Friday, September 30, 2011

The game I missed

Chuck Klosterman wrote a piece for Grantland a couple weeks back in which he explained why watching recorded/DVRed/tape-delayed sports seems to lack that indescribable feeling you get when you watch something emotion-torquing. His primary theory is based on the following premise: The reason most of watch sports (in a very general sense) is for that feeling, that thrill you get from seeing something you've never seen before, either athletically or dramatically.

Here's the takeaway:
"If this game has already ended and I don't know anything about what happened, it was probably just a game": This sentence is so obvious that it's almost nonsensical, but I suspect it's the one point that matters most. It's the central premise behind the entire concept of "liveness," which is what this whole problem comes down to.

What I've come to accept (and this is both good and bad, but mostly bad) is that — for the rest of my life — I will never not instantaneously know about any marginally insane event. There's just no way to avoid the information. ...

If I record Thursday's Mavs-Heat game and wait until Friday morning to watch it, will I be able to avoid discovering that Miami won in overtime? Probably. I could probably avoid hearing the score or knowing that it was an especially thrilling game. But could I avoid hearing that LeBron James scored 85 points? Could I avoid hearing that Dirk had 51 at halftime? Could I keep from learning that the roof of American Airlines Center tragically collapsed? What if Miami never missed a single field goal for the entire second half? What if Mark Cuban grabbed the PA microphone seconds before tip-off and publicly announced he was gay? What if a bear broke into the stadium and started attacking players on the court, forcing Shawn Marion to tackle the bear and break its neck? Is there any chance I could avoid hearing that news before pressing "play" on the DVR remote? No. No way. There's no possible way I could avoid hearing about any of those situations. And — sure — those scenarios are preposterous and implausible. But so was the possibility of an earthquake happening during a World Series game. So was the likelihood of an NBA title game being interrupted by the LAPD slowly chasing a Hall of Fame tailback down the freeway to arrest him for double homicide. So was Monica Seles getting stabbed in Germany, Reggie Miller scoring eight points in less than nine seconds, and the conclusion of the 1982 Cal-Stanford game.

It's difficult to project fictional scenarios that are more oblique and unexpected than the craziest moments from reality. We all understand this. And that understanding is at the core of the human attraction to liveness. We don't crave live sporting events because we need immediacy; we crave them because they represent those (increasingly rare) circumstances in which the entire spectrum of possibility is in play. They're the last scraps of mass society that are totally unfixed.
That last bolded portion says it all.

Twice in about the past four weeks, I've been reminded in mind-blowingly spectacular fashion why I watch sports. The first (shocking!):

The second (yes, I do occasionally consume non-college-football sporting events):

I couldn't have gone back and watched either of those events the next day and felt what I felt at the time, sitting and watching and not having any idea of the ridiculousness that was about to transpire and then reveling in the outcome afterward with a bunch of people who saw the same thing in real time.
. . . . .

Eight years ago, I was still a wee laddie fresh out of Grand Valley State working a crappy day job and covering high school sports as a stringer. It was a thoroughly unexciting existence with few memorable moments.

But I remember one Friday night in particular. It was early October and I was covering a high school football game -- I think it was at Desert Vista in Ahwatukee, but I don't remember for sure (and it doesn't matter anyway). Michigan was supposed to play at Minnesota the following day, but because the playoff-bound Twins got first dibs on the Metrodome and were scheduled to start the ALDS at home that Saturday, they booted the Michigan-Minnesota game to Friday night. I wasn't super thrilled.

My plan was the plan we've all made 6,000 times: Tape the game (lol VCRs), avoid all references/scores/updates (this was easier before Twitter and the world of the omnipresent internet), hurry home after filing a story and watch the tape with my cousin, who was at the high school game with me to keep stats.

Everything went according to plan. We started the tape around 11, fast-forwarded through the commercials, etc. And then the fourth quarter came along ceased to exist. Minnesota scored on the last play of the third to go up 28-7 on the best Michigan team since 1997 as I shook my head in disbelief ... and that was the end of the tape. Apparently I'd left the VCR on "slow" (or whatever it was only gave you two hours of recording time). This was half "SO MUCH ANGARRR" and half "whatever, we were getting killed anyways." This was also the point at which I gave up on the original plan and -- with no real alternatives -- headed to to get a final score and assess the stupid damage.

At least I didn't miss much:

Thanks a lot, VCR. You totally deserved to get technologically usurped.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Catching up is sorry for nothing in particular

Oh yeah, Texas A&M is headed to the SEC: A formality, obviously, since Baylor is more of a cuddly teddy bear than a legitimate legal threat. The move is set for 2013.

The only question now is who gets the glorious blessing from heavenly angels to be the SEC's 14th team. Mike Slive keeps saying nice things like it's "all been about Texas A&M" and there is "extreme satisfaction," but even the other relevant people in the SEC aren't buying it. Here's Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart saying "lol yeah that Slive is a funny guy":
"I think a lot of the conversation is just where we go from here, obviously, because at some point, 13 will not be the number," Hart told The Associated Press. "There are a multitude of components to this that we have yet to really delve into. We will do that in relatively short order, but it's very complex in nature."
So that's pretty straightforward. Anybody who says they know which team's next is lying since the discussion hasn't even happened yet, but there will be a next team. Nobody wants an unbalanced 13-team league that requires some sort of nonsensical and hard-to-figure out scheduling arrangement.

As for A&M, have fun being the third- or fourth-best team in the SEC West on an annual basis. At least nobody's pretending it's about anything other than money:
"We're so very pleased about the media markets available to the SEC and are now very happy to see Texas being a major part of that," Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said.
For visual purposes, Loftin is the middle guy in this picture (which looks like something manifested straight from a Prevail and Ride MS Paint job):

That might be the whitest picture I've ever seen.

LSU might actually be getting better: Jordan Jefferson was supposedly headed for trial on felony assault charges stemming from that lovely bar fight right before the season, but his legal path abruptly changed course Wednesday when a grand jury knocked his charges down significantly. About seven seconds later, he'd been reinstated.

Jarrett Lee will allegedly remain the starting quarterback, but Miles is already talking about Jefferson getting at least some snaps in "every game," which isn't surprising since he was the clear-cut starter a month ago. The next four games should be pretty interesting; barring an epic effort from Florida, the real storyline will be the Jefferson-Lee thing (lol Confederacy) and whether either guy plays well enough to assume full control of the offense by the time SEC WEST ARMAGEDDON rolls around on November 5.

Possibly even more important: Russell Shepard came back against West Virginia and didn't really do anything (one catch for 16 yards), but his availability going forward is significant for an offense lacking guys other than Spencer Ware who scare anybody. Expect him to start getting regular Wildcat (or Wild Tiger or whatever LSU's dumb name for it is) snaps and screens and whatnot. He'll never be a dominant receiver -- he really should be doing the Denard Robinson thing in an offense that lets him do the Denard Robinson thing -- but give him the ball and he can do some pretty crazy stuff and make happy-time touchdowns.

Lol linebacker Heisman no: Charles Davis thinks Travis Lewis can win the Heisman. My response: mmmmkay. I appreciate your efforts, but if this guy ...

... didn't win the Heisman (and it wasn't even that close), Travis Lewis' chances are 0.0 percent. He has no sacks and no interceptions and doesn't do anything other than play linebacker. Just stop.

<a href="" target="_new" title="">Davis: Heisman Watch</a>

This is a really weird story: Ohio State running back/kick returner Jamaal Berry was hospitalized Saturday on campus after an "assault" on another student that reportedly started with him attacking the guy and ended with him on the ground having no idea what happened or who he was. Story:
The incident occurred Wednesday morning on the South Oval by Enarson Hall. No charges were filed, and while the victim's name was included in the police report, The Lantern has chosen not to name him. The report said the victim "sustained bruises on his neck from this event." The OSU police report listed the incident as an assault, a misdemeanor in the first degree, with use of weapons including "hands, feet, teeth.

At about 10:25 a.m., two males were witnessed "wrestling on the ground" in the South Oval, according to the police report. The primary witness is a university employee who declined to comment but said in the police report that Berry was muttering things such as "I don't know what is going on around me."

The report said Berry "appeared confused and disoriented and was unable to tell me his name."

The OSU police officer on the scene observed that Berry was "mentally unable to provide me with any of his emergency contact information," and Berry voluntarily went to the OSU emergency department.

This was at 10:25 a.m., and the report goes on to say that there was no alcohol involved (although there were apparently teeth involved in the assault). Meth is a hell of a drug. Freakin' bizarre.

Berry has a pretty limited role in the offense -- he has all of three carries for seven yards this year -- but he's a pretty good kick returner, and given OSU's currently awful offense, a few yards of field position isn't entirely insignificant.

In Mississippi, it'll always be 1954: Houston Nutt is probably nearing the end at Ole Miss. The students and alumni are actually NOT that excited about getting rid of Nutt but are pretty adamant about ousting athletic director Pete Boone, which has led to some pure Southern awesomeness:
Many are aware of anonymous, malicious and public attacks on athletics director Pete Boone. The Ole Miss family may not be aware, however, that as a part of this orchestrated campaign, I have received threats, promising that if I do not remove Pete Boone, "It is going to get real ugly," and threatening to expand the attacks to other athletics employees.
Here's the picture version -- you might notice that since bedsheets are no longer considered appropriate attire, they're not being used for other, similarly rebellious things:

You're so witty, bro.

At least Minnesota doesn't take itself too seriously: This is officially titled "Goldy Gopher has the Midas Touch." It's as completely ridiculous as it was intended to be. Watch it.

I have nothing to add here.

For no reason: A little background: Mike Gundy did something resembling a dance move after Oklahoma State beat Texas A&M last weekend. It was pretty awful:

Yeah ... 40-year-old men who are 40 shouldn't dance like that when they're 40. But by the grace of the internet, we now have the thing below. Just click it and enjoy.

You're welcome.

Harvey Updyke apologizes ... kind of: Just to be clear, Harvey Updyke is really sorry for "this," which may or may not (depending on his lawyers' level of diligence) be referring to the poisoning of the oaks at Toomer's Corner. Updyke, who's awaiting trial on various poisoning-related charges, called the Paul Finebaum Radio Network on Thursday to share his kinda-sorta apology with the "truly Auburn fans." But not the "haters." Obvsly.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Solving the history of the Little Brown Jug

There's really only one reason the Michigan-Minnesota "rivalry" has been any more relevant over the past 20 years than Michigan-Northwestern or Michigan-Indiana. That reason is this thing:

Depending on your definition of "oldest" and "trophy," it might be the oldest* rivalry trophy in college sports. It has some sentimental value ... or so it seems.

When I was still religiously updating my old Forever Saturday blog, I linked to a Pulitzer Prize-worthy seven-part piece from unofficial Michigan football historian Greg at MVictors about the background of the jug and how the original story has been Wikipedia-ized to the point that nobody really knows exactly what happened throughout its 100-ish years of existence; for example, Lloyd Carr and a lot of people in the Michigan athletic department have said that the jug that changes hands nowadays is just a replica of the original, which isn't the commonly spread story.

That story goes something like this: Back in the olden days of aught-three, when water still had to be moved from place to place in jug-type things, Michigan bought a jug for a game in Minnesota because Fielding Yost didn't trust the water supply. The game ended early in a 6-6 tie when fans rushed the field, and Michigan bailed for safety reasons while leaving the jug behind. When Yost wrote a letter to try to get the jug back, Minnesota responded along the lines of "come and take it," and they've been playing semi-regularly ever since, with the jug going to the winner each year and the score being recorded on the side of it. The only blip was when the jug went missing from 1930 to 1934, at which point it was found by a gas-station attendant in some bushes in Ann Arbor (again, this is the official version). Side note: The number of things in this paragraph that seem hilariously outdated is mind-boggling.

So ... that's very much a fairy-tale story, and most of it's true. By definition, "most" is not "all."

An interesting-but-not-revelatory part of the MVictors research was that the three-year disappearance was actually a two-year disappearance from 1931 to 1933, and it wasn't found by a gas-station attendant but by the groundskeeper of Ferry Field (the super-early version of Michigan Stadium). The official version of the story apparently was compiled with a bunch of slight discrepancies and embellishments, including that one (obscure history FTW).

The really interesting part was obviously the research into whether the jug that changes hands today is the Little Brown Jug or the Little Brown Jug (MADE IN CHINA). Honestly, I found it remarkable that nobody at the school seemed to know for sure -- the SID statement was "we just don't know" -- and even the people who had been around forever (like Carr and ancient equipment manager Jon Falk) disagreed about it. I gotta give Greg some serious props for not just going with the depressing "I guess we'll never know for sure" line, instead gathering absurd amounts of information and then going to physically inspect the jug itself, which takes some freakin' diligence.

Here's the smoking-gun photo, with a photo of the original jug superimposed on a photo of the current one:

Pretty close, yes? Like kinda maybe exactly the same? And to resolve any of the "kinda maybe" uncertainty, the jug was then taken to a master artisan at Henry Ford Village for an examination of the paint, the material, the handle, etc. -- this was a thorough investigation.

Here's another fantastic photo (the one on the left has the underlying layer of paint enhanced for visual purposes):

That pointy-M logo was what Minnesota used waaayyy back in the early 1920s, and the fact that it can still be seen under the current logo is significant: The jug that'll be on the field Saturday is at least 90 years old, and if it predates the 1930s craziness, it's highly likely that it's the original.

After weighing the evidence I’m comfortable concluding that the trophy tucked away in Ann Arbor today dates at least to the mid-1920s. Is it the same Little Brown Jug that was left behind in 1903 and handed back to Fielding Yost over a century ago in 1909? In my opinion, the evidence points to a strong possibility that today’s jug is indeed the real deal.

The alternative would've saddened me in a "finding out Santa isn't real" way; it doesn't really change anything, but it does because it changes the way you look at/think about it. Replicas don't have much sentimental value.

Anyway, I'm hoping I didn't steal too much from the original piece. Given that it was seven parts long and included gobs of historical research and references along with a section covering the unanswered questions I didn't even mention, I don't think I did. And I highly recommend the whole thing, especially if you care at all about century-old traditions and whatnot (and if you have enough of a passion for college football that you're reading this blog, you probably do). Link goes here.

*Arizona and Arizona State played for the Territorial Cup back in 1899, so that's kind of the oldest rivalry trophy. The qualifier: That was just a one-time award and didn't become a winner-gets-it trophy until 2001. To me, that one game 112 years ago doesn't really count. Feel free to argue.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Week 4: Setting up SEC West armageddon

LSU obliterates West Virginia as couches burn into the night: What the headline says. I'll admit it: I thought West Virginia's offense would score enough to make this one pretty interesting given LSU's general lack of decent quarterback play. It was interesting for all of about 10 seconds, which was the amount of time between West Virginia's third-quarter TD to make it 27-21 and Morris Claiborne running back the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. What I forgot to consider was that LSU has a filthy-good defense (especially the secondary) that produces about two touchdowns worth of turnovers a game. Morris Claiborne and the spectacularly named Tyrann Mathieu are freakin' ballhawks. It'd be easy to say "holy crap Geno Smith threw for 463 yards," but it took him 65 throws to get there -- that's a fairly average 7.1 per attempt. It was 27-7 at the half, at which point West Virginia had crossed midfield once. And when Jarrett Lee goes 16 for 28 with three touchdowns and no picks, LSU isn't losing to anybody. Commence the countdown to November 5: LSU at Alabama, with Gary Danielson providing the verbal fellating to everybody involved.

Alabama find a quarterback, destroys Arkansas: This game went from 7-7 to 31-7 in the span of about 10 minutes of game time, with Alabama having a stretch of "possessions" that went as follows: field goal, interception return for touchdown, punt, punt return for touchdown, 60-yard screen-pass touchdown to Trent Richardson. Richardson did his usual thing (121 yards rushing plus the screen-pass thing), but the big revelation for Bama was A.J. McCarron. Go back to the first drive of the game, with Alabama facing a fourth-and-4 from the Arkansas 37. McCarron takes the shotgun snap, rolls to his right, looks off the safety, sets and throws back to the tight end releasing deep down the left hash marks ... and puts the ball right in the guy's hands in stride for a touchdown to make it 7-0. He had some other similarly impressive throws in the parts of the game I was able to watch and finished 15 for 20 for 200 yards, two TDs and no interceptions. That's pretty good; it also represents massive improvement from the McCarron/Phillip Sims duo's first couple games, which had me questioning whether Alabama would have any offense at all outside the obvious Richardson handoffs. Oh, and if you haven't seen this Marquise Maze punt return, watch it right now:

Man ... that guy can move (aaarrghgh Michigan-to-Alabama transfer grumble grumble).

Denard Michigan has surprisingly little difficulty with San Diego State: I overslept the start of the game by about a half-hour, and by the time I flipped it on, it was already 14-0 Michigan. This was incredibly relieving; I was convinced San Diego State was gonna be irritatingly effective on offense and good enough on defense to make this a terrifying game for Michigan. That didn't happen, in part because Denard ran basically wherever/whenever he wanted and in part because Michigan's defense is soooo much better than last year. When Greg Mattison took over and talked about his NFL revelation that pressuring the quarterback is the key to everything, I figured it was typical "new defensive coordinator promises aggressiveness toughness blah blah blah." It wasn't; Michigan is blitzing at insane rates and killing quarterbacks on a weekly basis. Ryan Lindley looked like a mediocre high school QB because he was rushing every throw while getting crushed or preparing to get crushed. The two lingering concerns: The reliance on bending and then creating an extremely timely turnover (which probably isn't sustainable, although there will be more turnovers because of the aforementioned pressure) and Denard being unable to throw the ball to guys wearing Michigan uniforms. The second one is why I've been calling for more shotgun. Defense freaking out = hilariously wide-open receivers = not-as-difficult throws for a guy with basically no experience going through a pro-style passing progression. But hey, Michigan is 4-0 and on a smoothly paved path to 6-0. And Brady Hoke is now above .500 for his career (52-51), which is swell. Yay all around.

Clemson wins a meaningful game?!? Yeah, I didn't really see that coming, even with Clint Trickett starting in place of the de-shouldered E.J. Manuel for Florida State. The weird thing was that FSU didn't really have much trouble moving the ball -- Trickett went 26 for 38 for 336 yards and three TDs -- but the defense got shredded by Tajh Boyd, which was pretty much the exact opposite of what I expected. Related observation: Boyd is really, really good. I don't know how many times he put a ball right over Sammy Watkins' shoulder in stride for 20-plus yards, but I bet Mark Stoops could tell you. Between Boyd, Watkins (so good for a freshman) and Andre Ellington, that offense is gonna be tough to stop. So Clemson is 4-0 and heading into an even bigger game in Blacksburg against Va. Tech. After that, there isn't a single good team on the schedule until the season finale at South Carolina. I have little to no doubt that Clemson will lose at least one game in inexplicable fashion since that's just what Dabo Swinney does, but that first-ever ACC title game appearance is looking totally within reach. As for the Noles, I'm not really sure how good they are or aren't -- I still think they roll through the rest of the ACC schedule, but I'm far less certain about that than I was a week ago.

Oklahoma State goes bonkers in second half to beat Texas A&M: It was 20-3 A&M at the half ... and then Brandon Weeden woke up and A&M didn't get a first down for about an hour, by which time the situation was slightly different. In a span of nine minutes in the third quarter, Okie State scored three touchdowns (and would have had four if not for the most embarrassing play ever by Justin Blackmon -- more on that momentarily) while A&M turned the ball over three times in six plays from scrimmage. It was 30-20 Oklahoma State by the time A&M remembered there was a game going on. Weeden ended up going 47 for 60 for 438 yards, which has ceased being amazing in that offense. A&M is a pretty good team, but the turnovers were devastating (hey, I could work for an ESPN studio show!) and the secondary couldn't seem to cover anybody once Oklahoma State figured out at halftime how to block for more than one second. BTW, Justin Blackmon is really good and should be a top-15 pick in about eight months.

This week's worst play in the history of ever: Man, there is some serious competition this week. Let's start with Blackmon being a moron and celebrating at the 5-yard line en route to an awful/hilarious touchback:

Next: Minnesota's comedy of errors against North Dakota State (guh) included probably the most amusing Hail Mary I've ever seen:

I didn't think those could be beat until I saw Tajh Boyd's lone interception against Florida State -- I can't even describe it in words, so just watch:

Craptactular? Yeah, I think that works.

I don't understand what they were looking at: I'm sure you've seen this by now, but just in case: Syracuse beat Toledo in overtime Saturday in a game that should never have gone to OT since it wasn't tied. With about two minutes left, Syracuse scored a touchdown to go ahead by two. The extra-point attempt was missed ... except the officials called it good. But the review solves everything!

Ummm ... what!?!?! The ball clearly goes in front of the left upright -- it's not even debatable. Here's the Big East's official statement:
"After studying the videos of the Syracuse extra point attempt at 2:07 of the fourth quarter, we have concluded that the ruling on the field that the kick passed between the uprights was incorrect, and that the replay official made an error in failing to reverse that ruling. In reviewing the video, we have determined that the angle from behind the kicking team shows conclusively that the ball passes outside the right upright.

Our review of the process determined that the replay official mistakenly focused his attention on the sideline angle, which proved to be distorted. We are confident that our officiating staff will learn from this situation in order to prevent a reoccurrence. "
Please explain to me why you'd choose to focus on a sideline angle to determine whether an extra-point attempt went between the freakin' uprights. Toledo got hosed: The field goal with two seconds left that sent the game to OT should have won it, and even if there's no chance in hell Syracuse is gonna give back the win, I have no problem with Toledo disputing it. I've never understood why conferences/officials can say, "Yup, we screwed up and cost you guys the game" but the NCAA can't do anything about the result. Lame.

The circle of illogical wins/losses begins: Miami lost to Kansas State at home Saturday. Maryland -- which beat Miami three weeks ago -- lost to Temple by 31 points (!!!) and got outgained by almost 200 yards. So maybe Miami is just awful ... except I just watched a fairly impressive win over Ohio State like nine days ago, and I'm pretty sure Ohio State isn't significantly worse than Temple and Kansas State (reverse jinx FTW?).

Minnesota and Indiana are so, so awful: As you may have surmised from that hilarious Hail Mary, Minnesota ended up losing to North Dakota State. The final score was 37-24, which means Minnesota has now been outscored by 20 points in the past two weeks by New Mexico State (arguably the worst D-I team in the country) and an FCS team. That is just inexcusably terrible. This is also the second year in a row Minnesota has lost to a lower-division team (lol); South Dakota came to TCF Stadium last year and won 41-38. So everybody laugh ... except Indiana. You can't laugh because you just lost at home to winless North Texas in a game you trailed 21-0 at halftime. Only a massive fourth-quarter comeback made it close (the final was 24-21), which is just flat-out embarrassing against a Sun Belt team that lost its first three games by a combined 91 points. I'd feel comfortable wagering that neither one of these teams finishes with more than two wins, especially given Jerry Kill's uncertain status for the rest of the season. In case you missed it, Kill had more seizures this week and is now hospitalized in the Mayo Clinic with no definitive plan for a return. No joking here: I hope he can get his seizures under control, because those are just scary and are obviously more important than football.

Mike Locksley still had a job? New Mexico finally came to its senses and fired Mike Locksley on Sunday after a home loss to Sam Houston State (yes, Sam Houston State). Quick recap: Locksley faced a sexual harassment complaint early in 2009, punched an assistant coach later that year (and was suspended for it) and went 2-26 in two-plus seasons ... and yet he probably still wouldn't have been fired if not for an incident Saturday night in which a recruit was arrested on a DUI charge while driving Locksley's car. Pick your favorite part of that sentence; there are so many options. While you're doing that, I'll be throwing breakable things at the wall due to New Mexico's admission that Locksley will be getting paid about $500,000 in order to NOT coach for the next three years. Can I get a job that allows me to get sued, punch a coworker and never succeed and still get paid a couple hundred grand a year? Also, I used a lot of italics in this paragraph.

Player of the week: Bryant Moniz. I don't care that Hawaii was playing UC Davis; he had seven touchdown passes in the first half (!!!!!). That's five exclamation points! He finished 30 of 40 for 424 yards and the seven TDs, which equates to a pass efficiency of 221.79. He also had 50 rushing yards. The most surprising thing (to me, anyway) about all those numbers is that the seven TD passes in a half only tied an NCAA record held by three players. Ridonkulous.

Moniz's only competition this was week was Robert Griffin, whose numbers were less absurd from a volume standpoint but actually better from an efficiency standpoint: Griffin went 29 of 33 for 338 yards and five touchdowns in Baylor's 56-31 win over Rice (that's a rating of 223.92). Oh, and he ran for a score. Solid effort.

Hilarious stat of the week: I honestly didn't believe this until I'd seen/heard it from three people: Robert Griffin has more touchdown passes than incompletions this year. I know, right? In three games so far this season, he's gone 21 for 27, 20 for 22 and 29 for 33. Add up the incompletions and you get 12; for comparison, he's got 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. His efficiency rating this season is 236.23 (!), a number that actually went down Saturday. I will laugh about that for the remainder of the night (hat tip to friends Brett and Andrew).

Post-Week 4 top 10: A&M is out for obvious reasons, but I'm even less sure this week about what to do with spots 8-10. Nebraska hasn't been very impressive (I'm really looking forward to the Wisconsin-Nebraska game Saturday), but I'm not totally convinced that South Carolina, Clemson and Florida are legitimate top-10 teams. Also, the top three are basically interchangeable at this point.
  1. Oklahoma
  2. LSU
  3. Alabama
  4. Boise State
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Oregon
  7. Oklahoma State
  8. Stanford
  9. Nebraska
  10. South Carolina

Friday, September 23, 2011

Catching up will consider not burning couches

Ohio State to start Braxton Miller: Remember when the 2008 version of Ohio State went on the road and got spanked by USC as Todd Boeckman threw a couple horrific interceptions and made it clear that the OSU offense was more of a liability than a threat while he was in the game, thus ushering in the Terrelle Pryor era? That's pretty much what happened Saturday night in Miami. Joe Bauserman was the suckiest suck who's ever sucked -- he went 2 for 14 (!) for 13 yards -- and has been discarded in favor of true freshman Braxton Miller, who wasn't much better in garbage time against Miami (2 for 4 for 22 yards and a pick) but at least represents hope for the future, just like Pryor did in '08. What's interesting is that after Colorado, Ohio State has arguably its four toughest games of the season lined up back to back to back to back. Asking Miller to improve enough in one week that he can carry the offense against Michigan State, Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin is bordering on unrealistic -- there's just no viable alternative.

E.J. Manuel questionable for Florida State: Since I don't have 120 staff members and therefore can't keep up with injury reports, this is one of the few times all season you'll see "Player X is questionable" as a headline-type thing on my blog. But this one's significant: Manuel took a pretty good shot last week against Oklahoma and has a sore throwing shoulder that might keep him out Saturday on the road against Clemson. The only alternative is freshman Clint Trickett, who came in late against OU and threw a ridiculously lucky touchdown pass into double coverage and finished 7 for 15 with the touchdown and a pick. He also got some mostly irrelevant garbage-time experience in the first two games. If he starts, I expect the FSU offense to be much more ground-oriented and probably OK but not super effective. I don't think it'll matter since Florida State's defense is really good, but (a) it's on the road in Death Valley and (b) Tajh Boyd doesn't exactly suck. I'm boosting my Upset Alert Meter from 4 to 7.

West Virginia trying unsuccessfully
to be less West Virginia: There are many things that differentiate me from the people in West Virginia. Among the obvious: When I think "WOOOO WHAT A GREAT WIN," my next thought isn't "LET'S BURN STUFF OH YA GET THE MATCHES."

Officials ordered West Virginia University students to remove couches and other flammable items from lawns and porches in hopes of putting a stop to the local tradition of setting celebratory fires after big football victories, the Charleston Daily Mail reported Thursday.

The order from the city of Morgantown requires all residents to remove any furniture, construction materials, debris and other combustible materials from porches, balconies or lawns, according to the report.
I was gonna make a joke here, but this guy makes it for me:
"I just can't see it putting a stop to people's desire to burn," junior Mark Kookan told the Daily Mail. "It might hide things to burn, but I feel that if I see someone burning something, I want to be a part of that."
I have nothing to add.

Why I love Smart Football: Chris Brown is awesome because his West Virginia-LSU preview for Grantland doesn't consist of 500 words about which team wants it more and instead breaks down -- in ridiculously explanatory fashion -- what makes the Dana Holgorsen offense so effective/dangerous and how LSU will try to defend it.

A few particularly interesting excerpts (I highly recommend the full version):

Holgorsen's version gives a few different looks to the defense. Namely, the running back to the quarterback's right goes in "early" motion just before the snap to the left, while the runner to the quarterback's left fakes a run. The quarterback's job is to sell the play-action fake to hold the safeties and linebackers — and to hopefully get a bigger play. The traditional Y-Cross has big-play potential but is really a ball-control play. In Holgorsen's offense, there are ball-control passes and kill-shots, and with this one, he'll settle for ball control but he's looking for the kill.

Take this play and its built-in adjustments, multiply it across 10 or 15 other plays, and there's Holgorsen's offense: Simple, heavily practiced, and adaptable. ... This aspect is very similar to the Mumme/Leach Air Raid, but the Holgorsen system has its differences. Leach's offense was dynamic, but often felt like death by a million shallow crosses — short, crossing patterns by receivers running in various directions. But all those quick, breaking routes can give away the play's intention. If a receiver breaks for a shallow within his first or second step, the defense can adapt to the play by double-covering other receivers. On the other hand, if every pass play looks the same — the receivers begin almost all plays by running vertically up the field — then the defense has nothing to key, and the likely result will be an open receiver. The biggest change Holgorsen made to the Air Raid playbook has been to eschew the shallow crosses (he still uses them sometimes, but mostly as adjustments) in favor of routes that push downfield. ...

In pattern-matching zones, there are four levels of priority: (1) hot, (2) seam, (3) curl, and (4) flat. The first step refers to a "hot" or quick read by the quarterback. With this, the defender is reading the quarterback's drop — if the quarterback takes a quick drop (three steps from under center or one step from the shotgun), the defender expects a quick throw to the inside receiver at five or six yards. Indeed, one of Holgorsen's favorite plays is the "stick concept," which has the slot receiver run six yards downfield and turn around to face the quarterback for a quick hit. If the quarterback takes a deeper drop, the defender moves to the rest of his decision tree. One of the deadliest plays for a defense like fire zone, with a single deep safety, is four verticals, where four receivers run straight downfield looking for the ball. While the play may look like the offense just decided to go "bombs away," it's far more nuanced. ...

One final point to make about the fire zone blitz is that it is not meant to be overwhelming. The goal of an old-fashioned "bring the house" blitz is to flood the offense with more pass-rushers than they have blockers. A zone blitz sends only five rushers, and most offenses have at least five players in pass protection, so a zone blitz can't overpower an offense through numbers alone. Instead, it's designed to work against the protection scheme, either by confusing the blocking assignments, overloading a particular side, or simply by getting a good matchup. It's this last possibility LSU's Chavis seems most likely to exploit, specifically by forcing one of West Virginia's diminutive running backs to step up and block a future NFL linebacker.

Ohio players are way too easily excited: Srsly. I know black jerseys are totally The Coolest Thing Ever This Year, but they're jerseys.

Quick "pick your favorite celebration" poll:
  1. The guy running back and forth across (and then out of) the video room at 2:00.
  2. The guy rolling around on the floor rubbing the jersey all over his body at 2:23.
  3. The guy calling his dad like he just won the lottery at 3:25.
Those seem like the totally reasonable reactions of not-insane people.

Speaking of insane people: Kyle Turley has been insane for a long time. Fortunately, that insanity allows me to laugh at his ridiculous level of ANGAR toward Brady Hoke, who was brazen enough to leave San Diego State (Turley's alma mater) for Michigan, which Hoke acknowledged was his dream job way back in his hiring interview with San Diego State.

This was Turley's "them's fightin' words" statement back in January ...
"I hope you lose every damn game. That was a b.s. move, brother, and you know it."
... and this is the most recent ridiculousness:

"It was just a shame to see a guy who brought a program like San Diego State back to the level it was when I left (in 1997) ... and you just up and leave a program when you're right at the point where you can take a stronghold in southern California. And at the first chance I get for my dream job, I'm going to take it, as if it's not going to be there again.

"So I'm just looking forward to Saturday and karma playing its role in this game. ... Maybe that dream job will become his worst nightmare."

Lol wut? I envision Kyle Turley being an easily baffled/angered person. Ease up on the 'roids, dude.

Random statistical tidbit of the day: Marcus Lattimore is leading the country with 29 rushing attempts per game, which is crazy because Steve Spurrier is Steve Spurrier. What's even crazier is that if Lattimore keeps up that pace, he would finish with (assuming South Carolina plays in the SEC title game) a ridiculous 406 carries ... and that wouldn't even come close to the all-time single-season record. All the way back in the olden days of 2007, Kevin Smith at Central Florida had 450 carries (!!!) in 14 games. I'll do the math for you: That's 32.1 per game. He also had 2,567 yards and 29 touchdowns, which kinda explains why he got 450 carries.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chaos avoidance FTW

So apparently there was some realignment-related stuff that happened in the past couple days while I was off the grid. A timeline/graph of events and my corresponding confidence in the future of college football (on a scale of 1-10):

I'm not sure who deserves the credit -- more than anything, it was Texas' epic greed that led to both the threat and end of expansion-aganza -- but I was incredibly relieved and had that warm-and-fuzzy feeling come over me as I came to the realization Thursday that college football won't be some sort of fustercluck of weird conference-like conglomerations in 2013. I like my traditions and I like my lawn child-free, damn it.

I'm still deeply concerned about the long-term stability of both the Big 12 and the Big East, but my hope is that everybody has learned enough from the past 15 months to figure out (either through exit fees or binding TV contracts or whatever) a way to ensure something other than an annual game of insane musical chairs.

Back to the Texas thing for a moment: Whether or not you wanted Texas in the Pac-whatever, the fact of the matter is that the Longhorn Network is so toxic (in terms of UT-specific financial benefits) that nobody wants any part of it. A little background:
The Pac-12 decided it won't expand further late Tuesday because commissioner Larry Scott failed to get assurance that Texas would back an equal revenue sharing plan if the league added the Longhorns, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, a source with direct knowledge told

Scott didn't endorse expansion to the league's presidents and chancellors, the source said.
To be fair, I don't blame Texas for taking advantage of a planet-sized fan/revenue base -- the concept of the Longhorn Network is a good one for the school itself -- but DeLoss Dodds basically turned the Big 12 into a failed marriage, with one side laughably abusive and the other pathetically submissive. He and the people in power at UT were well aware last offseason (when the Big 12 was already in danger) that the Baylors and Texas Techs of the world were more than happy to orbit around the monstrosity that is Texas athletics, leeching off the financial windfall, and they took advantage of it through a ridiculously lopsided financial arrangement. And then they tacked on the Longhorn Network to further skew the hierarchy without really considering the effects on the conference and the other relevant parts of it (specifically Oklahoma and Texas A&M). There probably was no need to consider the secondary effects when the worst-case-scenario alternatives were "football independence" and "Pac-16 with similarly sweet revenue deal."

UT had all the leverage the entire time in negotiations with both the Big 12 and the Pac-12, and that was probably a pretty awesome position to be in (there's a reason people in Texas think Texas is so awesome). The Pac-12 didn't really want Oklahoma and Oklahoma State without getting Texas too, so UT basically forced Larry Scott to choose between giving Texas a LHN-related financial advantage and taking the two schools that were only wanted as part of a four-team group. Neither one of those things happened, so Texas is right back where it started and didn't really lose anything.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, was like "WTF" and called for Dan Beebe's head on a stick because IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT:
The Oklahoman reported that the University of Oklahoma would only commit to staying in the Big 12 if the conference added regulations on ESPN's Longhorn Network and ousted Beebe as commissioner.

That was from Wednesday night. This is from Thursday night:

Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is out after the conference nearly collapsed for the second time in just over a year. In a statement, the Big 12 said its board of directors and Beebe reached a "mutual agreement" for Beebe to leave the job immediately.

Yes, if by "mutual" you mean "GTFO."

The last 15 months were an unmitigated disaster for the Big 12, and nothing Beebe did helped in any way. The "hey you guys should totally stick around so here's some extra money" bribe last offseason that led to the aforementioned Big 12 revenue hierarchy was both short-sighted and stupid. There's a reason every stable conference splits its money equally. And when Texas announced it'd be showing high school games and highlights on the LHN, everybody who wasn't showering in burnt-orange money was realizing that this would be a problem and probably should have been nipped in the bud by somebody with authority at the Big 12 ... somebody like Dan Beebe.

Really, all you need to know is that in the 48 hours the Big 12 spent on the brink of obliteration, all the "state of the Big 12" statements came from DeLoss Dodds. Beebe was a puppet; I'm not sure he had any choice, but I'm glad Oklahoma put its foot down hard and demanded some equality for the benefit of everybody. Here's where things stand right now:

The Big 12's presidents pledged to grant their television rights to the conference for six years, Oklahoma president David Boren said at a news conference on Thursday.

No contracts had been signed yet in part because some schools must get the approval of their governing boards, league spokesman Bob Burda said.

The Big 12 splits revenue from its Fox Sports contract evenly, but only half of the money from its top-tier deal with ABC/ESPN goes into equal shares. The rest is weighted toward the programs that play on the network more frequently.

Boren said all nine remaining schools -- except for Texas A&M -- "agreed" to give a six-year grant of their first- and second-tier television rights to the Big 12. That means that all revenue from the top television games -- shown currently on networks owned by ABC/ESPN and Fox -- would continue to go to the Big 12 even if a school bolts to another league.

Translation: Everyone (including Texas) is committing to share revenue equally and stay in the Big 12 for at least the next six years. This is muy bueno for stability.

Even Texas is realizing that it's probably best for everybody if the other eight/nine/whatever schools in the conference aren't constantly looking to bolt -- but NOBODY TOUCH OUR GOLD:

Texas President William Powers declared Wednesday that the Longhorns - who receive more media money than other members of the Big 12 - are open to a new revenue-sharing model and have already suggested that top-level television and cable money be shared equally.

What's not on the table is the money from Texas' 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to create the Longhorn Network, which has been blamed in large part for Texas A&M's pending departure from the Big 12.

"That's never been in play, that's not in play," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said.

Fortunately, that doesn't appear to be an issue. The should-be-shared money will be shared equally and everyone (except Texas A&M, obviously) will be happy. The Big 12 -- in some form -- will survive for at least the foreseeable future

"In some form" refers to the uncertainty of what's next. There's no way the conference wants to stay at nine teams; the only question is whether there are three worthwhile additions (12 teams and a conference championship game would be ideal) or just one, most likely BYU.

Quick side note: Rather than going after BYU (which numerous sources have reported as the frontrunner for an invite), why not try to steal TCU away from the Big East? TCU would be a football upgrade and would have an orgasm at the chance to join the Texas Elite Club and get in a BCS conference that doesn't consist entirely of schools two time zones away. Seems like a win-win situation, yes?

Thank God for Texas affiliate (which is totally unbiased, BTW) and its up-to-the-minute updates/propaganda on the Big 12's status:

According to Chip Brown of, BYU isn't eagerly rushing in to sell itself to the Big 12 and now expansion targets have turned to Big East-bound TCU.

"While BYU has been the popular thought as a replacement for Texas A&M, a key source close to the situation says BYU may no longer be interested in joining the Big 12 because of the recent instability," Brown wrote.

I have no idea why BYU thinks it'd be better off staying out of even an unstable Big 12 -- independence is always an option down the road -- but TCU makes a lot of sense in every way.

And that brings us to the Big East. If the conferences were women, the Big Ten would be Jessica Alba, the SEC would be Hayden Panettiere, the Pac-12 would be Jessica Biel, the ACC would be your wife, the Big 12 would be the sometimes-attractive-but-mostly-weird-and-unstable Avril Lavigne and the Big East would be a slumpbuster. The drop-off is steep.

With the ACC going renegade and stealing two of the Big East's three best all-around schools -- Pitt and Syracuse, in case you forgot -- the rest hardly seemed worth keeping together. West Virginia was gone to the SEC (or wanted to be), Rutgers and UConn were gone to the ACC and implosion was imminent. But when the Pac-12 did us all a favor and told Texas to suck it, everything stopped.

Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said all the members of his conference are committed to staying together.

The presidents and athletic directors from the Big East football schools met for three hours at a New York hotel Tuesday. Marinatto said each member pledged to remain in the conference and the league is aggressively searching for replacements for Pittsburgh and Syracuse. He said the non-football members also are on board.

Whether that's true or not is a matter of debate, but less than 24 hours later, East Carolina submitted an application; it's unclear if the Big East will approve it or wait to hear from the service academies, which collectively represent the first tier of choices. Central Florida -- which, IMO, should be at the top of the list because of its size, Orlando location and new stadium -- is reportedly right there with ECU as a secondary choice.

Whenever Pitt and Syracuse end up leaving (2014-15 is the hypothetical target, but it'll probably be a lot sooner), the Big East will have seven football-playing members: the current six and TCU. I wouldn't be shocked if all five of the aforementioned schools get picked up. Villanova has also been trying to move up from I-AA for a while and would be a suitable (albeit not very competitive at first) addition if, for example, Air Force decided to stick it out in the Mountain West.

One potential caveat buried in the story on the Big East's presidents:
A source with direct knowledge of the meeting told's Andy Katz that Connecticut didn't commit to remain in the Big East and is still actively pursuing membership in the ACC.
Interesting. The question isn't so much whether UConn gets plucked but whether UConn and somebody else (probably Rutgers) bail, which would leave the Big East back at "is this worth saving" status and potentially lead to another week of realignment stupidity. FWIW, most reports thus far have said that the ACC will only consider additional expansion if it can bring in Notre Dame, which isn't happening in a million years. So the Big East is alive and kickin' and at least trying to keep itself relevant. The automatic BCS bid is probably gone when that contract runs out in 2014, but that's a relatively minor issue compared with survival.

So ... there are still six major conferences (for now). This is probably a good thing. And I've changed course from a few days ago, when I said this:
Commence superconferences. At some point in the very near future, the Big East and Big 12 will be historical footnotes and the ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-whatever will have some unreasonably large number of teams held together by little other than a conference name. They will each negotiate $100 quadrillion TV deals, require two BCS bids and possibly set some sort of playoff in motion.
Now that we've gone to the brink and NOT crossed the uncrossable line, I'm not sure the superconference thing is such an inevitability (maybe a probability, but not an inevitability). The fantasy of some sort of eight- or 16-team playoff is what's driving a lot of that talk, but there are soooo many steps in between those two things (consensus among BCS-conference presidents and commissioners, an Earth-shattering break from the NCAA that would change college sports forever, the requisite lawsuits, etc.) that are being ignored so the talking heads can say "SUPERCONFERENCES PLAYOFF NOM NOM." The Big East is and will continue to be in danger because it's bordering on BCS outlier and makes something like 1/20 of what the Big Ten makes in TV money; the others are all doing fine financially, and since the Pac-12 doesn't want Oklahoma without Texas (and Texas doesn't wanna leave the Big 12 if it'll have to give up some of its LHN revenue), there's somewhat of a stalemate that will hopefully make everybody pause and realize how stupid the last week has been in the big picture.

In summary: Yay, even if it's only a temporary yay. I'll gladly take short-term (and the chance for long-term) stability and adherence to tradition over immediate lunacy.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Week 3: We actually learned some stuff

I really should try to start these posts before Monday, yes? Anyway ...

Oklahoma wins, destroys every Florida State player: Oklahoma's defense was flat-out violent Saturday night, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It was kinda like watching the good-old-days Miami defenses that just hurt people -- the carnage was everywhere (I'm honestly relieved that Kenny Shaw isn't permanently damaged). That's really the one thing OU has been missing the past few years; I honestly can't remember the last time I saw Oklahoma just grind out a win against a similarly elite team. And yes, Florida State is an elite team -- my questions were answered. The defense was everything it was hyped up to be (and then some), and E.J. Manuel did a lot of good things when his passes weren't getting tipped and his shoulder wasn't getting destroyed. Also, Dustin Hopkins has a ridiculous leg. The problem I see is the lack of a running game; if/when Manuel plays like crap, I could easily see the 'Noles laying an offensive egg and losing to somebody they shouldn't (although it's hard to envision it mattering against any team on the schedule other than Miami or Florida). As for OU, the path is pretty clear (Texas is the "pretty" part) to 8-0. The last month might be interesting, but this is a really good/possibly great team.

Landry Jones is a stone-cold killer: Srsly. Just forget about the "199 yards with a TD and two picks" part and go back to the play immediately before Oklahoma's game-winning touchdown. Here's the scenario: FSU has just tied the score at 13-13 in the fourth quarter and has every ounce of momentum, and there are roughly 80,000 people at Doak Campbell rockin' the Tomahawk Chop and throwing spears at each other (or something). It's third-and-13 for OU at its own 41. Somebody on the interior of the O-line gets pwned, and the result is a defensive tackle who's about three feet away from killing Jones, causing the stadium to explode and giving FSU the ball back with eight minutes left and a chance to win. Landry Jones, meanwhile, gives this guy the proverbial middle finger and hits Ryan Broyles right between the freakin' numbers for 22 yards. In video form (note that the next play is the beautiful pump-and-go to Kenny Stills):

That's doin' work.

Miami manhandles Ohio State in hilarious fashion: Miami went 54 yards on the first play from scrimmage and led by a touchdown 2:13 into the game. They could have stopped there and won; that's how awful Ohio State's offense was. Here's the combined passing line for Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller: 4 for 18 for 35 yards (!!!) and one pick. They made Jacory Harris look like Peyton Manning despite him throwing three Jacory Harris Specials (two that actually got picked off and one that should have been a walk-in pick six). The OSU defense also had no answer when Miami pulled out the old-school Student Body Left/Right to get Lamar Miller outside and ran it over and over and over and over. Miller ended up with 184 yards, and even if you excise the 54-yarder on the first play, he averaged five yards a pop. All the things I said about Ohio State being just fine now seem ... ummm ... not accurate? The defense is still good but not great, and the passing game is 2008 Michigan-esque. And after Colorado this weekend, OSU's next four games are: Michigan State, at Nebraska, at Illinois, Wisconsin. Yikes. I have no idea what to say about Miami. Is the defense really that good? If so, there's not a team they can't beat unless Jacory Harris throws a handful of devastating picks, which will assuredly happen. I like their chances in the ACC a hell of a lot more than I did three days ago, but I still have a hard time seeing anything better than about 9-3 given the fact that (a) they already have a loss and (b) they still play road games at Va. Tech, Florida State and South Florida.

Notre Dame finally stops playing like crap, crushes Michigan State: It was bound to happen eventually. And just to be clear, finishing minus-1 in turnover margin means "not playing like crap" when compared to ND's first two games. A few observations: Michigan State's offensive line is bad (29 total rushing yards for a team with Edwin Baker, Larry Caper and LeVeon Bell is awful), Notre Dame's lines (on both sides) are pretty good and Tommy Rees is going to be terrifying once he figures out where NOT to throw the ball. Also, "Little Giants" derp lol:

Not this time, Sparty. I'll say it again: Barring another five-turnover disaster at some point (which is entirely possible), there's not another game on the schedule Notre Dame should lose until the regular-season finale at Stanford, which might be a de facto BCS play-in game. Get Lou Holtz on the phone for a ridiculous prediction, stat.

Auburn's miraculous win streak is over: Gene Chizik's soul is apparently worth 17 games. As expected, it was the defense that let Auburn down -- not that 24 points is great, but it should at least be enough to keep you in the game. Auburn's secondary just isn't very good, and Tajh Boyd lit it up like a freakin' Christmas tree (30 for 42 for 386 yards and four touchdowns) to the point where Dabo Swinney was forced to summon his inner Mike Gundy (the happy version):

Statistical tidbit: Auburn is now 117th in total defense. After Florida Atlantic on Saturday, the next four games are as follows: at South Carolina, at Arkansas, Florida, at LSU (wwwhhheeeeee!). So a win against Clemson would have been nice since they'll be a lot tougher to come by in October. On the flipside, Swinney's job is now slightly safer than it was a week ago ... but that goodwill won't last long unless Clemson actually wins a meaningful ACC game for the first time in forever. The next two on the schedule: Florida State and at Virginia Tech. Good luck with that.

Florida might be really good: My two takeaways from the Florida-Tennessee game: Florida's defense is borderline dominant, which probably has something to do with Will Muschamp being a crazy but awesome defensive coach (the Bo Pelini of the SEC?), and John Brantley looks roughly 6 billion times more comfortable and effective in Charlie Weis' offense than he did in the thing Urban Meyer and Steve Addazio were running at the end. Oh, and Chris Rainey is fast and actually has a useful role. I thought at the beginning of the year that South Carolina and Georgia would be the default top two in the SEC East, but Florida might be better than either one (pending upcoming games against top-five teams that will tell us a little more than a home game against .500-ish Tennessee).

Texas curbstomps UCLA into submission: Man ... UCLA is awful. Kevin Prince played three series and threw three interceptions, at which point it was 21-0 Texas and the game was over. Richard Brehaut was slightly less terrible but not nearly good enough to make it matter. Barring a massive turnaround, Rick Neuheisel's gone. Meanwhile, Case McCoy! Malcolm Brown! Texas got competent quarterback play and good running back play for the first time in ... umm ... I don't even know. How Garrett Gilbert managed to keep his job for the past year-plus is a mystery, because McCoy just went out against a pretty decent defense on the road in his first start and went 12 for 15 with two touchdowns and no picks. And Brown was just as good, finishing with 22 carries for 110 yards and a spectacular touchdown; he clearly needs to be a significant part of the offense, especially given the unknown quantities at the QB spot. But still: Texas haz offense?

Utah wins Holy War, takes over Provo: The score at halftime Saturday night was Utah 14, BYU 10. It seemed like a typical Utah-BYU game. About 27 minutes later, Utah had 40 (!) more points and BYU was still stuck on 10. The reason: BYU had seven turnovers, including six lost fumbles. Six! From the start of the third quarter to the 14-minute mark of the fourth, BYU ran 10 offensive plays while Utah scored four times. BYU isn't terrible -- they lost to Texas (in Austin) by one point last week after leading most of the way -- but seven turnovers lol. I bet Max Hall loved it. BTW, Utah is pretty good ... like maybe the best team in the Pac-12 South, which is kinda frightening considering that (a) this was supposed to be a rebuilding year and (b) recruiting has improved significantly with the help of the whole Pac-12 thing.

Oklahoma State and Tulsa play all night morning: I will never understand why this game wasn't postponed to Sunday or canceled. Kickoff came at 12:16 a.m. local time after three-ish hours of weather delays that would've had sane people saying, "It's just not gonna happen tonight." The game ended at 3:35 a.m. This probably sucked for everybody involved, from the players to the refs to the fans (although Brandon Weeden didn't seem to have much trouble). I hope whoever had play-or-cancel authority had to get up early Sunday morning.

Georgia Tech runs for 50,000 yards (roughly): Hyperbole simply wouldn't be sufficient, so I'll just reprint most of Georgia Tech's box score from Saturday's 66-24 win over Kansas and let you be amused:
  • Total yards: 768
  • Rushing yards: 604 (lol wut)
  • Yards per rush: 12.1 (an NCAA record)
  • Completions-attempts: 4-7
  • Yards per pass: 23.4
I don't even know what to say.

Player of the Week: Toledo caveats go here (especially now that we know Ohio State just isn't very good), but good lord: Kellen Moore went 32 for 42 for 455 yards and five touchdowns Friday night. He accounted for all but one of Boise's scores in a 40-15 win and now has a pass efficiency of 187.56 (fifth in the country) through two games, both of which were played on the road against legitimate Division I teams. The guy is a walking quarterback clinic.

I also feel obligated to give a shout-out to Texas Tech QB du jour Seth Doege, whose line against New Mexico was just as ridiculous as Moore's: 40 for 44 (90.9 percent!) for 401 yards and five touchdowns. He'd be my player of the week if he'd done it against somebody less abysmal than New Mexico, but alas. He'll have to settle for the Division I record for highest completion percentage in a single game -- doing it while throwing 44 passes is truly phenomenal, competition be damned.

Louisiana Tech's defense is the Conference USA equivalent of Notre Dame's: I'm sure you don't care about this, but Louisiana Tech was leading Houston 34-7 on Saturday with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Final score: Houston 35, Louisiana Tech 34. Case Keenum FTW.

Post-Week 3 top 10: I actually have some level of confidence about most of these teams. Yay.
  1. Oklahoma
  2. LSU
  3. Alabama
  4. Boise State
  5. Florida State
  6. Oregon
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Oklahoma State
  9. Stanford
  10. South Carolina (or Texas A&M or Nebraska or Virginia Tech or whoever)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Conference-ocalypse is upon us

I gotta be honest: The ACC wasn't at the top of my list of people/entities most likely to blow up the current college sports structure (although Oklahoma probably would've done it about two days later anyway). But with one domino down ...
Pittsburgh and Syracuse, once flagship programs of the Big East, have been accepted as members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, extending the league's current membership to 14 schools, the ACC announced on Sunday morning.
... the rest are falling and chaos is imminent. Commence superconferences.

At some point in the very near future, the Big East and Big 12 will be historical footnotes and the ACC, SEC, Big Ten and Pac-whatever will have some unreasonably large number of teams held together by little other than a conference name. They will each negotiate $100 quadrillion TV deals, require two BCS bids and possibly set some sort of playoff in motion. This will be weird and unsettling and probably not very stable -- whether it'll be good or bad in a general sense is impossible to say, because there are a ton of variables.

And just to be clear, these aren't baseless "internet lulz" assumptions; this is happening, like, right now. From ESPN:

UConn president Susan Herbst is aggressively pursuing membership in the ACC to become the 15th or 16th member institution in the conference, according to a source with direct knowledge of UConn's situation.

According to the source, Herbst was having conversations recently, but in light of Pittsburgh's and Syracuse's defections from the Big East, the talks have accelerated in the last 48 hours.

With three of its four best all-around programs gone and West Virginia reportedly on its way to the SEC, the Big East is done. TCU will bail on its 2012 deal and everyone else will scramble for a suitable home in something other than Conference USA, with South Florida being the most desirable leftover and therefore probably getting the ACC's 16th spot.

From The Austin American-Statesman:

The Pac-12 appears to be working out the final details of a deal that would bring Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to the conference, sources close to the situation told and the American-Statesman on Sunday morning.

Nothing has been accepted or approved yet, but the deal would allow the Longhorns to keep the Longhorn Network. Texas, though, would have to add Pac-12 (soon to be 16) content to the LHN programming.

A high-ranking school administrator at one of the four Big 12 schools said “It’s heating up. We’re trying to move in that direction (of joining the Pac-12).”

When asked about the terms of the agreement, the administrator said, “We can live with it.”

Given the location of the sources, it's safe to say the source/administrator is somebody in the Texas athletic department. The Pac-16 is happening.

The SEC will presumably pick off West Virginia to get to 14, but it's hard to identify any other obviously desirable candidates that will be set adrift in the realignment-created ether. Maybe 14 is enough given the SEC's overall quality and depth (especially once Texas A&M and West Virginia are thrown into the mix).

As for the Big Ten, rumor has it (I can't find a legitimate source, so this could be complete garbage) that Rutgers has already reached out because of the Big East's impending implosion. My reaction probably mirrors Jim Delaney's: meh. Like I said Friday, Rutgers is basically Minnesota East. Missouri seems slightly more attractive, but Rutgers is probably more likely because of the NYC media market (even if nobody there cares about college sports). Neither one excites me a whole lot. Notre Dame, on the other hand ... yeah, that'd be swell.

ND might still be dead set on independence and therefore an end-of-the-rainbow fantasy for the Big Ten, but there are some new factors coming into play here:
  • The massive TV deals everyone else will be getting that might bring in three or four times what Notre Dame is getting annually from NBC (the Big Ten teams are already getting close to double)
  • The potential for a reworked and not-so-inclusive BCS contract when the current one expires in 2014
  • The death of the Big East
The TV thing will have some impact because money money money (money) dollars money, but ND has already turned down a pay raise to retain the national brand image created by independence. The Big East thing, though, creates an unavoidable dilemma: Join the Big Ten/ACC for all sports (and you can be damn sure both of those conferences will demand football as part of the deal) or stay independent in football and doom the rest of your 30-ish teams to irrelevance in Conference USA or something similar. If there's anything the Big Ten can do to back ND into a corner, it'll happen ... and that probably means Rutgers has a back-door deal and Notre Dame has a standing invitation for whenever things get desperate, which will be soon.

And for everybody not fortunate enough to find a spot in a superconference ... man, I dunno. Sucks to be you. Louisville and Kansas and TCU and Baylor and Cincinnati all have some meaningful history (in football or basketball) but bring so little to the table in football right now that I just don't see how they land in a big-time conference when the music stops, and that's sad. My first thought was that maybe the BCS-conference leftovers along with Notre Dame and TCU and whoever else could come up with something like a better version of Conference USA, but of that group (other than Notre Dame, obviously), what athletic department makes enough money to ship all its teams all over the country? Most of those schools lose money now, and that's with the benefit of the rivalries and conference TV deals they'll be losing. In the long run, the WAC and Mountain West and Conference USA will probably be the beneficiaries and end up in the ballpark of 16 teams themselves.

So ... that's where we're at. In summary:

Like I said earlier, whether or not this is a good thing for college sports (which is a pretty vague term) in the long term is both unknown and unknowable. Further commercialization + loss of tradition and rivalries = bad. Increase in meaningful games + some sort of non-BCS playoff = good. Further divide between legitimate D-I teams and D-I hangers-on (the MAC and Sun Belt bottom feeders, basically) = good for some but bad for some. Any combination of those things = I have no idea.

Of the 637,488 things that will be written in print and on the interwebs in the next week, most of them will make a lot of dumb assumptions and include a bunch of witty, single-sentence lines about the old days and playoffs and terrifying change blah blah blah. Example from Greg Hansen at the Arizona Daily Star (to be fair, his column makes some good points -- this isn't one of them):
The practicalities of an expanded Pac-14 (or 16) do not work for the greater good. How much class time would a women's tennis team from Washington miss while traveling 2,216 miles for a showdown with the women's tennis team from Texas?
What's the difference between a flight from Seattle to Tucson and a flight from Seattle to Austin? An hour? Maybe 90 minutes? If you're already flying, the difference in both time and cost is negligible. TCU joining the Big East was stupid in basically every way; Texas joining the Pac-12 (or West Virginia joining the SEC or Mizzou joining the Big Ten) isn't. And aren't we past the point of "THINK OF THE CHILDREN" outrage? The NCAA tournament lasts almost a month. Oklahoma State and Tulsa played til almost 3:30 a.m. (!!!) last night. Etcetera. A slight increase in travel time for Washington's tennis team does not fall into the category of "practicalities that don't work for the greater good."

The real losers (IMO) are the mid-tier schools that'll be either (a) doomed to competitive irrelevance* in absurdly difficult conferences or (b) left out of the mix altogether and doomed to national irrelevance, which is even worse. Maybe the money makes it a worthwhile/fair trade for the schools in Group A; I dunno. I'll ask somebody at Arizona State when I get a chance, although the answer will be some sort of conference-approved fluff about the betterment of all.

I have no idea who the winners are other than the people who see the biggest cut of the TV money -- any other tangible benefits are too indirect and too far in the future to include in any sort of cost-benefit analysis. Structurally, conceptually, geographically and in every other way I can think of, massive superconferences that basically consist of two regular-sized conferences held together by a name are dumb (they're also inherently unstable -- just ask the WAC). I really don't care to see Michigan's schedule lose Wisconsin and Penn State every other year and gain Rutgers and Missouri just so the Big Ten can make X additional advertising dollars via the New York market. Washington fans are probably saying the same thing about the idea of playing in L.A. once every four years in exchange for some extra trips to Lubbock (woo). Alabama will play Florida like twice a decade. These things aren't good for the fans and the product on the field, and putting finances before the product is a good way to make sure both become problems in the future.

And really, that's the one definite takeaway from all this ridiculousness: Everybody involved cares more about making as much money as possible RIGHT NOW than finding something that's smart/stable in the long term (like maintaining rivalries and the logical geographical alignment that keeps casual fans engaged). The future? Whatev. They'll cross that gold-plated bridge when they get to it.

*Buried in the Austin American-Statesman's Pac-16 story are a couple grafs about the proposed arrangement: four pods with four teams each. This idea popped up back when the Big Ten was talking about expanding last offseason, and I love it. Group all the teams within geographic regions together so they play every year, then rotate everybody else. It's fair and ensures as little time as possible in between meetings while making it not totally impossible for the schools other than Texas, Oklahoma, USC and Oregon to actually play for a conference title occasionally. Any superconference with 16 teams should have pods, if only because that would allow me to hate the entire concept incrementally less.
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