Friday, February 26, 2010

Iowa fans win

I vaguely remember the 2002 Iowa team as a Brad Banks-led juggernaut that smoked Michigan in Ann Arbor, went undefeated in conference play and lost to USC in the Orange Bowl. Banks was a Heisman finalist, Kirk Ferentz was suddenly an NFL coaching candidate, etc.

Thanks to Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants, I now have one more hilarious reason to remember that team (or at least the fans of that team). He starts off discussing Iowa's ownage of Minnesota over the past decade before getting to the good stuff:
But it all began in 2002, as the most surreal season in the history of the program came to a close in Minneapolis. Iowa spanked Minnesota 45-21 to finish Big Ten play undefeated for the first time in program history, close out an 11-1 campaign, and send the Hawkeyes to a BCS game for the first time ever. The Iowa fans in attendance -- and, by midway through the fourth quarter, Iowa fans were all who remained in attendance -- threw roses on the field. Then they threw themselves on the field. Then they lifted their collective leg and staked claim to the Metrodome in one of the all-time great moments in ownage, tearing down Minnesota's goalposts and attempting to carry them out of the stadium. To this day, it remains the ultimate trump card in any discussion of the Iowa-Minnesota rivalry.
Ummm ... what?!? That's gotta be an exaggeration, right?

Wow. Just wow. If Iowa and Minnesota ever go to war, I'm on Iowa's side.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Some real predictions about Michigan

As usual, Mgoblog is way ahead of the curve when it comes to actual, insightful research about a controversial situation. Brian got ahold of some anonymous NCAA compliance blogger (apparently this does exist) who goes by Compliance Guy, and he got some real answers about Michigan's current situations and likely penalties. Click here to read it.

His summary is mostly in line with the expectations I laid out yesterday, although he believes the final punishment (self-imposed or from the NCAA) will be a bit more harsh. Points:

* The final finding from the Committee on Infractions will look pretty much the same as what was released yesterday. All the charges will probably be considered major violations, with the possible of exception of the practice time overage (which, ironically, is what the Free Press exaggerated to a ridiculous extent to start the entire investigation).

* None of the penalties will be considered severe major violations. The worst is actually the "failure to monitor" charge against the university for not keeping track of the practice logs or communicating accurate compliance information to the football program, which led to the apparent rule misinterpretations.

* The allegation regarding the lying grad assistant probably won't amount to anything as long as he's fired. It will follow the coach around, but it won't hurt the university.

* The likely penalties are:
  • A reduction in countable coaches (one coach will have to be reassigned to a noncoaching position);
  • A reduction in practice with a shorter spring season in 2011 and/or reduced hour limits;
  • Possibly recruiting restrictions, including limiting the number of coaches off-campus at any one time;
  • Possibly a reduction of around three scholarships for a year or two;
  • 3-4 years probation (longer due to repeat violator status)
  • I should have included the part about a reduction in countable coaches in my post yesterday, and probation was an obvious one. The thing I forgot about is the "repeat violator" status, which stems from the Ed Martin scandal that took place 20 years and two basketball coaches ago. Basically, it took the NCAA so long to build its case and finalize penalties that UM is still on probation. Lame.

    But anyway, there you go. A shorter spring practice (or one with reduced hours), one reassigned strength/position coach, a reduction of two or three scholarships for a year and three or four years of probation. I'm a little surprised that he expects as many as three scholarships to get cut, but that basically just means a few walk-ons who would have otherwise earned some financial help won't get it. I don't see anything with long-term ramifications or anything that'll have a real effect on the on-field product.

    And that's pretty much what I wanted, because as I said yesterday, there's no reason that these allegations -- especially compared with what's going on at some other schools (ahem USC/Alabama/Michigan State/Clemson) -- should result in anything serious.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Those lying, cheating bastards

    In case you've been buried under a rock today, you know that the NCAA released the findings of its investigation into Michigan's football team.

    The results weren't really GOOD for Michigan, but they weren't anywhere near as bad as what was alleged by the Detroit Free Press back in August in a report that was ripped apart at the time by me and many other educated people.

    Here's the gist of it, nicely summarized by ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg:
    1. Five Michigan quality control staffers regularly engaged in both on-field and off-field coaching activities that are prohibited by NCAA rules. By engaging in these activities, Michigan exceeded the limit on number of coaches who can engage in these activities. Quality control personnel are alleged to have coached players two days a week in offseason workouts, warm-up activities during the season and film study, and they also attended meetings that involved coaching activities.

    2. Michigan violated NCAA rules by having football staff members "monitor and conduct voluntary summer workouts, conduct impermissible activities outside the playing season, require football student-athletes to participate in summer conditioning activities for disciplinary purposes [missing class], and exceed time limits for countable athletically related activities during and outside the playing season." This seems to be the most serious charge and the one that sparked the Detroit Free Press report and the investigation. Here are some of the specifics:

    * In two separate offseason periods in both 2008 and 2009, football players were sometimes required to participate in up to 10 hours of athletic activities or weight training/conditioning, which exceeds the limit of eight hours.
    * During the 2008 season, players were sometimes required to participate for up to five hours a day in "countable athletically related activities," exceeding the maximum of four hours. The staff exceeded the 20-hour-a-week limit by 20 minutes during the week of Oct. 19, 2008.
    * During September 2009, football players were required to participate in four and a half hours of activities per day, exceeding the NCAA limit by 30 minutes. The report identifies four dates in question: Sept. 7, Sept. 14, Sept. 21, Sept. 28.

    3. Graduate assistant Alex Herron is accused "providing false and misleading information" to both Michigan and the NCAA enforcement staff when asked about the allegations. He denied being present for 7-on-7 passing drills in the summers of 2008 and 2009 when he allegedly conducted the sessions.

    4. Because of the first two allegations (detailed above), Rodriguez is alleged to have "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program and failed to adequately monitor the duties and activities of the quality control staff members, a graduate assistant coach and a student assistant coach, and the time limits for athletically related activities."

    5. Because of the first two allegations, Michigan's athletics department is alleged to have "failed to adequately monitor its football program to assure compliance." Compliance staff members became concerned about the duties of the quality control coaches in the winter of 2008 but didn't gather enough information to determine potential problems. The strength and conditioning staff didn't calculate time limits for offseason workouts or effectively communicate information to the compliance office. This resulted in the compliance office approving miscalculated activities and failing to follow its own policies for monitoring these activities. Athletics staff also failed to provide the forms showing countable activities to the compliance office.
    To answer the obvious question: Yes, this happens everywhere (and I do mean everywhere). Think I'm too biased and that I'm just trying to defend Michigan? Fine. I'll cede the floor to Yahoo's Dr. Saturday:
    Stare into the face of bureaucracy, Michigan, and quiver at its awesome power.

    Know also that every program in the country -- and I'm pretty confident when I say every program -- would run afoul of at least one of those infractions (or similar ones; it's a big manual) on a somewhat regular basis, as the minimum cost of employing fallible human being while continuing to dead-lift with the Joneses. Other programs, however, weren't the target of an investigation by a major metropolitan newspaper that left no stone unturned in its efforts to make a splash against a high-profile program. Michigan was, which is why it was Michigan's coach, president and new athletic director (not even officially on the job for two more weeks) in front of the cameras today feigning contrition over barely spilt milk.
    It's wildly irritating to see this happening at UM while it's clear that there are programs all over the country blatantly flouting NCAA rules and general moral standards, but whatever. It is what it is.

    To summarize, the whole report can be boiled down to two things:

    1. Michigan believed 20 minutes of each practice (two hours a week when added up) counted as voluntary stretching and preparation. The NCAA disagreed. This will probably lead to a filing by Michigan explaining its side of the argument, and nothing will come of it because this is an extremely gray area in the NCAA rule book.

    2. Quality control coaches (graduate assistants) observed "voluntary" summer workouts, and one of them lied about it when questioned by the NCAA. This is a little more clear-cut, as it's basically forbidden for anyone except trainers to be doing anything at summer workouts. The tricky thing is that graduate assistants are paid interns and don't count toward the NCAA limit on number of coaches, so do they count the same as coaches for practice involvement? Probably, but that's another gray area. Then again, for a coach who's been around for a long time, it's something Rodriguez probably shouldn't have risked.

    Basically everything else in the report is in reference to Rodriguez and the school's compliance department failing to catch and stop those two issues.

    There are a total of five violations. You might see in some places that there are five MAJOR violations, but that's incorrect. All five are called "potential major violations," which simply means that they might be major violations and they might be secondary violations -- it'll depend on the school's response (via a rebuttal to the allegations or self-imposed punishment, probably some of each).

    You can be pretty sure that Alex Herron, the GA accused of outright lying to the NCAA, is as good as gone. No one else is accused of lying, so the assumption here is that the lies were to cover his own ass and that removing him from the department should take care of that problem with the NCAA.

    Incoming athletic director Dave Brandon also made it clear that the UM compliance system for practice time reports is being revamped, which should serve as evidence that the school has taken care of any communication issues and isn't intentionally turning a blind eye to NCAA compliance. The same goes for the football team, obviously.

    My only real concern is with the QC staff being present at summer workouts. That's something it will be a little difficult to get out of, especially if the NCAA had enough evidence to decide that one of the people in attendance was lying about his direct involvement. This is a fairly minor thing in the big picture, but my guess is that UM will self-impose a couple penalties to fend off any punishment from the NCAA (not that anything serious would happen, but it looks better to slap yourself on the wrist than to have somebody else do it).

    A realistic guess: The football team loses a couple days of offseason practice (or cuts a couple practices short) and docks itself a scholarship for one or two years, which is more than sufficient punishment.

    For all the people saying "but but but RichRod's contract says he can be fired for major violations!": Yes, I'm sure it does. And I'm sure there would be a lot of elite coaches lining up to take over a rebuilding team at a school that just fired its coach after two years. Stop.

    Brandon made it as clear as can be at Tuesday's press conference:
    “Rich Rodriguez is our football coach. He’ll be our football coach next year. There is nothing that I see in what has come up in the notice of allegation or our internal investigation that leads me to believe that there should be any change in the status of our football coach.”
    That takes care of it, I'd say.

    The long and the short of it is that these are piddling, delving-into-the-gray-areas allegations. There's just no way the NCAA comes down hard on UM for anything in this report, because doing so would open up a ginormous can of worms. Literally any newspaper anywhere could do a FOIA request and get some practice logs and show that Big State University (woo "He Got Game" reference) went over the allowed time limit one day in July of 2003, and the precedent would be set for major penalties. The same is true with the quality control coaches and their level of involvement. It's just not gonna happen.

    And when UM announces in a few months that it will self-impose some minimal, barely noticeable penalties that won't have any real effect on anything, that'll be the end of it -- especially with a ruling on the three-years-in-the-works USC case coming in the near future. Michigan's case was peanuts compared with USC's. UM gets a brief mention on Sportscenter and the third spot on ESPN's "Top Stories" list; USC will get its own Outside the Lines special and a full week of Mark Schlabach, Joe Schad and Pat Forde poring over the long-term ramifications, whatever they may be.

    So yeah, once this works its way off the front page and we actually have something interesting to talk about, it'll be quickly forgotten. RichRod will still be coaching come football season and all the Free Press ridiculousness will have had no tangible effect on Michigan in any way, which is exactly how it should be.

    Is it September yet?

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    A dozen young'uns to watch

    OK, so Signing Day happened two weeks ago. A bunch of guys you don't know much about signed with a bunch of different schools, and now they'll be forgotten for a while.

    Most of them will, anyway. But a few guys always step up as freshmen and make themselves known immediately, usually because they're in the perfect system or at a position that's barren of talent or experience. If your primary competition is a walk-on, there's a good chance you'll be seeing more than just special-teams duty.

    Which guys will be doing that this year? Here's my best guess:

    1. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Oregon. Seastrunk's a five-star lightning bolt from Texas with absurd speed and change-of-direction ability. You think LaMichael James is fast? Wait til you see Seastrunk. I had him near the top of this list even before James was arrested Wednesday on a domestic violence charge, and there's a chance now that he'll be the starter for Oregon's season opener. Don't be surprised at all if Seastrunk makes a name for himself as the next Steve Slaton/Reggie Bush and runs for 1,000-plus yards this fall.

    2. Michael Dyer, RB, Auburn. With Ben Tate and his 1,400 yards out of eligibility, Auburn needs a running back. Enter Dyer, a five-star guy in the top 20 overall on Rivals who reminds me a lot of Mark Ingram. He doesn't have elite speed, but he's a 5-foot-8, 210-pound bowling ball who's fast enough and has fantastic moves and balance. I expect Dyer to get immediate playing time, probably platooning with little speedster Ontario McCalebb and getting close to 200 carries.

    3. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina. Notice a theme here? Steve Spurrier has a couple decent running backs at his disposal, but there's nobody at Lattimore's level; he was Rivals' top running back and the No. 10 player in the country. He's a bigger guy (6 feet, 210 pounds) with an unusual upright running style sort of similar to Herschel Walker or Adrian Peterson. He might not find a whole lot of holes behind South Carolina's O-line, but he'll get plenty of chances.

    4. Andrew Hendrix, QB, Notre Dame. Redshirt sophomore Dayne Crist is the only scholarship QB currently on the roster and will likely be the starter after seeing a handful of snaps last year behind Jimmy Clausen. He also tore his ACL in November and won't be available for spring practice, meaning one of ND's freshman QBs will have a chance to earn some playing time. Hendrix has a little bit of competition in Luke Massa and Tommy Rees, but neither of those guys came with Hendrix's hype (he was a high four-star with offers from just about every major school nationally). Hendrix should have a chance to compete for the starting job right off the bat, and I wouldn't be shocked if he wins it.

    5. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA. For the record, I just copied and pasted his name rather than spending five minutes trying to make sure I spelled it correctly. Anyway, UCLA was sorely lacking a pass-rushing defensive end last year; Brian Price absorbed double-teams on a regular basis and still easily led the team with seven sacks. Odighizuwa is a big-time recruit -- rated eighth overall nationally by Rivals -- and could have gone absolutely anywhere he wanted. He's an unreal athlete and will likely start as a true freshman.

    6. Chris Martin, DE, Cal. Jeff Tedford somehow brought in two five-star guys (safety Keenan Allen was the other), and both have a decent shot at starting as freshmen. Martin has been compared to Julius Peppers and should fill a serious pass-rushing void that might be even worse than UCLA's. The defensive tackles (departing senior Tyson Alualu and stud sophomore Cameron Jordan) combined for 13.5 sacks; no other D-lineman had more than two.

    7. Keenan Allen, S/WR, Cal. The "other" five-star Cal recruit, Allen has absurd athleticism and put it on display as a return man at the Army All-America Bowl. Nobody's quite sure where he'll end up in college -- Rivals says defensive back, but ESPN and MaxPreps rate him as an athlete -- but he's shown that he can do anything. As a senior in high school he scored 53 (!!!) touchdowns on offense while compiling a ridiculous 145 tackles and eight interceptions. I'd put him higher on the list if he had a defined position, but he'll probably return kicks and get some playing time on both sides of the ball as a freshman.

    8. DeMarcus Milliner, CB, Alabama. Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson are both gone from 'Bama's ridiculously good secondary, so it's time for some fresh blood. There are options -- LSU transfer Phelon Jones and redshirt freshman Dre Kirkpatrick (a five-star in 2009) are probably next in line -- but Milliner enrolled early and has the size, speed and hype (No. 23 player nationally on Rivals) to compete for a starting spot or nickel duty right away.

    9. Ronald Powell, DE, Florida. OK, so I should probably include the top-ranked recruit in the country. A look at the measurables: Powell is 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds and has been clocked at 4.52 in the 40. He also racked up 26 sacks in his final two high school seasons while playing a little running back, linebacker, tight end, etc. Pretty talented, yes? As for Florida, Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham are both headed to the NFL, so the opportunities will be there (one end spot should be open for competition opposite senior Justin Trattou). Powell obviously has all the talent to be an elite player; it's just a matter of whether he'll be ready as a freshman to beat out former backup Willie Green.

    10. Kyle Prater, WR, USC. Prater was Rivals' top receiver in the country and the No. 3 recruit overall, getting tagged as the next Mike Williams (the college version, not the NFL one) because of his 6-foot-5 frame, hands and body control. USC is actually fairly thin at receiver with Damian Williams gone -- Ronald Johnson is now the obvious No. 1 guy, but Brice Butler was second among receivers with just 20 catches last year -- so Prater should have a shot at pushing his way into the starting lineup.

    11. Cullen Christian/Demar Dorsey, CB, Michigan. UM needs all the help it can get in the defensive backfield -- especially with Donovan Warren headed to the NFL a year early -- and they couldn't have done much better than landing Rivals' third-ranked cornerback and ESPN's top-ranked safety (although Dorsey will start out as a corner). Unless Michigan sticks with Troy Woolfolk at corner (my bet is that he switches back to deep safety in UM's weird 4-4 defense), one of the freshmen will probably start opposite 2009 uber-recruit and redshirt freshman Justin Turner.

    12. Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee. Rogers isn't here because of any obvious openings in Tennessee's lineup; it's purely a talent thing. A top-10 overall player in the country on Rivals who's been compared to Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones, Rogers is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds with the size, speed and hands to be a dominant No. 1 guy. He might just be too good to keep off the field, even with Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore nominally ahead of him on the depth chart. Tennessee now just needs to find a QB to get those guys the ball.

    Looking back in embarrassing fashion

    Every blogger and sportswriter out there throws out a ton of predictions about everything. I post plenty of my own, some of which are pretty accurate and some of which make me look like an idiot. The problem is that most people don't ever go back and see how good/bad their predictions were (there's probably a good reason for this). How am I, as a reader, supposed to know how much stock to put into your prognostications if I don't know whether you're ever right about anything?

    So I'll step up to the plate and review each of my predictions from September 2, the opening day of the college football season. I'll go with the Gene Wojciechowski grading system of one point for a correct prediction, no points for a wrong one and a half-point for a sort-of-right-but-not-totally-accurate one.

    A forewarning: It's not pretty. Here we go ...

    What I said: Florida will win the national championship. A loss is possible at some point -- it's still college football, after all -- but even a one-loss Gators team has a good shot at getting in the national title game (unless that loss is in the SEC championship game).

    Result: 0 points. It was pretty clear by midway through the season that Florida and Alabama were the two best teams in the country, but 'Bama dominated the SEC championship game and went on to win it all. Close but no cigar.

    What I said: Tim Tebow will become the second player in history to win the Heisman Trophy twice. Colt McCoy could give him a good run -- Tebow and Sam Bradford each have a Heisman already, so there will be some sentiment that it's McCoy's turn if Texas beats Oklahoma.

    Result: 0 points. I was right about the McCoy sentiment, but Tebow missed a game and a half with a concussion, struggled in the passing game for much of the season and finished a distant fifth in the Heisman race. Mark Ingram and Toby Gerhart, neither of whom were mentioned at any point in my predictions, came out of nowhere to dominate the voting.

    What I said: USC will lose two games. I'm not sure which two (yay for being specific), but with road games at Ohio State, Cal, Notre Dame and Oregon along with home games against Oregon State and UCLA, I just have a feeling that this is the year the Trojans' ridiculous streak of top-five finishes comes to an end.

    Result: 1/2 point. USC obviously lost more than two games, but the point was that USC wouldn't be its usual self with a freshman QB and a particularly tough schedule. I was right about that; USC finished 9-4 and fifth in the Pac-10.

    What I said: Oregon will win at least a share of the Pac-10 title. I was shocked when I saw that the Vegas over/under on Oregon's wins was 7.5, because with USC and Cal both coming to Autzen Stadium, I think Oregon wins at least one of those two and finishes no worse than 9-3 overall.

    Result: 1 point. Oregon looked horrible in a season-opening loss to Boise State but regrouped quickly, took USC to the woodshed and beat Oregon State to win the Pac-10. Even after a Rose Bowl loss, Oregon finished 10-3. I guess I should have taken the over on 7.5 wins.

    What I said: Notre Dame gets to 9-3 and salvages Charlie Weis' job. I think ND is vastly overrated this year, but I just don't see many threats on the schedule. A split against Michigan and Michigan State, a loss to USC and a loss to Pitt (a fairly pessimistic view of their four toughest games) only gives the Irish three losses, and other than that ... UConn? Stanford?

    Result: 0 points. Ummm ... yeah. I was actually dead right about the first four games, but ND lived by the sword all year before finishing with an 0-4 collapse -- including losses to UConn AND Stanford (oops) -- and Charlie Weis was fired about seven seconds later. Notre Dame ended up 6-6 and turned down the chance to play in a crappy bowl game.

    What I said: Notre Dame won't play in a BCS bowl. The thing that will help the Irish get to nine wins is the same thing that will keep them out of the BCS: a weak schedule.

    Result: 1/2 point. Notre Dame definitely DIDN'T play in a BCS bowl, but it wasn't because of a weak schedule. In fact, just the opposite: The schedule turned out to be a lot tougher than I gave it credit for. UConn, Stanford, Pitt, Washington, Boston College, Navy ... a lot of ND's opponents ended up being far better than expected.

    What I said: Michigan will finish 7-5. I won't do a game-by-game breakdown, but there are five games on the schedule that should be definite wins for UM and five more that fall into the toss-up category (I'm putting Penn State and Ohio State down as probable losses).

    Result: Do I get a half-point for this? No? Damn. I was right about the overall assessment -- there were five should-have-been-guaranteed wins on the schedule and a bunch of toss-ups -- but Michigan lost one of those easy wins (Purdue) and pulled out only one of the toss-ups (Notre Dame). The oh-so-close losses to Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois and Purdue were the difference between bowl eligibility and another painfully long winter.

    What I said: If Boise State loses to Oregon tonight (yes, I'm hedging here), there will be no "BCS buster" this year. BYU, TCU and Utah are all ranked in the preseason polls, but BYU plays Oklahoma, TCU goes to Clemson and Utah visits Oregon. Oh, and they all have to play each other in the Mountain West. I don't see any of the three coming out unscathed.

    Result: 0 points. In fact, I should probably get negative points for this one. Boise State beat Oregon and finished undefeated en route to a Fiesta Bowl matchup against ... TCU. Both were 12-0 heading into the bowls and finished in the top 10. And while Cincinnati wasn't technically a BCS buster, their pathetic history essentially puts them in the same category as Boise and TCU. Poor effort on that one.

    What I said: The winner of the Texas-Oklahoma game will run the table and play Florida for the national championship. And the winner of that game will be ... hold on while I flip a coin ... I'll go with Texas.

    Result: 1 point. Woooooo!

    What I said: Michigan State will fall short of expectations, but not by much. MSU is kind of in the same boat as Notre Dame: The schedule is favorable enough (missing Ohio State, for example) that it will be difficult to lose more than four games. I'm predicting 8-4.

    Result: 0 points. Oh, Sparty. MSU had four losses by the end of October, including an embarrassing home defeat against Central Michigan. A 6-7 finish wasn't exactly what fans were hoping for in a supposed breakout year with Michigan, Iowa and Penn State all at home and Ohio State not on the schedule at all.

    What I said: Arizona State, picked as a dark horse in the Pac-10 by such geniuses as Mark May, will struggle to reach a bowl game. The offense could be atrocious -- the running game is nonexistent and Danny Sullivan should not be a Pac-10 starting quarterback -- and while the defense should be pretty good, a late-season stretch against Stanford, Cal, USC, Oregon and UCLA will be a killer. I'll say 6-6.

    Result: 1 point. I was off by a couple games -- ASU finished 4-8 -- but everything else was frighteningly accurate. The offense was terrible (the running game was nonexistent and Sullivan got benched) and the defense was very good, although not good enough to save a team that couldn't score. And that killer late-season stretch? ASU went 0-6 after a miraculous win over Washington on October 17.

    What I said: If Ohio State beats USC (there's that "if" again), the Buckeyes will finish undefeated. Their only real challenge in the Big Ten is Penn State, so there's a good chance that the winner of the game in Happy Valley on Nov. 7 will run the table against the rest of the conference and finish 12-0.

    Result: 0 points. Ohio State obviously didn't beat USC, so the rest of the prediction was moot, but a bizarre and ugly loss to Purdue rendered it wrong anyway.

    What I said: Here's my projected top 10 at the end of the regular season (note that this is NOT a preseason ranking or a list of teams I think are the best, just a guess at how the polls will look going into the bowl games):

    1. Florida
    2. Texas
    3. Ohio State
    4. Oklahoma
    5. Oregon
    6. Penn State
    7. USC
    8. Alabama
    9. LSU
    10. Boise State

    Result: 1/2 point. I had six of the top 10 in the AP poll and seven of ten in the coaches' poll, so I'll give myself a little credit for that. I obviously couldn't foresee Oklahoma's disastrous string of injuries or USC's Pac-10 collapse. Boise and Alabama should have been higher, and it goes without saying that I didn't expect TCU and Cincinnati to end up in the top five.

    So that's 13 predictions and a total of 4 1/2 points. I'm not exactly Nostradamus. I don't think I did too badly, though; most of my predictions weren't that far off. Florida ended up being the second-best team rather than the best team, for example, and both Michigan and Notre Dame came out on the wrong end of a few games that could have easily swung the other way.

    Still, 0.34 points per prediction won't win any awards. I'll give myself an uninspiring C+.

    Tuesday, February 16, 2010


    So I'm back from vacation and I decided that I should probably write something. What's that? It's been 10 days? Hmmm ... fortunately I've got plenty of stuff to write about, despite the fact that pretty much nothing interesting has happened while I've been away. I gave up on my Signing Day post since it was getting ridiculously outdated, but I will have something about the incoming freshmen posted either later today or tomorrow.

    Anyway ... for the past week, expansion (Big Ten, Pac-10 and otherwise) has been the topic of conversation on message boards everywhere. The news heard 'round the world:
    “There have been preliminary exchanges between the Big Ten and Texas,” the source told the Journal-World on Wednesday. “People will deny that, but it’s accurate.”
    I have two comments on this:

    1. Texas is the ultimate prize in college sports. The football, basketball and baseball programs are all elite and the school has both excellent academics and a ginormous endowment. It's also in the mother of all TV markets as the primary team of choice for just about everyone in the second-most populous state in the country.

    2. There is still almost no chance that Texas will end up in the Big 10 -- but not for the reasons most people think.

    The determining factor in all this will be money, of course. Jim Delaney would be swimming around in a pile of cash like Scrooge McDuck, but would Texas really benefit? There are a few misconceptions about that, so let me do some clarifying.
    • I've had trouble finding a specific number, but according to Outside the Lines, each Big Ten team made about $22 million last year from the TV deal with ESPN and the Big Ten Network. Texas, according to the only detailed breakdown I can find, made $10.2 million in TV revenue last year (more than any other Big 12 team because of a wildly uneven conference distribution based on number of TV appearances). Considering that the Big Ten would be adding ALL of Texas and probably some surrounding areas, that $22 million payout would go up significantly (I've seen several estimates of around $8 million extra per team, although I can't find a link right now).
    • If you assume that a Big Ten championship game would be make about as much money as the SEC championship game, the conference as a whole would make about $15 million a year, and each team would get about $1.25 million. That's chump change compared with the TV deals, so just bringing in a mediocre 12th team to set up a title game won't cut it if the Big Ten wants to do anything of real value.
    • Travel costs won't stop Texas from joining the Big Ten. The school would be making roughly an additional $20 million from TV deals alone, so to steal a line from Brian at Mgoblog, even the crew teams could travel first-class and there'd still be money left over that wasn't there before.
    • Losing the conference rivalry with Oklahoma won't matter either. Until half of the old Southwest Conference merged with the Big 8 in 1996, Oklahoma-Texas was always a nonconference game. That could continue with no problem.
    • The Texas A&M game would be a little tougher, and that's where things start to fall apart.
    I don't doubt that Texas would at least consider the idea of joining the Big Ten. There was a discussion back in the SWC days of joining the Pac-10, and there was even some talk with the Big Ten before things eventually fell into the place for the Big 8 supermerger. But part of the reason for that merger was the Texas Legislature. Texas is a state school, meaning it receives its educational funding from the state. When the state government got wind of Texas and Texas A&M planning to leave for the conference that would soon be known as the Big 12, everyone threw a shitfit. The conclusion: Baylor and Texas Tech had to come along. If they hadn't been allowed to join and Texas still would have joined the Big 12, the state would have pulled the school's funding. In other words, Texas had no real choice.

    I don't know if the same thing would happen now that those schools have established themselves (sort of) in a BCS conference, but I think there'd be a huge fight. Nobody would be very happy about losing so much of the state's marketing power and economy to places like Columbus, Ann Arbor and Iowa City. Red tape will probably be the end of it.

    And if you think maybe the Big Ten will bring along A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor just to get Texas, you're wrong. The more I hear from people about a hypothetical 14- or 16-team superconference, the less I think it will happen. Here's why:

    1. Every team added beyond No. 12 has diminishing financial returns, even if it's Nebraska or Missouri or Pitt or Syracuse or somebody else that's not Baylor. If every team is getting (hypothetically) $30 million in TV revenue, a new team would have to add that much in order to be worth bringing in. Nobody other than Texas could do that -- Texas Tech and Baylor wouldn't even come close -- so the Big Ten would be taking a financial hit by cutting extra pieces from its revenue pie.

    2. Football scheduling would be a bitch. Any more than 12 teams and you basically have two different conferences. The teams on each side would play maybe two teams on the other side each year (not including the conference title game), so you'd lose a crapload of rivalries and create a clusterfuck of rotations that would be just about impossible to keep track of for the casual fan. One of the great things about the Big Ten is the seemingly ancient traditions -- even nonrivals like Minnesota and Michigan have rivalry games and trophies like the Little Brown Jug -- so there's no way to split up the current teams into two divisions and not piss of a whole bunch of people and destroy part of the conference's history.

    3. I don't think most Big Ten teams would approve adding more than one team. Even if the new schools were all good additions athletically AND academically (which is unlikely), I have a hard time believing that some schools -- Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin, for example -- want to be relegated to complete irrelevance in most sports while still having to coordinate travel thousands of miles away for even nonrevenue stuff like field hockey. A little extra money is nice, but probably not at the expense of losing some national recognition because nobody cares about your school's athletic programs anymore.

    So yeah, for all those reasons along with the obvious difficulty in actually organizing the theft of three or five teams from other major conferences, the superconference thing isn't happening. Texas probably isn't either, although I'd say the possibility exists; we'll call it 5% instead of the 0.1% I suggested a few months ago.

    Nebraska also came out and said, "Hey, why not us?" this week, which was pretty much a kick in the groin to the Big 12 but an understandable move given the financial disparity between the Big Ten and most of the Big 12. I don't think that'll happen, though, because the Big Ten gains nothing except a football program (albeit a great football program). Terrible basketball program (no NCAA tournament wins EVER!!!), crappy baseball team, no major TV market, mediocre academics ... there's not a whole lot to get excited about there unless the Big Ten just wants to boost its view in the football world (which I admit is a possibility). Nebraska is a probably a little bit more likely than Texas because of the lack of red tape, but maybe 10% instead of 5%.

    Pitt, Missouri and Rutgers -- and possibly Syracuse -- are still the most likely candidates. Here's a remarkable stat: Every team in the Big Ten made almost twice as much in TV revenue last year as the ENTIRE Big East. Yes, that's right. I wasn't sure a few months ago whether Syracuse would make the jump because of Jim Boeheim's role as de facto Big East spokesman, but financially, there's no way they (or anyone else in the conference) could turn down a chance to join the Big Ten. Missouri's in the same boat.

    The Big Ten's in a good situation here; they can take pretty much anybody they want from that group, with no negotiation necessary.

    The one thing I haven't mentioned that should be seriously considered: making the conference better on the field (or court, preferably both). Rutgers might add a nice chunk of TV money in the New York market, but does that make up for bringing in an East Coast version of Northwestern? In my opinion, no. That difference in TV revenue would more than be accounted for with a couple BCS berths or Final Four appearances, which you might get by adding Pitt or Missouri.

    When people talk about the Big Ten, they think of a group that's largely below the SEC and even the best of the Big 12 on the football field. Again, the money would be nice, but that perception won't change unless the 12th team is more than just a money tree. Given the available options, I'll be a little disappointed with anyone other than Texas or Pitt. I'd be satisfied with Nebraska or Missouri.

    For visual purposes, here are my odds:

    Pitt 2-1
    Missouri 3-1
    Rutgers 3-1
    Nebraska 10-1
    Syracuse 10-1
    Texas 20-1
    Superconference 100,000-1

    No, I don't care that those numbers don't add up to exactly 100%. So that's that ... wait, what? Now the Pac-10 wants to expand too? Gah!!!

    Let's start with a basic premise: The Pac-10's situation is waaaay different from the Big Ten's. The Big Ten already has a ton of money and just wants to complete its master plan. The Pac-10 is in somewhat of an identity crisis, falling below every conference except the Big East in TV money and becoming a national afterthought outside of USC football. In other words, the Pac-10 doesn't have a whole lot of leverage.

    There also aren't a whole lot of desirable teams, so the list of potential candidates is short and sweet. It goes something like this:

    1. Colorado
    2. Utah
    3. BYU
    4. UNLV
    5. Colorado State

    Oregon blog Addicted to Quack put together a solid and well-researched piece and basically came to the conclusion that Colorado is the key to everything. The only major TV market in the western half of the U.S. that isn't already covered by the Pac-10 footprint is Denver, so that's the target. A rejection from Colorado probably makes everything else moot.

    Utah appears to be a clear-cut No. 2 and would probably be the 12th team if Colorado decides to get the ball rolling.

    One thing I'm surprised by is the lack of discussion about BYU. The academics aren't impressive (there's no research program, for example) and no games are allowed on Sundays, but the athletic programs are consistently good and there's a LOT of money to go around. Also, there are a lot of Mormons. National fan support wouldn't be an issue. According to Utah blog, the BYU situation goes beyond sports:
    BYU is a parochial school that a number of Pac-10 schools would never allow to be invited ... there are a lot of admins/students/faculty/boosters in UCLA, Cal, Stanford, and other Pac-10 schools who have issues with the Prop 8 thing and the LDS church support of it.
    Prop 8 was passed in 2008 and banned gay marriage in California. I don't know how much truth there is to that, but the general lack of public consideration lends credence to the idea that there's a little bit of a stigma around BYU that it wouldn't fit well into the Pac-10 culture (whatever that is). Addicted to Quack agrees:
    A conservative, non-secular, non-research university that hardly has graduate programs and won't play on Sundays? There is no way BYU would be allowed into the conference. To get the SLC market, Utah makes more sense on every possible level ...
    I'm not sure I agree with that last statement, but whatever. If, by some bizarre occurrence, Utah turns down the Pac-10's offer and the conference decides that it just isn't interested in BYU, the situation gets ugly. Colorado State has solid academics but offers little athletically or financially (unless you think CSU would bring in a lot of viewers in Denver, which is wildly optimistic). UNLV brings a nice market but is basically a community college and has been terrible at football for as long as anyone can remember. I think UNLV would be the first choice between the two, only because they have a consistently good basketball program and bring in the third-largest available market. Colorado State would provide a natural rival for Colorado but wouldn't actually add anything to the conference as a whole.

    But it'll probably never get to that point. There's no reason Utah wouldn't jump at the chance to get into a BCS conference. Colorado, of course, is already in a BCS conference. Is there any reason they'd consider a move to the Pac-10? Well ... yes and no.

    The Big 12 could make my research a lot easier (no specific payout numbers for individual teams are available), but based on my mathematical brilliance, it appears that Colorado made about $7 million in TV money last year. The Pac-10, on the other hand, paid less on average but will be negotiating a new TV contract next year (hence the desire to expand). Assuming a 50% increase in total revenue -- which seems reasonable based on the HUGE bumps seen by the Big Ten and SEC -- that number would go up ... all the way to $7.25 million. Woooo! There'd also be a roughly $1 million payout from a conference championship game and maybe a slight boost in some other areas, but the difference wouldn't be drastic.

    Obviously, it'll come down to whether Colorado feels that it has more long-term earning potential in the Pac-10 than the Big 12. If it seems like a real possibility that Texas or Nebraska might jump ship for the Big Ten and leave the conference scrambling to fill holes, CU might just decide to be proactive and get out while the getting's good. The school would be docked a year's worth of conference payout -- approximately $13 million (this is the total payout, not just TV money) -- if it leaves without giving two years' notice, but that shouldn't be a sticking point if the powers that be decide a move is for the best.

    Given the clear interest in listening to an offer and the fact that school administrators are already heavily researching a potential move, my guess is that Colorado will be a member of the Pac-10 in 2011. There's no real attachment to the Big 12, and the idea of getting a financial boost (along with the potential growth of a looming Pac-10 Network) and an academic boost from joining the Pac-10 will probably be enough motivation.

    Where does that leave the Big 12? The loss of Colorado would be irritating but not devastating; the problem is that there's no one of comparable quality who could step in. TCU? Houston? Meh. Interestingly, BYU has been mentioned in the past as a Big 12 candidate, and if Utah ends up in the Pac-10, that'd probably be BYU's cue to find its own big-money conference. Plug BYU into the Big 12 North and everyone's happy -- except the Mountain West, of course, which would then be looking to rebuild.

    Hopefully you got all that, because there will be a quiz tomorrow.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010

    Robbin' the cradle

    I know what you're thinking: "How can a college football blog go a full three days past National Signing Day without even mentioning it? It's one of the biggest days of the year! What kind of fan are you, anyway?"

    Response: Not a very good one, obviously. I've actually been working on a Signing Day recap but have been somewhat detained by work. Lo siento.

    In the meantime, though, this happened:

    Lane Kiffin really is getting a jump on recruiting.

    No sooner had the Trojans new coach put the finishing touches on the Class of 2010 recruits, that he turned his attention to the Class of 2015.

    That's right, 2015.

    On Thursday evening Kiffin received a verbal commitment from 13-year old wunderkind quarterback David Sills of Bear, Del.

    OH THE HUMANITY WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!? Fortunately, we're not talking about a legal contract here. Kiffin extended a scholarship offer -- which can be withdrawn at any time if the athlete doesn't hold up athletically or academically -- and Sills accepted, something he can back out of at any time. He's not being sold into slavery.

    To me, what's more surprising than a 13-year-old committing to USC is that this hadn't happened before. Just look at the infestation of agents and AAU coaches in college basketball. They know about every 11-year-old with Division I potential, and when college coaches find out about a guy, they don't hesitate go after him -- age be damned.

    This came from the West Lafayette Journal & Courier just a couple weeks ago:
    Recently, Purdue coach Matt Painter and Indiana coach Tom Crean attended a Decatur Central eighth-grade game to watch 6-foot-7 Trey Lyles.

    In early December, Illinois coach Bruce Weber was in the stands to watch Larry Austin, a Champaign (Ill.) Grant Middle School eighth-grade guard, play against Washington Middle School.

    Recently, the NCAA added seventh-graders as official recruiting targets.
    Yes, seventh-graders -- kids the same age as Sills.

    The thing that will always make football coaches a little more hesitant to offer a young kid a scholarship is the importance of physical development in football. A middle schooler who's 6-foot-3 and can handle the ball like a point guard is probably a safe bet to be an excellent basketball player at some position. You can't say the same about football; a dominant Pop Warner running back might put on 50 pounds and become a lineman, or his growth might come to a halt and he'll fall behind physically. It's a different ballgame.

    But if you're a coach and you see a kid you know is gonna be good, you don't wanna risk missing out on him because some other guy saw him and offered him a scholarship first. Remember Chris Leak, the Florida starter when Tim Tebow was known for nothing but the jump pass? He was a one-time can't-miss prospect himself, and he was offered a scholarship by Wake Forest when he was an eighth-grader. With talent like that, sometimes you just know.

    I actually first heard about Sills roughly a year ago. Why? Because he was featured in a CBS Sportsline article as the next big-time recruit (CBS is obviously waaaaay ahead of Lane Kiffin in the scouting department). This is from Dennis Dodd on February 13, 2009:
    David Sills is available. Just in case there's a college coach who hasn't heard of the game's next great quarterback, let's review: Sills is captain of his team. Rocket arm. Mad smarts. Breaks down defenses like he's speed reading Dostoyevsky novels.

    The most renowned QB teacher in the country says Sills "could very well redefine the quarterback position one day," and "is well on his way to becoming one of the most polished, pro-ready prospects ever to be recruited out of high school."

    Just to be clear: David Sills is 12. A sixth-grader, three years away from even playing in high school.
    When a nationally renowned QB coach says that you could be "one of the most polished, pro-ready prospects EVER," you're probably pretty good. See for yourself:

    Yeah, that's pretty good for a 13-year-old. He also looks like he's about 72 pounds, so I'm hoping he bulks up a bit before he starts getting hammered by Pac-10 defensive linemen. But Sidney Crosby was built like a stick when he was 13 too, and that wouldn't have stopped any college from offering him a scholarship (his parents actually went to court when he was 13 to try to get him into major juniors, which is typically reserved for ages 17 and 18).

    What I'm trying to say is that it's happening in all sports, and it's happened before in football (see Chris Leak); Kiffin's just the first to make news by offering a seventh-grader instead of an eighth-grader. Expect to see it a lot more in the future.

    And if you're looking for a job (aren't we all?), Rivals and Scout should have some junior high scouting positions available soon ...