Sunday, October 30, 2011

A blind Gopher finds a nut

I left this out of the weekly roundup-type thing because it was so nonsensical and inexplicable that it needed its own space: Minnesota beat Iowa on Saturday. Minnesota, a team that lost to North Dakota State by two touchdowns, hadn't come within four touchdowns of a Big Ten team yet this season and seemed by all measures to be the worst BCS-conference team in the country, beat an Iowa team that was 5-2 and tied for first in the division. I simply cannot wrap my head around this.

Bizarre picture goes here:

My reaction was obviously "hur hur Iowa sux," and ... umm ... yeah, pretty much. I mean, 5-3 is swell, but unless we're counting Pitt as a decent team (which seems generous), Iowa hasn't beaten a decent team all year. The schedule has been a joke. Still, a team that can beat Pitt or Northwestern or anybody else shouldn't be losing to Minnesota*. So I dunno. All I can really take away from that game is that Iowa isn't good (Sagarin says Iowa is basically the equivalent of Purdue, which yuck) and Minnesota isn't the worst team in the history of ever.

That last part is relatively noteworthy given Minnesota's mind-bogglingly awful performance through the first eight weeks. It was all of five freakin' days ago that I put up a post declaring Minnesota the worst major-conference team in the country thanks to the following numbers:
  • 110th in scoring offense
  • 115th in scoring defense
  • 105th in FEI offense
  • 110th in FEI defense
  • 17.7 percent scoring ratio in Big Ten play, the worst in the past 30 years and approaching the worst in the past 50 years
  • FEI ranking of 118th (the only teams worse were UNLV and New Mexico)
This week's FEI rankings aren't out yet, but the Sagarin predictor rankings use similar data and have Minnesota all the way up at (drumroll) 117th. Yeesh. I guess that makes sense since their raw numbers barely improved Saturday; their scoring offense actually went down to 112th. Win or not, Minnesota is still pretty awful ... but not the awful-est anymore.

Hello, Kansas.

I could easily slide Kansas into Minnesota's spot by default, but that's not necessary since plenty of statistical proof was offered up Saturday to demonstrate Kansas' complete lack of competence at everything. Interesting (by which I mean pathetic) stats from the 43-0 loss to Texas: Kansas had 46 total yards (!), rushed for -2 yards (!!), had a total of three first downs (!!!) and saw its defensive numbers actually improve (from 50.4 points per game coming in) despite allowing a thoroughly mediocre Texas offense to have its best/easiest day of the season.

The nice stuff I said last week about the Kansas offense not being awful and allowing KU to salvage some respectability goes out the window after whatever that was. Three first downs and 46 total yards?!? Come on, man. That's a mediocre drive for Oregon. And an offense that's 71st in scoring and 87th in yardage isn't even close to good enough to make up for a defense that's so ridiculously terrible** that it's giving up almost two full touchdowns per game more than any other BCS-conference defense in the country.

The one thing Kansas can use to back up its argument for being something other than a complete embarrassment is the schedule: According to Sagarin, it's been the second-toughest in the country. But playing a tough schedule and losing every game by 25 points doesn't make you any less crappy; if you were playing a bunch of average teams, you'd just be losing to a bunch of average teams by 17, which is still terrible.

And again, three first downs and 46 total yards. Texas has a pretty good defense, but seriously.

In short, Kansas is very, very not good and can rightfully stake a claim to Minnesota's now-vacated spot at the bottom of the barrel (even if not historically abysmal enough to inspire things like GopherQuest).

Colorado (you already know about Colorado) and Indiana also deserve mention for their epic suck. I've been intentionally ignoring Indiana, in part because Minnesota seemed to be distinctively worse within the Big Ten and in part because Indiana has actually been relatively competitive in most of its games so far. Losing by a field goal to a decent Virginia team and losing by six to Penn State does not equal awful.

But with the Penn State game fading further into the early-season ether, it's time to acknowledge that Indiana does not have an actual win (South Carolina State doesn't count) and has a handful of pathetic-even-if-they-were-competitive losses. The worst: a home loss to Ball State, a loss to North Texas in which Indiana trailed 24-0 (lol) and a three-touchdown home loss to a Northwestern team that hadn't previously won a Big Ten game this year. The defense is approaching Kansas levels (114th nationally at 36.2 points per game) and the offense isn't a whole lot better (89th at 23.2 points per game). According to Sagarin, Indiana is the 133rd-best team in the country, which means there are 13 FCS teams that are better (including Indiana State, which wwwhheeeee!). You're on notice, Indiana.

*Especially twice in a row; Minnesota was 2-9 through 11 games last year and beat a 7-4 Iowa team 27-24 to end the season. When a bronze pig is on the line, throw out the records, baby!

**A random and semi-rhetorical question popped into my head the other day: How many points would Houston (52.3 per game) score against Kansas? Can we rearrange the schedule so Houston goes to Lawrence instead of Birmingham this week? Mmmkay thanks.

This is how football is played in my dreams

I have nothing insightful to say about the Army-Fordham game, which was of no importance whatsoever and of little interest to anyone who wasn't in attendance. But this video deserves its own spot because I said so:

In my football heaven, all fields will look like that one, with a perfect dusting of snow covering everything other than the major yard lines (for logistical purposes, of course). The gameday-operations angels have been informed accordingly.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Week 9: The "O RLY?" owl is taking over

Insert witty Luck-related pun here: Wow. Stanford finally got a fight from somebody of comparable quality and needed a pretty fortunate final five minutes just to get to overtime, then got a fluky fumble in the third OT to pull out a win in a game that otherwise might have gone all night and finished 128-126. Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are both pretty freakin' good. I could write a bunch of stuff here about how a legitimate national title contender probably shouldn't have so much trouble against a good-but-not-vintage version of USC, but the only thing that really matters is that Stanford survived and will be undefeated heading into the Oregon game on November 12 that'll decide the Pac-12 title (and possibly a spot in the national championship game); the USC game won't have much bearing on that one. Stanford can play with anybody as long as Luck continues being the best quarterback in the country, which seems likely. BTW, it's pretty lame that USC is postseason-ineligible since this is a pretty good team that should finish at least 9-3 and would make the Pac-12 South waaaay more interesting than it currently is. Matt Barkley would also be getting some Heisman talk (by which I mean he'd be a distant third behind Luck and Trent Richardson) if anybody cared what his team was doing. Also also, USC must really hate Stanford after the past five years.

It was fun while it lasted: I'd like to thank Clemson for being so awesomely predictable and fulfilling my prophecy from just two weeks ago:
I'd totally endorse getting excited if we weren't talking about Clemson, a program that's hard to take seriously after years of letdowns; get back to me after the Georgia Tech game.
Yay me. Seriously: It was bound to happen. Clemson is a really good team with a really good quarterback and a really good receiver but had to hold on to beat Wofford by eight and needed a miraculous second half to beat a bad Maryland team. In mathematical terms, Clemson =/= LSU. On the plus side, 10-2 (and 8-1 in the ACC) is basically the floor at this point, and that should be more than sufficient to get Clemson into its first-ever ACC title game against either Virginia Tech or, um, Georgia Tech. So that's nice. As for Georgia Tech, Paul Johnson really doesn't get enough credit for creating a machine run that's by second-tier athletes but will compete for an ACC championship every year. Next week's game against Va. Tech is probably for the Coastal Division title.

Wisconsin apparently isn't all that great: Losing to Michigan State made some sense since (a) MSU has arguably the best run defense in the country and (b) it was a road night game against a team that beat Wisconsin the previous year. Losing to Ohio State makes no sense at all, especially when it requires giving up 33 points (!) and close to 6 yards per play to the utterly anemic OSU offense. I wonder what that game would've looked like if Wisconsin had still been unbeaten -- in other words, was that a letdown (or whatever you wanna call it) or just additional proof that Wisconsin was just vastly overrated? I'm leaning toward the latter since the talent/production difference on offense should have made Wisky's emotional status irrelevant. I don't wanna go crazy since they could've lucked out and NOT lost on two ridiculous last-minute throws, but they shouldn't have even been in those situations. In the big picture, Wisconsin is suddenly two games out in the division and might never have a chance to make up that difference since Penn State (Penn State!!!) can clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game by beating Nebraska and Ohio State in the next two weeks. Winning both of those games seems pretty unlikely, but so does Penn State being on the verge of clinching the division title while Wisconsin drifts out of the picture. Oh, and Ohio State is now looking at a totally realistic path to eight wins and could probably win the division by beating Penn State and Michigan to end the year. I literally can't believe I just wrote that. Sign Luke Fickell to a long-term deal now plzkthx.

JoePa deserves some props: Speaking of Penn State, the horrendously ugly 10-7 win over Illinois -- a game that ended (fittingly) with an Illinois field-goal attempt going off the right upright as time expired -- gave Joe Paterno the 409th victory of his career, making him the winningest coach in Division I history. Think about that for a second: Winning 407 games means averaging eight wins a year for 51 years! The guy's been purely a figurehead for close to a decade, but the fact that he's still putting in the effort and overseeing a (relatively) consistent top-25 program should count for something. Also, see above about this year's version of Penn State, which is unbeaten in Big Ten play despite not having a competent quarterback (that might say more about the conference than it does about Penn State).

Thank you, Nebraska: Seeing Michigan State ground into submission and completely shut down offensively was a satisfying turn of events. Kirk Cousins was the worst QB on the field Saturday despite the fact that Taylor Martinez had zero passing yards and an interception at halftime. MSU's offense just ceased to exist when the running game started getting shut down, which is pretty much exactly what happened against Notre Dame. Cousins = meh. Also, Michigan State is Michigan State and had nine penalties for 90 yards, including a couple personal fouls and an offsides on fourth-and-3 on Nebraska's final possession that didn't mean anything but was very fitting. Other takeaways: Nebraska's defense seems to be coming together (to some degree) and Michigan State no longer controls its own destiny in the division. Nebraska does control its own destiny, but the final three games are rough -- at Penn State, at Michigan, Iowa -- while MSU's schedule is much friendlier. I'm also not really sure what to make of Nebraska. Outside of a 60-minute stretch between halftimes of the Wisconsin and Ohio State games, this has been one of the top 10-ish teams in the country. But that stuff definitely happened, as did the defense getting shredded by Washington. So ... umm ... I dunno. That kinda adds to the difficulty in figuring out where Nebraska, Michigan State and Wisconsin should be ranked (head asplode).

So long, Kansas State: I would say something like "top-10 teams don't lose at home by six touchdowns," but Kansas State was never a top-10 team to anybody with a shred of common sense (this disqualifies the people who vote in the "official" polls). If Jacory Harris' arms were an inch longer or Arthur Brown hadn't held on to that Robert Griffin pick, Kansas State would be a nondescript and unranked 5-3 team right now. That said, they were unbeaten heading into the last week of October and do deserve some credit for actually beating Miami, Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech. All of those teams are solid; none of them are Oklahoma. I mean ... man. In a span of nine minutes in the third quarter, it went from 23-17 Oklahoma and an intriguingly competitive game to 44-17 Oklahoma and an unsurprising blowout. Landry Jones just went bonkers, going off for 505 yards (!) and five touchdowns and making the apparent season-ending leg injury to running back Dominique Whaley (which came on the first play from scrimmage) irrelevant. I had little doubt going in that OU was miles better than K-State, and I have even less doubt now.

Get ready for some laughable circular logic: The week after beating (and generally dominating) Oklahoma, Texas Tech lost 41-7 to Iowa State. I should point out that Iowa State did not have a Big 12 win prior to that game and seems to be the most bipolar team in history. Since comparative scores always work perfectly for predictive purposes, I'm expecting Iowa State to beat Oklahoma in two weeks by about 45 points.

The SEC East race is actually kinda interesting: Georgia was largely forgotten after losing to Boise and South Carolina to open the season is but is probably gonna finish 7-1 in the SEC after beating Florida on Saturday (the fact that Florida was playing with John Brantley made this a lot more impressive). South Carolina is sitting at 5-1 in the conference and obviously has the tiebreaker, but the two SEC games left on the schedule are at Arkansas and at home against Florida. The weird thing is that I'm not even sure winning the division is preferable; the survivor earns nothing other than the right to get crushed by LSU/Alabama in the SEC title game and get an additional loss that will probably knock them down a notch from the Capital One Bowl to the Outback Bowl (or whatever). Still, I'd be interested to see a peaking 10-2 Georgia team playing for the SEC championship if for no other reason than to render a little more judgment on Boise State.

Player of the Week: Tough call.

If you skipped the video, Case Keenum went 24 of 37 for 534 yards and nine (NINE!!!) touchdowns Thursday night against Rice, setting the D-I career record for touchdown passes in the process (he now has an absurd 139). Throwing nine TD passes = player of the week. It only seems fair to mention that Houston receiver Patrick Edwards had seven catches for 318 yards and five touchdowns (lol). Sorry, Landry Jones.

Play of the Week: James Franklin cannot be tackled (on this particular play):

BTW, Texas A&M is officially unclutch (that's not a word, but I can't think of a better one). In their three losses, which have been by a combined 12 points, they've been outscored by a cumulative 58 points in the second half. Discuss.

Death of the Week: This is so awful:

The Arkansas player was rightfully ejected; I'm not sure why that doesn't happen more often. If there's a clear intent to injure in any situation, the guy should be gone. Every sport has a rule like that (match penalties in hockey, red cards in soccer, pitchers throwing at guys' heads, flagrant-2 fouls, etc.), which makes it all the more irritating when Will Gholston collects three personal fouls while playing dirtier than dirt and gets to stay in the game. /soapbox. On a semi-related note, Arkansas has now needed two straight miraculous second-half comebacks to beat Ole Miss (the SEC's version of Arizona) and Vanderbilt. Not good.

DeAnthony Thomas should get an agility rating of 107: This just isn't fair:


Post-Week 9 top 10: The bottom is getting hard again now that Clemson has been exposed, the Big Ten is a fustercluck and Arkansas is squeaking by the SEC dregs. Also, the borderline-elite teams in the middle are all basically interchangeable at this point. Pay no attention to whether Oklahoma State is ahead of Stanford or vice versa. In fact, pay no attention to any of this.

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Oklahoma State
5. Oregon
6. Stanford
7. Boise State
8. Clemson (I have no idea who else to put here -- there's a huge drop-off after Boise)
9. Wisconsin (seriously, the alternatives are teams like Nebraska, which nope)
10. Nebraska (whatever)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Notre Dame players seem pretty happy

Brian Kelly is known is a guy who's not exactly easy to get along with but has left everywhere he's been on (mostly) good terms because he's won like a mofo. Unfortunately for him, that winning thing hasn't really taken hold at Notre Dame yet, and that's turned somebody who I thought had the temperament of Bob Stoops into somebody who acts like Mike Stoops.

Making himself look like a grape on national TV while berating T.J. Jones was the start of it (at least publicly) and didn't gain him a lot of goodwill among, like, anybody. But this is taking things to a whole new level:
You can see the players I recruited here -- you know who they are. We’ve had one recruiting class here that I’ve had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along, but it’s a process.
In other words, "the guys Charlie Weis brought in are the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked."

It was an incredibly dumb thing to say for obvious reasons, and those obvious reasons became obviously obvious pretty quickly in the Twittersphere:

Mteo_5 (Manti Te'o): Playin for my bros and that's it!!!! @dflem45 @RobJob293 @Carlo44Cal @KLM_89 @Freekey_Zekey17 @stadium20status @J_Slaughter26 #theoriginals

KLM_89 (Kapron Lewis-Moore): @JGolic88 @trobinson78 awful man.. im sure we talking about the same thing

Mutiny time! The large majority of players referenced in those tweets are seniors, but Kelly basically threw every non-freshman on the team under the bus in one not-at-all-thought-out comment and made his job infinitely more difficult than it was a week ago, when it wasn't exactly easy. If you were 5 years old, I'd tell you that's not a very smart thing to do; since you're intelligent enough to read this blog and process my word puke into something coherent, that seems unnecessary.

Back in 2008, when Michigan was freefalling to depths unknown (at least in modern history), RichRod made a handful of relatively innocuous comments about the talent situation not being quite what he expected when he took over. This was a completely reasonable statement given that there were 10 new starters on offense -- including a walk-on quarterback and a converted garbage-time defensive tackle starting on the O-line -- as well as general ineptitude all over the place. It wasn't your typical Michigan. But since it was also a not-so-veiled shot at Lloyd Carr's crappy end-of-tenure recruiting, it didn't go over well. Morgan Trent (a senior starter at corner) later admitted that he dogged it because he flat-out didn't like Rodriguez and wanted him to fail. My understanding is that some other guys made similar statements -- I'll know more after I get through Three and Out (it's now in my possession, BTW). The overall effect of that stuff can't be quantified, but going 3-9 in '08 was a massive first strike on RichRod that probably didn't have to be quite so massive.

If Kelly can ever find a quarterback, saying stupid things won't matter because his offense will put up 45 points a game and ND will be winning 10 games and playing in BCS bowls on a regular basis. Winning cures all, no matter where you are or what else you do (obvious NCAA-related caveats apply). But when the players stop buying in, it gets a little harder to win, and when it gets harder to win, it gets harder to make people forget about the other embarrassing stuff you're doing.

Notre Dame is on its way to 8-4 for the second straight year. I have no idea what Kelly's minimum time allotment is or whether he has some sort of "must win X games over Y years" mandate; all I know is that he's digging himself a totally unnecessary hole that's gonna be hard to get out of without significant help from a bunch of the players he just buried.

West Virginia it is

The Big 12 finally made a decision Friday and picked the dreamy bachelor behind the door with a flaming couch on it:
West Virginia, a member of the Big East since 1995, will leave the conference after being formally invited Friday to join the Big 12.

The Big 12, meanwhile, plans to remain at 10 schools and is waiting on the departure of Missouri -- which has yet to receive a formal invitation to join the Southeastern Conference.

West Virginia said in a conference call on Friday afternoon it will join the Big 12 in 2012. They have already paid $2.5 million of a $5 million exit fee to the Big East.
So there ya go. There was talk that Mizzou would consider sticking around if West Virginia jumped on board, but the SEC kinda accidentally put an end to that by not realizing that its website is searchable:

Oops. The official statement sounds plausible ...
"There had been considerable speculation about the possibility that Missouri would join the Southeastern Conference, and the working draft, which was never published, was prepared so the article could be finalized and posted quickly should Missouri in fact join the SEC," XOS said in a statement. "The draft was not intended to be publicly available, but a website user was able to obtain it through the use of a new advanced search technology."
... except for the fact that some of the other stories displayed on the site (all have since been taken down) included University Of Missouri: What You Need To Know, Missouri-SEC Connections: A History, Homecoming Tradition Traced To Missouri, Missouri To The SEC: The Dortch Report, Missouri To The SEC: Barnhart’s Take. Sounds totally up in the air, yes? Everybody knows it's happening; just do it already.

And in case you were wondering, the Big East's plan to become totally mediocre is still coming along perfectly: ESPN says Central Florida, Houston and SMU will be announced as future members sometime early next week.

In short, nothing surprising happened today. It's happy times for the Big 12 and sad-face times for Louisville.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Keep fighting the good fight, Minnesota

One of the downsides of having conferences with a lot of teams is that some of them are bound to be just awful. I've made it a habit to point out how unbelievably terrible Minnesota is this year, and with good reason: They're statistically on pace to be one of the worst teams in Big Ten history (and that's a really long history). I'm fairly confident that they're the worst BCS-conference team in the country this year ... but what if they're not?

Colorado's 45-2 loss to Oregon last weekend got me thinking: Is it possible that Colorado is worse than Minnesota? What about Kansas? There are definitely some other teams that stack up in pathetic-ness, and by "stack up" I mean "have a similarly embarrassing amount of."

Since I'm a numbers guy and the NCAA is kind enough to provide me with a nifty set of numbers to help quantify things, that's what we're using here. The data we'll use is straightforward: scoring offense and defense (for obvious reasons) and FEI rankings for offense and defense, which strip out a lot of the variables (number of drives, for example) and then spit out opponent-adjusted numbers about how good or bad you are on both sides of the ball. The only problem with FEI data for this purposes of this study is that it ignores blowout/garbage-time info, which means that if you really get crushed (and these teams are doing that on the regular), some of that stuff isn't included and the numbers won't look quite as bad as they really are. But anyway ...

Let's start with Minnesota and the ongoing quest for historic futility. The most recent humiliation was a 41-14 home loss to Nebraska (this included a garbage-time touchdown to slightly lessen the damage) that put Minnesota at 1-6. The one win was against Miami (Ohio), a team that's now 2-5, in a game in which Minnesota was outgained but held on after blocking a punt in the fourth quarter that was recovered for a touchdown; the losses are to USC, New Mexico State, North Dakota State (yup), Michigan, Purdue and Nebraska.

The numbers tell us that this team is not only the worst in the BCS conferences but possibly the worst in the country: 110th in scoring offense, 115th in scoring defense, 105th in FEI offense, 110th in FEI defense. That's pretty terrible -- the only teams of any type with lower composite scoring rankings are Florida Atlantic, UNLV and New Mexico, and the only teams with lower composite FEI rankings are UNLV and New Mexico.

So the very surprising conclusion here is that Minnesota is flat-out awful on both offense and defense. How awful (besides losing at home to both New Mexico State and North Dakota State)? Their current scoring ratio in Big Ten play -- hat tip to MGoBlog's awesome GopherQuest -- is 17.7 percent, which means they're the worst Big Ten team since 1981 Northwestern (15 percent) and within shouting distance of 1961 Illinois (12.7 percent). The horrible 8.4 percent ratio posted by 1934 Michigan is probably out of reach, but still. Barring an unlikely turnaround or possibly the immediate rehiring of Glen Mason, this will be the worst Big Ten team in my lifetime.

Next on the docket is Colorado, which looked like a typically mediocre team early in the year but has fallen off a cliff since beating Colorado State on September 17 (that's CU's only win). The results since then: 20-point loss to Ohio State (how did OSU score 37 points?!?), home loss to Washington State and three straight paddlings at the hands of Stanford, Washington and Oregon. There's nothing quite as embarrassing as a loss to North Dakota State in there, obviously, so that's ... ummm ... good?

To the numbers! Colorado is currently 107th in scoring offense, 117th in scoring defense, 76th in FEI offense (yay) and 113th in FEI defense. The composite scoring rank is just a hair better than Minnesota's, but the FEI formula obviously sees something not so terrible in Colorado's offense and spits out a composite ranking of 107th. As for an apples-to-apples comparison, CU's conference scoring ratio is ... drumroll ... 30.5 percent, although that number is aided greatly by a 36-33 overtime loss to Cal that came prior to the aforementioned cliff dive. Still, that's almost double Minnesota's craptacular Big Ten performance despite already having played arguably the three best teams in the conference. So Colorado is very bad but not epically horrendous.

And that brings us to Kansas. This is a special case study since it seems a little harsh to include a 2-5 team with a win over a not-too-bad Northern Illinois squad, but Kansas' inclusion will be obvious momentarily. Actually, let's just get straight to the point: Kansas is giving up 50.4 points per game. One more time: Kansas is giving up more than 50 points per game!!! Excluding the season opener against an FCS snackycake, there has not been a game this year in which KU has held a team to fewer than six touchdowns.

The offense is fine (at least relatively), currently sitting at 50th in scoring and 75th in FEI. That's not good, but it's not terrible for the purposes of this discussion. The defense, meanwhile, is just unbelievably awful at everything. I'm gonna ignore the template for a moment to provide some additional statistical proof: Kansas is 120th in scoring defense (obviously), 120th in total defense, 119th in rushing defense, 119th in passing defense, 119th in pass-efficiency defense, 113th in sacks and 111th in tackles for loss. Also, there is no other BCS-conference defense in the country within 13 points of Kansas' per-game scoring average. THAT IS SO FREAKING BAD!!!

The FEI data is a little less damning, bumping the defense up to 113th on the basis of a horrific schedule that's included Georgia Tech, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State in the past five weeks (BTW, Kansas' composite FEI ranking is 116th). In other words, Kansas' defense might just be really crappy and not the worst defense that has ever existed. And since you and I are both wondering, the all-time records for points allowed per game and points allowed in a season are 50.3 (Louisiana-Lafayette in 1997) and 566 (Eastern Michigan in 2002). Kansas is currently on pace to allow 605 points and is also allowing 550.86 yards per game, which isn't far off the record of 553.0 set by Maryland in 1993.

How do you quantify the overall quality of a team that's OK at most stuff but so inexplicably pathetic in one area that the rest doesn't matter? Consider this: Kansas is putting up just over 30 points per game and is still being outscored in the average game by about three touchdowns (lol). Minnesota is being outscored by only 18 points per game despite having worse-looking composite rankings. In conference play, though, Kansas is closer to Colorado than Minnesota: A scoring ratio of 31.2 percent isn't historically noteworthy.

So ... if we're ranking the worst of the worst, the list goes as follows (from worst to not quite worst):

1. Minnesota
2. Kansas
3. Colorado

Kansas and Colorado are clearly really bad but deserve a little slack for two reasons: They can both do at least something decently and have both had the misfortune to play (and get killed by) a handful of really good teams. Minnesota, on the other hand ... no. Playing some close games early has helped buoy the margin of defeat, but those games were against New Mexico State, Miami (Ohio) and North Dakota State -- and two of those were losses! Getting beat by 13 at home by an FCS team and getting massacred by Purdue (a pretty bad team that lost to Rice and almost lost to Middle Tennessee State but led Minnesota 45-3 at one point) just can't be explained away. And the overall numbers are worse than anybody's* despite the relatively easy schedule; just wait til after the Michigan State and Wisconsin games.

You win, Minnesota (for a given definition of "win").

*Worse than anybody's numbers this year. It should be noted that Minnesota could get obliterated in all of its final five games and still not be as bad as the 2008 and 2009 Washington State teams that got outgained by a cumulative average of 241 yards and outscored by more than 30 points per game. Woo Wazzu!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Big 12 stares at dollar menu, hopes for steak

Depending whom/what you choose to believe, the following things are true: West Virginia has been (or will be) accepted into the Big 12, Louisville is fighting to take West Virginia's spot and escape the sinking ship that is the Big East and Notre Dame may or may not be interested in moving to the Big 12 for all or some of its sports.

The first two are directly related to Missouri's impending jump to the SEC and the open spot that move would create in the Big 12. There's room for more teams since there will only be nine without Mizzou, but it sounds like 10 is preferable to Oklahoma and Texas, and we all know that Oklahoma and Texas get what Oklahoma and Texas want. The first choice for a replacement was West Virginia, and that went swimmingly ...

ESPN reported that the Big 12 told West Virginia it will be accepted into the conference pending formal approval, citing a Big 12 source. Earlier Tuesday, The New York Times reported that West Virginia had "applied and been accepted" to the Big 12.

Wednesday morning, The Associated Press reported that the Big 12 "approved bringing in West Virginia to replace Missouri when the Tigers complete their move to the Southeastern Conference," citing a person with direct knowledge of the decision.
... until Louisville invited itself to the table and made things kinda awkward for everybody. The latest from ESPN:

The New York Times reported Wednesday that U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had lobbied Big 12 officials -- including Boren, a former U.S. senator -- to include Louisville in expansion plans.

The Times quoted a person with direct knowledge of the plans as saying: "I think it's 50-50 right now between West Virginia and Louisville."

The Associated Press, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, said West Virginia was preparing Tuesday to announce the move with a news conference on campus with Big 12 officials on Wednesday. The school and the league also were working on a news release when university leaders received a call from the conference telling them to put those plans on hold, the person said.
Ouch. There are two takeaways here:

1. Hit the lights if you're the last school out of the Big East.
2. "It's 50-50 right now between West Virginia and Louisville."

If I had to guess (I don't but will), I'd say West Virginia still ends up getting the invite because football is all that matters. From that standpoint, replacing Mizzou with West Virginia is basically a wash and therefore a win for the Big 12.

As for the Big East ... yeah.

I said this about a month ago:
Either everybody bails and starts looking for a home or the conference adds Villanova and a couple other bottomfeeders and becomes the Mountain West Northeast. Either way, West Virginia and UConn will be slutting up and looking for a way out. There just aren't enough football-relevant programs to keep that conference afloat as anything other than an afterthought, which is kinda sad but not that big of a deal unless it leads to Notre Dame doing something (unlikely).
In reality, it's gonna be a combination of those two scenarios. Everybody who can bail to a better/more stable conference will, and while there are enough basketball-only holdouts that there'll still be some crappy version of a Big East well into the future, let's be realistic: Replacing Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia/Louisville with Army, Navy, Temple, etc., yields the Mountain West Northeast. This conference will not be relevant in football in three years.

And that brings us to Notre Dame. Being Notre Dame, the thought of competing in basically a mid-major conference in everything other than football is obviously appalling, so an alternative must be found (maybe):
The discussion of ND possibly moving its non-football sports to the Big 12 continues to heat up. The subject is actively being discussed by Big 12 administrators and the Irish.

We reported on Monday that ND will decide in 60 days if it is going to move its non-football sports out of the Big East (and possibly into the Big 12). If Notre Dame does make such a move, it is being proposed that the Irish would remain independent in football but begin playing up to six football games against Big 12 competition. has reported that Texas would love to replace Texas A&M on Thanksgiving with Notre Dame, if possible. That still may be a bit of a longshot.

One high-ranking official at a Big 12 school holds out the hope that if Notre Dame moves its non-football sports into the Big 12 it would be a "segue to full conference membership in a year or two - about the time the first tier TV rights (held by ABC/ESPN) are negotiated."
As always, keep in mind that Orangebloods is essentially DeLoss Dodds' third-person blog and includes lots of inside information that means little other than "this is what the important people at Texas want." Take everything with a Texas-sized lick of salt.

That said, the Big 12 might actually be able to hook itself to Notre Dame because it'll offer something no other conference will: desperation-inspired flexibility. The Big 12 isn't desperate for survival, but it's desperate for schools that will be of some interest nationally come negotiatin' time. Notre Dame has no interest in joining the Big Ten or ACC because those conferences are perfectly happy and profitable and have no reason to make sacrifices like "sure, keep your NBC deal" and "go ahead and play six nonconference games," which are still dealbreakers for a school desperate to retain the independence it sees as necessary to maintain a national "brand." The Big 12 doesn't have the luxury of a river of money and might be willing to negotiate (Texas gets its third-tier rights via the Longhorn Network, so Notre Dame could keep the NBC deal temporarily and then switch to a similar setup that I'm surprised doesn't already exist).

If ND's options five years from now are (a) complete football independence dooming other sports to irrelevance and (b) partial football independence* and a stable Midwest-ish conference for all the nonrevenue sports, the choice would probably be easy. I say "probably" because ... like ... we're talking about Notre Dame, where independence has become as much of a source of football-centric pride as any of the stuff that happens on the field.

Standard disclaimer: I'll believe it when Notre Dame is playing in Bloomington Winston-Salem Ames.

*My understanding of the talked-about scenario is that ND would technically retain its independence but strike some sort of scheduling deal for six games against Big 12 teams. Given the obvious interest in playing Notre Dame and Notre Dame's obvious lack of interest in playing pretty much everybody other than Oklahoma and Texas, I could see that turning into a hilarious fight that would end with DeLoss Dodds telling everybody to sit down and shut up while he puts together the conference's schedules for the next 10 years.

Cliff Harris should seriously stop driving

Cliff Harris is an excellent corner and unbelievable punt returner but apparently has just terrible judgment when getting in vehicles:

Harris was suspended by the No. 7 Ducks just hours after he was cited for driving on a suspended license, driving without insurance and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Harris, who was also cited by state police in June for driving 118 mph on Interstate 5, is not allowed to participate in any football-related activities for now.

Harris faces fines in excess of $952. The car he was driving, which police say belongs to a relative, was impounded.

Brilliant. As you may or may not remember, Harris was suspended for Oregon's season opener against LSU after that whole "wwwhheeee 118 mph" thing, which was stupid enough in its own right but was made even stupider by the fact that he was driving a rental car that was "borrowed" from an athletic department employee. Committing dangerous traffic violations while in the middle of an eyebrow-raising NCAA violation? Awesome.

The only positive (kind of) for Oregon is that Harris' first suspension made Anthony Gildon and Terrence Mitchell the starting corners, so Harris has been something other than an every-down player. He's also been only a part-time punt returner this year, which seems odd at first but makes more sense when you see LaMichael James out there running circles around people.

Still, he's been getting a majority of the returns of late and is just one more absurdly terrifying threat on a team full of them. With Stanford coming up two weeks and a shot at the national title still out there, having arguably the best return man in the country (let alone a returning All-American you can throw out there as your third corner) wouldn't be a bad thing. What Chip Kelly publicly calls "very disappointing" is probably called something else behind his office doors.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Week 8: Boredom, then chaos

Ummmm ... Oklahoma?!? Really??? So after watching about 10 hours of blowouts that were both boring and meaningless, the one game I really wanted to see the end of wasn't available in my area because I'm on the West Coast and therefore am required to watch one Pac-12 team destroy another Pac-12 team on ABC every week. Little-known fact: This was written into the television contracts by Thomas Jefferson, who hated the run-heavy Ivy League game. Anyway ... I absolutely never saw this one coming. I mean, Oklahoma just got flat-out beat on its home field by a mediocre Texas Tech team that was roughly a four-touchdown underdog. It wasn't even a fluke: Texas Tech had 572 total yards and led 31-7 (!) early in the third quarter before Oklahoma finally said "oh wait, we're Oklahoma" and played like Oklahoma for the final 25 minutes, going on a game-ending 31-10 run that would've been the talk of college football if the original deficit had been 20 points instead of 24. As it is, OU is probably done (I say probably because crazier stuff has definitely happened in The Magical World of the BCS). Landry Jones' Heisman hopes are also done, which is dumb -- 412 yards with five touchdowns and one pick is totally UNACCEPTABLE -- but is also the way these things work. I really don't know what to make of Oklahoma at this point; I still believe that this is one of the three best teams in the country, but getting lit up and generally dominated at home by Texas Tech just can't happen. Rabble rabble Bob Stoops rabble. If this was a national-title-or-bust year, put Oklahoma down for "bust" and roughly a 437th straight appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.

Mark Dantonio's horseshoe does magical and irritating things: Srsly. I was far less surprised about Wisconsin losing (in a general sense) than Oklahoma losing, but the way this game ended was just ridiculous. First things first: If Wisconsin knew how to block guys on kicks of all types, it would've been a comfortable win and the final minute wouldn't have mattered. They were up 14-0 right off the bat and then gave away 10 points in the second quarter via a blocked field goal and a blocked punt that was recovered for a touchdown. Instead of leading 17-16 at the half, Wisconsin went in down 23-14 and needed a huge fourth quarter just to tie it and presumably force overtime. And then the horseshoe did its thing. Obligatory video:

The Hail Mary was the laughable part, but don't forget that Kirk Cousins fumbled at his own 30 at the start of that drive and about half a dozen guys had a shot at it before an MSU lineman finally corralled it. Bret Bielema was absolutely right to use his timeouts at that point: It was second-and-20 with 42 seconds left. If you stop them there (as you should, obviously), you force a punt with around 30 seconds left and get a shot at a return or a couple throws from your Heisman candidate QB to get into field-goal range for the win. Instead, Michigan State got 23 yards in the next two plays and 44 on the last one. For the record, I do think the ball touched the plane on the Hail Mary -- I don't think it was clear/definitive, so I was pretty surprised that the call on the field got overturned, but whatever. Takeaways: Wisconsin is gone from the national title race because of a couple fluky plays and Michigan State is headed for 11-2/10-3 (which probably means another exciting Capital One Bowl appearance). I still think Wisky wins the Big Ten title game, which will probably be a rematch.

Stanford absolutely obliterates Washington: Yeesh. It's one thing to get shredded by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck; it's another to let Stanford put up 446 rushing yards (!), 615 total yards and at least 10 points in every quarter. There's no question anymore that Stanford and Oregon are by far the two best teams in the Pac-12. I still think Oregon's a little better, but I'm far less sure of that than I was at the beginning of the year. Statistical tidbit: Stanford has now won all of its last 10 games by at least 25 points -- and that includes a BCS bowl game! Ridonkulous. BTW, no team benefited as much from Saturday night's carnage as Stanford. If Oklahoma State loses at some point (which still seems likely), Stanford is next in line for the No. 2 ranking and the right to be run over by LSU/Alabama in the national title game. The fact that they're currently behind Boise State and Clemson is irrelevant; the remaining schedule includes a trip to USC and home games against Oregon and Notre Dame, all of which are more meaningful than anything Boise or Clemson has left. The hard part will be actually beating Oregon (speaking of which, I'd be really interested to see where a hypothetical one-loss Oregon would end up).

Notre Dame's offense continues to be bipolar: I really thought this was the year Notre Dame would find a good quarterback and take The Brian Kelly Leap to Awesomeness. Instead, Tommy Rees has just been an unpredictable grab bag who seems to alternate between dominant and very meh. Saturday wasn't one of the good days: Notre Dame had a total of 267 yards at home against a USC defense that's OK (38th in the country in scoring defense) but not exactly reminiscent of USC circa 2003. I mean, we're talking about a D that's given up fewer than 17 points (which is what Notre Dame had) twice this year. So yeah ... there's plenty of blame to spread around. It would've helped if the running game had done anything, and when Rees came out briefly after twisting his knee when ND was down 17-10, Dayne Crist came in and drove to the 1-yard line before fulfilling his team's quote of one inexplicably awful turnover per game:

Clutch. As for the "Notre Dame quit" stuff from Lane Kiffin and Chris Galippo ... I mean ... yeah, they kinda did. Not in a "the players stopped playing" sense, but think about it: Not using your timeouts while the other team runs off the final 6:54 is conceding defeat, isn't it? I feel the same way about punting when you're down 21 with six minutes left -- you're throwing away any chance (however unlikely) at winning in exchange for running some clock and keeping the loss from looking any worse. There's no way to look at pack-up-and-go-home decisions like that as anything other than turtling and accepting defeat. It happens all the time and drives me crazy. Speaking of driving me crazy, USC punted from the Notre Dame 30 in this game. I cannot possibly be convinced that punting from the 30 is ever a good decision.

The Big East officially has no good teams: Take a seat, West Virginia. Hangin' with LSU is no longer relevant after losing to Syracuse by four touchdowns. Look at the Big East standings and you see a fairly uninspiring Cincinnati team at 6-1 overall and everybody else somewhere between 5-2 and 3-4. That doesn't seem so bad on the surface, but keep in mind that when a bunch of mediocre teams play each other, somebody's gotta win. The nonconference games offer a slightly better picture: Syracuse should've lost to Toledo, Pitt got two of its wins (uncomfortably close ones) against FCS teams, UConn did lose to Western Michigan and Vanderbilt, Louisville lost to Florida International ... etcetera. South Florida's win over Notre Dame offered some early hope but seems pretty meaningless now that USF is 0-3 in conference play and looking at about a 2-6 finish. Upshot: It's pretty awesome that this pathetic group will have a BCS rep while Michigan and Nebraska and Arkansas and Texas A&M will be left out.

Kansas State is somehow still unbeaten: I'm not really sure what to think about a team that's unbeaten eight weeks into the season but hasn't played anybody more frightening than Baylor or Texas Tech. I'm also curious whether there's a fan out there who could convince me that K-State is definitively better than Houston; probably not. But since Kansas State is in an actual conference, we won't have to suffer through the stupid strength-of-schedule debate and will find out for sure whether we should take this team seriously. The next four games are as follows: Oklahoma, at Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, at Texas. Eek. Get back to me in a month if they're any better than 8-3.

Player of the Week: OK, so here's the thing: Case Keenum went 24 for 28 for 376 yards and six touchdowns (lol) to become the NCAA's all-time passing yardage leader and simply can't win this thing because of Dominique Davis. That seems hard to believe, but I'm totally for cereal: Davis put on arguably the most absurd quarterbacking display in history, turning ECU's game against Navy into a glorified passing skeleton by completing his first 26 passes (!!!) and going into a halftime with a line of 26 for 26 for 251 yards. His second half sucked by comparison, but he still finished 40 of 45 for 372 yards and two touchdowns. Dominique Davis shall heretofore be known as the (far less NFL-ready) Black Aaron Rodgers.

Game of the Week: Michigan State-Wisconsin (grumble grumble). Honorable mention goes to the slightly lesser-noticed game between Northern Illinois and Buffalo. In-a-nutshell summary: Buffalo rallied from 21 down in the fourth quarter and scored the apparent tying touchdown with 14 seconds left on a third-and-goal pass from the 3. Players celebrate, crowd goes bonkers, etc. Extra-point attempt misses. Final score: NIU 31, Buffalo 30.

This week's worst play in the history of ever: This says everything you need to know about Minnesota:

This also deserves some props for its awkward hilarity:

I have nothing to add here.

WTF are you wearing? Tulsa actually wore these helmets Saturday against Rice:

I don't get it. Those look terrible and have no obvious meaning -- the pattern kinda looks like one of those mind-bending magic-eye things, but why? Somebody enlighten me.

Post-Week 8 top 10: Some changes were obviously necessary. Please note that losses don't automatically necessitate a significant drop (this is one of my major issues with the real polls -- consider what the team has done as a whole and not what it did last week).

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma (I really don't think any of the teams after this spot are better than OU)
4. Oregon
5. Stanford
6. Boise State
7. Wisconsin
8. Oklahoma State
9. Clemson
10. Michigan State (argh)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Catching up isn't sure when Denard is down

As you might have figured out by now, the amount of time I have to blog is inversely proportional to my workload. Translation: My boss being on vacation = no bloggy. So while it makes me SO ANGRY that Michigan is on bye this week, it's probably for the best. Anyway, here's some stuff:

Worst attempt at an explanation EVER: So Michigan State pass-rushing dude Will Gholston was suspended for one game Thursday for throwing a punch against Michigan. Since he plays for Michigan State, where felons go to play football in between jail stints, the suspension obviously came from the Big Ten and not the school, which wrote the whole thing off as an "isolated incident" (that sounds kinda familiar) and then ignored it in hopes of having Gholston available against Wisconsin. Derp.

The suspension would be fine and dandy if not for the fact that the punch was No. 3 on the "dirtiest things done by Will Gholston against Michigan" list. He should have gotten two or three games for this awfulness by itself:

That's pretty horrifying, right? I mean, that is some dirty, dirt-filled dirtness with no justifiable explanation ... unless you're a Sparty:
... we’re talking about a 19 year old kid here. Not an axe murderer and certainly not a 40something year old man like Schwarz.

Bottom line question–when can you be sure that a player like Denard Robinson is actually down?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. That's your justification??? I'm pretty sure he was down when there were four guys lying on top of him, which was a full second before Gholston kneed him in the ribs and waaaay before he attempted to rip Denard's head off for reasons that had nothing to do with making sure he was down. That comment actually came from a Northwestern blog post that pretty thoroughly shredded MSU's embarrassingly classless tactics, and it got a typically intelligent Northwestern-y response so awesome that it deserves equal play here:

As for knowing when Robinson is down or not, fortunately there are a clear set of rules that tell us when he’s down, and that would be when either his knee or elbow touch the ground — even if he’s untouched! When he’s completely sprawled on the ground with defenders on top of him, trying to break his neck “just to be sure he’s actually down” is … hmmm, how shall I say it … “extracurricular” at that point.

Also, there’s a pretty large area between a toddler that doesn’t know any better and a psychopathic axe-wielding killer that’s covered by the term “inappropriate behavior”. But hey, if you want to defend indefensible actions because, after all, the guy didn’t go after anyone with an axe, then good on you. Do you and Brian Kelly drink at the same bar?


The grapes are so sour and not very delicious: Just to remind myself why I hate Michigan State, here's a table yoinked from the Wall Street Journal (?) that attempts to determine the dirtiest (in terms of personal fouls) rivalries in college football:

Auburn-Georgia5.4Georgia 59%
Duke-North Carolina5.2N. Carolina 69%
UCLA-Southern California4.8UCLA 54%
N. Mexico-N.Mexico St.4.6N. Mexico 65%
Kansas-Missouri4.2Missouri 76%
Michigan-Michigan St.4.0Michigan St 80%
C. Michigan-W. Michigan3.8Western 58%
Brigham Young-Utah3.6Utah 61%
NC State-North Carolina3.4N. Carolina 59%
The top two in terms of pure volume of personal fouls on that list are North Carolina (3.6 per game against Duke?!?) and Michigan State (3.2 against Michigan). The first is pretty surprising; the second is most definitely not.

Notre Dame has new helmets?!? I couldn't wrap my head around that headline until I opened the story and came to the realization that the helmets aren't exactly "new." They are ridiculously gold, though:

That is freakin' gold and almost perfectly matches the Golden Dome, which is awesome. I'd noticed that the helmet color never quite lined up with the pants/trim (Michigan also has this problem sometimes because of the brighter shade of yellow on the uniform), and finding a way to do that with the gold-flake paint while not ruining the general Notre Dame-ness of the helmets means somebody deserves a raise.

Gunner Kiel is so dreamy and so available: The spectacularly named Gunner Kiel, also known as the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country, is "re-evaluating" his decision to commit to Indiana now that he's seen Indiana play. I still think Kevin Wilson can eventually turn that program into a Joe Tiller-era Purdue, but man ... Indiana is just awful right now. Kiel apparently saw the losses to Ball State and North Texas (lol) and said "OMG WHAT HAVE I DONE":
"The last week or two especially, yeah," Kip said when asked if Indiana's struggles were a major factor. "I think there's a lot of things that had to do with. I don't want to get into specifics, but a lot of things are concerning."
Can't blame Kiel for looking around when his alternatives are, like, anywhere. His other finalists were Alabama and Oklahoma, but he's visiting Notre Dame for the USC game on Saturday and is supposedly getting a visit from Michigan next week (although I'm skeptical that he ends up at Michigan since the No. 1 QB and overall player in the 2013 class, Shane Morris, is already committed). Like I said: anywhere.

Rick Neuheisel is somehow still UCLA's coach: When previously winless Arizona (no, NAU doesn't count) was leading 42-7 at the half (!!!) Thursday night, I sent a text that said something to the extent of "so does Rick Neuheisel get fired right now or in the morning?" Remarkably, it turned out to be neither one:

"Rick is my coach," Guerrero said after watching the lopsided loss. "I don't know who is talking about him being relieved early, but it's certainly not me. He's a great Bruin. I want to see him succeed.

"We'll evaluate at the end of the year, like we always evaluate and make determinations (of) what we're going to do at that point."
UCLA isn't good this year and has gotten no better since the time Neuheisel took over, so the only possible justification for keeping him at this point is that the Pac-12 South is still winnable. UCLA is only a game behind Arizona State in the division and has winless-in-the-conference Cal coming up next before hosting ASU in two weeks; since firing Neuheisel would be waving the white flag on the season, Guerrero loses little (other than more dignity) by seeing what happens in the next two games. Then again, when your best-case scenario is (probably) 6-6 and a backdoor spot in a bowl game purely because there are so many, is it even worth waiting for that to happen and making the decision more difficult/controversial? Greg Byrne says no.

Best criminal impersonation ever: Speaking of Arizona-UCLA, this was indisputably awesome:

Walking up to the officials like you're part of the crew? YES!!!!! I'm not sure whether I'm more amazed by the brilliance of the complete referee's uniform or the fact that nobody's ever thought of it before. BTW, that guy has been charged with felony criminal impersonation and faces 18 months in jail. Overreaction much?

Missouri likely headed to the SEC: Whatev. Mizzou makes as much sense as anybody for the SEC's 14th team, although I'm not sure Gary Pinkel will love it so much when they're finishing fifth in a seven-team division every year. Money rules all. As for the Big 12, I said this a couple weeks ago and will repeat it here: Missouri is not a keystone. With the addition of TCU and possibly BYU (or Louisville or whoever), the Big 12 will survive and be fine; this will always be the case as long as Texas and Oklahoma can be persuaded to stick around.

LSU players tested positive for synthetic pot: That thing about "running afoul of the team's drug policy" turned out to be as stupid as expected:
Top-ranked LSU suspended cornerbacks Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon and tailback Spencer Ware from the team after they tested positive for synthetic marijuana in a school-administered drug test earlier this month, two people familiar with the situation told on Thursday.

In March, the DEA banned for one year the sale and possession of synthetic marijuana, which is commonly known by its brand names "Spice" and "K2." The DEA said its action was necessary to "avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety."

Five chemicals commonly found in synthetic marijuana blends are now classified as Schedule I controlled substances, a category reserved for unsafe and highly abused substances with no medical use.
They were presumably trying to avoid getting caught by a drug test but had to smoke something more dangerous than pot to do so, which seems ... ummm ... not smart. I'd recommend not doing something that's known to have killed a college basketball player in the past month.

Also, this tidbit seems interesting:
A source familiar with the situation said coach Les Miles suspended the players indefinitely but added the trio might be back before LSU's showdown Nov. 5 at No. 2 Alabama.
Those suspensions were reported to be one-gamers just a couple days ago, but it's possible that the details of the drug test weren't yet known. Still, I'd bet the delicious-looking chocolate chip cookie sitting right in front of me that "might be back" turns into "will be back" within the next 13 days.

More good coaching stuff: I seriously can't get enough of these "Experts Breakdown" videos. This one features Arkansas OC Garrick McGee explaining how to take apart the Tampa 2 (stuff like this is what makes Bobby Petrino's passing game so ridiculously dominant):

Me learning.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

LSU accelerates its suspensions like whoa

This seems moderately significant:
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Top-ranked LSU has suspended star cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and running back Spencer Ware for Saturday's home game against Auburn, a school official told's Mark Schlabach.

A source told The Associated Press that defensive back Tharold Simon is also suspended and that the players ran afoul of the team's drug policy. The source did not specify the drug for which the players tested positive.
Initial reaction: That's HUGE, all caps. Not because of the Auburn game -- LSU was favored by 22 points (!) before the suspensions and should still win by two touchdowns -- but because SEC West Armageddon is next on the schedule, with only a bye week in between. Anything beyond a one-game suspension would be devastating, and while "ran afoul of the team's drug policy" is extremely (and probably intentionally) vague, it sounds ... umm ... not good.

So is it bad that I immediately assumed both Ware and Mathieu would be suspended "indefinitely" but then reinstated during the bye week? Joe Schad says no:
The suspensions are only for one game, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad.
Grumble SEC grumble ethics grumble grumble.

What I find particularly interesting is that this report from last year shows LSU's drug-test policy as the following:
  • First failed test: No suspension
  • Second failed test: Suspended for 15 percent of that season's games
  • Third failed test: Suspended for one year
Translation: If this was the first failed test for both, LSU went above and beyond its documented policy by suspending them for a game. If you're as skeptical as me and find that unlikely, it's worth noting that 15 percent of 13 games (which is the minimum since LSU is already bowl-eligible) is 1.95. I'm not John Nash or anything, but 1.95 is basically 2. If this was their second failed test, they should be sitting against Alabama. They won't be, but we'll never know exactly what that means.

Skepticism aside, I'd obviously rather see those guys on the field. There's not an iota of doubt in my mind that LSU and Alabama are two of the three best teams in the country this year, and you can't just subtract one team's most consistent/reliable offensive threat and its in-ur-base-taking-ur-ball defensive back and call it a fair fight. I like my teams evenly matched and fully manned, dammit.

So consider this a PSA to the relevant people: Don't do anything stupid (or anything else stupid) between now and November 5.

Chip Kelly will always love you

I really should stop turning the TV off when the clock hits zero, because I'm missing all the good stuff. Rewind about 15 hours from the Jim Schwartz-Jim Harbaugh explosion and you get Chip Kelly making it very clear that Erin Andrews has his full attention:

This was amusing in that a bunch of douchy douches got told to shut up. I'm always in favor of that. But what I was unaware of* was this, which happened after last year's Oregon-Stanford game (also an ESPN production, obviously):


BTW, does Nike make day-glo-yellow roses? I know what somebody's getting for Valentine's Day ...

*Hat tip to Brett Fera and Sean Paperman.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Week 7: Surviving is a good thing at this point

Clemson goes back to being Clemson, then goes back to being this year's Clemson: The Maryland game had "typically inexplicable Clemson loss" written all over it about five minutes into the third quarter, when the Flagshirts led by 18 and had been scoring at will all game. We all knew it was gonna happen eventually ... but it didn't, mostly because Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins went crazy over the last 25 minutes as Clemson scored 39 (!) points. Boyd threw three TD passes in a 14-minute span to put Clemson ahead 42-38, and after Maryland went down and scored to go back on top with seven minutes left, Watkins took the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for the game-winning touchdown. He personally accounted for 345 yards and 18 points, which is pretty decent. So Clemson is now 7-0, and every win means there's one fewer chance for that inexplicable-yet-predictable loss. There are only two concerning-ish games left on the schedule: at Georgia Tech in two weeks (FWIW, Dabo Swinney is 1-2 against Paul Johnson) and at South Carolina in the regular-season finale. South Carolina's defense might force eleventy billion awful Tajh Boyd interceptions (more on that in a moment), but the offense ... uhh ... yeah. No Marcus Lattimore = start from scratch. I'd totally endorse getting excited if we weren't talking about Clemson, a program that's hard to take seriously after years of letdowns; get back to me after the Georgia Tech game.

Second-worst throw in the history of ever: In between the spectacular bombs to Sammy Watkins, Tajh Boyd enjoys throwing the most hideous picks that have ever been thrown. Here's a nonsensical "WTF" moment from the game against Florida State that's gonna be tough to top, although he gave it a run Saturday against Maryland:

Gack. That's Jacory Harris-esque.

Florida's strategic advantage on offense ceases to exist: The Auburn-Florida game was unwatchable since it was apparently the result of some sick and twisted experiment to see what happens in a football game with no competent quarterbacks. The passing numbers weren't actually that bad, but here's a stat that tell the story: The cumulative third-down conversion rate was 4 for 26. I would just write that off to good defenses, but Auburn has given up 34 or more points four times this season. In other words, Florida's offense is just awful right now, which isn't surprising since freshmen Jeff Driskell and Jacoby Brissett are freshmeny freshmen straight out of Freshmenville. Here are some more hilarious stats from Dr. Saturday:
In the 10½ quarters since starting quarterback John Brantley was knocked out of the game against Alabama, the Gators have scored one touchdown, kicked three field goals, committed six turnovers, converted seven third-down attempts, gone three-and-out (or worse) 17 times and punted 18 times. They've connected on four plays covering at least 20 yards. Three red zone opportunities have resulted in two field goals and a turnover on downs.
Paging John Brantley to Aisle Offense, stat. Florida's bye comes at a swell time, because the schedule doesn't ease up -- right after the off week is the Georgia game. Auburn, meanwhile, has survived a good chunk of its horrific schedule and is sitting at 5-2 despite still trying to find a QB of its own. The new answer: backup Clint Moseley, who was reasonably effective Saturday (4 for 7 for 90 yards) after coming in late to replace the disaster that was Barrett Trotter. There's no way Auburn's beating LSU or Alabama, but at this point, my preseason projection of 7-5 is probably the worst-case scenario.

Oregon doesn't need its starting backfield to shred people: Oregon's offense is just ridiculous -- it's the anti-Florida. Despite LaMichael James not playing at all and Darron Thomas spraining his knee at the very beginning of the second half, Oregon still racked up 536 yards, scored 41 points and won by two touchdowns against an Arizona State team that has (probably) the best defense in the Pac-12. Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and backup QB Bryan Bennett combined for 309 rushing yards and averaged just under 10 yards a carry, which is ridiculous. ASU actually played pretty well for about the first 35 minutes and was in good shape after scoring to go ahead 24-21 early in the third quarter; four minutes later, Oregon led by 11 and the game was basically over. The only concern for Oregon at this point is whether Thomas will be back for the Stanford game on November 12 (James only has a dislocated elbow and should be back within the next week or two). Bennett actually makes the running game better but is clearly an inferior passer -- he was 2 for 5 against ASU -- and a big part of what makes Oregon so dangerous is the ability to go over the top when defenses start going bonkers trying to stop the run. Proof: Thomas is averaging 8.18 yards per attempt this year with 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Unfortunately, the only people who know how bad that sprain is aren't saying. My deductive powers tell me that since Thomas was walking around on the sideline during the fourth quarter and clearly wasn't immobilized or in excruciating pain, he'll probably be fine in a month.

Play of the week: There's a jock strap at the 14-yard line courtesy of Trent Richardson:

Now that you're down laughing, go back to the very beginning of the play and notice what happens to the same guy (No. 21 for Ole Miss). Wow.

Player of the week: Ryan Tannehill, who outdominated RGIII in Texas A&M's surprisingly easy 55-28 win over Baylor. Numbers: 25 of 27 for 415 yards and six touchdowns (!!!), which equals a passer rating of 215.30. You know what's really ridiculous about that? Griffin has a passer rating for the season of 205.71; against A&M, he was 28 of 40 for 430 yards and (only) three touchdowns. It's lame that his Heisman hopes probably ended with that loss.

Wisconsin only wins by 52 this time: Wisconsin beat Indiana 83-20 last November, which seems just as ridiculous now as it did at the time. Saturday's game was slightly closer: Wisconsin 59, Indiana 7. I think the obvious takeaway is that Wisconsin isn't as good as last year and therefore should plummet in the polls. On a related note, while Russell Wilson is getting all the Heisman hype, Montee Ball has scored 17 touchdowns (lol) in six games. He's averaging 17 points per game! In case you're wondering, that puts him slightly behind Minnesota but ahead of Louisville (16.33), Kentucky (13.0) and eight other teams.

Ron Zook doesn't understand how these point things work: There are no words to accurately describe how terrible of a gameday coach Ron Zook is. Last week's roundup somehow neglected to mention his hilarious "we were down five, right?" explanation of going for two against Indiana with a seven-point lead, which ... I mean ... WHAT???
“We were down five, right? Up five, I mean. ...

"It was 20-13? Up seven?

“Maybe I didn’t know what the score was. That’s happened to me before. It’s usually when we’re behind. (This will) give you something to pound us about.”
Amazing. What was even more amazing was the final series of the Illinois-Ohio State game Saturday. Background: Illinois trailed by 10 and had a fourth-and-3 at the OSU 17-yard line with about 1:3o left. Again, the deficit was 10 points -- that's two scores, Ron. So the obvious thing to do is kick the field goal, get within a touchdown and hope for the best on an onside kick. WWZD (what would Zook do): Go for it for no particular reason and lose by 10. It should also be noted that Illinois punted on a fourth-and-4 from the OSU 32 (the 32!) in the second quarter while losing by a field goal and had two unused timeouts at the time of its end-of-game turnover. Using those to figure out the score -- or save some time when Ohio State had the ball on its previous possession -- would have been intelligent, yes? Great line from Brian Cook's This Week in Schadenfreude: "This man is richer than you will ever be." Did I mention that Illinois lost to a non-triple-option team that didn't complete a pass until late in the fourth quarter and finished with 228 total yards? Solid.

The undefeateds are dwindling: With Michigan (AARGHGH), Illinois and Georgia Tech all goin' down, here's the complete list of unbeatens: LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Boise State, Wisconsin, Clemson, Stanford, Kansas State and Houston. All but the last two are good enough to run the table, but what's interesting is that everybody outside of the top four has almost no shot at the BCS title game barring a couple monumental upsets in the next month. There's gonna be a de facto four-team playoff featuring LSU-Bama and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, and if the winners of those two games are still unbeaten, they aren't getting jumped by anybody behind them in the polls. IMO, the only hope for for the teams lower than No. 4 is that Oklahoma or Okie State lays an egg against Texas A&M and then beats the other on December 3 (Kansas State technically controls its own destiny, but let's be realistic). Odds of that happening: slim.

Ryan Broyles is the man: Ryan Broyles broke the NCAA's all-time receptions record Saturday in style, getting his 317th career catch on a 57-yarder for a touchdown and then finishing with a school-record 217 receiving yards (whoa) in OU's obliteration of Kansas. Congrats -- that's a ton of catches.

Football and farmin' -- that's what Iowa does: The picture says it all:

I have nothing to add here other than the observation that "AMERICA NEEDS FARMERS" is a slogan that's probably never shown up at a football game outside the states of Iowa and Nebraska.

Post-Week 7 top 10: The unbeaten teams are making this part pretty easy. As for spots 7-10, I still think Oregon is the best team in the Pac-12 and significantly better than Clemson and Arkansas (when healthy, anyway).

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Wisconsin
5. Boise State
6. Oklahoma State
7. Oregon
8. Stanford
9. Clemson
10. Arkansas

Sunday, October 16, 2011

South Carolina can't overcome this one

One of the three best running backs* in the country is done for the year:

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- South Carolina star tailback Marcus Lattimore is out for the season with a knee injury.

Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier announced Lattimore's status Sunday, saying "our worst fears were realized."

Spurrier said Lattimore, a sophomore, has ligament and cartilage damage in his knee sustained when he was blocking in South Carolina's 14-12 win over Mississippi State. Spurrier said doctors want the knee to stabilize for a few weeks before operating on Lattimore.

Spurrier wasn't kidding about the "worst fears" thing. Losing Stephen Garcia was a relatively minor inconvenience since he had already played himself out of the starting job; losing Marcus Lattimore is flat-out devastating. There's no way to sugarcoat it.

Lattimore has been the offense for significant chunks of some significant games -- he's fourth in the country with 164 carries, which is crazy considering who his coach is -- and that role was only gonna get bigger with Connor Shaw taking over at QB and a bunch of not-so-easy games coming up. And unless there's some way for Alshon Jeffery to take over Lattimore's 30 touches a game, there's nothing even close to an adequate replacement; the next-most-prolific running back on the roster is sophomore Bruce Ellington, who has a whopping 11 carries this year (and four of them came on Saturday).

Whatever South Carolina was planning offensively is now irrelevant. It's Connor Shaw time, which probably isn't what Spurrier had in mind after just seven games into a season that seemed to be set up perfectly for an SEC East title.

I mentioned this the other day after Garcia officially got booted, but it bears repeating here: South Carolina's schedule the rest of the way is pretty rough. It goes like this ...

@ Tennessee
@ Arkansas
The Citadel

... and doesn't include a lot of easy wins. There probably won't be any easy wins from here on out considering that the offense now consists of a QB with two games of meaningful experience and a running back with zero games of meaningful experience; points will be limited. The defense is excellent, but I just don't see it mattering in a couple of those games (Arkansas and Clemson, specifically) unless Melvin Ingram reverts to early-season form and produces a touchdown every week or Spurrier transforms Shaw turns into Danny Wuerffel circa 1996. Losing a guy who touches the ball on every other play because he's too good not to is just an awful break.

The one winner: Georgia. A 10-2 record (thanks in part to a laughably easy late-season schedule) and division title are both there for the taking. The losers: Everybody else, but mostly South Carolina and the people who enjoyed watching Lattimore be a man among boys (which is everybody except the teams left on South Carolina's schedule). At least he'll be back next year.

*Trent Richardson and LaMichael James might be better, although the comparison is tough since they all have massively different styles. All three are awesome.

Hope can drive a man insane

When Michigan started 6-0 by having an offense almost as good as last year's and a defense about 10,000 percent better, whatever the hypothetical best-case scenario was going into the year got chucked out the window with happy-times laughter. The crater that is Nebraska's defense and the ongoing implosion of Ohio State's football program only helped, as did that little voice in my head that said "going from decent to national champion can't be that impossible since it happens about every other year."

Hope? Yeah, I had it, even if only in that portion of my consciousness I refuse to acknowledge because of its ridiculousness. Ya never know, right?
. . . . .

AAAARRRGHGHGH. That pretty much sums it up.

I'm trying to decide which part was the most frustrating:
  • Losing to Sparty for the fourth straight time (guh), which means the seniors went 0 for their careers.
  • The half-dozen cheapshots, most of which were courtesy of a guy who (by rule) should've been kicked out of the game on three separate occasions for intent to injure.
  • The complete offensive ineptitude after the first drive of the game.
  • The "WTF!?!?!?" fourth-and-1 play-action call when Michigan was 8 yards away from tying it at 21-all in the fourth quarter.
I'll go with "all of the above." The cumulative result was one of the top five-ish most frustrating games I can remember (keep in mind that expectations were significantly lowered for the entire RichRod era). Losing by a couple touchdowns would've been sufficiently irritating on its own, but the real kick to the gut was that Michigan came back just enough in the last 10 minutes to give everybody hope and then took it away in rage-inducing fashion. I repeat: AAAARRRGHGHGH.

Denard Robinson's line was as follows: 9 for 24 for 123 yards with one touchdown and one pick. And yes, he was that bad. He's had stretches like that before -- like the first half against Northwestern -- but not whole games. It was awful*. And the mainstream-media reaction has been thoroughly predictable: Denard's not a quarterback and Michigan can't win with him playing. This is so dumb that I don't even know how to respond, so I'm just gonna say "oh yeah, it's Drew Sharp" and write it off to Drew Sharp's idiocy.

They actually tried giving redshirt freshman Devin Gardner (a Vince Young clone) a few snaps to get something going, but that didn't go much better: He was 3 for 7, and that doesn't include the ball he threw when he was five yards past the line of scrimmage or the fourth-and-22 play on the final drive that saw him scramble past the line of scrimmage, run around backwards and then try to throw before taking a sack. He looks good physically but isn't close to being ready, which isn't surprising. He's thrown 24 career passes.

This is and should be Denard's offense in every way. He's still one of the most dangerous players in the country with the ball in his hands, and it was only a week ago that he threw three awful interceptions and still put up a passer rating of just under 180 by shredding Northwestern on every throw that didn't go directly to a defensive back. It's not as simple as "put nine in the box on every play and you beat Michigan." Michigan State did that, succeeded in holding the running game in check and won because Denard had the worst passing game of his career; Northwestern did the same thing, succeeded in holding the running game in check and lost by three TDs because Michigan put up 42 points and 337 passing yards.

I've known all season that Michigan winning against good teams depended significantly on Denard being competent enough in the passing game to make defenses pay for selling out up front. He doesn't do it consistently, but he doesn't have to when the inconsistent successes are 60-yard touchdowns a couple times a game and he still goes for 140 yards and a TD on the ground every week. On Saturday, he didn't do it at all ... but I don't think that'll happen very often. I'm not willing to ignore a season and a half worth of evidence in favor of one terrible game and say, "yup, time to blow it all up."

The playcalling has been treated to a similar fisking on the interwebz, but outside of one glaringly obvious Hindenburg-level disaster (which I'll get to momentarily), I don't have any major criticisms. With nine men in the box on literally every play, the running game is gonna be limited. There were a lot of first-down zone reads and QB leads in the first half that went for about two yards, and second-and-8 isn't a position you wanna be in a whole lot. You have to take what the defense is giving you, and on Saturday, that was the passing game, especially with MSU selling out to get pressure and leaving the middle of the field wiiiide open for the taking. Receivers were running free all day, and Denard just couldn't hit them. That's not on Al Borges. Obvious caveat: I'm not a six-figure-salary offensive coordinator, so maybe there were some better underneath route combinations or tunnel screens or something that could've gotten Denard in a rhythm and helped offset the MSU pressure.

And then there was the play that nearly broke the "F" key on my phone. Flashback: Michigan scores on a one-play drive to cut the deficit to 21-14, recovers a fumble on the ensuing play and then drives to Michigan State's 8-yard line with about 7 minutes left. It's fourth-and-inches. Prior to this point, Michigan hadn't been stopped on a fourth-and-short running play all year (I believe the number was 5 for 5, but I can't find the stats to confirm). They line up in the I-form, motion the fullback out wide to the left and then -- instead of a cash-money QB lead out of the shotgun or a standard sneak or whatever -- go play-action ... and Denard gets killed on a corner blitz. Game basically over. Reaction:


That one hurt. A lot. Michigan's next play from scrimmage was a pick-six that officially put the game out of reach, although it shouldn't have since the safety blatantly taunted the Michigan pursuit guy (I think it was Denard) at about the 5-yard line. All that stuff about mid-play celebrations taking points off the board apparently is irrelevant when it matters.

This seems like the appropriate spot for these:

There was also an earlier play (I can't find the video, unfortunately) in which Gholston grabbed Taylor Lewan's arm while they were down and twisted it to the point where it probably should've broken. Classy.

The best part is that Mark Dantonio spent a solid 30 seconds yelling at the refs and then put Gholston right back in the game even while Urban Meyer was saying "he's gone." Oh, and there was a roughing-the-passer call on Marcus Rush at the beginning of Michigan's final drive that knocked Denard out of the game for good. I'm glad Chris Spielman spoke up to support Dantonio (no conflict of interest there, amirite?) and his alleged reputation for "clean, hard-hitting football" -- I almost got confused. This says it all:
"That's what we try to do," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said after Michigan State's 28-14 win against Michigan. "Sixty minutes of unnecessary roughness. I'm just happy it didn't get called on every snap."
Yep. Losing to that team is awesome.

So ... after a bye week and what should be an easy win at home against Purdue to get to 7-1, there are four games -- at Iowa, at Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State -- that will determine exactly what Michigan is gonna be this year. I still have little to no doubt that when Denard is on in the passing game, Michigan's offense can't/won't be stopped enough to result in a loss to anybody except maybe Nebraska, but seeing him implode once obviously puts a dent massive hole in my confidence that it won't happen again. Whether it will is unknowable.

Because of that, the ceiling has been lowered slightly -- it's now somewhere between the "impossibly magical unbeaten season" notch and wherever it was at the beginning of the year. Ohio State basically can't complete a forward pass, Illinois just lost to a team that can't complete a forward pass, Nebraska's defense is shockingly bad and Iowa's only two wins against teams with a pulse both required huge fourth quarters. I have no idea what the odds are of getting through that stretch; what I know is that they'll live and die by Denard every Saturday. More of the living stuff would be good, plzkthx.

*I wrote on Facebook after the game that it might have been the worst-quarterbacked game in recent Michigan history. Survey says ... it was close. In the 2008 "Badge of Fandom" game against Northwestern that was played in rain/sleet and 30-degree crap, Nick Sheridan went 8 of 29 for 61 yards in a 21-14 loss. That's pretty terrible. Also terrible: In the 2008 Ohio State game, Chad Henne (playing with a partially detached throwing shoulder) and a completely unprepared freshman named Ryan Mallett combined to go 12 for 37 for 76 yards. Counting sacks, they accounted for 50 of Michigan's 91 total yards (guh) in a 14-3 loss. Denard was craptacular Saturday, but at least he produced 14 points and went for 42 yards on the ground.
Powered by Blogger.