SEC Power Poll Ballot, Week 1

September 2, 2008

It is extremely difficult to parse the differences in the ways that elite teams blowout overmatched opponents, especially for me since I really only got to see the South Carolina-NC State and Florida-Hawai’i games all the way through. I only saw pieces of other games, if any at all.

Don’t be offended if you don’t like where your team is at. The margin between the top teams is razor thin, and until everyone starts playing real opponents, we’re all guessing anyway. Relax, it’s only Week 1; there are 13 more weeks of regular season to go.

These rankings are based heavily on the games played this past weekend. As time goes by, they will change based on how the teams’ résumés change.

Florida – The Gators are my top team as much as anything because I got to see them in person this weekend and no one else. Still, they answered fairly definitively two major questions. Yes, they have running backs, and yes, the defense is a lot better. The D-line was in the backfield all day and the secondary made fundamentally sound tackles for the first time since 2006.

It’s important not to overreact to one single game, but Florida showed enough to make me conclude that at their peak, they’re the best in the conference.

LSU – The quarterbacks were not electrifying, but the rest of the Tiger team showed that those signal callers will not have to be great. Despite a last-minute kickoff time change and a hurricane bearing down, Les Miles had his team focused enough to blowout a normally game opponent. I have few worries about this team for the rest of the season right now.

Georgia – The Bulldogs dismissed their lesser opponent with less authority than the above two did, so they end up third. Honestly, it’s tough to tell teams apart based on beating up patsies. As much as anything, they ended up third because they lost yet another player for the year to injury in DT Jeff Owens. Sure UGA has a lot of depth on the defensive line, but it is negative momentum.

Alabama – As I said earlier, it’s important not to overact based on one game. However, I did see some of the Alabama-Clemson game and Bama controlled the trenches on both sides with startling ease. The Tide just plain wanted it more, and they made a statement with their play. Then again, beating up on a Tommy Bowden team that has high expectations is hardly a stunning achievement.

Auburn – The defense and running game will have to carry this team until the passing game gets sorted out, but it appears for now that they’ll be able to do it. That’s fine in the short term, but Kodi Burns, the best runner of the two QBs, still can’t pass and that’s a problem. Defense and running the ball suit Tommy Tuberville just fine though, so it’s a little early to worry. Eight-man fronts in the SEC could pose a problem.

South Carolina – Thanks to them playing on Thursday, I got to see most of the Gamecocks’ opening game. The defense appears legit again, with Jasper Brinkley making a huge difference. The offense was putrid until Chris Smelley came in, but he also got to play against a demoralized defense after the game was already decided. This team is far from perfect, but Smelley showed at least there’s some hope for finishing above fourth in the SEC East.

Tennessee – I’ll be honest, I haven’t had time to really look at the Vols’ performance against UCLA. I had a late flight into Charlotte and got a flat tire on the way home. It doesn’t look all that great at first glance because I don’t have a high opinion of the Bruins right now, but that could always change. Tennessee got four first half turnovers but only 14 first half points. Crompton’s percentage was bad, but UCLA has a decent defense. I can’t ding them too bad for now since they at least went and played on the west coast.

Ole Miss – Memphis is not very good, but Ole Miss showed some real promise. The Wild Rebel formation, about the only thing Houston Nutt took away from his year with Gus Malzahn, was a smashing success. All that talk about Ed Orgeron stocking cupboards in Oxford was true, and if Nutt can harness it into something cohesive for a season, the Rebels will finish comfortably ahead of Arkansas and their in-state rival.

Kentucky – When Rich Brooks said his team had an SEC-caliber defense, I chuckled and decided to take a wait-and-see approach. Apparently he was absolutely right about that, but he forgot to mention that the offense might not be SEC-caliber. All but three of the Wildcats’ points against Louisville were scored or set up directly by the defense, and the offense prevented a shutout with QB Mike Hartline getting a grounding penalty in the endzone. If the Cats can’t figure out how to score more points, they’ll have a hard time climbing any higher than ninth.

Vanderbilt – Chris Nickson surprised a lot of people with his strong play against Miami University, and the Commodores won somewhat surprisingly easy. That bodes well for a team that lost a lot from last season. Bobby Johnson will have his work cut out for him if he plans on repeating last year’s five-win performance, but it will be easier if Nickson runs for 166 yards every week. D.J. Moore? Beastly.

Mississippi State – Louisiana Tech will be pretty good this season, but still, the Bulldogs had no business playing in Ruston, much less losing there. The magic from last season is fading already as Mississippi State had a -3 turnover margin. They outgained Tech 322-243, but ten penalties, five turnovers, and a 4-15 mark on third down negated that advantage.

Correct the mistakes and they win the game, but it’s not looking good for finishing above fifth in the division right now. Sly Croom is going to have to go back to his bag of tricks to get them to another bowl game.

Arkansas – Yes Mississippi State lost, but if you beat a I-AA team by just four points, that’s not good. This season, I’d classify that as worse than losing at LA Tech. Casey Dick can pass, but the Razorback faithful had better hope this Michael Smith kid (suspended for the first game) can really run. Having just 76 rushing yards won’t cut it in most SEC games.

Arkansas outgained WIU 394-262, committed just four penalties, went 7-11 on third downs, and yet was still down by 10 points in the fourth quarter. That’s some special kind of voodoo right there. Three turnovers, a reported six or so drops by receivers, and a 13:23 deficit in time of possession are troubling. This could be a long, long year in Fayetteville.


SEC Power Poll Ballot: Preseason

August 19, 2008

The preseason SEC Power Poll this year (conducted by Garnet and Black Attack) is not a ranking of the teams, but a ranking of the coaches. Specifically, it is a ranking of coaching ability.

My ballot is based on who is good now, and it is slanted towards performance in this decade. No lifetime achievement awards are being handed out here.

Here’s my list and the explanations.

1. Urban Meyer

Call it a homer pick if you want, but he’s done well everywhere he’s gone. He turned in an undefeated season at Utah, becoming the first BCS Buster ever. Let’s also not forget that he did it before the BCS expanded to five games.

At Florida he won a national and conference championship and got a quarterback a Heisman. He proved the spread could work in the SEC and did it so convincingly that other coaches in the league are going to install some spread-style goodness of their own in 2008. Add to that his ace recruiting abilities, and you have my vote for top SEC coach.

2. Tommy Tuberville

I should specify that this is a vote for the Tuberville of 2004 and on and not for the Tuberville of 2003 and prior. There is a difference, and I outlined it here.

The post-2003 Tuberville has been one of the best coaches in the country in that span, though the fact he’s only parlayed that into one conference title is the reason why he’s second on the list. He also gets points for abandoning his old, conservative offense and actually giving former outcast/spread guru Tony Franklin the shot at major college coaching that he deserves.

3. Mark Richt

Richt is on pace for becoming the most successful head coach in Georgia history. He has two conference titles and a 13-1 season that wins him a national title in nearly any other year than the 2002 season in which he did it. He also lost to Vandy in 2006, something that a top league coach shouldn’t do six years into his tenure despite the strides the Commodores have made under Bobby Johnson.

He ended up third in the league on my ballot. That is still nothing to sneeze at in the best coaching conference in the country. How he does with the heaps of expectations on him this year will help to sort out his place in the hierarchy as well as help to define his legacy as a head coach.

4. Nick Saban

I know some people will be upset seeing him this high, especially given the loss to Louisiana-Monroe last season. It’s difficult to blame him too much for the negative goings on last season though given that his predecessor was Mike Shula, a guy who never should have been given a head coaching position.

Despite that fact, all six of the losses were by eight points or less so the Tide was competitive in every one of them. He had a blowout win over the SEC East champ Tennessee. Let’s also not forget the BCS championship he won at LSU and the incredible amount of talent he left there when he bolted to the Dolphins.

5. Les Miles

I decided that the first five guys on the ballot had to be guys who have won the national title in this decade, or at least have done enough to win one in a normal year. Since Miles won his national title with two losses while Meyer’s and Saban’s came with one loss (and Tuber ville had an undefeated season and Richt had a 13-1 year), he ended up fifth.

Yes it’s true that he walked into a treasure trove of talent at LSU. It’s also true that he has gone 11-2 each of the past three seasons with two blowout wins in BCS bowls and a Peach Bowl win that ended Miami football as we knew it. He also doesn’t get nearly enough credit for keeping the LSU team together after the Hurricane Katrina disaster just days before the start of his first season in Baton Rouge. He’s colorful, but he can coach.

6. Bobby Petrino

I’m going to throw out his time with the Falcons, which was spent under conditions that pretty much no one could succeed under. Instead, I’m looking more at his time at Louisville where he turned it into one of the country’s best teams, nearly made the national title game, and helped save the Big East.

The immediate drop off after his departure should highlight how good of a coach he was. He still did win his BCS game as the Big East champ though, which unfortunately doesn’t mean a whole lot, and it was over surprise ACC champ Wake Forest, which makes it matter even less. He’s still got a bright offensive mind and knows how to build a winner, so he goes here.

7. Phil Fulmer

You could make a case for him being higher or lower on the list, but he’s listed here thanks to being the final guy who has won a division championship at his current school. His East Division title last season helped some, but the fact remains that he has not won a conference title since 1998 and none of his teams has truly been elite without David Cutcliffe.

He gets some points for hiring Dave Clawson but nothing big until we find out if the Clawfense can succeed long term in the conference. Fulmer didn’t really manage his staff as well as he could/should have in the time between the Cutcliffe stints, but maybe this is a step forward. He will have to win the conference again to move higher on my list though.

8. Steve Spurrier

It pains me a little to put him this low, but there’s not a lot he’s done at South Carolina to support putting him higher. The Orange Bowl win in his final year at Florida was this decade so it does count some, but not being able to break past seven wins at South Carolina hurts his ability to go higher on my list.

Now, he did go to two bowls in a row in 2005-06, which ties the longest bowl appearance streak in school history. Lou Holtz also left the school on probation and in questionable shape. However, I can’t ignore the epic collapse last season after climbing to #6 in the country. His upward mobility will be determined in large part by whether he can win the division.

9. Houston Nutt

This could be a little low, but we’re talking about ability to perform the duties of head coach with this list. He won the SEC West twice this decade, but with Matt Jones and Darren McFadden on those teams, you’d expect that to happen.

In recent years, his ability to be a head coach has appeared to decline. His regime at Arkansas had increasingly been marked by scandal, and last season there was precious little offensive talent behind the McFadden-Felix Jones combination. The cupboards at Ole Miss appear to be relatively full, so he’s going to need to produce quickly in Oxford.

10. Sylvester Croom

Mississippi State was a toxic waste dump of a program when he arrived, and he got it to eight wins and a bowl just four years later despite having no dominant offensive players. Even in Croom’s rebuilding years, he scored upsets over Florida in ’04 and Alabama in ’06 despite them being in better shape.

He has not been perfect; he initially wanted to run a West Coast scheme despite not having nearly the talent or practice time to pull it off. However he’s built a winner, and he built it the right way. If he can sustain it, he can move up.

11. Rich Brooks

Brooks has taken Kentucky to two consecutive bowls, and that should win him some sort of award. I mean, this is a school that used its newly-hired basketball coach to sell football tickets last fall despite having gone to a bowl the previous season.

I have a feeling though that any of the other guys on the list could have done that with the personnel Brooks had. I also suspect that many of them would have done it faster than he did. For that reason, he’s behind the rest.

12. Bobby Johnson

I actually like Bobby Johnson, so I don’t like ranking him last. He has made Vanderbilt a competitive team week in and week out, and he has defeated Tennessee and Georgia in recent years. That’s really good for a school that doesn’t even have an athletics director.

At the same time, he’s not yet made a bowl so I can’t put him ahead of guys who have. His 2005 team with Jay Cutler was his best chance to get eligible, but they lost late in the season to 3-8 Kentucky. As far as I know, Vanderbilt is happy with him so he’s not going anywhere, but I’d like to see him get a shot at a school with more resources.


Potential Risers in 2008

July 29, 2008

Playing a lot of close games can be good or bad depending on your perspective. If you’re planning on being a top team, it could be bad since you’re not blowing out as many teams as you thought you would. If you’re an up-and-coming team, it could be good because that means you’re competitive in many games.

To win a lot of close games, it takes some skill and a lot of luck. You have to get some breaks in order to prevail, no matter how skilled you are. Some times you get them, some times you don’t.

Things tend to even out in college football in regards to winning close games. If you get a lot of breaks one year, you don’t tend to get them the next, and vice versa. Following that line of thinking, it is possible to use how a team does in close games in one season to pick out candidates for risers and fallers for the next season.

For instance, Rutgers and Wake Forest were big surprise teams in 2006 when they went 3-0 and 5-1 in close games. By that measure you’d expect them to fall off some, and they did, going from 11-2 and 11-3 in ’06 to 8-5 (2-2 in close games) and 9-4 (3-2) in ’07. On the other side of the coin, Missouri went 0-3 in close games in 2006 on the way to going 8-5, but it went 12-2 in 2007 thanks in part to being 2-0 in close games.

It is an inexact science of course. Teams get better and worse, their schedules change, players come and go, coaches and coordinators change, and so on. This is a list of teams that have the potential for rising; you must engage your brain from here on out to decide how well these teams will do.

For these purposes, a “close game” is defined as a game where the final score is eight points or less – in other words, one touchdown and conversion could tie or swing the game. Teams that made the main list had at least three more losses than wins; teams on the watch list had two more losses than wins and played at least four close games.

Only BCS conference teams (including Notre Dame) were analyzed.

Maryland Terrapins, 6-7 overall, 1-5 in close games

Maryland has languished in mediocrity since winning 10+ games from 2001-03. Ralph Friedgen probably needs a good season or else he could be on his way out. His team posted one of the three worst records in close games in 2007, so either his team was really close or it had poor execution.

Maryland was picked 5th in its division in 2007, precisely where it ended up, and it’s picked to do the same in 2008. If the Terps can catch some breaks though, which they apparently couldn’t a season ago, they could surprise a lot of people.

Michigan State Spartans, 7-6 overall, 2-6 in close games

Mark Dantonio was almost universally praised for the job he did in his first year in East Lansing. After three straight losing seasons, he got them above .500 and competitive in all six losses. Sparty could be set for a breakout season in 2008.

Minnesota Golden Gophers, 1-11 overall, 1-6 in close games

Minnesota’s season was a disaster last year, especially on defense. Tim Brewster has proven to be a pretty good recruiter, and he has lots of optimism for the future. And why not? Despite the poor defensive play, seven of the Gophers’ twelve games were close.

Then again, one of those close losses was to North Dakota State. Caveat emptor.

UCLA Bruins, 6-7 overall, 0-3 in close games

I would hazard a guess that most UCLA fans would attribute the poor record in close games to mismanagement by Karl Dorrell.

This team is a probably a case where the record doesn’t indicate a turnaround – the coaching staff has changed, the top two quarterbacks are hurt, and it’s debatable how much talent is on the sidelines in Westwood. Then again, Rick Neuheisel is known for quick turnarounds.

North Carolina Tar Heels, 4-8 overall, 2-6 in close games

In Butch Davis’ first year, UNC was very competitive for a 4-8 team. Only two of its eight losses were by more than one score, and that’s what you’re looking for in an up-and-coming team.

Many people are already expecting big things out of the Heels in 2008, with them having been picked second in the ACC’s Coastal Division. Their record in close games in 2007 would seem to back up those expectations, as long as things regress to the mean in Chapel Hill.

Vanderbilt Commodores, 5-7 overall, 0-3 in close games

For the second time in three seasons, Vanderbilt finished one win away from being bowl eligible for the first time since 1982. Two seasons ago the five wins came on the back of star QB Jay Cutler. Last season the five wins came despite great upheaval at the quarterback position, and the ‘Dores had three good chances to get that sixth win anyway.

Could 2008 be the season that Vandy finally breaks through? Perhaps, but lets not forget that scaring the big boys by losing close games is one of the things that defines Vanderbilt over the past couple decades.

Washington Huskies, 4-9 overall, 0-5 in close games

Ty Willingham has been working his way through a bad situation in the post-Neuheisel era. His many critics probably would attribute the 0-5 mark in close games to poor coaching and execution. Others might attribute it to having a young team and starting a freshman quarterback.

The pressure is definitely on Willingham to have a good season. If another year goes by with a poor record in close games, the folks on the “poor coaching and execution” side of the argument will probably win out.

The Watch List

Alabama Crimson Tide, 7-6 overall, 4-6 in close games

Arizona Wildcats, 5-7 overall, 2-4 in close games

Cincinnati Bearcats, 10-3 overall, 1-3 in close games

Louisville Cardinals, 6-6 overall, 3-5 in close games

Mississippi Rebels, 3-9 overall, 2-4 in close games


The Guys Who Follow College Football’s Coaching Legends

May 9, 2008

We’ve all heard it a million times: “You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend; you want to be the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend.”

It makes intuitive sense, and it certainly would seem true. Urban Meyer is the guy who followed the guy who followed the legend at Florida, and things have worked out quite well for him so far. Then again, Bill Callahan was the same at Nebraska, and the fans were ready to run him out of town two years before he finally got the axe.

To see how true this adage is, I’ve looked at some coaching legends and the guys who followed them. They are as follows, in chronological order from when the legend was hired:

OKLAHOMA

Legend: Bud Wilkinson, 1947-63, 145-29-4 (.826); 3 national and 14 conference titles

Follower: Gomer Jones, 1964-65, 9-11-1 (.452); 0 national or conference titles

Next: Jim Mackenzie, 1966, 6-4 (.600); 0 national or conference titles

This is somewhat of a bad example to start off with, since Mackenzie sadly passed away due to a heart attack after his first season.

Jones definitely had a difficult time following Wilkinson though, having not been able to break even in his two years. Wilkinson is the coach who led Oklahoma to its famed 47-game winning streak, and he failed to win the Big 8 title in only three of his 17 years.

AUBURN

Legend: Shug Jordan, 1951-75, 175-83-7 (.674), 1 national and 1 conference title

Follower: Doug Barfield, 1976-80, 29-25-1 (.536), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Pat Dye, 1981-92, 99-39-4 (.711), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Jordan held the job for 25 years and the stadium is named after him, but his .674 winning percentage is lower than any of the other legends on this list. Barfield followed him up with 5 forgettable seasons, with 8-3 being the best record he posted.

Dye had the most success in his tenure of the three, though he was forced out of his coaching and AD position when it was revealed that assistant coaches and boosters had paid a player. He still is fondly remembered, though, as the field at Jordan-Hare stadium was named after him in 2005.

OHIO STATE

Legend: Woody Hayes, 1951-78, 205-61-10 (.761), 5 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Earle Bruce, 1979-87, 81-26-1 (.755), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Next: John Cooper, 1988-2000, 111-43-4 (.715), 0 national and 4 conference titles

Earle Bruce did an admirable job in following Woody Hayes after Hayes’ unexpected meltdown and firing. He did not see the same success however, though he nearly won the national title in his first year.

John Cooper is a goat in OSU annals, having posted a 2-10-1 record against Michigan and having presided over numerous academic and discipline problems.

TEXAS

Legend: Darrell Royal, 1957-76, 167-47-5 (.774), 3 national and 11 conference titles

Follower: Fred Akers, 1977-86, 86-31-2 (.731), 0 national and 2 conference titles

Next: David McWilliams, 1987-91, 31-26 (.544), 0 national and 1 conference title

Akers did a much better job than McWilliams did. Akers caught flak though for losing bowl games and in his final few years having bad records against Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

McWilliams’s 1990 SWC championship year looks like a fluke in light of the rest of his seasons, with the 7-5 record in his first year being the second-best record he had.

ALABAMA

Legend: Paul Bryant, 1958-82, 232-46-9 (.824), 6 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Ray Perkins, 1983-86, 32-15-1 (.677), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Bill Curry, 1987-89, 26-10 (.722), 0 national and 1 conference title

Perkins left the New York Giants to coach at his alma mater, and he left four years later to take a rich contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. An incident where a former player that he had recruited claimed he was paid led to the school being placed on probation in 1995.

Curry was doing well in his three years, though he was 0-3 against Auburn. He didn’t like the contract offered to him in 1990, so he left to coach Kentucky.

GEORGIA

Legend: Vince Dooley, 1964-88, 201-77-10 (.715), 1 national and 6 conference titles

Follower: Ray Goff, 1989-95, 46-34-1 (.574), 0 national or conference titles

Next: Jim Donnan, 1996-2000, 40-19 (.678), 0 national or conference titles

Neither Goff nor Donnan panned out for the Bulldogs. They both failed to win even an SEC East title, and both were used as Florida’s whipping boy. Goff is perhaps most famous for being called “Ray Goof” by Steve Spurrier.

MICHIGAN

Legend: Bo Schembechler, 1969-89, 194-48-5 (.796), 0 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Gary Moeller, 1990-94, 44-13-3 (.758), 0 national and 3 conference titles

Next: Lloyd Carr, 1995-07, 122-40 (.753), 1 national and 5 conference titles

Moeller is a controversial figure for Wolverines due to his messy departure following a drunken altercation at a restaurant. Some argue his best years were already behind him; some argue that he was trying to modernize the program and that Carr won his national title with Moeller’s players.

Carr is one of the few followed-the-guy-who-followed-the-legend guys who actually won a national title. His legacy will remain mixed due to his futility against Jim Tressel and the loss to Appalachian State.

BYU

Legend: LaVell Edwards, 1972-2000, 257-101-3 (.716), 1 national and 19 conference titles

Follower: Gary Crowton, 2001-04, 26-23 (.531), 0 national and 1 conference title

Next: Bronco Mendenhall, 2005-present, 28-10 (.737), 0 national and 2 conference titles

Crowton won the MWC his first year with Edwards’ players, but failed to reach .500 in his remaining three years. Mendenhall has put together consecutive 11-win seasons, winning the MWC title each year. His 2008 team is expected to contend for a BCS bowl.

NEBRASKA

Legend: Tom Osborne, 1973-97, 255-49-3 (.836), 3 national and 13 conference titles

Follower: Frank Solich, 1998-03, 58-19 (.753), 0 national and 1 conference title

Next: Bill Callahan, 2004-07, 27-22 (.551), 0 national or conference titles

Solich is probably the source of the modern “You don’t want to be the guy who follows a legend” movement, having been fired after a 9-win season. Callahan ended up being a disaster, and will probably be despised by Husker fans forever.

FLORIDA

Legend: Steve Spurrier, 1990-2001, 122-27-1 (.817), 1 national and 6 conference titles

Follower: Ron Zook, 2002-04, 23-14 (.622), 0 national and conference titles

Next: Urban Meyer, 2005-present, 31-8 (.795), 1 national and 1 conference title

Zook was doomed from the beginning, having been a fallback choice for the coaching position and having never been a head coach before. He won games he shouldn’t have, but lost games he shouldn’t have too. He also presided over an explosion of off-field issues, including Zook himself being involved in a fight at a frat house. Some Florida fans still defend him, but the overall sentiment is that his hiring was a mistake.

After doubts about his offense abounded in his first year, Meyer solidified his position in his second by winning a national title. Some fans are uncomfortable with his highly aggressive recruiting tactics, which have drawn scrutiny from other coaches and the NCAA, but otherwise Gators are more than happy with his job so far.

*   *   *

Following a legend, regardless of place in line, is not easy. Only Pat Dye clearly surpassed his legendary predecessor’s accomplishments, but his departure was not the stuff of legends.

None of the followers distinguished himself after leaving, though Earle Bruce had a nice run with Iowa State before coaching the Buckeyes. Ron Zook still has time to carve out his legacy at Illinois.

The book is still open for Mendenhall and Meyer, but both appear to be in good shape. Despite their records, most of the coaches in that coveted “guy who followed the guy who followed the legend” role didn’t fare much better than the guy who did follow the legend.

There is some truth to the adage, but in the end good coaches will succeed in good situations regardless of who came before.


Surfing Through the SEC Football Schedules

May 7, 2008

The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu put out his preliminary projections for the SEC, and it got me thinking. I am not ready to put out my projections yet, mainly because there are too many good teams in the conference just to throw an order together right now. Projecting the SEC finish will take a lot of research.

I did end up looking at each school’s schedule, mainly focusing on the non-conference games. If you haven’t yet done that, you’ll be glad to know that the SEC schedules this year are less cupcake-y than past years.

For the record, I am fine with schools raiding the bakery for fundraiser games a couple times a year, but I do expect BCS schools to play at least one BCS opponent. I also think playing I-AA teams is inexcusable except for the very best I-AA teams, like Appalachian State, which are better than the Utah States and FIUs of I-A anyway.

Here’s a rundown of the SEC non-conference schedules, in alphabetical order:

ALABAMA

BCS Opponent: @ Clemson (Aug. 30)

Cupcakes: Tulane (Sept. 6), Western Kentucky (Sept. 13), Arkansas State (Nov. 1)

ARKANSAS

BCS Opponent: @ Texas (Sept. 13)

Respectable Non-BCS: Tulsa (Nov 1)

Cupcake: Louisiana-Monroe (Sept. 6)

I-AA: Western Illinois (Aug. 30)

AUBURN

BCS Opponent: @ West Virginia (Oct. 23)

Respectable Non-BCS: Southern Miss (Sept. 6)

Cupcake: Louisiana-Monroe (Aug. 30)

I-AA: Tennessee-Martin (Nov. 8 )

FLORIDA

BCS Opponents: Miami (Sept. 6), @ FSU (Nov. 29)

Respectable Non-BCS: Hawaii (Aug. 30)

I-AA: The Citadel (Nov. 22)

GEORGIA

BCS Opponents: @ Arizona State (Sept. 20), Georgia Tech (Nov. 29)

Respectable Non-BCS: Central Michigan (Sept. 6)

I-AA: Georgia Southern (Aug. 30)

KENTUCKY

BCS Opponent: Louisville (Aug. 31)

Cupcakes: Middle Tennessee (Sept. 13), Western Kentucky (Sept. 27)

I-AA: Norfolk State (Sept. 6)

LSU

Respectable Non-BCS: Troy (Sept. 6)

Respectable I-AA: Appalachian State (Aug. 30)

Cupcakes: North Texas (Sept. 13), Tulane (Nov. 1)

OLE MISS

BCS Opponent: @ Wake Forest (Sept. 6)

Cupcakes: Memphis (Aug. 30), Louisiana-Monroe (Nov. 15)

I-AA: Samford (Sept. 13)

MISSISSIPPI STATE

BCS Opponent: @ Georgia Tech (Sept. 20)

Cupcakes: Louisiana Tech (Aug. 30), Middle Tennessee (Oct. 25)

I-AA: Southeastern Louisiana (Sept. 6)

SOUTH CAROLINA

BCS Opponents: NC State (Aug. 28), @ Clemson (Nov. 29)

Cupcake: UAB (Sept. 27)

I-AA: Wofford (Sept. 20)

TENNESSEE

BCS Opponent: @ UCLA (Sept. 1)

Cupcakes: UAB (Sept. 13), Northern Illinois (Oct. 4), Wyoming (Nov. 8 )

VANDERBILT

BCS Opponents: Duke (Oct. 25), @ Wake Forest (Nov. 29)

Cupcakes: Miami University (Aug. 28), Rice (Sept. 13)

* * *

Only LSU doesn’t have a BCS opponent. Alabama, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt do not have I-AA opponents. LSU should not lose anything for playing Appalachian State, though, especially because Mountaineer fans have already begun predicting a victory on Charlotte sports talk radio.

LSU’s slate is the only one I’d call “shameful” in the bunch, though I am not happy about all of the non-App State I-AA teams you see listed. However, until the NCAA reverses the rule and stops allowing wins over I-AA teams to count towards bowl eligibility, those games are sadly inevitable.


No One Drafted From Alabama? Really?

April 29, 2008

Mike Shula was the head coach at Alabama from 2003 to 2006. He had one good year, a 10-2 season in 2005, but was fired for the mediocrity of the other three. Most people around the country saw the hiring as a bad move, and the truth in that could not have been clearer this weekend.

Not one single player from Alabama was drafted. That fact boggles the mind, because it’s Alabama. The program is not what it once was, but the Tide being shut out on draft weekend is inconceivable. For comparison, Florida hasn’t been shut out of the draft since 1951, and only once since then (1977) has a Gator not been selected in one of the first seven rounds of a draft.

It really is.

The fourth and fifth year seniors on that 2005 team were recruited by Dennis Franchione in 2002 and 2001. The real leaders on that team weren’t Shula’s recruits. The fourth and fifth year seniors on this year’s team were Shula’s recruits, having come to campus in 2003 and 2004. I’m going to give those years a look to see how it’s possible that Bama could have no one drafted this year.

His first class in 2003 (numbering 19) had only one player drafted: DT Le’Ron McClain in the fourth round last year. Granted, Tyrone Prothro probably would have been drafted if not for the nasty string of injuries he went through. It is worth mentioning though that the injury that started it all was sustained in the fourth quarter of a blowout (in 2005 over Florida), and he should not have been playing that late in the game in the first place. Well done, Mike.

I’ll give him a pass in 2003 though, since Coach Fran left unexpectedly and classes during transitional years tend to be rough anyway. If you want a comparison, though, Florida’s 2002 class, despite Steve Spurrier leaving a month before signing day, had four of its 23 players drafted from it. I’ll now look at Alabama’s 2004 class.

Of the 27 recruits, nine are listed on Alabama’s spring football roster. Four were listed as potential draftees on ESPN. None were listed as potential draftees in 2007. That means of the 18 that are gone, 14 weren’t even serious candidates to be drafted. Those 18 players had an average star rating of 2.79 (according to Rivals), with just two 4-star prospects among them.

Wake up, Mike. It’s time for good football.

The nine remaining players are a mixed bag. Antoine Caldwell became a permanent captain, an honor that got his name misspelled in cement but is still prestigious at the school. John Parker Wilson has played a lot of games, but “infuriating” doesn’t come close to describing his inconsistency. Beyond them, only DL Lorenzo Washington (3 sacks) and TE Nick Walker (2 TD receptions) made any significant plays last season.

It’s just astonishing that Alabama could have had such a bad class. Even that 2002 Florida class had a decent number of players considered draftable in 2006 and 2007. With all of the financial and tradition-based advantages the school has, it makes no sense for Alabama not to have anyone drafted in a particular year. Since Derrick Harvey and Andre Caldwell could have left last year, Florida almost had no one drafted this year. However, that would have been caused by extreme amounts of early entries not two consecutive bad recruiting classes.

In 2008 Appalachian State, Bentley, Coastal Carolina, Delaware, Eastern Kentucky, Furman, Gardner-Webb, Grand Valley State, Hampton, Idaho, Jackson State, McNeese State, Middle Tennessee State, Montana, Mount Union, North Dakota State, Northwest Missouri State, San Diego, Washburn, Weber State, and Winston Salem State all had at least one player drafted. Alabama did not.

Wow.


Coach Contracts: Nick Saban

April 9, 2008

This is the first in a series on coach contracts. You can find them thanks to the USA Today. Today’s subject is Nick Saban’s contract with Alabama.

Image CC by Flickr user jimmyjosh.

Either the University of Alabama is particularly paranoid (entirely possible), doesn’t really trust Nick L. Saban (also possible), or both (most likely candidate). Saban was required to initial every page of his contract, including the final page where he signed it, something only Les Miles at LSU was also required to do. In addition, there are constant references throughout that he should not do things to embarrass the university, which is probably a result of the Mike Price fiasco.

In fact, after the standard introductory legalese the contract begins with expectations regarding his behavior and a statement requiring him to be “a loyal employee of the University.” Every other contract goes immediately into financial terms, but not Alabama’s. It starts right off requiring him to be a good citizen and a loyal employee.

And that’s another thing. In these contracts, the person being hired is generally referred to as “Coach” throughout rather than using the guy’s name. This is probably so it’s easier to recycle the contract with minimal editing after they kick the lout to the curb for not winning championships every year. There are three exceptions to this in the conference: Mark Richt is “Richt,” Phil Fulmer is “Coach Fulmer,” and Nick Saban is “Employee.” I suppose it’s because Alabama has a bylaw somewhere restricting the use of the word “Coach” to the Bear and only the Bear.

The only capital “C” Coach the University of Alabama has ever had. Image CC by Flickr user jimmywayne22.

Saban gets a number of perks, though it’s interesting where the university draws the line. It will pay for him to have a country club membership, but not any food he buys while there. It must give him two cars to use, but it is not required to give him athletic shoes or clothing. He gets up to 25 hours flight time on a private jet (something no other coach I’ve seen gets), but those hours don’t roll over from year to year.

Overall it’s 32 pages long, tied for longest in the conference (not counting addenda to other coaches’ contracts) with Urban Meyer’s deal at Florida. The majority of it seems standard in comparison to other contracts, though the sections on what allows the university to terminate the contract and the ensuing damages are longer than in most other agreements.

Selected Quotes:

“Employee accepts the employment and agrees to act at all times in a manner consistent with good sportsmanship and with the high moral, ethical, and academic standards of the University. Employee shall exercise due care that all personnel and students under Employee’s supervision or subject to Employee’s control or authority shall comport themselves in like manner.

It must not be difficult to meet these requirements at the University of Alabama, with its rich tradition of bending and breaking NCAA rules. I wonder if all of the player arrests this off season mean he’s in breach of his contract?

“Employee agrees to be a loyal employee of the University.”

Again, this is the first thing the contract says after going through the legal definitions. Got trust issues, do we?

“If Employee is awarded the Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant Coach of the Year Award by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association… $50,000.”

This is from the details of his bonus for winning coach of the year from any one of 4 organizations. Meyer and Steve Spurrier also have various national coach of the year award-related bonuses, but only Saban gets dough specifically for winning the Bear Bryant award. Huge shocker there.

The Hat before Les Miles was the Hat. It will forever loom large over the Alabama program, and perhaps its commemoration will earn its current coach a cool $50,000. Image CC by Flickr user diamondduste.


Coach Contracts

April 9, 2008

I just discovered a wealth of fascinating information: the USA Today has every publicly available Div. I-A coaching contract compiled for easy reference. Perhaps I’m woefully late to this wagon train, but as I just about never read anything by the USA Today I think I can be excused for that. Now, these things are generally unreadable legalese, but there’s some great stuff in these and I’m going to go through some and pull out the interesting tidbits so you don’t have to. Hey, sometimes you gotta reach for content in the offseason.

I’m going to begin with the SEC, and if there’s any demand beyond that I’ll do more. Bobby Johnson‘s contract with Vanderbilt is unavailable since Vandy is a private school. For some reason the Mississippi schools didn’t release their coaches’ contracts either despite them being public institutions; it’s strange because Southern Miss did release Jeff Bower‘s old deal, so it’s not some quirk in Mississippi state law that prevents those contracts from being public. Also, nothing has been updated after this winter’s coaching carousel, so for example Arkansas still just has Nutt’s old deal rather than Petrino’s contract.

I’m going to do them in alphabetical order, so when the first one goes up this evening it’s going to involve two controversy magnets: Alabama and Nick Saban.


Saturday Wrapup

October 21, 2006

Without a Gator game, I found that I didn’t pay as close attention to football today as I thought I would. I guess even I fell victim to the big-game fatigue that the team seemed to in the second half of last week’s game at Auburn. I’m not saying it was nice to have a week off, since I will always prefer to have a Gator game than not to have one, but not having the stress of playing an elite team was nice for a change. So, here’s a few quick hits on the games I thought were interesting today.

–Nebraska really needed to beat Texas today. This was their perfect chance: the weather conditions could best be described as “ghastly,” it was Colt McCoy’s first game outside the state of Texas, the crowd was unbelievably hyped up, and it was their chance to make a big statement, much like Alabama against Florida last year. You just can’t fumble the ball that late in the game. It would have been nice to see Texas fall since the Longhorns’ schedule is pretty weak from here on out.

As a side note, after the game was over, the crowd chanted “Go Big Red!” in appreciation of the team’s effort. Now, I know that most Gator fans (myself included) hate Nebraska for the 1996 Fiesta Bowl, but I think a lot of Gator fans could learn a good lesson from that example.

–Georgia is in serious trouble. A week after losing their homecoming game to Vandy, the Dawgs nearly blew it against Mississippi State at home as well. I suppose now would be a bad time to tell UGA fans that Urban Meyer-coached teams usually play their best coming out of bye weeks and that Meyer has never lost a game played in the state of Florida…

–South Carolina took care of business against Vandy by a more convincing margin than I thought they would. Of course, Vandy trailed by only 4 until six minutes to go in the third quarter before SC scored to widen the margin. The Gamecocks then put another touchdown up in the fourth quarter to make it look more impressive. That’s a typical Vandy game as any. The final score looks pretty good, but you never felt confortable until that last touchdown in the fourth quarter to know that you’ve put it away.

–Notre Dame just is not impressing this year. The Irish won’t lose to UNC or any of the three service academies (unless Air Force brings the same game it did at Tennessee), but they should lose to USC, who was idle today. Incidentally, USC has a great chance to lose to…

–Cal, who nearly got embarassed by Washington today. It’s be one thing if Isaiah Stanback was healthy, but he definitely was out. Ty Willingham has done a great job with UW, which makes you wonder what happened at Notre Dame. Maybe the Fighting Irish fans never really accepted him and pushed him out too early, or maybe the Pac 10 can make any above average coach look like a legend. Heck, it makes Pete Carroll look like a genius, and he was a blithering idiot in the NFL with the Patriots.

–Now that everyone has cooled off on Garrett Wolfe, maybe it’s time for Boise State’s Ian Johnson to be the minor conference guy in the Heisman chatter. He leads the nation with 18 rushing touchdowns, and he’s the best offensive player on a team that’s almost a lock to finish undefeated. He’s projected right now to have more than 1700 yards at the end of the season, so that counts for something too, right? Then again, Darren Sproles rushed for 1900+ yards his senior year at Kansas State and destroyed Oklahoma himself in the Big XII title game, but didn’t even come within striking distance of winning the stiff-armed statue.

–Clemson dispatched Georgia Tech 31-7. Yawn. Was that really worth skipping Texas – Nebraska for, College GameDay? Or were you picking games by weather reports? Also, it seems every week there is an even bigger Borat sign where ever they go. Are people really that amused by a guy talking in a fake accent who ignores all social conventions? Because if they are, then why did The Laidies Man bomb? Not that I liked that movie (it was awful), but I’m just asking.

–Tennessee, despite being the better team by far, nearly blew it against Bama. Sometimes, there really is nothing new under the sun. Today also featured the first touchdown in the series since 2004.

–Miami came thisclose to losing to Duke today. Nothing could have topped that. Yes, Miami was without 13 players who were suspended, but the 2001 Miami team probably could have taken its scout team and beat Duke by two touchdowns. This is one of the great what-could-have-been games, and also fitting punishment to Miami for it’s lenient punishment to its players for last week. People keep calling that a joke, but there’s nothing funny about it.

–Finally, BC beat FSU despite the Seminoles wearing their all-new black uniforms, which looked pretty good as far as FSU uniforms go. Florida has had alternate black uniforms for basketball for years, and the bookstore has been selling black football jerseys that inexplicably have no blue on them at all. In any event, FSU is 4-3 and 2-3 in the ACC. Ten years ago, those would sound preposterous, but anything’s possible at this point as long as Jeff Bowden is running the offense. FSU’s leading rusher for the game? Drew Weatherford, with 10 yards.


Alabama Game Wrapup

October 2, 2006

Updates will be sporadic this week as it’s incredibly busy. I’ve got work, internship interviews, group projects due, group presentations, and meetings, and that’s not even counting Gator Growl. Yes, it’s still fun being a student.

This win over Bama was not the most fun win in the world, but once the team finally got going they were fine. Florida is 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the conference for the first time since 2001. Florida now has won 12 straight at home, and Urban Meyer is still undefeated in games played in the state of Florida. This team is on a roll.

This game was the official celebration of the 100th anniversary of Gator Football. There were lots of videos before the game, and the ceremony for the “Ring of Honor” was nice. UF picked the best players of the past four decades, and chose Steve Spurrier, Jack Youngblood, Emmitt Smith, and Danny Wuerffel. It’s hard to argue with any of those choices. It was nice to see Steve make it, since he said he wasn’t sure that he would, and it was disappointing that Emmitt decided that “Dancing with the Stars” was more important than attending.

My brother wondered about who would get it for the current decade. It’s barely half over so it’s too early to call, but Rex Grossman and Chris Leak probably are the early favorites, but as they say, there’s a lot of football still to be played. It could be Tim Tebow, it could be Percy Harvin, or it could be some freshman from next year.

As far as the game goes, it was an interesting study in opportunities and momentum. Each team had its chances to blow the game wide open, and fortunately Florida was the team to do it. I really think if Bama had Tyrone Prothro, they would have won again. The UF defense did a good job of bend-but-don’t-break (giving up 323 yards and 20 first downs but only 6 points) but if there was one more good receiver to keep track of, especially one of Prothro’s caliber, it’d have been over in the first half again. Florida was on the ropes with Bama in the red zone after its fumble recovery touchdown, but the fact that the defense help the Tide to just 3 points was a huge point in the game.

The next big point was Florida’s second quarter touchdown drive, and specifically Chris Leak’s long run. For whatever reason, be it that Bama played man defense when they normally play zone or Meyer shuffling too many players around as Heath Cline believes, Florida’s offense was awful until that drive. Maybe the run did open up the pass, or maybe they just decided that “out-toughing” an opponent does not necessarily mean running it up the middle for no gain.

In any event, Leak’s run was a huge moment for the team. The crowd was buzzing when Tebow entered the game despite Leak throwing for two straight first downs. He had his plays and came out, then Leak had his turn to shine. That run changed the way the crowd acted. After that run, there was no more chatter automatically starting when Tebow entered the game. There was no more going nuts over Tebow running for three yards. It wasn’t just the run, but the way he showed emotion afterward that really changed things. For a player who Cline has sometimes called a “quarterbot,” showing that excitement was big. Tim Tebow’s completion to Jemalle Cornelius would have been nearly as big, except he didn’t follow it up with anything. He’s thrown just 12 passes in five games.

After that drive, I felt a lot better and stopped worrying about whether we’d win or not. I knew once they got the pass going and stopped trying to blast Wynn up the middle they’d be fine. Florida’s biggest advantage is speed and elusiveness, not bruising tailbacks and a dominant offensive line. Don’t get me wrong, having a 100-yard rusher is as important in this offense as any this side of Mike Leach, but it is daring defenses to stop Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell, Jemalle Cornelius, and Percy Harvin all at once is where Florida will have its most success.

That is not to say that loading the field with receivers will work this weekend. Putting five-receiver sets on the field against LSU is a death wish for Chris Leak. LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pellini is already famous for his blitzes, and they definitely will bring the house if Leak is left alone in the backfield. Four-receiver sets are probably dangerous as well if the running back is not there for blocking. Alabama is good, but they’re also unranked for a reason. LSU is a much better team, and probably the most talented team the Gators will face this year.

This game will be an especially big test for Florida’s defense. Without Marcus Thomas in the middle, the defensive line is clearly not as good. The coaches have been blitzing linebackers to compensate, but that’s leaving the middle of the field open for crossing patterns and slants. Well-timed seam routes to the tight end would destroy this defense. Reggie Nelson has been playing great, but it takes more than just him. JaMarcus Russell has been great this year against shaky secondaries, and as big as he is, he won’t go down easy if Florida can get to him. If Gator fans thought it was frustrating watching the pass defense the past two games, they’re going to blow a gasket after watching Russell and Dwayne Bowe have a field day on Saturday.

Am I saying it’s hopeless? No. Harvin sat out this game but should be ready to go for LSU. DeShawn Wynn has only a sprain, but it’s still uncertain if he’ll go. Thomas will not be playing. If Harvin is close to 100%, then Florida should be fine on offense. I can say it’s more likely to be a shootout than the 7-3 result in LSU’s game at Auburn. It is true that LSU is first in total defense and Florida is 13th, but LSU had padded its stats on lesser teams and the unimaginative Auburn offense, and Florida’s pass defense is 64th nationally. Really.

Well, this kind of became an LSU preview type thing, which is fine since I have no idea when this week I’ll get a chance to write again. In the end, the win over Bama was good because we got some revenge for last year and it showed how well the coaches are doing this year at making adjustments on the fly. It was not a completely satisfying win, but we’re not going to get overly satisfying wins any time soon. The SEC is just too good for that. There is no gaping chasm between the elite and the rest as with the Big 10 or Pac 10.

It’s a costly win if it keeps DeShawn out for Saturday. LSU is not a chump, and it’s going to be a dogfight of the first degree. I can’t wait.

*  *  *

As an aside, that was another atrocious game by the referees. There was another helping of really late flags and questionable calls against both teams. At least they evened out. Chris Hetland’s field goal was close, but it was good. I was in the South endzone where it happened, and I can tell you that it was good. However, even though it went over the back judge’s post, he deferred to the other post’s official who didn’t have a good angle and had no way of knowing if it was good. Unbelievable.

This is really getting old, and these terrible officials will cost someone an important game. I don’t know if it will go Florida’s way or not (and given SEC officials’ history, it will not), or even if it won’t happen during a Gator game, but it’s coming. Even if it’s to give Alabama the game over Tennessee in a scenario where the Gators go to Atlanta if the Vols lose, it’ll still be a shame. I’d take that of course, but it’ll still be a shame. These teams deserve better. It’s already the toughest conference in the country, and with opponents being so good teams should not have to overcome inept officiating as well.


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