Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Meltdown in 3, 2, 1 ...

This might have been more appropriate about 10 days ago after Michigan State lost to Notre Dame, but with the Michigan-Michigan State game approaching, I can't help but reminisce about the 15 most entertaining minutes in radio history.

After the Spartans blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead to Brady Quinn and the Irish in 2006 -- capped off by a Terrail Lambert interception return for the game-winning touchdown with 2 minutes to play -- Detroit radio host Mike Valenti, a Michigan State alum and unabashed homer, absolutely lost his marbles and went off on an all-time epic rant that inspired this post from Notre Dame blog The House Rock Built:
Enter a sports radio program on AM 1270 in Michigan called The Sports Inferno, which featured, live on the air, the most heinous, depraved descent into that mirky blackness captured by our modern recording equipment. For fifteen glorious minutes, our valiant host slides down that spiral slide into the abysmal nothingness of grief and hatred for all the world to hear. Frightening? Yes. A guilty pleasure knowing you pushed him to that depravity? Don't tell anyone, but yes.

I can't build it up anymore, because the full clip is so priceless and unique that you absolutely absolutely must listen to it and experience it for yourself. It's ... amazing. Crazy amazing. Cramazing. Holy hell, stop reading this and just listen to it. In one of his more lucid moments, he demands the coaching staff be replaced by Teddy Ruxpin and HR Pufnstuf. Then, he starts saying some really weird shit.
This must be preserved for future generations. Enjoy (it's in two parts because of YouTube size limits):



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Catching up: Ouch

* In the category of Most Bizarre and Painful-Sounding Injuries, the award goes to ... USC running back Stafon Johnson, who dropped a bar on his neck while lifting weights Monday night and had to be rushed into emergency surgery, which lasted for seven hours and involved rebuilding his larynx. Yikes. Doctors now say that they expect a full recovery, which is awesome, but he's not expected to play against this year. I'm also guessing that he'll have a slight aversion to lifting weights in the future. As for USC, running back is probably the one position at which they could afford to lose a good player. Joe McKnight has received the bulk of the carries so far this year, and former top recruits C.J. Gable, Allen Bradford and Marc Tyler are waiting in the wings.

* Texas Tech tackle Brandon Carter, a preseason All-American, has been suspended indefinitely by Mike Leach and stripped of his captaincy for a violation of team rules. No specifics were given by either party, only this tweet from Carter:
I am not a captain anymore and will not be playing this week. Good luck red raiders ill still be cheering on my family from the stands!!:)
Whatever he did, I'll give him credit for staying supportive. Linebacker Marlon Williams, on the other hand, used his Twitter account the same day to bash Leach for showing up late to a meeting. Carter and Williams then both tweeted their frustration about the Raiders' consecutive losses, at which point Leach banned Twitter entirely. These are the stupid controversies that crop up when you get off to a disappointing 2-2 start.

* Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin, probably the fastest QB in the country (his only real competition is Michigan's Denard Robinson), is done for the year after tearing his ACL. This is devastating news for a Baylor team with a legitimate shot at the school's first bowl game in about 100 years (1994 was actually the last one); coach Art Briles' quote says it all:
When asked after Saturday night's game to rate on a scale of 1-to-10 his level of concern when Griffin remained on the ground, Briles responded, "We're stopping at 10? ... I like winning football games."
Fortunately for everyone who enjoys watching ridiculously athletic quarterbacks, Griffin is only a sophomore, so we should have two more years to watch him run circles around people.

* The Big Ten has selected Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman as the recipient of its weekly one-game suspension due to a helmet-to-helmet to hit on Illinois QB Eddie McGee. I don't think Coleman was aiming for McGee's head -- he just sort of launched himself into a pile that was falling forward -- but that's irrelevant to the Big Ten when it comes to suspensions. Jim Tressel made his feelings on the issue pretty clear:
"The decision to suspend [Coleman] points to the conference office's feeling as if there was poor judgment by the game officials for their decision not to eject at the time," the response said. "In our estimation, the final 'poor judgment' is in levying a one-game suspension."
Excellent. How much would he be fined if he was talking about NFL officials? $100,000? As for Coleman, his suspension should have little to no effect on the OSU defense against Indiana. The Hoosiers offense isn't terrible, but there's no way a team that's pitched two straight shutouts will be seriously challenged by guys like Ben Chappell and Darius Willis.

* Oregon cornerback Walter Thurmond is out for the season with a knee injury. Thurmond is Oregon's top corner, but given the state of the Pac-10's passing offenses, his loss might not be as painful as you'd think. The only two Pac-10 teams in the top 60 nationally in passing yards per game are Oregon State (35th) and Washington (38th), and while USC and Cal have the weapons to end up quite a bit higher, Oregon's already taken care of one of those two.

* Yankee Stadium -- yes, the one in New York -- will host the Yankee Bowl starting in 2010, with the Big East's No. 4 team playing the Big 12's No. 7 team. Considering the glut of crappy bowl games in places like Charlotte and Mobile, I've never understood why there couldn't be a couple outdoor bowl games in cold-weather locales. The Yankees apparently thought the same thing ... or they just saw the opportunity for some extra money. Whatever. There's obviously no need for a 35th bowl game, but as long as the NCAA keeps adding them -- and you know they will as long as enough cash can be rounded up -- there's no better spot than New York.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Charlie Weis survives another week

There's no way three straight down-to-the-wire finishes can be good for a 400-pound man's health. It's just not possible. But hey, as long as Notre Dame continues to employ him, Charlie Weis will take whatever wins he can get.

I wasn't sure exactly what ND's offense would like like minus Michael Floyd, but the struggles in the second and third quarters against Purdue pretty much affirmed that it won't be the same as what we saw in the first few games. Armando Allen's loss didn't help either, although Weis did a solid job of piecemealing together a running game with Jonas Gray, Dayne Crist and Golden Tate (who spent time at both tailback and wildcat QB).

The passing game, though, just wasn't the same. Tate had a whopping 57 receiving yards, and while Kyle Rudolph had a few big catches (including the game-saving touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 20 seconds left), there's no question now that Weis will have to make some adjustments against quality defenses like USC, Boston College, Pitt and Stanford for the Irish to have any chance at 10 wins.

Speaking of Rudolph's touchdown catch, watch his route on the final play (from the slot toward the top of the screen) ...



... and see if it looks familiar:



The funny thing is that he almost never had a chance to make that catch. When Purdue called timeout with 36 seconds left, ND was planning on spiking the ball (for some reason), which would have made the unsuccessful third-down play the fourth-down play.
"That kind of helped us out a little bit right there," Weis said. "We were going to clock it, so we made sure we had one play left. ... It didn't end up paying any dividends for us, because we didn't score on that third-down call. But we had an opportunity to gather our thoughts and get the right call for fourth down."
The obvious question: Why would you spike the ball with 36 seconds left? Even if takes 20 seconds to get a play in and get the ball snapped and then the play itself takes eight seconds, that still leaves eight more seconds on the clock. You only need one second left to run a play, of course, so I don't see any value in losing a play to save a few seconds in that situation.

Weis has never been known for his game-management skills, I suppose, but those are the little things that might make the difference if ND's offense takes a step back. It'll be interesting to see if Allen's return leads to more of a run-based offense or if Weis can figure out some other way to get the passing game clicking, because Floyd's loss was obviously huge.

Consider this: In the two and a half games before Floyd's broken collarbone, Clausen was 51-for-72 for 774 yards (10.75 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. In the game and a half since, he's gone 26-for-45 for 348 yards (7.73 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and one interception.

In this case, numbers tell the story.

A million people in Florida are holding their breath

Michigan's hopes this year ride on the right arm (and occasionally the legs) of Tate Forcier, so when he went to the turf in ugly fashion Saturday for the second time this year, my heart jumped into my throat. I was greatly relieved when he came back in a few plays later to finish the eventual game-winning drive -- his bruised/sprained shoulder shouldn't be anything more than a minor setback -- but the brief sense of panic wasn't something I enjoyed.

So I can't even imagine what it must have felt like to be a Florida fan on Saturday, watching in horror while Tim Tebow lay motionless on the field after hitting his head on a lineman's knee late in the third quarter of the Gators' obliteration of Kentucky.

Actually, I'm guessing most Gators fans looked a lot like Tebow: staring blankly into space, vomiting, mumbling, etc. Those people will be asking two questions tomorrow:

1. Have you heard any more about Tebow?
2. Do you have any Xanax?



There's no player in the country who's more important to his team; if college football had an MVP award, Tebow would be the unanimous choice. That became clear against Tennessee, when the running game was contained and the inexperienced receivers couldn't get open. When the Gators need to move the ball against a good defense, their one and only option is the 250-pound tank who's taking the snaps.

I don't doubt that Urban Meyer can adjust the offense to suit backup QB John Brantley -- the guy won a championship with Chris Leak as the starter just a few years ago -- but if Tebow misses any game time, that's gonna be a hell of a transition for a team that's been reliant on basically a wildcat package for the last two years.

This quote probably doesn't mean much ...
"Our medical and athletic training staff will continue to monitor him to determine how much rest and recovery he needs. We will have additional information and updates this week," Meyer said.
... but it's not exactly the "Tim will be ready to roll next week" comment everyone in Gainesville was hoping for.

Personally, I'll be pretty surprised if Tebow isn't back on the field after Florida's bye (which comes at an incredibly convenient time). I've never seen a QB who needs to win like Tebow does, so there's just no way he'll be standing on the sidelines against LSU (in Baton Rouge) for what's probably the biggest regular-season game of his senior year. The medical staff might put him in a straitjacket if his mental health is in danger, but if playing is an option, he'll be in the game.

If it isn't an option, though ... well, that's when things would get interesting. Death Valley wouldn't exactly be an ideal place for Brantley's first career start, and a loss there would throw everything into chaos. Would LSU be elevated to No. 1? Would Florida be heavily penalized for a Tebow-less loss? Would Colt McCoy become the runaway Heisman winner by default?

I don't root for Florida very often, but to be honest, I don't really want to find out the answers to those questions. It sucks to see a great team have its season shattered by a fluky injury, and Tebow deserves better than to miss out on an important chunk of his senior year.

Get well soon, Tim.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

What do we know?

In about a 48-hour span between Thursday night and Saturday night, one thing became painfully obvious: There are a total of three excellent teams this year.

I feel pretty comfortable saying that Florida, Texas and Alabama (not necessarily in that order) are all very good. After that, we just don't know. Mississippi? The offense was atrocious against South Carolina, whose defense gave up 41 points against Georgia just two weeks before. Penn State? I don't know if Iowa has some sort of voodoo hex over Joe Paterno, but for the second year in a row, the Hawkeyes' lines dominated on both sides of the ball and Darryl Clark fell apart. All you need to know is that Iowa put up nearly 200 rushing yards on Penn State's supposedly vaunted defense and Clark finished 12-for-32 with three interceptions. Cal? Ummm ... 42-3. Enough said.

And after those teams we have LSU -- I guess they're undefeated, but only after coming up with a miraculous goal-line stand with a minute left against an uninspiring Mississippi State team -- and Boise State just ahead of the group of already-exposed one-loss teams (Virginia Tech, USC, Oklahoma and Ohio State) and the who-knows-if-they're-any-good teams (Cincinnati, TCU and Houston).

I'm honestly not sure which of those teams I'd rank highest. Let's break things down:

* Boise State's win over Oregon was probably a little better than it first appeared. The Ducks' offense was horrendous that night, but I'm willing to concede that the Broncos' defense probably had a lot to do with that. Oregon, on the other hand, finally looked like I expected (on offense, anyway). If the Ducks can take down USC on Halloween night at Autzen, those Pac-10 title hopes should be in excellent shape.

* I have absolutely no explanation for what happened to Cal. How was Jahvid Best held to 55 yards on 16 carries? How did Jeremiah Masoli -- completing 45 percent of his passes for 126 yards per game before Saturday -- finish 21-for-24 for 253 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions? That was just a bizarre and inexplicable performance in every way, even if the Oregon team I expected at the beginning of the year finally showed up.

* Despite the opening-night loss to Alabama, Virginia Tech is pretty good. I predicted a win over Miami -- I didn't think Jacory Harris could keep up his spectacular play three weeks in a row, especially on the road against an elite defense -- but I never expected a 31-7 ass-whooping.

* Miami is a good team, but Jacory Harris isn't Tim Tebow and the Canes' offensive line still has issues against quality defenses. This is exactly why I had a problem with people skyrocketing Miami to No. 1 or No. 2 on their ballots last week -- the Canes have some obvious weaknesses, and it was just unrealistic to assume that those wouldn't be exploited at some point.

* LSU has two decent but fairly uninspiring road wins -- over Washington and Mississippi State -- and while I'll give them credit for doing enough to stay unbeaten, I just haven't been that impressed. We'll know way more about the Tigers after the next two games (at Georgia and home against Florida), but I'm not sure they'll win either one.

* There's a pretty good chance that Cincinnati will be unbeaten until at least November 13, when the Bearcats play West Virginia at home on a Friday night. Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in the country, and the offense can score on anybody (hence 47 points against Rutgers in Piscataway) ... but it's kind of hard to say what this team would do against someone like Ohio State or Oklahoma, and there's certainly no test like that coming in Big East play.

* Houston also has a pretty good shot at being unbeaten into November, but at least we have a point of comparison for the Cougars (two points, actually). Houston has beaten both Oklahoma State (which beat Georgia) and Texas Tech (which gave Texas a pretty good run), so I have no problem putting them in the top 15.

* USC has issues on offense. Any debate about that was put to rest by a 27-point performance at home against an embarrassingly bad Washington State team that had given up 30 points the week before to freakin' SMU. As good as the Trojans' defense is, I just don't think USC can score enough right now to keep up with the other elite teams in the country.

Where does that leave us? Well, the AP hasn't been generous enough to give me a ballot (please?), but my hypothetical top 10 would look something like this:

1. Florida
2. Alabama (I'm waffling between Alabama and Texas at No. 2)
3. Texas
4. Virginia Tech
5. Boise State
6. USC
7. Ohio State
8. LSU
9. Oklahoma
10. Miami

I know what you're thinking: AAAAAARRRGHGHGH BOISE STATE IN THE TOP FIVE?!?! Trust me, I know. But right now, I don't think there's a team any lower that I'd pick to beat the Broncos on a neutral field (USC seems incapable of losing to a nonconference opponent, but that can't last forever).

In other words, it's not that I think Boise is a dominant team, just that I can't find many teams that are better. Never have I been so in agreement with an AP voter:
"This was one of the toughest weeks I can remember in my 10 years of being a pollster, because after the top 3 there simply weren't any other squads that merited a top-10 ranking, much less a No. 4-5-6," said Barker Davis of The Washington Times in an e-mail.
Exactly. And if two of those three teams somehow end up with a loss ... man, I don't even wanna think about it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Catching up: Chip Kelly gives refunds

* In case you haven't read the story already, Oregon coach Chip Kelly recently received a letter from an angry fan who made the trip to Boise State to watch the Ducks embarrassed. It went something like this:
"The product on the field Thursday night is not something I was at all proud of, and I feel as though I'm entitled to my money back for the trip," Tony Seminary wrote.
Attached was an invoice for the guy's travel expenses, totaled to $439. Kelly's reaction: He got the fan's home address and mailed out a check, which was so shocking to Seminary that instead of cashing the check, he returned it with a thank-you note. Kelly wouldn't comment on the issue when asked about it Monday, but he deserves a big-time thumbs-up for taking the time and effort to appease a frustrated fan. The only problem is that he'll probably end up with about 30,000 letters if Oregon loses to Cal this weekend, which is pretty likely if Jeremiah Masoli posts another 4-for-16 performance like he had against Utah.

* I complained two days ago about the Big Ten's bizarre and arbitrary decision to suspend Jonas Mouton for basically slapping a Notre Dame lineman, but at least the conference is following its precedent (it's stupid, but it's a precedent):
The Big Ten Conference office announced that it will impose a one-game suspension on Purdue University football student-athlete Zach Reckman for violating the Big Ten Sportsmanlike Conduct Agreement during Purdue’s game against Northern Illinois on Sept. 19, 2009.
Reckman threw his body (and particularly his forearm) into an NIU player who had slid to the ground after recovering a fumble as time ran out at the end of the Huskies' win, but to be honest, I'm not sure he deserved a suspension any more than Mouton did. Was it unsportsmanlike? Obviously. But there are a LOT of relatively dirty things that go on in a football game, and I just feel like the Big Ten is setting itself up for some very awkward decisions when a dozen similar incidents start getting turned in each week by conference coaches.

* I don't know what's going on at Akron, but starting QB Chris Jacquemain has been "removed" from the roster after a team rules violation and assistant coach Reno Ferri has been placed on administrative leave and suspended with pay as the school conducts an internal review of NCAA compliance requirements. I can't find any details about whether the incidents are connected -- there are rumors that Jacquemain was involved in some, um, drug-related activities -- but it's obviously been a rough week for coach J.D. Brookhart. Jacquemain, a senior and three-year starter, will be replaced by sophomore Matt Rodgers.

* Auburn receiver Montez Billings, who led the team in catches and yards last season but had been suspended for the first four games this year due to an academic issue, has left the team. As a fifth-year senior, his career is over. The Tigers certainly aren't deep at receiver -- Darvin Adams is the only wideout with more than six catches this year -- but with Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb running wild and Gus Malzahn calling the plays, Billings' absence shouldn't have much of an impact.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Doug Lesmeresis likes to be different

I often look at the AP poll and wonder how Team X is rated above Team Y, and when I was younger, I assumed that it was just a difference of opinion -- when you have 65 (or whatever) voters, there are obviously going to be significant discrepancies. But I've come to the realization that the actual voting philosophy differs from person to person, and I can't figure out why.

Isn't the purpose of the poll to rank the teams in order of how good you think they are? That was always my assumption. But for people like Doug Lesmeresis of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that doesn't hold true, and his reasoning comes from a very literal interpretation of the ballot guidelines put out by The Associated Press:
Base your vote on performance, not reputation or preseason speculation.
Fair enough. But his ballot this week includes such oddities as Houston at No. 3, Cincinnati at No. 4, Florida at No. 5, Michigan at No. 10 and Ohio State at No. 22. Ummm ... yeah. I will give him some credit for thoroughly explaining his ballot each week, but this is where it falls apart:

First, my criteria.

1. Results
2. Results
3. Results
4. My ballot is a reflection of the past, not a prediction of the future.

As for the most common question from emailers questioning my sanity: Do I really think Team X would beat Team Y? Let's say, for example, do I really think Houston would beat Florida? Houston is No. 3 on my ballot, Florida is No. 5.

My answer: What I "think" is not what matters most. What I know is that Houston has more impressive on-field results this season than Florida.

Really? How does he know Houston has had more impressive on-field results this season? Beating Oklahoma State was nice, but how does he know that the Cowboys are that good? What makes that win better than, for example, Florida's win over Tennessee? The only way he can justify ranking Houston third is by arguing that Oklahoma State is a top-10 team, and the only way he can do that is by relying on preseason assumptions.

What about Michigan? Has UM performed better than Ohio State, whose only loss is the three-point heartbreaker to USC? Even as a Michigan fan, that'd be a difficult argument to make.

And what about Cincinnati? Big wins over Rutgers and Oregon State are nice, but neither of those teams is ranked. Florida is also 3-0, so what makes their two big wins and one relatively close win over Tennessee less impressive than Cincinnati's 3-0 start? His answer:
The Bearcats have two road wins against competitive BCS schools with 2-1 records - Rutgers and Oregon State. Road wins are always going to carry more weight than home wins. In between, Cincinnati came home and blew out Southeast Missouri State 70-3. I moved the Bearcats between No. 4 and No. 6, sliding behind Florida and Boise State, several times. But the fact that the best wins for Florida and Boise State were at home caused me to leave Cincinnati at No. 4.
So because Florida has beaten two cupcakes and one above-average team at home while Cincinnati has beaten two teams with winning records on the road, that means the Bearcats have performed better? I don't think that's necessarily a true statement. And if you apply that logic to a team like Boise State, who everyone agrees is very good but probably won't play a team all year that finishes in the top 25, you can see why this method is epically flawed. On Lesmeresis' ballot, each team can only be ranked as high as its schedule allows.

I guess this is where we differ. It's not difficult to tell which teams have performed the best -- just give me each team's record and strength of schedule, and the calculation is simple. That's basically what Lesmeresis is trying to replicate here, and I don't understand the purpose of having a poll to tell me this.

The purpose, in my opinion, is to tell me which teams you think are the best. I have a general idea going into the season (so does every AP voter -- that's why they have a preseason top 25), and each result -- more specifically, each performance -- influences that opinion. But losing a game or having a stretch against weak opponents doesn't necessarily make a team worse. I'm not going to assume that Miami is better than Florida just because Miami has beaten better teams through two or three games.

The same goes for head-to-head matchups. A close loss -- for example, Oklahoma's loss to BYU with Sam Bradford out for the second half -- wouldn't necessarily drop Oklahoma behind BYU on my ballot. I'm still confident that Oklahoma is a better team (especially after BYU got waxed by Florida State in Provo on Saturday), so I'm going to continue to rank the Sooners higher. I haven't heard many people arguing that Washington should be ranked ahead of USC, and for good reason -- no one can tell me that Washington is a better team. Think about this: If the Huskies' kicker had shanked that field goal, USC would still be in the top 10 and in the running for a national title, despite having nothing to do with the result of the kick. This is why you can't judge teams purely on record; you have to look at the in-game performance and combine it with your cumulative judgments from throughout the season.

And on a related note, why does a loss always cause a team drop? If LSU (ranked seventh) loses to Florida in two weeks on a last-second field goal, does that mean I should now assume that they're worse than seventh? NO!!! If they're that close in quality (depending on how each team plays) to the top-ranked team in the country, they're probably better than No. 7.

As you can see, my disputes are with the philosophy at large that leads to a lot of knee-jerk reactions, and Lesmeresis -- while he represents a different methodology -- is actually the prime example. USC beats Cal next week? Move 'em back up to No. 7, because they now have two excellent wins. Michigan crushes Indiana? Sorry, you're headed down 10 spots because Indiana is terrible and your strength of schedule now sucks.

I know it shouldn't matter since the AP poll doesn't actually count for anything, but if you're just gonna tell me who's beaten the best teams rather than giving me an opinion about who is the best team, don't bother voting. That's what the computers are for.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Catching up: Everybody's out for the season

* Matt Grothe, who has been the sole source of South Florida's offense for the past three and a half years, is done for the season after tearing his ACL on Saturday in a win over Charleston Southern. As a senior, Grothe's career is over. Also over: USF's hopes of winning the Big East. The offense was already severely lacking at the skill positions, and things won't be any better with freshman B.J. Daniels at the helm (he's athletic, but you've gotta be able to throw the ball, too). As for Grothe, he'll probably never make it in the NFL -- not very many 6-foot quarterbacks do -- but as the Big East's all-time leader in total offense and the QB for four consecutive bowl teams, he should take solace in knowing that he and coach Jim Leavitt are almost entirely responsible for USF being nationally relevant.

* Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, a third-team All-American last year who hasn't played yet this season because of a strained back, won't play again until 2010. Arizona has already begun adjusting by handing the ball to Nic Grigsby as much as possible (which is probably wise when your quarterbacks are Matt Scott and Nick Foles), but you'd be safe to bet against Arizona getting to 30 points in any Pac-10 game ... and no, Washington State doesn't count.

* Speaking of Washington State, leading rusher and former Cal transfer James Montgomery will miss the remainder of the season with a leg injury. Last year's starter, Dwight Tardy, was platooning with Montgomery and will likely pick up the remainder of the carries, but it doesn't matter much in the big picture. It's not like a team that just lost to SMU at home can get much worse.

* Boise State running back D.J. Harper ... yeah, you get the idea. He's out for the season with a torn ACL. Harper had been splitting carries right down the middle with Jeremy Avery, but a statement from Chris Petersen made it sound as though Avery would continue in his role while third-stringer (and sometimes defensive back) Doug Martin would slide into Harper's spot. Boise will probably end up in some shootouts this season, but this shouldn't be a huge blow -- Kellen Moore and his 166.59 pass efficiency ensure that the Broncos never have to really too much on their running game.

* Michigan center David Molk will miss four to six weeks (yay for non-season-ending injuries) with a broken foot. Molk is one of UM's top linemen, but guard David Moosman has played center in the past and will slide over in his place. The problem for Michigan is that Molk's injury comes just before an extremely tough stretch: After Indiana this week, UM travels to Michigan State and Iowa before returning home to play Delaware State and Penn State. There are two automatic wins in that stretch regardless of Molk's condition, but there are also three huge conference games that could determine whether Michigan wins seven games or nine this year.

* Nobody's out for the season at Florida, but a whole bunch of guys are missing practice because of the flu. Urban Meyer expressed some concern about his team's health Tuesday, and while Lane Kiffin might consider that a convenient excuse for Tennessee staying close on Saturday, Meyer is right to be worried. A virus ripping through a locker room and causing weeklong illnesses could be devastating for a football team -- especially one that plays at No. 7 LSU in 11 days.

* I think Kiffin has gotten a little bit of a bad rap at times -- things have snowballed since his arrival at UT to the point where anything even remotely controversial causes a media firestorm -- but a lot of that is his own doing, and the comments he made about Meyer's flu concerns Monday are a perfect example.
... asked whether he was worried about the flu also hitting Tennessee, he said: "I don't know. I guess we'll wait and after we're not excited about a performance, we'll tell you everybody was sick."
When players are sitting out practice and wearing surgical masks around the team training facility, they're obviously sick. I find it unlikely that Meyer and his staff spent their week planning a flu conspiracy in case the Gators actually had to play a close game. Kiffin knows this, of course, but he's been talking smack ever since he arrived and will continue to do so until the product on the field is worth paying attention to. I don't necessarily have a problem with that philosophy in general, but when he talks the talk -- "I'm looking forward to singing 'Rocky Top' all night long after we beat Florida" -- and his team doesn't walk the walk, it'd be nice if he'd show some humility and shut the fuck up for once.

Explain the math, please

You've probably seen this video, but Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton threw a sort of slap-punch last Saturday at the chin of Notre Dame center Eric Olsen after Olsen dove at him to throw a late block. Both players walked away and no flags were thrown. It appeared to be a non-issue.



Charlie Weis complained, Rich Rodriguez said he didn't see anything, and it all ended with the Big Ten announcing Friday afternoon that Mouton had been suspended for Saturday's game against Eastern Michigan.

My question: When did the Big Ten become the arbiter of on-field conduct -- especially for nonconference games -- and why did they wait until Friday afternoon to suspend somebody for a game that was set to take place less than 24 hours later?

It was bad enough that the walk-on who was thrown in as Mouton's replacement (Kevin Leach) got no practice reps whatsoever with UM's first-team defense, but the Big Ten shouldn't have been involved at all. Mouton's "punch" was incredibly minor compared with the famous James Kamoku leg-twisting incident that completely escaped punishment or Robert Reynolds' choking of Jim Sorgi that was left in the hands of Ohio State, and any disciplinary action should have been up to Rodriguez.

Brian at Mgoblog digs up this interesting response from just last year -- when former Michigan tight end (and lunatic) Carson Butler was ejected from the Notre Dame game after a much more blatant punch -- and compares it with the Mouton situation:
"Later in the day, though, a Michigan sports information official was told by the Big Ten that Butler was flagged for a flagrant foul and will not face an automatic suspension. If Butler had been ejected for fighting, he would have been suspended from the first half of the team's next game."

The math here: ejection for fighting = 1/2 of next game. Ejection for flagrant foul = no suspension. Act that should have drawn a flag — not an ejection — but didn't = 1 game.
In other words, a slap is twice as bad as getting ejected for fighting, and the Big Ten has decided this arbitrarily with no precedent whatsoever.

I’d have been pissed if I was Rodriguez or Mouton, and RichRod was 100% correct to call out Jim Delaney and publicly demand that these situations are treated equally in the future. You can’t make up rules as you go along and apply them whenever it’s convenient just to placate Charlie Weis (who, last I checked, was not even the coach of a Big Ten team).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oh, Sparty

It's amazing how Michigan State's ability to blow an imminently winnable game just never gets old. On Saturday, it was Kirk Cousins' turn to add his name to Spartans lore with this spectacular effort on the final drive:



Wwwwwhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeee! (In case you couldn't tell, I take extra delight in watching Michigan State lose in heartbreaking fashion.)

I'll give the Spartans some credit: They hung closer with Notre Dame than I ever expected them to, and Cousins was very good for about 59 minutes ... but the ending was just soooo Sparty-like that it's hard to remember any of the positives. I'm not expecting the typical MSU slide -- the defense is too good and the offense too balanced for that type of collapse -- but momentum and confidence mean a lot in college football, and I have a hard time believing that Michigan State has much of either right now.

The Irish, on the other hand, dodged a bullet. Charlie Weis owes Kyle McCarthy a steak dinner (I'm sure he knows a good place or two) for that last-minute interception, because it probably saved his job.

That job would be a lot easier if Michael Floyd wasn't made out of paper mache -- an apparent broken collarbone could be a huge blow to the ND offense -- but considering that just one good throw from Kirk Cousins on the final drive could have put the nail in Weis' proverbial coffin, I doubt he's complaining too much about anything right now.

Hard to believe ... kind of

Washington 16, USC 13. On a day filled with weird finishes, that one topped them all.

I've been trying to tell people for months that with Jake Locker back, Washington is an entirely different team than the one that went winless last year -- a near-upset in the opener against LSU confirmed that -- but I still never expected an upset of USC.

At the same time, though, it's gotten to the point where a USC loss to one of the worst teams in the conference is almost expected at some point. You never see it coming and the final score still seems shocking, but it happens pretty much every year. It's never the big games -- Ohio State, Cal, etc. -- it's Stanford or Oregon State or Washington.

Was Matt Barkley's shoulder injury the difference? Maybe. Aaron Corp really struggled, finishing with 110 passing yards and a pick and doing a whole lot of nothing on the final two drives. After Washington took a 13-10 lead early in the fourth, Corp didn't complete a pass the rest of the game. Barkley wasn't much better last week against Ohio State until the final drive, but with a tough road game already under his belt, it's hard to imagine that he'd have performed any worse than Corp did.

But regardless of who's under center, there are some legitimate questions right now about USC's offense. The 250 yards and 10 points through 57 minutes against Ohio State was understandable -- freshman QB, night game on the road, etc. -- but 110 passing yards and one total touchdown against Washington?

The guys standing on the other sideline probably had a lot to do with that, but not in the way you might think. USC has somehow survived as a dominant force for the last six years despite regularly losing elite assistants like Norm Chow, Lane Kiffin and Nick Holt, but at some point, there's bound to be a drop-off. The Trojans saw this a few years ago when Steve Sarkisian took over for Norm Chow as O-coordinator, and both coordinators (Mike Smith on offense and Rocky Seto on defense) are new this year.

Everyone knows about Sarkisian ending up at Washington, but there hasn't been as much talk about Holt, who was USC's defensive coordinator from 2006-08 (he was also USC's linebackers coach from 2000-03 before becoming head coach at Idaho). Where is Holt now?

Based on the photo at right, I'd say he's probably celebrating U-Dub's biggest win in years.

Looking at the big picture, Pete Carroll has to be concerned about his passing game. It's hard to say right now whether the problem lies more with the QB play or with the playcalling, but there's obviously something wrong, and this isn't the best time to be trying to find an offensive identity. Next week's home game against Washington State is an auto-win, but after that?

10/03 @ No. 8 California 8:00 PM
10/17 @ Notre Dame 3:30 PM
10/24 Oregon State
8:00 PM
10/31 @ Oregon 8:00 PM

USC is gonna have to score points, and the last two games have given everyone on the schedule a defensive blueprint. Things won't be getting any easier.

As for Washington, there's still a long way to go in the rebuilding process -- bowl eligibility would be a nice first step -- but it has to feel good to be relevant again. The question now is whether Sarkisian and Holt can get this team back into regular Pac-10 contention, and based on the first three games, I'd say they're off to a pretty good start.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How bad will it be?

Has there ever been a game with a 30-point spread that's gotten more hype than Florida-Tennessee? I kinda doubt it. I also really don't think Florida is 30 points better than Tennessee, but I have to imagine that some of those 30 points are coming from the assumed revenge factor.

Personally, I'm not so sure it'll be the blowout everyone's expecting. Florida might be this year's version of the GREATEST TEAM EVER, but Tennessee had one of the best rush defenses in the country last year, and with Monte Kiffin now in charge, I can't see even the genius of Urban Meyer being able to generate 40-plus points against the Vols.

The only question is whether Tennessee can get more than about 10. I don't think there's any way they can keep up if the Gators' offense plays anywhere near its capabilities, especially the way Jonathan Crompton looked last week against UCLA. When your senior starter inspires a post from Orson at Every Day Should Be Saturday titled "Five reasons why starting a giant catfish at quarterback for Tennessee is the right call" -- and I'm not entirely sure if he's joking -- that's not a good sign. I'm expecting mostly a run-run-run gameplan from Lane Kiffin, along with a whole lot of praying for turnovers and possibly a Tim Tebow injury.

You know that as bad as Meyer wants to KILL DEATH DESTROY Tennessee, Kiffin wants to win just as badly. Will it matter? Probably not, but I think the Vols understand how low the expectations are and will surprise some people by keeping it relatively competitive.

Prediction: Florida 30, Tennessee 13.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Miami thinks it's 1986

It was pretty clear when Miami knocked off Florida State last week that the Hurricanes' offense had taken one hell of a step forward from years past, but the defense ... eh, not so much. FSU didn't exactly struggle to move the ball, finishing with 34 points and nearly pulling off an epic game-winning drive.

And when you add in last year's 41-23 beatdown at the hands of Georgia Tech that saw the Yellow Jackets rack up a ridiculous 472 (!!!) rushing yards, it makes this line from Miami's 33-17 win Thursday night pretty shocking:


Ga. Tech
Miami
First Downs 12 21
Passing 4 13
Rushing 6 8
Penalty 2 0
Third Down Efficiency 6-14 8-13
Fourth Down Efficiency 0-2 0-0
TOTAL NET YARDS 228 454
Total Plays 54 64
Average Gain Per Play 4.2 7.1
NET YARDS RUSHING 95 184
Rushes 39 39
Average Per Rush 2.4 4.7

Yes, that's a 95 for Georgia Tech and a 184 for Miami, which should give you an indication of just how much better the Hurricanes' offensive and defensive lines are this year. The secondary was shaky against Florida State, but that might not be much of an issue against anyone other than Oklahoma. Look at Miami's competition in the ACC: North Carolina? Virginia Tech? Clemson? I don't see anything resembling an offensive juggernaut in that group.

Does that mean Miami is now the ACC favorite? Well ... I dunno. I still think Virginia Tech is a pretty good team, and playing in Blacksburg -- which Miami will have to do next week -- is never fun. But a win over the Hokies would all but guarantee the 'Canes a spot in the ACC title game, which is pretty freakin' remarkable when you consider that they were picked to finish fourth in their own division, will have faced an absolute gauntlet of a schedule to start the season and are being led by a sophomore QB in his first year as a full-time starter.

There's room to grow for this team, and that's a scary thought, because I'm not sure they need to get much better to be a national title contender again.

Because the Big Ten needed fewer good players

Illinois was a bizarre statistical outlier last year, finishing with basically better numbers across the board than in 2007 -- when they finished 9-3 -- only to end up with a 5-7 record. With most of the offense returning, a bounce-back year seemed likely ... until a supposedly rebuilding Missouri team took the Illini to the woodshed in the season opener.

And things aren't getting any better:
Illinois starting middle linebacker Martez Wilson will miss the remainder of the season with a neck injury, leaving an already unsteady defense with a major hole to fill.
Wilson was a five-star recruit as a defensive end but was moved to middle linebacker this year to replace J Leman (who had the greatest school photo in the history of photos), with the idea being that playing linebacker would allow his athleticism to have more of an impact on the defense as a whole. If you watched Missouri and Eastern Illinois put up a combined 673 passing yards against the Illinois defense the last two weeks, you can see what Ron Zook was thinking: He wanted his best athlete in position to make as many plays as possible, which hypothetically would help account for some severe deficiencies.

It's hard to say whether Wilson's presence in the middle would have made much of a difference over the course of the season, but I think we can safely say that what was already a bad defense won't be any better without him.

And with the next three games against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State, the time is now for Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn and the rest of the offense to step up and keep this season from spiraling out of control. Two games into the season might seem a little early for doom and gloom, but a possible 1-4 start -- with Michigan and Cincinnati still on the late-season horizon -- probably wasn't what Ron Zook had in mind a month ago.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jim Tressel has a downside

The bitching in Columbus has reached a fever pitch in the last 72 hours, with Jim Tressel the target of anger usually reserved for Michigan fans. When Ohio State lost 18-15 to USC on Saturday, it marked Tressel's sixth straight loss against a top-10 team, and this hasn't gone over well. This comment is from respected Ohio State blog Eleven Warriors:
The fact many of us didn’t honestly expect OSU to win (I predicted a 4 pt loss) doesn’t take away the sting because the game was given to USC via horrific game/clock management, slow development of players at key positions (ahem, QB, ahem) and an overall lack of discipline showing itself in penalties and poor fundamentals.
I'm not sure there's anything in that rant I can disagree with, and it doesn't really even delve into the biggest issue: OSU's offense (or lack thereof). The fact of the matter is that "Tresselball" has become a running joke among fans and critics alike, and despite having one of the most talented QBs in the country, when OSU got the ball back with a minute left against USC -- playing at home and needing only a field goal to tie -- everyone in the stadium knew the game was already over.

Ohio State's offense only exists at this point in a "keep our defense from getting exhausted and don't turn the ball over" mode. There is nothing else, and it's not because of talent; that's just the way Tressel has chosen to run his teams since he arrived in 2001, which has led to the problems cited above (lack of development, poor fundamentals, etc.).

I'm not the world's most brilliant football strategist by any means, so I'll yield to Smart Football:
Ohio State's gameplan against the Trojans was utter rubbish, and it failed to meet the number one requirement of every gameplan: put your players in position to succeed.
Ouch. There's a lot more to that analysis, and I highly recommend it for its thoroughness in ripping apart basically everything the Buckeyes did (or didn't do) offensively. But in summary, OSU's play-calling was indefensibly predictable. If this were just a one-game issue, it could easily be overlooked. Everybody has bad games. But while Tressel's defenses have been among the best nationally on a maddeningly consistent basis, the offense has been an ongoing problem; you can't simply hope that USC, Florida or Texas will gift you a win via turnovers while your defense shuts them down the same way it shuts down Northwestern. When talent is a wash, elite coaching will always win out.

With that in mind, here's USC linebacker Chris Galippo after Saturday's game:
"We talked about it all week. I saw them get into their roll-out formation ..."
Galippo is a first-year starter (as are nine of USC's 11 defenders), so the fact that he could recognize OSU's play based on the formation is all you need to know.

If this all sounds familiar, it should: USC's players made almost identical comments after kicking the crap out of Michigan in the 2006 Rose Bowl, and the OSU fans' complaints sound a lot like the constant grumble that plagued Lloyd Carr's final years as coach. Everyone in the stadium could tell you what play Michigan was running based on the formation and personnel, and to think that opposing coordinators couldn't do the same would be foolish.

Creativity and unpredictability might not be requirements for an effective offense, but they're definitely required if you want your offense to be effective against an equally talented defense.

The difference between Carr and Tressel (in regards to offense, anyway) is that Carr didn't call the plays; he simply continued to employ longtime friend Mike Debord, who had all the creativity of a robot, as offensive coordinator. Tressel, on the other hand, bears the sole responsibility for OSU's offensive ineptitude, which is baffling. For someone who seems to be a brilliant program manager, consistently churns out dominating defenses and has seen his offenses struggle against nearly every elite opponent in the last several years, why is he not willing to cede control to a respected offensive coordinator -- even if it's one who primarily sticks to his play-it-safe style?

There are coordinators out there who run a fairly basic, "safe" offense while still managing to produce on a somewhat regular basis against quality opponents -- USC, Georgia and LSU come to mind -- and Tressel's refusal to find someone who can do that for him is probably the most damning claim you can make about his tenure.

When John Cooper was fired in 2000, the reason was obvious: He could beat everyone except Michigan -- the opponent every OSU fan cares about the most -- and he couldn't win a national title because of that. Tressel has no problem beating Michigan (the fact that he consistently outcoached Carr from 2003-07 tells you just how predictable those Michigan teams were), but he can't beat anyone else of significance, which is just as problematic when the goal is a BCS championship.

Do I think he should be fired? No. It'd be great for Michigan, but it'd be an extreme overreaction. There probably aren't five better programs in the country right now than OSU, and anyone ignoring that is either blinded with anger or supports another Big Ten school and is tired of watching his team get beat. You don't win four straight Big Ten titles and play for three national championships in seven years without knowing what you're doing.

But Ohio State fans should demand an offensive coordinator who can provide something -- anything -- while developing some of the five-star talent that's being thrown away each year in an offense designed in 1973.

As for the game itself, OSU should feel no shame in losing, only disappointment in having the game in control for 56 minutes and not being able to put it away. There were issues besides coaching -- Pryor's terrible first-quarter interception, for one -- but this was a game OSU should have won, and that says one good thing and one bad thing about the Buckeyes.

The good: Well, they were in control for 56 minutes against a legitimate top-five team.

The bad: If they couldn't win at home against a vulnerable USC team with a freshman quarterback despite being in control for 56 minutes, when will they win a big game?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Un-freakin-believable

Pretty much everything I feared could happen in the Michigan-Notre Dame game actually did. To summarize:
  • Notre Dame ran for over five yards per carry.
  • Boubacar Cissoko was completely dominated by Michael Floyd.
  • UM's defensive line got absolutely no pressure on Jimmy Clausen.
  • Tate Forcier threw a costly interception.
  • Brandon Minor's lingering ankle injury caused him to be held out for significant chunks of the game.
  • Notre Dame had an answer (several answers, actually) for Michigan's zone-read plays.
I assumed before the game that just about any one of those things would have resulted in a Michigan loss, and they all happened. None of it mattered, though, because of this:



I've spent the last 36 hours or so just letting it all soak in and trying to figure out what to say, and I still don't know. I just can't talk coherently about the game as a whole when there were so many momentum shifts and crazy plays, so I'm gonna break this post into bullet points to try to make it as readable as possible. Here we go ...

* Notre Dame is the better team and probably should have won. As noted above, the Irish did whatever they wanted on offense, and if not for a couple of costly penalties and unfortunate injuries (more about those momentarily), ND would be 2-0 right now.

* The difference in the game, in my opinion, was the incredibly untimely injuries of Armando Allen and Michael Floyd. Allen had been slicing through Michigan's D-line all day, and if he'd been available on the final drive, a couple running plays and a first down would have wrapped things up. As for Floyd ... well, he made Cissoko -- a former top-100 recruit -- look like a scout-teamer. The third-down play with about 2:30 left in the game, where freshman Shaquelle Evans was late turning to the ball on a deep out on third-and-10, was an easy completion all day with Floyd in the game.

* Tate Forcier has balls the size of my head and is everything he was advertised to be in spring practice. I've never seen a freshman with such an incredible understanding of what to do with the football (both throwing and running), and his accuracy is just ridiculous. The third-down TD pass to Kevin Koger with two defenders in his face, the juke move that led to a 31-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-3, the terrifyingly improvisational throw to LaTerryal Savoy that resulted in a first down at the Notre Dame 4-yard line with 22 seconds left, the ice-water-in-his-veins throw to Greg Mathews for the game-winner ... I could go on all day. The kid is a fucking player.

* I didn't think there was anything particularly controversial while watching live, but apparently there's been quite an outcry from the Notre Dame fans about the supposedly horrific officiating. Of the main complaints, though, I don't think any are justified.
  • The clock going from 11 seconds to 9 seconds before the final play? That was 100% correct, as the replay clearly showed that Theo Riddick deflected the ball before it rolled into the endzone. If anything, a little more time should have run off. This was thoroughly explained in the postgame wrap-up.
  • The holding calls? I'd be happy to point out a half-dozen missed ones, particularly when Craig Roh had his shoulder pad ripped out of his jersey on Notre Dame's crucial first-down pickup on a 13-yard run by Allen with three minutes to play.
  • The overturned touchdown in the first quarter? I honestly thought from the replay that Allen stepped out of bounds, but I wasn't sure if it was definitive enough to overturn. I suppose you could complain that the officials didn't have "indisputable evidence," but they got the call right (I can now say that without hesitation, because the Notre Dame television station actually captured a great screen shot of Allen's foot going out of bounds).
The only call I can understand being upset about was the officials' decision on the game's final play to let the clock run out. It looked to me like Golden Tate was down when he lost the ball, so there probably should have been a second left on the clock, which would have given the Irish the opportunity to take their last timeout and set up a Hail Mary.

* Throwing the ball twice with under three minutes left might not have been the safe call, but I believe it was the right one. A running play on second down might have made the third-down play a little more manageable, but with Allen out of the game and Clausen absolutely picking apart Michigan's secondary (outside of Donovan Warren, who had an outstanding game), passing in that situation was ND's best bet at a game-clinching first down. The only thing I question is throwing a bomb on second down. It didn't matter in that situation whether the Irish got 10 yards or 40 yards -- the first down was all that mattered -- so the 15-yard out pattern to Golden Tate that was open all day probably would have been the way to go.

* Forcier's interception in the fourth quarter wasn't a "freshman mistake" -- Mathews, a senior and three-year starter, clearly was unsure about his pattern there, as he didn't even turn to look for the ball until it was zipping past him into Kyle McCarthy's waiting arms. Mathews even acknowledged his mistake after the game, so it was pretty sweet that Savoy's drop with 16 seconds left (which nearly caused my heart to explode) gave him the opportunity to go from goat to hero in one of the last big home games of his career.

* Notre Dame will win 10 games this year. There isn't a better receiving tandem in the country than Floyd and Tate, and nobody except USC will have any chance at covering both of those guys. The offensive line was also way better than I expected, containing -- and occasionally holding -- a dominant pass-rushing defensive end (Brandon Graham) and an extremely talented young defensive tackle (Mike Martin) while creating holes all over the place in the running game, which has been this offense's biggest weakness since Charlie Weis took over.

* Rich Rodriguez must feel like a million bucks right now, and rightfully so. For everyone who's been defending him over the last 13 months, this was justification of what we know is possible from the Rodriguez offense when you have (1) a quarterback and (2) players who have some idea of what they're doing. Despite some inconsistency from the running game -- mostly due to mediocre play on the offensive line -- and the absence of Junior Hemingway, who is probably the team's best all-around receiver, UM put up 430 yards and 38 points against a solid Notre Dame defense. It's not exactly USC's circa 2008, but it's not Western Michigan's, either. And considering that Michigan loses only four offensive starters (Mathews, Minor, guard David Moosman and tackle Mark Ortmann) to graduation, things are only gonna get better.

* I'm not completely throwing away my original expectation of 7-5 this year, but to say I'm more optimistic than I was two weeks ago would be a hell of an understatement. One of the hardest lessons I learned from last season was to keep my expectations in check and not take anything for granted, but I haven't been this excited about the future of Michigan football in a long time -- and if feels amazing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

7 hours of football worth watching

So ... there are basically two games this weekend that are of interest on a national level: USC at Ohio State and Notre Dame at Michigan. I never thought the Notre Dame-Michigan matchup would be this hyped a week ago, when I was terrified of everything about UM's season, but here we are.

If you've been listening to the talking heads on ESPN, you've heard something like this: "The Big Ten's reputation is at stake! No speed big games Jim Tressel Rich Rodriguez hot seat blah blah blah." But really, I don't think there's much of a downside this weekend for the conference as a whole. Both Big Ten teams are underdogs despite playing at home, so if both lose, the national sentiment will basically just stay the same: Ohio State can't win a big game and the middle of the Big Ten is somewhere between mediocre and poor. It'd be hard to argue either of those points.

But if either team wins, the positive attention would mean a lot for both the schools and the conference. UM would be staring at a near-certain 4-0 start (Eastern Michigan and Indiana are next on the schedule) and a possible eight- or nine-win season with a victory over the Irish, while an Ohio State win over USC would not only quiet a lot of the big-game criticism but also remove the Buckeyes' most significant hurdle to an undefeated season. Other than Penn State, I don't see a very serious challenge in Big Ten play.

Big games are all the general public really pays attention to, so the Big Ten's perception meter could potentially swing from "sucky" to "respectable" with a win or two this weekend, and those wins could have an even bigger effect on each team's season.

Looking at the USC-Ohio State game, here are the storylines that Brent Musburger will drill into your head for a solid four hours:
  • USC freshman quarterback
  • Terrelle Pryor runs a (fake) 4.3
  • Matt Barkley is a freshman
  • Terrelle Pryor is fast
  • Matt Barkley
  • Terrelle Pryor
  • Matt Barkley
  • Terrelle Pryor
Soak it in. While I'd like to provide you with some unique and intriguing insight, I have to agree with the general consensus that Barkley's performance will decide the game. Pryor still isn't consistent enough as a passer to threaten USC's back seven, and despite the inexperience on defense, USC's athletes will be able to contain him on the ground. I don't think Ohio State scores more than 21 points.

The OSU defense is a lot better than it looked against Navy (a few big plays in the fourth quarter skewed the numbers), but the Trojans' running game will be able to produce against anybody. So what I'm getting to is that if Barkley can effectively move the ball -- I'm thinking around 200 yards and at least one touchdown -- while not throwing any costly interceptions, USC will win. If the Buckeyes get any points out of their defense or special teams, Ohio State will win. There won't be as much scoring as people think, and while I was leaning toward toward OSU earlier in the week, I just can't pick against USC in a big nonconference game. I'll say 23-16 Trojans.

As for TraditionFest 2009 in Ann Arbor ... man, I just don't know. What I do know is that Michigan's offense is about 10 miles ahead of where it was last year. The obvious difference is that UM now has QBs who can run AND throw, as opposed to neither one, but the unit as a whole just has a far better grasp on the little things (blocking on bubble screens, finding holes in zone coverage, etc.) and has even added a few wrinkles (like pulling the tight end around on zone-read plays to seal the backside defensive end). And based on the way Michigan moved the ball last year -- in monsoon conditions in South Bend -- I can't see UM being held to fewer than 20 points unless the freshman quarterbacks just struggle to consistently hit receivers, which is possible because they're, you know, freshmen.

The defense also looked shockingly good against Western Michigan's solid Tim Hiller-led passing game, but Hiller is not Jimmy Clausen and Juan Nunez certainly isn't Michael Floyd or Golden Tate. UM's linebackers and safeties are suspect in pass coverage, so I'm concerned that there will be at least a couple of big pass plays for the ND offense. But if that's all UM gives up -- if the defensive line can pressure Clausen consistently and shut down the Irish running game without much help from the back seven -- Michigan will win.

Unfortunately, I don't have enough faith in all those things happening -- not yet, anyway. I love the fact that it's at home, but I think Notre Dame's experience advantage will be just a little bit too much. I'm going with a 27-24 win for the Golden Domers, meaning that unless they blow two of their three remaining toss-up games (Michigan State, Pitt and Stanford), Charlie Weis will probably be around for at least another year.

And to anyone who's seriously debating whether this game means more to Weis or Rich Rodriguez, it's not close: A loss would put Weis in must-win mode from here on out, because anything less than nine wins will end his tenure at Notre Dame. RichRod could certainly use a win, but mostly because of what it would mean for UM's season outlook -- as mentioned above, a victory over ND would likely mean a minimum of seven wins this year (possibly a few more) and comfortable bowl eligibility, which would spin the media coverage 180 degrees and have everyone talking about how quickly Michigan has become Michigan again.

Your statistic of the week (which I can only hope repeats itself) comes courtesy of ESPN: This will be only the second time in the history of the series that Michigan has been unranked and Notre Dame has been ranked at the time of their meeting. The previous occurrence was in 1985, when Michigan won and went on to finish 10-1-1. Notre Dame finished 5-6 and fired coach Gerry Faust. Hmmmm ....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Terrelle Pryor probably isn't a murderer

I don't know how I forgot to post this over the weekend, but Terrelle Pryor offered up the postgame quote of the year on Saturday -- and it had absolutely nothing to do with Ohio State's win over Navy.

In case you didn't see the game, Pryor was wearing eyeblack stickers (partially visible above) with "Vick" written on them, which seemed a little odd. When asked about it after the game, this was Pryor's hilarious response:
"I just feel that, I mean, he made his mistake and ... not everybody’s the perfect person in the world. I mean everyone kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me, whatever."
Ummm ... what?!? I can't speak for Pryor, but I'm pretty sure that a large majority of us don't kill people. And was that an effort to defend Michael Vick? If so, he'd probably prefer that Pryor just kept his mouth closed. I don't think the Philadelphia Eagles will be deploying "Everyone kills people!" as a marketing slogan anytime soon.

What was even more absurd than Pryor's comment, though, was Yahoo writer Dan Wetzel's take on the situation. Wetzel completely flew off the handle Wednesday, claiming that Pryor's First Amendment right to freedom of expression is being destroyed as writers and fans criticize a victim of oppression:
They’ve forgotten that campuses are supposed to be marketplaces of ideas where a diversity of thought is encouraged. They’ve rejected that college is supposed to be a time for young people to find their voice.
OK, I'm all for "diversity" and allowing "young people to find their voice," and I have no problem whatsoever with Pryor supporting Vick and his return to the NFL. That's his right. But don't tell me about the First Amendment and then tell me I can't criticize an incredibly thoughtless comment like "everyone kills people."

I'm fairly sure that Pryor's intent wasn't to sound like a murderer -- words don't always convey the exact message intended -- but even if he's the nicest guy in the world (as Jim Tressel claims), when you're a big-time athlete in the media spotlight, you've gotta think before you open your mouth.

Hurricanes' season forecast looking good

Monday night's game between Miami and Florida State was probably the best so far this season. It didn't feel quite like the old days -- Miami wasn't even ranked -- but to see the two longtime rivals looking like legitimate ACC contenders was strangely satisfying for someone who's never been a fan of either one.

I'm not ready to go all Mark Schlabach on you and declare that Miami has returned to national prominence or that this game "was nearly as good as watching Boise State pull off a hook-and-lateral and Statue of Liberty against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl ... almost as good as watching Vince Young run into the end zone to beat USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl to win the national championship," because that's just ridiculous. It was a season opener, and until the fourth quarter, it didn't look much different than most FSU-Miami games.

But the thing that's been missing from this series for years has been offense, and the biggest news from Monday night is that both teams have one. Jacory Harris is seriously talented, and the comeback he engineered after an excruciatingly painful-looking hit on his right arm by FSU defensive back Greg Reid was nothing short of phenomenal. When was the last time you said that about a Miami quarterback?

Christian Ponder was just as good in defeat, matching Harris throw for throw and adding a couple huge QB draws that could have (and probably should have) been the difference in the game. For all the gut-wrenching missed field goals Florida State has endured, watching that final pass slip to the turf in the endzone as time expired had to be right up on there on the devastation scale.

But whether the Seminoles lost the game or the Hurricanes won it, there might not be a team in college football that feels better about its situation right now than Miami, and not just because of Monday night's victory. What once appeared to be an absolutely brutal stretch against four straight ranked teams -- Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma -- looks significantly more manageable after the first week of play. Georgia Tech's running game will be a different kind of test for Miami's defense, but Virginia Tech looked so abysmal against Alabama that I don't think a Miami upset is out of the question. As for Oklahoma, just see my previous post. If Miami's offense plays all season like it did Monday night, they'll be able to compete with anybody.

The stars are aligning nicely for the Hurricanes, and while I highly doubt that they can get through the aforementioned stretch undefeated, a 3-1 mark would put them in great position for a 10- or 11-win regular season and a possible ACC title. That might not seem all that spectacular compared with the great Hurricane teams of yore, but keep in mind that Miami hasn't won more than nine games since 2003. Gotta go one step at a time.

On a related note, your unintentional comedy of the week comes from the New York Post, where the page designers apparently don't know anything about college sports:
I suppose the one on the left is technically Miami, but it seems like that "Gators" emblem would be kinda hard to miss.