Saturday, July 30, 2011

Karmic justice for Terrelle Pryor

A spectacular six months for Terrelle Pryor hit a peak Saturday:
According to ESPN's John Clayton, former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been ruled ineligible for the NFL's supplemental draft because the NCAA and OSU have yet to formally rule anything on him, and that needs to happen for him to enter the supplemental draft.
Translation: Pryor won't be playing in the NFL next year. I was actually wrong about this in my post the other day -- my understanding was that if he wasn't eligible for the supplemental draft but had already left school, he'd just be the equivalent of an undrafted free agent. That isn't the case, according to
The NFL has strict rules about supplemental draft eligibility because it doesn’t want players trying to skirt the regular draft in an attempt to manipulate where they might be picked. Quarterback Bernie Kosar did just that in 1985 to land with the Cleveland Browns instead of the Minnesota Vikings.

If the supplemental draft isn’t an option, Pryor could wait to enter the 2012 NFL draft or try to play in an alternate professional organization like the Canadian Football League.
How unfortunate. Given that Pryor's stock wasn't exactly at Kevin Kolb levels to begin with, I have to imagine that a year out of football will just about eliminate any chance of a meaningful NFL career. There's always the possibility of tearing up the CFL or doing a year's worth of hardcore QB training and looking intriguing enough to get somebody to take a shot late in next year's draft, but it's hard to envision this guy being motivated enough or consistent enough against professional competition to make either of those scenarios seem plausible.

So for at least the next year -- and probably a lot longer -- Terrelle Pryor will be known only as the guy who ended Jim Tressel's career (a well-deserved ending, of course) and then faded out of the public consciousness because he couldn't turn down cash, cars, tattoos or anything else that seemed gettable during his college "career" ... unless he sues the NFL (which worked out so well for Maurice Clarett), in which case he'll go down as even more of a laughingstock than he already is. It's a win-win situation for everybody other than Pryor.

Ohio State might still get off easy and cause me to throw an electronic device through my living room at a frighteningly high rate of speed (just ask my wife), but at least one responsible party is getting a fair dose of comeuppance.

Friday, July 29, 2011

North Carolina has a coach (nominally, anyway)

North Carolina did pretty much the only thing it could do on Thursday, naming defensive coordinator Everett Withers the interim coach and get-us-through-the-storm guy.

As I said Wednesday, the options are pretty limited when you fire your coach a week before the start of training camp with potentially massive sanctions approaching. Gus Malzahn isn't gonna ditch Auburn in July to take over at a mid-level school facing a bowl ban and scholarship losses. So the job (at least for now) belongs to Withers, a 48-year-old with three years of coordinator experience at UNC to go along with a year at Texas under Mack Brown and six years with the Tennessee Titans under Jeff Fisher. Moving up in the world while working for guys like Mack Brown, Jeff Fisher and Butch Davis isn't meaningless -- Withers is a well-respected defensive coach who's put up good numbers at North Carolina and done a remarkable job of bringing in and developing high-end talent.

So that's all well and good ... but his chances of keeping the job on a long-term basis are literally zero. When athletic director Dick Baddour became part of the collateral damage on Thursday and announced his "resignation" effective next summer, he said:
"The Chancellor and I have had conversations about staying beyond that date to help stabilize the program, however as someone who has hired coaches, I know that it is even more imperative that my successor be able to name the next coach."
In other words, "Congratulations on being the new coach until we hire somebody better."

It didn't occur to me until today how similar Withers' situation is to Luke Fickell's: Both are likeable guys who aren't ready to be head coaches at major programs but will be anyway because a school in the midst of epic controversy had no other choice. Neither school wants to settle for Loyal Assistant X as the face of the program and will be throwing big bucks around in the offseason to try to lure somebody with the experience and/or name recognition to compete at the appropriate level. Meanwhile, Fickell and Withers will be SOL until they earn another shot somewhere else in the relatively distant future.

And in fairness to North Carolina, the administration's quest to wash its hands of the entire Butch Davis era is a logical one. It'd be kinda contradictory to say that it was impossible to "restore confidence in the football program" under Davis but then promote his top assistant and say, "But this guy ... this is the guy."

The only positive for Withers is that the pressure will be minimal; it makes no difference whether he wins five games or nine. And in a thoroughly mediocre ACC, nine wins really isn't out of the question. Other than at Georgia Tech (September 24) at Virginia Tech (November 17) and maybe at Clemson (October 22), UNC should probably be favored in every game on the schedule.

They won't be winning the division title or anything (barring a disaster in Blacksburg), but they'll be respectable. And as far as Withers goes, maintaining whatever semblance of on-field momentum remains at UNC is a reasonable goal that would help a lot in enticing somebody with a slightly more impressive resume to take over as The Real Coach.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Catching up enrolls at City State University

Tate Forcier is a Spartan (not that kind): His seven-month search for a school that's willing to take a talented QB and failing student is over, and Tate Forcier is set to enroll at San Jose State. This is good news for both parties -- Forcier was literally down to his last realistic D-I option, and San Jose State ... uh, it's San Jose State. The four-star QB recruits are few and far between.

As a D-I transfer, Forcier will have to sit out the 2011 season but should be ready to rock as the starter in 2012. Hopefully he'll have his academics in order by then -- maybe being closer to his San Diego home (as he said he wanted when he ditched Miami following a weird flirtation in February) will help.

I wish him nothing but good fortune from here on out; we'll always have Notre Dame.

Gunner Kiel commits to Indiana (?!?): Speaking of quarterbacks going weird places, the spectacularly named Gunner Kiel (the consensus top pro-style quarterback in the country in the 2012 class) committed to Indiana on Tuesday. He was known to be interested in Alabama and Oklahoma, and while he included Indiana on his list throughout the entire process, most people thought that was just a hometown-respect thing (he's from Columbus, Indiana) and not a meaningful indicator that he might actually consider going there. Fooled us.

As superficially insane as it seems to pass up Alabama, Oklahoma and other interested parties like Notre Dame and Michigan to get beat up for four years at the bottom of the Big Ten, there are at least two things (beyond staying close to home) that could make this a very wise decision:
  1. Kevin Wilson, Indiana's new coach after spending the previous nine years as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma. The offense that produced Sam Bradford, Jason White (he won a Heisman, remember?) and now Landry Jones has to be fairly enticing for a big-time quarterback recruit.
  2. Playing time/exposure. With the underrated Ben Chappell out of eligibility and nobody of Kiel's caliber waiting in line (obviously), he has a clear path to four years of BMOC status and massive numbers in the aforementioned QB-friendly offense.
The downside -- other than probably losing a lot -- is that winning the starting job as a freshman in 2012 would mean beating out his brother Dusty, the probable starter this year as a redshirt sophomore. Family tension FTW.

Maybe I'm unreasonably optimistic about the Kevin Wilson era turning Indiana into the new Purdue, but signing up to throw the ball 40 times a game for an elite offensive coach at an in-state BCS school is far from the worst decision in the world. Remember Tim Couch (the college version)?

Terrelle Pryor either is or isn't eligible for the supplemental draft: FOX Sports reported last week that since the supplemental draft requires an "unanticipated change" in someone's eligibility, either academic or otherwise, Terrelle Pryor giving up his senior year in order to avoid a five-game suspension wasn't sufficient to make him eligible for a draft this summer (if one is held at all). In other words, he'd be relegated to undrafted-free-agent status and have to earn himself a roster spot in the wildly condensed training-camp period with a team that'd placed no significant investment in him. This would probably not end well for Mr. Pryor.

While I find this dilemma hilarious, Drew Rosenhaus apparently wasn't as amused and started seeking an answer from the NCAA on whether Pryor would have been eligible at all for the 2011 season; that status hasn't yet been decided but will be the determining factor in whether he'll be approved for draft entry.

In the meantime, Ohio State released this very convenient memo:
In a letter from Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith dated Tuesday, Smith said that Pryor was ineligible because he failed to cooperate with NCAA and Ohio State investigators. He then added, "The university must also dissociate you from its athletic program for a period of five years."

Pryor's Columbus lawyer, Larry James, said he sought the letter from Smith to rule out any chance of Pryor playing again in college.
Talk about a quid pro quo. "Hey big guy, thanks again for not cooperating at all with the NCAA and covering our asses. In exchange, here's an NFL roster spot -- enjoy."

Just like Tressel had his fine rescinded, his suspension lifted and his retirement benefits reinstated, Pryor gets a handshake and a lovely parting gift as Ohio State wraps everything up into a neat little package for everybody involved. Remarkably, nobody will end up getting punished at all but the NCAA will continue to nod approvingly and pat Gene Smith on the back for no particular reason.

As for Pryor, the interesting thing will be whether the NCAA -- which isn't exactly known for its investigate timeliness -- decides in the next month whether he had any eligibility left. If he did, the supplemental draft is a no-go. If he didn't, that means his violations went beyond the tattoo stuff (for which he got a five-game suspension) and there must be something new to add to OSU's original notice of allegations, which would contradict the statement that came out last week.

My curiosity level: 7 out of 10. It would be a little higher if I thought Pryor had any chance at doing anything of note in the NFL.

Jeff Demps isn't done with football just yet: Florida running back Jeff Demps, the undisputed fastest player in college football, told the coaching staff this week that he'll be coming back for his senior year rather than quitting to focus on track.

He didn't participate in spring ball since he was busy winning his second straight NCAA indoor 60-meter title (just like my typical spring break), so it's pretty much an unknown exactly how he fits into Charlie Weis' hypothetically pro-style offense, but he'll be on the field somewhere. He led Florida in rushing last year with 591 yards even though he was practically useless for the second half of the season because of a foot problem, which says a lot about Florida's shocking offensive ineptitude but also says something about Demps' mind-bending explosiveness. Averaging 7.1 yards per carry over a three-year period in the SEC isn't meaningless.

The guess here is that he ends up as the nominal starter in some sort of large-scale platoon, with Chris Rainey, Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown splitting the half (or five-eighths or two-thirds or whatever) of the carries that don't go to Demps.

UCLA freshman Brett Hundley to undergo knee surgery: Brett Hundley might eventually be the savior of UCLA football and Rick Neuheisel's job, but his chances of opening the season as the starting QB are looking pretty slim:
Hundley is scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday to repair a torn meniscus, Neuheisel announced. Hundley suffered the injury playing basketball and is expected to miss three to four weeks. Neuheisel expects to have him back for the second half of camp.
Hundley was OK but not exactly dominant in spring practice, and it looked like he had some ground to make up to take the starting spot away from a suddenly competent Kevin Prince. A spectacular fall camp might have been sufficient, but half a camp? Probably not -- it's hard to envision Neuheisel giving the job to a freshman with two or three weeks of meaningful practice under his belt and saying, "Win me eight games so I don't get fired plzkthx."

Prince will probably be the guy for the first couple weeks (at Houston, San Jose State, at Texas). If/when he struggles, Hundley will get some snaps and probably ample opportunities to look good enough that Neuheisel can justify putting him atop the depth chart. If he doesn't, Neuheisel's got a decision to make about whether it's worth burning a redshirt year to get his QB of the future some mop-up-duty snaps in preparation for 2012 and beyond (assuming Neuheisel's around to see 2012 and beyond).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

End of the winding road for Butch Davis

I actually have three posts in the pipe right now, but this one couldn't wait (which is kind of appropriate given the time-related weirdness of the news):

North Carolina fired football coach Butch Davis on Wednesday, saying the past year of turmoil amid an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct was doing too much damage to the school's reputation.

The school issued a statement announcing Davis' dismissal nine days before the start of preseason practice. Chancellor Holden Thorp said the decision was not prompted by any changes in the ongoing NCAA investigation but said he "lost confidence in our ability to come through this without harming the way people think of this institution."

That would've been thoroughly unsurprising a month ago, when UNC got a book-thick notice of allegations from the NCAA that said "you're screwed," except in a lot more words. But now? All of nine days from the start of fall camp and despite nothing new coming out in the investigation? It's ... ummm ... something other than thoroughly unsurprising.

Davis actually got off pretty easy in that massive NCAA report -- he was just about the only relevant person at North Carolina whose name didn't show up, which seemed like a convenient excuse for UNC to let its best coach since Mack Brown stick around and ride out the inevitable sanctions. Or not.

Even if he didn't do anything specific to get himself into trouble, Davis ran into the same problem Pete Carroll knew was approaching USC at ludicrous speed back in '09: Turning a blind eye equals super happy fun times for everybody but leads to bad things when the NCAA comes calling. Somebody important at UNC apparently saw the ridiculous response to Ohio State's shenanigans and thought, "Hey, if all we have to do is fire our coach to get off easy ..."

Seriously, though, I think this statement pretty much summarizes the whole situation:
Thorp said he "lost confidence in our ability to come through this without harming the way people think of this institution."
I'm not sure firing Davis is anything other than closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, gone on a bunch of free trips, been ruled ineligible and taken their skillz to the NFL, but cleaning house and starting fresh is an understandable big-picture decision given the fact that North Carolina is, like, a respected institution of higher learnin'.

As for Davis, it's a hell of a thud at the end of what should have gone down as an impressive program-resuscitating career (his career might not actually be over, but if he gets a job, it'll be a relatively meaningless "Mike Price at UTEP" sort of thing). He was awesome at Miami and left for the NFL just in time to hand Larry Coker a national championships and 25 straight wins, and he took over for John Bunting at UNC and went 28-23 in four seasons (which doesn't seem that impressive until you consider Bunting's 27-45 mark and UNC's historical irrelevance). It was only 12 freakin' months ago that he had UNC on the brink of a national breakthrough as a top-10 preseason team with an utterly loaded defense and tons of momentum on the East Coast recruiting trail. I'm not sure I can think of another program in recent memory that rose and fell so quickly.

And things won't be getting any better for a while; the big-name coaches aren't exactly gonna be lining up for a job at a basketball-first school facing devastating short-term sanctions. Nobody knows who's next in line, but it seems likely that whoever is named interim coach Thursday will just be keeping the seat warm -- albeit maybe for more than one season -- until the craziness dies down and somebody with a decent track record or a lot of upside (paging Gus Malzahn) is willing to pick up the pieces and see if they can do what Davis appeared to be on the brink of last season.

For now, North Carolina is back to being an ACC also-ran and Davis is out of a job because he ultimately delivered (or at least oversaw) more controversy than meaningful wins.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Omar Bolden is probably done at Arizona State

When uber-corner Omar Bolden tore his ACL back in the spring, it was obviously a pretty devastating blow to an Arizona State team with legitimate hopes of going places (Pasadena, specifically) this year. Cornerbacks don't return from torn ACLs in less than six months, so the general assumption at the time was that Bolden would have surgery, do some rehab and then consider his late-season options, with the most likely scenario being a redshirt and a return for a sixth year of eligibility in 2012.

That apparently won't be happening:
"I just kind of feel like (after this season), my time is done here," Bolden told the Arizona Republic.
And that's particularly relevant because (as we already figured):
"I wouldn't say I'm not going to play (this season), but chances are slim," Bolden said.
His interview Friday was full of sad-panda statements, with the most meaningful being those two. "Slim" might not seem like such a dire assessment, but his thought process basically eliminates any possibility of an in-season comeback:
"I want to be back as soon as possible, if I'm healthy. I won't step on the field if I don't feel confident in my knee. I won't play if I'm not ready. ... That's the only way I'm going to be effective. I wouldn't want to put myself out there when I'm not 100 percent, because I'd be hurting the team."
Again, Omar Bolden is a cornerback -- there is no chance he'll be ready to play at 100 percent less than eight months after tearing his ACL. Maybe he could get back to 80 percent (or something in that vicinity) by November, but not 100 percent. Not happening. His only shot at suiting up in one of those brand-spanking-new ASU uniforms: a bowl game, preferably an early January one (you know the one I'm talkin' about).

That obviously would be a much more realistic team goal if one of the best corners in the country were actually, you know, able to play and stuff, but college careers don't always end the way they're supposed to. Bolden is just the latest unfortunate example; while his career isn't technically over, his next meaningful game will probably be on a Sunday.

Friday, July 22, 2011

NCAA chooses head-in-sand option

I was pretty sure this was a mistake when I first heard about it. I mean, seriously, there's no possible way Ohio State's getting off this easy ... right?

Ohio State likely won't face the most severe charges possible in the memorabilia-for-cash-and-tattoos scandal that cost football coach Jim Tressel his job.

NCAA investigators said they found no evidence that Ohio State failed to properly monitor its football program or any evidence of a lack of institutional control, according to a letter sent to the university and released Friday.

NCAA investigators also said they have not found any new violations.

OK ... first of all, "NCAA investigators said they found no evidence that Ohio State failed to properly monitor its football program or any evidence of a lack of institutional control." That's a joke, right? I mean, OSU has been rewriting the freakin' definition of "lack of institutional control" for the last five months:

  1. Star quarterback and three other offensive starters (not exactly no-name guys people wouldn't have noticed around town) -- as well as one defensive backup -- each receive hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars worth of impermissible benefits.
  2. Head coach finds out about players receiving improper benefits, doesn't tell anyone for a full year, lies about it repeatedly to the NCAA and covers it up so the aforementioned players (important ones, of course) can remain eligible.
  3. Information comes out through a federal investigation, and the school then claims that it "self-reported" the violations, an obvious lie that's not even a good one.
  4. School suspends coach for two games and claims that the violations were "an isolated incident," which turns out almost immediately to be an embarrassing lie, leading to the coach's resignation and later acknowledgement that he knew the football program was "gonna pay the fiddler" at some point due to the extent of violations.
  5. School releases records showing that compliance warned football administration about players receiving improper vehicle-related benefits as far back as seven years ago (!!!).
  6. Records show that a particular friendly car dealer was the source of more than half the football players' car purchases (and those of many of their out-of-state family members, since it's so convenient to drive hundreds of miles to look at and buy a car), and that same car dealer received sideline passes from various players until the athletic department decided that was a "conflict of interest" (duh).
  7. Compliance director signs off on releasing NCAA emergency funds for an athlete's car repair in April despite that not being listed as an applicable usage and despite the repairs occurring at the dealership known to represent a "conflict of interest."
  8. School acknowledges that it has large amounts of missing equipment items that were either not tracked (a pretty bad oversight) or were just allowed to be taken by players and sold/traded away, which would seem hard to believe if not for the extent of other shenanigans.
I could go on all day, but that's a pretty good summary of things that definitely happened and that the school has acknowledged/admitted.

Even if there is absolutely nothing else to add to the case -- and I'll get to that momentarily -- the undeniable fact is that the list above represents an impressive accumulation of major NCAA violations, a general defiance for rules and laughable administrative incompetence. Lack of institutional control? Obviously.

Remember this quote?
“The real issue here is if you have high-profile players, your enforcement staff has to monitor those students at a higher level,” NCAA committee chairman Paul Dee said. “So high-profile players demand high-profile compliance.”
That was the part of the NCAA's justification for the massive penalties dumped on USC. There seems to be a disconnect here, yes?

Sticking with the USC comparison, the main reason their punishment was so shockingly severe was that the compliance issues stretched between two sports (football and basketball). But that doesn't mean the football team's bowl ban and devastating scholarship cuts were due to Tim Floyd giving O.J. Mayo envelopes of cash; I feel pretty confident saying that the overall lack of oversight in the athletic department contributed more to the extent of punishment than the type of punishment (for example, that "lack of institutional control" might have been the NCAA's reasoning for yanking 15 scholarships per year rather than 10).

USC's football program got hammered primarily because Reggie Bush was getting large amounts of cash/free rent/impermissible benefits and the NCAA determined that the school (Todd McNair, specifically) should have known about it. That was a bit of a jumping-to-conclusions decision, but it wasn't an unreasonable one.

In the Ohio State case, you have five players who received impermissible benefits over an unknown period of time (less valuable but more widespread violations than in the Reggie Bush case) and the head coach (not just a position coach) definitely knowing about it, lying about it repeatedly to the NCAA and covering it up in order to keep his players eligible. The school didn't cooperate, lied about how the information was discovered and tried to sweep everything under the rug before the media pulled out the dirt.

There is no question: The Ohio State violations were worse, if for no reason other than the head coach's involvement and coverup. The rest is comparable, but Jim Tressel's hilarious email chain and the school's reaction to it -- "I just hope the head coach doesn't dismiss me," for example -- take "lack of institutional control" to another level.

Yet the NCAA finds "no evidence that Ohio State failed to adequately monitor its football program." Head asplode.

And then there's this:
NCAA investigators also said they have not found any new violations.
Did they read Sports Illustrated or talk to any of those witnesses? Did they look into Terrelle Pryor's extensive collection of "loaner" cars (which, by rule, must also be available to every other student-athlete in order to not represent an impermissible benefit)? What about Dennis Talbott and his impressive assortment of signed memorabilia and golf outings with Pryor at the local country club? Those were totally on the up-and-up?

The only possible explanations for NCAA investigators not finding any new violations are:
  • They're sitting at their desks playing WordFeud rather than doing anything useful.
  • They're walking around Columbus with their heads up their asses.
That's it. Between ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the Columbus Dispatch and the gazillion other media outlets in on the feeding frenzy, I could fly into Columbus right now and bump into somebody at the airport holding proof of an NCAA violation. Seriously, just look around.

Come August 12, Ohio State will go before the Committee on Infractions with an O.J. Simpson-esque smirk on its collective face. The recent standard of punishment has been at a two-for-one level (for example, playing two ineligible players for a year equals four lost scholarships for a year, and playing in one postseason tournament with ineligible players equals a two-year postseason ban); by that template, Ohio State should get absolutely no less than a two-year postseason ban and 10 lost scholarships for two years (one year for the ineligibility and one for the coverup). If they get away with simply saying "we're really sorry, so we'll pretend we didn't win all those games last year," the idea of upholding the already-outdated model of amateurism might as well be thrown into a bonfire along with the NCAA rulebook.

The lesson (assuming that happens): cheat. If you're a coach, cheat -- you might eventually lose your job as the scapegoat, but you'll walk away with tens of millions of dollars in the bank and the adoration of fans everywhere because you beat Michigan almost 90 percent of the time. If you're an administrator, cheat -- nobody cares about you, and by looking the other way, you help ensure your athletic department's success and add more zeroes to your paycheck. If you're a booster, cheat until you're blue in the face -- you're not in anybody's jurisdiction, and as long as the school has plausible deniability, all the NCAA can do is say "hey, all those games your team won didn't really happen" ... except you have the memories and memorabilia that say they did.

I would cheat. Why not?

Until the NCAA can answer that question, I'd cheat until I ran out of ways to cheat.

As for Ohio State ... ugh. When Stewart Mandel is right, reality is wrong.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Catching up loves TMZ interviews

USC suspends Marc Tyler for (at least) the season opener: So ... Marc Tyler made some "news" the other day with a hilarious TMZ interview, and USC wasn't real happy about it.

Here's why (seriously, watch it):

That guy is drunk like whoa. Highlights:

  1. "We all get in Kim Kardashian"
  2. USC is the "University of Sexual Ballers" (lol)
  3. "They breakin' bread"
I give him no grief for picking Arizona State girls over girls anywhere -- I mean, obviously.

In any of the previous gazillion years, the reaction to (insert USC running back here)'s suspension would be "whatever, there are 17 former five-stars behind him." For once, that is not the case. With Allen Bradford and C.J. Gable graduated and Tyler coming off a 913-yard, nine-touchdown junior year, he was in line to be the first true feature back at USC since ... well, I don't even know. Before Pete Carroll. Sophomore Dillon Baxter and redshirt freshman D.J. Morgan are uber athletic but lacking size (weight, specifically) and experience, and everything beyond them is a complete unknown.

On the plus side, assuming Tyler stops getting drunk and granting hilarious interviews and therefore only misses one game, USC will probably be OK; they should be able to get past Minnesota without him.

LSU gets probation for old recruiting shenanigans: This happened so long ago that it was barely still on the national radar, but the NCAA announced its ruling Wednesday on LSU's 2009 recruiting violations:

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU committed major violations while recruiting a junior college football player but won't be slapped with any postseason bans or future scholarship reductions, the NCAA ruled Tuesday. The governing body decided to place the school on probation for a year and cited a former assistant coach for unethical conduct.

The investigation found that former assistant coach D.J. McCarthy improperly arranged for transportation and housing for former defensive lineman Akiem Hicks in 2009 before later trying to cover up those actions.

McCarthy resigned in December 2009. Hicks never played for the Tigers before he left LSU.

LSU had already self-imposed two lost scholarships and a 10 percent cut in official visits this year, and the NCAA extended the official-visits penalties one year.

If the punishment seems light, it's because LSU found out about the violations, ruled Hicks ineligible before he ever played a game, forced McCarthy's resignation, reported everything to the NCAA and was supposedly very cooperative during the investigation. In other words, they did the exact opposite of what Ohio State is doing. They also already took care of the scholarship penalty, going with just 83 players during the past academic year -- they'll be back up to 85 this season, so any tangible punishment is already over.

Given the scope of massive and ridiculous NCAA violations in the past year, this gets a "meh" from me and rates about a 3 out of 10 on the Cam Newton Scale of Cheatiness.

Hawaii turns down Tate Forcier: The headline says it all. There was actually some mutual interest -- at least temporarily -- as Hawaii invited Forcier for an official visit and appeared to be ready to offer a scholarship ... until his transcripts showed up.

This is from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
People familiar with the situation said Forcier did not project to meet the requirements to join the Warriors for UH's fall semester, which begins Aug. 22. ...

Last month, Forcier contacted the Warriors. Two weeks ago, Forcier and McMackin had a 1-hour telephone conversation during which Forcier was offered an official recruiting trip. A condition of the trip was UH's receipt of Forcier's transcripts.

UH received the transcripts this past Friday.

On Monday, Forcier told ESPN and the Star-Advertiser he would be visiting UH this weekend. The projections of Forcier's eligibility apparently aborted those plans.

It's pretty bad when Hawaii (which isn't exactly Princeton) looks at your transcripts and reacts the way a car salesman would react if I filled out a credit app to buy a Dodge Viper. Forcier's grades have been the big problem throughout the entire process, and it's sounding less and less likely that he's gonna find somebody willing to take the chance that he'll get his crap together and get eligible for the 2012 season.

The only remaining school that has expressed interest and seems to be a realistic option: San Jose State.

Stephen Garcia will "in all likelihood" rejoin South Carolina: Coming off his fifth (!!!) suspension, Stephen Garcia has supposedly made some "lifestyle changes" and is ready to rejoin the team.
(Steve Spurrier) said "in all likelihood" quarterback Stephen Garcia will be back in the fold for preseason camp. After all, Spurrier cracked, "I guess we don't want to kick him out for stupidity."
Of course not -- everybody deserves a sixth chance (that's the Mark Dantonio philosophy, amirite?).

The real question is whether Garcia will be the nominal starting quarterback -- "nominal" because we know it'll only last until the Ol' Ball Coach flips out following one of those trademarked Hilarious Stephen Garcia Interceptions -- or cede that title to sophomore Connor Shaw, who looked decent while getting meaningless snaps in nine games last season.

Spurrier's in-depth analysis:
"We're going to have competition," Spurrier said. "I guess everyone assumes Stephen is going to be the quarterback if he's there. But we'll see."
Yeah, we'll see. Sounds to me like another motivational ploy, which has become a summer tradition in the ongoing quest to turn Garcia into something other than an enigmatic interception machine.

Georgia suspends Carlton Thomas, gets really concerned: Georgia's running back situation was already pretty dire after the (somewhat) unexpected departures of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, but the situation is now downright desperate:
Georgia running back Carlton Thomas is suspended for at least the first game of the season.

The rising junior from Frostproof, Fla., violated team rules back in the spring, three persons familiar with the situation confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As per Georgia Athletic Association student-athlete policy, Thomas has to sit out 10 percent of scheduled games this season.

Thomas was the only experienced running back left on the depth chart and was expected to be the backup-type guy behind uber-freshman Isaiah Crowell. Losing him for a game or two might not seem like a big deal, but Georgia's opening opponent isn't exactly West Georgia Centenary:
The Bulldogs' season opener is against top-10-ranked Boise State in the Georgia Dome.
Gulp. Just before Thomas' suspension became public, Georgia announced that redshirt junior linebacker Richard Samuel, who played running back in 2008 and '09 before switching to defense last year and redshirting with a knee injury, is headed back to the other side of the ball just to have somebody/anybody who knows what they're doing back there. He does have six starts, 600 rushing yards and two touchdowns in his career, but considering that he was utterly buried on the two-deep just 18 months ago, it seems unlikely that he'll make a significantly positive impact.

Thomas and Samuel will probably make a fine backup platoon once Thomas is actually, you know, eligible to play. Until then (read: against Boise State), Georgia's only real shot at having an effective running game is to give the ball to Crowell and hope his first career start is an impressive one.

Let's all be embarrassed for Ohio: This is exactly what it looks like:

I don't think anything needs to be said.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Juron Criner is apparently fine and dandy

All the speculation about Juron Criner came to a quiet end Monday night (so quiet that I didn't even hear about it until mid-Tuesday despite working for a sports media company in the freakin' state of Arizona):
Wide receiver Juron Criner is working out on campus and is expected to join the Arizona Wildcats when they open training camp Aug. 4, coach Mike Stoops said Monday.

"We anticipate having Juron," Stoops told the Daily Star. "He had some family issues that were concerning over the summer, and those are personal. We anticipate him being the same player -- or a better player -- than he was a year ago."
Nobody every really knew -- or would say, anyway -- what was going on, with the rumors ranging from cancer to a mysterious neurological injury that required some sort of hush-hush testing over the summer. Amid all that crap, score one for Bruce Feldman and local TV guy Bruce Cooper, both of whom were reporting from the beginning that the whole thing was related to a family member's "situation" and had nothing to do with Criner himself.

The weird thing is that Criner definitely did miss a trip to the ESPN studios in June because of an undisclosed "medical" issue, and the neurological testing reportedly happened too -- whether that was related to the family thing is anyone's guess (unless that's just a well-put-together cover story, in which case WTF).

We'll probably never know. Stoops' comments Monday were the first sort of public statement from anybody even acknowledging Criner's absence for the last few months, and my call to the UA sports information office got a definitive "no comment" Tuesday afternoon. So yeah.

Regardless, assuming Criner really is healthy, Arizona just got a massive, Pulp Fiction-style adrenaline shot to the chest. Minus one of the 10 best receivers in the country, I'd give them just about no shot at winning the Pac-12 South and an excellent shot at finishing .500; with him, I think they're almost dead even with Arizona State as the prime competition to be Oregon's sacrificial lamb in the inaugural Pac-12 title game (wooo).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

One of the great ones

To be totally honest, I don't really remember much of the Desmond Howard era. But I remember a few things -- yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about -- and I remember that he was the most dominant player the 9-year-old me had ever seen.

Desmond was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. The Heisman alone was enough to get him there, but man ... he was something special. In video form:

Hard to believe it's been 20 years (guh).

Catching up ponders Bubba Starling's future

Bruce Feldman suspended and reinstated amid ESPN stupidity: So Bruce Feldman -- who is probably the most straight-laced, professional and well-read college football writer ESPN has among its ranks of Mark Schlabachs -- was suspended indefinitely on Thursday for his role as compiler/editor/ghostwriter in Mike Leach's autobiography, which came out earlier this week.

Leach's lawsuit related to Craig James' totally unbiased on-air analysis of the whole James-kid-in-a-shed situation obviously puts ESPN in an awkward position, but here's the problem:
Multiple management and editorial sources at ESPN have told me in recent months that Feldman would only participate in the Leach book project upon direct approval from ESPN management -- which Feldman indeed received.
Yeah, he had permission.

I would skewer ESPN's ridiculous hypocrisy, but Spencer Hall from EDSBS went ahead and took care of that in typically awesome fashion:
The adults are not in charge. If the adults were in charge, they would have known what an employee with an existing book agreement with Leach meant. They would have either compensated him for the busted deal or simply allowed this to proceed. ...

There are brilliant people at ESPN, and there are those ticks who have been on the dog so long they think they're the ones you're saying "Good boy!" to after a successful fetch.
Outstanding. Maybe even better was ESPN's official statement on Friday, which basically said, "we hear your outcry and will revise history accordingly."
"There was never any suspension or any other form of disciplinary action. We took the time to review his upcoming work assignments in light of the book to which he contributed and will manage any conflicts or other issues as needed. Bruce has resumed his assignments."
So he was never suspended, and he has now resumed his assignments. Intriguing.

I'm actually pretty interested to check out that book, which (according to Hall, at least) includes extensive documentation of the various emails and memos that back Leach's claims of sabotage at Texas Tech and obliterates Joe Schad's regurgitation of various statements from Craig James' PR firm (press-release journalism at its finest). Fittingly for ESPN, all the media coverage of this hilariousness has helped "Swing Your Sword" move up to No. 4 on Amazon's list of best-selling sports books.

Karma, baby.

Tyler Gabbert's Louisville tenure ends after a week: Well, that was a short and uninspiring stay. Tyler Gabbert (Blaine's little bro) enrolled at Louisville last week after transferring at Missouri, but he was barely in town long enough to check into a hotel before reconsidering:

According to multiple sources, including Jason Anderson of ESPN Radio 680, former Missouri quarterback Tyler Gabbert has left the Louisville football team and no longer plans on being a member of the program.

A source told me this afternoon that Gabbert, who had been in Louisville for less than a week, left this morning to return home and has no plans to come back. According to Anderson and co-host Andy Sweeney, Gabbert would like to re-join the team at Missouri, but the Tiger staff is not interested. Mizzou recently received a commitment from highly touted Class of 2012 QB Maty Mauk.
Choosing Louisville never made much sense in the first place -- Gabbert would've had to sit out this year (his redshirt freshman season) and then try to beat out big-time recruit Teddy Bridgewater in 2012, by which point Bridgewater would probably have a year of starting experience. He left Mizzou because he was nominally second on the depth chart behind redshirt sophomore James Franklin after struggling in spring ball, and with Mauk now in the fold as the heir apparent, the staff at Mizzou has no need for an in-between guy.

So Gabbert's left himself without any options for the time being, and he's only got a couple weeks to enroll before fall camps kick off; the one thing he has going for him is that reasonably talented quarterbacks (at least the non-crazy ones) usually don't have too much trouble finding a home.

Bubba Starling likely to pick baseball: There was a very brief period earlier this week when Nebraska fans had their hears aflutter amid reports that uber-recruit Bubba Starling would be joining the team for summer conditioning. I imagine the corn farmers reacting sort of like teen girls in the '60s when The Beatles would roll into town.

Four-star Midwestern boys are sooooo dreamy.

Anyway, their excitement is probably all for naught. ESPN's Keith Law maintains that Starling's enrollment at Nebraska is just a backup-plan negotiating ploy to get a little more money out of the Royals -- who took Starling fifth overall in the MLB draft last month -- and executive editor Jason Churchill backs him up with a pretty good argument that emphasizes the financial reality of the situation:
"I'm betting Starling signs. He risks getting nothing in the future if he gets injured, and the potential for hard slotting in the baseball draft means this is his best chance at the big payday. He's likely to get upwards of $6 million, a number he won't touch in any future draft of either sport unless he staves off injury and lack of development and becomes a first-round pick in the NFL, or improves his baseball stock and is the No. 1 overall selection in 2014. None of the above is very likely, and he was selected by the club ... that represents Starling's hometown preference."
Unless Starling is the opposite of Drew Henson and loves football so much that he just can't envision himself doing anything else, the combined risk of injury and massive financial sacrifice makes it seems pretty unlikely that he'll turn down a guarantee of somewhere between $3 million and $6 million to play for the team he grew up rooting for just a half-hour outside of Kansas City. He has until August 15 to sign with the Royals -- if he doesn't, he'll have a very interesting choice between a full-time commitment to football and a split schedule that'd give him a shot at moving up in the 2014 MLB draft (the next time he'd be eligible).

Sean Bedford is less than thrilled with the NCAA: After hearing that the NCAA stripped Georgia Tech of its 2009 ACC title on Friday because of Demaryius Thomas' $312 worth of improper benefits, Sean Bedford -- an All-American center on that team -- wrote an open letter to the NCAA that was published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

His well-thought-out but appropriately confrontational message perfectly summarizes the way fans, players and other people with common sense (read: not the NCAA) feel about vacated wins:

Thank you for handing down penalties that only adversely affect the players who did things the right way. This reeks of an organization desperate to prove that it has some sort of control over its member institutions despite lacking the ability and firepower to police the serious offenders and protect the student-athletes whose interests you purport to have at heart.

While I realize that all violations merit some kind of punishment, I have a hard time grasping the notion that one of the proudest moments in my life (and the lives of every other individual that was a part of the team and program in 2009) is apparently worth $312 in your eyes. If that truly is the case, I'd be happy to provide you with that same amount of money (cash or check, your choice) in exchange for the reinstatement of the title my teammates and I earned through our blood, sweat and tears.

Well said. And there's a lot more good stuff in there, specifically:

I'll be wearing my championship ring with pride and if you want that too, you'll have to pry it from my cold, dead finger.
OK then.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Daily Ohio State shenanigans update

I'm not sure who deserves the most credit for this, so I'll just throw it toward Ohio State in general: There has never in the history of time been a story that has oozed out at such a spectacularly consistent pace, with new and equally damning information coming out on a near-daily basis from any and every news source with even a tangential interest. Years of poorly managed coverups have left a pile of media gold, and everybody wants in on the action (BTW, this is probably the first time smart people have ever been rushing toward Columbus).

Friday's discovery: Jim Tressel apparently wasn't quite the saint the school made him out to be (gasp).
An evaluation of former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel's job performance in 2005-06 rated him as "unacceptable" when it came to self-reporting rules violations in a timely manner.

In addition, Tressel was issued a letter of reprimand barely six months into his tenure for giving a Buckeyes jersey to a recruit, a violation of NCAA bylaws. He also was warned that he and his staff needed to do a better job of monitoring the cars the players were driving -- an issue that would arise years later as the NCAA investigated the football program.

I thought Tressel was "a man of integrity and high moral standards," so much so that he should be forgiven for his "indecisiveness" and allowed to retire with full benefits and no punishment whatsoever? No? Maybe we should have listened to Maurice Clarett or taken the Youngstown State violations a little more seriously.

Tressel was cheating left and right, and the stuff that just came out publicly within the last month was known by compliance as far back as 2003 (!). Nothing happened, though, because either he lied and the compliance people stopped checking/caring (probable) or compliance covered it up (plausible -- more on that momentarily); either way, OSU comes out looking incompetent and another document gets added to the Cheatypants McSweatervest file.

And speaking of incompetence, it's funny how the story from three weeks ago ...
Tressel was not told he would be fired if he didn’t quit, Gee said.

“He was not given an ultimatum.”
... conveniently changes when the NCAA comes calling ...

On pages I-9 and 4-2 of its response, Ohio State reported the following “punitive action” to the NCAA: Sought and accepted the resignation of Tressel on May 30, 2011.
... and then changes back just so Tressel can step away with a lovely parting gift ...

Ohio State has since announced that Tressel will not have to pay the $250,000 “fine” Smith referred to on March 8.

Instead, the university will pay him $52,250 - the equivalent of the salary and benefits he would have earned through the end of June 30th.

Tressel also will collect his unpaid sick and vacation time up to 250 hours and will be eligible for health-insurance coverage for himself and his family under the plan available to all state retirees, according to the settlement.

... while the opposite story is being sold to the NCAA at the exact same time.

"It's all Tressel's fault, and we're totally gonna punish him ... really, we will ... just trust us ... now look away for a minute." Seriously, my 4-year-old is more believable.

And we're not done yet!

Ohio State University's director of NCAA compliance signed an invoice for more than $600 in car repairs for a student-athlete in April.

According to a document obtained Friday by 10 Investigates, Doug Archie, the university's director of NCAA compliance, signed an invoice for a six-hour car repair to Auto Direct for $606.

A purchase form signed by Archie said that the money came out of the "Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund."

The NCAA backs the fund. While the guidelines are not exhaustive, the list does not show car repairs, Aker reported. Some examples of how the fund is supposed to be used include summer school, medical expenses, travel for family emergencies or academic achievement awards.
That sounds totally legit ... I mean, I'm sure it's normal for a school's director of compliance to authorize emergency student funds to go toward an athlete's car repair, which just happens to be taking place at a dealership so friendly to the football program that it's willing to give certain quarterbacks a half-dozen loaner cars in the span of a year. (Interesting note: The Bylaw Blog doesn't seem totally convinced of the analysis, tweeting "Not sure an agent is the best source for NCAA rules interpretations," which duh. Sadly, he doesn't offer any thoughts on whether it's actually as bad as it looks or what the interpretation should be.)

I'll try to be serious for a paragraph here (deep breath): Amazingly, of all the stuff that's come out so far about improper benefits and Tressel's hilariously inept coverups and whatnot, this might be the most damaging -- we're talking about the school's director of compliance. There is no getting out of this one; signing off on an apparently fraudulent bill to the NCAA -- one that's perched precariously on top of the loaner-car iceberg -- all but throws the entire athletic department into Tressel's mostly sunken ship. And given the availability of the evidence, even a half-assed investigation by the NCAA would have turned up that document and plenty more.

Ohio State is rewriting the definition of "lack of institution control" right in front of our eyes while turning up its collective nose at the people trying to investigate; regardless of whether the NCAA wants a do-over on its notice of allegations (which seems likely but could just be taking a while because of the spectacular depth of violations), there's simply no conceivable way the punishment won't be severe.

I would pay good money (no joke) for a front-row seat on August 12, when the Committee on Infractions gets to LOL at Ohio State's response while deciding just how bad things should be. If the head of compliance was truly complicit in an improper-benefits coverup, nothing short of the death penalty should be off the table.

I'll prepare my popcorn.

NOTE: Seeing as how Ohio State has been kind enough to provide me with so much awesome content on an amazingly regular basis, I think I should return the favor in creative form: This neverending bag of goodies really could use some sort of ridiculous name, kind of like The Daily Show's "Mess O' Potamia" or "Whaa???"

Any suggestions? Winner gets a prize*.

*Prize does not actually exist.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Let's argue about running backs' statistics

At some point a few months ago, I stumbled across a K.C. Joyner article on; whatever it was seemed pretty interesting at the time. I'd never read his stuff before, and I was super impressed that somebody on a mainstream media website actually (a) understood advanced football stats and (b) used them to assemble some coherent and thought-provoking arguments. It seemed like the kind of content I'd be more likely to find at Smart Football than ESPN, and this made me happy.

Then he wrote about Denard Robinson. His conclusion (in fewer words): Denard will be just fine and dandy in a pro-style offense, because his yards per attempt on downfield passes (10-plus yards and 20-plus yards) was even better than Ryan Mallett's last year, and therefore he's basically an NFL quarterback.

This is called logic fail. Stats can be extremely useful; they can also be extremely misleading when used by people who don't understand what they mean or fail to include things like, you know, context.

I love me some Denard Robinson, but saying "he averaged lots of yards per throw so he's obviously a good downfield passer" is just plain lazy and wrong. This was essentially Michigan's downfield passing game last year:

And now to the other side:

Summary: Safeties sold out like mofos because they were terrified of letting Denard run past them at roughly the speed of sound, leaving Roy Roundtree to leisurely stroll down the hashmarks and enjoy some crumpets on his way into the endzone.

Those were good times (kind of), but they tell us pretty much nothing about Denard's ability to complete passes of any significant distance when defensive backs are actually, like, in the general vicinity of the receivers (for the record, he's not terrible at it, but he's not exactly Ryan Mallett).

At first I thought maybe that article was just an aberration -- it's pretty hard to find Michigan games on TV, after all -- but after reading a bunch more of his musings since that one in April, I feel pretty comfortable with the following observations about K.C. Joyner:
  1. He likes advanced stats and recognizes that they have value (yay).
  2. He doesn't understand how to apply them; sometimes (probably by luck) he's full of win and sometimes he just comes across like an idiot.
Which brings me to his most recent attempt at brilliance:
Knile Davis is the SEC's top RB: A look at the 'bell cow' rankings for SEC running backs shows a surprising leader.
Before I destroy K.C. Joyner, let me first say this: Knile Davis is a very good running back. He's probably one of the best in the SEC, and he was definitely overlooked last year because of the 14-foot-tall guy next to him in the Arkansas backfield who could throw lasers through brick walls and defensive players and whatnot.


Running backs are hard to judge with numbers. Emmitt Smith rushing for 40 billion career yards does NOT equal Emmitt Smith being the best running back in NFL history. Yards per carry, broken tackles, runs of 20-plus yards, etc. -- those are all swell and interesting, but they won't tell you anything about talent or competition or number of defenders in the box (well, they might do so indirectly, but you know what I mean).

These are the five numbers Joyner throws into a cauldron to create his formula:
  • Percentage of rush attempts with 10-plus-yard gains
  • Percentage of rush attempts with 20-plus-yard gains
  • Yards per attempt against teams with top-30 rush defenses
  • Yards per attempt against everyone else
  • Yards per attempt on plays with "good blocking" (obviously a subjective but probably more useful measure) against top-30 rush defenses
He ranks the six candidates in each category (six points for first place and one point for last), then adds up all the points and says "biggest number wins."

The result:
  1. Knile Davis (24)
  2. Michael Dyer (21)
  3. Brandon Bolden (20)
  4. Tauren Poole (19)
  5. Marcus Lattimore (12)
  6. Vick Ballard (9)
This is lame. Not that there aren't any interesting numbers in there -- the "good blocking" category at least attempts to strip out a massive variable -- but the formula is basically set up so whoever averages the most yards per carry and racks up the highest percentage of long runs (which can, in turn, severely skew yards per carry) is "the best." It's unfair because these numbers favor speed guys with fewer carries over guys who get the ball 30 times a game and have a lower yards-per-carry average because of the respect for their ability.

Wanna know who led all of college football in yards per carry last season? Hawaii's Alex Green, who went for 8.21 a pop and finished with 1,199 yards. Even if you were to ding him (maybe knock off two yards per carry) for playing against basically zero defenses with a pulse, he'd still have a ridiculous per-attempt average and a crazy percentage of long runs, way better than guys like Daniel Thomas and Jordan Todman (both just over five yards per attempt) last year. But nobody's arguing that Green is better than those guys, and for good reason.

One of the biggest things Davis had going for him last year (and will again this year): He's a complementary piece in a relatively pass-happy offense. I don't have access to full formation data, but I'm willing to bet that Arkansas spent at least 80% of its snaps last year in a three- or four-wide set, and those wideouts weren't decoys. Bobby Petrino wants to throw, and he wants to throw downfield. Having gaping holes in nickel and dime defenses is a nice side benefit.

For reference, think all the way back to Louisville's 2006 juggernaut -- pretty much the pinnacle of Petrino's offensive genius until last year -- when a thoroughly mediocre set of running backs (Kolby Smith, George Stripling and Anthony Allen) rode Brian Brohm's coattails to a seemingly impressive 5.3-yards-per-carry average that actually said a lot more about the offense than it did about the gentlemen running the ball.

There's a big difference between being the guy next to the quarterback and being The Guy.


Here's my biggest problem with all the numbers cited above: They in no way account for the way the defense is playing -- not the quality of defense, but the focus. I'm not saying there's a better number to do that; outside of tracking every snap and counting men in the box (or something similar), I'm not sure there is. But that's why we watch. I don't need to look at yards-per-passing-attempt numbers to tell me how good Andrew Luck is ... and if I did, I'd come out with a pretty inaccurate assessment since he finished 10th in the country last year (behind guys like Ricky Dobbs and Greg McElroy).

Some numbers don't pass the eyeball test, and it's usually because they're missing either data, context or both. This is either way above K.C. Joyner's head or irrelevant to him because it doesn't fit whatever argument he wants to make on a given day -- I'm guessing it's a healthy mix of the two.


I watched Marcus Lattimore last year. Marcus Lattimore could have started in the NFL last year -- yeah, as a freshman. I haven't said that since I watched Adrian Peterson.

He had 182 yards on 37 carries against Georgia, 184 yards on 27 carries against Tennessee and 212 yards on 40 carries (!!!) against Florida. He was the offense in most of South Carolina's games last season (at least the competitive ones) -- the options were (a) handoff to Lattimore or (b) Hilarious Stephen Garcia Interception TM.

When you're getting the ball on literally 60 percent of your team's snaps, your yards-per-carry average is not going to be super awesome -- those two things are pretty much mutually exclusive at any meaningful level of competition as defenses realize that you are kind of important to stop. That does not mean you aren't super awesome (and by "you," I obviously mean "Marcus Lattimore"). Lattimore gets the ball because he can grind out four or five yards on almost every carry against even the best defenses and even when everybody knows he's getting the ball, which is a massively important factor that's completely ignored in the statistics.

Seriously, just watch:

Don't try to convince me that Marcus Lattimore is the fifth-best running back in the SEC and barely half as good as Brandon Bolden.

Quick note: Football Outsiders put out some sort of FEI-based rankings last year for running backs, and I'm irrationally curious to see where guys like Lattimore come out this year. Those numbers still don't include any sort of adjustment for blocking help, defensive alignment or quarterback incompetence, but their value is that they directly compare each player's production against the expected production (on a per-play basis) and include a consistency rating (this is basically standard deviation, meaning a guy who alternates zero- and 10-yard runs will have a higher number -- and lower rating -- than a guy who gets five yards on every play).


I probably would've let the whole thing go as a lacking-for-understanding-but-not-lacking-for-effort piece if Joyner had acknowledged that his numbers give us just a small sliver of the overall picture of how good these guys actually are. But this ...
As for Lattimore and Ballard, their showings illustrate how far these two have to go to reach the consistent performance level of the other top SEC backs.
... was where I drew the line*.

If he truly believes he just came up with the golden formula for running backs and next plans to tell me that Alex Green should have won the Heisman last year, I would kindly advise him to start, you know, actually watching football.

Also, get off my lawn. I like my stats contextual, dammit.

*I'm not alone here. Seriously.

Back on the NCAA violations kick

I managed to get away from being an Ohio State/North Carolina news feed for a couple weeks, but the NCAA and the lack of meaningful news (it is July, after all) are making it difficult to do anything other than write about the violations du jour.

Today's news of note:
The NCAA's Committee on Infractions has placed Georgia Tech on four years' probation, vacated its 2009 ACC football championship game victory and placed limits on men's basketball scholarships after citing the school with rules violations, including failure to cooperate with its investigation.

A source told ESPN's Joe Schad that as part of the case, the NCAA investigated the relationship between former Georgia Tech quarterback Calvin Booker, who is alleged to have worked for a sports agent, and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, now of the Denver Broncos

A football player who accepted $312 worth of clothing from a sports agency employee was allowed to play in the final three games of the 2009 season, including the ACC championship game and a BCS bowl game, the NCAA said. The ACC victory gave Georgia Tech its first BCS bowl berth (the school was ordered to vacate all wins after Nov. 24, 2009, but of the three games affected, the only win was over Clemson).

Thomas was the player alleged to have accepted the clothing, a source told Schad.
Translation: Demaryius Thomas was on the take at the end of the 2009 season and should have been ineligible for the ACC title game (although the coaches apparently were unaware), so Georgia Tech loses its claim to the '09 conference championship and gets four years' probation, which seems to be mainly tacked on due to the school telling one of the players about "the scope of his upcoming interview, despite instructions from NCAA enforcement officials not to do so." Yeah, don't do that.

It's not entirely clear what Booker's involvement was in the violations, but for the Thomas-related stuff and the school going out of its way to sabotage the investigation, the punishment is reasonable -- a little light, but reasonable.

In the bigger picture, given that there were apparently only two players involved (and we still don't know what Booker did) and one win involving one ineligible player -- a guy the coaching staff presumably didn't know was getting a couple hundred dollars' worth of free clothes -- this seems like relatively bad news for Ohio State.

Playing five guys for an entire season while they were all accepting improper benefits -- with the head coach completely aware of their situation -- then swindling the NCAA into letting them play in the Sugar Bowl, then having the head coach repeatedly lie about it to the NCAA is taking things to an entirely different level. And Ohio State thinks its gonna get off with half the punishment (two years' probation)? Hahahahaha.

Side note: That's by far my favorite picture of the thousands that have appeared on my blogs. No lie.

Anyway ... it's unfortunate for Georgia Tech -- which now has just two ACC championships (1990 and '98) in its history -- that its biggest accomplishment in the last decade has been stripped from the record books because of Demaryius Thomas' love for FUBU/Polo/whatever. But considering that he had 77 receiving yards and a touchdown in Tech's 39-34 win over Clemson in that title game, his eligibility (or lack thereof) is particularly relevant, and I'm sure Clemson fans and former players see things as unfortunate for a much different reason.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Catching up is as curious as Gene Chizik

Auburn isn't entirely free and clear: When the NCAA conveniently declared Cam Newton eligible (and therefore everything at Auburn on the up-and-up) just before the SEC title game, I think the assumption everywhere was that the NCAA enforcement people were just giving up on finding any meaningful evidence of wrongdoing.

That might not be the case:
An NCAA official told Auburn coach Gene Chizik that it is not done investigating the Tigers' football program and the recruitment of Cam Newton, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Chizik asked NCAA vice president for enforcement Julie Roe Lach several questions, including why the NCAA had not announced that the Newton investigation was finished, during a presentation at the Southeastern Conference meetings in Destin, Fla., last month.

"You'll know when we're finished," Roe Lach told Chizik, according to several coaches who were at the meeting, the Times reported. "And we're not finished."
This seems potentially significant. If the NCAA hadn't found anything worthwhile in the last eight months, it seems likely that they would have just closed up shop and moved on (it's not like the NCAA is lacking for things to do or places to send its investigators).

On the flipside, if they have found anything significant, how has it not been leaked? Everything gets leaked to somebody, usually Yahoo since their guys are on NCAA violations like white on rice. And we're talking about a $200,000 payment (allegedly, of course), which isn't exactly a $100 handshake -- if there's evidence, it'll be radioactive.

I'll be skeptical until something actually happens, but the fact that the NCAA is still nosing around at least provides some hope of finding the truth behind the super-hard-to-believe cover story that the Newtons (Cecil, at least) just stopped looking for money out of the goodness of their hearts after getting shot down by Mississippi State and conveniently decided to enroll Cam at one of the dirtiest schools in the country.

Michael McAdoo loses in thoroughly unsurprising fashion:
In the fastest court case in the history of the legal system, Michael McAdoo lost his lawsuit (the one he filed last week) against North Carolina and the NCAA on Wednesday.
A judge denied a request Wednesday by a former North Carolina football player to be reinstated to the team after being declared permanently ineligible for academic misconduct by the NCAA.

Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson denied a petition by Michael McAdoo seeking to compel the university to reinstate him while preventing the NCAA from interfering in that process or punishing the school if he returned.
As I've mentioned a few times now, the events of the last year have established that fairness is pretty much irrelevant; the guys at the NCAA do what they want (whateva!). And besides, the players who sign up to be a part of this bass-ackwards system via the NLOI are also signing up to live by the accompanying rules and enforcement. The courts aren't stepping in.

This is becoming a problem: Arizona State lost another starter (kind of) Wednesday, this time senior defensive end James Brooks, who left the program for undisclosed personal reasons. Brooks was one of three nominal starters at end alongside Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Junior Onyeali and Jamaar Jarrett, and he actually had the fewest sacks of the three -- Brooks had four, Jarrett 4.5 and Onyeali 6.5.

But I'm officially getting (a little) concerned about ASU's defense, which was pretty disappointing last year -- 57th in yards allowed and 55th in scoring -- and has now lost uber-corner/legitimate first-team All-America candidate Omar Bolden (torn ACL), defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (left early to be a seventh-round pick) and Brooks. For a team with astronomical hopes and a Rose Bowl twinkle in its collective eye, those are some serious holes.

Brooks' loss won't be super significant if Onyeali and Jarrett can stay healthy, but depth isn't a meaningless thing on the defensive line, and losing a guy who's a senior and two-year starter is a negative no matter which way you cut it.

On the bright side, we'll always have the Arizona game:

Mike Vrabel hired as Ohio State's linebackers coach: You already know about this since it happened like four days ago. A few thoughts:
  1. It's a good hire in "name" terms by Luke Fickell, who was the linebackers coach before his way-up-the-ladder promotion and was actually Vrabel's roommate back in the day.
  2. Mike Vrabel was a pretty damn good linebacker, but nobody has any idea whether he'll be a good coach -- he has zero experience whatsoever, and outside of saying "I'm Mike Vrabel, here's a Super Bowl ring so come to Ohio State," he doesn't bring any known coaching-specific qualities to the table.
  3. It's an interesting move picking recognition over experience, especially for a guy who grew up at the feet of Jim Tressel. Cheatypants McSweatervest (as he heretofore shall forever be known) made a career out of finding and developing irritatingly good defensive positional coaches and coordinators.
A rough week for West Virginia: Spectacularly named West Virginia linebacker Branko Busick -- a backup last season -- got himself kicked off the team with an arrest for armed robbery (!) on Monday, and the news didn't get any better Wednesday:
West Virginia left guard Josh Jenkins will miss this season after undergoing surgery on his left knee.
Ouch. Jenkins is a senior who started almost every game the past two years (he did miss two games last season after knee surgery) -- Jeff Braun is now expected to slide over from right tackle to start in his place at guard.

For a team some people are plugging as a darkhorse national title contender out of the pathetic Big East, losing one of the best and most experienced players on the O-line in the summer before his senior season -- and then shuffling to make up for it in fall camp -- seems like a not-so-good start.

Caleb King enters supplemental draft: This was pretty much a given since his career ended last week with the academic-ineligibility ruling. King has some talent -- that's the only thing he consistently displayed at Georgia -- but given his lack of overall production, inability to hold the starting job and off-the-field (ahem) issues, he's probably a seventh-round flyer or undrafted free agent.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Catching up is brief due to All-Star obligations

The perfect comparison: I'm not sure my post Friday properly summarized my incredulity at Ohio State's self-imposed "punishment." Blaming everything on Tressel and then refusing to punish him in any way, shape or form (apparently because he looks so sad) is something I just can't reconcile. Trying to understand it makes my head asplode.

Fortunately for me, MGoBlog reader WolvinLA came up with the most perfect analogy in the history of analogies:
What if I did that to myself when I got in trouble - no punishment for the future, but only past punishment:

"Honey, I know you just caught me sexting my ex-gfs, so I'll punish myself. Instead of you denying me sex for the next year, I'll no longer take credit for any of the sex we've had for the last year."

That's the equivalent to how OSU punished themselves.

I have nothing to add here.

Caleb King's relatively disappointing career comes to an end: Three years ago, Caleb King was the next big thing at Georgia, ready to take over and be Knowshon Moreno (or something of similar quality). That never happened, and after three uninspiring seasons, King was ruled academically ineligible on Friday, effectively ending his career. He shuffles off the college coil with all of 1,241 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

King ended up getting stuck behind Washaun Ealey the last two years and was more or less the change-of-pace guy, so his departure wouldn't be a huge concern ... except for the part about Ealey getting kicked out of school (or "leaving," depending on whom you believe) in May. Having zero experienced running backs is a problem, yes?

When Mark Richt says there's an opportunity "for others to step up," he's looking squarely at one 18-year-old kid: Isaiah Crowell, last year's top-rated running back recruit in the country. Crowell has yet to play a game but has already been anointed (a) the presumptive starter and (b) The Absolute Most Important Player in the History of Georgia Football (this year, anyway).

If he's not Herschel Walker, some people will be massively disappointed. And even if he is, unless he has Lance Armstrong-esque endurance (insert EPO joke here) and is made of Teflon, the complete lack of depth at running back will be an issue.

No pressure, kid.

LSU and Cal join the party: We already knew this from the Yahoo investigation, so I'm not sure why it's coming out as "news" again, but LSU and Cal each paid Willie Lyles around $5,000 for some sort of 2010 recruiting package that may or may not have included anything legitimate.

Whether or not they did anything wrong is up to the NCAA to find out, but their level of culpability doesn't approach Oregon's for the following reasons:

  1. There's no record or accusation of the coach signing off on massive payments for nothing in particular.
  2. Lyles said those schools -- unlike Oregon, obviously -- kept careful inventory of exactly what was being provided, either to actually have a record of the information (if there was any) or to cover their asses in the event of an Oregon-style disaster. Either way, consider their asses covered.
  3. Those $5,000 payments are far more in line with legitimate recruiting services, so it's at least plausible that they were getting fair value, whereas Oregon was either blatantly cheating or just getting bent over.
The most interesting thing in ESPN's update was the last freakin' line of the story (something I must have missed earlier):
Lyles also told Yahoo! Sports he was interviewed by the NCAA for six hours last month.
If he sang to the NCAA like he sang to Yahoo, it might not be as long as we thought until a notice of allegations comes out and Chip Kelly's collar gets a little lot tighter.

Work-related site note: As you may have noticed, the postings have gotten a little less frequent. This is not due to a lack of effort on my part; blame the Diamondbacks for hosting the All-Star Game (the one nobody wants to play in), which has piled endless amounts of work on me this week. I'll be basically out of commission through Tuesday, so unless Ohio State explodes off the face of the Earth or Nick Saban signs a billion-dollar contract with (insert NFL team here), don't expect anything more on the site until Wednesday. But definitely come back then.
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