Friday, April 30, 2010

This is a joke, right?

See if you can make it through this four-minute video without cringing or laughing (it won't be easy):

I don't know what to say. How did someone at Notre Dame came up with this idea and think it was a good one? And why does that person have such a horrible understanding of what constitutes music? I'm not sure whether I'm amused or just embarrassed for ND fans everywhere.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let's settle down about Andrew Luck

Seen any 2011 mock drafts? If you have, you know how much people love Stanford QB Andrew Luck. I have yet to see any scout project him anywhere outside the top 10 next year if he chooses to come out as a redshirt sophomore.

But is Luck really that good already? This is a basic summary of what everyone's saying:
The guy's got all the tools -- an NFL arm and an NFL rest-of-him (6-foot-4, 234 pounds) -- to hug it out with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in any of the next three Aprils. Luck already is rated as the first pick of the 2011 draft. You don't need Todd McShay to tell you that. Any agent worth his platinum Rolex Yacht-Master can see it.
I'm not gonna try to argue his obvious physical gifts, and realistically, his raw talent will probably guarantee him a spot somewhere near the top of whatever draft he chooses to enter (Stanford's pro-style offense won't hurt either). I just think people are seriously jumping the gun if they're expecting him to become a dominant, top-tier QB this year.

Think about this: Michigan uses a fairly run-heavy offense, and Tate Forcier split snaps with Denard Robinson last year while also missing some time due to a sprained shoulder. Forcier threw 281 passes. Luck threw 288.

There was an obvious reason for that: Toby Gerhart and his 343 (!!!) carries for just under 2,000 yards. But Gerhart's now in the NFL, meaning Luck will be expected to lead the offense, not just help it, because I don't see the running-back-by-committee group of Stepfan Taylor, Jeremy Stewart and Alex Debniak coming anywhere close to Gerhart's level of production. For reference, Luck attempted more than 22 passes in five games last year. In those games, he completed 52.8% of his passes and averaged 263.6 yards, 1.4 touchdowns and 0.6 interceptions. That's not bad -- a 134.8 pass efficiency would have been slightly above average (47th) nationally -- but when we're talking about a guy widely viewed as next year's top overall prospect, it's not exactly dominant. (Jake Locker, by the way, was 55th in pass efficiency; that's a discussion for another time.)

And it's not automatic that a guy will markedly improve between his freshman and sophomore years. There are a lot of other variables that come into play, especially for QBs who don't have elite athleticism to fall back on (Vince Young, Pat White, etc.). I specifically remember watching Chad Henne struggle as a sophomore in 2005 while Mike Hart was on the sidelines for much of the year with an ankle injury, because he just wasn't yet capable of carrying the offense. Don't be surprised at all if Luck has some of the same issues. It won't be easy to lead the Pac-10 in pass efficiency when there aren't eight or nine defenders in the box on almost every play, and Stanford won't be scoring 55 points against USC this fall while Luck goes a pedestrian 12-for-22 for 144 yards (those were his numbers against USC last October).

The "other variables" I mentioned above: Stanford's starting receivers both return, but the offensive line is being completely rejiggered after losing two starters. That's basically a net wash, although does having a year's experience with your receivers make up for having a reconfigured offensive line AND a significantly worse running game? Probably not quite.

Stanford's spring game provides us another point of reference, albeit not a great one since Luck and his starting receivers were split up. His performance -- 23-for-34 for 173 yards and no touchdowns in a thrilling 3-3 game -- was OK but not great, which I think is about what we should expect overall this season. I'd bet dollars to doughnuts (mmmm, doughnuts) that Luck doesn't finish in the top 10 in pass efficiency this fall. I'd even go a step further and predict that he doesn't garner first- or second-team Pac-10 honors; I think those spots will go to Matt Barkley and Jake Locker (not necessarily in that order).

But there are sort of two different questions here:

1. Will Luck be a top-five prospect for next year's draft if he declares?
2. Will Luck perform like a top-five pick?

As I mentioned earlier, anybody who's 6-foot-4 with a rocket arm, decent athleticism, experience in a pro-style system and even moderate competence will probably be a first-round pick (JaMarcus Russell, anyone?). But until we see Luck actually throw a few passes without having a Heisman Trophy finalist standing behind him, I think we should all tone down our expectations just a tad.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Just what we needed

If there's anything the average college football fan has been asking for the last few years, it's more bowl games. Right? RIGHT?
The NCAA has approved 35 bowl games for the next four years, including two new ones: the Dallas Football Classic and the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in New York.
Perfect. I'm actually a little intrigued by the Pinstripe Bowl, just because it'll be played at Yankee Stadium and I'm a sucker for games at cool venues. But there are already some really crappy bowls (I'm looking at you, Little Caesar's Bowl and New Mexico Bowl). When is enough enough? Did you realize that just 13 years ago (the 1996-97 season), there were only 18 bowl games?

It's not that I have anything against a Rutgers-Iowa State game; the problem is that the "postseason" has lost any semblance of value. With Western Kentucky now a full-time FBS member, there are 120 major college teams, and 70 of them will play in bowl games. That's 58.3%. Isn't a bowl berth supposed to be, I dunno, a reward of some sort? It's pretty sad that it's now easier to make a bowl game than to not make a bowl game.

On a related note, exactly 71 teams have been bowl-eligible in each of the past three seasons. But what if, just out of bad luck, there are only 69 next year?
“They don’t have a formula yet, but the NCAA has told all the bowls that if there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams, all the bowls will still be played,” said Bruce Binkowski, executive director of San Diego’s Pacific Life Holiday Bowl and the San Diego Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. “They still need to figure out what the formula is going to be.”

It’s not clear if that could mean teams with losing records playing in a bowl or granting berths to 6-6 teams whose records include two wins against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Currently, only one FCS win is allowed to count toward bowl eligibility.
Wooooo. So even if Michigan doesn't improve much from last season, a 5-7 record might be enough to squeeze into the GMAC Bowl. I'm pumped.

The only positive is that I think I have a legitimate shot of getting the Forever Saturday Bowl approved for the 2014 season.

One more spring disclaimer

Just to clarify, the stuff posted yesterday wasn't entirely gleaned from spring games. The games themselves aren't a very good way to judge things, for a number of reasons (offensive lines get split up, first-team offenses go against second-team defenses, starters are held out for precautionary reasons, etc.).

But hearing all spring that Denard Robinson might have surpassed Tate Forcier on the depth chart was something that could be verified in the spring game, and it was. The fact that a walk-on QB is dead even with Kevin Newsome for the starting QB gig at Penn State is a bad sign for Newsome, regardless of either guy's stats. Dayne Crist's participation in Notre Dame's spring game was meaningful in and of itself. And so on.

The three weeks of practice as a whole are a lot more meaningful than the games themselves, but the games provide a public way to view everyone's progress in a semi-meaningful environment and determine (at least to some extent) what's true and what's just coachspeak.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spring football definitely happened

I've done a whole lot of blogging over the past month -- and by "a whole lot" I obviously mean "zero" -- but yes, spring football happened. If you've ever watched a spring practice (or even a spring game), you know that it's pretty boring, but since it's all we've got until fall, we might as well glean what we can.

Standard spring disclaimer: Guys who look too good to be true (based on past performance) usually are, but redshirt freshmen and former top recruits who start to put it all together are worth taking seriously. Also consider context: Position "battles," especially at QB, aren't really battles unless both guys are truly getting an equal opportunity to win the starting job. You know a motivational ploy when you see one.

With that out of the way, what have we learned?

* Michigan has options at QB. I refused to believe the spring reports that Denard Robinson had become a legitimate threat to start for Michigan this year. Robinson might be the fastest man alive, but he wasn't really a quarterback last year. He was a running back who would take direct snaps and occasionally throw it to the other team. The idea that he had taken a quantum leap to the point where he was even with Tate Forcier? Incomprehensible.

Yeah ... then I watched the spring game. I don't know what happened the past four months, but the guy looked like a different player. He was running the zone read with confidence, dropping back out of the I-formation, throwing lasers, looking like a REAL quarterback. He ended up 9-for-12 for 175 yards and three touchdowns, and he made people look ridiculous whenever he felt like taking off (although we already knew he could do that).

Is he the starter in the fall? I'm not sure. Forcier has actually demonstrated competency against good defenses in games, which is a little different from playing against your own backups in a pointless scrimmage. Realistically, with Robinson's passing skills still fairly primitive, I have to believe both guys will take a decent number of snaps. But I won't be surprised if Robinson gets a shot as the de facto starter -- if he's 75% of the passer Forcier is, he'll be unstoppable -- and I never thought I'd be saying that.

* Georgia is losing quarterbacks like whoa. Georgia's three-way spring QB battle -- between Aaron Murray, Logan Gray and Zach Mettenberger -- was won by Murray, a redshirt freshman and former top-50 recruit. No surprise there, although Mettenberger was pretty highly rated as well and Gray is an athletic guy who has actually played a little bit.

But Mettenberger (who was already suspended for the season opener after an alcohol arrest) has since been kicked off the team for the always-specific "violation of team rules," and Gray is now supposedly "weighing his options" (read: probably transferring), meaning Georgia might be down to one legitimate option by the time September rolls around. Murray's obviously a pretty good option, but if he gets hurt ... yikes.

* Penn State's quarterbacks will probably be terrible (at least for a while). Joe Paterno's still alive, right? OK, cool ... anyway, if Penn State's spring game was any indication, Evan Royster will probably get about 480 carries this year.

Kevin Newsome, a dual-threat sophomore who was one of the top QB recruits in the country last year, was 5-for-12 passing and ran for a grand total of 12 yards. Walk-on Matt McGloin, his primary competition, was 10-for-23 with two interceptions. True freshman Paul Jones performed respectably, going 5-for-8 for 67 yards and two TDs, but he was also the clear No. 3 guy coming into the game. Robert Bolden, a top-100 recruit this past year, would be a legitimate option if he had enrolled for the spring, but there's no way he's showing up in August and winning the starting job -- especially for a team whose second game is in Tuscaloosa against the defending national champs.

There's enough talent that somebody will step up eventually, but the offense might be ugly (or just super run-heavy) for a while.

* Bill Snyder still loves him some blowouts. Remember Bill Snyder? Remember how he built Kansas State into a power by destroying I-AA teams and then going about .500 in the Big 12? This seemed like a plausible strategy for getting a terrible team like Kansas State into bowl games on a consistent basis, but it's entirely possible that Snyder just enjoys destroying bad teams -- even if that bad team consists of his own players:
Bill Snyder still has a few more months before he has to pick a starting quarterback for next season. On Saturday, though, Carson Coffman did everything he could to speed the process along as he passed for 440 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Purple team to a 79-0 victory over the White in the annual spring game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Snyder went with the bizarre strategy of putting his starting offense AND defense on the same team and pitting them against the backups, and 79-0 (and 737 total yards) was the result.

What does that mean? Well, it means Kansas State will probably have a pretty good offense, which isn't a surprise. Coffman, who's now a senior, was a pretty big recruit back in the day, and Daniel Thomas will probably be one of the better running backs in the country. It also means Kansas State has no depth whatsoever. I don't care how good your starters are; there's no reason the backup defense should give up close to 80 points while your backup offense can't muster a freakin' field goal.

* John Brantley will probably be OK as Tim Tebow's replacement. Florida hasn't run anything other than The Tebow Offense since Urban Meyer's first year, so things will definitely be different this season. But any concerns were probably eased a little bit by this:
Brantley completed 15 of 19 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns Saturday - the kind of performance many expected from the highly touted quarterback who waited three years behind Tebow for a shot to start.

Facing Florida's first-team defense and wearing a red, non-contact jersey, Brantley showed the kind of awareness and confidence of a seasoned starter. He even did it with four linemen sitting out for precautionary reasons.
Either Florida's first-team defense is fucking terrible -- which seems EXTREMELY doubtful -- or Brantley (a redshirt junior who was the national Gatorade Player of the Year in 2006) is a pretty good QB. The latter seems more likely.

But that doesn't mean the offense will be built entirely around Brantley, who's not exactly Pat White when it comes to athleticism. Freshman Trey Burton and redshirt freshman Jordan Reed (who might be a tight end but might not be) will compete for time in Florida's version of the Wildcat, which should probably just be called the Tebow. Expect at least one of those guys to see regular snaps. Urban Meyer might be THE AWESOMEST COACH EVER, but he's never run an offense that didn't include a running QB as an integral aspect (remember Tebow as a freshman?). I don't see that changing this year.

* Arizona State still has no offense whatsoever. ASU fans pinning their hopes on improved QB play or a newfound running game will probably be disappointed. I heard some generally positive reports from spring practice, but the on-field results ....
Brock Osweiler completed 17 of 33 passes for 151 yards with an interception and touchdown, the lone TD recorded by the offense. Steven Threet threw three picks, completing 9 of 27 for 117 yards.

The running game? James Morrison turned in the best work, rushing six times for 26 yards. Jamal Miles needed 12 carries to net 28 yards. That was about it. Cameron Marshall gained 5 yards on seven carries.
... yuck. There might be long-term hope for Osweiler and Threet, both of whom are ginormous and have extremely strong arms. But how much can you expect from two guys with minimal experience (both have about half a season's worth of playing time) on a team that lost both its starting receivers (Chris McGaha and Kyle Williams) and has no running game? That's a rhetorical question, by the way.

Oh, and on an offensive line that's been an ongoing debacle for the past three years, starting guard Jon Hargis tore up his knee in practice and will miss the season. Good news all around! I've been saying this since last season: Barring Jake Plummer regaining his NCAA eligibility, the Devils' complete lack of an offense will keep them out of a bowl game and will probably cost Dennis Erickson his job.

* Dayne Crist has magical healing powers (duh, his name is Crist). When he tore his ACL six months ago, the assumption was that Dayne Crist would miss Notre Dame's spring practice and therefore be in a battle for the starting job with the incoming freshmen. But lo and behold, Crist took the field for the spring game last weekend and didn't seem like a guy struggling to recover. He went 20-for-31 for 172 yards with a TD and two picks, which isn't dominant but is playing, which is a big positive for Brian Kelly.

Another positive: A running game actually exists. Redshirt freshman Cierre Wood, who seems like the perfect speed back for Kelly's wide-open offense, ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Jonas Gray also had a long TD run and generally impressed, and don't forget about incumbent starter Armando Allen. There are options, and all of them are talented enough to be a threat when Crist isn't airing it out.

Does that mean the offense will be more balanced than what we saw at Cincinnati? No. Kelly loves to throw -- downfield, specifically -- and with one of the best receivers in the country (Michael Floyd), one of the top tight ends in the country (Kyle Rudolph), a couple talented outside receivers (Duval Kamara and Shaquelle Evans) and stud freshman Tai-ler Jones making a name for himself this spring, it's not like he'll be lacking for weapons in the passing game. ND's offense will probably be very good. The defense? Ehhhh ....

By the way, Nate Montana was the star of the spring game, meaning Beano Cook will project him to win three Heismans, but we're talking about a walk-on who went to community college last year and completed 35% of his passes. It's unlikely that he'll see the field in any meaningful capacity.

* Spring in Eugene was fairly uneventful. There's no possible way any school had a crazier spring than Oregon. Shall we recap?

1. Jeremiah Masoli was suspended for the season after being arrested and charged with stealing from a frat house.
2. Starting running back LaMichael James was suspended for the season opener (against New Mexico) after being sentenced to 10 days in jail for harassment.
3. Linebacker Kiko Alonso was kicked off the team after receiving a DUI citation.
4. Receiver Jamere Holland, who went apeshit on Facebook after hearing about Alonso's punishment, was dismissed for his very public violation of team rules.
5. Kicker Rob Beard pleaded guilty to harassment for pushing a woman to the ground after a party. Beard was then beaten unconscious by the woman's friends, two of whom ended up pleading guilty to assault.
6. Coach-turned-athletic director Mike Bellotti resigned after all the aforementioned controversy to take a job as an ESPN analyst. He was given a $2.3 million severance check on his way out the door, which prompted an investigation by the state attorney general and resulted in the embarrassing announcement that Bellotti had never actually signed a contract, so there was no official payment arrangement for his services.

Wow. Most of that stuff is pretty minor in terms of on-field impact, but there's no way to sugarcoat Masoli's suspension. He would have been a legitimate Heisman contender on the returning Pac-10 champion; he won't be easy to replace.

The candidates: Redshirt senior Nate Costa, the projected 2008 starter who has since gone through about 8,000 knee surgeries, and uber-athlete Darron Thomas, who looks kind of like Dennis Dixon and played like him in his only meaningful game (nearly bringing Oregon back from 24 down against Boise State two years ago while throwing for 210 yards and three touchdowns).

What did we learn this spring? Not much. The two have apparently been neck-and-neck throughout practice, splitting time with the first team. The Ducks' final scrimmage -- also known as the spring game -- will be held May 1, but all indications are that there won't be a final decision until fall. There could always be a rotation, but I have to believe Chip Kelly will try to settle on someone (my money's on Thomas) as the full-time guy. He knows this team has the surrounding talent to win its second straight conference title.

* Other stuff happened. Big Ten expansion-palooza! 2011 mock drafts! I'll get to all that stuff in separate posts, because this one was purely dedicated to football (albeit fake-ish spring football). I also should clarify that I care about more than just quarterbacks, but hey, that's the glamour position. Other interesting position battles that were inadvertently skipped here will be discussed in the near future (Michigan, Florida State, Miami and others all have interesting things going on at running back, for example). Sadly, there's plenty of time before September.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

All your LaDariuses belong to Auburn

I've never met anyone named LaDarius. This can't be that unusual; how many people do YOU know named LaDarius?

But somehow, against all odds, Auburn pulled off a remarkable feat in its 2010 recruiting class:

I have no idea what this means, but it's impressive.