Potential Fallers in 2008

July 30, 2008

Yesterday, I explained the theory behind using performance in close games in one season to pick potential risers and fallers in the next season. Basically, it works off the assumption that if you get a lot of breaks one year, you won’t get them again the next year and vice versa. I also outlined the candidates for risers in 2008.

Today is time for the other side of the story – the potential fallers.

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

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

Arizona State Sun Devils, 10-3 overall, 3-0 in close games

Arizona State was a surprise in Dennis Erickson’s first year. It was picked to finish sixth in the conference, but instead the Sun Devils won ten games and had a conference record identical to USC’s mark.

Since Erickson generally has a great second year and he will have a senior returning to start under center, it would seem unlikely that ASU will fall off too much, but you never know.

Boston College Eagles, 11-3 overall, 3-0 in close games

Boston College was one of the milder surprises of 2007. The Eagles were picked second in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, but they ended up winning the division and even spent a little time at #2 in the polls. Having the best quarterback in the conference definitely helped make that possible.

Matt Ryan especially helped in the close games, none more memorable than the win over Virginia Tech. He is gone now, and so are some other key players. The expectations have fallen with BC now projected fourth in its division, and a regression to a normal (near .500) success rate in close games would help make that prediction come true.

Kansas Jayhawks, 12-1 overall, 4-1 in close games

Kansas was definitely one of the big surprise teams of 2007. I would tend to doubt that anyone, even Mark Mangino, would have expected a 12-1 season. With them accounting for 25% of the Jayhawks’ total wins, close games were a big part of Kansas’ success last season.

Most people expect the Jayhawks to come back down to earth, similar to how Rutgers did in 2007 after its dream 2006 season. It’s hard to argue with that considering how almost no one gets that many breaks two years in a row.

Kentucky Wildcats, 8-5 overall, 4-1 in close games

Rich Brooks talked at SEC media days about having the best offensive line in his time at Kentucky. That will help since he’s breaking in a new starting quarterback. He also said he’ll have the best defense during his time at Kentucky. That is a little like Spinal Tap saying they are the loudest rock band in the world – it doesn’t mean a whole lot.

Despite Brooks’ optimism, Kentucky almost certainly will fall off some. The Wildcats lost too many good players, and they probably can’t do so well in close games two seasons in a row.

Mississippi State Bulldogs, 8-5 overall, 4-0 in close games

Mississippi State was actually not all that much better in 2007 versus Sly Croom’s three previous seasons. Timely turnovers largely made the difference in going from three wins to going bowling.

At this point, Croom has begun building some quality and depth that did not exist when he started. Despite that fact, it will be very difficult to sweep all of the team’s close games again.

Northwestern Wildcats, 6-6 overall, 4-1 in close games

I’d bet that if you ask most college football fans if Northwestern was bowl eligible last season, most would say no. The Wildcats did in fact get to six victories on the back of four close wins.

This is a team that is trying to be on the rise under Pat Fitzgerald, and with a senior quarterback returning along with most of the team’s important offensive weapons, it could very well be. It will have to make its own luck though, since the fates will probably not be with them after the close game performance last season.
Oregon State Beavers, 9-4 overall, 4-0 in close games

Oregon State is a team that hasn’t really fit the Pac-10 stereotype that well over the past few seasons. The Beavers win with power running and defense, two excellent allies in close games.

The electric Sammie Stroughter will be back after missing last season, but with just 10 starters back and a banged up offensive line, it’s not clear that OSU can repeat its nine-win success of last season. All else being the same, falling to 2-2 in close games will put the Beavers at seven wins, which would be disappointing but not completely unexpected.

Virginia Cavaliers, 9-4 overall, 6-2 in close games

Virginia was definitely a surprise nine-win team, especially after the Cavaliers lost at Wyoming 23-3 to begin the season. Thanks to a lot of close wins, they obviously got things turned around.

However, there are many reasons to think that UVA will not see the same success. For one, Chris Long is gone, and then there’s the entire rest of Al Groh’s record at Virginia. It will be difficult to have the same success in close games, so Virginia will probably go back to the 5 to 7 win range that has been the norm under Groh.

The Watch List

UConn Huskies, 9-4 overall, 3-1 in close games

LSU Tigers, 12-2 overall, 4-2 in close games

NC State Wolfpack, 5-7 overall, 3-1 in close games

Texas Longhorns, 10-3 overall, 4-2 in close games

Wisconsin Badgers, 9-4 overall, 4-2 in close games

Postscript

Here is the order of conferences in terms of average number of close games per team in 2007. It reflects the competitiveness of the SEC, the parity of the Big East, and the demise of defense in the Big 12.

  1. SEC – 5.08 close games per team
  2. Big East – 5.00
  3. Big Ten – 4.73
  4. ACC – 4.42
  5. Pac-10 – 4.40
  6. Big 12 – 3.25

The team with the most close games was Alabama with ten; the team with the fewest close games was Baylor with zero.

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Potential Risers in 2008

July 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Watch List

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

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

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

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

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


Name that Player!

July 28, 2008

Hello, and welcome to Name that Player! I give you a set of stats, and you guess who each was. Try not to read ahead or it will ruin all the fun.

This time, the theme is quarterbacks. All stats are from the 2007 season.

ROUND 1

First up are a pair of Southeastern Conference quarterbacks, one from the SEC West and one from the SEC East. Name that player!

Name that Player!
Player 1 Player 2
Games 13 13
Completion % 55.75% 57.25%
TDs 19 18
INTs 10 10
Yards/Attempt 7.25 6.47
Rating 128.9 126.6

Player 1 was Georgia sophomore Matthew Stafford; Player 2 was Arkansas junior Casey Dick.

ROUND 2

Next up are a pair of signal callers from the Pacific time zone. One was at a BCS school, and one was at a non-BCS school. Name that player!

Name that Player!
Player 1 Player 2
Games 10 11
Rushes/Net Yds. 105/583 105/593
Rush TDs 9 6
Pass Att/Comp (Yds.) 172/254 (67.72%) 133/247 (53.85%)
Pass Yds. 2136 2175
Pass TDs 20 19
INT 4 3

Player 1 was Oregon senior Dennis Dixon; Player 2 was Nevada freshman Colin Kaepernick.

ROUND 3

Finally, we have a couple of quarterbacks from states that are known for agricultural production. As with Round 2, one is from a BCS conference, and the other is from a non-BCS conference. Name that player!

Name that Player!
Player 1 Player 2
Games 13 13
Pass Yards 3,667 3,486
Yards/Attempt 7.66 7.82
Completion % 56.37% 61.88%
TDs 30 33
INTs 6 7
Rating 138.8 148.8

Player 1 was Ball State sophomore Nate Davis; Player 2 was Kansas junior Todd Reesing.

That’s It!

Thanks for playing everyone. It’s almost eerie how some players can have very similar stats despite playing in different schemes against different defenses. It takes all kinds to win in college football. Here’s to another great season in 2008!


Phillip Fulmer’s Record at Tennessee

July 25, 2008

It’s almost difficult to believe, but Phillip Fulmer has been the head coach at Tennessee for all or part of 15 seasons now. He took over on an interim basis in 1992 after Johnny Majors was fired mid-season, and he’s been the head man ever since. Fulmer is by far the dean of SEC coaches, with the second-longest tenure belonging to Tommy Tuberville who began at Auburn in 1999.

It is pretty remarkable, considering how high the coaching turnover in the league is. The fact that Tennessee won the first ever BCS championship in 1998 is a big reason as to why he is still employed. He recently got a contract extension that automatically extends by a year for every eight win season he posts, effectively amounting to a lifetime contract.

There has been considerable grumbling in Knoxville of late though. Part of it has to do with “the season of which we do not speak” according to Vols fans, the 5-6 campaign in 2005. A lot of it has to do with the fact that Tennessee has not won the SEC since the championship in ’98, and it has only won the conference twice in Fulmer’s 15 years.

In those nine seasons since the title, he has won 10+ games four times and won the SEC East three times. As good as that is for most programs, that’s below the standard that Fulmer set in his first six seasons when he won 10+ games five times and won the conference twice.

The fall from elite to very good coincided with David Cutcliffe’s departure to be the head coach at Ole Miss. Randy Sanders replaced him, and after three seasons of holding steady the offense tailed off from where it had been.

While it’s true that Tennessee did not have another Peyton Manning come through, the Vols still scored 33 a game with Tee Martin in ’98. Fulmer, nothing if not loyal, did not replace Sanders until after the disastrous ’05 season.

From 1993-98, Tennessee failed to hit 400 points in a season only once; from 1999-2005, Tennessee hit 400 points exactly once, scoring 400 on the nose in 2001. Cutcliffe returned, and it took just one warm up season before UT reached that plateau again, scoring 455 in 2007.

Throughout the past decade, John Chavis’ defenses have been good, allowing more than 300 points in a season just once (ironically, in the SEC East-winning 2007 year). That means the Big Orange faithful have their eyes squarely on first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson’s new offense. The hope is that he can add some new wrinkles that haven’t yet been seen coming the home sideline in Knoxville.

On to Fulmer’s record, first by site:

Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 89 16 105
Away 47 19 66
Neutral 3 3 6
Bowls 8 7 15
Totals 147 45 192

As before, games against I-AA competition have been left out.

Overall the record is one of consistent good teams, with a winning percentage of .766 for all 15 seasons. The only glaring weakness is the bowl record, which I would have thought would be better.

Here is Fulmer’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.

Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 23 26 .469 22 24
Second 50 16 .758 30 21
Third 53 3 .946 34 15
Fourth 21 0 1.000 42 11

I can’t find too much to quibble with here. Fulmer has been about even against the best teams over time, which is about all you can reasonably ask of a coach. The guys who run up big winning records against top tier competition are the exception, not the rule.

This is nice and all, but as I said above, the question about Fulmer is concerned with the time after the national title. Did he go soft? If so, but how much? What changed? To answer those questions, I supply these same charts for his time before and after the title.

Phillip Fulmer 1992-98
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 41 3 45
Away 18 6 24
Neutral 3 0 3
Bowls 5 2 7
Totals 67 11 78
Phillip Fulmer 1992-98
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 13 8 .619 27 24
Second 21 1 .955 34 18
Third 26 2 .929 40 15

What we see here is an excellent record. He had an .859 winning percentage, just three home losses, and sparkling record against the top two tiers. Basically, he won the games he should have won and did pretty well against the best teams.

Here are the same charts post-championship:

Phillip Fulmer 1999-2007
Site Wins Losses Totals
Home 48 13 45
Away 29 13 42
Neutral 0 3 3
Bowls 3 5 8
Totals 80 34 114
Phillip Fulmer 1999-2007
Tier Wins Losses Pct. Avg. Scored Avg. Allowed
First 10 18 .357 19 24
Second 29 15 .659 28 23
Third 27 1 .964 29 16

This suddenly went from great to just plain above average. The winning percentage dipped to .702, it became easier for opponents to win on Rocky Top, and the performance against the top tiers took a big turn to the south.

You’ll notice the defensive numbers are roughly the same, except for a five-point increase in points surrendered to the second tier. That probably wouldn’t have made a difference if the offense still scored 34 a game against that tier, but it fell by a touchdown to just 28. Suddenly a lot of those comfortable wins became a bit more exciting.

The record improved against the third tier somehow, but Tennessee couldn’t manage to put up even 30 a game against foes that finished under .500 on the year. Sure most people think of a boring running game and a defense-first philosophy when they think of the Vols, but their offenses could score with the best of them in the ’90s under David Cutcliffe.

It only took Cutcliffe two seasons to get the scoring back up to around where it had been before. Since Chavis’ defense will likely still be great with Rico McCoy and Eric Berry leading it, the burden has been rightly put on Dave Clawson to keep up the offensive gains realized under Cutcliffe. He must bring the declining running game back to a high level and make things less predictable.

Fulmer’s contract extension essentially ends any speculation of him being let go, providing another 2005 disaster doesn’t occur. The offseason chatter I’ve seen from the folks in orange has been cautiously optimistic, with high hopes for the Jonathan Crompton/Clawson combo.

At this point, Fulmer is what he is. That is why bringing in the relatively unknown Clawson was unexpected, but it could be the breath of fresh air the program needed to put it back over the top in the conference.

Will Clawson make Tennessee’s offense dynamic again, or will he have as little influence as Jimbo Fisher did in year one at FSU? It’s just one of the many interesting subplots that will make the 2008 college football season great.


Jim Tressel Attempts To Set The Record Straight On The Big Ten

July 22, 2008

On Monday, July 21st we got the first installment of ESPN’s College Football Live series in anticipation of the 2008 season. I know that many people dislike ESPN for one reason or another, but it’s hard to argue with having a 30 minute college football show every weekday.

We also know that the season can’t be that far away if the Mothership’s marketing machine is roaring to life. I think we can all agree that the season being close is a Good Thing, surpassed only by the season being here.

Anyway, they decided to bring out some big guns of controversy to kick off the season. One was Tim Tebow, who is either a saint or the most overexposed and overrated quarterback in years depending on who you ask. The other was the head coach of Ohio State, Jim Tressel.

After some pleasantries, including Tressel giving his best Jacques Clouseau impression, Jessie Palmer went right to the topic that has set message boards and comment threads alight all spring and summer long:

Palmer: “The Big Ten last year went 3-5 in bowl games. Ohio State obviously has lost the last two national championship games. What do you say to critics out there who say the Big Ten is a weak conference?”

Tressel: “Well, I think anyone that’s ever played against the Big Ten would refute that. The Big Ten is not a weak conference; it’s a strong conference.

Did we lose the last two national championship games? Yes. Did we lose the last two Rose Bowls, which is a BCS venue? Yes, and that gets the most notoriety so I think you have to look in the mirror and say, ‘If you want respect you have to win those games.’

I don’t know if you ever get respect in debates. You get respect in action, and 2008’s on the way.” (emphasis mine)

I like the way Tressel did that. He did not give in, but he didn’t dismiss the critics either. He acknowledged the fact that losing on the biggest stages alters perceptions more than anything else does.

Given how politically polished that statement was, it’s no wonder people still call Tressel “The Senator.” The 2008 season is indeed on the way, and he knows that all the bluster in the world during the offseason will never carry as much weight as what happens on the field.

Hopefully, this statement from the Sweatervest can serve as the final word in the overplayed, overhyped, and overdone debate over the strength of the Big Ten this offseason. I have little hope that it will, but a guy can dream, can’t he?


Expect Order to Be Restored

July 21, 2008
The Gator Band makes a tribute for the Dark Knight against Georgia in 2007.

The Gator Band makes a tribute for the Dark Knight against Georgia in 2007.

The biggest movie of the summer has just opened: The Dark Knight, a film that highlights the struggle between order, symbolized by Batman, and chaos, symbolized by the Joker.

The Joker definitely won out during the 2007 college football season. We had top teams like Michigan and Louisville sink in the first half and relative unknowns in Missouri and Kansas rise towards the end. We also had the Curse of Being #2 and the first two-loss champion since champions have been named after the bowl season.

Some have wondered if last season was a temporary thing or the start of a new era of parity. Before we can answer that question, we have to figure why last season felt so chaotic.

No Dominant Team

There was not one single dominant team for the whole year. It looked for a while like Oregon might step up and be that team, but when Dennis Dixon went down so did the Ducks.

College football always feels more orderly when a couple teams are at the top all year. All kinds of craziness can go on underneath them, but as long as we know a couple titans will blowout their opponents it seems much more manageable.

That sense of order goes right out the window when USC loses to Stanford and LSU loses to Arkansas and Kentucky rather than Florida and Auburn.

Scheduling

The schedule worked out perfectly for the much of the insanity to happen too.

It especially is evident with the #2 curse. If Boston College plays Virginia Tech earlier in the year, the Eagles never get to #2. If USF plays Rutgers earlier in the year, the Bulls never get to #2. I think you get the idea.

Another example is with teams and weak schedules. Kansas played only one team that was ranked when bowl invitations went out – #6 Missouri – and lost. That was good enough to get into the Orange Bowl.

Hawaii played only one team that was ranked when bowl invitations went out – #24 Boise State – and that was good enough to get into the Sugar Bowl.

USC played only one team that was ranked when bowl invitations went out – #11 Arizona State – though it did get Oregon with a healthy Dixon. That was good enough to win the Pac-10 and go to the Rose Bowl, despite the epic upset loss to Stanford.

Those are all anomalies that don’t normally happen.

Rapidly Changing Expectations

If you look at top of the preseason poll and the final poll, you’d never know that the season was considered one of chaos. Seven of the preseason top 10 were in the final poll. Of the remaining three, two fell to the teens and one fell unranked.

For reference, six of 2006’s preseason top ten were in the final top 10, with the other four falling back to the teens. In 2005, only five of the preseason top 10 made the final top 10, with two falling to the teens, one to the twenties, and two falling unranked.

Chris Fowler published an article around midseason last October about the travails of the pollsters. It does a good job of crystallizing the tumult that occurred between the relatively tame differences of the first and final polls. In short, a lot goes back to the fact that road teams won a lot more often than they should have.

So What About 2008?

The headline of Fowler’s piece is “Inconsistent teams creating rankings chaos.” If you look at the quarterbacks of many of the top teams from the 2007 preseason poll, you can see why.

USC, Virginia Tech, Michigan, West Virginia, UCLA, and Cal had injuries. LSU, Ohio State and Wisconsin had first year starters. Oklahoma didn’t just have a first year starter, but a freshman starter. Texas’ starter had a sophomore slump behind a suspect line. Florida was one school without a question mark behind center, but it had plenty of them on the other side of the ball.

Fast forward a year and look at the early preseason consensus for 2008. Of the top 10, only USC and LSU are breaking in a new starter. Expand it to the top 20 and that adds only Auburn, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Injuries will happen, of course, but there’s no way to count those yet.

Basically, all of this decade’s powers are ready to roll. Only LSU and to a lesser extent USC aren’t directly building on last year with roughly the same cast.

Another cause of instability in 2007 was the emergence of programs that had not been to the top either recently or at all. USF fell after not knowing how to deal with soaring, Kansas lost the only big game of its regular season, and Missouri couldn’t beat Oklahoma.

Those teams have tasted the sky and in theory should be able to better handle its intoxicating effects. All three will have the chance to prove this true or untrue, especially when Kansas takes a trip down to Tampa to play the Bulls.

A Historical Note

Being a native Floridian, I tend to relate things to hurricanes.

Hurricanes are cyclical phenomena, gradually changing from less to more to less frequent. As with everything that is cyclical, you sometimes end up with a big peak or big valley if things align properly.

The 2005 season was horrifically bad, and many predicted it would usher in a new era of megastorms that would ravage the US for years to come. Instead, the 2006 and 2007 seasons were relatively quiet, and (knock on wood) 2008 has been quiet thus far too. Things even out and regress to the mean.

College football is also a cyclical thing. Powers come and go, some more quickly than others, and every now and then you get a peak or a valley. The 2007 season was a valley for powers being able to control the sport, and some have speculated that it ushered in a new era of parity and craziness in the polls.

I disagree.

A lot of things had to all come together to enable 2007 to play out the way it did. The last time we had no one finish the year undefeated was 2003. In 2004, there were no less than five undefeated teams before the bowls. Things took a swing in the opposite direction to even out the prior year.

That is exactly what will happen in 2008. We will see at least one BCS conference champ go undefeated, if not more. We may not even see a BCS conference champ with two losses, depending on how the ACC works itself out. BYU or maybe Utah could go unbeaten in the MWC, and Boise State or Fresno State could to the same in the WAC.

The 2007 BCS bowls were a picture of craziness: Boise State upset Oklahoma, Florida shocked everyone by beating Ohio State by 27, and Wake Forest actually made the Orange Bowl. It almost symbolically ushered in the craziness that was the 2007 regular season.

The 2008 BCS bowls were completely different. The better team in four of the five bowls flexed its muscles and won in impressive fashion. I believe that they symbolically paved the way for a 2008 where the insanity stops.

Batman has caught the Joker, and order will be restored.


Four Reasons Why I Don’t Follow Recruiting

July 17, 2008

There are many reasons why I like college football. The large number of teams and disparity in talent among them breeds an incredible variety of styles to both offense and defense that you just can’t get in the NFL. College games have more excitement too, and to me campus stadiums just have a better feel than the large, impersonal corporate palaces of the NFL.

One thing I can’t stand though, is recruiting. More specifically, I can’t stand the huge amount of attention placed on recruiting from outside observers.

I can understand why people like it. It has the same kind of speculative feel as picking small cap stocks does, and it’s the closest thing we have to a draft for colleges in today’s sporting culture that pays huge amounts of attention to the NFL and NBA drafts. The focus on it just rubs me the wrong way though.

To explain myself, I have made a list of four reasons why I don’t follow recruiting.

1. Commitments Aren’t Binding

Until a player signs on the dotted line on National Signing Day, no commitment is binding. A recruit can decide to change his mind up until the moment he puts pen to paper.

Plenty of players every year change their minds, which is perfectly fine. It is huge decision, and they should be able to make up their mind whenever and however they want. It does mean though that the big recruitniks get their feelings hurt every year when Jimmy Fivestars decides to reverse his oral commitment and switch from their school to another.

Just let me know who’s on the list once they’ve signed. I have better things to do than worry about whether a 17-year-old is wavering on his college choice or not, and he owes nothing to anyone until his has put his commitment on paper.

2. Information Quality is Dodgy

Stan heard from his friend close to the Juggernaut University Bakery Raiders that Jimmy Fivestars is leaning towards an oral commitment. However, Joe knows a guy who knows Jimmy’s best friend and he says that Jimmy didn’t like the Raiders’ locker room on his official visit and might be looking elsewhere.

Meanwhile Mike said that a rival coach is spreading misinformation about JU’s academics, while Larry heard that another rival coach is telling recruits that the Raiders’ coach might be out after this year if he doesn’t win a bowl. Frank’s source says that Jimmy might not come if Hugh Positioncoach takes a job elsewhere, and it also says the JU coaching staff is lying about Hugh’s obvious interest in that coordinator opening at Directional State University.

I run across stuff like that all the time, and you know what? All of it may be true, or none of it may be true. So much misinformation gets spread around officially and unofficially through coaches, the media, message boards, and the recruiting services that you can’t know what to believe.

One guy swears something is true, while someone else promises you it’s not. It’s like people have forgotten that you really can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.

3. The Recruiting Services

The idea of grown adults contacting high school kids they don’t know on a regular basis just weirds me out. The idea of more grown adults paying money to see the information they get in real time creeps me out.

College coaches have a legitimate reason for contacting the kids, of course, so that’s fine. They have to sell their programs and get to know the athletes to make sure they want them on their teams.

On the other hand, reporters for recruiting services doing that really bothers me. Being 23 years old myself, I can remember high school and what it was like pretty vividly. While I wasn’t on the football team, I was still pretty busy with all of my commitments.

High school football players are busy enough between school, homework, practice, recruiting calls from coaches, and their social lives. They don’t need even more bother from reporters from websites who are just going to turn around and sell the information to their subscribers.

4. Busts

Not every highly touted high school player comes in and excels in college. Some low-rated players come in and become stars. The rating someone gets usually predicts how well the player does, but it is by no means perfect.

I’d rather go by what the head coach says after seeing the incoming freshmen in practice. If you set your expectations by what the coaches say after seeing a player go against real collegiate competition, you’re less likely to see someone as a bust.

In Florida’s case, the recruitniks said that getting RB Markus Manson out of Alabama was a huge coup and that he’d make a big difference. The coaches said he doesn’t run hard enough, and as a result Manson hasn’t played much. The recruitniks said DE Carlos Dunlap could come in right away and contribute with his freakish build. The coaches said he learned no technique at all in high school, and it really showed when Dunlap came in during mop up time.

By listening to the coaches, I am less likely to be upset over the way a guy performs (or doesn’t, as the case may be). I see Manson as a career backup rather than a colossal bust, which keeps me from getting angry at Manson for not producing more like some Gator fans I have seen get. That in turn makes my disposition towards the team a little sunnier, which is perfect for me since I like to enjoy football as much as possible.

To conclude, if you’re one of those recruitniks and you just have to have that latest information, I don’t know what to say to you. If you really want to get emotionally invested in high schoolers you don’t know because they might (might!) be interested in playing a sport for your favorite college, there’s probably nothing I can say to you to change that.

Just don’t expect me to jump in the middle of any arguments over recruiting with you.