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Top Teams 2008

After Week Seven

  1. Alabama
  2. Penn State
  3. Texas
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Florida
  6. USC
  7. Georgia
  8. LSU
  9. BYU
  10. Missouri
  11. Ohio State
  12. Oklahoma State
  13. Texas Tech
  14. Utah
  15. Kansas
  16. USF
  17. North Carolina
  18. Miami
  19. Boise State
  20. Georgia Tech
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Tuesday
Jul262005

Bad ending

Last weekend I stumbled across a replay of a Clemson/UVA game from 2003.  Altogether a fairly disinteresting affair, with UVA unable, perhaps unwilling to run the ball and Clemson mixing things up a little more.

The game ended up going to overtime, where UVA pushed through a field goal to go up by three.  Clemson then won the game on an odd fade pass to the corner.  Or did they?

For whatever reason, the station showing the game neglected to replay the game-winning catch.  It looked at first glance to be a blatant push-off and an easy offensive pass-interference call.  But it was never made and Clemson was awarded the win.

I am curious if any Clemson or UVA fans reading this remember the game, and if they cared to express their thoughts on the ending.

It kind of set up an internal mixed feeling, watching that ending.  I'm a big big big big big proponent of game officials "swallowing their whistles" late in a game, especially on the last play.  You simply have to let the kids play it out and only throw a flag if an important infraction was made and it was beyond blatant.

In that game, I felt a flag was necessary and never appeared.  But again, I only had the "live" shot to go by.

Shades of Miami/Ohio State, except in that game a flag was thrown, perhaps unnecessarily.

Tuesday
Jul262005

One bad idea

If there was a captain obvious for the advancement of college football's shaky sense of conventional wisdom, that captain obvious would be a former college football coach.

So excuse us while we roll our eyes at the notion of a Master Coaches Survey.

On the surface of course it seems alright, with former elite coaches sitting around watching games and then comparing notes.

The problem is this---

These guys are former coaches for a reason, and it's not just age.  At some point the game passed them by and they failed to adjust or lost passion and interest.  What's sorely lacking in college football punditry and voting right now is the recognition of all the style of play components involved and just how ridiculous conventional analysis (most often passed along to us by...former coaches and players!) has become.

Maybe I'm way off here, but I have a feeling if these former coaches follow through on this, their results will vary only a little (probably due to smaller sample size) from the results achieved by the BCS computers and the new combination BCS poll.  So what's the point?

Tuesday
Jul262005

CFB Hall of Fame nominees

From our earlier query, here is the list so far.  Please continue to add to it:

Jason White-Oklahoma
Cedric Benson-Texas
Mike Williams-USC
David Green-Georgia
Anthony Davis-Wisconsin
Darren Sproles-Kansas State

A sleeper I would add is USC defensive tackle Mike Patterson.  He was utterly dominant for nearly three seasons, made All-America his senior year and led a top five run defense all three years.

PS-feel free to debate the hell out of these nominees.  We don't have a college football Supreme Court nomination process, but this might be the closest thing to it.  Be stern, but be fair.

Monday
Jul252005

Reader question

Killing time...

What members of last year's graduating class of college football players deserve to be in the College Football Hall of Fame?

Off the top of my head, Oklahoma's Jason White, since it's fairly obvious that the sports' most prestigious award winners gain nearly automatic entry.

After that, who?  Any players from your team put together a staggering career truly worthy of CFBHOF consideration?

We urge you to be choosy, maybe ten players any given year really merit Hall consideration.

Monday
Jul252005

VaTech Heisman candidate, revealed

I can't leave the public hanging.

The website I found was for Hokie WR/KR Eddie Royal.

On Friday we'll present the link to the fan website promoting him for Heisman as well as another prominent candidates' website.  And then criticize them for being quite rudimentary.

He's quite underrated nationally as a football player... mostly because few really know who he is.  He saved Tech's hide in at least one game last year, I forget which, memory escapes me, but he had two long catches late in a tight game.  And then he had a little fun against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.

But the numbers are very impressive considering he didn't really even play early on, particularly in the opener against USC.  We'll definitely add him to our list of "Swiss Army Knife" type football players.

1 Carry
11 Yards
1 Touchdown

28 Receptions
470 Yards
16.8 Average
3 Touchdowns
80 Long

12 Kick Returns
346 Yards
28.8 Average
48 Long

25 Punt Returns
274 Yards
11.0 Average
58 Long

Not bad for a freshman!

Royal reminds us a little of Rocket Ismail or Desmond Howard, because he is a g-o-n-e if he gets in the open, is a bit smallish, and has some moxie with the ball.  HeismanPundit will probably rap us on the head and come up with a more appropriate comparison.  We await our browbeating, but in the meantime, study up on him and be sure and watch a Virginia Tech game this season.  We made sure to do that last year, having pegged him as a future star during the recruiting season.  Mind you, we had to wait a game or two for him to emerge (kind of like the more obvious choice, Ted Ginn, Jr.), but he was worth the wait.

Get on the bandwagon.

Sunday
Jul242005

38 days...

38 DAYS!

Giddy

Sunday
Jul242005

Fair warning

I just spent the entire morning loading all the blog feeds for the various blogs listed here into my BlogLines page.  Talk about tedious.

If you plan on reading a lot of college football blogs (such as happens at EDSBS), be sure and get all your electronic heavy-lifting out of the way now and not in September.  It'll save you some anguish.

Now I have at least a fair amount of blogs I don't have to be clicking on all the time not knowing if they're updated or not, instead bloglines just tracks when they're updated.  Much easier and it saves time.

Of course, you may just read 1, or 5, or 10 blogs and it's not really a big deal.

As a brief tangent, have any of you found something better than bloglines to use, those of you who employ blog tracker software and websites?  I like it, and its easy to load new blogs, but it's a little confusing when I click away from one blog and suddenly it won't show any of its new posts because it thinks I'm done with them and they're no longer "new".  Slightly annoying.

Sunday
Jul242005

Interesting

Just found a website promoting a Virginia Tech player not named Marcus Vick for the 2005 Heisman trophy.  Can you guess who?

We kinda like this player, for what it's worth.

Sunday
Jul242005

The Conventional Wisdom

Found this compilation of preseason rankings, 11 altogether, at The Enlightened Spartan.


Rank Program Points
1 So. Cal 1.0
2 Texas 3.2
3 Tennessee 5.0
4 Michigan 6.6
5 Oklahoma 6.7
6 Ohio St 7.5
7 LSU 7.7
8 Va Tech 8.2
9 Iowa 8.4
10 Florida 8.7
11 Miami-Fla 9.5
12 Louisville 12.2
13 Georgia 13.3
14 Florida St 13.9
15 Auburn 15.5
16 Purdue 16.1
17 Arizona St 17.0
18 Texas A&M 19.4
19 Fresno St 19.6
20 Boise St 21.5
21 Boston College 21.8
22 Pitt 22.3
23 Texas Tech 22.4
24 Cal 23.4
25 Alabama 23.6
26 Virginia 24.4
27 Oregon 24.5
28 Ga Tech 24.6
29 Wisconsin 24.9
30 NC State 25.1
30 Nebraska 25.1
32 UCLA 25.2
33 Penn St 25.3
33 Minnesota 25.3
35 Utah 25.5
35 Bowling Green 25.5
35 Wyoming 35.5
38 Colorado 25.6
39 Miami-OH 25.7
39 UTEP 25.7

This is getting tedious, so we'll continue this table tomorrow with the rest of the top 40.

Right now, the 11 preseason rankings are Blue Ribbon, Phil Steele, Street & Smiths, CollegeFootballNews.com, NationalChamps.net, Scout.com, CBSsportsline.com, SI.com, ESPN, Athlon and Lindy's. The AP preseason poll has not yet been released, and thus isn't included.

Saturday
Jul232005

Snazzy (redesign)

Orson and Stranko, the funnyguys at EDSBS.com (EveryDayShouldBeSaturday) finally underwent a redesign.

Let us be the first to say congratulations and welcome to their non-crappy looking home!

Take a look

Saturday
Jul232005

Instant replay, meet Big Twelve

Out of boredom, I watched this program called (I think) Big Twelve Showcase this afternoon.  The show is all about the Big Twelve, kind of a regional thing, and they were broadcasting from the Big Twelve Media Day.

One of the segments focused on the instant replay issue, interviewing coaches and Big Twelve media types about what it is and what their views were on it.

Almost universally the coaches liked the idea, citing the Big Ten's experience with it and also their recommendations to the Big Twelve during meetings.  Mind you the coaches weren't falling over their chairs giddy about it, but they appeared realistic and willing to give it a try, also noting that it wasn't a cure-all.

But then the Big Twelve media types were given their air time, and they gave it a less-than-enthusiastic reaction.  I realized right then this was a classic barometer moment.  On one side we had the coaches, playing nice about it, but seeing both sides of the coin, and then on the other we had the Big Twelve media members, crowing about their issues with the system.  If this is any indication, at least one conference will have several like-minded writers and talking heads itching for a instant replay fight.  Maybe it was just a hot day and after a lot of interviews, they had to find something to make controversy of because media days are so consistently boring and provide little copy and video.  But it's also something to note.

For what it's worth, the Big Ten media were pretty quiet about the change last year, so as nearly every conference adapts some kind of instant replay, we'll watch and see how each reacts and whether they fall into the Big Twelve camp (or maybe the Big Twelve media guys change their mind and fall in love with it?) or the Big Ten camp.

An interesting point was raised by one media member, as he noted that some coaches by nature will like the instant replay system because it makes controversial plays less about the coaches and more about the people reviewing them.  In that regard, it has always been a bit odd that the NFL allows coaches to ask for a replay, and not people trained to spot plays that in fact merit review.

But other media members also said by having TV and video review, another aspect of the human element of the game is stripped away, and we agree with that sentiment.  College football's beauty is much about the subtle things that tickle our insides and reveal imperfections and emotions.  Tradition brings that out, but so does judgment (the controversy over the BCS and polls!) and human error (calls made by officials).

Anyway, interesting stuff.  It's too bad television is such a bad format for serious discussion, because I would have loved to have heard the various coaches and writers talk further on the issue, instead of some probably disproportionately selected sound bytes.

Saturday
Jul232005

The Fall of Oklahoma?

I've been reading some of the replies to the earlier entries I had made about Oklahoma, and the Big Twelve.

Some of the replies are a little puzzling, but I'll give the Oklahoma fans the benefit of the doubt considering I'm sometimes a little unclear.

Some struggled with what we meant be elite, as did others in replies to the second entry.  In the short-term, our definition of elite falls along the lines of something less than Juggernaut (USC) and more than just your typical Top 10 team, one who can beat the very best but might not always be the very best.  So we must ask ourselves, is Oklahoma a juggernaut?  The answer is clearly no.

The argument then comes down to where Oklahoma falls among those non-juggernaut but very good teams.  In our view, using criteria often cited on here about sophisticated offenses and some other measures, Oklahoma falls short.

Worse, the Sooners' psychological armor is pierced.  Obviously we have no stats to support this, but many of us have played sports and observed them and can identify retrospectively where a team lost its "edge".  Oklahoma had long been teetering with losses such as Texas A&M in 2002, Kansas State and LSU in 2003, but the capper was last year's Orange Bowl against USC.

The thing is, we're not arguing Oklahoma isn't a good team.  They are, and they're also supremely talented and athletic and fast.  But they're not coached all that well, have majorly collapsed twice now in important games (we actually see it not just as a collapse, but preconceived dismantlings at the hands of better coached opponents), and then experienced a stunning paradigm shift that changed their reality---at least one if not more teams are 100% for certain better than the Sooners.

This edge helps teams win the close ones (Oklahoma State and Texas A&M 2004, Alabama 2003), because it separates two teams in an otherwise even match.  Its what often determines who blinks first.

So, given that information, it is our view that Oklahoma cannot under current conditions ascend to its once high place.  They can still, however, be a top 10 team.  But we do predict "some kind of a fall".

That brings us to the second snag.  There was some arguing that we predicted a great fall.  I'm not certain what kind of a fall it will be for Oklahoma, that's why I said "some kind of a fall".  Our guess?  Something similar to the 2002 season when the Sooners went 11-2, losing to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.  But, importantly, we also don't see the Sooners bouncing back like they did in 2003, thrashing through the Big Twelve before reality set in against Kansas State and LSU.

Lastly, some people didn't recognize we were talking "elite" in terms of the 2005 season.  The historical and even recent-history debate are for another time and I think Sooner fans have a much greater argument when that comes up.  But our "elite" was intended for the 2005 season.  The Sooners simply don't look the part this year.  BB King sang "The Thrill is Gone", we think the Sooners are going to be singin' "The Edge is Gone".

Saturday
Jul232005

Markus Manson

Among several Florida Gator players to keep an eye on (HP has zeroed in on Andre Caldwell, we like Brandon Siler), be sure and track Markus Manson's development this season.

The basics on Manson-

A RS-FR back, he's listed at 6-0, 205, and is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Why keep an eye on him-

Because he's a versatile back in Urban Meyer's offense.

Meyer really finds ways to exploit the talents of multipurpose players, and in Manson he has a more elusive, quick back who can also make plays running and catching the ball out of the backfield.

In watching his recruiting videos and also Florida's spring game, he looks pretty average as a runner, but the physical skills are there to make an impact within that offense.  He looks to be an elusive kind of runner, slashing for lanes and if that 205 pound listing is true (he didn't look it), he's got some bulk to maybe carry some of the weight for Florida's run attack.

He'll also be competing for carries and snaps with the inconsistent DeShawn Wynn and veteran Skyler Thornton.  Wynn came to campus with a lot of hype, and he has great size, but in watching him, something's just lacking a lot of the time.  He's never been able to outright win the job from backups who aren't the most gifted runners around, which is not a good sign.

He did have to compete one season with a Resource favorite in NFL departee Ciatrick Fason.  As an aside, Fason would have been a great fit for the Meyer offense, as he is excellent in the open field and showed us a lot whenever he was catching the ball.

Bringing the conversation back to Manson, he has a season to develop within the Meyer offense with little to no competition.  He wasn't great in the televised spring game, but the physical skills show that he should find an important role within Florida's offense this season.  It will be intriguing to compare how he played later this season relative to how he starts out, and also watch Florida's recruiting to see if they're seeking a replacement or better alternative if Manson is not quite a perfect fit for the role we expect him to play in Florida's offense this season.

Saturday
Jul232005

Friday Heisman Blogging, on Saturday

Mi scusi.

  • Bush and Leinart
Scanning the tube this week, I stumbled upon a Best Damn Sports Show segment with USC stars Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart.  The Heisman alarms in my head immediately started making all kinds of noises.

The segment was pretty bland, just a casual interview, but it was great early PR for both of those guys.  Leinart mentioned that he'd vote for Bush no matter what this season, seeing as how he now owns one of the Heisman votes.  Bush didn't seem to mind already having one vote in the books for this season.

BDSS also showed a brief interview with Mike Garrett, USC's athletic director and another Heisman winner, and then played a clip from earlier in the year, an interview with former Utah quarterback and Heisman finalist Alex Smith, who played with Reggie Bush in high school.  Smith said Bush is the best football player he's ever played with or watched.  Leinart echoed that sentiment moments later.

Things got awkward when Bush was asked who the better quarterback was between Smith and Leinart, neglecting to really answer.  Tough question!  I personally would have stuck up for my current QB and apologized to Smith later, but when you're on the spot like that, there's not always a lot you can do.

Anyway, it was great to see all those Heisman finalists and winners in a mid-summer segment, got us itchy for the season once again.

Oh, and they also talked a little about EA Sports NCAA 2006, and then showed the back cover with a digital Reggie in a Heisman-like pose.

It's almost an unfair Heisman advantage for those two, being able to come onto BDSS practically anytime they want, not having to book an appearance living right in Los Angeles, and then one having won the trophy and the other featured prominently in a video game nearly every college football fan is playing right now.

  • Where are they now: The Heisman Trophies?
I've seen a few Heisman trophies in person, traveling to various universities over the years to see a game or general tourism.  But perusing Technorati the other evening, I found several images documenting the wherabouts of several of the Heisman trophies-

Here is a link to 1956 winner Paul Horning's tropy, donated to the Green Bay Packers-link

Here is a link to the dual Florida State Heisman trophies won by Charlie Ward (1993) and Chris Weinke (2000)-link

And finally, here is current South Carolina head coach and 1966 winner Steve Spurrier's Heisman trophy-link

Pretty cool.  Although a touch boring, it would be cool to see some kind of traveling road show of Heisman trophies and memorabilia, or perhaps a temporary exhibit at the College Football Hall of Fame.

I'd go.

Until then, the best way to get one's money's worth is to stop by the Notre Dame (7), USC (6) or Ohio State (6) campuses and take a look at their displays.

That's all, see you again next Friday for more cowbell Heisman.

Friday
Jul222005

What About Bob, err,Oklahoma?

In response to yesterday's Big Twelve wonder-aloud, some Oklahoma fans (on their various message boards that linked to the entry) guffawed at our failure to consider the Sooners "elite" or among the Big Six.

What of it?

Look, the Sooners are an established power, winning 67 games over the last six seasons, a national championship, a Heisman Trophy winner, two Heisman runner-ups, and appeared in three BCS championship games.  Great stuff!  But there's something not quite right here.

Yes, the Sooners in theory should just roll through the Big Twelve again, win their 10 or 11 games, and maybe make another BCS championship game appearance.  But not unlike previous BCS champs Tennessee, Florida State, Miami, Ohio State and LSU, they have failed to notch a second title victory.  Credit goes for making a remarkable third appearance, but the Sooners are starting to look like the mid-90's Utah Jazz team, running through their conference only to lose to a better opponent.

And I've now argued that it is very likely their suit of armor is showing wear, which will soon beget some kind of fall.  All those teams experienced it, and now it is the Sooners' turn.  None have yet to re-appear on the BCS or near-BCS title stage.  Yet all have more or less hovered around the top ten rankings the last several seasons.  So it's not like they've fallen too far, only that they no longer have the winner's edge necessary to go undefeated in conference and sustain that most elite status.

We have to remember greatness doesn't present itself annually.  It's a cyclical thing.  In the NFL there were some lean years between the early 90's Dallas teams and the current Patriots dynasty (with a brief competitive flare up by Green Bay and Denver).  In college football, we haven't seen a winner like USC since the mid-90's Nebraska squads.

Credit must of course be given to the Sooners, as they more than any other BCS title-winning peer were able to create an aura of dominance and sustained excellence.  But it still wasn't enough.  Losing to LSU, not USC was the real crack, historically.  If they had won a share of a second championship and then lost to USC and into the future perhaps make another BCS championship appearance or continue to steamroll the Big Twelve, their fans' justification for elite status would make more sense.

In the meantime, in our book, they're a traditional power, one that is winning a lot right now, and is capable of finishing in the top 2-10 in the polls annually (although that may be tested this season).  We simply hesitate to call them elite.

Thursday
Jul212005

Mr. Big, where can I find your achilles heel?

USC is the story in college football in 2005.

Duh.

We'll all be watching and wondering, can they do it?  Who can/will beat them?  What is the significance of a 3-peat?  What happens for USC in the immediate beyond?  Who else is out there?

Thinking about this today, I started to wonder what set of challengers would emerge.  Many of us would argue for a more traditional power, such as Miami, Tennessee, Ohio State, Florida State, teams of that class who have won recent titles.

The reality is an alternative power will be the more likely challenger to USC's throne, both short and long term.  Since the middle of the 2002 season when Carson Palmer caught fire, USC has had little trouble facing out-of-conference foes.  In its premier national games, USC thrashed talented, traditional, elite squads in Iowa, Michigan and Oklahoma in successive BCS games.  I see that pattern continuing.

Where USC has looked vulnerable has been not against these traditional powers, but against "lesser" foes, teams who don't have as much in your face talent as college football's "who's who", but go about playing the game differently.  This highlights the style of play model of analysis often presented on here and also HeismanPundit.  Keep in mind we're talking the elite level of football here, a continually shifting pool of a handful of teams capable of sustained excellent against similar elite competition.

It appears that in fact, the teams who play more traditional styles of football, and lure ridiculous talent to their universities are getting shrugged aside by the current super-elite team, USC.  Instead, the real new elite is a burgeoning and little-known class of teams with less talent but more advanced and competent styles of play.  Take a good look at the Big Six for an idea of who those teams are.

Also within the same ballpark in terms of style of play, are teams like Bowling Green (running Urban Meyer's schemes to this day), Northwestern, and a handful of Pac-10 and ACC teams.  This class of teams is in fact USC's most pressing threat to sustained greatness, because USC has found a way to destroy very good teams who are more or less playing the same kind of football.  It's when USC faces a new style that things get interesting.  Last year's string of close victories within the Pac-10 suggest the combination of familiarity and the Pac-10's extra element of offensive and defensive design create conditions whereby a game against the Trojans can be called into question.

Given that, it is in my estimation that USC's real threat to a 3-peat and even further success rests in finding a regular season or postseason matchup against an opponent with a style of play capable of derailing the Trojans.

Three years running, only one team within the Pac-10 has consistently given the Trojans fits: California.

2004
USC 23, California 17
2003
California 34, USC 31 (3OT)
2002
USC 30, California 28

California coach Jeff Tedford's 1 for 3 against Pete Carroll, but nobody has played him anywhere as close, and also notched an impressive and stunning victory as happened in 2003.  Nobody would argue that California is on par with USC's talent, but the scores sure look closer than they should be given the talent disparity.

But there must be other California's out there, teams who can challenge USC's supremacy over college football.

Taking a look at the Big Six is a start.  I find it interesting that only Florida among the Big Six truly has a nationally regarded stockpile of talent on both sides of the ball.  All the other teams just play great football.

It is my hope that during the regular season, California has its pieces put together to one again make a game of their matchup against USC.  And after that, if they cannot upset the Trojans, that USC's bowl opponent isn't yet another traditional elite team lacking in the necessary style of play to defeat the Trojans (read: Texas, Ohio State, LSU), but rather someone like Resource favorite Louisville, or perhaps a matchup with Auburn, or maybe Florida, although we suspect that Florida v.2006 will be much better than their v.2005 team with a year under the belt of MeyerBall.

Hopefully this hints to some of our more puzzled readers out there the fascination with the Big Six.  They fill in a lot of gaps for us, in terms of grasping at why USC has so thoroughly dominated teams that on paper are so similar to itself.  In watching the games, I've realized certain teams are doing something different out there, regardless of whether their talent can match up with more regarded foes.

It is important to see USC prove itself against a different class of opponent, one that so far has given them far more trouble than respected national elites.  We simply don't see USC losing another national game unless the foe is playing a unique style of ball.  So out with Texas, in with Kansas State (see 2001 and 2002 USC/KSU games), or Virginia Tech (2004's BCA Classic was a tight one) or California (why not!) or Louisville and perhaps Florida.

It's been impressive to watch USC dismantle loaded teams, but they've made their point with CFR (mind you, the national CFB talking heads still aren't getting it) and I feel its time to see a new course charted into choppier waters.

Wednesday
Jul202005

Big Twelve

I'm curious how the current Big Twelve leadership works itself out this year.

Specifically, there should be an unusual battle for the crown between Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M.  The situation is quite unique this year, given the team dynamics.

Oklahoma under Bob Stoops has completely dominated the Big Twelve.  They've been to three BCS championship games and won one.  But after two consecutive title-game losses, including a crushing defeat to USC that may have put the nail in their coffin as an elite team (anyone remember All America end Dan Cody on the sidelines muttering "I can't wait to take the red eye back to Norman"?), there are major chinks in their armor.

Yes, the loss to Kansas State in 2003 was humiliating, but the sooners recovered, Jason White won the Heisman trophy and they still almost pulled off a victory against LSU in the Sugar Bowl.  Last year, they managed to roll through the Big Twelve once again, shutting out Texas 12-0, but also looked in trouble against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.  Thing is, the Sooners did what elite teams do, and pulled those games out.

Those victories tend to happen for the country's better teams---look at USC last year and its close wins over Stanford, Oregon State, UCLA and Virginia Tech.  The problem for the Sooners is that their, let's call it "coat of armor", has been exposed, and there are some chinks and vulnerabilities from which to attack them.  But the damage isn't just external, it's internal.  Unless they are a truly great team and captained by a steely magician who far outstrips rational expectations of his team's future fate, the Sooners' confidence is shattered.  What that means is that games where before they'd hang on for victory with panache (like last season), are now heavily in doubt.

The breakdown of a team's mental and physical armor has shown to be quite devastating.  Miami was never the same after a stunning loss to Ohio State.  Nebraska collapsed after losing to Miami the season before.  Oklahoma in fact showed some resilience in once again steamrolling their league and winning a few close ones in 2004, but that USC game certainly will have done them in.

This opens the door for the Texas Longhorns and Texas Tech Red Raiders of the world to suddenly slay the beast.

Onto Texas.

Last I checked, this team is still coached by Mack Brown.  But it's also a team that steamrolls the Big Twelve other than that pesky Red River Shootout game.  But as we noted above, Oklahoma is suddenly beatable.

The Rose Bowl victory over Michigan has propelled this team into the top 2-3 in many preseason polls.  But I see some major flaws here.

Most prominent, Texas' strength is also its achilles heel.  Texas is blessed to have superfreak Vincent Young as its quarterback.  Problem is, the Longhorns have lost any semblance of a passing offense in order to get his immense talents on the field.  After switching to a consistent run attack the last two seasons, the Longhorns have seen the offense become much more reliable (hooray!  no more Chris Simms!  hooray!), but its cost them a real title shot.  At least if USC is in the title game.  One-dimensional offenses get wrecked by teams like that.

Texas' offense works for them just fine, though, and they have been able to control the Big Twelve outside of a solitary game each season.  I get the feeling their coaching staff is fine with that.  USC's Christmas present was all they really needed to get over the hump.  Or so one would think.

Then again, Mack Brown is still their coach.

The other prominent weakness is the team's pitiful performance against Michigan.  In all honesty, that game was the Vince Young show.  Michigan was able to control Texas' ground attack after the early goings, and had put Cedric Benson in the mud.  Vince Young was pretty shaky throwing the ball, until he went bananas and took the magic pill that had him running like I've never seen him run before.  Michigan's defense suddenly revealed itself to be the physical but slow (in spots), less-than-agile Big Ten unit that it was.

Can the Longhorns count on catching lighting in a bottle with that kind of performance again in-conference, or nationally?  There's no doubt in my mind Vince has another game or two like that in him next year, but one cannot predict what games those will be, whether it's against Baylor (unnecessary) or Oklahoma (getting warmer).  That kind of performance isn't really all that vital to their chances since they won ten games last year with Young looking more man than the Superman he was in Pasadena.  But it may just be necessary against Ohio State or any elite defense that makes itself apparent in a bowl game.

Finally, we get to discuss Texas A&M.  In theory, the Big Twelve chaos this season plays into their hands.  Texas should beat Oklahoma and Texas is just goofy enough to lose to these Aggies.  That leaves A&M's game against the Sooners to decide things.  At least according to our quite early estimates.

The Aggies have an experienced team, and an elite coach in Dennis Franchione.  Franchione is pretty adept at turning things around wherever he's coached, and has proven to be a superb opportunist.  This year's Big Twelve outlook screams opportunity to us.  Texas is Texas, Oklahoma ain't quite Oklahoma.  Franchione's a smart and diligent coach.  That should be quite the mix.

Our problem with A&M is that they've been so mercurial under the Coach Fran regime.  They may never have that Oklahoma suit of armor, especially when they lose to Sooner teams to the tune of 77-0.  Against an elite Utah team, they folded without much of a fight.  They did play Oklahoma well, but also needed a lot of smoke and mirrors.  But this team has some magic to it, and a little charisma and moxie.  Let's just hope unthinkable losses to Baylor aren't on the horizon, because this team is otherwise primed to claim the Big Twelve from talented but clownish elitists Texas and Oklahoma.

What says you?

Wednesday
Jul202005

Good...

Vijay from iblogforcookies recently compiled some CFB data and information that should be quite useful.  As he notes in his post, most of the work was done by James Howell and some other hard working types.

If you have a pulse and have been following the CFB blogs of late, there's been a fun if hectic debate about conference and team superiority, mostly in relation to the SEC and Pac-10.  The arguments have been about stats, facts, and also the observable aspects of the game.

The statistical arguments have at times been stunted, because although the information is out there, it isn't always so centralized.  Clearly Vijay's efforts are a step in that direction.

One caveat---I have been thoroughly impressed with just how much data some of the more aggressive bloggers have found and how quickly they have compiled it.  I'm pretty sure most of us have jobs and lives and to take that effort and condense the information so quickly is esteemable.

Many moons ago I read Moneyball and thought it would change the sports world.  In a way, it has.  Of many issues presented, the most salient in my eyes was how people could approach game analysis in a different and better way.  The underlying assumption behind that different approach was that the passed-down "common knowledge" of the game was inherently wrong.

From that tiny central point miles of data were collected and analyzed, ideas tested and argued about, in an anything goes atmosphere to find a greater truth about the game of baseball.  In my eyes, the Moneyball boys such as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane were dead-on.

One of my fundamental views is that college football's common knowledge is also flawed.

With efforts like Vijay's, who built upon the works of others, we can slowly begin to chip away at that underlying assumption and see if it is truth, and also seek the game's truths.

That said, I don't think there will be a football equivalent of Moneyball-ization that has happened in baseball.  Of many sticking points, the games are way different.  Baseball is very much a game of measurements, and some of these measures are quite powerful.  There aren't as many powerful statistical devices in football.  Some have tried to find reason in the numbers, and I admire their efforts, but there's so much more nuance and unrecordable yet powerful things that happen in football.

But this revolution will continue, because it's not all about the numbers.  But having access to the numbers certainly helps!  For many a baseball fan, the number God was Bill James, whose analysis and compilation has literally turned the baseball world on its head.  For college football, having readily accessible data is a fine start to achieving something more.

It's time we had our own version of the Baseball Almanac, or Baseball Reference, or Retrosheet and databases of their ilk.  They are the tools by which the post-Moneyball baseball world has advanced itself, so that most smart baseball fans now know what a massive failure Ruben Rivera was, and survived not because of his on field abilities but because of the massive stupidity of general managers across the sport.  Someday we should be able to quantify stupidity or at least spotlight particularly egregious blind spots in terms of the ability of a coach to run an offense, or identify quarterback talent, etc.

That all requires some data, or a great eye for the game and for talent.  But even the great eyes have their blind spots.  I've been lucky to have access to a handful of people who I consider football savants, with separate and unique skills at recognizing talent, or what exactly a team is doing on the field, etc.  They gave me the "scout" aspect of the game so vividly argued against in Moneyball  But with more data in our hands, we can perhaps find those truths not seen on film or in person.  The game, in my view, is far more complex than baseball, and data alone cannot give such a great picture of what is happening as it has in baseball, but it certainly can't hurt.

The tools are sort of out there.  Vijay's just given us an extra piece to the puzzle, and for that I am appreciative.

If nothing else, the statistical arguments posed on the CFB blogosphere might just reach a little farther back in time, or bring up some unique data point that throws everyone for a loop.  I look forward to that, except when I have to bust out the blue collar and do some of that same dirtywork many of you have become quite accustomed to.

Thursday
Jul142005

Friday Heisman Blogging

It's Friday, it's Heisman time.  We reserve the right to relocate the day during the season, perhaps to a Tuesday, or Thursday.  Or any day ending in 'y'.

Last week we asked you to guess who ResourceAdmin chose as his 2004 Heisman Trophy winner.

Nobody submitted a guess.  Nice job guys.

For those curious, I voted for USC tailback/returnman Reggie Bush.  It was a difficult decision, and I can easily understand anyone else's coherent arguments for all five finalists.

My criteria tend to vary from season to season, but last year what stood out for me about Bush, from all the other candidates, was his ability to win a game for his team.  Let me explain.

USC was locked into a tight road opener against Virginia Tech in the BCA classic last year.  Outside of a handful of Bush plays, neither team really did anything exceptional all night.  USC quarterback Matt Leinart, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, had a noble effort directing a shaky Trojan offense with Leinart as the only returning starter for all intents and purposes.

Bush scored early on a stunning middle screen, what looked like a simple dump pass that turned into a weaving 20-yard scamper untouched past the athletic Tech secondary and linebackers.

The game remained locked and neither team could really push to an advantage until the Trojans selectively fed Bush the ball.

This selection from the AP story does a pretty good job of retelling Bush's evening-

The Trojans said they were prepared to be without the All-American Williams and would be OK with a group of talented but inexperienced receivers.

The results showed otherwise.

Breaking in a new group of starting wideouts, Leinart found few open targets in the first half, going 8-for-16 for 102 yards. And the Trojans' rebuilt offensive line was providing sketchy protection.

So the junior looked to Bush, and the explosive sophomore came through when the Trojans looked as if they were in big trouble - trailing 10-7 late in the third quarter.

Bush lined up as a wide receiver, blew by Virginia Tech's best cornerback, Jimmy Williams, and cradled in a perfect over-the-shoulder throw from Leinart for a 53-yard touchdown with 1:55 left in the third.

Bush also opened the scoring by taking a middle screen 35 yards for a TD in the first quarter.

Otherwise, an offense that averaged 41 points and 447 yards last season struggled for most of three quarters against a Virginia Tech defense that is coming off its worst season in years.

Wide receivers Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and Chris McFoy combined for eight catches and 87 yards.

Leinart picked it up in the second half and finished 19-for-29 for 272 yards, hitting 11 straight at one point. He finally found a wide receiver for long-gainer when he hit Smith for 46 yards in the fourth quarter.

On the next play, Bush sneaked out of the backfield and Leinart found him all alone for a 29-yard score that made it 21-13 with 5:35 left and finally allowed the outnumbered Trojans fans among the 91,665 at sold-out FedEx Field to relax a little.


Basically, Reggie Bush won a tight road opener for the eventual champs, playing out of position but otherwise carrying his team to a difficult victory.

Things heated up for Bush two games later against BYU.  The Trojans were down 3-0 on the road against the Cougars until 8:30 in the second quarter, when Bush caught another middle screen, this time knifing laterally through the BYU defense including a stunning dip-in side-step race towards the near corner of the end zone.

Six minutes later Bush pushed up the middle on a carry, mometarily losing himself inside a crowd of linemen and defenders before bouncing outside to the sidelines and jogging in for another six, silencing another road crowd and giving USC confidence after a shaky offensive first half.

The next week, the Trojans were once again on the road, this time against Bay Area rival Stanford.  In a mismatch on paper, USC fell behind big in the first half, at 28-17, and nearly 28-10 without another early Bush scamper to keep things close and ease the Trojans' offensive nerves.

With the game still close in the fourth quarter, Bush fielded a punt and proceded to spin, cut, lean, whirl and dance through the stanford defense before a gaggle of Cardinal defenders took him down.  It was USC's second-to-last possession, and a crucial one that ended in a LenDale white touchdown run after several tough Bush carries up the heart of the Stanford defense to give USC the victory margin, 31-28.

The following week, USC won in another tight game against California, and Bush struggled with his few carries, but his third-quarter 84-yard kick return made all the highlight shows and pushed USC to a rare offensive series in Cal's side of the field.

Bush had sound games against Arizona State (TD catch, TD throw) and Washington (TD catch), two predictable wins, and then scored on an amazing punt return against Washington State.  Bush fielded the ball, became pinned along the sideline, spun, and then took a wide arc heading towards the opposite side of the field, and raced untouched for the touchdown.  This was after a first-quarter 19-yard touchdown run where he went untouched after bouncing outside on a run designed up the middle.

The next week, underneath a heavy blanket of fog, USC struggled against Oregon State, falling behind 13-7 at half, with a -3 turnover ratio.  After a Dominique Byrd 1-handed touchdown catch, Bush somehow fielded a punt (he fumbled one earlier after losing it in the fog) and dashed through the Beaver defense for yet another punt return touchdown that finally relaxed a tense Trojan squad and put them up 21-13, in a game that was once again a tight match with the Trojans winning 28-20.

Bush finally had a quiet game against Arizona, a 49-9 Trojan victory.

Against Notre Dame, Matt Leinart basically won the Heisman, but Bush provided a highlight moment, taking a short pass over the head of a Notre Dame linebacker and racing along the sidelines for a 69-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

Bush might have saved his best for last, another close Trojan victory over rival UCLA at the Rose Bowl.  On the game's opening series, Bush dashed into the Bruin secondary and outraced several defenders, picking up a block from Dwayne Jarrett and somersaulting famously into the end-zone for a 65-yard score.  Later, in the second quarter, Bush again went long, racing past a shocked UCLA linebacker corps and secondary to cruise into the end-zone for an 81-yard run.

Bush put together a fine game, rushing for a career-high 204 yards, catching another 73, and 335 all-purpose.  Bush's phantom late fumble somewhat marred a stunning offensive performance in which he humiliated a Bruin defense on their own home field.

Earlier, I said my criteria this year had to do with Bush's uncanny ability to win games for his team.

After thinking about USC's struggles at times in 2004, the one constant was Bush pulling them through the most difficult of games; Virginia Tech, Stanford, California, Oregon State and UCLA.  Each one of those games were memorable if you were watching for a team, or a player, to make a difference.  Each time his number was called, Bush delivered in huge ways.

I found it striking that at the Trojans' weakest, their opener against VT, Bush was already in top form.  It was like every time Tech showed signs of taking command of the game, Bush answered, symbolically telling the Hokies, "I'll be here all night".  I think a critical aspect of football is psychological, and in that sense, Bush was USC's psychological weapon.  He was ruthless on opponents, who had to prepare for him and lose sleep over him, only to see him do something in the most tense and stressing of moments.

Bush closed USC's regular season much as he opened it, bludgeoning his opponent on stunning scores to carry his team on his back.  And of course there were those other highlight performances in easier games that we've mentioned.  The guy scored four (nearly five) ways and will basically bring "all-purpose" yardage back into the college football lexicon this season (much as Rocket Ismail and Desmond Howard did in the early 1990's), opening the door not only for himself, but for players like California's Marshawn Lynch and Ohio State's Ted Ginn, Jr.

So, for me, Bush's impact was entirely critical to his team's success, memorably pulling out at least five victories (four of them on the road, one in inclement weather---Oregon State---and two in highly hostile conditions---Virginia Tech and Stanford) from a non-quarterback position.  Bush has lived up to his recruiting hype and is the safety valve for his team.  No other player can really claim that except perhaps Vincent Young, but even Young was nowhere near as consistent and destructive as Bush in 2004.

Not even close.

Congratulations to Reggie Bush, CollegeFootballResource.com's Heisman Trophy selection.


Tuesday
Jul122005

Free Day

Spill your guts on here, in the comments.  Say something, anything, let's stir the pot a little bit.

Got beef, or just want to talk about a team just being absolutely being ignored by the cadre of bloggers we tend to talk to and read lately?

This might be a good barometer for everyone's mindset right now.

Personally, I'm thinking about my top 10 list, and how to put it all together, still sorting out my methodology.  How does one sort out the Big Twelve, for example?  Depends on how you view things.

What sense does it make putting Louisville in the top 3?  Plenty to us, but that might be a tough sell for the rest of you.