A Note on Dabo Swinney

December 2, 2008

As long as I am going to take Tennessee to task for its questionable hire, I might as well add Clemson in too.

Dabo Swinney is going to take over as the full-time head coach. His principle qualifications appeared to be that he is young, he is energetic, he knows Clemson, and most importantly he is not Tommy Bowden. It also doesn’t hurt that keeping Dabo means C.J. Spiller is sticking around for another season. Probably.

According to the linked article, his primary accomplishment was firing OC Rob Spence and deciding to give the ball to James Davis and Spiller more. Not to heap on the snark, but everyone who looked at Clemson’s situation could see that having a banged up Cullen Harper sling it around the field was a bad idea and that giving the ball to the two most talented players on the offense was the right thing to do.

So as we near the Dabo era, I think it’s worth digging up a table I made back before the season when I was doing coaching record analysis. I have updated it to add 2008.

Clemson Season Splits
Year First Half Second Half Beat SC? Overall
1999 3-3 3-3 Y 6-6
2000 6-0 3-3 Y 9-3
2001 4-2 3-3 N 7-5
2002 3-3 4-3 Y 7-6
2003 4-2 4-2 Y 8-4
2004 2-4 4-1 Y 6-5
2005 3-3 5-1 Y 8-4
2006 5-1 3-4 N 8-5
2007 4-2 5-2 Y 9-4
2008 3-3 4-2 Y 7-5

If I scrambled up the years and didn’t label them, you would not be able to pick 2008 out from the bunch. OK maybe you could have found the one of the two years with only 12 total games and seven wins, but you get the point. Nothing particularly stands out about 2008 relative to the rest of the Bowden Era.

This is Dabo’s task: make a row in the table that doesn’t blend in with the others. I don’t know if a guy who was out of coaching as recently as 2002 is the right one for one of the four ACC schools that truly cares about football in the way that Big 12 and SEC schools do.

We’ll see, but I have a feeling the next three seasons in the upstate of South Carolina will probably not stand out from anything else you see here.


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 ACC Picks

August 7, 2008

ATLANTIC DIVISION

The Pick: Clemson

Last year I picked BC to win this division on the rationale that the Eagles had the best quarterback in the conference. It worked, so I’m doing it again with a pick of Cullen Harper’s Tigers. Throw in the best running back tandem and what should be a great defense under fourth-year DC Vic Koenning, and you’ve got the favorite for the conference title too.

Tommy Bowden losing games he shouldn’t is always a risk, but he only had one such game last year in the Georgia Tech loss. Coming off four consecutive top-twenty recruiting classes, Clemson finally breaks through this year.

The Runner Up: Wake Forest

It won’t be pretty, but Wake Forest will be in the hunt all season long thanks to smoke, mirrors, defense, and great coaching from Jim Grobe.

If Riley Skinner gets his TD/INT ratio back in check and Clemson gives away some games, the Demon Deacons will be headed for their second ACC Championship Game in three years. That can’t be what the conference had in mind when it expanded.

The Dark Horse: Maryland

Maryland is a potential riser thanks to its record in close games last season. Nine offensive starters return, though there is a question mark at quarterback again. The defensive line looks shaky, but the linebackers and corners should be fine. Under the right circumstances and if everything comes together, the Terrapins could steal the division.

COASTAL DIVISION

The Pick: Virginia Tech

Yawn. Picking the favorite again? Well, who else you gonna take? Duke is terrible and Virginia will fall off the map. Miami and North Carolina are probably at least a year away still and Georgia Tech is transplanting everything about itself.

Yes, the Hokies lost a lot from last year’s team, but there’s an advantage to being the dominant program of the Mid-Atlantic region: lots of young talent comes in every year. The people who left will be replaced by players who could end up being just as good if not better.

Quarterback tandem Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor return (along with four offensive linemen) to anchor the offense, and CB Macho Harris returns to anchor the defense. Bud Foster never disappoints as a defensive coordinator, and Beamer Ball makes for great special teams. When there’s this much uncertainty in the division, continuity rules.

The Runner Up: North Carolina

Butch Davis is building something good that UNC hasn’t seen since Mack Brown roamed the sidelines in the ’90s. There is plenty of young talent, and teams often make their biggest leap going from year one to year two under a coach. Plus, the Tar Heels are also a potential riser.

If things really gel, they could make a run at the division title earlier than expected. Oh, and don’t forget to check out WR Hakeem Nicks on YouTube. It’s not mind blowing, but it doubles as a QB T.J. Yates highlight reel too, and it shows that someone out there cares enough about UNC football to actually make a highlight video for it.

The Dark Horse: Georgia Tech

Paul Johnson scored plenty of points against BCS schools with his triple option runs while at Navy, and that was with Navy-caliber players. Georgia Tech rushed for 199 yards a game last season, and that was with
Chan Gailey’s boring and predictable offense.

Most every starter from that team is gone though, and the loss of 1400-yard rusher Tashard Choice hurts. Losing DC John Tenuta also hurts. However if the triple option gets going with aplomb, the Yellow Jackets might be able to outscore enough teams to take the weakest division in all the BCS conferences.

CHAMPION: Clemson

BCS At-Large: N/A


A Tale of Two Tommys: Tuberville and Bowden

June 14, 2008

As an addendum to my piece on Tommy Bowden from yesterday, I’m adding another comparison. Last time, I used Bob Stoops, who has been at Oklahoma the same amount of time Bowden has been at Clemson. The idea was to give a baseline of a top coach to contrast Bowden’s record against.

It occurred to me today though that there might be another coach who had been at his school the same amount of time, and sure enough, there was: Tommy Tuberville. Like Bowden, he signed up with his band of Tigers in 1999.

They have a fairly similar record, with Tuberville averaging just one more win a year than Bowden does at Clemson. They both have an undefeated, conference-winning season (Bowden’s was at Tulane) but after that, they combine to have just one season of fewer than three losses (2006 Auburn). Bowden has been on the hot seat for about half a decade, and Auburn nearly replaced Tuberville with Bobby Petrino late in 2003.

The difference is that Tuberville’s undefeated, conference-winning season was in the SEC in 2004. Ever since that year, he has garnered a reputation of being an excellent big game coach. Let’s take a look at his record to see how he has done.

Tommy Tuberville at Auburn
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 44 14 58
Away 24 15 39
Neutral 1 1 2
Bowls 5 3 8
Totals 74 33 107

As with last time, games against I-AA teams have been thrown out. The two neutral site games are SEC championship games. Tuberville’s home record is slightly better than Bowden’s is, and his road record is noticeably better.

Here is his record broken down by tier. As a refresher, a top tier team finished the season with a winning percentage of .750 or better, while a second tier team finished the year between .500 and .749, inclusive.

Tommy Tuberville at Auburn
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 12 18 .400 18 23
Second 26 15 .634 23 20
Third 28 0 1.000 34 12
Fourth 8 0 1.000 42 12

What immediately jumps out is that Tuberville is much better against the first tier teams than Bowden is, and he has yet to lose to a third or fourth tier team. Their records against the second tier are almost exactly the same.

The question though is whether something changed fundamentally in 2004 or not. That’s the popular theory anyway, that he transformed into one of the best big game coaches. With that in mind, here is his record from 1999 to 2003. The bottom two tiers have not been analyzed individually since Tuberville has not lost to a team that finished the year below .500.

Tuberville, 1999-2003
Tier Wins Losses Pct.
First 3 14 .176
Second 15 25 .375
vs .500+ 18 39 .316
Overall 35 24 .593

Tuberville just simply was not that good against decent or better teams. He was about the same against the first tier as Bowden has been, but he only won three of every eight games against the second tier teams. After six solid seasons of this kind of performance, it comes as no shock that the Auburn administration was looking to replace him.

Now, his record from 2004 to the present day.

Tuberville, 2004-07
Tier Wins Losses Pct.
First 9 4 .692
Second 11 5 .688
vs .500+ 20 9 .690
Overall 39 9 .813

It certainly appears that Tuberville’s new reputation is well-founded. His .692 winning percentage against the first tier is even better than Bob Stoops’ .630 mark.

His performance against the second tier isn’t quite as good as Stoops’ is, but it evens out thanks to the fact Tuberville hasn’t lost to any third tier teams while Stoops has lost to three of them. Tuberville’s overall winning percentage is basically the same as Stoops’ overall winning percentage (.814).

However, what separates Tuberville, who’s been to just one conference title game in the four seasons since 2004, from Stoops, who has been to six in his nine years, is performance against the top of their divisions.

OU and Texas have been the top two teams in the Big 12 South almost every one of the last nine years, and Stoops is 6-3 against the Longhorns. In the last three seasons, Tuberville lost to the eventual SEC West champ each of those years. Basically, while Tuberville has been better at winning big games, he just has had some trouble winning the right big games.

What this evidence appears to suggest is that it is possible for a coach to transform from being lousy against good teams to being great against good teams. For Tuberville, it took six years on the job as a head coach to make the change. It has now been eleven years as a head coach and nine in a major conference for Tommy Bowden.

If you like symmetry, it was the final year of having Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown that Tuberville made his change. We’re now coming up on the last year of James Davis-C.J. Spiller combo at Clemson. Will Bowden make the same transformation that Tuberville did? It’s just another subplot to watch for in the 2008 college football season.


Putting Tommy Bowden in Perspective

June 13, 2008

I have been toying around with the idea of projecting the winner of every college football game in 2008. It’s a fool’s errand I know, but it would be fun, it’s something to do during the long offseason, and it would give me something semi-solid to base a preseason top 25 on.

I went ahead and started going alphabetically in the conferences, beginning with the ACC. I got all the way to the second team on the list before running into one of the biggest conundrums of 2008: how good will Clemson be?

Tommy Bowden has been there since 1999, and he hasn’t won a conference title yet. He has the longest tenure of any I-A coach who hasn’t won his conference. I don’t know about every guy who has ever run a program, but it seems unlikely that many coaches suddenly get better after nine years on the job.

In my prior piece about following coaching legends, the only legendary coach on there who didn’t win at least six conference titles was Shug Jordan at Auburn. He had only one SEC title in his 25 seasons on the plains, but it came in his seventh year. Tommy Bowden has obviously passed that point already.

With that in mind, I went ahead and took a look at his record. Here it is broken down by site, in glorious PivotTable-o-vision:

Tommy Bowden at Clemson
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 39 16 55
Away 23 21 44
Bowls 3 5 8
Totals 65 42 107

These totals exclude games against I-AA schools. He wins about 71% of his home games, is roughly even on the road, and he’s not so great in bowls.

What about his opponents though? Here’s another table, with his opponents broken down by tiers. The fourth tier is made of opponents with a winning percentage of .000 – .249, the third is for teams with a winning percentage of .250 – .499, the second is for teams with a winning percentage of .500 – .749, and the fourth is for teams with a winning percentage of .750 – 1.000.

Tommy Bowden at Clemson
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 4 21 .160 17 27
Second 28 17 .622 27 22
Third 22 3 .880 36 18
Fourth 11 1 .917 44 17

He’s awful against the best teams, wins two thirds of them against pretty good teams, and he cleans up against bad and mediocre teams. The one loss against a fourth tier opponent, if you’re curious, was a 16-13 loss to 2-9 Duke in 2004.

An interesting angle is to think of it this way: in 13 of Clemson’s 21 losses to first tier teams, the opponent would have dropped back into the second tier had the Tigers defeated them. Winning those games would have made Bowden a more respectable 4-8 against college football’s top tier.

A common refrain I’ve heard about Clemson under Bowden is that the team usually gets off to a bad start but gets bailed out by beating either Tommy’s dad at FSU or South Carolina. It’s a nice idea to think his daddy was gifting wins to keep Tommy employed, but Clemson has played FSU in the second half of the season only five times. The Tigers went 2-3 in those games.

As for the bad start/good finish/beat South Carolina theory for Bowden keeping his job, here’s what the record shows:

Clemson Season Splits
Year First Half Second Half Beat SC? Overall
1999 3-3 3-3 Y 6-6
2000 6-0 3-3 Y 9-3
2001 4-2 3-3 N 7-5
2002 3-3 4-3 Y 7-6
2003 4-2 4-2 Y 8-4
2004 2-4 4-1 Y 6-5
2005 3-3 5-1 Y 8-4
2006 5-1 3-4 N 8-5
2007 4-2 5-2 Y 9-4

The narrative about beating FSU to save his job holds true for 2005 only, since Bowden’s other second half win over FSU came in 2003. The narrative about beating South Carolina to save his job does appear to ring true, since he is 7-2 against the Gamecocks. The whole bit about slow starts also holds water, as Clemson has lost fewer than two of its first six just twice in Bowden’s tenure.

To give a point of reference, I tried to find a coach who has won his conference, is considered to be one of the best, and who has been at his school about the same amount of time Bowden has been at Clemson. Turns out there is such a coach: Bob Stoops. He has been in Norman the same nine years that Bowden has been in Clemson. Here is his record at OU:

Bob Stoops at Oklahoma
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 53 2 55
Away 27 11 37
Neutral 12 4 16
Bowls 4 5 9
Totals 96 22 118

Stoops’ lone I-AA opponent is not counted. The neutral site games are the annual Texas game, any Big 12 championship games, and one Kansas game played in Kansas City. Here is his win percentage against the four tiers:

Bob Stoops at Oklahoma
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 17 10 .630 28 23
Second 36 9 .800 35 19
Third 28 3 .903 37 15
Fourth 15 0 1.000 47 7

Stoops basically does to the first tier what Bowden does to the second tier. Even with his famous struggles in BCS games post-2000, he is still very good against the top teams in college football. Of those 10 losses to first tier teams, only one would have dropped back to the second tier had Oklahoma won. The first tier teams the Sooners have lost to are well-entrenched there.

The clearest difference between the Bowden and Stoops is the home record: they both have 55 home games against I-A opponents and Bowden has lost 16 of them while Stoops has lost two. The next clearest difference is the performance against the top two tiers. That’s the difference between greatness and an conference also-ran: protecting your home turf, winning games against your peers, and winning some that you maybe aren’t supposed to win.

There is good news for Clemson though. In 2007 the Tigers posted a winning record in both halves of the season for just the second time under Bowden. Plus, Clemson has the best quarterback in the ACC in Cullen Harper. Most importantly, it’s not clear that more than one or two teams on the schedule will be a first tier team. Clemson averages three games a year against the top tier, and surprise: Clemson has yet to lose fewer than three games in a season under Bowden.

Alabama has a shot at 9-3 if you believe in second year magic under Saban, and Wake Forest might get there too. Boston College figures to take a step back without Matt Ryan, and Virginia will do the same without Chris Long. There is no Virginia Tech on the schedule, and I think FSU will still be down in 2008. Even if the Tigers go 3-2 against those opponents listed here, it’ll almost certainly be enough to win the division as long as one of those wins is over Wake Forest.

If Tommy Bowden is ever going to win an ACC championship, or at least a division title, this figures to be the year. He has the best quarterback and best two running backs in the conference. The schedule looks very friendly with only four road games, and it doesn’t appear to have more than one or two of the kinds of games he normally loses.

This is it for Tommy Bowden; it’s doubtful that he can survive failing to win the ACC Atlantic even if he does beat South Carolina. Taking care of the rival only buys you so much time. Good or bad, 2008 will define Tommy Bowden’s coaching career.


BCS Projections

December 2, 2007

Before everyone gets their picks out, here’s my projections for the BCS:

BCS National Title Game: Ohio State and LSU

Rose Bowl: USC (auto) and Illinois

Fiesta Bowl: West Virginia and Oklahoma(auto)

Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech (auto) and Missouri/Kansas

Sugar Bowl: Georgia and Hawaii

The designation (auto) indicates a conference champion tie-in that will happen by contract.

I project LSU to pass up Virginia Tech since the Tigers beat the Hokies 48-7 earlier this year. I project LSU to pass Georgia because they have identical records, but LSU won the conference while UGA didn’t even win the SEC East. USC won’t pass LSU because USC lost to Stanford. End of that discussion.

The Rose Bowl will take Illinois because it is desperate to set up a Pac 10/Big Ten game every year, and no one else will want the Illini.

The Sugar Bowl will take Georgia because it prefers to have an SEC team. Hawaii has no fans on the mainland, so it too will go to the Sugar Bowl (who has the last pick this year). The Fiesta will have to take Big East champ West Virginia since it won’t want an inter-Big 12 game.

Kansas has a better record than Missouri, but Mizzou won the division and its two losses were to conference champ Oklahoma. My guess is Missouri will get the bid since it is now more well-known than Kansas, but the Jayhawks’ 11-1 record could prove too compelling to pass up.

The only way this could be wrong is if the Fiesta somehow grabs Georgia ahead of the Sugar, sending West Virginia to the Orange and Missouri/Kansas to the Sugar.

As for the Gators, it’s 99% certain we’re in the Citrus Bowl versus Michigan.

Updated 8:25 am to reflect result of Washington – Hawaii game.

EDIT: I should mention that this would make for a terrible year for the BCS. West Virginia/Oklahoma would be the only game guaranteed to be any good, and that’s assuming Pat White will be healthy.

The OSU/LSU title game would obviously be the most hyped, for the teams as well as what’s at stake, but we will be seeing Ohio State up against a barrage of speedy skill players and a hellacious defensive line. Sound familiar? (Honk if you sacked Todd Boeckman!)

USC would thoroughly beat down Illinois. Georgia would thrash Hawaii. Remember that the Warriors play worse the farther east they go, and the last time they played in Louisiana, they eked out a 1 point win over La. Tech. Ouch. Virginia Tech and Missouri/Kansas might be a good game, a classic defense (VT) versus offense (M/K) game, but VT games somehow always end up boring. Unless you’re a Hokie (and maybe especially if you’re a Hokie) they just suck the life out of you as you watch. Plus, the Orange Bowl would have an extremely hard time selling out the stadium. So, if somehow the Orange gets to pick ahead of the Sugar, I wouldn’t be surprised at all for it to take Georgia for ticket selling purposes.


Bowden Bowl 9

September 4, 2007

My goodness, what a horrid game. FSU came out completely flat and looked like a helpless team in falling behind 21-0. Then, a snap over the punter’s head by Clemson led to a momentum change in FSU’s favor which led them to a deficit of just 6 at 24-18. Then, it became an epic battle between Tommy Bowden’s proclivity to give away games and Drew Weatherford’s uncanny ability to get sacked in the worst possible times.

ESPN’s Lou Holtz and Mark May didn’t have their A games either when it came to picking the winner in this stinkfest.

The most exciting part of this game was watching the students run on and off of the field as the final play was reviewed and the stadium announcer told them to get off of it. Now, maybe the Clemson students were just looking for an excuse to rush the field, but a word to Tiger fans: beating FSU doesn’t mean much anymore.

The GameDay guys both missed it too.

The FSU defense only looked fast and nasty for about 10 minutes on the game clock. Players were routinely missing tackles, leading to numerous stat boxes showing that something around 80-85% of Clemson’s rushing yards came after the first contact. The FSU offense wasn’t much to speak of either. FSU had only 1 first down in the first half. Drew Weatherford had only one good drive, and the Noles couldn’t run for most of the game. So much for Jimbo Fisher and Rick Trickett coming in and having an immediate impact. There was a priceless shot of Jimbo right before halftime talking to Weatherford from the booth looking like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, and not in the good way.

Jimbo Fisher, center, had no idea what he was getting into. Then again, which is worse: working at FSU, or working for Les Miles?

Hopefully this will put to rest the idiocy that FSU is a good team. I was surprised to see such a smart guy as Phil Steele predict that FSU would compete for a national title this year. In addition, the Semis were names as the most underrated team by the BlogPoll roundtable, though that was heavily influenced by Mr. Steele. I still don’t understand why because as I pointed out on my rankings, while many coaches are new it’s still the same old players who went 7-6 last year on the field. Add on to that bit the fact that offenses usually struggle under new offensive coordinators, and any talk of FSU deserving to be ranked – much less be a title contender – are absurd.

As it is, I know why the ACC puts Florida State on Labor Day evening. It’s because it has the strongest brand in the conference and probably drives the best viewer ratings (I don’t have any stats to back that up, but it’s a pretty safe guess). It’s a risk though, since FSU has been in decline and has offered up some truly eye-scarring games the past couple Labor Day evenings. It may be time to pick someone else to feature. You know, someone who will likely finish over .500 in the conference.

On a side note, bravo to ESPN for the revamped on-screen graphics where the each team’s timeouts appear under its name and the relevant stats for the relevant players appear above the score after each play. It managed to add two very useful things without adding clutter or annoying sound effects. A lot of people around the net hate ESPN, but you have to give it credit for the new graphic.


The ACC

July 26, 2007

People are finally catching on to just how mediocre the ACC is, and by “people,” I mean sports writers. Many will tell you that the ACC is not the conference that the SEC is, but “take a look at how [insert a couple random ACC teams] are looking this year. They’ll be great!” There have been many excuses and short-sighted comparisons between the ACC and other conferences, but the simple fact is that it has never been that great of a football conference, especially not lately.

Back when FSU left the independent ranks to join the ACC, the theory was that by adding a serious football school it would make the other ACC teams better, and the ACC name would help make FSU’s basketball team better. In actuality, what it led to was a fraudulent streak of FSU finishing in the top-4 for 14 consecutive years during which Florida was the only elite school it faced every year – remember those were Miami’s down and probation years. FSU feasted on the weaker ACC programs that lacked (and largely still lack) complete commitment to football. Neither aspect of that plan worked, even after adding BC, Miami, and Virginia Tech. VT has been the only consistent national power since the expansion.

So back to the writers. I ran across these links somewhere on the GatorSports.com message board (I think) and now I can’t find them, so thanks to whoever that was who put them together. SI.com’s Stewart Mandel and the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Bob Lipper are the two writers. They both document how bad the ACC has been of late. I will now go over the important stats.

ACC teams went 6-16 against other BCS-level teams last year.

ACC teams ended up losing by an average of just a field goal, but that hides the real story. In each victory, the ACC team won by at least 10 points. In all but one case, it absolutely should have been a 10-point margin of victory. Of the ACC’s 6 wins, three were by Wake Forest playing the dregs of the Big East and SEC in Syracuse, UConn, and Ole Miss. Another was VT playing another mediocre Big East team, Cincinnati. Another was FSU demolishing an unmotivated UCLA team that basically had already played its bowl game when it beat USC. That leaves Maryland beating Purdue in a bowl, and those teams were roughly even. So, you’ve got one win in a relatively evenly-matched game. In those wins, the average score was 28-14.

Of the losses, the only real mismatches were Duke’s two losses, Maryland’s loss to West Virginia, Miami’s loss to Louisville, and UNC’s loss to Notre Dame. That leaves 11 games where the ACC team had a reasonable shot at winning and failed to do so. In all, the ACC teams were beat on average by 11 points, 30-19, in the losses. Basically, the ACC just plain got beat up by the other conferences.

ACC teams are 3-31 (!) against top-10 opponents since 2000.

I was only able to find schedule/results with rankings at the time on ESPN.com, and it only goes back to 2002. I believe they use the coaches’ poll for rankings. I’ll save you the counting – there’s 25 games listed, with the ACC 1-24 in them. Two games I know are not on this list are the 2002 Orange Bowl when Florida destroyed Maryland in Steve Spurrier’s last game as Gators coach, and the national title game in 2000 where FSU did absolutely nothing in losing to Oklahoma 13-2.

Now, there’s all kinds of problems when you look at how teams were ranked at the time they played. I mean, if the Devil Rays sweep the Royals in the first series of the season, then the Yankees beat the Rays in the next game, does New York boast that it beat a first-place team? Of course not. The only thing that really matters is looking at end of the year ranks, and diligently searching for special cases (like USC beating Arkansas last year before the Pigs knew what they were doing).

An example in this case would be that Notre Dame was a top-10 ranked team when it played Georgia Tech last year, and Notre Dame most definitely was not one of the 10 best teams in 2006. Still, ND was No. 2 at the time, so GT’s loss in that game gets counted towards this stat. However, by having that be the case, the ACC comes out looking even worse because it couldn’t find success against even the false top-10 teams. The games on average haven’t been close either, with the the average final score being 29-17. That’s really bad.

The ACC has won only one BCS game.

The writers put this one as “The ACC champion has lost its last seven bowl games,” but why stop at seven? The ACC’s 1-8 record in BCS games is by far the worst of any conference, leaving it with the same number of BCS wins as the Mountain West Conference and WAC. The Big 12 is the only other conference under .500 (5-7). In addition, the ACC has never sent more than one team to the BCS, with the Big East the only other Big 6 conference to have failed to do so as well. The Big Ten has done it 6 times, the SEC has done it 4 times, the Big 12 has done it 3 times, and the Pac-10 has done it twice. The best winning percentage goes to the SEC (9-4, .692), followed by the Pac-10 (7-4, .637), Big East (5-4, .556), and Big Ten (8-7, .533).

But I digress. The ACC’s streak of futility in bowls is Notre Dame-ian, to coin a term, and it is mainly caused by the decline of FSU since 2000. With FSU falling back to the pack as a result of its top assistant coaches leaving for head coaching jobs, there suddenly was nothing special about the ACC champion. Another factor though is the league’s champions have often been put in some tough spots.

In 2000, FSU never really should have been in that national title game with Oklahoma, and the 11 point margin doesn’t really tell the story of how much better Oklahoma was. In 2001, Maryland ran into the Spurrier-Grossman buzz saw, and the rest is history. The 2002 Georgia team that FSU met would have played for the national title had it not lost to Florida. That 2003 bowl game was a rematch between the champions of the two worst BCS conferences. In 2004, Virginia Tech met an Auburn team that was unhappy about not being in the national title game (which almost always leads to the team in VT’s situation to victory) and still lost. The 2005 FSU team quite possibly is the worst major conference champion in history. The 2006 Wake Forest team got lucky throughout the regular season, and then got humbled by a much better Louisville team.

Long story short, being the ACC champion means absolutely nothing in bowl games, except possibly that you’re going to lose. While the ACC champion has faced some truly tough spots (2000 – 2002, 2006), it also should be noted that the ACC team in question in those years was not really an elite team.

Conclusion

The ACC is at the bottom of the BCS. It has more quality teams than the Big East, but it also has four more teams than the Big East has. At least the Big East has some legit powers in Louisville, West Virginia, and probably Rutgers at the top. Only Virginia Tech probably fits that mold right now in the ACC.

Why is that? Well, for one, it’s a basketball conference and always will be. Second, it just doesn’t have the coaching that other conferences do. Bobby Bowden is the only head coach in the league with a national title, and probably the best head coach in the league, Butch Davis, hasn’t even coached his first game at UNC. Also, it’s in the same region as the SEC, which has more money, bigger stadiums, more tradition, and better coaches taking a lot of the best recruits in the region. The ACC has the funds, facilities, and fans to make sure that any ideas of the ACC falling behind a mid-major conference like the WAC are laughably implausible, but they probably won’t push the SEC, Big Ten, or Big 12/Pac-10 (depending on the year) out of the top-3 of the BCS leagues.

Keep the above figures in mind as you peruse the pre-season picks and analysis on TV and around the web. If someone talks about the ACC as being the same caliber as the SEC or Big Ten, it should set off a warning flag. The results on the field show the ACC as being a clearly inferior league compared to other top conferences, and don’t accept any other conclusion. These numbers don’t lie.

EDIT: SportsLine’s Dennis Dodd has joined in, but he offers a new stat that should really hit home with the conference. The ACC Championship Game in Jacksonville did not sell out, and the Gator Bowl Association (the committee who put on the game) lost $300,000 on the game. That’s unfathomable, especially considering that Georgia Tech was in the game, and Jacksonville is right next to Georgia.

The SEC Championship Game definitely would never have empty seats, even if it was Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. The Big 12 Championship Game would probably never have empty seats, even if it was Iowa State and Baylor. Yes, Alltel Stadium (ACC title game site) is larger than the Georgia Dome (SEC) and Arrowhead Stadium (Big 12), but not by that much. The whole point of expansion was to make money, and have a championship game to make even more money. Well done, boys.


Bowdenery

September 23, 2006

A good catch by my brother. He’s in Orlando, and sometimes listens to Terry Bowden’s unintentionally funny radio show on the ESPN affiliate down there. He apparently said that there are people who want him to go coach Miami. He also said that if he did, he’d take Jeff Bowden away from FSU to be the receivers coach to make both programs better.

Certainly Jeff is a problem up in Tallahassee. So is Lorenslow (or is it Slowrenzo?) Booker. And probably Drew Weatherford. And a lot of guys. Most of all, it’s Bobby’s fault for leaving his overmatched son in the offensive coordinator’s job for too long, and for slipping on recruiting. FSU used to have the best atheletes in the nation. Now, they probably would be outrun by Louisville or West Virginia on both sides of the ball. They’d go 5-6 in the SEC like Tennessee did last year. So would Miami, probably. As for Terry at Miami, please. These people are joking, right?

As I had predicted last Saturday, Tommy Bowden got some more charity from Bobby in their game last week. Tommy Boy can do some recruiting (see C.J. Spiller) and always wins just enough games to keep his job. He’ll never top his undefeated season at Tulane with Shaun King, but he at least plays in one of the weaker BCS leagues. Clemson might win the division not for being good, but for not being pitiful. If FSU can win the ACC with three conference losses, so could Clemson.

Maybe FSU can get rid of Jeff by sending him off to replace Chuck Amato at NC State. Maybe Terry could put together two straight coherent hours on the radio. Maybe Bobby could learn the names of his players. Or maybe that’s waaaay too much about Bowdens for one sitting.


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