears to be, probably because his legs are about 10 feet long. Each stride consumes a ridiculous amount of space, so he simply glides past defenders while somehow looking both awkward and graceful.

Ohio State decided to go ahead and quantify this mystery for us, and the results ...
(Pryor's) 40 time was a speedy 4.33. Sophomore receiver Lamaar Thomas said he ran a 4.37 and no one else ran under 4.4 when the players were timed early this summer.
... ummm, no. Absolutely not.

As points out (courtesy of Dr. Saturday), if OSU's timing is accurate, it means Pryor was ahead of Usain Bolt's insane world-record pace from the 2008 Olympics, which ... no. Just no. You can debate the differences between a 40-yard dash and a 100-meter dash all you want, but Terrelle Pryor did NOT outrun every sprinter in Olympic history.

I don't mean to downplay Pryor's speed and athleticism -- it still means something that the 6'6", 235-pound QB is the fastest guy on the team -- but there are fake 40 times and there are FAKE 40 times, and this falls into the latter category.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is this guy one of the best coaches in the country?

I was working on putting together a post about Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly when I discovered that Dr. Saturday had gotten there first. Kind of.

While the Doc does a nice job of quantifying exactly how far Cincinnati has risen in the two years Kelly has been in charge, I think the overall picture is a little bit muted. What's important is that every school Kelly has coached at has improved massively, and there's only one coach I can think of with a comparable history of success (I'll get to that in a minute).

Going back to his days at Division II Grand Valley State, Kelly's success -- which has come in places not exactly known as football hotbeds -- is indisputable. While the Lakers had always been a good team in D-II, they had never won a national title, and to say that Kelly took them to another level would be an understatement. He never finished under .500 in 13 years at GVSU, and his overall record was a ridiculous 118-35-2, including a 41-2 mark and two national titles in his final three years. And that record didn't come by way of weak scheduling or a bad conference; it came from a consistently dominant passing game that absolutely obliterated several D-II and NCAA records (look up Jeff Fox, Curt Anes or David Kircus, if you're interested), which is all the more impressive when you consider that Kelly calls his own plays but actually started at GVSU as a defensive backs coach and then a defensive coordinator.

After jumping up a level to Central Michigan, which had plummeted to the bottom of the MAC with a 12-34 record during Mike DeBord's four-year tenure, the turnaround was quick and thorough: 4-7 to 6-5 to MAC champions, with the added bonus of developing projected first-rounder Dan Lefevour at QB. The numbers on offense:

2003 (under DeBord): 96th passing, 69th total, 79th scoring
2004 (under Kelly): 47th passing, 39th total, 79th scoring
2005: 26th passing, 35th total, 76th scoring
2006: 22nd passing, 32nd total, 23rd scoring

Cincinnati was probably a more comparable situation to Grand Valley than to CMU, with Mark Dantonio leaving the Bearcats in solid shape (7-6 and a bowl berth his final year). But as noted in Dr. Saturday's piece, Cincinnati had never finished in the AP top 25 before Kelly's arrival, so his two seasons -- with a 21-6 record, two top-25 finishes, one Big East title and one Orange Bowl appearance -- have been arguably the two best in school history.

Last year's Big East championship team was particularly strong defensively, but the offensive improvement at UC has still been drastic:

2006 (under Dantonio): 51st passing, 61st total, 82nd scoring
2007 (under Kelly): 20th passing, 30th total, 16th scoring
2008: 26th passing, 52nd total, 55th scoring

If you're wondering about last year's dropoff, keep in mind that the 2008 team went through quarterbacks like Charlie Weis goes through candy. Dustin Grutza was the starter going into the season and put up excellent numbers in the first two games before breaking his leg; Pike then came in for two games and played even better than Grutza did before suffering an arm injury that knocked him out for two games; and Chazz Anderson then had two uninspiring performances before Pike returned and put a stranglehold on the starting job.

In two years, the quarterbacks Kelly has had to work with have been Pike, Grutza and former Wake Forest disappointment Ben Mauk, and Cincinnati has put up the offensive numbers shown above while finishing eighth (in 2007) and 32nd (in 2008) in pass efficiency. In other words, it doesn't really matter who's under center -- Kelly makes the passing game go. The running game has always been somewhat of an afterthought (although not nearly to the extreme of a Mike Leach or Hal Mumme in terms of percentage), but there's no question that the guy can coach offense.

In fact, there's another bright young coach who comes to mind when I think of Kelly, one whose consistently high-scoring offenses brought immediate turnarounds and historic success to formerly anonymous mid-majors before he moved on to bigger and better things. The guy I'm thinking of is Urban Meyer, and things have worked out pretty well for him since making the jump to Florida.

And based on Kelly's track record, there's little doubt in my mind that he'll experience similar success when (not if) he gets the big-time job he deserves.