All 2008 Picks In One Place

August 23, 2008

I don’t think I’m going to have time to write up the rest of my picks in as much detail as I did with the ACC and Big 12. Instead, I am just going to reveal them all now. I will also be showing you how my selections fit with the expected outcomes based on ten years of BCS games and my opinion of the upcoming season.

Before we dig into the picks, I have some numbers to share with you. Numbers aren’t as juicy as picks are, of course, but they form the basis of these predictions.

The first bit is about BCS at-large teams. Since 1998, the BCS has had 24 at-large teams. I’m fudging a bit; the BCS Busters (Utah, Boise State, and Hawaii) had auto-bids, as did Nebraska and Oklahoma when they made the championship game without winning the Big 12. Just humor me for now.

Of those 24 at-larges, 20 have had the opportunity to return to the BCS the next season. Six of them were able to do it; fourteen were not. Since only 30% of BCS at-larges return the next season and we had four at-larges in 2007, we should expect that only one of them comes back this season.

The other important set of stats comes from my analysis of the preseason consensus. Based on that, we would expect there to be four BCS teams that were picked to be first in their division/conference, two that were picked second, one that was picked third, and one from all the rest.

That only adds up to eight teams though, and there are ten BCS spots. I have already said that I think this is a “season of titans” as it were, so to fill in those final two spots I am using two more teams that were picked to finish in first place. That makes a total of six teams picked first in their division/conference in the BCS. Also to fit in with that theory, I expect there to be no BCS Busters in 2008.

The preseason consensus, which appears to be about final at this point, can be found here.

One final point to keep in mind is that only one team–the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners who got a championship game automatic bid–has lost its conference championship game and still made the BCS.

Onto the picks!

ACC

Championship Game: Clemson over Virginia Tech

At-Large: None

BIG 12

Championship Game: Oklahoma over Missouri

At-Large: Texas Tech

BIG EAST

Champion: West Virginia (over second-place Cincinnati, third-place USF)

At-Large: None

I see West Virginia this year in a similar situation as Miami in 2002-03. This is perhaps the last big hurrah for a while since it will be extremely tough to replace Pat White. White will make up for other shortcomings on offense, and DC Jeff Casteel returns from last year’s staff to field a defense that is always better than people think it is.

I really like Cincinnati’s chances to finish second. The Bearcats won ten games last season, and two of their three losses were by one score or less. Replacing Ben Mauk will be difficult, but Brian Kelly is a good coach and a good quarterback developer. The defense will carry them to second place.

USF has talent in key areas, but I just don’t think Matt Grothe is consistent enough to carry them to second place in the conference. There’s just something about him I don’t trust.

BIG TEN

Champion: Ohio State

At-Large: Michigan State

Ohio State should be the best team in the country. It has 19 starters coming back from a team that went to the national title game. The Buckeyes have considerably more talent and depth than anyone else in the conference.

Picking Michigan State is rather curious. If you remember though, I have to have someone who was picked beyond the top three of its conference. The Spartans are that team, having been picked sixth in the Big Ten.

All six of MSU’s losses were close last season, making them a prominent member of the potential risers club. They have a great senior tailback in Javon Ringer, and if there’s a conference where you can ride a senior tailback to success, it’s this one. The offensive line is big, QB Brian Hoyer is a veteran, and Mark Dantonio’s coaching will keep the defense solid.

Illinois will fall back to earth without Rashard Mendenhall, I have little faith that Jay Paterno’s “Spread HD” will amount to much, and Bret Bielema’s teams have played to the level of their opponents so much it scares me. The Rose Bowl will need someone to replace the Buckeyes, and I think the Spartans just might be the in best position to get the bid.

Plus, the Big Ten has put more teams predicted to finish below third in the conference into the BCS than any other league. It would stand to reason that the Big Ten would be the most likely conference to produce that surprise team this year.

PAC-10

Champion: USC

At-Large: Arizona State

USC looks more vulnerable to me this season than it has in years. The defense will still be great, believe you me. The offense just won’t be overwhelming as it was in the 2003-05 run, and that is what made those Trojan teams nearly invincible.

Mark Sanchez may be good, but he is no Carson Palmer or Matt Leinart. Just being John David Booty will be enough to win the conference, and I think he can be that. USC gets the benefit of the doubt until it falls.

Arizona State was a year early by winning ten games a season ago. Serious questions persist about the offensive line, and the schedule is tougher with Georgia coming to town. However, Dennis Erickson is still the second-best coach in the conference, and there’s enough continuity to think that the Sun Devils will enjoy another great season.

SEC

Championship Game: Florida over Auburn

At-Large: Georgia

Florida and Auburn were almost mirror images of each other last year. If Florida could only have had a defense to go with its offense, the Gators could have been contenders. If Auburn could only have had an offense to go with its defense, the Tigers could have been contenders.

The offseason of training should make Florida’s defense much improved, and Auburn’s offense showed a lot of promise in its bowl game under new OC Tony Franklin. LSU has so much talent everywhere that they cannot be dismissed, but I don’t think Andrew Hatch is as good as Matt Flynn was. That assumption is the main deciding factor for picking the Tigers from the Plains over the Tigers from the Bayou.

Georgia returns most everyone important from last season. I have some concerns about the team though. Can Mark Richt really keep up the special motivational tactics all season long? If he doesn’t, can the team find the fire inside? The ’Dawgs certainly couldn’t at the beginning of last season.

Will Matthew Stafford really make the leap everyone is expecting? Can another patchwork offensive line come together to have great results? Most of these questions are probably “yes” answers, but I still have UGA finishing second in the SEC East because I think Florida will beat them. I will get into that more around the time of the game, but for now just know I am assuming a Gator win on November 1.

BCS BOWL APPEARANCES

I will use the BCS selection process that I outlined recently to explain why I have everyone going to the bowls they’re listed in.

BCS National Championship Game: Ohio State over Oklahoma

These are the two teams I think have the best shot at going undefeated. Ohio State has the better team, something it didn’t have in 2007, and it will have the motivation of needing to prove the world wrong, something it didn’t have in 2006.

Oklahoma sleepwalked through its two recent BCS games, but it won’t this time. The Sooners don’t have quite the same depth that OSU has though, and the waves of fresh Buckeye players will help decide the game.

For the first time since 2005, we should have a close, entertaining national title game.

Rose Bowl: USC over Michigan State

USC comes in as the tie-in Pac-10 champion. To replace the No. 1 Buckeyes, the Rose Bowl will select Michigan State (ranked between 12 and 14 in the BCS) and get its traditional matchup. The result will be similar to last year’s game as the nation once again howls for the Rose to forget its historical matchup and set up a good game.

Fiesta Bowl: Texas Tech over Arizona State

To replace the No. 2 Sooners, the Fiesta Bowl will take the hometown Sun Devils. It was not able to take them last season because of the Orange taking Kansas; that left the Fiesta with the choice of auto-bid West Virginia or auto-bid Hawai’i.

The Fiesta gets the next choice as well, being first in the rotation this season, so it will take the nearby Red Raiders for the excitement factor. It also will not want a rematch, which is the result of taking Georgia, and it will not want to take West Virginia two years in a row.

The game will be a shootout, and I will take Tech since Mike Leach always seems to do well in bowl games.

Sugar Bowl: Florida over West Virginia

Florida comes as the tie-in SEC champion. The Sugar will take West Virginia so as not to set up a rematch of the Florida-Georgia game.

This should be an exciting game as the poster boys of the spread option, Pat White and Tim Tebow, battle it out in the Superdome. Both offenses will give the defenses fits, but Florida’s stable of playmakers is so much deeper than West Virginia’s is that I have no choice but to take the Gators.

This would be a really, really fun game though.

Orange Bowl: Georgia over Clemson

Clemson comes as the tie-in ACC champion. The Orange Bowl cannot believe its luck that it gets to take Georgia as its at-large team. Both teams are regional powers that will snap up tickets as fast as the bowl can print them.

This is also a historic rivalry game for the schools, though one that hasn’t been played regularly in a while. For that reason, it will be a very hard-fought game with a lot on the line for the fans. Georgia simply has the better team though, so I expect the ’Dawgs to take it in the second half.

In Summary

I have six teams that were picked as first place finishers in the preseason consensus: Clemson, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio State, USC, and Georgia. I have two teams that were picked as second place finishers in the preseason consensus: Florida and Arizona State. I have one team that was picked as a third place finisher in the preseason consensus, Texas Tech, and one from below that, Michigan State. Georgia is the one returning at-large from last season.

All of the BCS games look good except for the Rose Bowl. Most even have an enticing storyline to go along with a good matchup. I feel really bad for leaving Missouri out, but I can’t ignore the history on teams that have lost their conference title games. Subbing the Tigers in for the Red Raiders is still plausible and could also make for a great game.

For what it’s worth, I also expect Ohio State’s Chris Wells to win the Heisman, followed by Chase Daniel, Tim Tebow, and Pat White.

That is over 1,900 words of predicting up there. That’s way more than enough. It’s about time that we actually had some games in what looks to be another outstanding college football season.


2008 Big 12 Picks

August 12, 2008

NORTH DIVISION

The Pick: Missouri

Missouri versus Kansas was probably one of the toughest picks for me to make. The Big 12 has replaced the Pac-10 as the “all offense, no defense” conference, meaning that a team that can play defense will have a definite advantage. I suspect Mizzou will have the better offense, but Kansas could have the better defense.

I think the difference between the offenses will be greater than the difference between the defenses, so the Tigers get the edge. They just have so many weapons on offense that they are impossible to ignore.

There is some defined risk here. As I pointed out in my analysis of Gary Pinkel’s coaching record, the last time Missouri had any expectations was 2004. Despite having one of Pinkel’s best defenses and Brad Smith returning at quarterback, they stumbled to a 5-6 record that season. They won’t fall that far, but one great year does not wash away all the rest. They must still prove they can win with the spotlight on.

The Runner-Up: Kansas

Kansas’ schedule was a complete joke last year, but at least they completely blew out their non-conference pastries. Plus, it’s not the Jayhawks’ fault that the conference schedule rotated out Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech.

They got to have their year in the sun with an Orange Bowl at the end. Much like Missouri they now must prove they have something sustainable, and the opportunity is there to do just that. The Big 12 South heavies return to the slate, and Kansas takes a trip to play USF in Tampa.

I don’t expect them to lose five games like Rutgers did in 2007 after its dream 2006 season, even though I’ve drawn a parallel between those teams in the past. KU returns a lot more talent than Rutgers did, and I can’t really see them losing more than four. Still, they are a potential faller, so I don’t think they’ll win the division.

The Dark Horse: Nebraska

Most people would label Colorado the dark horse of the North, but I’m going with the Huskers. In the three games that returning QB Joe Ganz started last year, Nebraska scored 54 points a game, including 39 against the otherwise stingy Kansas defense. The offensive scheme this season will not be a whole lot different, so the potential for fireworks from Ganz is there.

Obviously defense was a huge problem last season, but new head coach Bo Pelini will work to get that straightened out in short order. The Blackshirts won’t be back to being the terrors they were in the ‘90s, but they will make some strides in the right direction.

I still think Nebraska is a year or two away from being ready to compete for the division title. The Huskers do miss Texas and get Missouri, Kansas, and Colorado in Lincoln though, so the schedule is somewhat favorable in that sense. If Kansas crashes to earth and Missouri breaks under pressure, the old bullies of the Big 12 North could slide in to capture the division.

SOUTH DIVISION

The Pick: Oklahoma

The Sooners have been the default pick in the South almost every year this decade, and that shoe definitely fits them this year. I actually had Oklahoma as my national title pick last season; if they had kept their focus against Colorado or Sam Bradford didn’t get hurt against Texas Tech, then they would have been in the title game ahead of LSU.

Bradford had an amazing season last year as a freshman, and thanks to a massive and massively talented offensive line he should be able to continue the success. The offense goes from dangerous to lethal if DeMarco Murray can stay healthy. The defense has a lot of question marks, but Bob Stoops usually gets it in top shape.

In my opinion, this is the Big 12 team with the best shot at going undefeated. There are of course uncertainties when it gets to BCS time, but that’s well after the conference title has been decided.

The Runner-Up: Texas Tech

When it comes to the Red Raiders, I’m like Fox Mulder: I want to believe. I like what I’ve read about Mike Leach the person, not even counting all of his hilarious eccentricities. I like seeing his offense rack up insane amounts of yards and points, and Michael Crabtree is a joy to watch.

That said, the questions about defense are completely legitimate. I’ve heard all the stats and factoids thrown around about the improvement under the mid-season replacement defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, but they still gave up 200+ yards rushing five times after he took over. Maybe a whole offseason under McNeill will make a difference, but the jury is still out.

When it comes down to it, Texas Tech just isn’t that good on the road in the conference, and they play at Kansas and at Oklahoma. Mack Brown has owned the Red Raiders, going 8-2 against them, but both losses were in Lubbock (where they play this year) and the Longhorns have a vulnerable secondary with two freshmen starting at safety. A win over UT is possible.

I have a feeling that they will post a 6-2 conference record, placing second in the South for the second time in four seasons. However, if Leach is ever going to win the division, this is the year to do it. If they can upset Oklahoma again, the South could be theirs.

The Dark Horse: Texas

It’s a little odd calling Texas a dark horse when it has won ten or more games each of the last seven seasons, and it won nine each of the three years before that. For those scoring at home, that means nine wins is the fewest in the Mack Brown era.

The Longhorns’ grip on that ten wins a year streak has been slipping with them needing a bowl win each of the past two seasons to preserve it. Colt McCoy had a rough year last season, tossing up 18 interceptions behind a highly suspect offensive line. This season, there are questions at running back, receiver, and safety. You can add to that a brand new defensive scheme under new coordinator Will Muschamp.

Mack Brown has never finished below second in the Big 12 South since he arrived in 1998, but this is the year that streak gets broken. Now, it is a young team, so it will get better as the year goes on, and they will have a Leak/Tebow dynamic with McCoy and John Chiles.

There are just too many holes filled with nothing but question marks though to predict a top-two finish in the South given how much is returning in Norman and Lubbock. If the Red Raiders disappoint and the Sooners stumble again, the Longhorns will be in position step up and take the division, but I don’t believe they’ll reach up and grab it themselves. The 2009 season is a different story, but for now it’s 2008.

Champion: Oklahoma

BCS At-Large: Texas Tech


How Good is the Preseason Consensus at Picking BCS Teams?

August 1, 2008

If you’ve never looked at football.stassen.com, you ought to take a look. It has a lot of great resources for college football research.

One of the best things on the site is the compilation of the preseason consensus. It allows you to see what everyone was thinking before the season starts, and it goes back to 1993.

I decided to go back and look to see how good the preseason consensus was at predicting BCS participants.

By Preseason Conference Rankings

I first looked to see where the BCS conference participants were ranked in the preseason standings.

As it turns out, there’s almost always one wild card in the BCS. Every year except two – 1998 and 2003 – had a team ranked fifth or below in its conference/division make the BCS. The 2003 season was anomalous in that the BCS had six first place picks and two second place picks in it. The 1998 season had five first place picks, two second place picks, and one third place pick.

The lowest-picked teams to make the BCS were 1999 Stanford and 2002 Iowa who both were picked eighth in their conferences.

Only three seasons had more than four first place conference/division picks make the BCS. I’ve already mentioned ’98 and ’03, and the third was 2001 with five. However rather than being totally orderly, ’01 also had two seventh place picks make it in Maryland and Illinois.

Here is a table showing the frequency of making the BCS for each preseason conference/division ranking.

Frequency of BCS Appearances
Conf./Div. Ranking Teams in BCS Teams per Year
1 41 4.1
2 16 1.6
3 10 1.0
4 2 0.2
5 2 0.2
6 1 0.1
7 4 0.4
8 2 0.2

First Place Picks

Here is a table of how well the teams that were picked first in their conferences or divisions did at getting into the BCS.

“1s in BCS” refers to how many first place picks from the conference made the BCS. “BCS Teams” tells how many total BCS teams the conference has fielded. “Tot. 1 Picks” tells how many total first place picks the conference had in the BCS era. For conferences without divisions, it’s one a year; for conferences with divisions, it’s two a year.

First Place Picks in the BCS
Conference 1s in BCS BCS Teams Pct. Tot. 1 Picks Pct. in BCS
ACC 7 10 70% 13 53.8%
Big 12 9 14 64.3% 20 45%
Big East 6 10 60% 10 60%
Big Ten 5 17 29.4% 10 50%
Pac-10 8 12 66.7% 10 80%
SEC 6 15 40% 20 30%

We see a couple things in this.

The Big Ten’s first place picks make a very small percentage of its total BCS participants, thanks to having the smallest number of first place picks make the BCS but the largest number of BCS teams.

The Big 12 and especially the SEC had trouble putting their preseason first place picks in the BCS. In the case of the Big 12, part of it was guessing incorrectly as to whether OU or Texas would win the South. The SEC was a little messier, and I’ll explain more about that later.

Consensus Teams

I finally took a look at consensus teams. In this case, I defined a “consensus team” as a team that received three or fewer rankings of below first for its conference/division.

Surprisingly, only 29 of the 47 (61.7%) consensus teams made the BCS. Here is the number of consensus teams by year:

Consensus Teams by Season
Season Consensus Teams
1998 4
1999 5
2000 4
2001 3
2002 4
2003 4
2004 6
2005 6
2006 8
2007 4

It’s interesting that from 1998 to 2003, there were never more than five consensus teams, and that only happened once. During that time, 69.57% of the consensus teams made the BCS.

In 2004 and 2005, there were six consensus teams, and in 2006 there were eight consensus teams. During those years where everyone suddenly agreed more often, just 45% of consensus teams made the BCS. Things toned down a bit in 2007, when all four consensus teams got to BCS bowls.

The Big Ten has only had five consensus teams, but all five have made the BCS. It appears that when everyone agrees on the Big Ten, its preseason champ makes the BCS; when everyone doesn’t necessarily agree, it’s preseason champ doesn’t make the BCS.

The Pac-10 has also had just five consensus teams. Only 1999 Arizona failed to make the BCS; the other four were USC from 2003-07. That’s an 80% success rate.

Next up in accuracy was the Big 12, which had nine consensus division winners in the BCS era. Seven of them made the BCS for a 77.8% accuracy rate. The two that missed it were 1999 Texas A&M and 2006 Nebraska.

After the Big 12 came the ACC. It had ten conference/division consensus teams, and six of them made the BCS (60%). Three of the failed four were divisional picks – VT in 2005 and both FSU and Miami in 2006 – with only 2001 FSU falling short among pre-divisional play consensus teams (all of which were of course FSU as well).

We fall below .500 in accuracy with consensus Big East picks. Only two of the five consensus teams made the BCS, but interestingly the misses came from 2004-06. It shows that people were pretty sure they knew what was going to happen post-ACC raid, but we can see in hindsight that really no one knew what was going to happen on many levels.

Finally, we see that the SEC was the most difficult to predict. It had 13 consensus teams and at least one a year, but only five of them made the BCS. That’s a 38.5% success rate.

Funnily enough, every time Florida has been a consensus team (’98, ’01, and ’06), it has made the BCS. The other two hits were ’99 Tennessee and ’07 LSU. Eastern division consensus teams were 4-2 in making the BCS; Western division consensus teams were 1-6 in making the BCS. This seems to further confirm the fact that the SEC West is generally more wide open than the SEC East, which has only ever been won by Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee.

What about 2008?

As of writing this, only eight preseason rankings have been included for 2008. For comparison, Stassen.com used 18 in 2007.

What is amazing is the uniformity of the picks. Clemson and VT are unanimous in the ACC. Missouri and Oklahoma are unanimous in the Big 12. West Virginia is unanimous in the Big East (and USF is the only pick for second in the conference). Ohio State is the only one picked to win the Big Ten so far, just like USC is the only one picked to win the Pac-10.

Everyone is in complete agreement about the selection of seven of the nine conference/divisional top dogs. The only discrepancy? That fickle old SEC, where Florida and Georgia are split even in the East and LSU has a five picks to three advantage over Auburn.

We haven’t seen this much agreement since 2006 when only the Big 12 South was disputed. The success rate in that year was only three out of eight correct.

There is still time left and many more rankings to go, so we may not end up with quite this much consensus when the season starts. Just remember that if your BCS picks all fit with the conventional wisdom, history says you’ll only be about half right.


Gary Pinkel’s Record at Missouri

July 15, 2008

The last time I did a coach analysis, I threw it open for requests. It’s not so much that I was out of ideas, but I wanted to make sure I would be covering the people that folks are interested in.

The first request was for Gary Pinkel, which gave me pause. First of all, he wasn’t who I was expecting to see as the first request. Second, I really don’t know that much about Pinkel or Missouri football.

I spent over 22 years of my life in Florida with the rest in Charlotte, North Carolina and the entire time I have been a Florida fan and an SEC guy. Before 2007, I really only knew two things about Missouri football beyond its location and conference—Brad Smith was really good and a lot of people thought Pinkel was an underachieving coach.

I suspect the two of those were related. After all, Smith was an exceptionally talented player who has set all kinds of records for dual threat quarterbacks. He’s the all time quarterback rushing leader, the first ever to 8000 passing yards and 4000 rushing yards in a career, and first ever to 2000 passing yards and 1000 rushing yards in multiple seasons.

Smith began to get preseason hype for the Heisman in 2004 and his Tigers were ranked 17th in the preseason. Unfortunately, Mizzou would limp to a 5-6 record.

It was especially puzzling considering the Tigers defense gave up just 19.5 points per game, the lowest of Pinkel’s tenure up to that point. One would figure that with a defense that stout and Smith at quarterback, the team could have found a way to a winning record.

I think for the national audience, this was the year that really branded Pinkel with the underachiever label. His program actually had expectations, but it failed to live up to them. As a national observer, that’s all I can really speak to.

To get an insider’s opinion on Pinkel though, I asked the Bleacher Report Community Leader for Missouri Football, senior writer Peter Fleischer, for his thoughts on his head coach:

“Pinkel was pretty much hit or miss with Tigers fans. I personally liked him and felt like he got a bad rap for not producing as much at Mizzou as he could have.

The fact of the matter is that at the end of the Larry Smith era, Missouri football wasn’t exactly a perennial powerhouse, so it’s not like Pinkel ruined the program, ala Quin Snyder. I didn’t think that he underachieved with Brad Smith and felt like his teams had a knack for losing the games they should have won.

The most painful loss in my memory of Gary is the 2006 Sun Bowl against Oregon State, where the Tigers blew a huge lead and lost. I felt like Gary was a decent coach but never could really execute the big games. He couldn’t get over the hump.

I think he and his staff have finally done that. The spread offense is clicking on all cylinders, and he finally is starting to close the borders of Missouri, keeping in-state talent at home. If he keeps this up, he should be able to build something special at Missouri.”

Big thanks to Peter for the insight.

The 2007 season was a huge breakthrough, as everyone can tell. Missouri finished a top ten team, had a Heisman finalist in Chase Daniel, and won 10 games for the first time since 1960. The team scored 558 points, which wasn’t just the first time the Tigers had reached 500 points in a season. It was also the first time they reached 400 points in a season, with the previous high being 399 in 2003.

With all of the above in mind, let’s take a look at Pinkel’s record broken down by site:

Gary Pinkel at Missouri
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 27 13 40
Away 12 21 33
Neutral 4 1 5
Bowls 2 2 4
Totals 45 37 82

The neutral site games are three games against Illinois in St. Louis, a game against Kansas in Kansas City, and a Big 12 championship game.

Given that Pinkel is 45-37 (.549) overall, none of these were going to look all that great. The .675 home record isn’t bad all things considered, but the 12-21 (.364) road record is dismal. Then again, I suppose that’s how you end up with three losing records and three seasons with five losses in your first six years.

Here is Pinkel’s record broken down by tier of opponent. As always, first-tier opponents are teams that had a winning percentage of .750 or better, second tier were .500 to .749, third tier opponents were .250 to .499, and fourth tier opponents were .249 and below.

Gary Pinkel at Missouri
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 2 12 .143 20 36
Second 17 18 .486 28 26
Third 21 14 .600 35 23
Fourth 5 0 1.000 36 9

Pinkel clearly has been dreadful against the top tier. One win was against Nebraska in 2003, the Tigers first since 1978. The other was over Kansas this past season.

Five of the losses are to Oklahoma and three are to Texas. The remaining four came to Colorado and Nebraska in 2001, and Kansas State and Bowling Green in 2002. These results seem to confirm Peter’s perception of Pinkel being a coach who can’t get over the hump in big games.

Pinkel is still under .500 against second tier teams despite going 4-0 against them last season. His record against third tier teams isn’t very good, but at least he hasn’t lost to a fourth tier team. These results seem to confirm Peter’s perception of Pinkel being a coach who loses games he shouldn’t.

Gary Pinkel has delivered five of the eight highest scoring seasons in school history in terms of total points scored, and he has guided the team to four of its six bowl appearances since 1983. Players are now getting named to preseason awards lists, and Missouri captured the attention of the country with its short stint at No. 1 in 2007.

The team had a banner year last year and expectations are the highest they’ve been since 2004. Will Pinkel guide his talented team to lofty heights again or sink under expectations as he did three seasons ago? It’s just one of the many interesting subplots that will make the 2008 college football season great.


Coaching Analysis: Jim Tressel

July 7, 2008

He has accumulated many nicknames over the years, from the Senator to CheatyPants McSweaterVest. He has also accumulated many wins, conference titles, a national title, and two spectacular flameouts in the past two BCS title games.

He is Jim Tressel, head coach of Ohio State and one of the more controversial figures in the sport.

He would seem an unlikely candidate for the role of controversy. He wins a lot but seldom via embarrassing blowouts. He speaks out in public only on rare occasions. He projects an image of a conservative, almost introverted college professor who is more likely to give a lecture on economics than a pregame motivational speech.

He also has earned that second nickname listed above thanks to a string of off the field incidents that range from player arrests to guys taking money from boosters. They date back to his time at Youngstown State, and a New York Times article from the week before his game against Florida outlines the major stories if you’re interested.

One thing that can’t be denied regardless of affiliation is that the man wins a lot of games. Through seven seasons in Columbus, he has won a national title, four conference titles, and appeared in five BCS bowl games. He is one of only two coaches, along with Bob Stoops, to have made three BCS championship games; however, they are also the only two coaches to have lost two of them in a row.

Ohio State has won the Big Ten three years in a row, and it appears to have the best team going into 2008. That means Tressel is threatening to turn the Big Ten into what Pete Carroll has made the Pac-10: one team on top and everyone else playing for second place.

Here is Tressel’s record broken down by site. This table does not include games against I-AA teams.

Jim Tressel at Ohio State
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 44 5 49
Away 24 8 32
Bowls 4 3 7
Totals 72 16 88

Overall, that’s pretty impressive. That’s a winning percentage of .818, which is about as good as anyone can do over an extended period of time. The bowl record obviously could use some work, but I’ll get into more of that later. The home record isn’t quite as good as I had expected, but two of those five losses came in Tressel’s first year.

Here is Tressel’s record broken down by site. As always, first tier opponents are teams that had a winning percentage of .750 or better, second tier were .500 to .749, third tier opponents were .250 to .499, and fourth tier opponents were .249 and below.

Jim Tressel at Ohio State
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 9 9 .500 23 24
Second 31 5 .861 28 15
Third 28 2 .933 33 13
Fourth 4 0 1.000 31 6

The obvious: he wins a lot of games, beats the teams he should beat, but doesn’t win by gaudy scores. This much we knew. The two losses to third tier teams, if you were wondering, were to five-win teams in his first year on the job.

That said, the 9-9 record against the top tier surprised me.

Prior to the last two BCS title games, Tressel had a reputation for being one of the best big game coaches in America. He could be counted upon to win the big games, one of the few in the country who were trusted to do so. Yet toss out those two championship game fiascoes, and he’s a good but not great 9-7 against that top tier.

One of those seven other losses was to Vince Young in 2005, which is entirely understandable. Two more were to Illinois’ miracle 2001 squad and Lou Holtz’s one good South Carolina team in Tressel’s first year, which are also understandable.

He also had a loss to Joe Paterno’s last great Penn State team (the 11-1 team in 2005), Kirk Ferentz’s last great Iowa team (his 10-2 team in 2004), and the sole loss to Michigan in 2003 (which can’t be complained about given the outcome of every other Michigan game). Overall, it’s hard to blame him for those.

However, guys don’t get reputations for being a great coach on the biggest stages based on understandable losses. I have to conclude that his big game rep was built on beating Michigan year in and year out and his 4-1 bowl record through the 2005 season.

Perhaps that should be enough to qualify a coach for that status, but perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised to see the losses to Florida and LSU. Given that LSU was almost certainly the better team from the start of 2007 and the overwhelming talent on Florida’s defense, those losses were also understandable (though the final scores were not).

I mentioned Bob Stoops earlier, and now I want to bring him up again. He and Tressel have many similarities, most notably their winning the national title in their second years and then going on to lose two BCS title games in a row. I wanted to see though, just how similar their records are.

So, here are the records of Stoops in his first seven seasons and Tressel side by side.

Stoops and Tressel, through 7 Seasons
Stoops Tressel
Record 74-16 72-16
Bowl Record 4-3 4-3
BCSCG Record 1-2 1-2
vs. 1st Tier 14-7 9-9
vs. 2nd Tier 27-7 31-5
vs. 3rd Tier 26-2 28-2
vs. 4th Tier 7-0 4-0
Nat. Titles 1 1
Conf. Titles 3 4
vs. Rival 5-2 6-1
Heismans 1 (J. White) 1 (T. Smith)

BCSCG means BCS Championship Game. For Stoops, “Rival” means Texas; for Tressel, “Rival” means Michigan.

Their records aren’t just similar, they’re eerily close. Just about as close as Mack Brown and Phil Fulmer through ten years.

Stoops was better against the top tier, but Tressel was a little better against the second. Otherwise, everything is basically the same down to getting blown out in the national title game with their Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

It gets even spookier when you line up the year-by-year records of each from best to worst:

Records by Year
Stoops Tressel
13-0 14-0
12-1 12-1
12-2 11-2
12-2 11-2
11-2 10-2
8-4 8-4
7-5 7-5

It can’t get any closer than that, can it? Have a look at the year-by-year records for Oklahoma and Ohio State if you want to reconcile the differences in number of games for each season, though most have to do with Oklahoma playing in the Big 12 title game.

This second section was mainly for fun, since there’s not a lot that can be gleaned from it. It’s a remarkable coincidence that these two coaches in different conferences in different time periods with fairly different philosophies can do almost the exact same thing over such a long period of time.

It just goes to show that football success takes all types, and that even high levels of success can be matched elsewhere. Will Tressel go into as big a bowl tailspin as Stoops did? It’s just one of the many interesting subplots that will make the 2008 college football season great.


Six Potential Trap Games in 2008

June 2, 2008

Trap games. They happen when a good team finds itself in way more of a competitive game than should be expected against a lesser opponent. They come before, after, or between big games, when a superior team thinks it could rest easy. During them, the most common refrain for these teams’ fans is, “This can’t be happening…”

Everyone hates them, because you usually can’t see them coming until you’re in them. After going through the schedules of the six BCS conferences, I now give you a potential trap game for each league. If you see your team here, beware.

The Game: Virginia Tech at UNC, September 20

Before and After: Georgia Tech before, at Nebraska after

Why It Will Be a Trap Game: While no one expects Georgia Tech to compete for an ACC title this year, Virginia Tech will need all the time it can get to prepare for Paul Johnson’s unconventional offense. The Hokies also will probably be looking forward to making a statement against Nebraska, since when they went on the road to a BCS school last year, they were sent home from Baton Rouge with a 48-7 loss. They will want to show they can win big road games out of conference, even if these Huskers aren’t as good as last year’s champs were.

In the middle of those contests sits UNC, in year two of the Butch Davis era. The Tar Heels were a mostly harmless 4-8 in 2007, and their recruiting and player development have not progressed far enough in to turn them into a conference title contender just yet. Still, UNC lost by just seven in Blacksburg last year, and could very well pull the upset if the Hokies are distracted.

Why It May Not Matter: Virginia Tech has Furman the week before playing Georgia Tech, so the Jackets may not be much of a factor. Plus, UNC has received a lot of preseason love already, so it might be difficult for the Heels to truly sneak up on the Hokies.

The Game: Texas vs. Oklahoma State, October 25

Before and After: Missouri before, at Texas Tech after

Why It Will Be a Trap Game: Did you know that Texas’ pass defense was ranked 109th in 2007? Did you also know that Texas will be starting two redshirt freshmen at safety in 2008? Both are true, and they could spell trouble when the Cowboys come to town.

Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson finished 12th in the nation in passing efficiency in his sophomore year, and he could be even better as a junior in 2008 without any Bobby Reid-related distractions hanging over the team. OSU only lost by three in Stillwater last year, so we know they can hang with Texas.

With the Longhorns having to deal with a presumed national title contender in Missouri the week before and an absolutely loaded Texas Tech team the week after, they very well could overlook this game and give Oklahoma State a chance to steal one in Austin.

Why It May Not Matter: Oklahoma State’s pass defense in 2007 was even worse—112th in the nation. Texas also has a rising junior quarterback in Colt McCoy who managed to finish 24th in passer efficiency last season, despite a more than shaky offensive line.

UT is a young team that figures to get better as the year goes on, so this game might be happening after everything clicks for the Longhorns. Plus, Texas hasn’t lost to Oklahoma State since its 4-7 campaign in 1997, and it hasn’t lost at home to the Cowboys since 1944.

The Game: West Virginia at UConn, November 1

Before: Auburn

Why it Will be a Trap Game: The Mountaineers’ trip to Storrs comes a week after what could be a titanic matchup with Auburn in Morgantown. West Virginia will doubtless be amped from the game against the Tigers, wanting to prove the school made the right choice by sticking with Bill Stewart as head coach.

The national feeling is that the bowl win over Oklahoma was a nice story, but Stewart may not be the right guy for the job. Defeating Auburn is probably the one chance the team has to stand up and make a statement on the national stage in favor of its beloved head coach.

The contest the week after has “classic letdown game” written all over it. After what will be an emotionally draining contest with Auburn win or lose, West Virginia must travel up north to face the well-disciplined Huskies.

UConn doesn’t play highly entertaining football, but last season it found a way to win ugly with ruthless efficiency. The bottom fell out of their season late last year, and the Huskies lost three of their last four. But in 2008, UConn will want to prove that they were not a one year wonder. Beating West Virginia would be the best way to do that.

Why it May Not Matter: For starters, West Virginia smoked UConn 66-21 last year. It was a tour de force for Mountaineers’ QB Pat White, and he’s back in 2008. He won’t be running exactly the same offense, but there’s something about him that UConn couldn’t handle. If the Huskies don’t figure White out, it’s over because they won’t have the firepower to win a shootout.

In addition, UConn might end up contending for a conference title again, in which case any trap potential goes out the window.

The Game: Ohio State vs. Troy, September 20

Before: at USC

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Principally, this could be a trap game because it comes the week after Ohio State plays the USC Trojans in Los Angeles. That is a critical game on many levels for the Buckeyes, mainly in restoring credibility to itself and to its conference. The ESPN College GameDay crew will be there, it will receive endless hype, and it may end up being the best regular season game.

The week after that circus, the feisty Trojans from Troy, Alabama come to town. They are well known throughout the South for near misses against good ACC and SEC teams. Troy runs the spread offense that gives OSU fits, and though former offensive coordinator and spread guru Tony Franklin has left for Auburn, his protégé Neal Brown is taking over and keeping complete continuity.

In a similar trap game scenario, Troy played Georgia to within 10 points the week after the Bulldogs played Florida. If Ohio State comes home fat and happy after a win in L.A., this game could be a lot closer of a contest than anyone thinks.

Why it May Not Matter: If Ohio State loses to USC, they will probably take it out on Troy in ugly fashion. While it’s true that the Trojans played Georgia to within 10 points, it took a touchdown with five seconds left to keep that from being 17. Troy also lost senior QB Omar Haugabrook to graduation and star CB Leodis McKelvin to the NFL draft this offseason.

Ohio State is absolutely loaded on both sides of the ball, so it’s a bit much to expect a Sun Belt Conference team to win in the Horseshoe no matter the circumstances.

The Game: USC at Washington State, October 18

Before: Arizona State

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Arizona State appears to be main contender in 2008 to end USC’s hegemony in the Pac-10. QB Rudy Carpenter will be in his senior year, it’s the second season under turnaround specialist Dennis Erickson, and the Sun Devils have seven returning starters on both sides of the ball. Given what Oregon has lost, ASU is the clear No. 2 in the conference this fall.

The week after that crucial game for USC comes a road match in Pullman, Washington. Washington State’s team is a bit thin in the first year of the Paul Wulff regime, and he is installing a new offense and defense there. His no-huddle spread offense could be dangerous against USC if the Trojans are napping the week after a big game.

Plus USC, won by only six the last time it played at Washington State, and if they can lose to Stanford last year they can lose to anyone. If things click for the Cougars by mid-October, they could be dangerous in this game.

Why it May Not Matter: Did I mention Washington State’s team is thin? It is, and it lost scholarships to Academic Progress Report-related penalties. Plus, there has been a rash of disciplinary and academic problems there. If injuries strike at all, they could torpedo the Cougars’ season entirely. Besides, the new schemes may not have gelled by this point, severely limiting Washington State’s chances in this game.

The Game: Florida at Arkansas, October 4

After: LSU

Why it Will be a Trap Game: Sandwiched for Florida between a road match at Tennessee and a home game with LSU sit two SEC West teams, each breaking in new coaches—Ole Miss with Houston Nutt and Arkansas with Bobby Petrino. It will be very tempting for the Gators to lump the two together as future threats, but nothing to speak of this season.

While that’s true for Ole Miss, Arkansas is an intriguing team. Petrino immediately brings credibility as a coach who has won a BCS bowl game, and senior QB Casey Dick will finally get a chance to play in an offense that treats the pass as more than a novelty. Dick had a nice spring for the Hogs too, and they get a week off before hosting the Gators.

Florida’s secondary was a disaster last year. Though Urban Meyer said it’s the most improved part of the team, even if it’s twice as good as 2007 it still won’t be elite. Petrino’s scheme gives Arkansas’s passing game immediate credibility, and Dick won’t have to play like an all-SEC quarterback to cause trouble if Florida is looking ahead to LSU

Why it May Not Matter: It’s not clear that Dick will have anyone to throw to, as every receiver on the Hogs’ roster is a question mark. The player with the most receptions in 2007 coming back is TE Andrew Davie with 14.

There’s also no guarantee that Dick can repeat his spring success against real defenses in game situations this fall. Florida’s defense will be better, and its offense should better too. If UF takes this one seriously, the disparity of talent and skill on offense should allow the Gators to win, even if the defense doesn’t show up.


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.


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