Archive for August, 2008

Saturday’s Stories: Week One

August 31, 2008

*Missouri still hasn’t proved it’s ready for the big time. Much was made coming into the season of the Mizzou’s newfound defensive strength. Juice Williams throwing all over the Tigers’ supposedly stellar secondary belied a different truth. The Missouri defense certainly came up with clutch plays when called upon, but there was nothing on display in St. Louis to make observers think the Tiger defense is anything special. The D is going to have to stiffen up if coach Gary Pinkel refuses to alter his offensive philosophy. The Tigers’ inability to put the Illini exemplified the biggest weakness of an otherwise potent offensive attack. Mizzou’s spread is designed for big plays and a fast tempo. It works well until you’re trying to salt away a tight game in the fourth quarter. For evidence, look no farther than the Tigers’ fourth down attempt late in last night’s game, a shotgun draw play Illinois stuffed with ease.

*Clemson’s current coaching regime can’t cut it. The coaching matchup between Nick Saban and Tommy Bowden on Saturday night turned out to be an even bigger mismatch than expected. Saban and his staff drew up a game plan that rendered Clemson’s touted offense completely impotent, as the only touchdown scored by the Tigers came on a CJ Spiller kickoff return. On top of that, a defense returning eight starters from 2007’s solid unit got pushed all over the field by a Bama attack that didn’t show much pop last year. It looked like Bowden’s defensive staff couldn’t be bothered to draw up something new after all the hard work required to put their scheme together in the offseason.
*The QB issue at LSU has been decided. At least one would think so. Appalachian State didn’t put up much of a fight against the Tigers, as LSU’s backs ran wild from their very first offensive play. Hatch, however, appeared to possess a far greater command of the Tiger offense, efficiently implementing Gary Crowton’s attack. Redshirt freshman Jarrett Lee, on the other hand, was undone by a very poor first half interception.
*Doctors be damned, yesterday’s injuries definitely should concern Ohio State and Mizzou fans. The medical staffs at Ohio St. and Mizzou were quick to concluded that the injuries sustained by Beanie Wells and Jeremy Maclin weren’t serious. Both looked like the kind of ankle injuries that could linger for a whole season, putting Wells and Maclin in that weird category of will-he-or-won’t-he-play for a good part of the year. Having watched Adrian Peterson drift through his sophomore season in that boat, the temptation to play these two before they’re ready to go is probably pretty strong in Columbus and Columbia. Still, with a visit from Ohio standing in between the trip to USC in a couple weeks, coach Jim Tressel would be crazy to let Wells anywhere near the field this week. Maclin could probably afford to sit a couple weeks until the Tigers start conference play.

OU in Review: Chattanooga

August 31, 2008

Saturday night’s matchup with the Moccasins proved to be every bit the titanic mismatch it was billed to be. From the opening kick, it was clear the Mocs were completely outmanned against the Sooners.

In that sense, it’s nearly impossible to say what OU did well. In fact, it’s tough to judge what the Sooners didn’t do well. Players have a hard time getting motivated for a cupcake, so the levels of concentration and execution typically suffer as well.
The top area of concern coming out of this game has to be the kicking game. It doesn’t inspire much confidence when your placekicker blows an extra point. Walk-on kickoff specialist Matthew Moreland consistently booted the ball to the 15-yard line, which won’t fly against opponents a little closer in talent to the Sooners.
Let’s get real, though. OU’s season starts in earnest next week with a home game against Cincinnati, one of the better-coached teams in the country. The Bearcats should provide a much better indicator of how the Sooners stack up against the USCs and Floridas of the college football world. 

Pistols Backfiring

August 30, 2008

A few more observations from the day’s action so far:

*Not particularly impressed with Oklahoma State through the first quarter of the Cowboys’ game against Washington State, which ended with OSU up 3-0. The Pokes’ punt return game appeared to be their most potent weapon, with the offense sputtering. Then again, it’s their first game, and it’s two time zones away from home. Probably not that surprising.
*If he’s watching USC-Virginia, Armanti Edwards is probably thinking he didn’t get it so bad this morning. UVa’s sophomore quarterback Peter Lalich–whose name sounds like he should be hitting up some accounting homework right now–has been getting brutalized by the Trojans’ defense, which has looked pretty fearsome. USC did surrender a 60-yard touchdown drive, but the ‘hoos gained half of that on penalties. Meanwhile, the Trojans’ offense has done pretty much whatever they’ve wanted so far. The running game is humming, while quarterback Mark Sanchez has been downright surgical in carving up the Virginia defense.
*Is it me, or have there been a weird number of safeties so far in this first season?
*Haven’t seen much of Michigan so far, but it sounds like the defense has been more of a problem than the O so far.

Buckeye Blow

August 30, 2008

The big story early today is Beanie Wells’ injury for Ohio State. Obviously nobody knows anything at this point, but the footage of Wells being helped off after the injury didn’t look good–possibly the dreaded high ankle sprain.

Other early tidbits:
*Check out Matt Hinton’s Dr. Saturday site on Yahoo! Hinton is live blogging all day in a pretty cool interactive forum.
*LSU looked predictably nasty in running roughshod over App St. in the clash of defending national champs. Andrew Hatch clearly looks like the better option at QB than Lee, who threw a pretty awful pick-six. The pounding ASU QB Armanti Edwards took from the Tigers defense should be Exhibit A in the argument against the spread.
*If those Rosetta Stone commercials are any indication, reports of Michael Phelps’ pitch man potential have been greatly exaggerated.
*Terrelle Pryor is enormous.
*Looks like the “volcano” in the name of Taco Bell’s latest offering could be taken a number of ways.
*This East Carolina-Virginia Tech game is moving at a breakneck pace. Homerism had dismissed the upset hype in this one, but the Pirates are hanging tough. There’s a surprisingly loud crowd in Charlotte backing East Carolina. The Hokies’ run D looks incredibly soft.
*How is it that coaches like Greg Robinson and Dave Wannestedt can be in their third seasons and yet their teams continue to show no improvement? I’d be the first to say that college football fans tend to have unrealistic expectations and quick triggers when it comes to coaches, but those two schools should feel free to go ahead and cut the cord.

Let’s Get It On!

August 30, 2008

The games on Thursday and Friday night provided nice appetizers, but we’re finally on to the main course. A few random thoughts as the season finally kicks off in earnest:

*Party time in Baton Rouge! Kinda. A 10 AM kickoff for Tiger fans, probably college football’s drunkest, must be torturous. Oh yeah, it was 87 degrees at game time. What a way for this crew to celebrate a national championship. In all seriousness, though, Homerism asks Louisianans to please take every necessary precaution and stay safe over the next few days. 
*Chad Johnson now officially Ocho Cinco. “NFL looking into the issue,” ESPN reports. I’d love to hear what’s being investigated here, Sherlock Goodell. I don’t remember you making a fuss when Pacman Jones informed us he wanted to be known as “Adam” from here on out.
*Resident ESPN GameDay sideshow Lee Corso says to keep an eye out for special teams boners in the opening week. This is probably the smartest thing Homerism recalls The Coach ever saying.
*Jesse Palmer is ESPN’s best college football analyst. And it’s not even close. Among the confederacy of dunces comprising ESPN’s army of Saturday analysts, The Bachelor’s well-researched and articulate opinions clearly stand out from the verbal diarrhea emanating from the various daises. In case you’re wondering, Palmer’s preseason pick as national champ: OU.
*Looks like Appalachian State definitely will not be this year’s Appalachian State. Midway through the second quarter, LSU’s ridiculous front four is having an absolute field day with the Mountaineers’ overmatched offensive line. Stat of the game: Appalachian St. senior linebacker Pierre Banks is the 16th of 17 children. Yo!
*If you are looking for a potential out-of-nowhere upset… Keep your eye on Kent State. The Golden Flashes are 9.5-point underdogs to Boston College today, and bettors are hammering B.C., according to Contrarians everywhere, considered yourselves warned.
That’s it for now, but Homerism will try to check in periodically throughout the day for more insight on the day’s action.

2008 Oklahoma Season Preview: Forecast

August 29, 2008

Hope always springs eternal in preseason practice, but it’s never fun for fans to enter a college football season feeling the questions left to be answered about their teams outnumber the rock-solid certainties. So please pardon this Sooner fan for feeling a little uneasy about kicking off 2008.

Can Sam Bradford match his debut season? Will a re-tooled secondary be able to prevent the big play? Who’s going to step up at linebacker? Is DeMarco Murray healthy? Is the OU o-line really all it’s hyped up to be?

There’s more to it than that, though, and it’s harder to explain. It’s tough to shake the memories of chances missed and unlucky breaks and off-field distractions that have seemed to loom over OU’s program lately. From above-the-law boneheads to gallingly incompetent officiating to freak injuries, recent seasons have perpetuated a paranoia that the other shoe is always about to drop.

Funny, though: The worst that has happened since OU won its last national championship in 2000? An 8-4 finish that included a bowl victory over a top-five opponent.

Yes, the Sooners have been unable to seal the deal on another national crown. The fact of the matter remains, though, that OU has been knocking on the door ever since, and there’s little reason to think that’s going to change anytime soon. Hang around long enough, and the Sooners will break through again at some point.

That said, even though there’s plenty to like about this year’s team, I think OU is going to have to keep knocking for another year. The pundits continue to paint the Sooners’ schedule as ripe for a championship, but the Big XII is so strong this year that it’s hard to envision OU making it all the way through the year unscathed, which would put a BCS championship game appearance in doubt. A third-straight conference crown will be tough enough.
OU beats Mizzou the Big XII championship and ends the year 13-1.

2008 Oklahoma Season Preview: Receivers

August 29, 2008

For a conference being touted this season for its explosive offenses and quarterbacking, doesn’t it seem like the Big XII is lacking quality receivers?

There’s Michael Crabtree at Texas Tech. I guess Maclin counts as a receiver, although he seems to fit that Percy Harvin mold of being an athletic “all-purpose” guy.

Who’s next? After that, I’d say you’d have to put Juaquin Iglesias in the third slot, but it’s a pretty uninspiring choice. Like most of the other options out there, Iglesias strikes me as a solid receiver who’s not elite, but he’s not bad either. I guess this would make him “good.”

Then again, to his credit, Iglesias has shown marked improvement in every season since 2005. He ended up outshining celebrated teammate Malcom Kelly last year, leading the team with 68 catches and 900 yards. Throw in five TDs and 13 yards per catch, and it’s a pretty nice little season.

However, Iglesias’ 2007 campaign still seemed so unspectacular. Why? He rolled up 400 yards in early games against North Texas, Utah State and Tulsa–not exactly world-beaters. Following a 99-yard performance in the Red River Shootout, Iglesias put up relatively pedestrian numbers for the remainder of the season, which constituted the meat of the Big XII slate. So it’s a bit of a stretch to say that Iglesias is headed for true stardom this year.

Iglesias will be joined on the outside by Tulsa’s own Quentin Chaney. At 6’5″, the senior Chaney has shown tantalizing potential and one major flash of brilliance in last season’s Fiesta Bowl. The former Booker T. Washington Hornet was brilliant filling in for Kelly, catching four balls for 130 yards and a TD. It’s ironic that Chaney was pretty much the only Sooner to show up for a BCS game after an allegedly disinterested career up to that point. Hopefully whatever it was that got Chaney going in Glendale will continue this season. Assuming it’s legal.

Veteran Manuel Johnson will line up inside at the slot receiver spot. Much like Iglesias, Johnson has proven to be a dependable presence at receiver. Although he hasn’t shown a knack for the spectacular, he makes the catches he should make. That’s a compliment.

The most exciting new talent among the WR corps has to be redshirt freshman Ryan Broyles. Broyles probaby would have been in the mix last year had it not have been for a gas-stealing fiasco right before the season started. Since the spring, coaches and players have raved about Broyles’ catch-and-run potential out of the slot. Getting Broyles out on the field should give OU some electricity that his other compatriots lack.

For Homerism’s money, the best tight end in the country can be found in Norman. Junior Jermaine Gresham was a flat-out beast in the red zone last year, snagging 11 touchdowns. Gresham’s combination of size and speed enable offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson to line him up tight or split him out wide. It will be interesting to see if Gresham will called upon more when OU’s not inside the opponent’s 20. Sooner fans should enjoy what I think will be Gresham’s last year in school. Wilson should take advantage of it, too.

(Up Next: Final Analysis)

Picks Trying Not to Suck: Week One

August 27, 2008

What would your generic college football blog be without the author’s weekly picks? In an effort to reward our dedicated fan base, Homerism has set up a sibling showdown with The Skin in a head-to-head handicap-off. The loser buys the winner a world famous chocolate martini from The Brook (Peoria) on Christmas Day, a long-standing family tradition.
The plan is for each of us to pick our five favorite games on the board each week. On top of that, we’ll each offer our weekly “Lee Greenwood Special:” a pick for one game featuring a service academy. (Because the idea of gambling on our armed forces makes me proud to be an American.) The competitor with the best record when all is said and done will be sucking down one of Tulsa’s true culinary delights this holiday season.
The Skin refused to participate unless I gave him an open mic, so I’ll turn it over to him and then follow up with my picks.
Let me start out with the ground rules:
1.) The Skin does not give out advice on “skin.” There are plenty of places on the ‘net that can handle this topic better than myself. That doesn’t mean I won’t give the occasional shout out to a deserving starlet or co-ed.
2.) The Skin makes no guarantees regarding the success of his handicapping strategy. Let’s be honest, we are all probably in the red with Vegas. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, or, even worse, they count their “woulda, coulda, shoulda” bets.
3.) I’m a huge Oklahoma Sooners fan, and I will never gamble on an OU game. Bad, bad karma.
4.) Each week The Skin will include a nugget of unsolicitied advice in the arena of life.

Advice: If you’re considering picking up this month’s copy of Playboy, save your $6.99. Super hot Anna Farris adorns the cover. Sounds good, right? As long as you don’t mind the fact that she doesn’t show any “skin” in the mag. Give Skinny some love!

(Bonus) Advice: For those of you who have yet to participate in your fantasy draft, steer clear of “stockpiling talent regardless of position.” Afterwards, every owner is out to prove he’s a master negotiator. You won’t be able to make trades unless you are willing to give up a lot of value.

Alabama at Clemson (-5)
The Skin is dubbing this one the “Herbstreit Bowl” based on Herbie’s affinity for coeds from the Deep South. It pains The Skinny to say it, but Nick Saban is an elite coach. He’ll return the Tide to elite form. Still, Bama fans will have to demonstrate a quality they’re not known for: patience. Mike Shula left the cupboard pretty bare, and while Saban has recruited well, those recruits are young. While Bama has been consistently average lately, Clemson has been a complete enigma, looking like world beaters in early games, only to lose to lesser opponents later in the season. No one questions Clemson’s talent at the skill positions with Cullen Harper, CJ Spiller and James Davis in the backfield. Bama has some nice players, too, including OT Andre Smith, QB John Parker Wilson and S Rashad Johnson. Unfortunately for inpatient Tide fans they don’t have enough upfront on D to stop Davis and Spiller.
Skin Says: Clemson by 10, Herbie scores two.

Tennessee (-7) at UCLA

There is no bigger fallacy in college football prognostication than basing preseason predictions on last year’s accomplishments, but it’s hard to forget that Tennessee won the SEC East in 2007. (Despite a successful 2007 campaign, The Skin questions why Tennessee has been so patient with Phil Fulmer? Where is the program going? Seemingly nowhere.) Tennessee has eight returning starters on offense and will rely on bruising tailback Arian Foster to pound a weak UCLA defense. No question UCLA’s hopes for this season were seriously diminished with the season-ending injury to QB Ben Olson. To win this one, Neuhesial needs to push the tempo and create a Pac-10 style shootout. Vols CB Brent Vinson’s suspension is worrisome, but I still don’t think the Bruins have the weapons to get it done against a good-but-not-great Tennessee defense.
Skin Says: Tennessee by 2 touchdowns.

Syracuse at Northwestern (-12)

This battle of powerhouses should draw 10,000 to north shore of Lake Michigan. The Skin could make a very strong argument that the ‘Cuse has been the worst team in major college football over the past two seasons. Not that Northwestern has been a juggernaut–they lost to Duke last year. But are they 12 points better than Syracuse? Actually, Skinny thinks so. The Mildcats run a nice spread offense and have enough talent at the skill position to put points on the board against most defenses this side of SC. Northwestern’s defense won’t have to do much to shut down an offensive attack less potent than Hugh Hefner.

Skin Says: Northwestern by 24. Pop the Vuevue in Evanston!

Wake Forest (-12) @ Baylor

The Skin hates bandwagoning on to the latest hot thing in college football, but the preseason love for Wake Forest is well deserved. Jim Grobe is proving he is an elite coach with his success at Wake the past two seasons. (Are you paying attention Irish fans?) The Skin loves Riley Skinner (no relation) at QB, and ACC Rookie of the Year tailback Josh Adams gives the Demon Deacons some fire power in the backfield. On defense, Wake returns its entire secondary, a group that led the nation in INTs returned for touchdowns. That spells trouble for Baylor starting QB Blake Szymanski, who threw 18 picks last season. The Bears made a solid choice by bringing in Art Briles. He is not a national name, but he will bring a Mike Leach-type offensive style to Waco, which might be the Bear’s only hope of ever being competitive in the Big 12. Briles’ Bears are no match for Wake this year.
Skin Says: Wake by 30.

LGS: Temple (-7) at Army

Army closed spring practice to run a covert op, installing the wishbone. Unfortunately, someone in the media blew the Black Knights’ cover. It’s hard to believe there’s a journalist out there that intent on covering Army football! All indications are that Army doesn’t have the personnel to run the bone. The wishbone, an offense predicated on timing and precision, takes time to perfect. Army will struggle offensively to start the season; then again can’t you say that about Army every year? Temple returns every starter from a defense that led the MAC in total defense last season. Army won’t be able to put enough points on the board to keep this one close.
Skin Says: Temple by 21.

Oklahoma State (-7) at Washington State

On paper Mike Gundy’s boys are clearly the better team here. Gundy has developed a solid offensive system at OSU, while his defense returns an experienced core of LBs and DBs. The rub here is that OSU seems to lack some intangible under Gundy. The Pokes have struggled on the road under Gundy. (See: Troy last year.) Washington State is not a good team, but Pullman the Pokes will be lucky to make it out of the Pacific Northwest with a win. This one isn’t about Wazzu, it’s about whether Gundy’s boys can be “men.”
Skin Pick: Pistols fire, but only by 3.

WEEK ONE–Blatant Homerism

In case you’re wondering about the origin of this column’s title… OK, I realize you’re probably not. Anyway, all Homerism and The Skin are saying is, That’s the best you can hope for when you go up against Sin City.
Let’s hit the picks. Like the favorites for the most part this week. Never feel good about that one.

Alabama @ Clemson (-5)

Two of the more intriguing teams in the country meeting opening week makes for one of the year’s most intriguing games. Looking at Clemson’s talented backfield, it easy to see why the Tigers seem to be everyone’s ACC favorite this year. But do you really want to go with Tommy Bowden over Nick Saban in a primetime game? On the other hand, last year proved that Saban is no miracle worker, especially without his own players. The Crimson Tide coach is still stuck with holdovers from the Shula reign this year, making it difficult to get a good handle on this team. I’m betting that an exuberant Bama nation is out in force at the Georgia Dome, and the major coaching edge tips this one to the Tide. Let’s open the picks with an upset.

Homerism Says: Bama by 8.

LGS: Temple (-7) @ Army
Quick, name Army’s coach. I can’t either.
Homerism Says: Temple by 10.

USC (-19.5) @ Virginia
Homerism defies any of you Wahoo fans to give me one thing to like about UVa this year? OK, something other than the fact that this year’s line of J. Crew critter pants are stunning. Having suffered through more televised noon kickoff games like Duke-Virginia than I ever thought imaginable, I feel pretty confident saying that last year’s Virginia squad managed to turn in one of the worst 9-4 seasons in college football history. The ‘hoos somehow managed to pull out five wins by two points or less. Granted, escaping Murfreesboro with a victory is nothing to sneeze at, but I think that is a sign of a 3-9 team in 2008, especially with a starting quarterback hitting the books for a year. Looks like Al Groh has prepared to take his own year-long sabbatical after all of 2007’s hard work. USC has been ruthless in early-season games out of conference under Carroll. Doesn’t matter if Sanchez is healthy or not. Keep the appletinis on ice, Virginia fans, because you won’t be in the stadium too long.
Homerism Says: USC, 30-3.

Kentucky @ Louisville (-3.5)
As down as I am on UVa this year, I’m whatever the opposite is on Louisville. If you haven’t noticed, Bobby Petrino tends to leave a scorched earth path in his wake wherever he goes. At this point, I’m betting that the Cardinals’ struggles last year had something to do with “creative differences” between new coach Steve Kragthorpe and Petrino’s holdovers. The Louisville D can’t be any worse this year, especially with defensive coordinator Ron English coming in to shake things up. On the other sideline, is there a cooler name in college football than Kentucky head-coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips? With the success of The Dark Knight this summer, does that add to his cool factor? Or, does it mean a few relentless months of lame Brokeback–and even more tasteless–jokes?
Homerism Says: Louisville by 6.
W. Michigan @ Nebraska (-14.5)
Normally, Homerism detests playing games involving a new coach. In this case, however, the good vibes around Nebraska are just too strong. Lincoln should be back to its old self on opening day. Keep in mind that Husker fans were fixated on getting Bo Pelini once the ax mercifully fell on Bill Callahan. I can see that joint rocking with the enthusiasm that only an unproven coordinator taking over as head coach can provide. However, Pelini might be the perfect choice for a quick fix at Nebraska, given the blackshirts’ disarray under Callahan. Optimism fuels a Nebraska cover.
Homerism Says: Nebraska, 27-10.

Oklahoma St. (-7) @ Washington St.
The Cougars are a depressing mess at this point. Speaking of Cougars… Heading into this game, OSU is like an 18-year-old Sigma Chi pledge with frosted tips (let’s call him Zack) headed out for his first night at the local boom-boom bar, hoping like hell he’ll be able to use the fake ID of his pledge brother Troy, who has the tips plus about 30 extra pounds. Once safely inside, it’s time for as many long island ice teas as $40 will buy (assuming a 3.5 percent gratuity, of course). Then, he spots Shana (read: Washington St.) making eyes at him across the room. Funny, he doesn’t remember seeing her around campus. After telling Troy and AJ, another pledge brother who just finished off some hazing back at the house, that he’s going to “totally take that chick to Poundtown,” he makes his move. Luckily for Zack, it’s a lot easier than he imagined. (I mean, A LOT.) As he smokes a cigarette on the back deck of Shana’s “off-campus” apartment, Zack’s telling himself he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. (That symbolizes an impressive win in the Pokes’ opener.) Next week, Zack’s back hitting the club. He hasn’t called Shana all week, playing it cool and banking she knows where to be on Friday night if she wants a good time. This time, though, when Zack spots Shana, she’s making time with Chad, who’s pledging the hated Delts. As Shana heads for the door, ready for a vanquishing from his rival, Zack catches a a glimpse of a half-erased tattoo on her shoulder. The cold reality of his supposedly triumphant conquest sets in: Zack has been cougared. That’s what OSU’s season will be like this year.
Homerism Says: OSU by 14.

Experience: Something to Build On?

August 27, 2008

Heading into the 2007 season, the college football writers who vote in the weekly Associated Press Top 25 Poll deemed UCLA the fourteenth-best team in the country, just behind Georgia and just ahead of Tennessee.

Let’s check the resume:
• 2006 Record: 7-6, including home wins over Rice, Utah, Stanford and Arizona;
• Offense: 63rd in rushing, 56th in passing, 71st overall in 2006;
• Defense: 9th in rushing, 87th in passing, 35th overall in 2006.

OK, the offense was sub-par, but the defense was pretty good. There must have been something else generating the Bruin enthusiasm, besides a win over USC the year before… There it is:
• Returning starters: 10 offense, 10 defense, 20 total.

One of the Bruins’ most vocal supporters during the offseason was Sporting News college football writer Matt Hayes, who hedged his obligatory USC-LSU championship game pick with reminders that nine different schools had won the BCS national championship in the past nine years, all the while singing UCLA’s praises.

“The Bruins have 20 starters returning from a team that found itself late last season, holding mighty USC to nine points in the season finale and keeping the Trojans from the national title game,” Hayes wrote. Hayes dismissed the Emerald Bowl blowout loss at the hands of Florida State as a mere “aberration,” which must have been different from the five other 2006 losses.

What did all that experience get head coach Karl Dorrell at the end of 2007? A 6-7 record and a pink slip.

The returning starters theory in college football is nothing new. In a sport where stud recruits likely have a career window of three years, experience is the optimistic fan’s favorite cure-all for the lingering hangover of a disappointing season. For handicappers and pundits, that extra ingredient can transform a bad team into a good one or a good team into a great one.

It actually sounds pretty convincing. Unfortunately for hopeful fans, recent data don’t necessarily bear that out.

And The Numbers Say?

To construct useful measures of the link between returning starters and success, I culled information from all teams in the six BCS conferences, dating back to 2002. (The total number of teams came to 380.) I included returning starters broken down by offense and defense. Additionally, I collected data on the previous season’s winning percentage.

As a baseline, the average team during this period returned 13.23 starters, 6.50 on defense and 6.72 on offense. The average record was 7-5.

I arrived at a few conclusions:

*How your team did last year says a lot more about what you’ll do this year than how many guys you bring back.

For the six BCS conferences, the numbers reveal a correlation close to zero, 0.01, between returning starters and teams’ winning percentage. Not surprisingly, the only variable considered among the general population of teams that shows a strong relationship to performance is the previous year’s winning percentage, which has a positive correlation of 0.60. The numbers also suggest a relatively weak link of 0.20 between the number of returning starters and the change in wins from year to year.

*If you think your team has a shot at competing for a national title, don’t worry too much about having boatloads of playing time in previous seasons.

I drilled down to the top 10 percent of teams by winning percentage in the six-year period in an effort to see if winning teams had more experience. Just like the general population, nothing really stands out among the best teams, as the correlation of returning starters to winning percentage is 0.01.

Notably, the top 10 percent of BCS teams in terms of winning percentage have had an average of 13.05 returning starters: 6.55 on offense and 6.50 on defense. Those figures are equal to or less than all three measures for all BCS teams during the period.

If you’re looking for further proof that experience is meaningless to elite teams, consider the particulars of this group. Four teams had 17 returning starters, the highest number of returnees–2007 USC, 2005 Penn St., 2006 Louisville and 2003 Ohio St. None won a national championship.

The Buckeyes’ case is particularly notable, in that the 2003 squad had six more returnees than the prior year’s national championship team, yet failed to defend their crown. In contrast, the 2004 USC Trojans, arguably the best team of all time, returned just nine starters from the previous season, the lowest of any team among the group.

So the 18 starters Ohio St. and Texas Tech bring back aren’t too significant. On the other hand, USC’s not out of it with just 11.

*Really bad teams can’t blame their lack of experience. But they might be able to blame a wealth of it.

The bottom 10 percent of teams by winning percentage—a group of 41 teams—show negative correlations of 0.19 and 0.16 between returning starters and wins and returning starters and winning percentage, respectively. This has two implications for the worst BCS conference teams. First, the relatively low correlation indicates a weak relationship between returnees and poor performance. More importantly, the fact that these correlations are negative means the data suggests that wins tend to go down among this group as more starters return. This suggests bad teams are hurt to some extent by not turning over their roster the next year.

Duke, this means you’re not out of the woods, even with the 17 guys you’re bringing back. Same goes for you, Stanford.

Turning It Around

What about the teams that improved the most from one season to the next? Somewhat stronger relationships are evident among this group.

The top 10 percent of teams in terms of increased wins gained between four and seven victories between seasons. These teams have a higher correlation, 0.36, than the general population when it comes to the relationship between returning starters and difference in wins. Also, a very strong relationship—0.85—can be found between the previous year and the following year’s winning percentage.

Given the strong correlation between winning percentage in the two years, I tried to build a profile of the most improved teams by working backwards using the data I had collected. I realize this is pretty much statistical alchemy at this point, but whatever.

First, these teams returned a higher average number of starters than the general population: 13.88, with 6.76 on offense and 7.13 on defense. The group had an average of 4.76 wins the previous year, climbing up to 9.49 the following year, with average winning percentage moving up from 0.40 to 0.73.

Then, I created a statistic for this cohort that incorporated both experience and past performance, “history,” which proved to have a correlation of 0.90 to the current season’s winning percentage. History consists of returnees as a percentage of total starters plus three times the previous year’s winning percentage:

History = (Returning Starters / 22) + (3 * Previous Winning Percentage)
The group had an average history measure of 2.04, with a range of 0.75 to 3.17.

Making The Leap

So here’s the profile of the average team among this group:

• History = 2.04
• Previous Year’s Wins = 4.76
• Previous Year’s Winning Percentage = 0.40
• Following Year’s Wins = 9.49
• Following Year’s Winning Percentage = 0.73
• Difference in Wins = 4.73
• Total Returning Starters = 13.88
• Offensive Returning Starters = 6.76
• Defensive Returning Starters = 7.13

Who fits the profile to be a high-riser this year? Here are five teams to think about:

• History = 2.02
• Previous Year’s Wins = 6
• Previous Year’s Winning Percentage = 0.46
• Total Returning Starters = 14
• Offensive Returning Starters = 6
• Defensive Returning Starters = 8

• History = 2.02
• Previous Year’s Wins = 6
• Previous Year’s Winning Percentage = 0.46
• Total Returning Starters = 14
• Offensive Returning Starters = 9
• Defensive Returning Starters = 5

• History = 2.09
• Previous Year’s Wins = 6
• Previous Year’s Winning Percentage = 0.50
• Total Returning Starters = 13
• Offensive Returning Starters = 5
• Defensive Returning Starters = 8

• History = 1.93
• Previous Year’s Wins = 5
• Previous Year’s Winning Percentage = 0.42
• Total Returning Starters = 15
• Offensive Returning Starters = 8
• Defensive Returning Starters = 7

• History = 2.14
• Previous Year’s Wins = 6
• Previous Year’s Winning Percentage = 0.50
• Total Returning Starters = 14
• Offensive Returning Starters = 7
• Defensive Returning Starters = 7

Of this group, Northwestern looks pretty intriguing. The Wildcats face an in-conference schedule in which the road games are imminently winnable. Likewise, the non-conference slate looks an almost assured 4-0 start: Syracuse, at Duke, Southern Illinois, Ohio.

The same goes for Maryland. The Terrapins get Wake Forest and Florida State at home during the ACC schedule. Out of conference looks manageable as well: Delaware, at Middle Tennessee, Cal and Eastern Michigan.

Major Upset at The Herbies!

August 26, 2008

Kirk Herbstreit’s eighth annual “Herbie Awards” are out, and they feature a stunning omission. College football’s resident heartthrob has bagged the “prettiest coeds” category in this year’s version.

Imagine how upset I was as I read through the list of winners on my lunch break and found no mention of where to find the tastiest morsels nationwide, other than a list of played-out college town restaurants like Hyde Park Steakhouse in Columbus. It reminded me of the year the purity patrol decided to nix “Most Desirable Female” from the MTV Movie Awards. (Who can forget Linda Hamilton’s triumphant acceptance speech in 1992 for her performance in Terminator 2?)
No matter how Herbstreit arrived at his coed rankings, I can’t imagine that The Worldwide Leader’s powers that be would have found the category so objectionable or suggestive as to intervene. After all, I don’t see anyone breaking out the mute button when Beano Cook starts salivating over the Song Girls.
No, my guess is that after seven years of her husband spending every fall weekend in Baton Rouge and Gainesville and Austin (and Tallahassee and Tuscaloosa and Knoxville…), Mrs. Herbie finally laid down the law. And we’re all the worse for it.