Coach Analysis: Urban Meyer

June 30, 2008

After all of the analysis I did of a few other coaches, I decided to go ahead and plug Urban Meyer’s coaching record into the ol’ spreadsheet and see what comes out. He only has three years to go off of so far, so there won’t be as firm of conclusions to come to as with the other guys.

Keeping continuity, the games against Western Kentucky and Western Carolina have been thrown out as per the policy of sticking to I-A competition.

Here is Urban’s record broken down by venue:

Urban Meyer at Florida
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 17 1 18
Away 7 5 12
Neutral 3 1 4
Bowls 2 1 3
Totals 29 8 37

Neutral site games are the annual Georgia game in Jacksonville and the SEC championship game versus Arkansas.

One of Meyer’s objectives when coming to Florida was to “reclaim the Swamp.” The Gators lost five home games in Ron Zook’s three years. That is far too many given the home field advantage that the stadium and fans provide, especially when you compare it to the five home losses Steve Spurrier had in his 12 years in Gainesville. By going 17-1 at home, Urban has definitely fulfilled that goal.

Not given in the table above is his performance against Florida’s three biggest rivals: FSU, Georgia, and Tennessee. He is 8-1 against them, and he is the only Gator coach to beat all three in two consecutive seasons.

For reference, Zook was 4-5 in rivalry games, though one of those losses was the infamous Swindle in the Swamp (FSU, 2003) and his loss to Georgia is understandable given that it was the week he was fired.

Here is Meyer’s performance broken down by the tier of opponent. As always, first tier means a team with a winning percentage .750 or above, second tier is .500 to .749, third tier is .250 to .499, and fourth tier is .249 and below.

Urban Meyer at Florida
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 3 5 .375 21 23
Second 16 3 .842 36 20
Third 10 0 1.000 36 18
Fourth 0 0 N/A N/A

The worst team by record Meyer has faced was 2007 Ole Miss (3-9, .250) so he has yet to face a fourth tier opponent. Only two of the ten third tier opponents were non-conference (2005 Wyoming, 2006 UCF) and both were supposed to be better than they ended up being. So aside from the I-AA games, Meyer is doing a good job at not scheduling much from the dregs of college football.

The 3-5 record against first tier opponents is a little worrisome, though I’d much rather be losing to them than the other tiers. Also consider that all five of those first tier losses were away from home – four road games and one in Jacksonville.

Only 2005 South Carolina (7-5) was close to .500 of the teams he’s lost to, with the next worst record of an opponent he’s lost to being 9-4. However, that was also Spurrier’s first game coaching against Florida. I have no doubt knowing Spurrier’s nature that he cooked up something special for it, and again it was on the road.

Only two losses so far (2005 South Carolina and 2006 Auburn) have come at the hands of teams that finished with a worse record than Meyer’s team did, so it’s hard to find much fault with what he’s done so far. Only in 2006 did he have a deep, experienced team, and he turned it into a champion.

Meyer won nine games with divided team in transition in 2005 and another nine games with an impossibly young defense in 2007. The 2008 team looks to be better than either of those, so winning ten games is a strong possibility. After all, there is little in his record so far to suggest otherwise.

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2008 Gators Must Find Toughness Again

June 28, 2008

I’m not sure why, but this afternoon I decided to put on my recording of the 2007 BCS Championship Game between Florida and Ohio State. I haven’t watched it in quite some time, and I guess I wanted something happy (for me) to watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

As I watched Ted Ginn sprint down the sideline on the opening kickoff, I remembered how sick to my stomach the play made me feel the first time around. At the time my head said Ohio State would win but my heart said Florida would win, and that return was an arrow right into my heart.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. It made the Buckeyes relax even more and Ginn’s teammates wrecked his ankle in the celebration after. Not that Ginn being healthy would have changed the outcome of the game, but his game breaking ability could have turned momentum at times to make the final margin closer.

The Gator offense, and particularly Chris Leak, played a part in overcoming the blow of that return, but it wasn’t everything. It was helped out by Ohio State penalties, a favorable spot on a third down, and a couple close calls that went the Gators’ way.

The most important thing was Florida’s defense shutting down the vaunted Buckeye offense. The Gator defense dominated the Buckeye offense more than the Gator offense dominated the Buckeye defense. The one series that Ohio State scored on was aided by a personal foul penalty by Brandon Siler, and the drive ended up amounting to only about 40 yards of offensive gain.

While Florida’s offense took what the defense gave it by simply exploiting holes in the zone, Florida’s defense made all the difference through its tough, intimidating play.

While pondering these things, it struck me that we saw something similar last season. Georgia’s on-field celebration ignited their team and infuriated the Gators. Like in the title game, the Florida offense did its part by marching right back down the field and evening the score.

However, instead of dominating, the Gator defense allowed the Bulldogs to head down the field the other way and score again.

Florida would end up taking a 17-14 first-half lead over Georgia, but it was never safe since the Bulldog offense was able to push the Gator defense around. Florida’s offense also wasn’t able to be as physical as it wanted to be since Tim Tebow’s shoulder was injured, preventing him from being his usual self.

Another parallel I saw had to do with fourth downs. The dagger to the heart of Ohio State was when Jim Tressel uncharacteristically went for it on fourth down deep in his own territory and Florida stuffed the rush attempt.

However in 2007, LSU had no trouble converting fourth downs on the Gators. Had Florida stopped any one of them, they easily could have won the game and thanks to the SEC’s tiebreakers gone on to the conference championship game.

The players on the 2008 Gator defense will be bigger and stronger than they were last year, but that alone won’t be enough to put Florida over the top. They will have to learn to exude that toughness that the 2006 defense did to make the Gators legit national title contenders. They had it in spots last year – most notably with Derrick Harvey, Brandon Spikes, Dustin Doe, and Major Wright – but it has to come from everyone.

Urban Meyer himself said that last offseason the players didn’t work as hard as they did in the spring and summer of 2006. It’s understandable since most of the team was young and knew nothing but success. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but the coaches have said that it’s not been an issue this year. I certainly hope it hasn’t.

Now, because the defense is so young, it won’t have a chance to be as good as the ‘06 defense was until at least 2009. It will be better though, because the players are just too talented not to be. However, if it can find that spirit of toughness, it will become better than the sum of its parts and allow the Gators to fulfill their rapidly escalating preseason expectations.


NBA Draft Live Blog

June 26, 2008

A bunch of young guys are wearing new suits in Madison Square Garden, old men are talking about a choice between two young men, and ESPN has popped Dick Vitale out of his offseason recharging machine… it must be time for the NBA Draft.

As often happens, the most interesting part of the evening will probably be the trades that blow up everyone’s mock drafts. After all, the players being drafted all carry loads of risk since they’ve never played on the highest level before. When known quantities like Richard Jefferson and Jermaine O’Neal are getting moved around, it just feels bigger.

Anyway, the festivities are about to begin, so let’s do this.

7:27 – All is quiet in the Magic’s draft room, and appropriately so. It will probably be some time before they need to get moving. They aren’t looking to make any deals other than perhaps buying a second round pick. Everyone’s just watching TV or working on a computer, and Otis Smith looks bored.

7:31 – The New Yorkers still love David Stern. I wonder if he feels good about being in a theater sponsored by a failing bank.

7:32 – Classic. Chicago decided at the latest over an hour ago who it will take, but will take all 5 minutes to make their pick. Why do teams do this with the first overall pick in drafts? Does ESPN force them to do it to give more time to talk about the pick?

7:37 – New Bulls coach Vinnie Del Negro has a hall of fame name, and it’s nice to hear it thrown around again.

7:38 – Derrick Rose goes first, as we all knew. Again, did it take all five minutes to write his name on the card? Anyway, it’s the right pick so kudos to the Bulls for making the right choice.

7:41 – Rose didn’t faint like he said he might, but now he’s getting a full blast of Stephen A. Smith’s voice in an interview. He still doesn’t faint. Honestly, the latter might be more impressive.

7:43 – The Miami Heat’s tank job officially lands them Michael Beasley. I’m still not sure what to think of the guy. I know he puts up great numbers, but he stuck with Kansas State after Bob Huggins left despite not being from the state. While it’s honorable that he kept to that commitment, it still doesn’t make sense on any level.

7:46 – Beasley needs to develop a media voice. All the stars figure out a way to enunciate better in front of microphones; even Shaq speaks more clearly when he wants to. If Beasley wants to maximize his money making potential, mumbling won’t get him there.

7:48 – The T-Wolves select O.J. Mayo, and he ends up looking like a robot. He doesn’t smile until he gets to the stage. This guy is acting like he always was meant to be here and maybe he was, but O.J. should at least look a little surprised/relieved.

7:51 – Mayo already has developed his media voice. Beasley should be taking some notes.

7:53 – Pat Riley puts on his best happy face and tries to talk himself into Beasley on camera. He just doesn’t sound sold on him, almost like he was obligated to take Beasley second.

7:54 – The thing about the first pick taking the whole time? Definitely media-driven. The Sonics have been off the clock for a while, and it’s still interview time on ESPN.

7:55 – The first surprise of the draft: Seattle takes Russell Westbrook fourth overall. I can’t remember a single mock draft with him here. By the way – I don’t trust anyone who wears single zero on his jersey. I can’t explain it, but it makes me wonder.

7:57 – No reaction to the surprise in the Magic’s draft room. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the video feed has frozen or not. Meanwhile, Westbrook’s interview gets preempted for a single question for Kevin Durant. We find out later that the rush job is to get in a commercial. I know it’s hard to cut away when there’s only 5 minutes between picks, but more player interviews and less from the talking heads would be nice.

8:00 – Again, the clock has run out but we’re watching people talk. It can’t possibly take that long for Stern to walk up and down the backstage walkway.

8:01 – Memphis goes with Kevin Love. Maybe he’s worth it this high, maybe he’s not, but you know you’re not getting a head case. You also know you’re getting a guy who knows more about basketball than perhaps your GM does. In Memphis’s case, this is almost certainly true.

8:04 – Stu Scott asks if Love can handle an interview. He repeats the canned answers and buzzwords he’s been saying all week. Way to stay on message, Kevin.

8:05 – This has got to be the first time ever that two drafts in a row have a guy named “Kevin” taken in the top 5.

8:07 – In their first draft without Isaiah in a while, the Knicks take the son of Mike D’Antoni’s former teammate. Given that D’Antoni basically runs an Italian league scheme, it makes sense to take Danilo Gallinari. The New York fans boo him mercilessly, natch.

8:08 – ESPN just now tells us that he won’t be a star, they’ll have to wait for him to develop, and that his nickname is “The Rooster.” Yeah, this is going to go over really, really well.

8:10 – Gallinari gives a nice effort at answering Smith’s questions despite his shaky English. If I didn’t know the language that well, I doubt I’d understand a word Smith says, so good job Danilo.

8:12 – The Magic are tied for fourth on the list of most times in the lottery at 12. Wonderful.

8:13 – The Clippers end Eric Gordon’s productive career by taking him in the draft. It was nice knowing you, Eric.

8:14 – Otis Smith actually looks like he’s working now. Either the video feed is on a half hour delay, or Smith is an Indiana fan. I don’t know; I know the Magic aren’t picking for a while, but I’d think a GM would look busier on draft night.

8:18 – The Bucks take Joe Alexander in their first pick of the Scott Skiles/Richard Jefferson era. When you add Alexander to Jefferson and Michael Redd, it appears the Bucks are planning on winning with offense despite Skiles’ coaching reputation.

8:20 – Despite trading away Yi Jianlian, Milwaukee keeps a Mandarin speaker on the roster. He’s got a big voice. Not exceptionally low or powerful, just big.

8:22 – The hometown team of my new city is up next. On the one hand, you have Larry Brown’s great basketball mind. On the other, you have Michael Jordan’s horrid drafting record. Which will win? Let’s find out.

8:25 – Charlotte takes D.J. Augustin despite Brook Lopez still being there. Jay Bilas was right when he said that Lopez would have made a lot of sense. Either Raymond Felton is not be as good as we thought, or they just picked a backup at #10.

8:28 – There’s been a lot of activity in the Magic’s draft room after that selection. They don’t have the pieces to move up for Brook Lopez yet. However, if he slides a few more slots I know they’d have to be at least making some calls.

8:30 – The Nets take Lopez, and that ends that. However, it still shows that big men aren’t at as much of a premium this year. That increases the chances of a quality big guy still being there at #22.

8:34 – Four mentions of his name, and four different pronunciations of Yi’s name by Stu Scott. Anything less would be a disappointment.

8:35 – Jerryd Bayless goes to Indiana, and by some measures that’s a bit of a steal. Between him and T.J. Ford, I guess the reign of terror inflicted on Pacer fans by Jamaal Tinsley may come to an end soon.

8:36 – Not only does he wear single zero, but he shares a last name with Skip Bayless. Be afraid Indiana, be afraid.

8:39 – It took until now for one of the “You’re watching the draft on ESPN” segments to be successful one rather than a blooper. I know the mess-ups are funny, but really? An hour and a half into the coverage to get a real one?

8:41 – The Kings take Jason Thompson from Rider. He’s a power forward, and I know someone the Magic were looking at. Is this a sign that Spencer Hawes was a mistake?

8:44 – Not too much reaction from the Magic’s draft room, though everyone appears to be working on something now.

8:46 – Bob Vander Weide just stood up and awkwardly tried to dribble a basketball. He’s getting restless.

8:47 – The Blazers make another savvy pick by taking Brandon Rush. They have a really nice young nucleus up there, but they have to figure out a way to maximize the talent. The Bulls were where the Blazers are two years ago, and they bottomed out this past season.

8:50 – I kind of feel bad for the Warriors, having won so many games and yet they missed the playoffs. They have a lot of question marks this offseason with free agency.

8:51 – Golden State takes the bait and selects Anthony Randolph. He has physical skills that got him by in college, but he is nowhere near ready for the NBA. I guess the team is going to try to resign most everyone and compete that way.

8:53 – ESPN keeps talking about how high the number of freshmen being taken is, but never once mentions the age limit as the reason why it’s happening. It’s obvious yes, but at least let us know you know it.

8:54 – Our first Dick Vitale appearance of the night, and he’s pumping up Kevin Love for Seattle over Westbrook. He’s now comparing Gallinari to Darko, meaning his college bias is also in full effect. It’s strangely comforting how some things never change.

8:57 – The Suns take Robin Lopez at 15, and he’s got a nice Oscar Gamble effect going on with the hat that won’t stay on his head. This seems slightly high for him, but Steve Kerr has shown an affinity for big guys so far. If D’Antoni is still in town, there’s no way they pass up Kosta Koufos with this pick.

8:59 – The attitude in the Magic’s draft room seems a little deflated. Aside from Vander Weide laughing at a joke, everyone appears disappointed. I think they may have wanted Robin.

9:01 – Of the eight players that Otis Smith listed as his favorites, two are now gone in Thompson and Robin Lopez. There are six picks before the Magic’s selection, so there’s a great chance at this point they’ll get a guy they want.

9:03 – The Sixers pick up Marreese Speights, I suppose to get an offensive talent to go next to Sam Dalembert. I wish him all the best after two years in Gainesville, but I think this may be too high to motivate him properly. He needs something to spark him to dominate, but nothing has done that yet.

9:06 – Otis Smith and who I believe is Dave Twardzik have left the room. It’s not to make a call since there are phones on the table, so I guess it’s to make a snack run or something.

9:08 – The Raptors select Roy Hibbert for Indiana with the 17th pick. Hibbert was someone that Smith wasn’t high on, so we are now guaranteed to see someone from Otis Smith’s A-list available at #22.

9:10 – For reference, the remaining guys are Courtney Lee, JaVale McGee, Darrell Arthur, J.J. Hickson, and Kosta Koufos. Arthur is the only one left in the green room. I don’t really want Hickson since I don’t like taking the only good guy on a bad team.

9:13 – Washington takes McGee off that list, which is fine for me since I don’t like the idea of taking a thin big man from a mid-major. Plus, “JaVale McGee” just doesn’t sound like a name that could ever end up on an all star roster.

9:15 – The Pacers and Blazers are clearly not done dealing, announcing a trade of Jarrett Jack and the rights to Rush for Ike Diogu and the rights for Bayless. I guess Jack just got too old for the Baby Blazers. After all, he turns 25 in four months.

9:18 – Poor Darrell Arthur is still in the green room, but in my humble opinion, he probably shouldn’t have been there anyway.

9:19 – For the first time tonight, Otis Smith picks up the phone. There’s three picks between now and Magic’s selection, so I guess it’s about that time to make some calls. Then again, he put it back down without calling anyone.

9:20 – The Cavs pick up Hickson, destined to become the latest in a long line of role players around LeBron James. He’s got moves but is undersized and doesn’t have a great work ethic. Congrats, Cleveland – you just picked up Drew Gooden again. That is, if Hickson ever gets that good.

9:22 – The Bobcats are up again, which means anything could happen. This pick just feels like Koufos to me, since they seem to have a thing for putting soft big guys around Emeka Okafor.

9:25 – Things are getting antsy in the Magic’s draft room. Twardzik his pacing the room, Smith is talking to everyone, and Vander Weide is typing something on his phone with the basketball still in his lap. Smith finally is making his first phone call.

9:27 – And right on cue, the Bobcats put a soft big man next to Okafor, but it’s Alexis Ajinca. He’s a French center who needs to put a lot of weight on, says Fran Fraschilla. He hasn’t been a productive player in the French pro league yet, and thanks to the value of the Euro versus the dollar, Fran says he may stay in Europe.

9:29 – With Charlotte going with the high risk foreigner way higher than anyone else would have taken him, the Magic will actually have a choice among their favorites. Arthur, Koufos, and Lee are still there. The activity is really ramping up in the Magic’s draft room.

9:31 – It will be interesting to see who the Nets take, since they likely aren’t taking another big man. The Magic have a good chance of getting a green room player at #22, which is startling.

9:33 – With the last pick before the Magic, the Nets take 6’10” gunner Ryan Anderson. He’s big, so I was wrong, but he’s more of a shooter than a post player. That means they get to pick between three of their eight guys. They can’t have been expecting that.

9:35 – Otis is calling someone on the phone in the front of the room instead of the one by his seat. He just pumped his fist, so I think the pick may be in. By having three of their eight guys available, and both a guard and forwards, we get an insight into what the team is really looking for instead of having the decision made for them. I like that as a fan.

9:36 – We get a fist pound between Smith and Twardzik, so they obviously got a guy they really want.

9:38 – The pick is in, and it’s Courtney Lee from Western Kentucky. Clearly they are not as concerned about the front line as I am. He does a lot of things well and is very tough, so that fits right in with what Stan van Gundy is looking for.

9:40 – The draft room just applauded, so the web cam is on a two minute delay. Not bad, all things considered.

9:41 – This will be the last entry, since the Magic have now made their selection. I like it – Lee can play right away, and that’s what you want when you’re planning on contending sooner than later. If they can get Adonal Foyle to resign or someone similar in free agency, they’ll probably be fine up front with Tony Battie coming back. Well done, guys.


Orlando Magic Draft Preview

June 26, 2008

The drafting history of the Orlando Magic has been decidedly a mixed bag.

The best drafting years in the team’s history came under Pat Williams’ tenure as GM. He nailed four of the team’s first five drafts, picking up Nick Anderson in ’89, Dennis Scott in ’90, Shaq in ’92, and trading Chris Webber for Penny Hardaway in ’93. Those four players all started on the Magic’s 1995 NBA Finals squad. That is how you draft your way to a championship contender.

In the remaining years, only 2000 pick Mike Miller (Rookie of the Year) and 2004 pick Dwight Howard have received league honors while in a Magic uniform. Many of the team’s choices have carved out their niches in the league and some have been quite productive: 1998 picks Michael Doleac and Matt Harpring, 1999 pick Corey Maggette, 2000 picks Mike Miller and Keyon Dooling, 2003 pick Zaza Pachulia, and 2004 pick Anderson Varejao. The team also picked up Marcin Gortat in 2005, and he showed some flashes at the end of last season that indicate he might end up playing in the league.

There is pressure on current GM Otis Smith to get this draft right. His first draft was 2005, and that was the infamous Fran Vasquez draft. The team hopes he will come over to America someday and contribute, but that’s the modus operandi for late second round picks, not the #11 overall pick. In 2006, they took J.J. Redick, who has since been buried on the bench for the defensive issues that were known before the draft, and the team basically sat 2007 out.

With the Magic just a player or two away from serious contention but without cap room, getting this pick right could make the difference in a championship run. Here is a look at what Orlando needs and doesn’t need.

DOESN’T NEED

Center

This one should be obvious. Dwight Howard will start for the Magic at center for as long as they can keep him under contract. Adonal Foyle leaving hurts depth, but Tony Battie can play both the 4 and the 5 and Stan van Gundy showed faith in Gortat by playing him in the playoffs.

Small Forward

Anyone who sees the Magic drafting a small forward in the first round must not have watched the team. They have not just one, but two all-star caliber swingmen in Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Lewis played out of position all year at power forward, but he is really a tall 3. There is too much money tied up in this position already to draft another in the first round.

ONLY IF SOMEONE FALLS

Point Guard

Jameer Nelson assuaged some of his doubters with some pretty good play in the playoffs. Keyon Dooling wants to come back and the team wants him back for his defense and versatility. Carlos Arroyo is likely gone.

The organization definitely feels Nelson is the long-term answer here, so unless they can nab a big point guard with some defense, they are passing on the point this year.

NEEDS

Power Forward

Battie returning helps here, but the Magic still need another credible big man to have Howard’s back. The Magic resembled a college team last season, more or less surrounding one excellent post player with a battalion of long range shooters.

Taking someone who played center in college will work here, just as long as he is willing to bang. Scoring won’t be a huge concern given Howard’s developing post game and the array of aforementioned shooters. Unfortunately, most of the quality guys with size will be gone by the Magic’s pick, though it’s possible that one out of the set of Marreese Speights, Roy Hibbert, and Robin Lopez will still be around.

Shooting Guard

The consensus seems to be that this is the position the Magic will be taking at #22. Maurice Evans had a nice end to the season, but it just screams “contract year” given the rest of his career. Keith Bogans will likely not opt out of his contract, but his upside is limited at this point. The front office is still set on not trading J.J. Redick, so he’s still around if he can ever get out of Stan van Gundy’s doghouse.

The names Courtney Lee and Chris Douglas-Roberts have been thrown around a lot, with Lee the seeming frontrunner. Lee is a pure shooter, but CD-R can score from the post. Either one could contribute right away in 2008.

Second Round?

At the moment, Orlando does not have a second round pick. Otis Smith has expressed interest in obtaining a high second round pick, but he has not said what it would be for. If he trades for it early, it could be to try to package it and move up to secure a big man. If that’s not the plan, it’s unclear at this point who his target might be.

The Magic already have two bigs marinating in Europe, between Vasquez and 2007 draft-day acquisition Milovan Raković, so I think it’s unlikely that they’d trade for the opportunity of stashing another project pick abroad. If the Magic go big at #22, their options for a second round acquisition likely include SG Bill Walker, SG Jamont Gordon, and ace defender Luc Richard Mbah a Mouté.


Seven Ways 2007 Could Have Been Crazier

June 16, 2008

The 2007 college football season will long be remembered as a season of chaos. The #2 ranking was a curse, Appalachian State and Stanford supplied two of the biggest upsets in the history of the game, and we ended up with the first two-loss champion since the polls named champions before the bowls.

It was a season for the ages, and we’ll likely not see anything like it again. Before we permanently put it in the past with the 2008 season, let’s take a look back at seven close calls that could have made 2007 even crazier than it was. All rankings are the teams’ rankings at the time of the game.

September 1: #4 Texas 21, Arkansas State 13

As you can tell by the ranking, expectations were high in Austin at the beginning of 2007. Everyone was looking forward to seeing how Colt McCoy would follow up his excellent freshman year, and the assumption was that the Longhorns would have a chance to win two titles in three years.

Arkansas State had other plans. The Indians outgained the Longhorns by 57 yards for a total of 397, and they scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to pull within eight with a minute to go. Texas recovered an onside kick to ice the game, and they were just happy to win on the same day that Appalachian State took down Michigan.

Texas had another close call two weeks later at UCF, but the Knights at least won Conference USA. The Indians finished 5-7 out of the Sun Belt, but it still says a lot about a season when Arkansas State winning in Austin would not have been the lead story of the day.

September 8: #5 Wisconsin 20, UNLV 13

The Texas-Arkansas State game had the underdog score late to pull it close. In this contest, it was four-touchdown favorite Wisconsin overcoming a one point UNLV lead by scoring a touchdown with 1:53 to go.

It was a rather pedestrian game, with UNLV leading 10-9 after three quarters. The result was very surprising considering Wisconsin had just put up 42 points in a win over Washington State. The Badgers just slept on the overmatched but very game Rebels in a match played far from the cozy environs of Camp Randall.

In the end, Wisconsin controlled the game with its rushing attack and some heady play from QB Tyler Donovan. After a couple more close calls, Wisconsin would lose its first game a month later against Illinois, but it nearly was one of the first in the long line of huge top 10 upsets in 2007.

September 8: #20 Hawaii 45, Louisiana Tech 44

Hawaii had many close calls on it slate in 2007, but none was closer than its game in Ruston. Hawaii needed overtime to defeat head coach Derek Dooley’s upstart Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

In a decision reminiscent of Boise State’s in the Fiesta Bowl, Tech decided to go for two in the first overtime, figuring it would be next to impossible to keep Colt Brennan from scoring again. The conversion pass was deflected and the Warriors escaped.

It turned out to be the first of two trips to Louisiana for Hawaii. The Warriors became the second WAC team to break into the BCS but collected its first loss at the hands of the team once coached by Derek’s father, the Georgia Bulldogs.

September 29: #12 Boston College 24, UMass 14

It seemed like it was going to be a nondescript win for BC against an in-state I-AA opponent. The Eagles had a 17-0 lead at the half and everything was going swimmingly.

UMass is a power in I-AA though, having not lost since the championship game against Appalachian State the previous season. As BC head coach Jeff Jagodzinski pointed out after the game, the Minutemen had plenty of I-A transfers, and they showed their ability by scoring 14 points to pull within three in the third quarter.

BC would answer with a touchdown late in the third, and the 24-14 margin would hold up for the rest of the game. UMass would go on to make the final four of the I-AA playoffs where it fell to Southern Illinois.

October 20: #5 Oklahoma 17, Iowa State 7

Oklahoma had already been upset by Colorado, and in preparation for this game, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops gave his team a list of top 25 upsets that had happened the previous week. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference as the normally potent Sooners needed the entire game to beat Big 12 North doormat Iowa State.

The Cyclones scored their only points of the game in the first quarter, but it wasn’t until a Sooner field goal with 1:34 to go that Oklahoma put the game away for good. It was the closest game between the teams since Iowa State lost by a count of 17-14 in Norman in 1998.

This one was in Ames though, and had the Cyclones pulled it out it would have been a signature win for new head coach Gene Chizik. Instead, Oklahoma headed home with its national title aspirations intact for another week.

November 17: #20 Tennessee 25, Vanderbilt 24

The last time the Commodores went to Knoxville, they pulled off the upset and got their first win over Tennessee since 1982 and first win in Knoxville since 1975. For most of the game, it looked like they would make it two in a row.

Tennessee made a 16 point comeback in the fourth quarter and Vanderbilt missed a field goal with 33 seconds to go to give the Vols a one point win. It’s difficult to believe, but Vanderbilt actually had a 24-9 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

By pulling this one out, Tennessee prevented Georgia from facing LSU in the SEC Championship Game, something that perhaps would have given us a more satisfying end to the season.

December 1: #13 Arizona State 20, Arizona 17

USC clinched a berth in the Rose Bowl earlier in the day, but Arizona State was still in the race for a BCS at large bid. All it would take to remain eligible was a win over its in-state rival.

Arizona, who was playing to become bowl eligible for the second straight year, had other ideas. The Wildcats jumped out to a 7-0 lead and kept within a score of the Sun Devils until an Arizona State touchdown with 4:27 to go. Arizona would tack on a touchdown with 26 seconds to go, but an offsides penalty on the ensuing onside kick would end its hopes of winning.

Arizona State would end up getting passed over in the BCS selection process for Georgia, Kansas, and Illinois, but had it lost this game it wouldn’t have been in the discussion at all.


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.