Thursday, June 30, 2011

Catching up speculates about Juron Criner

Juron Criner might (for some reason) miss the upcoming season: The rumors have been flying around the interwebz the last few days after the Arizona Daily Star reported that UA wideout Juron Criner, a second-team All-American last year and the best receiver in the Pac-10 Pac-12, might miss the 2011 season "because of undisclosed medical reasons.”

Neither Criner nor Mike Stoops nor the school has commented publicly, so speculation is running rampant and nobody seems to really know anything. Probably the most connected person in the UA community -- longtime beat writer and Lindy's college football editor Anthony Gimino -- said he hasn't been able to reach Criner and doesn't want to "conjecture on what I hear about the state or causes of Criner’s condition."

Calling whatever's going on "Criner's condition" sounds kinda bad, but again, nobody seems to know anything for sure right now. Meanwhile, both Bruce Feldman at ESPN (through a tweet) and's Bruce Cooper said the whole thing is actually related to a family member's illness and not anything involving Criner himself ... but Criner apparently did have some sort of neurological testing recently, and it's unknown what the cause was or whether it was even related to the current situation.

So ... something's going on, it's potentially serious and his status is unknown (BTW, Criner would be a senior this year but does have a redshirt available). Arizona is actually pretty deep at receiver -- David Douglas, David Roberts, Dan Buckner, et al -- but there's nobody even close to Criner's level (duh), and losing him could be the difference between first and fourth in a Pac-12 South that's wiiiiide open for the taking with USC still ineligible.

Ohio State signs Luke Fickell to billion-year contract: Luke Fickell told Dan Patrick the other day that OSU has removed the "interim" tag from his job title, which obviously means that he's the long-term guy and will be coaching Ohio State forever and always until the end of time.
"Luke is our head coach this year. At some point either during or after the season a decision will be made on who will be our coach going forward."
Or something like that. When you're bleeding recruits like somebody just stabbed your recruiting jugular with an ice pick, you've gotta do something -- I guess this is something. But his chances of keeping the job beyond this season are still just slightly north of zero.

As MGoBlog aptly put it, nobody rearranges deck chairs on the Titanic like Ohio State.

Tyler Gabbert transfers to Louisville: Tyler "Little Brother of Blaine" Gabbert, who left Missouri after playing pretty crappily in spring and coming in behind James Franklin on the QB depth chart, is headed to Louisville.

Mark this one down as "surprising" or "confusing" or something other than logical, because Gabbert will have to (a) sit out a year as a D-I transfer and (b) compete in 2012 with Teddy Bridgewater, the highly touted incoming freshman who's expected to start right off the bat (and presumably beyond).

Bridgewater was a consensus four-star QB considered one of the 10 best in the country last year by pretty much everybody who does the recruiting thing, so if Gabbert was looking to avoid competition, he chose the wrong place. But it's a nice score for Louisville, which went from having zero legitimate starters to having probably two.

Zach Brown transfers to Pitt: Buried on the depth chart at Wisconsin and all but forgotten behind clones James White and Montee Ball, senior Zach Brown is d-u-n in Madison and headed to Pitt.

Brown's good enough to be a starting running back somewhere ... or at least he was a few years ago. He ran for 568 yards as a freshman, 305 as a sophomore, 279 as a junior and then zero last year as he redshirted and earned his degree (which means he's eligible to play immediately). And Pitt -- minus the microscopic Dion Lewis, who declared for the draft after a meh sophomore season -- would be a fine option except for two things:
  1. The crazy-shifty Ray Graham ran for almost 1,000 yards last year as a not-quite-full-time complementary guy and is the preseason All-Big East first-team running back.
  2. Todd Graham's throw-it-all-over-the-lot offense equals way fewer available carries, so even if Brown gets a role roughly equivalent to what Graham had last year, he probably won't end up with more than 100 rushes this year.
Then again, given the option of being a part-time player at a Big East contender like Pitt or a no-time player at Wisconsin, the choice probably wasn't that hard. The only other notable school on his list was Miami, which would have been a better playing-time choice but might not have been seriously interested.

Lloyd Carr (?!?) talks possible college football anarchy: I could pretty easily pump out 20,000 words on the BCS and potential playoff systems and why most fans and their proposals are dumb, but since those things are all just time-killers, I don't. Howeva ... if there's anyone out there I'd expect to toe the NCAA line and talk about how tremendous (so tremendously tremendous) the system is and blah blah blah, it's Lloyd Carr.

Which makes this statement all the more shocking:
"I was in New York a month ago for the College Football Hall of Fame and I talked to some important people that said in the next 10 years or so, there could be a group of prominent schools with large budgets and stadiums that could break away from the NCAA and play their own schedule. There could be anywhere from 60-65 teams that would break away and play their own schedule and then have a playoff."
It's not clear if he was really advocating/believing this or just mentioning that he heard it, but the fact that relevant people are even talking about it is pretty interesting. I think most people who understand the financially mandated hierarchy of the current system agree that if a playoff (anything other than a plus-one) is ever gonna happen, this is how. Whether it would be good for college football is a completely different issue and anyone's guess.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Auburn won't suck

One of the reasons I posted those Golden Nugget lines the other day was to help establish a couple weird memes I've noticed over the course of the offseason. One of the popular ones (as you probably figured out from the headline): Auburn relied so heavily on Cam Newton that his loss -- and that of Nick Fairley, to a lesser extent -- equals instant suckiness.

This isn't a completely baseless assumption. Since a lot of predictions (especially in Vegas) are primarily stat-based, these numbers from last season are pretty terrifying:

Auburn: 6,989 total yards, 72 touchdowns
Cam Newton: 4,327 total yards, 50 touchdowns

I'll do that calculations for you: Newton accounted for about 62 percent of their total yards and just a hair under 70 percent of their touchdowns. So yeah ... that's, like, a lot. And given that the offense was basically tailored around Newton and his absurd athleticism -- veer read option, veer read option, veer read option play action, etc. -- it sort of makes sense that he singlehandedly accounted for 500 more yards than UCLA last season (lol).

Also significant: Auburn returns seven starters this season. Not seven on offense -- seven total. That's allegedly the fewest in the country. Between Vegas and stat-obsessed K.C. Joyner over at ESPN, the so-called experts are snuggling these numbers like a teddy bear as the justification for Auburn's pending demise. And that's not an exaggeration: Based on current lines, Auburn should lose no fewer than seven games this season, which obviously would mean no bowl game and a pretty quick reversal of opinion on the Gene Chizik era.

HOWEVA ... I have a few (three, to be specific) beefs with the experts on this one. I'll start with the nerdiest-looking and most important one.

1. Gus Malzahn. Shortly after Chizik was hired and Auburn fans everywhere were filling the message boards with deep thoughts like "WTF," he somewhat quietly hired Malzahn as O-coordinator and former Duke coach Ted Roof as D-coordinator. They were both unquestionably among the best in the country, and getting them on his staff was the first in many brilliant moves by a guy who had a not-so-sparkling head coaching resume to that point.

Malzahn came from Tulsa but was mostly remembered for his role as OC on the drama-filled 2006 Arkansas team that included Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and (briefly) Mitch Mustain. This was the team that popularized the Wildcat, and between that and Newton, the perception of Malzahn is one of a Rich Rodriguez-type read-option advocate who needs a mobile QB to run his offense. To anyone who says/writes this, I respond: Did you ever watch Tulsa?

Malzahn made a name for himself as a dominant prep coach in Arkansas with an air-it-out offense (led by Mustain, not coincidentally), and in places where he's had complete control of the playcalling and someone other than Cam Newton at quarterback, he's actually been pretty balanced. He has just one real constant: a mind-blowing tempo. Like RichRod, Chip Kelly, et al, Malzahn likes it fast -- the faster the better.

Here's a breakdown of Malzahn's run-pass ratio each year along with the QB's rushing yardage and the team's national rank in rushing and passing yardage.
  • '06 Arkansas: 539 rushes, 302 passes, -32 QB rush yards, fourth in rushing, 109th in passing (Malzahn won several national coordinator of the year awards after the '06 season but left for Tulsa, which wasn't exactly a big step up in the world but did get him playcalling autonomy)
  • '07 Tulsa: 562 rushes, 564 passes, 119 QB rush yards, 41st in rushing, third in passing
  • '08 Tulsa: 674 rushes, 428 passes, 186 QB rush yards, fifth in rushing, ninth in passing
  • '09 Auburn: 550 rushes, 364 passes, -116 QB rush yards, 13th in rushing, 56th in passing
  • '10 Auburn: 652 rushes, 296 passes, 1,473 QB rush yards, fifth in rushing, 66th in passing
Last season was a serious outlier, yes? Before Cam Newton came along, Malzahn's average starting quarterback ran for about 39 yards per season yet led an offense that finished 13th overall in total yardage.

Cam Newton did not make Gus Malzahn -- the guy just understands offense. I know this is going way back into the archives, but circa 2009, Auburn had noodle-armed and immobile Chris Todd at QB, no dominant receivers, a good running back (Ben Tate) and one standout lineman (center Ryan Pugh) ... and that team finished 16th in total offense and went 8-4 despite having a defense that was 68th and 79th in the two most meaningful categories (yardage and scoring).

More video:

Malzahn is like the MacGyver of O-coordinators: No matter what you give him, the result will be something awesome.

2. Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb. Outside of Cam Newton's superhuman athleticism, one of the biggest factors in the success of Auburn's call-it-until-they-stop-it veer option last year was the threat of the uber-fast McCalebb getting the corner.

Neither that play nor that threat will cease to exist, especially since presumptive starting QB Barrett Trotter (a redshirt junior who might have started in '09 had he not torn his ACL in spring ball) is more comparable physically to Newton than Todd. Trotter actually averaged 13.6 yards per carry last season, which would be amazing and some kind of record if it had come on more than five runs. And if Trotter doesn't work out, incoming freshman Kiehl Frazier will immediately be the most athletic QB on the roster when he shows up and could also fill a Newton-type role (if Malzahn decides that's what he wants), albeit probably not very consistently since, you know, he'll be a freshman.

Dyer was a big-time recruit who wasn't asked to do much early but ended up (a) giving Malzahn the powerful feature-type back he'd lost in Tate and (b) breaking Bo Jackson's freshman school record with 1,093 yards on just 182 carries (that's 6.0 a pop). The guess here is that he gets 20-plus carries more than the three times he did last season and picks up a significant portion of Newton's slack -- he's probably one of the 10 best running backs in the country.

The graduation-decimated offensive line is a little more concerning -- right tackle Brandon Mosley is the only true returning starter -- but going back to Malzahn and his absurd track record (no worse than 35th nationally in total yardage), we're probably talking about the difference between good and excellent.

If Dyer can be the 2009 version of Tate (very plausible), McCalebb and Trotter can combine for another 1,500-ish rushing yards (also very plausible) and the defense can just be average, there's no reason Auburn can't go 8-4 again, which might not be "WOOOOO NATIONAL CHAMPIONS" but also won't be "FIRE CHIZIK AND BURN IT ALL DOWN" (like 5-7 would be).

Which brings me to ...

3. Ted Roof. One of Auburn's coordinators used to be a D-I head coach, and it wasn't Gus Malzahn. Roof had an epically terrible stint at Duke (6-45 in four-plus seasons), but that shouldn't detract from his ability as a D-coordinator: He was awesome in that role at Georgia Tech, made Duke's consistently abysmal defenses respectable, went to Minnesota and oversaw a walking-on-water-esque transformation in one year and then was offered the job at Auburn. Seeing as how Auburn >>> Minnesota, that was probably an easy decision.

It hasn't been all candy and unicorns and puppy dogs at Auburn, though. The 2009 defense was pretty bad -- the worst statistically in school history -- and last year's wasn't a ton better despite having Nick Fairley crushing people's skulls in the middle of it. Auburn was 60th in total defense and 53rd in scoring defense last year ... but they were pretty good at one not-so-insignificant thing (the one thing Roof's teams are almost always good at): stopping the run. Auburn was ninth nationally in rushing defense, and that was pretty much the difference between the crappy 2009 unit (78th in rush D) and the good-enough-to-win-a-BCS-title 2010 one.

Roof's high-variance strategy is a big part of both the consistently excellent rush defenses and the less-than-thrilling numbers so far at Auburn. He'll blitz a lot, get a lot of sacks, stuff a lot of running plays, force a lot of turners and give up a substantial number of big plays, with the damage of those big plays pretty much being the determining factor in the overall success of the defense. I believe this is called "The Jon Tenuta School of Let's Blitz." It's a good system except when it's not.

But Roof is probably doing a better job than he's getting credit for. I was wondering when I started putting this post together about how much Malzahn's hair-on-fire offensive tempo skews the total number of plays (and therefore yards and points) in a typical Auburn game -- thankfully this requires no effort on my part other than summoning the FEI index over at Football Outsiders (BTW, if you don't read Football Outsiders, start now). The basic premise of FEI is that it's a tempo-free, schedule-adjusted rating system -- it strips out all the variables, runs the raw data (yards per play, points per possession, etc.) through a formula and spits out some numbers that essentially tell you which teams are the most productive/effective on both sides of the ball.

In 2009, that worst-ever Auburn defense was 53rd in FEI (not great but not terrible after finishing 25th in '08). Last year, it was sixth. Those numbers look just a little better than the raw ones and paint a slightly more accurate picture of the quality of those defenses, even if the average Auburn fan understands them about as much as they'd understand a Boeing technical manual or a toothbrush (zing!).

But anyway ... what I'm trying to get at with Roof is this: He's gonna do his thing, and he might shut down LSU one week and give up 45 to Arkansas the next. But if he just puts together a defense that's statistically somewhere between the 2009 and '10 ones -- maybe 30th in FEI and a little below average nationally in scoring and total defense -- that product plus an average Malzahn offense should still yield a pretty good team.

This is the proper spot for a caveat: The schedule is a freakin' slaughterhouse. It's entirely within the realm of possibility that Auburn could be a really good team and still end up about 7-5 just because of the pure volume of terrifying games (especially road ones). Insert Gary Danielson reference here about how the SEC rulez and everyone else droolz. It's also possible that my assumptions here are overly optimistic and Auburn will just be an average team, in which case there's not a single SEC game (other than maybe Ole Miss at home) that's not losable.

But all things considered, I'd feel pretty comfortable putting a few bucks on the under if the baseline of expectations at this point is seven losses. A drop-off is one thing; a bowl-less detonation is another.

Russell Wilson's free agency comes to an end

Russell Wilson is giving up baseball to play football at Wisconsin, which was pretty much expected as far back as a month ago but not official until today:
"Russell will come in and compete for the starting quarterback position," Bret Bielema said. "This is an unusual situation, especially for a program that prides itself on developing players throughout their careers, as we do here at Wisconsin. However, this is a special situation and Russell is the type of player and person that fits very well with our team.
  • Wilson "will come in and compete for the starting quarterback position." Yeah.
  • A team that returns a LOT of talent -- everything except a couple linemen, a couple receivers and the underrated and efficient Scott Tolzien at QB -- now has all that talent PLUS one of the best all-around quarterbacks in the country. As of right now, Wisconsin is the clear-cut favorite in the Big Ten.
For some reason (maybe because he's black and pretty short at about 5-foot-11), people seem to think of Wilson as a Cam Newton type who won't really fit into Wisconsin's handoff-handoff-handoff-handoff-handoff-play action (!!!) offense. That is most definitely not the case: He threw 527 passes last season for 3,563 yards and 28 touchdowns ... and he ran for 435 yards and nine touchdowns, which is good but not exactly reminiscent of Tommie Frazier. A much closer statistical comparison (minus the rushing numbers) would be Texas Tech's Taylor Potts, who threw 551 passes for about 3,700 yards and 35 touchdowns. So yeah: Wilson is abnormally excellent athlete -- probably not far off from Newton in that regard -- coming from roughly the equivalent of Texas Tech's offense (it's not quite that extreme, but we're talking generalities here).

It wasn't always that way, though. NC State actually got more and more pass-oriented as Wilson went from freshman (275 attempts) to sophomore (378) to junior (a billion), and his non-volume numbers suffered for it last year: His efficiency dropped about 20 points and he threw a career-high 14 picks. Back when he was a freshman, he set the all-time NCAA record for most passes without a pick and finished with just one along with a ridiculous 17 touchdowns. He had a not-quite-as-awesome 31/11 ratio his sophomore year, but he also had about 130 more attempts and threw for another 1,100 yards as his efficiency peaked at 147.77 (15th in the country).

Overuse won't be a problem at Wisconsin unless Bret Bielema's meat-filled veins explode and he's replaced by someone who represents his exact antithesis. A sophomore version of Wilson -- the one who's a deadly but uber-efficient passer and will tack on a few hundred rushing yards (because Wisconsin definitely needs more in that area, amirite?) -- would be the best-case scenario. And that's not an unlikely one ... I mean, there's no reason to believe he won't be just as good on a better team with a better line, better running game, etc. I won't be surprised at all if his rating spikes back to 150 this year -- Wilson's a better passer than Tolzien, and Tolzien was sixth in the country last year (165.92), one spot ahead of Ryan Mallett. Just look at the play-by-play of the Wisconsin-Michigan game to understand why.

But nobody will really care what Wilson's passer rating ends up at -- what matters is if he helps Wisconsin win a lot of games, which is pretty likely. He'll be a ridiculously nice complement to the MANBALL offense (great MGoBlog meme), and his athleticism/mobility should help a little since Wisconsin does have to replace the left side of its line (Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, both drafted in the first three rounds).

Here's the scouting report in video form:

In case you're wondering, redshirt sophomore Jon Budmayr was expected to be the starter at UW after Curt Phillips, the only real competitor, tore his ACL in spring ball. Bielema was so impressed with Budmayr and redshirt freshman Joe Brennan following a touchdown-less spring game that his QB scouting report went, "(they) aren't anywhere where we need them to be for us to be a competitive team in the fall." Ouch -- I think it's safe to assume Wilson will be a massive upgrade.

And the hype meter has been raised accordingly. Wisconsin has a cake nonconference schedule, misses Michigan (jury's out on that one, but it's probably a good thing), gets Nebraska at home and only has two tough road games -- at Michigan State and at Ohio State back to back in late October. Anything less than 10-2 and a division championship would be a serious disappointment, and anything better equals a spot in the Big Ten championship game and a legitimate shot at the (gasp) national title. It's BCS or bust.

So that's your task, Russell Wilson. No pressure.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The experts have spoken and hate Auburn

About five years ago, I decided to start betting on college football. And I was smart about it: I started by picking out lines I liked, writing down a hypothetical bet and then keeping tabs on my imaginary earnings/losses without actually putting any real money in play. I wanted to be sure I actually, you know, didn't suck and stuff, because I really hate losing money.

This went quite well. So the next season, I put a couple hundred bucks into an account at some site (I think Sportsbook or Bodog) and started puttin' my skillz to the test. This went OK but not great -- I stayed about even for eight weeks, then had a terrible week where I lost all but about 50 bucks, then put all $50 on one game the next week and went bust.

After that I got married, started having kids and decided my money was probably better off, like, paying bills and buying food rather than wagering* on 20-year-olds playing football. It occurred to me at some point that there's a reason casinos make bazillions of dollars per second and the smart guys light their cigars with my 50 bucks while gold-skiing in their Scrooge McDuck vault.

. . . . .

I started this post about two weeks ago and never finished it for some (probably kid-related) reason, but a de facto national holiday came and went June 10 and was basically unnoticed by everybody except the junkies (like me!):

Lines. We have some.

The Golden Nugget published its lookahead lines (which I really wish I would've remembered when I was in Vegas), and while they mean squat once the games actually start, the unfortunate truth is that the guys who set them are pretty good -- sports books wouldn't exist if they didn't make money.

Some lines of interest:

September 3
LSU vs. Oregon (-3)
Boise State (-6) vs. Georgia

September 10
Alabama (-9) at Penn State
Mississippi State at Auburn (-3.5)
Notre Dame at Michigan (-2)
Utah at USC (-8)

September 15
LSU at Mississippi State (-1)

September 17
Oklahoma (-3.5) at Florida State
Michigan State at Notre Dame (-6)
Tennessee at Florida (-13.5)
Auburn at Clemson (-1)

September 24
Arkansas at Alabama (-11)
LSU (-4) at West Virginia
Oklahoma State at Texas A&M (-6)
USC at Arizona State (-3)

October 1
Alabama (-6) at Florida
Arkansas at Texas A&M (-2.5)
Auburn at South Carolina (-7.5)
Nebraska at Wisconsin (-2.5)

October 8
Oklahoma (-8) at Texas
Florida at LSU (-5.5)
Auburn at Arkansas (-7.5)

October 15
Arizona State at Oregon (-11)
Oklahoma State at Texas (-3)
Florida (-1) at Auburn
Michigan at Michigan State (-3.5)

October 22
Auburn at LSU (-9.5)
Oklahoma State at Missouri (-2.5)
Wisconsin at Michigan State (-1)
USC at Notre Dame (-4)

October 29
Stanford (-2) at USC
Georgia at Florida (-3)

November 5
Texas A&M at Oklahoma (-7.5)
LSU at Alabama (-9)
South Carolina at Arkansas (-4)

November 12
Alabama (-7) at Mississippi State
Oregon (-1) at Stanford
TCU at Boise State (-13.5)
Miami at Florida State (-7.5)
Auburn at Georgia (-4.5)

November 19
USC at Oregon (-11)
Nebraska (-1) at Michigan

November 24
Texas at Texas A&M (-7)

November 25
Arkansas at LSU (-4.5)

November 26
Alabama (-8) at Auburn
Notre Dame at Stanford (-6.5)
Florida State at Florida (-1)

December 3
Oklahoma (-2) at Oklahoma State

Important note: These were the original lines, and there has been some not-insignificant movement in the past couple weeks. There are also a lot more games listed over at if you're even more obsessed than I am (doubtful but possible).

A few observations:
  • Ohio State's entire season is off the board (lol).
  • These oddsmaker dudes love them some Alabama (OK), Oklahoma (OK), Oregon (OK) and Stanford (?).
  • Mississippi State is actually getting some respect (favored over LSU?!?).
  • Texas A&M is favored in every game except the Oklahoma one (+7.5).
  • The books like Michigan a lot more than the money-droppers do -- every Michigan game listed has swung massively in the wrong direction since these lines were posted (Notre Dame went from 2-point dog to 3-point favorite, Northwestern went from 4-point dog to pick 'em, etc.).
  • Some Auburn skepticism was to be expected, but whoa -- Auburn has eight games listed and is the underdog in SEVEN of them, and only the Florida game is even within a touchdown. Either Auburn will be terrible or somebody will win a lot of money.
  • ASU favored over USC? Ummm ... OK. They're both 11-point dogs against Oregon, so I guess they're considered about equal, but that's pretty tough to wrap my mind around after the last 10 years.
That's all for now -- a couple of these items deserve more discussion/detail and therefore a separate post (hopefully tomorrow), and I gotta get back to the real world where I do NOT have expendable money, immediate ATM access or enough gas to get to Vegas. Sad face.

*I almost broke down last year and put money on Wisconsin to beat Michigan, which was only like a 7-point underdog despite having a defense made of string and masking tape and rusted-out parts (Mike Martin notwithstanding). I told my wife I was gonna bet on Wisconsin and couldn't lose -- seriously, no chance -- so I planned to get up before the game, put down 50 bucks and watch the onslaught. I overslept, missed the opening kickoff by like five minutes and still got to witness the onslaught (48-28) except without the winnings. Good times.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

One last (for now) thought on Ohio State

When I restarted my blog about a month ago, the intention was not to alternate between posts about the hilarity at Ohio State and the decimation of North Carolina. But the general slowness of June and the never-ending freshwater mountain stream of violations have made those the two obvious topics du jour (or whatever "of the month" is in French).

Barring any more amazingly hilarious or newsworthy developments, I'm gonna try to lay off the NCAA violations for a while and actually write about, you know, football and stuff now that there's a light just 67 days away at the end of the offseason tunnel.

But I couldn't turn away from the wreckage without making one observation.

Before I get to that, let's establish something: You can't undo the past. Is USC really getting "fair" punishment for whatever shenanigans went on during the Pete Carroll era as he turned a crappy, forgotten, fanless program into by far the best in the country and nearly a three-peat national champion? If a little devil had popped up on Mike Garrett's shoulder back in 2000 and said, "Hey dude (I assume demonic creatures call people "dude"), I'll bring you national championships, a bunch of Heismans, gazillions of dollars and a Pac-10 title every freakin' year if you just sacrifice a couple years of postseason eligibility and some scholarships in about a decade," I'd bet dollars to doughnuts he would've taken that deal without even blinking. A decade of dominance is worth five-ish slightly down years that are still pretty good thanks to the cachet built up over the aforementioned decade.

There is literally nothing the NCAA can do to Ohio State that will make up for whatever was gained through 10 years' worth of throwing around massive hookups, covering it up and playing guys who should have been ineligible. All those painful losses for Michigan, all those BCS bowl games (and accompanying paychecks), the national championship -- those things can't be erased, despite my best efforts involving alcohol and high-velocity projectiles in my living room. If I were Lloyd Carr, I'd be summoning my inner Ray Donovan and asking, "Where do I go to get my wins back?"

When you zoom out and look at the big picture, it's entirely possible that the most devastating thing to come out of the whole OSU situation (pending massive scholarship losses) will be what's happening right now.

Two months ago, Ohio State had two five-star commits -- tackle Kyle Kalis and running back Brionte Dunn -- and a pretty typical start on another strong class as the presumed leader for at least eight four- or five-star in-state guys (must be tough -- for comparison, the state of Michigan has nine four-stars this year while Ohio has three five-stars and 19 four-stars).

At some point in the very near future, both those five-stars will be gone. Kalis has already decommitted and visited Michigan, and while Dunn hasn't officially done so, it's supposedly just a matter of time; Ohio State recruiting haven Bucknuts has been reporting that OSU has "no chance" to get either one given the nuclear fallout radiating outward from Columbus. Scout's Bill Greene has basically been saying the same. Oh, and Michigan is now presumed to be the favorite for both.

In the meantime:
  • Four-star defensive end Tom Strobel committed to Michigan;
  • Kalis said four-star defensive end Chris Wormley "will end up at Michigan" right before they visited together this weekend;
  • Four-star defensive end Se'Von Pittman tried to commit to Michigan but had to be turned away because of the pure volume of defensive ends already committed or about to commit, so he headed to Michigan State;
  • Four-star guard Kyle Dodson committed to Wisconsin;
  • Four-star defensive end Greg McMullen committed to Nebraska;
  • Four star defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo visited and is now rumored to be favoring Northwestern (seriously, Northwestern);
  • Five-star defensive end Adolphus Washington -- who's teammates with four-star receiver Dwayne Stanford -- visited Kentucky, and both he and Stanford will be visiting Michigan within the next couple weeks. They've said they want to play together, and Scout's Ohio editor is reporting that OSU is "really moving down" Washington's list while Michigan appears to be "the team to beat."
If you don't follow recruiting closely, these names mean nothing to you. But here's what I'm getting at: Come February, Ohio State could end up with a whopping TWO four-star recruits out of that ridiculously deep group of 22 big-time in-state guys. And the most likely scenario right now is that all three of the Ohio five-stars end up at Michigan, which already has more committed four-stars than Ohio State has players in its class. Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State have also invaded and swiped elite guys who wouldn't have even considered leaving the state a year ago, and even Northwestern is benefiting. Notice a common theme here? The rest of the Big Ten is getting better while Ohio State picks through the leftovers.

Five years from now, when most of those guys are tearing' it up elsewhere and OSU is fielding a team at maybe 70 percent of its usual talent level -- and again, this is ignoring the inevitable scholarship bomb -- it will be evident on the field. You can't recruit like Michigan State and win like Ohio State -- not in a legitimate BCS conference, anyway (spare me the Boise State argument).

So yeah ... back to the "10 years of dominance, two/three years of punishment" thing: It's a little more meaningful if it's two/three years of punishment followed by five-ish years of roster restocking because everybody else in the conference is in ur base stealin ur recruitz.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Catching up shudders at the thought

Michigan (specifically Dave Brandon) is 'interested in' a mascot: I had postponed writing about this because I was hoping it was just a weird nightmare, like the one I had the other night where I joined the Army. Alas, it was not.

Dave Brandon's thoughts:
"Our history and our tradition is great for those of who were there to experience it, or remember it," Brandon said, "but there's a generation coming up and you've got to connect with them and keep them excited."
No, you don't. Somehow, despite having roughly the attention span of a squirrel, I managed to become deeply invested in Michigan football without having a stupid mascot dancing around the field pretending to bite people's heads and whatnot. I'm cool with the lights and the night game, I'm fine with the not-quite-throwback unis, etc., but this is where I draw the line* and start yelling at the damn kids to get off my lawn. Michigan (by which I mean Brandon since he's making all the important decisions) is dangerously approaching the slippery slope at the peak of We're Just Like Everybody Else Mountain.

Fortunately for my family's safety, nothing is imminent:
"So far we haven't figured out a way to do it. Until we come up with something we love, we don't have a mascot."
But if he comes across "something we love" tomorrow, I will become very stabby.

*I'd approve of a mascot on one condition: It's a live wolverine, like the ones Michigan brought to the sidelines in 1927 (pictured below) and had to return to the zoo because they were dangerously violent. A bad-ass version of Uga that could rip Brutus' throat out in one lunge and therefore has to be carried around in a cage? Sure.

This isn't exactly a new problem: There's a pretty interesting story in "The Daily" (some sort of new-age journalism concept) written by former USC running back Lonnie White in which he admits taking about $14,000 in cash/benefits during his playing career in the early '80s.
According to my father, Elwood White, a two-sport high school standout at Montclair (N.J.) High, it was a problem in the late 1940s when he played at Morgan State, a historically black university that dominated competition under coach Eddie Hurt.

It was an issue when colleges recruited my brother, Tim White, a two-sport All-American at Asbury Park (N.J.) High, in the 1970s, and it was still a concern when I went through the process in the early 1980s.
There's a lot of interesting stuff in there about how easy it was to trade game tickets and stuff like autographs (sound familiar?) for money and how the coaches really didn't know anything about it, which seems plausible, especially back in the day when there weren't 300-person compliance staffs in every athletic department.

And it wasn't just the boosters:
For example, my senior year I had a strong game at Washington State, scoring a touchdown and building up solid kickoff return yardage that left me ranked in the top 10 nationally. The following week, a fledgling agent began to wine and dine me, because he felt I was a sleeper NFL prospect.
This was 30 years ago. For all the "THINK OF THE CHILDREN" outrage the last few months, the fact of the matter is that these extra-benefit shenanigans have been going on since the dawn of amateurism and won't stop until greed ceases to exist, at which point we can all live happily ever after in a communist utopia.

Janoris Jenkins haz home: North Alabama coach Terry Bowden (yeah, that one) announced Wednesday that former Florida uber-corner Janoris Jenkins has signed a scholarship and will be eligible to play this fall. As I mentioned last week, it was between North Alabama, Valdosta State and the supplemental draft (which would have been my choice if I were a near-lock to be a first-round pick but couldn't stop myself from getting high every 20 minutes ).

Given his talent, the level of competition should be mostly irrelevant; he'll dominate and probably still end up going in the first round if he can manage to avoid getting arrested in the next 10 months. As Dr. Saturday points out, there are a ridiculous 28 players on the North Alabama roster who started their careers at FBS schools, including guys like Rod Woodson (Alabama), Bryan Thomas (Florida), Daron Rose (Florida State) and Jarmon Fortson (Florida State), so the scouting will be plentiful.

One agent said Jenkins is also expected to play some receiver at North Alabama, presumably in an effort to show off his extreme athleticism advantage and keep him entertained while he's getting thrown at about twice a game on defense.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

OK, into the boat

Oregon released a bunch of information the other day about its payments to a "recruiting service" (aka Willie Lyles), with the intention being to refute any claims of funny business and whatnot. Instead, Chip Kelly came out looking either extremely dumb or extremely cheaty:
Amid the documents released by Oregon related to the football scouting services inquiry were 140 recruiting profiles of high school players under the heading “2010 National High School Evaluation Booklet." Above each individual profile, however, reads “Player Profile 2011.” The related invoice cites the "2011 National Package."

A search of all the players listed revealed that virtually all graduated from high school in 2009 with a few graduating in 2010 or 2008.
So most of the information Oregon "bought" in 2010 (in print and video form) was for guys who graduated in 2009, which would make it completely useless. If you think Oregon really paid $25,000 that year -- and continues to pay the same conveniently connected guy -- for outdated and irrelevant recruiting profiles, you're either a diehard fan or someone with a very low opinion of Chip Kelly's level of intelligence.

In case you're wondering, $25K is a pretty hefty amount for any sort of recruiting package -- LSU paid Lyles $6,000 for presumably the same (but hopefully more up-to-date) information. And Lyles didn't have anything listed on his website for even close to $25,000; the "national" package Oregon paid for -- which consisted almost entirely of Texas recruits -- was supposed to cost $15,000. Oh, and that $25K was more than three times what Oregon paid any other scouting service/vendor/con artist.

Doctor Saturday summarizes the situation nicely:
"If this sounds too stupid to believe, well, that's because it probably is. The merely unflattering explanation is that Oregon was ripped off by a con man who stuck the Ducks with a shoddy product — embarrassing, maybe, but there's no NCAA rule against being gullible. The more cynical assumption is the same as it was when Lyles' name first slithered up from the gutter of the recruiting trail in the spring: That Oregon found a loophole in the system that allowed it to 'legally' funnel money to a middle man (Lyles) in exchange for access to certain recruits it already knew more than enough about."
What he calls cynical might also be called logical, especially when there's more evidence that pushes the whole situation past the threshold I wrote about yesterday from "sketchy" to "too sketchy." A few details:
  • Lyles and Kelly exchanged 12 text messages in the two days before LaMichael James (whom Lyles was "advising") committed to Oregon.
  • There were 70 calls between Lyles and Oregon's coaches in the four months leading up to 2010 Signing Day, which seems wildly excessive since Lyles was supposedly just providing general scouting services (and apparently doing a pretty terrible job of it).
  • The $25,000 payment came in March 2010, just after uber-recruit Lache Seastrunk -- another Lyles underling out of Texas -- had signed his letter of intent. That'd be a plausible time (a little late, but plausible) to buy legitimate 2011 recruiting info, but this is when Oregon was supposedly getting 2009 stuff.
In short: I find your story simply not believable.

The thought process back in the olden days (like 2008, when the USC stuff was starting to drip out of the fire hose) was, "yeah but the NCAA probably doesn't have any proof." If you read my post yesterday, you know this: It really doesn't matter anymore.

Courtesy of Andy Staples at Sports Illustrated:
"If Kelly or any of his coaches tried to pass off the booklet released Monday as legitimate, NCAA investigators might consider that a fib on the level of, say, claiming a recruit wasn't at a cookout at a coach's house when he actually was or, possibly, conveniently forgetting to mention that series of e-mails about the tattoo parlor."
Bingo. When the NCAA wants answers and Oregon provides a hilariously outdated book of recruiting profiles as its purchase receipt, the response won't be a pleasant one.

So anyway ... I said yesterday that "I need to see a little more on (Oregon) before I'm ready to throw them into the sinking boat with Ohio State and UNC." I've seen it. Commence throwing.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's pretty bad for North Carolina

The headline says it all. The NCAA's notice of allegations includes the following:
Page 20: It was reported that during the 2009-10 academic year and August 2010, Jennifer Wiley, former academic support center tutor, provided approximately $3,500 in impermissible extra benefits to football student-athletes. ... Wiley paid $150 for an airline ticket in May 2010, and $ 1,789 in parking violation expenses on August 20, 2010, for then football student-athlete ...

Page 23: It was reported that during 2009 and 2010, seven football student athletes received $27,097.38 in benefits from individuals, some of whom trigger NCAA agent legislation.

Page 33: It is alleged that from 2007 to 2010, then assistant football coach John Blake partnered with Gary Wichard, National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) certified agent, and Pro Tect Management to represent individuals in the marketing of their athletic abilities in violation of NCAA legislation. Specifically, Blake was employed and compensated by Pro Tect Management to influence football student-athletes to hire Wichard to represent them in marketing their athletic abilities and reputations.

Page 35: It is alleged that from May 2007 to October 2009, then-assistant football coach John Blake did not report $31,000 in athletically related outside income from Pro Tect Management, a sports agency representing athletes competing in the National Football League, National Basketball League and Major League Baseball.
There's more, but that's a pretty good summary.

It's probably a bad sign that my first thought was, "man, they're lucky they didn't get hit with a lack of institutional control." I mean, that'd be the worst-case scenario (and obviously a good thing to avoid as a university), but given the ridiculously extensive laundry list of violations that is included, I'm not sure how much of a difference it would make for the football program.

The penalties are gonna be severe, as they should be. I'm looking forward to the Bylaw Blog's analysis and always-interesting punishment-related predictions.

Butch Davis somehow avoided even a single mention in the notice, which would seem to be a good (and necessary) start toward keeping his job. I'm not sure there's ever been a program hit with widespread, all-encompassing major violations that retained its head coach, but I guess there's a first time for everything (and there haven't been many cases like that where the head coach wasn't named at all in the NCAA notice).

But here's the thing: In the big picture, Davis' fate doesn't really matter. The football program is about to get crushed with scholarship losses, coaching/recruiting limitations, vacated wins and potentially a postseason ban. Whatever progress was made in the up-to-now Butch Davis era will be undone in a hurry, and by the time national relevance is once again a reasonable goal, Davis will be gone one way or another.

Back when I was running my original Forever Saturday blog and the report first came out that the NCAA was digging around in Chapel Hill, I made this sadly prophetic statement:
... it'd be a shame if some of the team's best players got the program into a bunch of trouble just as the Heels are finally becoming an ACC contender for the first time since the Mack Brown era.
Shame indeed.

Funny business and the NCAA's new standard

So I got back from Vegas on Sunday and was thinking, "Man, it's been like five days since any crazy OSU-related fallout," which was both sad and surprising.

And then I saw a story on the wire slugged "Ohio St-Players' Cars" that seemed to have promise but turned out to be pretty benign:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Two Columbus-area dealerships made money on 24 of 25 sales made to Ohio State football players and family members.

In a 65-page report issued Tuesday, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles said the certificates of titles for 25 vehicle sales by Jack Maxton Chevrolet and Auto Direct to Ohio State players and their families accurately reflected the vehicles' sales prices. ...

The BMV investigation found no evidence that tickets and/or sports memorabilia were included in the sales

A BMV investigator found vehicles bought at Auto Direct were sold for an average of $2,000 over their wholesale purchase prices, the report said.

That's obviously (relatively) good news for Ohio State. One fewer nail in the program's coffin, so to speak.

It won't help that much, though. The tattoo thing in and of itself was problematic, representing major violations spread throughout several years and ignored (or plausibly unknown) by compliance. Also bad: the complete lack of vehicle-related compliance while half the team was cruising around with dealer plates, although that's more of a black eye than a bullet in the knee. The autographs-for-golf-and-stuff swaps Dennis Talbot was arranging: worse yet, especially considering that the school obviously knew what he was doing since it cut him off from free tickets two years ago but failed to remove his access to the players/program.

Those alone might not have constituted a lack of institutional control (the worst-case scenario for the school), but when Chris Cicero emailed Jim Tressel and shenanigans ensued -- the coverup, the Sugar Bowl ridiculousness, the emails and phone calls to Pryor "mentor" Ted Sarniak, the hilariously botched press conferences riddled with lies from Tressel and AD Gene Smith -- it was over for OSU. The question isn't "how bad?" It's "how disastrous?"

In that regard, the car-sales legitimacy knocks things down a notch on the disastrous scale. If SMU was an 11 (out of 10) and USC was a 7, Ohio State has dropped from maybe a 9 to an 8.

Adding a ridiculously widespread extra-benefits system like Tressel's Used Car Emporium would've left OSU looking at whatever is the worst possible punishment short of the death penalty. Now ... maybe a four-year bowl ban becomes a three-year bowl ban or something. It's kinda hard to say at this point how much (if any) impact the fishy car-related stuff -- from Pryor's unending cycle of loaners to the "friendly" dealership to the lack of compliance oversight -- will have on the NCAA's ultimate decision.

Meanwhile, over in Chapel Hill, the parking-tickets-for-everyone hilarity has gotten downright weird:
Between March 9 and April 29, 2009, (Greg) Little’s Dodge was issued 16 parking violations under three separate license plates. The car was cited three days in a row from March 30 to April 2, and each time had a different plate. On April 13, the car was cited twice, with two different plate numbers.
Errr ... what? Who changes license plates twice a day?
Several license plate numbers provided on a list of former and current UNC football players’ parking tickets between March 2007 and August 2010 are linked to a car dealer currently serving time in a federal prison for money laundering.
Oh. OK then.

And I briefly mentioned the John Blake phone records the other day, but seriously:
Former North Carolina assistant coach John Blake was in communication with UNC football players Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas during their trip to a training facility in California before the 2009 season.

Cellphone records obtained following a court ruling in a lawsuit filed against the university by The (Raleigh) News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and other news organizations also show that Blake, head coach Butch Davis' top recruiter for three and a half years, used a university-paid number to contact (phone calls or texts) numbers associated with NFL agent Gary Wichard and Davis during the players' visit.
To translate: An assistant coach knew his guys were meeting with an agent in violation of NCAA rules, might have been involved with arranging the trip, didn't report any of it and was in contact with them -- and possibly the agent and head coach -- from his university-paid phone during their visit.

Maybe Blake was some sort of rogue underling hoping to set up a bunch of money-on-the-side deals (not totally unlikely), but regardless, Butch Davis has become the Simpson-ized Whitey Ford, with pretzels raining down from above:

If the NCAA can connect him to any of the Blake stuff, he's done. If they just decide that he should have known and hit him with a "failure to monitor" charge, he might be able to survive, although that's assuming UNC doesn't say "screw it" and just fire him after a year and a half of NCAA investigators poking around campus and players getting suspended. He's walking between the raindrops at this point.

This is where I call on Brian at MGoBlog to (as usual) hit the nail on the head:
The question the NCAA is going to have to answer soon is "how obviously fishy does something have to be before we punish someone?" ... The NCAA dared to make inferences in the USC case, something that forms the basis for much of the Trojan outrage surrounding the case. They made a leap of logic many fourth-graders could make.
A new standard for guilt was established in the USC case. It's no longer a courtroom-style version of reasonable doubt; it's "if we think you're guilty, you're guilty."

The evidence against USC was essentially the following:
  1. A photo of assistant coach Todd McNair with the wannabe agents (Lloyd Lake and the spectacularly named Michael Michaels) who threw a house and piles of money at Reggie Bush.
  2. A couple of documented phone calls between McNair and Lake, whom McNair told the NCAA he had never met.
From there, the big inference was that USC must have (or at least should have) known what was goin' down. It was the NCAA equivalent of O.J.'s armed robbery case or Al Capone's tax evasion: They've gotta be punished for something even if we can't really prove the blatant stuff.

In both the OSU and UNC situations, there are some obviously sketchy things going on that might be almost certainly are violations of various degrees. For Butch Davis and Carolina, pretty much all the evidence (at least everything other than the already-established violations that led to last year's suspensions) falls under that category. For OSU, it's a much smaller subsection of the overall violations and will only serve to determine how nuclear the bomb will be.

Given the precedent and the repeated statements from NCAA prez Mark Emmert about making sure that "the cost of violating the rules costs more than not violating them," my guess is that neither school is gonna be real happy with the final notice of allegations and ensuing hammer droppage.

Side note: MGoBlog includes Oregon's questionable-at-best "recruiting package" payments as part of the argument, but I need to see a little more on that before I'm ready to throw them into the sinking boat with Ohio State and UNC. Then again, I guess that's kinda the point: How sketchy is too sketchy?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Party time

I'm off to Vegas for my anniversary.

Cons: No blogging (probably) until Monday. Pros: It's Vegas. And when I get back, my Castaway-style countdown to kickoff will be at 73 days. Yay.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Catching up fears the probe (not that kind)

It's last summer all over again: The specifics are a little sketchy so far, but the rumor making its way around the interwebz is that NCAA investigators are headed to Florida -- the state, not the school -- to look into some shady goings-on in the recruiting world (gasp). Normally I wouldn't bother posting something with so few details, but a radio report (no link, obviously) backed up the above-linked note from the Orlando Sentinel with essentially the same info. The relevant part:
Among the schools whose recruits are in question: Ohio State, Louisiana State, Auburn and Tennessee.
It seems pretty plausible that the NCAA uncovered some recruiting-related shenanigans during its time at OSU, and with several schools directly connected, this has the makings of last year's devastating agent party in Miami that resulted in North Carolina's defense imploding, Marcell Dareus getting suspended, etc. Set media to DEFCON 2.

Learn how to park: Speaking of North Carolina ...
North Carolina has released documents showing a group of Tar Heel football players accumulated more than $13,000 in parking citations over a 3 1/2-year period. The school released the documents Thursday, a day after the state Court of Appeals denied the school's request to delay the release of those records pending an appeal.
The obvious questions: How did a handful of players rack up over $10K in parking tickets? And why was the school trying to keep that out of an open-records request? Conveniently, the school "didn't say whether fines were paid." Anybody wanna wager on whether some of those parking tickets were "taken care of?" Given the already-tenuous situation at UNC with the NCAA investigation set to wrap up this month, this seems like a not-so-good thing to add to the evidence pile (assuming the NCAA didn't already know, which is definitely possible).

UPDATE: UNC now says just 30 of the parking tickets are unpaid, so I retract my previous statement. Still unanswered is why members of the football team are incapable of parking legally.

UPDATE UPDATE: The parking tickets were the least of UNC's concerns:
"One UNC football player accrued 93 parking tickets under nine license plate numbers between October 2007 and August 2009, according to parking records UNC released Thursday and a database search of the University’s Department of Public Safety website. …

The plates in question corresponded to cars including a gray Dodge, a gray Nissan, a black Acura, a black Honda and a green BMW, according to the records."

Nine cars in two years? Yeah, that seems totally reasonable and not at all like Terrelle Pryor. I retract my retraction. There's some funny business at North Carolina (and I didn't even mention the John Blake-Gary Wichard phone records).

Dana Holgorsen is a different cat: In case you were unaware, Dana Holgorsen came from the Mike Leach School of Strange Dudes. But rather than dreaming of being a pirate and talking about fat little girlfriends, Holgorsen's thing -- when not getting kicked out of casinos, anyway -- appears to be jumping out of airplanes over the New River Gorge. Yeah, you read that correctly.

It's a miracle: Penn State and Pitt, who haven't played since 2000 (mostly because Penn State was vengefully demanding a 2-for-1), will resume their rivalry with a home-and-home series in 2016-17. They've played 96 times since 1893 but only four times since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, which is ridiculous. And it doesn't sound like that number will be getting a whole lot bigger in the foreseeable future:
"Right now, we wouldn't be interested in (playing Pitt) on an annual basis," Curley said.
Lame. It's a good rivalry; play it and stop being vindictive (I'm looking at you, Penn State).

Didn't I just write about this? The disturbingly protective Forcier family has posted on its collective Twitter feed that Tate has NOT contacted the staff at Hawaii, which is contrary to a report earlier this week from the Honolulu Daily Star. So no Hawaii (at least not yet) ... but he IS interested in Kansas State and Colorado, neither of which is exactly overflowing with quality depth at QB. One potentially relevant note: Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News said in his blog Thursday that Forcier has "non-football issues that must be resolved (i.e., academic) before he enrolls anywhere." This was also the insider-ish word when he left Michigan, and since he never enrolled at Miami (or anywhere else), it's not like he's been working on getting his grades up. That's probably gonna severely limit his options -- he'll have to get admitted somewhere despite his crappy grades and then take some summer classes or something just to get himself eligible to get back on the field. In other words, there's a reason a guy who was starting at Michigan as a freshman is now strongly considering San Jose State.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I miss football and philly cheesesteaks

Sometime back in my early college years, I sat in a class (I think it was Psychology 101) in an auditorium at Grand Valley State with about 80 or so other underclassmen and listened to a wise man talk about context's role in memory retrieval.

Since I'm not a neurologist or psychologist or whatever, there are many people out there who could explain it better, but I'll summarize the best I can: The closer you can get to accurately reproducing the circumstances under which you did something, the better you'll be able to remember the details. Example: If you sit at your desk and drink coffee while studying for a test, you'll probably do better on said test if you take it while sitting at your desk and drinking coffee (I can vouch for this). If you learn how to do your job at a specific computer, continuing to work at that computer is probably in your best interests in terms of remembering the details of your training. Etcetera.

The opposite is also true. Trying to remember high school (in a general sense) is an impossible task; remembering the specific things you did in high school -- a class, a prank, a game, a date with that one girl, whateva -- is infinitely easier. Sometimes you can only remember the big things by remembering the little things, because context is everything.
. . . . .

My wife and I had student season tickets to Michigan football in 2006, the Year That Should Have Been (stupid Ohio State). I'd been to probably half a dozen games at Michigan Stadium before that season; my wife was an Arizona lifer who'd never seen a real winter and showed it by wearing flip-flops in the Ann Arbor snow despite thinking she'd get frostbite when it was 52 degrees.

We lived in a bizarrely long, thin apartment in the family-housing part of North Campus. It had two stories (only the bedrooms were upstairs) and was made pretty much entirely of wood -- a match could have taken the entire building down in about 17 seconds. The first time we went to a game, we took the university bus. It was crowded ... except crowded isn't the right word. It had so many people on it that you didn't need to hang onto anything -- you were held in place by the mass of humanity stuffed into every corner of the bus like sardines. My wife said everybody smelled funny, which is entirely possible since they were mostly college freshmen who presumably didn't have much of an understanding of personal hygiene.

I remember almost nothing of the first game, the opener against Vanderbilt -- I vaguely recall Kevin Grady scoring on a nice cutback run from 20-ish yards for the first touchdown of the season. That's about it. And to be honest, I don't remember a whole lot else from that season either ... at least not specifically. I remember Adrian Arrington making a beautiful leaping catch in the back of the endzone in the win over Michigan State on the same day I passed up tickets to the Tigers' clinching win over the Yankees in the ALDS (man, what a year). I remember Steve Breaston dropping a lot of passes one day and then some kid in the street dropping a Nerf football while playing catch and saying, "look, I'm Steve Breaston." I remember the most horrific weather I've ever sat in for a football game (against Northwestern), when it was 35, windy and doing something resembling freezing rain for about 2 hours before we finally decided we'd had enough (well, my wife had decided that after 5 minutes, but it took me a little longer to give in). I think that was the day she decided to apply for a credit card at one of the vendor booths just so she could get the free blanket they were giving away.

Oddly enough, this is the thing I remember most: In Week 2, when Michigan had its annual beat-up-on-a-directional-school extravaganza against Central Michigan, the game was actually delayed by rain and lightning for about 15 or 20 minutes. It was still fairly early -- maybe late in the first quarter -- but while seeking shelter from the waves of rain, we stood under the bleachers in the concourse area and decided to get a philly cheesesteak.

I like philly cheesesteaks. They're quite delicious. But this philly cheesesteak was the best philly cheesesteak that has ever existed. I can't exactly describe why the Michigan Stadium ones are so good, but once you've had one, no other philly cheesesteak can ever compare. I'm pretty sure that immediately after we finished fighting over the aforementioned delicious cheesesteak -- and these things cost like $7.00, by the way -- we bought another one. And we were living on like zero spending money at the time, so this is an important addition to the story.
. . . . .

You might be wondering where I'm going with all this. Here's the thing: When I sit here at my computer -- with 77 days left until college football once again graces us with its presence -- and think of how much I miss football, I don't just think "I miss football," even if that's unequivocally true. Football is too general of a thing to miss -- sort of like trying to remember high school.

I don't miss "football" -- I miss that exhilarating feeling of walking into the stadium and knowing I might see something amazing in the next three hours; I miss waking up Saturday morning and feeling that kinda nervous, kinda intense knot in my stomach; I miss walking past the marching band doing ridiculous things outside Crisler; I miss the "BEAT OHIO" marquees on all the university buses the week of The Game; I miss watching Denard (even though I've only seen him on TV) slice through a hole with nothing in front of him but a Notre Dame/Indiana/UConn safety and a whole bunch of grass; I miss the philly cheesesteaks.

This might sound dumb to some people. If you're reading this blog, you're probably not one of those people.

Catching up thinks Oregon might be in trouble

The news isn't good at Oregon: Cliff Harris' citation for going 118 on a suspended license went from amusing to concerning when it came out that he was driving a car that (a) wasn't his and (b) was rented by a university employee. Chip Kelly apparently agreed: Harris has been suspended indefinitely pending an investigation, and Kelly said Tuesday that Harris will miss "at least" the opener against LSU, which is major news since we're talking about a game with legitimate national title implications. Harris' explanation -- that the car was rented by someone outside the athletic department and that he reimbursed her for the fees -- is moderately plausible but still a little sketchy, and given the ... uhhh ... "situation" at Ohio State, driving around in a borrowed rental car probably wasn't a wise decision regardless. The big question now: How long is "indefinitely?" Oregon could lose half its defense and still be the clear-cut favorite in the Pac-12, but it's pretty much BCS championship or bust after last year's oh-so-close finish.

Things are looking good for Michael Floyd: Brian Kelly said Tuesday that he's "very optimistic" Michael Floyd will fulfill his requirements -- which are basically "stop drinking" and "stop getting arrested for drinking" -- to be reinstated for Notre Dame's opener against South Florida. In other words, Floyd's managed to stop doing stupid things for a few weeks, which is (sadly) an obvious step in the right direction. Kelly has been pretty adamant all along that there won't be a suspension -- "all in or all out" were his words -- and I don't have any problem with that, although a two-game ban would be super convenient for Michigan. Meaningless sit-for-a-few-series suspensions are the ultimate in public appeasement.

Janoris Jenkins needs a home: Janoris Jenkins went from superstar corner and probable first-round pick to definite waste-of-brain-space free agent when he was kicked out of Florida back in April following his second pot-related arrest in four months, and now he needs a place to play. I always figured he'd opt for the supplemental draft -- if he'd be a first-rounder next year, why not now? -- but for some reason unbeknownst to me, he's decided to stick it out in college and spend his senior year at ... Valdosta State or North Alabama. Both are regular Division II powers, and D-II is his only choice since he'd have to sit out a year (his last year of eligibility) to transfer to another D-I school. The level of competition is less important than proving he can actually handle some responsibility and not, like, get arrested every two weeks, but statements like this about what he's learned ...
"It's a lot of positives. Now you know you just can't trust everybody," he said.
... don't offer a lot of hope.

The crazy Tate Forcier saga might never end: I don't even know where to start with this one. With Terrelle Pryor shuffling off the college coil and into the NFL/CFL/UFL whatever it is he's doing next, Tate Forcier has taken the throne as the most bizarrely entertaining player in the country. Last week's news that he might finally have found an oasis in his sea of insanity at San Jose State was presumably a good thing for both a troubled kid and a crappy football program ... if only it were that simple. He's apparently now reaching out to Hawaii, although it's unclear whether there's any mutual interest there. If so, that'd obviously be preferable to San Jose State -- It also wouldn't exactly be "close to home" since it's like a five-hour flight from San Diego to Honolulu, but the opportunity to throw for 7 billion yards and 1,000 touchdowns a season at a respectable school might be enough to outweigh the distance factor (and Forcier would be perfect in that offense).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Meta site note

If you view my site on Internet Explorer, you probably see a lot of weird things. This is because Explorer sucks and should die a slow and painful death.

There could be more, but the annoying problems I've discovered so far are:
  • Embedded photos don't show up in the proper spot (they get pushed too far into the text rather than right-aligned).
  • Photos that appear at the top of the story get pushed way farther down than they should.
  • Headlines break to two lines even when they could easily fit on one.
None of this happens on Firefox; I'm not sure about Chrome or Safari. Upshot: If you're still using Explorer and haven't discovered how much better the other browsers are, consider this your opportunity.

Obligatory Luke Fickell reaction

Exactly two weeks after naming him head coach, Ohio State rolled out clean-cut Buckeye lifer Luke Fickell on Monday, presenting him as its new and younger and more likeable version of Jim Tressel.

Although I'm not intimately familiar with the inner workings of OSU's coaching hierarchy under Tressel, the assumption was always that Darrell Hazell (who left at an extremely inconvenient time to become coach at Kent State) and Fickell were the fast risers and the Tressel clones, the guys who might actually have a chance to ascend to the job whenever Tressel retired with his 78 Big Ten championships and 1,000-1 record against Michigan. And the fact that Fickell (who's only 37, BTW) was entrusted with the job even temporarily while Tressel was supposed to be on his slap-on-the-wrist suspension answered any questions about Fickell's philosophy: Nothing will change. A guy who was mentored by Tressel, promoted by Tressel, trusted by Tressel would not be in the situation he's in if he didn't think like Tressel.

His awfully sweaty but respectable press conference performance was more proof of that: He talked a lot about "toughness" and "effort" and moving forward, which are all things people love to hear and will respond to by posting on message boards with slappy comments like "this guy is awsome he totuly gits it" even though it was all scripted and meaningless in the big picture. He learned from the master.

Believe it or not, I actually kinda like Fickell (from purely a "likeable guy" standpoint). Sort of like Brady Hoke, he busted his ass off to one day have a shot at his "dream job," and now he's getting it at a time when said job is probably less desirable than at any point in modern history. The big difference: Hoke actually, you know, has the job. Fickell's chances of keeping the job past this season are somewhere between slim and none, and slim is over at Jack Maxton Chevrolet looking for a loaner (I hear there's a Nissan 350Z available).

He made a comment during his presser about how this team "will not be about comparing and contrasting what we did before," apparently trying to recalibrate expectations given the obvious ... ummm ... challenges (his words, not mine) he's about to plow into. I suppose that's a logical goal given the pure insanity of the last few months, the suspensions, etc., but it's not realistic when Tressel has established 10-2 or 11-1 as the benchmark for a reasonably successful season -- that won't ever change at OSU, at least not until the NCAA brings the hammer and people start to readjust their goals when they see the diminished product on the field (and probably not even then).

Even more interesting was this not-exactly-off-the-cuff statement:
"I was not informed of any information until it became public knowledge."
Considering that there's a 1,000 percent chance that was scripted (or at least approved) by somebody in legal/compliance before he ever stepped to the podium, the wording there provides an intriguingly large loophole. At no point did he say he was not "aware" of the violations -- simply that he was not "informed" until it became public knowledge. And there's a reason for that: If/when Fickell is implicated in the extra-benefit shenanigans (and the odds of that happening aren't low), OSU might save itself from an extra level of NCAA tongue-lashing by being able to say "well, he didn't technically lie" and then cutting him loose after the season along with everybody else who was even tangentially involved.

Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but I'd have to be more than a little naive to think OSU's top recruiter -- a guy who was undoubtedly involved in organizing on-campus visits and camps (you know, the ones Tressel allegedly used to rig when he was an up-and-comer) -- had no idea half the guys on the team were driving around in sweet cars and gettin' inked up at crazy discounts. On a related note, Braxton Miller's massive block "O" begs some questions.

I'm not the only one who's skeptical:

The beauty of delusion.

Anyway, a LOT is gonna have to go right for Fickell to still be employed at Ohio State seven months from now, part of that being good news (in the form of no news) from the NCAA and part of it being on-field success at least comparable to what Tressel could/would have achieved this season. Obviously he doesn't have control over what the NCAA finds; the only thing he can do is win.

That'd be a lot easier if, like, half the offense weren't missing for the first five games and he had a QB with any relevant experience, but nobody will care about minor details like that if he goes 7-5. It's win or go home -- or maybe win and go home.

So yeah ... it's not exactly the ideal first-job scenario, but as a wise man once said, it is what it is.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Catching up loves red-on-white color schemes

Russell Wilson likely headed to Wisconsin: I have no idea whether Russell Wilson's future is in football or baseball, but NC State didn't have much interest in waiting around to find out and decided to cut him loose last month and let him be awesome somewhere else for his senior season. It's not officially official yet, but man ... Wisconsin oughta be loaded this year. I thought the loss of the quietly efficient and underrated Scott Tolzien would create a not-insignificant void, but replacing him with Wilson -- who says he's "95 percent" sure he'll play football this fall -- would be ridiculously convenient for Wisconsin and wildly irritating for everyone who plays Wisconsin. It's entirely possible that Wisconsin 2011 > Wisconsin 2010, which (in case you forgot in the past six months) went 11-2 and played in the Rose Bowl.

Terrelle Pryor headed for supplemental draft: No surprise, but this news come with the added schadenfreude-tastic bonus of hearing scouts destroy Pryor's lack of development as a quarterback at The University of Ohio State (lol). I also unintentionally overhead a coworker come up with the perfect in-a-nutshell summary of the "Pryor signs with Drew Rosenhaus" news: "Douchebag signs with douchebag." It's brilliant in its simplicity.

JoePa is on Skype: This picture seems ironic and amusing on so many levels:

I'm utterly amazed that JoePa is teaching recruits how to use Skype and works on a Mac. I'm less surprised that he needs a 54-inch monitor.

Rob Bolden re-enrolls at Penn State: Speaking of Penn State, the quarterback situation was pretty much an unmitigated disaster last season, so persuading the most talented guy on the roster to stick around is probably a step in the right direction (even if he was part of the can't-look-away wreckage). Bolden has been wishy-washy ever since midway through last season -- when he was benched in favor of Michigan-destroying walk-on Matt McGloin -- about what exactly he wants to do with his career, which is kinda strange since he's reportedly at least neck-and-neck with McGloin for the starting job going into next year. The guess here is that he'll give it a go this fall and try to win the job outright; if he doesn't, cya.

Cliff Harris should probably slow down: Driving 118 mph? Sweet. Driving 118 mph on a suspended license and getting caught? Ummm ... not sweet? Cliff Harris would know, which is unfortunate for Oregon considering that he's probably the best corner AND the best punt returner in the Pac-10 (and maybe the country). Oregon's had no official word yet on any punishment, but AP was thoughtful enough to do the research and discovered that the fine for hitting triple digits is (drumroll) $1,148. Ouch. I don't think Phil Knight's allowed to pay that.

Recruiting rankings FTW: I don't bother trying to cover recruiting at any sort of in-depth level, but if you're into that sort of thing, the ESPNU 150 is now out. The Rivals and Scout rankings are typically more accurate -- I actually did a study on it once (lol nerd) -- but the thing about having three or four (depending on your opinion of 24/7 Sports) respectable recruiting services out there is that you can get a pretty good consensus on the top 200-ish guys in the country. And if you're sitting there going, "pffft, recruiting rankings don't matter," you're lacking a basic understanding of math.
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