Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coachpocalypse: What happened at Kansas?

Previously in coachpocalypse: No more Zooker, no more hilarious punts and Neuheisel a goner

It was almost exactly three years ago that Turner Gill was sooooo dreamy that Charles Barkley was calling Auburn racist for not hiring him. Buffalo had just finished 8-4, which isn't that impressive except for the "Buffalo" part. He then had interviews at Syracuse and Auburn but ended up getting passed up for those; he went back to Buffalo for the '09 season, went 5-7 and and took the Kansas job the next offseason.

Kansas has been utterly abysmal ever since. A program that had gone 25-13 in the previous three years and went to an Orange Bowl (!) under Mark Mangino went 5-19 in two years and won one freakin' game in Big 12 play under Turner Gill. That is so awful. Tangible improvement would typically get a guy at least three years, but ... I mean ... no. I feel pretty confident saying that Kansas was the worst BCS-conference team in the country this year. To the numbers:

• 95th in scoring offense (aided greatly by putting up 97 points in a cupcake-y two-game start against McNeese State and Northern Illinois)
• 106th in total offense
• 120th in scoring defense at 43.2 points per game (and this was over 50 in November!)
• 120th in total defense at 516 yards per game (lol)

There were brief blips of competitiveness against Baylor and Iowa State, but Kansas also got outscored by 42 (Georgia Tech), 42 (Oklahoma State), 30 (Oklahoma), 38 (Kansas State), 43 (Texas) and 54 (Texas A&M). There's a difference between being bad and being totally and completely awful to the point that the games are over after a quarter. Kansas was the latter for most of this year.

The debate has been whether it's fair to give a coach just two years. At no point did Gill have an upperclass version of any of his recruits. Spectacularly named Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger said this:
“If I were an outsider and someone said, ‘Is two years enough,’ you tend to think two is a short time,” Zenger said. “But in that time period there needs to be signs of life that are greater than what we had.”
There's a fine line there between giving a guy time to improve and acknowledging that the improvement just isn't happening. The coaching-world reaction has basically been "ARGH TWO YEARS?!?" That's understandable and probably won't help in terms of finding somebody who desperately wants to come coach a now-crappy program at a basketball-first school. Still, the whole "one conference win in two years and total uncompetitiveness" thing. Turner Gill might be the greatest guy in the history of the world but did nothing positive at Kansas. That's the part that's hard to reconcile with winning at Buffalo.

A review of his Buffalo track record shows the following: 2-10, 5-7, 8-4, 5-7. The 8-4 team in '08 was 54th in total offense and 94th in total defense and won three games in overtime. In other words, that team wasn't particularly good and could have just as easily gone 5-7 and given him zero winning records in four years. On the flip side, "not particularly good" was still a significant improvement for Buffalo, which might have been the single worst program in the country over the previous decade (10-69 after moving up from I-AA in 1999). So I dunno. Gill definitely did a good job at Buffalo but might have been a little overrated as a major-conference candidate. There are obviously some significant differences between dragging a crappy MAC program up to mediocrity and maintaining/developing an overachieving Big 12 program.

I'm also not sure Kansas really had much of a choice. I found this tidbit interesting:
One booster, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Star that he pledged $750,000 to help Zenger orchestrate the best move for the future of the program.
Money talks. Also, I think it's safe to assume that "best move for the future" = "firing of Turner Gill" in this guy's vernacular. And a firing-related fan poll on the Kansas City Star site showed "right move" holding a pretty comfortable lead over "two years isn't long enough." Coaching moves aren't done in a vacuum; fan/booster support is relevant.

The problem is that Kansas is now in a far worse position competitively than when Gill was hired and will be picking from the Penn State/UCLA/ASU/North Carolina leftovers (or the second-tier guys those schools wouldn't be considering anyway). FYI, Zenger actually made his way up in the world as a football staffer at Kansas State and an assistant under Jim Leavitt at South Florida. Candidate? Sure.

Other names mentioned so far: Mike Leach, Mike Stoops (woo), Larry Fedora and Brent Venables. Stoops seems unlikely given his flameout and general lack of meaningful success at Arizona; Venables seems more plausible given his current locale. Fedora might be able to do better but also might get passed up for the more enticing openings and be intrigued enough by any BCS-conference job to bail on Southern Miss. Is Mark Mangino available?

Coachpocalypse: Neuheisel a goner

Previously in coachpocalypse: No more Zooker, no more hilarious punts

I assumed the other day that Rick Neuheisel would officially retain his job through the Pac-12 title game and then get canned after losing by 30. UCLA didn't bother waiting that long; when you know, you know. I'm pretty sure they knew after the 50-0 (lol) loss to USC.

Speaking of which, has there ever been a coach fired prior to participating in a conference championship game? Anybody? It says a lot about the Pac-12 South that the nominal winner was so bad that the coach is gonna be fired even if said team miraculously makes it to the Rose Bowl. Pathetic.

Anyway, so Neuheisel's gone (or about to be gone). This is not overly surprising given his complete lack of success through four years at UCLA. Alma mater or not, a winning season is usually a good thing to bolster the ol' resume. Neuheisel technically had one -- UCLA went 7-6 in 2009 -- but needed a bowl win to get there after going 3-6 in conference play that year. At no point was UCLA anything resembling "good."

I mentioned in my Ron Zook post that Zook at Illinois was basically the younger/waterskiing/Midwest version of Dennis Erickson at ASU: one good year early on followed by a couple crappy years and then a couple mediocre years that featured minimal signs of real progress. In a slightly different sense, Neuheisel is the West Coast Zook: consistently excellent recruiting classes followed by on-field underachieving/disappointment.

The recruiting classes have been seriously good (according to Rivals, anyway):

2008: 13th
2009: 14th
2010: 8th
2011: 45th

FYI, the main reason the 2011 ranking is so low is that UCLA had only 16 scholarship to give out after signing ridonkulous classes in each of the previous three years. It's hard to do much better than that unless you're in the SEC and can just sign 32 players a year like Nick Saban.

The whole "winning" thing didn't go quite as well, which made sense with Zook but made a lot less sense with Neuheisel, who had all of one losing season before coming to UCLA. The guy was 66-30 before the weird "no gambling for you" firing from Washington and his ensuing five-year hiatus from college football. Maybe he got too infatuated with the NFL style of play? I dunno. All I know is that a guy with a 66-30 record showed up at a decent program with an amazing recruiting base and proceeded to go 21-28 in four years despite bringing in a lot of apparent talent.

And it was always the offense: UCLA finished 111th, 88th, 100th and 56th (this year) in total offense in Neuheisel's four years, which is inexplicably awful. The Norm Chow hiring made a lot of sense given what the guy did at USC but never really worked out. ESPN Los Angeles hits the nail on the head in explaining why:
... without great talent to mold, you get Chow's three ineffectual seasons as the offensive coordinator at UCLA.

In three years he worked with eight quarterbacks: Ben Olson, Patrick Cowan, Kevin Craft, Osaar Rasshan, Chris Forcier, Kevin Prince, Richard Brehaut and Nick Crissman.
That is a murderer's row of blah quarterbacks. The aforementioned recruiting rankings look shiny and swell but meant nothing for an offense that was supposed to be heavily dependent on good quarterback play and never got it. That's probably the single most obvious reason Neuheisel's offenses (and thus his teams) sucked. Quarterbacks: They're good to have.

The defenses went from OK to pretty bad to terrible under Chuck Bullough and then Jim Tresey (who was yanked away from the UFL, of course); the inconsistency there didn't help given the consistently crappy offense. I'm guessing Neuheisel would reconsider his coordinator hires if given a second chance. He actually came out Tuesday and said something related but much less self-damning, claiming that working at UCLA is like "taking a knife to a gunfight." Neuheisel = Sean Connery.

Here's the rest of the quote:
"I think every program across the country has to make a determination as to what their expectation level is and then finance that expectation level, and in some places those numbers don't jibe," Neuheisel said.
I'm assuming he's talking about the salary pool for assistants, which was probably a factor in bringing in UFL retreads rather than guys like Randy Shannon. Then again, Norm Chow was making about $550,000 a year, which is a LOT. Perhaps the money problem was in the distribution rather than the volume. Neuheisel wasn't making a lot (about $1.25 million) but also hadn't been a head coach in a while and was a UCLA alum, which probably made the job more desirable to him than other similar candidates.

Regardless, he's gone now. I'm guessing he'll get another shot somewhere soon; he's only 50 and still has a good overall track record, especially as a recruiter. He'd be worth a call for a school like Kansas or Ole Miss (although he's worked almost entirely in the Pac-12 footprint).

As for UCLA, the job is a pretty good one as long as the money's there, which it should be (if Ben Howland can get $2 million a year, the football coach can get more). I know the campus is in a crappy part of town and doesn't quite stack up with USC, but it's pretty obvious that getting recruits to come to Los Angeles isn't overwhelmingly difficult. There's some money and some tradition and a legendary stadium and all that stuff; in short, there's nothing that should stop somebody from winning at UCLA. That's not insignificant. It's also why the fans are irritated that UCLA continues to lowball its offers and thus price itself out of a lot of good coaching candidates.

The Los Angeles Times says Chris Petersen (surprise!) is atop the list and will be offered $3 million a year. Everything I heard last year was that Petersen wouldn't even seriously entertain offers; I doubt he jumps at the UCLA job for a significant-but-not-ginormous raise, especially after turning down Stanford last year. The other guys allegedly on the short list are Jon Gruden (of course) and Kevin Sumlin. I should throw in Urban Meyer and Bill Cowher just because their inclusion would make this the most cliche list in the history of lists. At least they're aiming high.

Mike Leach internet explosion!

OMG OMG Mike Leach:
Mike Leach, believed to be the top target for Washington State to replace fired football coach Paul Wulff, has been offered the job, according to The Spokesman-Review. The newspaper said sources within the athletic department believe Leach will accept the offer.
I'm not even gonna finish my reactionary coachpocalypse post before Mike Leach (!) unofficially takes over at Wazzu. Bill Moos is a smart man.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


LSU takes care of the whole chaos thing: Arkansas was up 14-0 midway through the second quarter and seemed to be in pretty good shape until LSU went on a 44-3 run over the next two and a half quarters. Srsly: LSU went from a two-touchdown deficit (and one of those TDs was an incredibly fluky fumble return) to a three-touchdown lead in 25 minutes of game time. It wasn't as close as the score indicated, and the score wasn't close. LSU ran the inside zone (either the toss or handoff version) probably 35 times on its 46 running plays and finished with 286 yards on the ground, including 48 when Jordan Jefferson faked the inside zone and did this:

Yeesh. Tough to defend the fake when you've seen the non-fake version about 17 times in a row. LSU eventually kicked a field goal to go up by 24 with about five minutes left, which was totally unnecessary but understandable given the possibility of losing the SEC championship and watching voters do something inexplicable. Anyway, the field goal prompted this absolutely hilarious reaction:

Awesome. The thing I noticed in this game more than any other was the pure physical dominance of LSU's lines, especially on offense. There's a reason this team is 12-0 and scoring 38 points per game despite having two mediocre quarterbacks and zero elite skill-position players. What I said the other day about the Arkansas game being meaningless is even more true for the SEC title game: There is nothing that can happen that will convince me LSU isn't the best team in the country. It'll only be meaningful for Georgia, which can still play in a BCS game as SEC champion while the second- and third-place teams play for the national title (yup). And since a one-loss Oklahoma State isn't jumping a one-loss LSU in any poll, the BCS title game is gonna be a rematch. I'm OK with that this year. There's not a team out there that can make a serious case to be ranked ahead of LSU or Alabama.

Gus Malzahn gets pwned: Speaking of Alabama, the Auburn game was interesting for all of 10 minutes, at which point Bama scored to go up 14-0. That was it; Auburn technically scored twice, but one of those was on a strip-sack fumble recovery and the other was on the opening kickoff of the second half. The offense did nothing. Auburn finished with 140 yards and nine first downs. Nine. Clint Moseley had the ball on 22 plays and produced a total of 54 yards. The Bama defense produced more points (six) than the Auburn offense (none). It was awful. On the flip side, Trent Richardson went off for a ridiculous 203 yards (a career high) on 27 carries. Auburn's run defense is terrible, but still ... I mean ... 203 yards. I'll have no real arguments if Richardson ends up winning the Heisman. So Alabama is done at 11-1 and is all but assured a spot in the title game. Oklahoma State might be able to make things interesting with a 700-point win against Oklahoma; even that probably wouldn't be enough. As for Auburn, the Gus Malzahn era ended (I'm assuming he's gone for a head coaching job) in craptacular fashion. The offense regressed over the course of the year as the quarterbacks went from meh to terrible, so that's gonna be an issue for the next O-coordinator. The defense also wasn't good. Next year's Auburn will be a lot more experienced but in need of some serious improvements to be anywhere near the level of Alabama and LSU in the West. Insert Paul Finebaum joke here.

Clemson has almost completed its collapse: The headline pretty much says it all. South Carolina is a solid team but has a flaming bag of poo for an offense right now and just dominated Clemson, which has now lost three of four and is on its way to a 9-4 finish after an 8-0 start (guh). I just don't understand what happened to Clemson's offense. Tajh Boyd was playing over his head early in the year, but still ... I dunno. Clemson has put up a total of 43 points in its last three losses, during which time the running game has almost completely disappeared and Boyd has thrown two TDs and five picks. Prior to that, they were averaging 40.6 per game. Weird. I said this eight days ago:
Has a coach ever started 8-0 and gotten fired? Dabo Swinney might give it a run.
I stand by that statement. Too bad Rich Rodriguez already jumped at the Arizona job

Montee Ball has many touchdowns: Wisconsin and Penn State were allegedly playing for the Leaders East Division title. It was a complete obliteration. Penn State put up its usual 200-ish yards of total offense while Wisconsin went off for 450 and 45 points, both of which are pretty ridiculous against a legitimately excellent Tom Bradley defense. A lot of that was due to Montee Ball, who had four more touchdowns and now has absurd 34 (!!!) this season. He's five away from Barry Sanders' all-time record of 39 and has two games left; that is amazing even if it's gonna take him 14 games to do what Sanders did in 11. Hilarious stat of the week: Ball has six more touchdowns this year than Penn State. Anyway, Wisconsin is headed to the Big Ten title game to play Michigan State. I'm pulling for Wiscy so that (a) Michigan State will once again win 10 games and get left out of the BCS and (b) the Big Ten will have a serious Rose Bowl representative rather than one that'd be a 20-point underdog against Oregon.

Virginia gave it a good run: Virginia beat Indiana by a field goal earlier this year and lost to NC State by two touchdowns yet was somehow playing Virginia Tech for a spot in the ACC title game Saturday. The result was about what I expected: Va. Tech 38, Virginia 0. The Techies went ahead and took care of any concerns about an unwatchable conference championship game and will now be the beneficiary of Clemson's downward spiral, which means they're probably headed to the Orange Bowl for the fourth time in five years. I'm not sure if that says more about Virginia Tech or the ACC. As for Virginia, Mike London did a ridiculously good job this year given the recent history at UVa and what he had to work with. It's interesting that he turned down the Penn State job a couple weeks ago; Virginia seems like a fairly low-ceiling stop. Then again, he's spent basically his entire career at either Virginia or Richmond, and the quality of life in Charlottesville is probably phenomenal when you're making $2 million a year.

Game of the Week: I love the Texas-Texas A&M game and will be a sad panda next year when Texas is playing Kansas (or whoever) and A&M is playing Ole Miss (or whoever) on the day after Thanksgiving. Stupid greed. At least they went out with a good one:

Eternal bragging rights FTW. A couple thoughts: Texas desperately needs to find a quarterback next year. Whether Case McCoy is that guy is pretty tough to say, but a team that has a lot of talent just about everywhere else is gonna have an awful offense as long as the QB is putting up atrocious numbers like 4.1 yards per attempt. Manny Diaz did what he had to with the defense (ninth in yardage this year) but didn't get a lot of help from the offense. Also, Texas A&M is so unclutch (I could just copy this part and repost it every week). A&M finished 6-6 and had a fourth-quarter lead in five of those six losses. Guh.

The Pac-12 South is so, soooo awful: I don't even know where to start. I'm not sure whether the best summary of the division is that UCLA won it (for a given definition of "won") despite losing 50-0 (!) to USC or that Utah could have won it by beating freakin' Colorado but couldn't do what basically everybody else has done this year. Pathetic. ASU needed Utah to win to have any shot at winning the division; when that didn't happen, they went out and wrapped up an 0-4 finish by losing at home to a pretty mediocre Cal team. UCLA is a 30-point underdog (30!!!) against Oregon in the Pac-12 title game and is gonna end up 6-7, which means no bowl game despite nominally winning the division. Rick Neuheisel has already been fired. So has Dennis Erickson. In short, USC is right:


Player of the Week: Matt Barkley. Numbers (against an obviously motivated UCLA team): 35 of 42 for 437 yards with six touchdowns and no picks. Matt Barkley should be in the Heisman discussion. He's been on fire all year and has numbers that are now better than Andrew Luck's (look it up) on a 10-2 USC team.

Maryland plays well in the second half: Maryland led NC State 41-14 midway through the third quarter Saturday. NC State got a touchdown a couple minutes later but still trailed 41-21 going into the fourth. After that ... ummm ... yeah:

NC State TD 14:56 Tony Creecy 11 Yd Pass From Mike Glennon (Niklas Sade Kick)
NC State TD 13:28 Mike Glennon 1 Yd Run (Niklas Sade Kick)
NC State TD 07:08 James Washington 1 Yd Run (Niklas Sade Kick)
NC State TD 02:18 George Bryan 7 Yd Pass From Mike Glennon (Niklas Sade Kick)
NC State TD 00:27 C.J. Wilson 59 Yd Interception Return (Niklas Sade Kick)

NC State scored 35 points (!!!) in about 14 minutes and went from trailing by three touchdowns to winning 56-41. They scored a touchdown on six straight possessions. It was ridiculous. I'm not sure whether the fourth quarter or the last three were more inexplicable given Maryland's complete suckitude this year. Maryland beat Miami in the opener and didn't win another game all year other than the gimme against Towson at the beginning of October. That qualifies as suckitude. It also equals 2-10, which equals the worst mark Ralph Friedgen ever had before getting fired last year at the end of an 8-4 season that resulted in him being named ACC Coach of the Year. On a related note, John Feinstein and a fairly vocal group of Maryland students already want Randy Edsall fired.

Luckiest play in the history of luck: Matt Miller picked a good spot to lie down:


This game definitely happened: Florida State and Florida apparently decided to determine which team's season would be more disappointing by playing a game. Florida State won. Huzzah. Here's the worst part: FSU had 95 total yards. Seriously. Florida had 184 total yards but lost because John Brantley threw three picks in the first 20 minutes (lol) in his home finale to set up two easy FSU touchdowns. He left with an apparent concussion shortly thereafter and was replaced by Jacoby Brissett, who did produce a touchdown but also threw a pick and finished an atrocious 4 for 13. Good work, Charlie Weis.

Something seems wrong about this: Tennessee lost 10-7 to Kentucky (?) and finished 5-7. No bowl for you (losing to Kentucky = not deserving of bowl anyway). Vanderbilt destroyed Wake Forest 41-7 and finished 6-6. Bowl for you. THE APOCALYPSE IS UPON US.

Just draw a team out of a hat plz: There are three teams kinda-sorta tied (and still in contention, obviously) at the top of the Big East, which unfortunately is still required to send a team to the BCS. Louisville is in the clubhouse at 5-2; West Virginia and Cincinnati are both 4-2 and should win this weekend (West Virginia plays USF and Cincinnati plays UConn). There are like 7,289 potential scenarios here because of tiebreakers and whatnot, but to make it as simple as possible: West Virginia goes if it's a three-way tie, Cincy goes with a win and a West Virginia loss and Louisville goes with a Cincinnati loss. One of those three things has to happen. I'm kinda pulling for West Virginia since the offense is relatively entertaining and might be able to produce a decent bowl game rather than the typical Big East embarrassment. My hopes aren't high.

Post-Week 13 top 10: I'm not sure I'm changing anything this week. Crazy.

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oregon
4. Oklahoma State
5. Oklahoma
6. Stanford
7. USC
8. Boise
9. Virginia Tech (OMG slight change!)
10. Arkansas

Coachpocalypse: No more hilarious punts

Ron Zook was fired the other day after Illinois completed a solid 0-6 finish capped by a 20-point loss to Minnesota (lol). That is truly a remarkable a collapse. How did this team start 6-0? Oh wait: two snackycakes, a three-point win over a clearly overrated Arizona State team, a three-point win over Western Michigan and a three-point win over Northwestern, with all of those games at home. The Not That Good Meter should've been registering about a 12 out of 10.

Ron Zook was basically the younger/waterskiing/Midwestern version of Dennis Erickson: He went 6-6, 7-6 (with a bowl win), 3-9 and 5-7 over the last four years. The '07 team somehow went to the Rose Bowl (which wanted a Big Ten replacement for No. 2 Ohio State) but rightfully got obliterated by five touchdowns by USC. And that was by far the high point of the Zook era.

Mandatory coach-firing question: What's realistic at (insert school here) Illinois? It's easy to say "Chicago recruiting blah blah," but Illinois is never gonna be higher than about fourth in the local recruiting pecking order as long as Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State are around (which will presumably be forever). Zook did what he always does, accumulating pretty good recruiting classes (at least by historical standards) and then not winning a whole lot with them. At Florida, the guys he left produced two national championships in four years. Illinois isn't Florida but does have some decent talent.

The problem is gonna be sustaining success with limited recruiting pull in a division with Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. Is 8-4 a realistic year-in-and-year-out goal? Sure. Expecting somewhat-regular Rose Bowls? Not so much. Remember Ron Turner? He took Illinois to a Sugar Bowl in 2001 and had a total of one other winning season in eight years. Zook did only slightly better:

2005 Illinois 2–9 0–8
2006 Illinois 2–10 1–7
2007 Illinois 9–4 6–2
2008 Illinois 5–7 3–5
2009 Illinois 3–9 2–6
2010 Illinois 7–6 4–4
2011 Illinois 6–6 2–6

That one 9-4 mark seems like an outlier, yes? The program got marginally better but never really looked like a threat to get past the "meh" stage.

Hiring Vic Koenning as D-coordinator was a great move and probably the only thing that kept the 2010 and '11 versions of Illinois from being better than the '08 and '09 ones. The offense did have some good times under Juice Williams in '07 but definitely had some not-so-good times in a lot of other years. The one thing Zook did consistently well was live up to his reputation as a mind-bogglingly awful in-game coach. There's actually a segment in The Mathlete's weekly piece called "Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week." I'm sure that meme was more amusing for me than it was for people who, like, wanted Illinois to win.

It's entirely possible that the next guy will come in and win a bunch of games and look awesome because (a) there's talent and (b) it's been underachieving, at least on offense. But getting top-25 recruiting classes and producing a consistent bowl-caliber isn't something Illinois has had since ... ummm ... was John Mackovic a good recruiter? Hard to say since Rivals was about 10 years away from existence.

It is possible to have some success at Illinois. There's a hard-to-define threshold between programs that can have legitimate success and programs that can't. Vanderbilt and Washington State and Baylor are probably below that line; Illinois isn't. Zook had to go because a respectable BCS-conference program should be able to finish better than .500 more than once every five years or so. Good recruiting means nothing if the hypothetically good recruits aren't producing anything of value on the field.

Whether Illinois can actually find and hire a guy who's both a decent in-game coach and a decent recruiter remains to be seen; those guys aren't usually beating down the doors at mid-level programs (unless they're Rich Rodriguez or Mike Leach). Sadly for Illinois, those dudes are no longer available.

Rumor has it that the top two candidates are Cincinnati's Butch Jones and Michigan State D-coordinator Pat Narduzzi, both of whom were at Cincinnati when current Illinois AD Mike Thomas was the AD there. The other names I've seen several places are Greg Schiano (highly unlikely since he has gobs of job security at Rutgers and wouldn't even be taking much of a step up to go to Illinois) and Toledo's Tim Beckman. To my knowledge, Beckman doesn't have any direct connection; he's just won quite a bit at Toledo and was a highly regarded D-coordinator at Oklahoma State before that. I suppose being in Toledo offers some Midwest recruiting connections and whatnot. There's also a report that Wisconsin O-coordinator Paul Chryst has interviewed (?) and that Steelers running backs coach and Illinois alum Kirby Wilson will do the same. I assume Kevin Sumlin's name will come up at some point.

The glut of available jobs would seem to be a factor except for the fact that almost none of those guys are being talked about in connection with any of the other openings. In that regard, Illinois should be able to get somebody desirable (in their eyes, not necessarily mine or yours).

The pull of mediocrity is strong

It probably says something that I knew Dennis Erickson was getting fired about 48 hours ago yet felt no immediate need to write about it despite nominally covering ASU for most of the year. It says two things, actually:

1. It was inevitable and totally unsurprising given the wholesale collapse that started with the UCLA game.
2. ASU has gone from "barely relevant" to "nonexistent" in the national consciousness via the past few years of crappiness.

Full disclosure: I thought Erickson should have been fired after last season (even though he seems to be a genuinely good guy who's probably hilarious to play golf with). He's 64, does minimal recruiting and has a mild form of Lloyd Carr Cronyism Disease when it comes to his coaching staff. ASU is an OK program but is never gonna win much with a caretaker-type coach just sort of coaching out the string with an average staff and no true football-specific selling points. More on that momentarily.

There's also this: Erickson went 21-27 in his last four years and did nothing better than go 6-6, which was particularly pathetic this year given the returning talent and cupcake-tastic division. He had no intention of stepping away (duh) and needed to be fired, even if the school refused to call it a firing and instead issued a ridiculous press release referring to a "change in leadership" and listing Erickson's career accomplishments like it was his hiring rather than his firing. The school wanted to let him off easy; maybe he earned that. The guy's got a Hall of Fame legacy regardless of what happened the past four years. He also doesn't want to be done but might not have a choice since it's hard to envision any legitimate program giving the job to a guy who'll be 65 by the start of next season.

I'm not sure what would've happened if Alex Garoutte had made one freakin' field goal against UCLA. ASU would have been 7-2 and division champions with three weeks left. Maybe the collapse plays out in exactly the same fashion and ASU ends up firing Erickson in the same awkward way UCLA just fired Rick Neuheisel; maybe everything goes differently and Erickson's signing a contract extension right now. Given the consistently irritating results over the last four years, I'm not sure the latter scenario would've been a good thing in the big picture.

I refuse to buy "confidence" or "will" or (insert journalistic buzzword here) as an explanation for losses to Washington State and Arizona. I watched both those games and saw (a) the defense get outschemed up and down the field and (b) the offense put up below-average performances because of its complete inability to run the ball and directly related inability to consistently get seven points out of quality drives. The overall offensive production has been good enough that some of those issues can be written off as system byproducts; not so much for the defensive issues. Erickson needed to go because this team couldn't complete a season -- regardless of how it started -- as anything other than mediocre. His 10-3 first season means just about nothing since it came with the previous guy's players and has never come close to being duplicated.

There's a lot of debate among the people in/around the program about how good of a job ASU really is. I think it's an above-average one. The local recruiting base is OK but not deep, there's not much booster money and the weather is overrated; it's hot for nine months a year, which isn't a big draw to anybody not on the West Coast. That said, there's some tradition/history, there's a ton of available talent in California, the campus (uknowwhatimtalkinbout) is a legitimate selling point, the academic standards are relatively low and the expectations are actually pretty reasonable because of the lack of uberfans. The Pac-12 South also sucks right now outside of USC, so winning more than half the time in conference play (rather than a third of the time like Erickson the past four years) should be totally doable.

Somebody in my office threw out an interesting stat the other day: Erickson averaged 6.2 wins a year. Dirk Koetter averaged 6.7. Bruce Snyder averaged 6.4. Since Frank Kush retired in 1979, the 32-year average is 6.7 wins. The mediocrity: It's stifling.

Going back to what I said earlier, ASU isn't USC. An average-ish coach will produce average-ish results since there aren't any obvious program advantages. This program can be better -- just look at what Mike Bellotti did at Oregon (although he had Phil Knight pulling some strings) and what Rich Rodriguez did at West Virginia and what Mike Leach did at Texas Tech and what Joe Tiller did at Purdue and what Art Briles is doing at Baylor (Baylor!). None of those last four schools has any more geographical/financial/historical advantages than ASU; they succeeded/are succeeding because they found a coach who did/does some systematic thing really well and used it to win a bunch of games and get things figuratively snowballing.

ASU needs to do something similar and has enough appeal as a coaching spot to pull it off. A couple influential people are saying Kevin Sumlin is at the top of the list. Sumlin would work. He throws the ball like a mofo and has done so with good success at both Houston and Oklahoma (as O-coordinator). He has a track record as an assistant that makes him more than just a flavor of the month.

I will continue advocating for the hiring of Mike Leach until I'm blue in the face even if it'll never happen because uninformed people still think he did something horrible at Texas Tech. The guy went 84-33 at Texas freakin' Tech and had 10 straight winning seasons. Image is everything, I guess. I've also heard from one reasonably credible person with connections that Lisa Love has contacted Leach; whether that actually happened is anybody's guess. Maybe she'll take a hint from Washington State AD Bill Moos, who came out today and said Leach is on the "short list" to replace Paul Wulff. SB Nation summarizes my thoughts nicely:
He said the list could include five to seven names, making one wonder just how short it really is, but still. Mike Leach! Somebody's talking about Mike Leach! Internet, right this way!
Lol exactly. ASU not hiring Leach would be somewhat understandable if Sumlin is locked up; hiring Larry Fedora or Ron English or 61-year-old Mike Bellotti would be far less justifiable, even if all of those guys have done something that makes them plausible candidates. Finding a coach who can win games without the good-program benefits has been the starting point for a lot of now-good programs.

FYI, the only name that's come out as actually mentioned among the relevant people at ASU is Sumlin, so everybody else is just a throw-a-dart guess based on having some tenuous connection with the school or the state or whatever.

I'd also like to point out that ASU loses most of its O-line, its top two receivers and a chunk of its back seven but will have Brock Osweiler, Cameron Marshall, Jamal Miles, Will Sutton, Junior Onyeali, Brandon Magee and possibly Vontaze Burfict* back next year. There's also a pretty good recruiting class that shouldn't be impossible to keep largely intact. So there are some pieces in place for a decent first year under whoever the next guy is. Erickson did that with Koetter's players, though, and then fell off a cliff; the important part is actually doing better than 6-6 for more than just the first year. Find that guy, plz.

*Burfict's thoroughly mediocre year (at least part of which was due to his inexplicably huge gut) makes returning for a senior year a much more viable option than it appeared at the beginning of the season. And it's not irrelevant that best bud Brandon Magee blew out his Achilles in training camp and is coming back for a fifth year on a medical redshirt; Burfict might stick around just to hang with Magee for another year. He also does a lot of things that make no sense, so take that with a ginormous pile of salt.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Urban Meyer was and probably still is great

So ... Urban Meyer. He's the coach at Ohio State. This is both odd and not at all surprising given the unending string of tweets/rumors/debatably credible reports for the last two weeks.

This is the spot for a joke about family time and his (apparently) incredibly relaxing year off; I don't feel like going there. I'm a fairly cynical person, but I'm willing to take everything at face value here and assume that Urban Meyer was having legitimate heart/health problems and needed to step away at the risk of inadvertently killing himself. Whether he's any "better" or "healthier" or whatever is unknowable to everyone except Meyer and his doctor and probably irrelevant. At the end of the day, a guy who'd done nothing but coach since he graduated college probably just couldn't stay away. This is not surprising in the least, even if his life was legitimately in danger 17 months ago. Some people need to do what they do.

I'm not gonna sugarcoat this from a Michigan fanboi point of view: Meyer is a legitimately great coach. He's statistically one of the best in college football history and is only 47. Numbers:

2001: Bowling Green 8-3
2002: Bowling Green 9-3
2003: Utah 10-2
2004: Utah 12-0
2005: Florida 9-3
2006: Florida 13-1
2007: Florida 9-4
2008: Florida 13-1
2009: Florida 13-1
2010: Florida 8-5
Overall: 104-23

Good Lord. The success: It's everywhere. Meyer could've gone anywhere he wanted (Michigan included) and named his price. He picked Ohio State. The celebratory couch burning is totally logical.

Ohio State is a great job. It's basically Michigan with slightly less history, tradition and money (from an overall standpoint, not necessarily an athletic one) but a slightly better recruiting base. The reason I called the whole thing "odd" a few paragraphs ago is this:
Meyer accepted the job without knowing the severity of the looming penalties but said he had "great faith and trust" in Smith and school president E. Gordon Gee.

Meyer said he did his own research on the case and asked a lot of questions during his interview process with the Buckeyes and came away convinced that the penalties would not hamper his ability to rebuild the program.

"Great faith and trust" are swell things to have but mean nothing since Smith and Gee aren't the guys deciding the penalties (sadly for them). There are serious NCAA sanctions coming. Bowl ban or not, the scholarship slashy slashy will be significant and hampering. A bowl ban would be unquestionably hilarious in a karmic sense for a program apparently getting penalized for years of cheating by upgrading from Jim Tressel to Urban Meyer. Not even Urban Meyer can pull in top-10 classes at a place with no postseason hopes and win 10 games a year in the Big Ten with 65 scholarship players.

That's probably a big part of why I'm not overly concerned* about Ohio hiring a guy with an absurd track record and two national titles in his last four years. Another reason: He can't possibly do any better than the last guy. Jim Tressel went 94-22 overall and 8-1 against Michigan (guh). Urban Meyer would have to actually improve his career winning percentage and never lose a single game against Brady Hoke to do better. That seems highly unlikely, especially given the current state of the offense, the impending NCAA stuff and the tricky part about figuring out exactly how he can run a program without making his heart explode in the next three years.

That last part is probably the biggest variable. The guy is known to be a 24/7 obsesser and has never run a program any other way. Whether he can do it is anybody's guess and won't be known until he's either doing it successfully several years from now or or retiring again because he couldn't.

It's also worth noting that his truly successful seasons at Florida were all aided to various degrees by good/very good/awesome defenses, depending on the year. The 2006 defense was sixth nationally in scoring and the 2008 and '09 defenses both finished fourth. Having Greg Mattison (hey, I know that guy) and Charlie Strong was presumably somewhat helpful. The "down" years were directly related to the defense being something other than dominant (18th and 44th). There's also a large contingent of Florida-loving people who think Dan Mullen's influence on the offense was significantly underrated; that's debatable since the '09 offense (minus Mullen) finished sixth overall and the 2010 offense (minus Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin) was basically a tire fire. Meyer's cumulative numbers suggest to me that the 2010 debacle had more to do with the offensive turnover than it did Mullen's departure. Then again, Tim Tebow was pretty good and is all out of eligibility, and it's been a while since Meyer's offense wasn't just 87 variations of Tebow Power. As with every other coach in the history of coaching, his coordinator hires will be of some importance.

Word on the interwebz is that Mike Stoops is the guy at DC. My question: why? Jim Heacock has been running ridiculous defenses for the last decade, during which time Mike Stoops has been a mediocre head coach with defenses ranging from decent to bad to horrible. Anybody who watched Arizona play attempt to play defense the last couple years would wonder how Mike Stoops ever got a head coaching job. Keep in mind that he was only co-defensive coordinator at Oklahoma (under Bob Stoops, obviously) before getting the UA job. What I'm saying is that there's some definite GERG potential with that hire, which seems like an absurdly unnecessary risk given the pool of candidates who should be available to a guy like Urban Meyer at a program like Ohio State. Mike Stoops is not Charlie Strong or Greg Mattison.

There'd be some irony to Ohio State ending up with an uber-spread offense and a sieve-like defense and Michigan becoming a less boring (and less cheaty) version of Tressel-era Ohio State. Speaking of which, all the "SPREAD WON'T WORK RABBLE RABBLE BIG TEN TOUGHNESS RABBLE" talk should have died last year when Michigan was running for 5.6 yards a carry but should definitely die when Meyer is doing similar things (but with more wins) in a couple years. Despite Gary Danielson's idiotic insistence otherwise, the spread works everywhere when run effectively.

Stoops aside, Meyer is an ace-king gamble. Again, the record. It's ridiculous. Whether or not the Ohio State version of Urban Meyer < the pre-Ohio State version of Urban Meyer doesn't even matter for now; his image* alone guarantees (a) a lot of generally positive stuff being written about a program that just went 6-6 and is about to get hammered and (b) the directly related pull with recruits that wasn't gonna exist for Luke Fickell amid the post-Tressel-and-NCAA-poopstorm apocalypse. There are hundreds of thousands of truck drivers (Eleven Warriors notwithstanding) momentarily convinced that all is once again right in the world and Ohio will win the next 27 national championships. Gene Smith wins (in a very temporary sense, anyway). I'm still having a hard time believing he'll have a job when all is said and done, but hiring Urban Meyer is a nice bullet point on the ol' resume.

The Michigan message boards are filled right now with both Urban Meyer-related defiance and Urban Meyer-related concern. I have neither one. The past year has been totally satisfying and schadenfreude-tastic but would have meant little to nothing if Ohio State had won The Game, and under normal (for lack of a better word) circumstances, there's something to be said for both teams being, like, good. There's a small, possibly disturbed part of me that wants Meyer to succeed exactly the same way John Cooper did, by which I mean winning basically every game except the Michigan one every year. Beating a 6-5 version of Ohio State was utterly fantastic for reasons that had nothing at all to do with the quality of this particular Ohio State team; beating an 11-0 version of Ohio State is awesome. I won't be upset if that happens from time to time.

I also won't be upset if Urban Meyer goes back to rocking a spectacular mustache:

Do it. You will have a mustache and Brady Hoke will point at things spectacularly. The War will be epic.

*Watching the bloom come off the RichRod rose after Peanut Butter Jelly Time gave me a slightly different perspective on coaching hires. Good coach + good program =/= inevitable awesomeness. There are variables. Urban Meyer is in a totally different situation in terms of fan/booster support (infinite) and inherited talent (a lot instead of practically none) but could still be something less than great. Stuff happens.

Ohio State gets its savior

Obvious news of the day is obvious:
Former Florida coach Urban Meyer has taken the head coaching job at Ohio State, sources confirmed to ESPN on Monday morning. Ohio State will hold a news conference at 5:15 p.m. ET at the Fawcett Center.

Sources told WKMG-TV in Orlando last week that Meyer would be introduced in coming days after agreeing to a seven-year, $40 million deal.
Luke Fickell will reportedly stay on staff in some capacity.

In case you care, I'm not upset or overly concerned about anything other than Meyer having a heart attack in the next three years. It's on. More coming later.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's National Fire Your Coach Day

The pink slips are plentiful today.

Ron Zook is gone. Turner Gill and his craptacular record are also gone. Dennis Erickson will be gone tomorrow, and Rick Neuheisel will be joining him as soon as UCLA finishes going 6-7. And while you don't care nearly as much about these guys, Larry Porter has been fired by Memphis, Neil Callaway has been fired by UAB and Rob Ianello has been fired by Akron.


I'm a little preoccupied this evening but will get some big-picture analyses posted tomorrow night.

That's defining a legacy

I was briefly concerned yesterday that I would wake up at some point and realize that it was all just a dream and Michigan had in fact not beaten Ohio State for the first time since shortly after I graduated high school. It's Sunday now. It's really over.

The words: I do not have them. I just keep telling people "Michigan beat Ohio State!" and making weird sounds that apparently are some combination of exhilaration and relief. That's all I can do after that.

I went from nervous to concerned to psyched to ecstatic to frustrated to ANGAR to nervous to scared to excited to WOOO to NOOO to horrified to horribly horrified to relieved to exhilarated to ... ummm ... whatever I am now. I don't even know what to feel. Michigan beat Ohio State. It's over. There's no more streak. There's no more crap. The stupid fanboi Columbus Dispatch counter is gone (I won't even link to the page because it's so stupid). It's so, like, satisfying. But that doesn't seem sufficient.

I looked for a picture yesterday that told the story better. I found a few:

. . . . .

One of the revelations from Three and Out was that Lloyd Carr held a team meeting the day after the end of the '07 season and offered to sign transfer papers on the spot for anybody who wanted to leave rather than play for RichRod (the degree to which he advised leaving depends on which player you believe). A lot of guys took him up on that, and the abyss of '08 was directly related. That team was never gonna be good but didn't have to be "10 new offensive starters and multiple starting walk-ons" awful.

Brian Cook at MGoBlog wrote this at the end of the '08 debacle (he also busted it out after the Minnesota game this year for a post that says a lot of what I'm saying right now):

Some of you will stay. And you will go insane. You will work, and you will work, and we will build something here from nothing. Because, make no mistake, this is nothing. You will build something out of this. If you're a senior next year and you teach some freshman something, you will build something. If you're a freshman and you refuse to quit on your stupid decision, you will build something.

What you build will be yours. Few in the great history of his university have had that opportunity. Everything came based on what came before. They were part of a great chain, now broken.

Those of you who stay will forge a new one, starting today. When we are done we will fix the last link to the broken chain, and break the first link, and tell those who come after us to live up to it.

It took three years. The guys who stuck it out put up with more crap than the previous 130 classes combined and, before this year, had absolutely nothing to show for it except a bunch of devastating losses, a lot of you-don't-want-that-record records, (allegedly) one pathetically pointless bowl game and another coaching change. Everything memorable was memorable only in a pitiful way. That hardly even qualifies as a legacy.

These seniors were given nothing (nothing good, anyway) and earned everything. There is something to live up to only because of them.

Damn straight. That's defining a legacy.

David Molk and Mike Martin and Junior Hemingway ...

... and Kevin Koger ...

... and Ryan Van Bergen ...

... earned that. Those who stayed will be are champions.

I don't wanna forget the last three years. I stuck it out and suffered (not the same way they did) and watched this team go from nothing to something to this thing. Some people didn't; they gave up their emotional investment and will never understand what I'm feeling right now. I don't wanna forget the last seven years either. The "appreciate success blah blah failure blah blah" quote comes to mind.

It didn't used to be like this; this is sweeter. I'm gonna enjoy it.
. . . . .

My other all-over-the-place thoughts on the game will be consolidated here. First ... I mean ... whoa. That was most definitely not what I expected, which you probably know if you read my post from Friday night.

Ohio's offense went from "lol look how much they suck" to "irresistible force" against a defense that came into the game in the top 15 in the country in yardage and the top 10 in scoring. Braxton Miller did become Troy Smith circa 2004 -- until the final drive, anyway. The idea of him running the Urban Meyer offense concerns me a bit. The idea of him running the 2-minute offense ... not so much. Letting 40 seconds run off the clock on two plays that gained a total of four yards and then spiking it on third down worked out great for Michigan but not so great for Ohio.

The big difference between yesterday's Braxton Miller and the rest-of-the-season version of Braxton Miller: hitting the big stuff. Ohio's passing game has been completely dormant due to the quarterbacks' consistent inability to complete anything longer than five yards. The plays are there but never made; watching Miller is actually a lot like watching freshman Denard, who had hilariously wide-open receivers all over the place but was about 50-50 to throw it to those guys or members of the opposing secondary.

As for Michigan's defense, the secondary was not good. They probably had "run run run run run" beaten into their heads all week since that's the only thing Ohio has been able to do all year, but yikes. This ...

... is bad. This ...

... is also bad. And this ...

... is worse given the situation. Clean pair of shorts, plz.

Thomas Gordon blew his zone on the first touchdown, got yanked, watched Troy Woolfolk do the same thing on the second touchdown, then went back in the game to do some more sucking on a couple other bombs, including the last one. I would be concerned about the free safety spot if Michigan had given up more than one 50-plus-yard play all year. As it is, I'm not really sure what to make of that stuff.

The idea of Greg Mattison getting outcoached by Jim Bollman is patently ridiculous and therefore must be disputed. My assumption is that the gameplan was pretty similar to the one against Nebraska: put eight in the box, stop the run with some consistency and hope the arm-punting QB is too incompetent to produce anything downfield. It worked to some extent -- Boom Herron had 15 carries for a whopping 37 yards -- but Miller's light-bulb moment came at a rather inconvenient time and was aided by the aforementioned atrocious safety play. Michigan's typical third-down okie package also was less than ideal against a team that'll run quarterback draw on third-and-anything. I yelled draw-related profanities more than once.

Clearly, Michigan isn't Alabama in terms of talent. Not even Greg Mattison's awesomeness can always overcome the horrifying mistakes made by three freshman starters and a couple other former MAC-level recruits in the back seven. The assessment and going-forward expectations (in the short term) will have to be lowered just a tad.

Still, the Michigan defense just played its worst game of the year and will still end the regular season at ninth in scoring defense (!) and 16th in total defense. The slight drop from last week can't be criticized in any way given the absurdity of those numbers in general.

On the flip side, Al Borges FTW. Michigan put up 444 total yards and 40 points (although two of those were on a safety) against an elite defense despite not having a truly short field all game. UM averaged 9.8 yards a pass, 5.5 yards a carry and 6.63 yards a play. Think about that: almost 7 yards a play! That's easy to do against Minnesota but not as easy against Ohio and Jim Heacock.

There weren't a ton of new looks in general. What worked was the heavy implementation of the veer, which produced this ...

... and this ...

... and this:

There was also a lot of jet-sweep motion and a true counter draw, both of which were pretty useful in terms of getting guys out of position:

Fitz Toussaint finished with his typical 20 carries for 120 yards and now has over 1,000 yards this year despite not becoming the starter until five weeks ago. Crazy.

And Denard ... just wow. In this case, the numbers tell the story: 26 carries for 170 yards (the third-highest rushing-yardage total in the history of The Game) and two touchdowns and a ridiculous passing line of 14 for 17 for 167 yards with three TDs and no picks. He personally accounted for all five of Michigan's touchdowns. He threw as many touchdown passes as incompletions. He did this on a huge third-and-11 ...

... and he did this to set up what should've been the winning touchdown (more on that momentarily):

It was the best game of his career. He was pretty ridiculous in the 2010 Notre Dame game (502 total yards lol), but given the level of competition and his scoring production, this one was better and obviously bigger. He could've had six freakin' touchdowns.

Speaking of which, the late-game officiating was pretty crappy. I'm not entirely sure how the replay booth could look at the two angles provided on Toussaint's should-have-been touchdown, neither of which was right on the goal line, and say, "that is indisputably a foot short of the line" (which is where the ball was spotted).

Whaaa? If Toussaint was down, he was down with the ball at the 1-inch line, and I don't think it was indisputable since I'm disputing it right now. Denard scored on the next play only to have it called back on a hold and a personal foul that made what should have been a touchdown a 43-yard field-goal attempt. The kick was good but not very soothing since OSU still just needed a touchdown to win a game that had already seen 74 points scored.

Thank God for Courtney Avery. Gratuitous video:


So .... Michigan is 10-2. Unless Georgia beats LSU and initiates an SEC takeover of the BCS, Michigan is probably headed to the Sugar Bowl. The Fiesta Bowl is also possible but less likely since the Sugar would get the first at-large pick to replace the SEC champ (LSU) and Michigan is probably a better draw in New Orleans than Stanford. This is mind-boggling and awesome and eeeeeeeeeeee.

There is literally nothing more I could've asked of Brady Hoke this year. Whatever I said in criticism of his track record has to be thrown out the window and replaced by what I've seen the last four months. That's his track record at Michigan; it's impressive. BRADY HOKE GETS IT:

One more time: Michigan 40, Ohio State 34.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's over

The picture says it all. Party time? Party time.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Beat Ohio

It was almost exactly eight years ago that I bought a single ticket to the '03 Michigan-Ohio State game and flew back for the weekend. I chose wisely:

Yes. It was thoroughly enjoyable.

I never thought at the time that I'd be sitting here eight years later waiting for another Michigan win. That's almost 30 percent of my life (guh). I don't feel like calculating the number of days since it would only make me angry.

It's been a long time.
. . . . .

My brain has been going "OMG SATURDAY SATURDAY SATURDAY" for the last six days and yet I can't come up with any words for any sort of preview. I have both everything and nothing to say.

I wrote in my season-preview-type thing that Michigan would end up 8-4 and Ohio State would end up "closer to typical Ohio State than apocalyptic Ohio State." Nay. One team is a win away from a BCS game and the other is a loss away from 6-6, which makes perfect sense except lol wut? Why is Adam Sandler coaching Ohio?

This is the year it has to end. Eight years of horrifyingly painful losses and death and frustration and pity I didn't even want were eight years too many. No mas.

Ohio has an offense roughly the equivalent of Minnesota's (!) and a defense slightly worse than Michigan's (!!!). There is literally no meaningful offensive or defensive stat/comparison I can find that says Michigan shouldn't win this game. It's going to happen unless Denard turns the ball over a thousand times (plausible, unfortunately) and Braxton Miller turns into Troy Smith circa 2004. Michigan is 7-0 at home and hasn't been challenged since Notre Dame. The defense is getting better to the point of being legitimately elite, which is such a ridiculous statement that I can't really believe it unless I look at the stats and say "oh yeah, elite." A fairly standard (for lack of a better word) game will end with Ohio having about 10 points; Michigan hasn't scored fewer than 28 at home this season.

It's pretty hard to reconcile all that with the past 2,500-ish days. It's even harder given the past 1,000-ish; Michigan has been outscored 100-24 in the last three versions of The Game, two of which weren't even competitive after halftime and one of which was competitive only because Jim Tressel allowed it to be by being Jim Tressel. Going from there to here makes no sense logistically but makes soooo much sense to that thing inside me that protects the stupidly childish belief that Michigan represents everything good and the other guys represent everything bad. I can't explain that thing any better, but I don't think I need to; you get it.

I keep telling myself to lower the expectations. Not happening. This is it. I'd be worried about the possibility of being heartbroken if it hadn't become the norm over the last eight years, interrupted only by blips of utter devastation (2006) and embarrassment (2008, 2010).

There's nothing left to do but win. I wish I could be there.

Beat Ohio. Please.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

SEC chaos theory

As of right now, there's no question that LSU should be No. 1 and Alabama should be No. 2. Nobody else has a comparable resume; Arkansas being third says way more about the middle-of-the-top-10 implosion than it does about Arkansas being some kind of terrifying juggernaut. We're talking about a team that beat Ole Miss and Vanderbilt by a combined eight points and hasn't really done anything more impressive than rally from 18 down to beat Texas A&M (now 6-5) by four points.

But since it's November and crazy/unpredictable/WTF things are guaranteed to happen, the question of the week is this: What happens if Arkansas beats LSU on Friday? OMG CHAOS:


I've been arguing this week that a hypothetical one-loss LSU would still have to be No. 1 because every other contender would have at least one loss and nothing close to LSU's resume. Think about it: With the head-to-head tiebreakers irrelevant since all of the top three teams would've beaten each other, wouldn't you have to zoom out and vote on overall quality? Pending a totally improbable Arkansas blowout Saturday, I don't see any way Arkansas can stake a claim to No. 1 given the aforementioned meh-ness this season (not to mention the four-touchdown loss to currently higher-ranked Alabama).

The computers apparently agree (this is from BCS expert-type guy Brad Edwards):
"When I was able to study the details of the computer ratings, it became obvious that those numbers are so heavily in LSU's favor that it would be difficult for the Tigers to fall outside of the BCS top two, even if they drop to No. 3 in both polls."
Translation: LSU is golden. There's no way they drop lower than No. 2, which is really the only spot that matters.

What I've assumed all along is that the SEC divisional tiebreakers are the same as the Big 12's: the highest-ranked team in the BCS wins. But that's not the case. It's actually kinda the opposite: The lowest-ranked team gets thrown out of the equation, and the remaining two teams default to the standard head-to-head two-team tiebreaker. If LSU doesn't fall out of the top two, Alabama can't win the tiebreaker and Arkansas would have to jump Alabama to win it; that seems wildly unlikely given that Bama is currently way higher in both the polls and the computers and beat Arkansas by a gajillion points like six weeks ago. In other words, it's pretty likely that LSU will "win" the SEC West even with a loss Saturday. Bama sliding up to No. 1 wouldn't matter.

Edwards thinks the human votes will be split somewhere close to evenly between the three, although that's probably an Arkansas-friendly estimate given that LSU is currently a unanimous No. 1. If he's right and it comes down to the computers or he's wrong and the voters say "oh yeah, Alabama killed Arkansas," Bama is gonna come out ahead. Who's gonna drop Alabama (after beating Auburn, obviously) behind Arkansas? Again: Alabama 38, Arkansas 14.

Back to Edwards for the upshot:
... a seemingly improbable event is certain to happen -- either Alabama will beat Auburn and drop from 2 to 3 in the BCS standings or Arkansas will beat LSU and remain at No. 3 in the BCS.
In my e-pinion, that last scenario seems way more likely than the first, which means the result of the Arkansas-LSU game matters not at all. That seems totally illogical on the surface but a lot more logical given the big-picture view of what all three teams have done this year and which one-loss versions would be most deserving of spots in the title game.

Lee Corso never fails to amuse me

The most profane thing that's ever appeared on this blog comes directly from College GameDay:

Hilarious. I'm not sure if I laughed harder at the "AH, FUCK IT!" or at Chris Fowler reacting the way only Chris Fowler can. Please keep Lee Corso on TV; the humor is totally worth the senility.

BTW, does GameDay not have a delay? Seems like it might be worth the effort.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Miami knows what's up

Remember when Miami went boom back in August? The current-player penalties turned out to be pretty insignificant, which was spectacular news for Al Golden but mostly meaningless for an institution in a lake-deep pile of potentially disastrous muck. One day in the (probably distant) future, the NCAA is gonna come back with a notice of allegations that's about 8,000 pages long and includes a bunch of awful things, and awful penalties will follow.

Miami's response:

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Miami is not going to a bowl this season, self-imposing a ban that school officials say was "necessary" in response to an ongoing NCAA investigation into the university's compliance practices.

Players were informed Sunday that Friday's game against Boston College will be the last this season, even though the Hurricanes have enough wins to qualify for a postseason appearance. By self-imposing a ban, Miami is trying to lessen the impact of whatever sanctions the NCAA hands down once its investigation ends.

I'm not sure there's ever been a self-imposed bowl ban before. Given the NCAA's typically glacial speed, it's pretty unlikely Miami would've been looking at any immediate punishment; there's a 90-day window after the notice of allegations (which is probably a ways off considering the depth of the story) before a hearing with the relevant people, and the penalties aren't finalized until some time after that. We're talking, like, April at the earliest. In other words, this year's Miami team had already dealt with all the NCAA penalties it was gonna get.

But here's the thing: Donna Shalala isn't an idiot. Taking a one-year ban up front is a token gesture for a 6-5 team that was headed to the Meaningless Bowl but also might make a two-year (or three-year or whatever) ban a little less likely, which is the ultimate goal when you've got a 15-foot-thick NCAA file that's gonna end up being categorized somewhere between "really bad" and "totally devastating." Miami's in damage-control mode and is sacrificing one meaningless game to try to save a a couple others that might actually mean something. It's a chess move with no real downside (although I'd feel terrible* for seniors like Jacory Harris and Sean Spence if they weren't directly involved).

I guess this is also a chess move:
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Tuesday that Ohio State would not penalize itself by keeping the football team from making a postseason trip as a way of mitigating potential NCAA sanctions.
Obvsly. Why worry about the NCAA when you can send your unwatchable 6-6 team to the the Motor City Bowl to play (insert MAC team here) in front of 27,000 people? W00t.

Ohio State and Miami are in remarkably similar situations right now; it's hilarious to watch one athletic department do things the logical way and the other do everything the stupidly defiant way. The big difference is that Miami knows what's up and is headed straight for damage control while Ohio State still refuses to believe that anything bad could possibly happen at Ohio State since Jim Tressel is practically Jesus and everybody gets a new car every three months and so on and so forth.

That's their story and they're sticking to it. Nothing changes. The consistency is both impressive and amusing given the unending flood of information for the last five months that finally resulted in a "failure to monitor" charge about two weeks ago. They did deviate just long enough after that letter to go "crap crap crap" and slash a few scholarships, but that was a strategic blip.

Everything is fine. The infidels will be defeated.

*I do actually feel sorry for Al Golden. He took a seemingly good job that looks a lot less good right now and can't really bail without looking like the East Coast version of Lane Kiffin.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

He's back, in Bear Down form

Rich Rodriguez is the head coach at Arizona. It's pretty weird to type that sentence and end it with "Arizona" instead of "Michigan." Watching his introductory press conference Tuesday was like watching ... umm ... man, I dunno. Something kinda awkward. The Arizona pin and red-with-blue-trim tie just seemed so weird.

I want to root* for Rich Rodriguez. I want to root for him for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I think he's a genuinely good guy who's a genuinely good coach and was just sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong idea of how to handle a defense. Like I said yesterday, there's a lot to the RichRod-at-Michigan story that's not known (or not known correctly). At the bottom of every "Rodriguez hired at Arizona" story are a bunch of horrifyingly dumb comments that are causing me to have seizure-like flashbacks to every Michigan message-board discussion from 2008-10. I'd almost moved on.

Let's start with this: Arizona did pretty well for itself. Urban Meyer's not coming to Tucson to take over a program that's roughly the Pac-12 equivalent of Texas Tech or Purdue but with a tougher path to a conference title. Say what you want about the last three years, but when Nick Foles was a freshman, Rich Rodriguez had West Virginia at No. 1 in the country and within four points of the national title game the year after turning down the Alabama job that eventually went to Nick Saban. Saying his stock has dropped would be like saying (insert Enron joke here); that's a given. But he didn't get stupid the day he went to Michigan. Buying low and hoping to get the four-years-ago results instead of the Michigan results is a value** bet.

RichRod can flat-out coach a running game. I watched for three years as Michigan's ground game went from 3.91 yards a carry (about average for the previous decade) to 4.52 (the best Michigan season since before Carr) to 5.58 (basically Oregon). Some of that had to do with the quarterbacks and some of it had to do with the development of the offensive line, but a lot of it was just strategically manufactured via pulling H-backs and using the backside zone to destroy the scrape and embarrassing safeties who did anything other than hang out on the deep hashes. Everything had a purpose and played off of something else; hence my love for bubble screens and high-lowing corners who hang out in the flats. The passing game in general is somewhat rudimentary (it's pretty hard to compare that with what Al Borges is doing), but the aforementioned stuff worked because it was designed entirely to stop defenses from doing what they want to do to defend the spread 'n' shred.

One of the 47,000 soul-punching debates that went on every week in the Michigan blogosphere was whether the offense actually "worked" since most games against real teams ended with Michigan scoring nowhere close to enough points despite racking up a bunch of yards. I will argue until the day I die that the offense was never the problem. When the offense puts up 480 yards and 14 points because Tate Forcier throws three red-zone picks or Denard turns it over four times on the other side of the 50, that's not the offense; that's a first-year starting quarterback doing things first-year starting quarterbacks usually do. RichRod never had the benefit of a second-year starter or a good defense (you know there's more on that coming), which turned out to be a turnover-tastic combination.

The one concern I had/have about his offense is this: It seemed to wane in effectiveness over the course of the season. The passing game is dependent on fairly precise timing/accuracy on the short stuff (I bet Tate Forcier got told "THREE STEPS!" more times than my 4-year-old gets told to stop fighting), and the whole thing is pretty heavily dependent on the quarterback and a bunch of (typically) undersized skill-position guys. The inane "SPREAD DOESN'T WORK RABBLE RABBLE BIG TEN TOUGHNESS RABBLE" stuff came across as pretty dumb when Michigan was easily averaging more yards per carry than Wisconsin, but the passing game did seem to be a lot more closely related to the weather conditions than it should have been. Whether that was a real thing or just an experience issue is hard to say since most of his recruits at Michigan are just now juniors and are now doing entirely different things in the passing game. It also shouldn't matter at all in Tucson (which isn't exactly Madison in terms of November weather), so that's nice.

The transitions have never gone well offensively (first-year records of 2-8, 1-7-1, 3-8, 3-9), so anyone expecting to add water and get instant 2007 West Virginia is in for some serious disappointment. But I have little doubt that within three years, the UA running game will be one of the two or three best in the conference and the offense as a whole will be something of an Oregon Lite that puts up yards and points on the regular. This has never NOT happened at any of his previous stops. The offense will be good.

The defense ... ummm ... yeah. Rodriguez was a linebacker in college who stumbled into one of the brilliant offensive innovations of the past 20 years (the zone read) and apparently never thought about defense again. It's definitely not his specialty, nor should it be since he's the de facto offensive coordinator (he was also the special-teams coach at Michigan, although I have no idea if he'll continue that at Arizona). He won't spend much time on it and therefore lives and dies with the quality of his D-coordinator. At Michigan, he died.

Jeff Casteel could have changed that. A large part of West Virginia's awesomeness under RichRod was a kinda-unique 3-3-5 stack D that didn't get much recognition but was actually pretty good; they've now finished in the top 15 in total defense three times in the past six years and have been in the top 40 every year but one since Casteel became the full-time D-coordinator in '05. The guy knows what he's doing. He also had a deal in place with Michigan (just like every other member of that West Virginia staff other than totally illogical replacement Bill Stewart) before bailing at the last minute when Stewart offered him a significant raise and a three-year guarantee, something Michigan wouldn't match because Michigan is just so awesome that everybody should coach there for free (duh). If Jeff Casteel ends up at Arizona next year, there's a good chance I'll throw something at the wall and start questioning my existence. There's also a good chance Arizona will be really good in the near future.

Casteel aside, a lot of RichRod's defensive problems at Michigan were his own doing. His first outside hire was Stanford D-coordinator Scott Shafer, a.k.a. the blitz-happiest dude this side of Rex Ryan. He runs a 4-3 and brings pressure like a mofo. That's what he does; he does it well. That's also what Michigan did for the first half of '08, when the defense was OK and held a couple teams to less than a billion points. The week leading up to the Purdue game that year was kinda the turning point: Rodriguez somewhat infamously mandated a switch to a 3-3-5 (whether that was truly his decision or a caving to the defensive guys from West Virginia has never been made totally clear) that turned out to be a complete disaster. Proof: Purdue 48, Michigan 42. Shafer was rightfully pissed and demanded a switch back to the 4-3 for the next game, which not coincidentally was a 29-6 road pasting of a decent Minnesota team (this was before Minnesota fell off a cliff). Shafer "resigned" after the season. There's a widely circulated rumor that he agreed to take the blame for everything if Rodriguez would privately acknowledge that defensive backs coach Tony Gibson was "the worst coach in the country." True or not, this is the stupid stuff that happens when you hire a coordinator to do one thing and have a bunch of assistants who do something else.

Also, a picture says 1,000 words:

Y U SO AWFUL??? Hiring a guy who'd taken Syracuse from "bad" to "black hole" turned out to be not such a good idea. Also not a good idea: Forcing another 4-3 guy to run a 3-3-5 that he had no idea how to run (this is what the insider-y people were saying, anyway). The complete lack of competence in every area makes me skeptical that GERG could have produced a decent defense under any circumstances, so it's kinda hard to know exactly what role the force-fed system played. Everything about Michigan's defense the last two years was a complete and total disaster. This can't be understated.

I saw a thread pop up on MGoBlog the other day that was titled something like, "If RichRod learned at anything at Michigan, it's ____." To me, the answer's easy: Find a good defensive coordinator and get out of his way. He hired a pretty good coordinator in Shafer and screwed it up; he hired a bad one in GERG and never got another chance. He's got a fresh start now and a chance to prove that he knows what he doesn't know, if that makes sense. He knows offense and will have success there regardless of just about any/all variables. He doesn't know defense and needs to be find somebody who does. IMO, his ability to do so is what'll determine his degree of success at Arizona. Nobody wins big without a defense. That's the one significant difference between last year's Michigan that lost by five touchdowns to Mississippi State and this year's Michigan that's a win away from a BCS game.

And then there's the other stuff. I could write 3,000 words here just refuting all the garbage that's been printed in the last three years and rehashed in the last 24 hours. Following a team at a micro level obviously provides some perspective; when you see/read/hear everything, you have the context that most people don't have. I don't even know where to start, but I guess the logical place would be the NCAA stuff since that's what everybody seems to be throwing around as "baggage" or whatever.

Without getting into the "everybody does it blah blah" argument, anyone who thinks RichRod runs a rogue program or participates in Tressel-style rules avoidance is a moron and a MORAN:

Since you don't care as much about Michigan football as I do and therefore didn't follow all the small print regarding the NCAA investigation, here's what it boiled down to: 15 minutes of practice-time overage per day (this was due to Michigan compliance director Ann Vollano incorrectly informing the staff that pre-practice stretching was not countable time) and several graduate assistants improperly observing some gray-area 7-on-7 offseason stuff. The latter violation led to this legendary exchange:


Rodriguez reportedly submitted descriptions of the quality-control staffers' job duties to director of football ops Brad Labadie, but they were never actually turned in to the compliance office. If they had been, the compliance people likely would have recognized the problem with QC dudes being involved in voluntary workouts and nipped things in the bud.

The practice-time thing still makes my blood boil because (a) it was an unintentional rules misinterpretation that never should have approached "major violation" status and (b) it only became known because somebody in the athletic department leaked an internal report to the Free Press regarding missing practice forms. There's no good reason to do this other than (insert conspiracy theory here). Long story short: Labadie stopped turning in CARA forms (a Michigan-specific form that serves as a practice log) to the compliance office back in 2007, when Lloyd Carr was still coaching. The coach is not supposed to be involved in these, which seems obvious since he's the one person who might have some motivation to fudge the details. Anyway, this continued for about a year, at which point an internal review turned up a complete lack of football reports and something like 200 emails were exchanged between compliance, Labadie and assistant AD for football Scott Draper. My favorite:
Draper replies that Brad is acquiring the "last remaining signature[s]" from the seniors.
The forms weren't turned in until five months later. There were no player signatures on them. AAAAAARRRRGHGHGHGHGHGH. There's a reason Labadie was gone like a month after the NCAA penalties came down. There's also a reason Michigan successfully argued to have RichRod's "failure to monitor" charge dropped: The whole thing came about because the people in football ops (all of whom were holdovers from at least the Carr era) did absolutely nothing while raking in about $80K a year. West Virginia and Maryland ended up getting secondary violations for the exact same misinterpretations of stretching; the West Virginia thing makes sense since Rodriguez said he'd been using the same practice schedule all along and had never been informed of any issues.

Greg Byrne said this on Tuesday:
"He was very transparent with it, so much so that he said ‘We thought it was OK.’ We looked at it at West Virginia, and they were doing the same things there. Once they knew about it, they addressed it.”
It was painful to watch a guy who seemed to legitimately try to do things the right way get thrown under the bus by everybody with a working internet connection. Like I said earlier: wrong place, wrong time.

I should also go back a little to the unrelated West Virginia stuff. You probably don't care about all the stupid behind-the-scenes stuff that resulted in him bailing for Michigan less than a year after turning down a ridiculous offer from Alabama, but what you might be interested in is the lawsuit that added to the whole "DICKROD IS THE DEVIL" meme that might now be the West Virginia state motto.

Rodriguez had a buyout of $4 million. That's kind of a lot. Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman agreed to pay $2.5 million of it if necessary but wanted it negotiated down, and RichRod figured he could do so. He was wrong; West Virginia never backed down and eventually filed suit for the full amount, at which point Michigan said "oh poop" because Coleman had never told the regents that she'd agreed to pay a big chunk of it. RichRod was told to settle for the full $4 million (he had to pay $1.5 million) and not say anything. That was it.

It probably wouldn't have been an issue in the big picture if not for the other stuff, all of which sort of piled up to make things look a lot worse than they really were. Again, this is why I want to root for RichRod: He got buried in negative PR for a lot of stuff that either wasn't his fault or wasn't controllable. At the end of the day, he deserved/needed to be fired, but that's almost entirely because of the complete lack of progress on defense and the directly related inability to beat anybody decent.

A lot of people say he "never fit." That's true in a sense that the Michigan body rejected him like a mismatched organ from the beginning and made things excessively difficult. Whether he'd have won more games without all that stuff is just as unknowable as the question of whether he'd have kept his job with the same on-field performance but less off-the-field crap (my guess is he was getting fired regardless). I don't think Arizona will have that problem. The status of the program and the general expectations are a little different.

My expectations are what I mentioned before: a great running game (Mike Stoops says "what") and an Oregon Lite offense within about three years. The unknown variables are the defense and his ability to recruit the West Coast (a large majority of his recruiting connections are in the Southeast). That's why I'm so interested to see his staff; with the right people in place, he will win. Without them, he might be a run-oriented Mike Stoops.

*The only reason I'm saying "I want to root for Rich Rodriguez" and not "I'm rooting for Rich Rodriguez" is my mostly nominal allegiance to Arizona State. Dennis Erickson should have been gone a year ago and almost definitely will be gone at some point in the next 12 days; RichRod would've been a hell of a replacement. Alas. It's worth wondering if the Erickson situation gave Greg Byrne a little motivation to get RichRod locked up ASAP. If it works out, he deserves some serious props.

**I read once that every coaching hire is basically a gamble. If you hire Nick Saban, you're going in with pocket aces; that's as close to guaranteed success as you can get. If you hire Brady Hoke, you're going in with 10-9 suited; it's basically a coin flip because of the complete lack of a meaningful track record. I'd say RichRod is about a king-six; his offense alone puts him halfway to success, but halfway isn't all the way.
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