Mid-Afternoon Check-In

September 6, 2008

Well, Auburn and Southern Miss were underwhelming, and the BC-GT game was nothing if not sloppy and disjointed. If I could describe Auburn QB Chris Todd in one word, it would be “indecisive.” Meanwhile, Josh Nesbitt and Jonathan Dwyer together are probably good enough to get the Jackets four more wins in the putrid ACC.

Speaking of the ACC, Wake Forest doesn’t look too bad against Ole Miss. Ole Miss doesn’t look too bad against Wake Forest. This is a game between two good but not great BCS conference team. Only problem is, Wake is supposed to be one of the two or three best teams in their league. Whoops.

Georgia has been looking good, but Central Michigan’s defense is a sieve. I mean, they gave up 70 points to Clemson last season, and that betrays some deep issues that cannot be fixed in one year. CMU’s offense could have been better, except Dan LeFevour didn’t start running until about five minutes to go in the half. Not surprisingly, that allowed the Chips to move the ball better and even pick up a cheap TD right at the end.

By the way, Notre Dame is tied at the half 7-7 with San Diego State, and needed a blocked punt with under two minutes to go in the half to get a chance at that TD. Yes, that San Diego State, who lost to Cal-Poly last weekend. It is a little surprising, but then again not so much since it’s the Irish’s first game and they were not competitive in so many games last season. I think a lot of people overestimated where they were starting from this season.

Oh, and Jimmy Clausen looks like a dope with his new long hair.


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


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.

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.

Welcome to the Big Leagues, Colt

January 2, 2008

Last night’s Sugar Bowl was immensely satisfying. I have been sick and tired of the Colt Brennan hype machine since, oh, about last year’s bowl season. It got even worse when Hawaii plundered the bakery that is the WAC and somehow played an even worse non-conference schedule to finish the season undefeated. I didn’t want to see him get injured (although Georgia’s defense appeared to be trying to accomplish just that with as many fearsome hits as it delivered), but to see him humbled on the national stage was great, and possibly even good for him as he heads into draft workouts.

I found an article at Foxsports.com with some quotes of his, and I’d like to share them with you now:

  • “When you play against a team like this, you can’t miss a beat. We didn’t do that.”

No joke, Colt. When your whole team has 4 guys who might in a dream scenario play in the NFL, you have to absolutely perfect because every mistake becomes a sack, turnover, or touchdown for the other team.

  • “We knew coming in this was probably the best defense we’d ever faced. We really wanted to do something special here tonight, but we just couldn’t get any momentum going. We have a lot of drives that didn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t so much a question of X’s and O’s. They just won the battles all night.”

Perhaps, but your X’s and O’s guru on the sidelines also had a hard time not calling slow-developing pass plays despite the fact you became intimately familiar with the inner workings of the “Sportexe Momentum 41” playing surface of the Superdome.

  • “Everybody knows the SEC is the fastest league in the country. We just couldn’t simulate that in practice with our scout team.”

Self-explanatory. It’s similar to Billy Donovan’s comments about Marresse Speights and Alex Tyus – they’re suffering in practice because there’s no one else on the team like them to hone their skills against. Okay, back to football.

  • “We had never played in this type of element before. We tried as hard as we could to keep everything the same as we have all season long, but it just seemed like we weren’t used to the venue as big the Super Dome. Georgia plays in this kind of environment in the SEC every week all season.”

If anyone has questioned whether playing on big stages every week helps teams of the major conferences, here’s your proof that it does make a difference. Hawaii started 1st and 20 on its opening drive due to penalties, and it was all downhill from there. Before you bring up Boise State last year, remember that the Broncos had a similar harrowing experience at the hands of Georgia in Sanford Stadium in 2006, and BSU regularly plays at Pac 10 venues.

  • “We have done a good job most of the year protecting Colt,” [Head Coach June] Jones said. “But they had eight sacks and a couple of times we didn’t touch anybody. They just blew in and whacked him.”

Well said, June. That about sums up the 2008 Sugar Bowl.

If last year’s Fiesta Bowl set up this season’s craziness from week to week, this year’s Sugar Bowl most likely sets up next year as a season of juggernauts. Florida, Georgia, and maybe LSU in the SEC, Ohio State in the Big Ten, Oklahoma, Missouri, and maybe Texas in the Big 12, and USC in the Pac 10 all appear set to dominate next season.

West Virginia in the Big East would have counted if Rich Rodriguez had stayed, and then Pat White and Steve Slaton would have stayed as well. If WVU hires former Rodriguez assistant and spread option fan Butch Jones away from Central Michigan, and Jones can convince White and Slaton to stay, they might yet have a chance. After all, Jones molded Dan LeFevour into only the second guy to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Vince Young being the first.

Virginia Tech will likely be the titan of the ACC, but the rest of that conference save Boston College is so bad, it’d be difficult to tell if the Hokies are really that good. BC won’t qualify as a juggernaut because it wasn’t one this year and is losing its senior starting QB Matt Ryan. No one else in the conference will clock in as better than “surprisingly good.”

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.

BC – VT Was an Abomination

October 26, 2007

What a horrible, horrible game. When people ask how you can tell if a game has good defense or bad offense, or what’s the difference between good offense and bad defense, this game offered a tutorial on both.

For most of the game, it was bad offense. Look, I know both defenses played well, especially the Virginia Tech defense, but there was a lot of bad offense. Sean Glennon still is not a BCS conference-caliber QB, and Matt Ryan played like, well, Sean Glennon. VT was cruising to an easy shutout win.

But then, VT did something unpardonable. Something unthinkable. Something that anyone who knows and follows football knows you should never, ever do. They went into the prevent defense. I’ve been saying for years that the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning, but I am hardly alone in my disdain for the prevent. Here’s all you need to know:

On the final two drives, Matt Ryan went 9/15 for 157 yards and 2 TD. Previously, he was for 16/37 for 128 yards for 0 TDs and 2 INT. He had 4 passes complete for longer than 10 yards (32, 18, 14, 12), which together represent 59% of his passing yards at that point. On the final two drives, he had passes complete for 23, 22, 20, 16, 20, 15, 12, and 24 yards (in that order) and had only one completion less than 10 yards (for 5 yards). It’s one thing to try not to give up the big home run play, but if you’re going to surrender 15 – 20 yards per pass, what’s the use.

Matt Ryan finished the game with one of the most deceptive lines of the year – 25/52 for 285 yard, 2 TD, 2 INT. The 25/52 part is the most indicative of his night, because he sucked a lot. He just got lucky at the end that VT quit playing defense and managed to muff an onside kick. He looked awful, and should gain no brownie points for this game.

The last thing I wanted to hear was what Craig James was saying in the booth on SportsCenter after the game. His position was that BC affirmed its position as the #2 team in the country and that Ryan showed he was one of the best in the country. No, no, No, NO, NO! BC showed that it’s a team with no depth that can’t handle playing in the rain. It would probably get stomped by Kentucky, Oregon, Florida or any other team with a decent or better offense. This game was an indictment on VT and specifically Frank Beamer’s late-game strategy. Even Glennon could have driven down the field with how soft the Hokie corners were playing.

Again, this is what we learned tonight: BC is awful, VT is worse, Matt Ryan is a good but not great QB, and the ACC should probably lose its automatic BCS bid if these are really the best two teams in it. I’m done for the night.

Iowa State – Iowa / BYU – BC

September 16, 2006

I’ll just be updating this one post for the game rather than a bunch more individual posts.

12:03 – Terrible picture, and questionable announcers for this one. Who is the guy calling the game? He doesn’t sound human. ESPN/ABC is really overextended today.

12:07 – Iowa doesn’t look like they came prepared to play today. It’s like the Gators at the beginning of the USM game. It will be seen if they can snap out of it like Florida did.

12:09 – Touchdown, Iowa State. Well, Drew Tate doesn’t play special teams or defense.

12:15 – That’s the first points a visitor has scored in the first quarter against Iowa in 12 games. Also, Iowa State’s coach looks like a maniac. Pam Ward and Mike Gottfried are calling the game, for the record. Thanks, Fox Sports.

12:19 – Punt for Iowa. Disappointing. They needed to answer that to keep the intensity up. Nice punt though. On the Deuce, I’ve got BYU-BC, and the Cougars have score already. In fact, Cincinnati-Ohio State is the only game without a score right now. Somewhat surprising.

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