Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bet all your money on all these things happening*

This is the thing I do every year (or almost every year) that will definitely not be embarrassing at all because I'm so good at predicting things. Just look at last year's post:
... the tally goes as follows: 1, 0, 0, 1, 0.5, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0.5. According to the calculator-esque functionality of my brain, that's an amazing six points out of a possible 15, which ... ummm ... I'd rather not think about it as a percentage other than to point out that it's a slight improvement from the patheticness I produced two years ago.
Errr yeah. But I reject your reality and substitute my own:
Alabama will win it all. Oklahoma's the safe pick and will probably go undefeated, but I'm going with Bama on the assumption that the quarterback play will be decent, Trent Richardson will be borderline dominant and the defense will reach or exceed its typical level of awesomeness (just look at the depth chart and then think about who the coach is). The schedule isn't too bad, either: A trip to Florida, a home game against LSU and the finale at Auburn are the only games that seem like plausible losses, and none of those seem particularly daunting right now. So the pick is Alabama.

So ... there will be things written below that will be mind-blowingly prophetic and other things written below that will be only moderately prophetic and possibly a couple other things written below that I will later attibute to Skip Bayless. Figuring out which is which is part of the fun!

Pickin' time? Pickin' time.

LSU will win it all: Thus ends any suspense I created with my post the other day about quarterback experience and LSU's lack thereof. I just look at last year and look at what LSU has returning and then am like, "dang." The big thing, IMO, is that four of the five O-linemen are back and all four of last year's really good running backs are back; the running game is going to be dominant. The pass rush also should be absurd (Odell Beckham and Sam Montgomery wwwhheeeee), and the back seven lost a bunch of guys but still has Tharold Simon and Eric Reid and Kevin Minter and some other dudes who came with a bajillion stars and have accumulated some not-insignificant experience in backup roles over the last year or two. So that top-five-at-everything defense might regress to a top-15-at-everything defense; that's still pretty good. Whether Zach Mettenberger is better than last year's quarterbacks shouldn't matter much because of said defense, but his juco/backup experience and recruiting hype provide a couple reasons to think that he might be. Unless South Carolina or Arkansas turns out to be better than I expect, LSU should be heavily favored in every game except the Bama one, which will probably be almost as significant as last year's. Barring a loss there, I think LSU runs the table and beats Oregon (more on that momentarily) in the title game.

Oregon will win the Pac-12: Here's the thing about Oregon and USC: They're both so much better than everybody else in the Pac-12 that the winner of their game is probably gonna run the table. USC has more pure talent on offense (especially at receiver) but has some serious weaknesses on defense, especially on the line. Oregon has Chip Kelly therefore will average 40-some points per game regardless of whether Marcus Mariotta is ready; there are three returning linemen and Kenjon Barner will go crazy and DeAnthony Thomas will run for 80 yards a game on like two carries and yadda yadda yadda. The defense lost some guys but returns more, including at least one really good player at every level, and has a bunch of uber-talented young dudes who signed up to wear ridiculous uniforms and have virtual-reality machines in their lockers. And here's the other thing about Oregon and USC: Their game is on November 3, by which point Mariotta should have a much better idea of what he's doing and the offense should be accordingly crushing fools. Going back a couple years, Oregon went to the title game in 2010 with Darron Thomas as a first-year starter (albeit as a redshirt sophomore); I say they do it again this year, mostly because their weaknesses on defense are less weak than USC's weaknesses on defense (if that makes sense).

Matt Barkley will win the Heisman: In case the previous paragraph wasn't clear enough, USC will probably finish 11-1; Matt Barkley will probably be the primary reason for that. The existence of Silas Redd will be beneficial in terms of creating something resembling balance but won't stop Lane Kiffin from going ham with Barkley and Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, those two being two of the five best receivers in the country. USC will put up a lot of points. The other thing Barkley's got going for him (in terms of the Heisman) is a general lack of plausible alternatives. I love Denard but ... I mean ... Michigan's schedule. Yikes. Getting Michigan through that gauntlet at 11-1 would probably be sufficient to win the thing but seems relatively unlikely. And Montee Ball put up almost 2,000 yards and roughly 4,000 touchdowns last year and still didn't come close to beating out RGIII or Andrew Luck. I think Wisconsin Running Back Awesomeness (TM) has become comparable to Houston Quarterback Number Absurdity in that the assessment of the player gets downgraded (fairly or not) by an undetermined-but-not-ignorable amount. There's also Marcus Lattimore, but he's a maybe depending on his knee. So ... Barkley it is.

Michigan will go 9-3: This team is almost definitely better than last year's team; only the D-line (which still has a lot of talent) and receiver (which still has most of the same guys but doesn't have Junior Hemingway) lost significant pieces. This team also has a waaaaay more horrifying schedule than last year's team and thus won't win 11 games unless ... ummm ... I don't even know. The defense would have to be just as good (possible) and Denard would have to be 2005 Vince Young (probably not), I guess. There's not really a game on the schedule after Bama that Michigan shouldn't win, but at Notre Dame, Michigan State, Iowa, at Nebraska and at Ohio State? I think there'll be a loss or two in there. If not, Brady Hoke for President. Brady Hoke for Everything.

Wisconsin will win the Big Ten: Michigan is probably better, but Wisconsin has by far the easiest path to the conference title game since (a) Ohio State is ineligible and (b) the rest of the division is a wasteland. Wisconsin won't be as good as last year with Russell Wilson and three really good linemen and most of the offensive coaching staff gone, but 10-2 is still pretty doable given the guys who are coming back and the schedule. I'm not really sure who comes out of the other division. Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska all could realistically win it and all play at least two of the four other excellent-ish Big Ten teams on the road. That's part of the reason I'm picking Wisconsin to win the conference, BTW; just picking who's gonna GET to the title game out of the other division is a crapshoot. I guess I'll go with the let's-jinx-'em method and take Michigan State.

Ohio State will go 9-3: It's probably worth noting that Urban Meyer has a pretty decent track record in his various debut seasons; his collective record is 27-9. Ohio State returns basically everything on defense and a lot on offense but was so awful offensively last year that expecting a jump to awesomeness just because Urban Meyer is God is probably unreasonable. Braxton Miller will eventually be very good; he'll probably just be pretty good this year. There's also a distinct lack of experience at running back with Jordan Hall out and a distinct lack of anything at receiver with DeVier Posey gone. All that said, a 10-0 start isn't totally out of the realm of possibility (closing stretch: at Wisconsin, Michigan), but the volume of games against average-to-good teams before that probably produces a loss or two. Probably.

Penn State will be pretty bad: It's hard to know exactly what "pretty bad" translates to record-wise since Bill O'Brien has absolutely zero history as a head coach or a college anything. What is known is that Penn State has lost its top four receivers, top two tight ends and top two running backs from last year due to either transfer, graduation or dismissal. There is nobody on the roster who had more than four catches last year; that honor belongs to sophomore wideout Shawney Kersey. Also of note: Matt McGloin was 89th in the country in pass efficiency last year and probably won't be a lot better with nobody to give/throw the ball to. And Tom Bradley is gone. Just based on the talent that didn't leave, Penn State is probably still better than Indiana and Northwestern, and in the nonconference portion of the schedule, Virginia is the only team resembling good. But man ... I think 3-1 in nonconference play and 2-6 in Big Ten play are realistic expectations. And things will probably be a lot worse three years from now.

Oklahoma will be better: And by "be better" I mean "11-1." I dunno what happened to Landry Jones at the end of last year but don't really see any reason to expect him to continue doing that rather than reverting to what he'd done the previous two and a half seasons. There's nothing super exciting at running back or receiver other than Kenny Stills, but the offense will be plenty good and the defense will be a little better at not getting torched if for no other reason than the NFL's yoinking of RGIII from Baylor and Brandon Weeden from Oklahoma State. The West Virginia game should be the biggest concern given Geno Smith's awesomeness and the way the aforementioned guys lit up the Oklahoma secondary last year, but Mike Stoops should be of some benefit there. The thing that probably stops Oklahoma from being a legit title contender: The last three games are at West Virginia, Oklahoma State, at TCU. There's also the Texas game, obviously, and I don't think OU gets through all that unbeaten. Probably the more meaningful question is which game Oklahoma loses; if it's West Virginia, I think West Virginia wins the Big 12. But I dunno if West Virginia is quite that good yet.

The SEC will still be pretty good: Insert Gary Danielson reference here. The loser of the LSU-Bama game (I'm saying Bama, obviously) probably goes 11-1 unless Arkansas beats one of them, which means Arkansas probably goes 11-1 (probably not), and regardless of what happens in the West, Georgia doesn't play any of those three teams and therefore has a pretty good chance at 11-1 or maybe even 12-0 if the defense plays as awesomely as last year and Aaron Murray makes The Leap. In other words, this year will probably be like last year: There will be three SEC teams in the top five-ish, and at least one of them will get left out of the BCS because of that unfair conference limitation.

Arkansas won't be last year's Arkansas: I wrote almost this exact same thing last year but feel obligated to replicate it now that John L. Smith (?!?) is in charge: I just don't think Arkansas is gonna be a top-10 team. The receiving corps has been decimated, the defense still won't be very good and the schedule includes two probable losses and about four more possible losses. There's also definite drop-off potential in the passing game with Bobby Petrino loving him some volleyball players rather than calling plays. To clarify, I think Arkansas will be good but not good enough to win 11 games again with a pretty-dang-tough schedule and John L. Smith being John L. Smith. Prediction: 9-3.

Florida State will win the ACC: I know, man. I know. I almost picked Virginia Tech -- Florida State has to go to Blacksburg in November -- but I didn't. Obviously. The force is strong with this team; Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard just picked FSU to win it all, which is most definitely not what I'm doing. I just think FSU is the best of a comparable three-team group that also includes Va. Tech and Clemson. Not counting an Oklahoma put-away touchdown, Florida State's four losses last year were by a combined 14 points, and there's nobody as good as last year's Oklahoma on this year's schedule. I don't think they go unbeaten since the running game is still nonexistent and the O-line will probably get E.J. Manuel killed at some point, but the defense hoo boy dadgum. So I'm gonna go with 10-2 rather than 12-0 since it's Florida State and this is going to end badly.

Boise State will be dominant (kind of): I'm pretty sure I make this prediction every year so hey tradition let's do it: As is the norm for Boise, the first game is the toughest one. If they get past Sparty, they probably run the table. Keep in mind that TCU is in the Big 12 now, which means the Mountain West is basically Boise and a pile of poo. First-year starting quarterback blah blah blah; it's pretty hard to envision Boise losing any of the games in the post-Michigan State portion of the schedule other than maybe the one at Southern Miss in October and/or the finale at Nevada in December. As for getting to that portion of the schedule unbeaten ... ehhh ... no. Prediction: 11-1.

Notre Dame will be something: Yeah. Something. The schedule is just so absurd after the first two games (both of which are losable): at Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, Stanford, BYU, at Oklahoma, Pitt, at Boston College, Wake Forest, at USC. I think the best-case scenario is probably 8-4, and that means winning every single game other than the ones in which ND will be an underdog. Realistically, 7-5 is more likely, and that's counting on some of the close losses last year swinging the other way despite having a freshman at quarerback and nothing at cornerback. Anything better than either of those numbers should result in Brian Kelly being named Coach of the Year and Notre Dame getting a BCS berth. I don't think those things happen, obviously; I do think Kelly does OK enough to get at least another year, though. I'm going with 7-5.

ASU will go 5-7: I wrote something along these lines the other day in an official capacity: Figuring out whether ASU is gonna be pretty bad or pretty good is pretty hard because there are just a lot of games against similarly meh teams. Probably the only definitely-not-winnable games are the ones against Oregon and USC, and probably the only not-losable game is the opener against NAU. Everything else? I dunno. But I gotta pick something, so I say they'll beat NAU, Illinois, Colorado and two of the decent-but-not-great group of Utah, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State. As for specifics, the running game should be pretty good; the passing game will not. Taylor Kelly might be OK-ish but won't produce much in the way of big plays, and Michael Eubank might be starting by midseason but will be way more of a threat this year with his legs than his arm. The defense will be about average. Also, yes, Todd Graham will still be at ASU next year, mostly because no one else will consider hiring him given his affinity for Kiffin-ing and his (at that point) two straight .500-ish seasons.

Arizona will go 6-6: I've been trying to tell people for a while that, based on what I've seen, Arizona's offense will be pretty good. Matt Scott is freakin' perfect for that offense, and KaDeem Carey and Daniel Jenkins are both good enough to put up a lot of yards given the opportunities RichRod will get them. Carey might be a first-team All-Pac-12 guy if the O-line is anything other than craptacular. That said, the defense will be pretty bad. Jeff Casteel is a really good coordinator and will probably produce something respectable (or better) in a couple years but has zero to work with right now. The games against Oklahoma State, Oregon and USC will probably be ugly. Stanford and Washington might be, too; the rest are winnable, especially once the offense kinda knows what it's doing. I'm gonna call Utah as a sixth loss and the rest as wins, which means a .500 finish and an uninspiring bowl game. Woo.

Louisville will win the Big East: A bunch of text would go here if anybody cared about the Big East; nobody does. I will say this: Louisville is getting picked to win by just about everybody but, IMO, is also being overrated because Teddy Bridgewater is now a super-sexy sophomore. South Florida is probably a slightly better team but (a) has B.J. Daniels, who should never, ever be trusted, and (b) a tougher schedule, one that includes a trip to Louisville. And those two teams are pretty easily the best of an awful Big East that might not finish with a ranked team unless Louisville gets to 10-2, which is possible because of the awfulness.

There will be a lot of touchbacks: The ball comes out to the 25 now; bringing it out from six or seven or eight yards deep -- which is what guys have been doing on the regular in the NFL -- doesn't make any sense in college since it means (a) needing about a 35-yard return to do anything better than break even and (b) opening up the possibilities of terrible field position and fumbles and whatnot. An arbitrary guesstimate based on nothing: The percentage of kickoffs (which are from the 35 now rather than the 30) resulting in touchbacks will be close to (and maybe above) 50 percent.

Totally ridiculous bowl-game projections: Oh yay. This. BTW, most of the BCS bids are already accounted for in the stuff written above; this is just sort of a composite accumulation that also accounts for conference tie-ins and the at-large/top-10-ish teams, thus guaranteeing a certain (and by "certain" I mean "large") degree of wrongness. So ... I'll go with USC and Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Oklahoma and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, Alabama and West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl and Florida State and Louisville in the Orange Bowl.

So ... that's that. Interesting fact: I just produced 3,000 words of preview-type material in less than three hours. Take that for what it's worth when considering the accuracy of said words; as always, the accuracy bar is set at "anywhere above Mark May/Lou Holtz inanity." In that regard, I'm feelin' pretty good.

*Don't do that.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Summer just wasn't my season

I overslept this morning, and by "overslept" I mean "woke up to the realization that my alarm had been going off for about 25 minutes." I'm not sure how I continued sleeping for 25 minutes despite despite a high-pitched ringing sound being blasted into my eardrum from a couple feet away, but I did. Sleeeeeeeeeep.

Anyway, I started doing all my typical get-ready-to-go-to work crap without really thinking, and it wasn't until I was standing in the shower trying to awaken from my nine-hour slumber that I had an epiphany: Today is August 29. Tomorrow is August 30.

Summer (at least my interpretation of it) is over. Thank God.
. . . . . .

One of the few things I very specifically remember from my early years of high school was a day in gym that featured absolutely nothing -- and I do mean absolutely nothing. A little bit of backstory: The previous day's class (if gym can be called a class), for some reason, was led by a substitute who pretty obviously wasn't a regular gym teacher. For lack of alternative ideas or possibly at the discretion of somebody possessed by pure evil, his directions were as follows: Go to the track and run until class is over. In my mind, this was the worst idea ever, just slightly worse than hiring Ron Zook to decide football-related things.

So we went to the track and -- us being high schoolers and this dude being a sub -- just walked around it for the entire time rather than running since, ya know, running is awful unless your lungs are the size of a truck. I might have run for the first two minutes; that was the extent of my effort. The rest of the time was spent leisurely strolling, checking out the (very few) attractive girls in relatively scanty gym attire and just generally trying to pretend I wasn't supposed to be running.

That turned out to be not such a good idea since our perfect caricature of a gym teacher (except with a mustache) came back the next day and handed down the most absurd punishment in the history of ever: Sit on the gym floor and don't talk or move or do anything else until the end of "class." So that's what happened. I spent 50-ish minutes doing literally nothing except getting a sore ass from sitting on a hardwood floor and experimenting unsuccessfully with telekinesis. I can actually think of a bunch of things that would've be worse but nothing that could possibly have been more boring.

The reason that story has any relevance to anything: That hour is basically what summer has become for me. There's nothing. There's nothing except waiting and waiting and waiting for anything other than the nothing. That's it. There are glorious explosions of awesomeness that last from August to January and then get ripped away and replaced by a kind of boredom and depression that can only be cured by the thing they replaced, and there's no way to reproduce that thing until summer is over and it's just there again, so inviting and just as gloriously awesome as before and forcing you to wonder why it ever had to leave.

It's there again. It's there again, which means I took the time out of my day ignored work today long enough to re-read possibly the greatest thing ever written and will now blockquote it because I must:
The whistle blows. The conferences order themselves. Then you will face the winter again, holding the note and understanding the urge to write those words on a sheet of paper: "Football season is over."

The experience, though, is now more than enough. The wind may cut through me now. It's an indicator that I'm alive, completely and fully alive in the indefinite span between arrivals and departures. This all matters so much more now, all of it, football and every other absurd fixation, the time, the space, the diversion, and most of all who you share it with, because it is finite, borrowed, and ultimately reclaimed. Its scarcity is its value; its pleasure is in its ultimate end. Its consolation is its rebirth and continuation.

In the depth of winter I finally learned there was in me an eternal September. This definite, very real September I'm writing in, however, is the only place and time I want or need.  Football season is over; football season has begun. The rest is life, and it can and will wait until February, the question that always answers itself by becoming March, and then April, and then back to September again.
Life can wait until February. Let's do this.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Quarterback experience and LSU's title hopes

Somebody at ESPN sent out a tweet (I can no longer find it) back when the coaches' poll came out that stuck in my head briefly and then drifted away because I was doped up on muscle relaxers during The Legendary Plague of 2012. It went something like this: "LSU gets nod in coaches poll despite not having a returning starter at QB."

To clarify, the last eight words were the ones of interest -- and they're of even more interest now that I'm looking at all these various preview-type things with the season two days away and wondering who (realistically) can/will win it all. LSU is almost unquestionably a championship-caliber team but, as mentioned above, does not have a returning starting quarterback, which seems a little surprising in a sense that, ya know, quarterbacks are kinda important and seem to be a lot better once they know what they're doing.

So here are the appropriate questions I'd like to answer before deciding whether I'm gonna actually pick LSU to be this year's Best Team Ever when I have to pick that stuff: (a) How important/beneficial are experienced quarterbacks and (b) how hard is it to win a national title without an experienced quarterback?

The first of those questions isn't particularly easy to quantify since it's a team game. The Mathlete over at MGoBlog ran some numbers a couple years ago compiled from five years' worth of NCAA data and got some information that will be relatively useful here; it's far from perfect but is still useful.

Here's the relevant portion (a bit of explanation: the 120 teams were split into 12 deciles based on number of returning starts at each position):
Bottom two deciles = death!

Teams in the bottom two deciles, on average, were 4.1 points per game (3 points per game = about 1 win over the course of a season) worse (than the year before). ...

Overall, the impact of a returning QB starts goes beyond the passing game.  Each decile of experience is worth about a quarter of a point per game passing but about a third of a point a game per decile on total offense.
So the correlation between offensive productivity and quarterback experience is fairly linear until the bottom 15-ish percent, at which point there's a cliff that ideally would never be approached but sometimes must be.

Zach Mettenberger has zero career stats, which means LSU will be at the bottom-est bottom of the bottom of whatever the bottom decile of experience is called. That's not a good starting point but might not equal death; more on that momentarily. Just keep in mind that the numbers above are based on five-year averages across all of college football and thus will include some exceptions among the rule-proving data.

Going back to the questions toward the top of this post, the second one is much easier to answer than the first. In the BCS era (that's where I'm cutting it off because I said so), nine quarterbacks have entered a season with zero or negligible starting experience and ended said season with a national title. That's, like, a lot, especially considering what was just established about the importance of returning quarterbacks. And this isn't a going-away trend since it includes four of the last six (!!!) championship-winning QBs.

That would seem to indicate that a lot of the exceptions to the bottom-deciles-equals-death rule are the ones that win everything. Why is that the case? I dunno for sure, but I have an idea.

A glance at the numbers for those 10 teams shows the following rankings in scoring defense ...

'97 Michigan: first
'98 Tennessee: ninth
'00 Oklahoma: seventh
'02 Ohio State: second
'03 USC: 17th
'07 LSU: 17th
'09 Alabama: second
'10 Auburn: 53rd
'11 Alabama: first

... and the following rankings in passing yards:

'97 Michigan: N/A (the NCAA database doesn't go back far enough, unfortunately)
'98 Tennessee: 73rd
'00 Oklahoma: fifth
'02 Ohio State: 62nd
'03 USC: 14th
'07 LSU: 59th
'09 Alabama: 52nd
'10 Auburn: 36th*
'11 Alabama: 53rd

2010 is starred because Cam Newton had a bajillion total yards and a trillion touchdowns; he just did more of his damage on the ground. Other than that, the only quarterback who really had a significant role in his team actually being awesome was the 2000 version of Josh Huepel, who came from a juco, sat for a year and then was the Heisman runner-up in his one year as the starter. Matt Leinart was pretty good in 2003, too. Everybody else won not because of the quarterback but largely because of an awesome defense that finished somewhere between first and 17th in the country in points allowed.

Upshot: It is definitely possible to win with a mediocre/not-heavily-relied-upon quarterback -- it's actually been relatively common over the past 15 years -- but only with a really good defense that can remove a lot of that guy's importance. An excellent running game also helps since every one of the above-listed teams except Oklahoma and USC finished in the top 20 in the country in rushing.

So ... LSU. When I said a bunch of grafs ago that Mettenberger's lack of experience "might not equal death," I was referring to two things. The first: The amount of win-us-games-plz pressure that will be placed on him, which won't be much. LSU returns four of five starting offensive linemen and all of the top four running backs from last year, when the rushing offense was 22nd nationally; they'll be very good in that regard. They'll also be very good on defense (even without Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne) due to a hilariously talented front seven, a couple still-pretty-good players in the secondary and the best punter in the country. Mettenberger won't be asked to account for 65 percent of the offense like Cam Newton was at Auburn.

The second: The guys he's replacing weren't particularly good last year (at least not against real teams), when LSU was still easily the best team in the country until a thoroughly uninspiring performance in the title game. LSU was an awful 106th in passing yards per game (152.6) but a decent 24th in pass efficiency because of the aforementioned running game. Being able to just pulverize people at about 5.5 yards per carry makes things waaaaay easier on whoever's taking snaps since everybody has to put nine guys in the box to mitigate that productivity and thus leave receivers running wide open.

BTW, that Mathlete data set found that returning starts on the O-line are a lot like returning starts at quarterback: There's not a huge difference between having a ton of starts and having just a good amount, but having none or almost none is devastating. LSU definitely doesn't have the latter problem. And while Mettenberger does have the former problem, it's worth noting that he did have a full year of playing time at a juco and a full year of sitting/learning at LSU before getting thrown onto the field this season, which puts him in a pretty comparable position to the ones Huepel and Newton were in heading into their respective years of awesomeness. He was also a borderline five-star recruit and isn't lacking for talent, FWIW.

To that end, I don't have any idea whether Mettenberger will be "better" (a somewhat-subjective term) this year than the bleh Zach Lee/Jordan Jefferson combo was last year, but I'm pretty sure (a) he'll be at least decent and (b) it won't matter a whole lot given the LSU running game, defense and schedule, which doesn't feature a really plausible loss until November and includes Alabama at home.

This is where I make a conclusion-type thing. It's this: As far as LSU is concerned, the trend of teams with good defenses and good running games winning titles, IMO, offsets the trend that shows teams without any returning experience at quarterback falling off the proverbial cliff offensively. I just don't see any reason to think that happens with LSU, and with the other stuff being somewhere in the range of "pretty good" to "awesome," a comparably meh quarterback performance this year shouldn't be the thing that stops LSU from winning it all unless "meh" becomes "ugh" at an inopportune time, which is definitely possible.

As for whether that happens, I'm reserving the Forever Saturday Official Prediction for the Forever Saturday Official Prediction post that will be available for viewing/laughter at some point in the next 48 hours.

Catching up is almost there (almost there!!!)

Ah just like the old days: Will Muschamp totally wants to be the OBC:
Florida football coach Will Muschamp still isn’t naming a starter for Saturday’s opener against Bowling Green. However, he did indicate the method by which sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel would be substituted. Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease have decided to rotate the two after the first quarter.

“Brent and I right now plan to play one in the first quarter -- we haven’t made that decision yet (on the starter) -- and another in the second quarter. Then, at halftime, make a decision on how we move forward.”
Sweet. It's like 1996 except with Florida's offense being crappy instead of awesome.

FYI, Brissett and Driskell were similarly craptastic last year as true freshmen: Brissett was 18 for 39 with two touchdowns and four interceptions (ugh) and Driskell was 16 for 34 with no touchdowns and two picks (also ugh). They're also similarly athletic; the only real difference between the two is that Driskell came in as a mega recruit (the top QB in the country, according to Scout) back in his day and probably has slightly more talent in terms of arm strength and whatnot, but that doesn't mean much at this point.

Not drugs? LSU might be down a couple kinda-important guys this year because of academic shenanigans:
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, running back Michael Ford and linebacker Tahj Jones, both juniors, have some academic eligibility issues to resolve before they can play this season.

LSU coach Les Miles confirmed that there was some hurdles for the two players to overcome:

"There is some appeal process that's being undertaken for those guys, and we'll kind of have to wait to see how that all turns out as we get closer to the game," Miles said.
It seems reasonable to assume that a ruling -- not a good one -- has already been made if it's into the appeals process. What's unclear thus far is whether that ruling is specifically in regards to the North Texas game or the season as a whole; I'd think it'd be the latter if it's an academic thing but can't find any particular evidence of such.

So ... umm ... yeah. Ford was LSU's leading rusher last year with 756 yards but was listed third on the depth chart and even with second-leading rusher Spencer Ware, which means both guys were surpassed in camp by nominal starter Alfred Blue (539 yards and seven touchdowns last year) and Kenny Hilliard, a big-time recruit last year who got 62 carries as a freshman and scored eight touchdowns (!) on those 62 carries. Depth: There's plenty. As for Jones, he was the starter at one of the outside linebacker spots heading into fall camp but was then beaten out by Luke Muncie. He probably would be/would have been one of the top guys off the bench.

Seeing as how LSU plays a game in four days, there should be a relatively immediate ruling on both guys that should, in theory, provide a little clarity as to whether this is a short-term or long-term thing (or neither).

Da'Rick Rodgers has much patience: Da'Rick Rodgers' indefinite suspension at Tennessee lasted all of four days and ended only in the most technical and voluntary way:
Da'Rick Rogers officially has left Tennessee's football team.

The former all-Southeastern Conference wide receiver has transferred to Football Championship Subdivision program Tennessee Tech, the school confirmed Monday afternoon. The move was announced four days after Tennessee indefinitely suspended Rogers for a violation of team rules.

Sources told that Rogers' dismissal came after multiple violations of the school's substance-abuse policy for athletes.
Tennessee Tech presumably either doesn't test for pot or doesn't care. In related news, the entire SEC has transferred to the FCS.

Henry Josey ouch: This isn't particulary surprising but is still kinda tragic:
Missouri tailback Henry Josey will not play this year after injuring his left knee in November against Texas.

Tigers coach Gary Pinkel says Josey is expected to make a full recovery. He says he saw Josey running during practice Sunday.

Josey tore his ACL, MCL and patellar tendon against the Longhorns, requiring two surgeries -- one following the injury and another in the spring.
That injury was reportedly "one in a million" in terms of its complete devastation. Insightful analysis: That's not good for a running back. It's also not particularly good for Missouri seeing as how Josey was the team's leading rusher last year with 1,168 yards (in 10 games) and nine touchdowns.

If there's any good news it's that Josey's only a junior and has a redshirt available (he'd get a medical one even if he didn't), meaning that if he can come back relatively healthy in 2013, he'll have two years of eligibility left to display whatever ability he's got left.

Boise State makes it official: Joe Southwick will be the starting quarterback:
Three years of patience and preparation paid off for Boise State junior quarterback Joe Southwick.

Southwick will make his first career start Friday night at No. 13 Michigan State, coach Chris Petersen announced Sunday.

Southwick joined the team in August 2009, was the Offensive Scout Player of the Year as a redshirt that season and served as the backup to Kellen Moore the past two seasons. He beat out three younger players for the starting job. Sophomore Grant Hedrick is the backup, redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea is No. 3 and true freshman Nick Patti likely will redshirt.
That announcement was basically a formality given that Southwick actually has some experience (albeit mostly meaningless experience) and the other guys don't. It's worth noting that Petersen has always valued said experience, although that's been somewhat forgotten since Kellen Moore took over one year after Jared Zabransky left (!!!) and started 1,000 games in a row. Roughly.

Anyway, Southwick's career numbers: 40 of 54 with two touchdowns and a pick, with all of those numbers accumulated in mop-up duty. His first career start will be an undoubtedly super-fun opener against Michigan State in three days. Wwwhheeeee. Based on recent history, he'll probably win that game and then all but about one throughout the rest of his career.

What's the problem? Dwayne Beckford might possibly kinda sorta have a problem with authority:
Purdue has suspended troubled linebacker Dwayne Beckford indefinitely after he was arrested earlier Monday.

"It's unfortunate that Dwayne allegedly violated some of the terms of his probationary status," Boilermakers coach Danny Hope said in a statement. "Once we examine all the details that led to today's development, we will make a decision on his long-term status with the team."

The 6-foot-1, 228-pound senior was arrested in December on a drunken-driving charge for his third brush with Tippecanoe County law enforcement of the year. He was suspended for Purdue's bowl game and for the second semester last year by the school and the team. Beckford was reinstated in May.
Impressive. Beckford was Purdue's second-leading tackler last year (departed senior Joe Holland was first) with 84 tackles and is/was supposed to be the starting middle linebacker on a probably average-ish defense with an otherwise-inexperienced group of linebackers. It won't be a surprise if he's never heard from again (at least not at Purdue) given the previous suspensions and incessant shenanigans. We'll see.

Oh of course: Michael Dyer has enrolled at Arkansas Baptist College, a school I'd literally never heard of before 30 second ago. ABC (lol) apparently has a football team; regardless, Dyer won't be playing this year and instead will be working toward his associate's degree. I have nothing to add here.

This makes perfect sense: The FCS is reportedly thinking about changing its name since (a) there are zero people in the world who recognize the acronym "FCS" without thinking about which one is the FBS and which one is the FCS and (b) it doesn't serve its intended purpose of fading the line between the two divisions (from a competitive standpoint). Mind-blowing revelation:
"The reality is, there's going to be a label used somewhere to differentiate between the Nebraskas of the world and the Woffords and Georgia Southerns of the world."
Mind blown.

I don't really understand the purpose of changing a name people haven't really gotten used to yet to a different name they also won't get used to for a bunch of years, but if they're gonna change it, there's only one possible solution: I-AA, man. Do it.

Just because: This is so awesome.

I want it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

This definitely happened

All the schedules I've seen that have the season starting Thursday must be incorrect based on this thing that came across the wires Monday night from AP and was thus disseminated by every site that automatically pulls AP content:
PASADENA, Calif. – Bob Jones threw three touchdown passes, including the game-winner with 10 seconds left, as UCLA stunned Oregon 21-20 on Saturday night.

A couple obvious questions I have following a totally real game (see the pic?!?) that was apparently added to the schedule without anybody knowing: Why was I not watching? What happened to Oregon's offense? How good is UCLA? And what happened to Brett Hundley?

The answer to all those questions: Bob Jones for Heisman. Bob Jones FTW.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Notre Dame's offense will be, um, interesting

Brian Kelly probably would prefer it if his guys would stop doing stupid things; Cierre Wood cares not for what Brian Kelly prefers. The guy-doing-stupid-thing news du jour:
Notre Dame suspended running back Cierre Wood for the first two games of the season on Sunday.

Wood, a senior, will not travel to Saturday's opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.
Word on the interwebs is that he failed a team drug test for weed. Derp. Obligatory gif:

Wood was somewhat quietly a pretty good player last year: He finished with averages of about 90 yards and a touchdown on a little under 20 carries a game. He's pretty quick and a better-than-average receiver and generally a significant part of the Notre Dame offense, as evidenced by the complete lack of playing time for the guys behind him on the depth chart. Theo Riddick is the presumptive starter in his absence and has a total of 54 career carries while splitting time between running back and the slot, and George Atkinson III has been getting a lot of talk from Notre Dame people because of his kick-return goodness last year but has all of nine career carries for 27 yards. In other words, neither one of those guys has ever gotten anything resembling meaningful playing time at running back.

And therein lies the problem: The two games Wood will miss will also be the first two games of Everett Golson's career, and there will be some typical freshman-quarterback DISASTER moments. Not having a known quantity back there with him to hand the ball to in an effort to mitigate those moments creates a suboptimal scenario since either (a) Golson will have to take on more of the load or (b) a pair of guys who have never done anything of significance at running back will have to combine for Wood's typical 20 carries (plus whatever would normally go to the backups).

The good news: the schedule. The line for the Navy game moved down all of a half a point (from -17 to -16.5) after the Wood suspension came out, and Notre Dame's second game is at home against a decent-but-not-great Purdue team that'll probably be an underdog by roughly the same amount. Anything more than two games would've been pretty devastating since the schedule after the aforementioned games goes at Michigan State, Michigan, Miami, at Stanford. Yeesh.

As for the bad news, refer to the graf above. Anything that makes either of those first two games more losable is problematic in a sense that anything better than a 2-0 start would be freakin' disastrous for Kelly. It's not hard to envision an 0-4 record in those next four games, and with road games against Oklahoma and USC in the final five weeks ... I mean ... yeah. Kelly will probably get another year thanks to that contract extension he just signed but probably couldn't survive a 5-7 debacle, which would be totally plausible if Notre Dame doesn't win those first two games and figure out WTF this year's offense is gonna be.

So yeah ... the Domers will probably survive. Unless they don't.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Catching up still thinks Derek Dooley works out

Y U DO THAT? Derek Dooley's Project Don't Get Fired is off to a less-than-spectacular start:
Tennessee All-SEC receiver Da'Rick Rogers has been indefinitely suspended from the team, the university announced, and coach Derek Dooley said after practice Thursday that he does not expect Rogers to be with the team at all this season.

Sources told that Rogers' suspension came after multiple violations of the school's substance abuse policy for athletes.

"When you get into the coaching profession, you quickly learn that probably the No. 1 professional hazard is the behavior of 18- to 22-year-olds," Dooley said in a statement.
Touche. He and Tyrann Mathieu should, like, hang out and stuff.

Anyway, Rogers had 67 catches (the most in the conference) for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a sophomore. He's a legit talent who would've been one half of a pretty excellent receiving corps along with Justin Hunter, who missed most of last year with a torn ACL but is back now and better be 100 percent since Tennessee's offense will desperately need him.

According to ESPN and AP and everybody else, Rogers' spot will most likely go to spectacularly named transfer Cordarrelle Patterson, a 6-foot-4 dude who had a bajillion catches the last couple years in junior college and then got offers from most of the SEC and Big 12. He's talented but probably won't be comparable to what Rogers would've been this year.

As for Rogers, no word yet on whether he's looking at transferring; he'd have to do so in literally the next week since classes are starting everywhere. IMO, it's a lot more likely that he sticks it out at Tennessee since Dooley is only saying that it's "unlikely" (and therefore not totally improbable) that he could be back on the team at some point this season, which would be swell for Rogers and maybe even sweller for Dooley.

This seems like an appropriate spot for this thing:


Speaking of guys with drug problems: Tyrann Mathieu won't be playing football this year:
Tyrann Mathieu will not play football this season and continues to focus on working on himself, his adoptive father Tyrone told ESPN's Joe Schad on Thursday.

Tyrone Mathieu said last week that the 20-year-old cornerback and punt returner known as the "Honey Badger" has been at the Right Step recovery center and is being counseled by former NBA player John Lucas. Lucas battled substance abuse during his pro career and now mentors others who have dependency issues.
That would presumably increase the possibility of a return to LSU if LSU is willing to reconsider that "permanently ineligible" thing, which it will. He'll also have the option of entering next year's draft regardless of his playing status but would be doing so with a year of no football and a known drug problem; that seems unlikely but plausible. We'll see. I don't have much else to add here except that bypassing football in favor of rehab is probably the right move for a guy who obviously needs rehab.

Oregon O RLY? Oregon has a starting quarterback whose name isn't Brian Bennett:
Redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota has been named the starting quarterback for the Oregon Ducks.

Mariota beat out third-year sophomore Bryan Bennett during a seven-month competition that began in January after Oregon's all-time touchdown passes leader, Darron Thomas, decided to forgo his senior year to enter the NFL Draft.

Mariota was given the nod by the fifth-ranked Ducks after a final test in a scrimmage Thursday.
I couldn't possibly have been more wrong in spring when I said/wrote something along the lines of "Oregon is having a make-believe quarterback competition." The lesson: Chip Kelly does what he wants whateva.

Bennett started three games last year when Darron Thomas was hurt -- with two of those coming when LaMichael James was also out -- and averaged an absurd 8.7 yards a carry while throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions and putting up 43 points a game. Oregon's running game would have unquestionably been somewhere between "awesome" and "HOLY LORD" with Bennett as the starter, which was the expectation until Mariota pwned him in the spring game by going 18 of 26 for 202 yards and a touchdown and running for 99 yards and two TDs. That's the extent of Mariota's production history since he's a redshirt freshman; still, it's reasonable to assume that Mariota must've been pretty freakin' good throughout the offseason given what Bennett has done in, like, actual games.

FYI, Mariota is somewhat of a Thomas clone at 6-foot-4 but a better runner (keep in mind that Thomas was largely a pocket passer last year; he had no more than 10 attempts or 60 yards in any game and had only about 300 yards for the season). Talent will not be as much of an issue as readiness, which is pretty uknowable for a young guy with zero on-field experience, especially a young guy with zero on-field experience who played his high school football in Hawaii.

Regardless, given Oregon's hilarious amount of talent at running back, Chip Kelly's respectable track record with first-year quarterbacks and a schedule that's lacking serious competition until November 3, I still think Oregon can win it all. No pressure, dude.

Notre Dame makes it official: As expected, Everett Golson will start for Notre Dame in the opener and probably beyond (unless he's not good, in which case he might not even start the second half of the opener). So that's that. The only moderately surprising portion of Thursday's announcement was that there won't be any Andrew Hendrix-specific packages:
Kelly noted, "Everett's the starter, and if things go the way we're planning, he'll play the whole game."
I'm gonna bypass the requisite Brian Kelly gif and just repeat what I've been saying all along: Golson might be absurdly talented but also has zero experience, which means the infuriating turnover thing will still be an infuriating turnover thing. Notre Dame quarterbacks have thrown 17 and 16 interceptions the past two seasons, and I'll be shocked (SHOCKED, I SAY) if that number goes down significantly with another first-year starter who's probably not Andrew Luck in terms of accuracy and game management and whatnot. I still think (a) Tommy Rees gets some snaps in the first month and (b) Brian Kelly turns purple on multiple occasions during that time. If not, Golson will be commemorated in solid gold outside the stadium and immediately elevated into the Notre Dame Pantheon of Reasonable Expectations by Beano Cook.

Texas has either two or zero quarterbacks: Mack Brown kinda/sorta picked a starter Wednesday:
The Longhorns named David Ash the starter Wednesday after rotating between Ash and Case McCoy as starters in 2011 and vacillating between them both during the subsequent nine months.

"As we have been saying, it is obvious you have to have one walk out there first," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "But we feel like both of them have been really good leaders, and they handled summer well and they handle preseason well, so we are not hesitant to put either one of them in the game. But David will start."
Brown and Bryan Harsin said just a few days ago that both guys are gonna play, so the starting job is a very nominal one. And there's a reason for that: McCoy looked like a far better passer last year but was totally incapable of throwing the ball downfield and thus didn't produce very many points (he had only four touchdowns going into the last game of the season, a game in which he threw three of those but also had four picks), whereas Ash was only a 56 percent passer with four touchdowns and eight picks but also had about 300 non-sack rushing yards. Translation: They're totally different players who have been pretty equally mediocre to this point in their careers.

FWIW, the general fan/media sentiment is/was that Ash should be the starter based on his running ability and his accompanying effectiveness at getting first downs last year when the passing game was doing nothing of note, which was most of the time and regardless of who was in the game (Texas was 88th in pass efficiency last year). He's got that job now but in the most tenuous way possible. It will probably be more surprising if McCoy doesn't start a game this year than if he does.

BTW, Texas could be a legit national title contender if the quarterbacks are anything better than average. There is absurd talent on defense and at running back and pretty much everywhere else other than quarterback. That position's kinda important, though.

Auburn picks a quarterback: It's Kiehl Frazier:
Auburn on Thursday named sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier the starter for its season opener against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Sept. 1.

Frazier and Clint Moseley had been competing for the starting nod.
Frazier has been The Future ever since he showed up on campus last year; he would've started if he had any idea how to run the offense but instead got only an occasional snap and went 5 for 12 with two picks. Moseley got some slightly more meaningful experience: He was 66 for 108 with five touchdowns and three picks last season, with all of that time coming in the second half of the year. Those numbers are OK but don't specify that he utterly dominated Ole Miss (12 for 15 with four touchdowns lol) and was extremely uninspiring in his seven other appearances.

Anyway, what's interesting is that Frazier's an athletic-type guy who would've been perfect as a Cam Newton replacement but might be a little less perfect now that Scot Loeffler is Auburn's O-coordinator. I'm curious to see what Loeffler does with a very non-pro-style quarterback. The good news is that whatever he does will probably be an improvement on last year's debacle that resulted in an offense ranked 100th in yards and 70th in scoring; the bad news is that improvement might not actually be that easy with no Michael Dyer and a quarterback who has a career passer rating of 8.33.

Stanford picks a quarterback: It's Josh Nunes and therefore not the guy most people thought it'd be back in spring:
Stanford coach David Shaw announced Tuesday that redshirt junior quarterback Josh Nunes has won the starting job, beating out sophomore Brett Nottingham.

"Over time, Josh has been the most consistent," Shaw said. "Make no mistake. This is not about wild plays, it's not about doing something outside the framework of the offense. This is about consistency. This is about executing the plays that were called. ... Josh has been the most consistent over this time."
Nottingham was generally regarded as the favorite primarily because of recruiting hype -- he was a four-star guy and Rivals' fourth-ranked quarterback two years ago -- but also because he beat out Nunes last year for the nominal backup job and threw eight passes, all of which were meaningless, whereas Nunes threw zero a year after throwing two as a redshirt freshman. That's the extent of the experience on Stanford's roster with Andrew Luck gone.

Suffice it to say that Nunes will probably be doing a lot of handing off to Stepfan Taylor this year and occasionally going play-action while being tasked with "executing the plays that were called," which basically means not sucking. His ability to do that will largely determine whether Stanford goes 8-4 and ends up in the Alamo Bowl or goes 10-2 and ends up in the BCS conversation.

Storm Klein wins: I'm so surprised:
The punishment isn't over yet, but Storm Klein's absence from Ohio State officially has ended.

After a charge of domestic violence was dismissed and the senior linebacker pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct on Wednesday, Klein's status was re-evaluated by Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer on Thursday.

Klein will continue to face discipline that includes a minimum two-game suspension. But he is again a member of the team after missing a month of offseason workouts and all of training camp this month.
Upshot: Klein pleaded down to a misdemeanor Thursday and was back on the team -- albeit with a minimum two-game suspension -- within about three hours.

It's worth noting that Klein was considered somewhat of a starting-by-default starter last year and had already lost his starting job in spring ball to Curtis Grant (and Etienne Sabino on the outside) even before the dismissal, so his reinstatement wasn't of the "lol of course he's a senior starter" variety. Still, his presence will be useful given that (a) Grant has never been very effective in actual games and (b) the depth chart behind Grant went "redshirt freshman Connor Crowell, nothing" after Klein got booted. Depth is nice.

Georgia might have a starting running back: Georgia is totally and unequivocally committing to Ken Malcome as the replacement for Isaiah Crowell:
Georgia coach Mark Richt announced Wednesday evening after a closed scrimmage that Ken Malcome will likely start the Sept. 1 opener against Buffalo, though it was not a totally definitive call.

"Something could change between now and then," Richt said.
That's ... ummm ... decisive. Malcome was the presumptive starter coming into camp since he had been listed as Crowell's co-starter on the depth chart after a reportedly impressive spring that followed a season-ending stretch in which he took over for an injured Crowell as the nominal starter and put up 173 yards on 42 carries.

The reason(s) there was any question about whether Malcome was gonna be the guy: Keith Marshall, the consensus No. 1 running back in the country last year who's had people saying breathless things about his him ever since he enrolled early, and freshman Todd Gurley, whose recruiting profile wasn't significantly different from Marshall's (Rivals had him as the fifth-ranked running back in the class and the No. 42 player overall). Don't be surprised if one or both of those guys starts siphoning off carries pretty quickly; they've got the talent to do so and don't have a whole lot less experience than Malcome, who's a redshirt sophomore with only the aforementioned 42 carries. That's, like, two games' worth.

I say "one or both of those guys" because the depth chart at running back is pretty ambiguous:
"I don't even know for sure. I've not talked to the staff about how we're going to do it yet," Richt said. "Even when we do it, I doubt I'll announce anything. I don't want the guys to know. I just want them to keep fighting, keep competing. We'll tell them the night before the game, maybe."
Maybe. Maybe not. Whatev.

This is so weird: Penn State jerseys will srsly have names on them. Srsly.


Yes, I heard about it: The kid in Oklahoma will be Dave Brandon's guest at a Michigan game. Note to self: Get inexplicably punished for wearing Michigan gear. Also: Boycott the dirt-filled state of Oklahoma. That is all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A brief rant about poll philosophy

Lane Kiffin and Larry Scott and various other people have pointed out in the past week that the coaches' poll is fundamentally flawed because of its biases and coaches' lack of knowledge about other teams and so on and so forth. All those people are right, especially considering that the coaches' poll is one of the two (along with the Harris Poll) that actually matters in terms of deciding stuff at the end of the year.

The AP poll doesn't have that latter problem but provided the basis for this rant just by virtue of the public nature of its ballots, which are presumably assembled in largely the same way (from a philosophical standoint) as the coaches' ballots.

As you may or may not remember, Oklahoma had one first-place vote in the AP poll; it came from Kyle Meinke of Sooner Nation called the guy up for an interview to find out exactly why somebody put a team other than LSU/Alabama/USC at the top, and while most of the answers were of the "polls are meaningless yadda yadda yadda" variety, he said two things that cumulatively are producing FIERY FIRE in my eyeballs.

The first:
I love how the schedule shakes out for Oklahoma. Kansas State is home, Notre Dame is home, Baylor is home. Among its first nine games, the most difficult might be playing Texas in Dallas, and OU will be favored in that one as well. It's easy to see the Sooners going 9-0 before that season-ending stretch against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU. And by then, I think any issues they have up front offensively will have been addressed. 
Here's the thing: Schedule ease should not be a consideration in a preseason poll, which (IMO) is supposed to be a ranking of the best teams rather than a projection of the order in which they're going to finish. I realize that this is a somewhat subjective issue; if somebody wants to vote the latter way and is willing to totally throw out all preconceived notions once there are some on-field data points, I'd be willing to listen to his/her reasoning and consume the in-season ballots accordingly.

But here's the second quote:
If they struggle against UTEP or Florida A&M, and USC wins at Stanford, I'd have to give the Trojans a long look. Likewise, if Alabama beats Michigan in its opener and then Arkansas in Week 3 -- a pair of top-10 teams -- I'd give them a long look. But again, I think Oklahoma is the best team and I likely would keep them No. 1 if they take care of business as they should.  

You can't say "I think Team X will finish highly partly because the schedule is so easy" and then say "I won't drop Team X as long as they win all those games that I just got done saying are so easy." Doing the second makes the first a self-fulfilling prophecy: Of course a team will finish ranked highly if all/most of its games are easy and you refuse to drop them on your ballot as long as they win said easy games. That skews the poll inexorably in the direction of whatever preconceptions are used to assemble the preseason ballot (even though those are supposed to gradually be removed once enough data is in place to do so).

I'm not picking on Meinke because I think he's stupid but because I'm confident that his reasoning is widespread -- just check out any rankings explanation anywhere for verification -- and thus skews the poll results on a macro scale. I don't like it. Stop it, plz.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Catching up will start at Wisconsin next year

Wisconsin picks a starter: It's Danny O'Brien. Level of surprise on a scale of 1 to 10: -7. There really were no other options, which is why Danny O'Brien ended up at Wisconsin in the first place. I'm pretty sure there will come a point in the future when Wisconsin will have to play a quarterback without significant starting experience. Probably. And that guy won't get to hand off to Montee Ball a bajillion times a game. So ha.

ASU picks a starter (kind of): And by "picks a starter (kind of)" I mean "picks a very nominal and possibly temporary starter":
Arizona State coach Todd Graham ended the speculation at quarterback Monday by by naming redshirt sophomore Taylor Kelly the starter for the season opener on Aug. 30.

As expected, Graham also indicated that athletic redshirt freshman Michael Eubank will play situationally.
I'm gonna be honest: I thought it'd be Mike Bercovici based on what I saw last year. Kelly is probably the most accurate of the three but isn't particularly decisive and doesn't have much of an arm, and Eubank looks/plays vaguely like Cam Newton but has a hilariously inconsistent arm and doesn't really seem ready to be doing anything other than making linebackers look like high schoolers. Bercovici probably wasn't much more "ready" but didn't lack for decisiveness or a rocket arm.

The things Kelly brings to the table: the aforementioned accuracy, decent mobility and a notable lack of turnovers (in camp), all of which will be damaging this year to a team that's probably 50/50 to get to a bowl game. ASU's offense won't be sexy but wasn't going to be anyway, although Eubank would make things pretty sexy if he actually becomes Cam Newton. That'd be cool. It's also unlikely.

Anyway, Kelly's hold on the starting job will be tenuous; it wouldn't be at all surprising if he's relatively unproductive and (a) Bercovici becomes the de facto starter or (b) Eubank is productive to make giving him the starting job and saying "eh, why not?" a decent option.

Relevant quotes from Todd Graham:
“This is just the beginning, and it will be a process. We’ll see where we end up. ...

“You have to put your faith in someone and go,” Graham said.

Rutgers picks a starter: It's Gary Nova.
Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova has won the starting quarterback job, coach Kyle Flood announced Monday.

Nova beat out veteran Chas Dodd, who went into last season as the starter. Both played in 2011 and were involved in a tough competition for the starting job between spring and fall practice.
Nova and Chas Dodd were basically the same player last year: Nova was a 51.1 percent passer with 11 touchdowns and nine picks (mostly in the second half of the year) and Dodd was a 56.7 percent passer with 10 touchdowns and seven picks whose playing time varied based on performance. Nova was reportedly slightly better in camp, and with Kyle Flood saying he didn't want to have two guys splitting snaps again, he obviously had to pick one. What's interesting is that Dodd threw 39 passes (with four touchdowns) and Nova threw 13 (with three touchdowns) in a scrimmage over the weekend; the volume apparently didn't mean much.

FWIW, Nova's only a sophomore and thus might have had a slight building-for-the-future advantage over Dodd, who's now a junior.

A chunk out of the middle: Patrick Larimore is done with football:
UCLA middle linebacker Patrick Larimore will take a medical retirement because of multiple concussions, coach Jim Mora said after practice Monday during training camp at Cal State San Bernardino.

Larimore, a senior who was a team captain last season, suffered a concussion in April and sat out the latter portion of spring practice. He returned for the first two days of training camp, but had another concussion Aug. 6 and hasn't been back since.
Yeesh. Larimore was a two-year starter, UCLA's leading tackler last year and the defensive captain going into a camp in which Jim Mora and Lou Spanos were installing a 3-4. His loss will be damaging despite the existence of inside linebacker Eric Kendricks (a sophomore) and outside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (a junior), both returning starters. FYI, UCLA's defense wasn't good last year even with Larimore (96th nationally in rushing yards, 89th in total yards) but was supposed to return eight starters.

Thankfully, this news has not resulted in 700 columns about football and concussions and THINK OF THE CHILDREN and whatnot.

This could be problematic: Notre Dame corner Lo Wood is done for the year:
Notre Dame's already thin group of cornerbacks took a big hit Monday, as projected starter Lo Wood went down with what is likely season-ending Achilles injury, a source confirmed to
Ouch. Wood was a backup last year as a sophomore and a projected starter this year due to both Robert Blanton and Gary Gray shuffling off the eligibility coil. Without him, Notre Dame has two scholarship corners (!!!), which is utterly absurd. Bennett Jackson will be the starter at one spot; the other will be filled by either safety Janoris Slaughter or one of the various young DBs on the roster, none of whom will be ready since Wood and Jackson were taking all the first-team reps.

This tweet says it all:

Good luck against Oklahoma and USC. Srsly.

This is just getting ridiculous: I seriously don't understand how this keeps happening: Iowa freshman running back Barkley Hill blew out his knee in Saturday's scrimmage, making him the 6,733rd Iowa running back struck down by a horrifying injury or career-ending malfeasance in about the last five years. Details from the Cedar Rapids paper:
The true freshman from Cedar Falls suffered a injury to his left knee while crossing the goal line for an 8-yard touchdown during Saturday’s open scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium. Hill, 6-0, 210 pounds, had crossed the goal line when fullback Jacob Reisen and cornerback Torrey Campbell banged into him. Hill’s knee buckled and he feel to the FieldTurf, where he stayed for several minutes.

He couldn’t put weight on the leg and was carted to the locker room.
The AIRBHG jokes aren't even jokes anymore; they're more like threats looming over whoever happens to be lining up behind quarterback with a lightning bolt aimed directly at his knee.

Anyway, Hill was one of three viable options at running back along with de facto starter Damon Bullock and freshman Greg Garmon, who has narrowly avoided disaster a couple times already since committing. There are now two viable options. Beware.

A possible problem for Bama: Alabama running back Eddie Lacy suffered an injury of debatable severity in Saturday's scrimmage. According to Nick Saban, said injury was a combination of a couple not-that-severe sprains:
Alabama starting running back Eddie Lacy sprained his ankle and a knee in Saturday's practice.

“Not a serious thing. Probably going to be day to day but probably be a little bit slow next week," coach Nick Saban told "I think in five to six days he’ll probably be ready to go."
According to a rumor floating around the abyss of, those not-that-severe sprains are actually DOOM:
i know a guy with lacy right now at the hospital its a torn ACL he wont be back this season sucks what a big lost to bama
I would significantly discount the credibility of anyone using the phrase "what a big lost" if this were a fanbase other than Alabama's. Plausibility: unknown.

Assuming Saban is telling the truth (which isn't necessarily a reasonable assumption), a hiatus of "five to six days" would still give Lacy sufficient time to be ready for Michigan. If it turns out to be more serious than that, redshirt freshman uber recruit Dee Hart and freshman uber recruit (because it's Alabama) T.J. Yeldon would presumably get most of the playing time in his absence. We'll see.

Speaking of running backs in Alabama: Auburn running back Jovon Robinson was ruled ineligible the other day in an even-less-surprising development than Danny O'Brien being named Wisconsin's starting quarterback.

Auburn freshman Jovon Robinson has been ruled ineligible to play in 2012.

Robinson has not practiced with the Tigers since Aug. 10, when a high school guidance counselor at Wooddale High School in Memphis admitted to changing one of the running back's grades. The counselor has since resigned, and on Friday Robinson's ineligibility was made official.

The NCAA has not implicated Auburn in any way for the grade alteration.
I already wrote about this in terms of what it means for Auburn, which is basically "not a lot," although it's worth pointing out that Robinson is one of only five scholarship backs on the roster and one of only two over about 180 pounds. He probably would've gotten a few carries just due to a lack of numbers/size but will be replaceable.

As for Robinson, it's pretty likely that he'll end up at a juco or prep school since he reportedly wouldn't have qualified without the grade change in question. SEC lol.

Farewell to another Texas guy: DeSean Hales was a big-time recruit four years ago who went to Texas and did basically nothing until this spring, when his light bulb supposedly came on and he put himself in the running for a starting spot opposite Marquise Goodwin. That's all irrelevant now:
With two weeks to go before the start of the season, Hales has decided to quit the team.

"Coming to this decision wasn't easy, but I've talked to my family and have decided that it would be best for me to focus on my degree and my career for the future," Hales said in a release.
Hales' career totals: 13 catches for 87 yards. At least he's staying in school to graduate.

As for Texas, his loss probably won't be of significance given the pure volume of relatively talented receivers who are still around, but this stat is amazing:
Hales is the 19th player to be removed, voluntarily or not, from the Texas roster in the past 15 months.
Wow. That's basically an entire recruiting class gone in one freakin' year. I mean ... yeah.

Alternate history: According to Ralph Russo, LSU would've been No. 1 in the AP poll if not for the Tyrann Mathieu-shenanigan-related revote:
After Mathieu-gate: USC received three more 1st place votes and 12 more points. Alabama was the big winner. Tide gained 8 1st and 18 points. 
Add it up and the numbers would look like this:

1. LSU (27)  1470
2. USC (22)  1433
3. Alabama (9) 1393

Interesting. What's really interesting is that Alabama had the most votes of any of the three in the coaches' poll, which came out before the Mathieu stuff. A discrepancy: There is one.

Revisionist history: Alabama's media guide is totally accurate:

That imaginary win allowed them to claim three additional national titles.

Because it's only a couple years away: The dudes with top hats and monocles and whatnot are about to start hashing out more playoff details. At the top of the agenda is splitting up the ginormous pile of money, which undoubtedly will go well and result in no objections whatsoever. After that: pickin' sites.

There's also this tidbit I keep seeing ...
The (committee) members will not only choose the playoff teams but also the participants in the other four major bowls.
... that's confusing because of the tie-ins. I suppose the playoff teams will almost always come from the major conferences, thus eliminating the relevance of the tie-ins with some/all of the Rose Bowl, Champions Bowl and Orange Bowl, but not all the games will be shuffle-able to create preferable matchups since at least one of them will still have a contractual agreement in place with a non-playoff conference champ. Idk.

Yes plz: This is from the same story and is the best idea EVER:
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit has his ideas. He believes committee members -- whether they're former coaches, ex-officials or administrators -- must be passionate about football and follow it nationally.

"A lot of these former coaches I talk I have such respect for, but they're dialed into their region," Herbstreit said. "They don't know anything about some of these other conferences."

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez threw out Herbstreit's name as a committee member.

"If I wasn't doing what I was doing, I'd love to be chairman of that group," Herbstreit said. "If there's a way to do it and it's not a conflict of interest, I would love to do it because I love the sport. I don't claim to necessarily have all the answers or that I'm right. But at least I watch and I'm educated. I'm not just watching a highlight. When you're engaged, it makes it very easy to have an educated opinion."
Seconded. I've been calling for some as-unbiased-as-possible national media members for a while now, and Herbstreit would be at or near the top of my list. Make it so.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rocky Long's idea is intriguing to me

I stumbled across a mind-blowing story about San Diego State coach Rocky Long the other day and started a reactionary post but then totally forgot about it. Derp.

Anyway, an excerpt from said story:
Call it Rocky Long’s “Great Go-For-It Experiment.”

After reading articles about an idiosyncratic Arkansas high school coach who never punts, always onside kicks and has tremendous success doing it, Long is toying with the idea for his Aztecs of no punts or field goal attempts once they've driven inside an opponent’s 50-yard line.

Conceivably, San Diego State would go for the first down whether it needed a couple of inches or 10 yards.

And yes, Long — who apparently hasn’t yet tried it all in his 40 years of coaching — is serious about this.

“It makes sense,” he said, seeming almost giddy in talking about the possibilities. “Additional plays would allow you to score a lot more points,” he said. “It also puts a whole lot of pressure on the defense.”
Words do not do this revelation justice; pictures/videos are necessary.

Astonishment indeed.

I'm not sure whether I'm more amazed that somebody might actually do this or that nobody has done it before. I suppose the latter should be expected considering that most of the guys in charge grew up in an era when the forward pass was controversial and probably still think that way because the media requires them to; freakin' Bill Belichick (whose job security on a scale of 1 to 10 is about a 17) got totally destroyed a couple years ago for going for it on a fourth-and-2 in his own territory even when it totally made sense and the game itself meant little. But most media people are dumb and should be disregarded as such.

The reason the former is worth consideration even in the face of public OUTRAGE: the numbers. Some really smart people have run a lot of numbers to figure out some Moneyball-type stuff and have come to the determination that going for it on fourth down usually makes more sense than gaining 35-ish yards of field position, especially when field position dictates that going for it likely would result in an immediate increase in the odds of scoring points.

David Romer's piece -- which focused on NFL numbers -- is the most famous one and resulted in coaches calling him an idiot despite (a) the aforementioned numbers and (b) Romer himself saying that the numbers were basically just intended to be a reference, kinda like the odds every pro poker player knows by heart and presumably considers before deciding whether to put a million bucks on his/her hand of choice.
Romer said that the goal of his study was not to “replace coaching decisions with a computer” but to inform their understanding of the game. “You ought to know when you are making these decisions what the statistics say, on average,” he said.
I agree; Ron Zook probably doesn't.

Anyway, here's one (relatively) easy-to-read graph that was put together recently by The Mathlete over at MGoBlog based on college data:

This maximizing-win-likelihood graph is based on a hypothetically average offense, defense and special teams and pretty clearly indicates that punting from inside the 50 is almost always a bad idea unless it's a fourth-and-long from outside the 40; that's it. Field goals are a little more ambiguous but are typically the way to go from between about the 10-yard line and the 25.

BTW, regarding the requisite "winning by three at the end of a game" rabble: No kidding. Common sense should prevail in situations in which various other factors (such as time or extreme weather conditions) have to be considered. Again, these are statistics that are meant to provide odds/information and not necessarily make the decision in all circumstances.

As for this particular case study, San Diego State probably doesn't have a hypothetically average offense, defense and special teams. The offense and defense actually were pretty close to average last year and should be again this year, but the kicker and punter will be spectacularly named true freshman Seamus McMorrow, who is (a) a true freshman and (b) a true freshman. Expecting any consistency or guaranteed level of quality would be unwise. FYI, San Diego State had its first scrimmage Saturday, and McMorrow didn't attempt a field goal and averaged 36.2 yards a punt, which isn't good (36.2 would have been somewhere outside the top 120 nationally last year).

So in that regard, going for it a lot might just be preferable to sending out a punting game that's crappy or a kicking game that's a total mystery. It also might not be an improvement: San Diego State reportedly went 2 for 14 on fourth-down attempts over the first two days of scrimmage-type settings in fall camp. It probably goes without saying that 14 percent would be an awful number that would pretty quickly put an end to any desire to avoid kicking the ball since it would render the "average" probabilities irrelevant. I'm gonna bet they won't go 14 percent for the season on fourth downs, though; they were 103rd nationally last year at about 39 percent (9 for 23) and are likely to go up just due to reversion to the mean.

Regardless, this soooooooo needs to happen, both for the entertainment value and for a data point that includes the results of all those drives with a fourth down somewhere between the 50 and the goal line. And it sounds like it might actually happen since Long does what he wants with his hot body:
Whatever he decides, Long said it won’t be because he doesn’t want to take the heat.

“It’s has nothing to do with the armchair quarterbacks and how they view this, I promise you,” Long said. “I don’t do anything anymore that I don’t think is best for the football team. I never worry about the critics.

“When I first became a head coach, I think I did. I don’t anymore. I’m an old guy. I’ve been coaching a long time. I’m mature enough to know better.”
Rocky Long FTW. There's also this:
Long is no mathematician, and he said he can’t decipher the data, just the conclusions – which he’s not sure he trusts. He said he still would like an unbiased SDSU math professor to take a look at the data and offer an opinion.

But seriously: Rocky Long FTW. Do it, man.
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