Archive for January, 2009

Tomorrow’s Stars Today!

January 28, 2009

Well, we’re about a week away from National Signing Day, when hopes springs eternal for diehard college football fans everywhere. This year, as the mudslinging and unfulfillable promises heat up, the college football wonks are trying to look beneath the lid.

*This model from a group of economists in the Southeast has generated quite a stir, and it’s pretty fascinating. The creators based the model on recruiting data culled between 2002 and 2004, and they note that it accurately predicted 68 percent of the final choices of the recruits included in their sample. The economists sum up their conclusions thusly: “So, in a nutshell, high school athletes prefer winning programs that are close to home, are in possession of good physical facilities, and are in good graces with the NCAA.”
Interestingly, the economists found that recruits in the South and Midwest prefer to stay close to home, but recruits from the West and Northeast have less compunction about going to school farther away. (Homerism suspects this is a function of the lack of strong programs in those regions compared to the number of South and Midwest.)
SI.com’s Andy Staples has done a series of interesting articles on the issue in the past week. Here, he competes with the prediction model to guess where major recruits will end up. (Bad news, Sooner fans: both say Rueben Randle ends up at LSU.) His “State of Recruiting” package analyzes the recruiting data in a number of ways, and he takes a special interest in the impact of different states and coaches protecting their home turf.
*ESPN’s Bruce Feldman breaks down the top recruiting battles currently playing out for uncommitted prospects. Feldman’s book Meat Market is a great snapshot of the modern-day recruiting derby.
*With the growing popularity of the different recruiting information and ranking services, The Wizard of Odds warned consumers last year, beware the “snake oil salesmen.” Staples’ SI.com colleague Stewart Mandel seems to take an equally skeptical view of the alleged recruiting gurus, based on his review of the 2005 quarterback crop.
*Dr. Saturday of Yahoo!-Rivals has a more complimentary opinion, based on Rivals recruiting data from the past five years. Doc S finds a pretty strong relationship between Rivals rankings and success: 

So the rankings are definitely not precise enough to predict the national championship (or, unless you’re talking about USC, even most conference championships). But they are especially good at grouping programs into classes that tend to hold up over time. They establish the ceiling and floor of a program’s potential: If your team isn’t a top-10 recruiter over at least a three or four-year period, it’s not going to be carrying off any crystal footballs, either.

(Note: Doc S is a Rivals employee, so it could be argued that he has an interest in promoting Rivals’ services. However, his statistics-based approach lends a definite sense of credibility to his conclusions. On top of that, I’ve never seen any reason to believe he’s anything less than a straight shooter.)

One thing to consider in all of this: Services like Rivals and Scout evaluate and rank these recruits, but the schools and coaching staffs choose whom to pursue. Separating the true wheat from the chaff may be the real skill in recruiting. That doesn’t even account for picking players who fit different schemes and systems, as well as putting players in position to succeed.
Likewise, there’s the matter of actually developing talent. It could be that the top programs are simply better at turning prospects into elite players.
(Ask Ron Zook how all that talent he has accumulated in his two coaching stops has worked out for him.)
Advertisements

Exercise in Futility

January 27, 2009
Let’s say you’re a Harris Poll voter and you’re submitting your final ballot after the last regular season game has been played. We’re working under the current system, so your utlimate objective is to determine the two teams that will meet in the BCS championship game. What factors would you take into account? What would be most important?

Remember that you’re casting this vote before any of the bowl games are played. Whether or not it was “right” in hindsight doesn’t matter.

I’d love to hear from readers on this. Here’s Homerism’s attempt:

My objective would be to determine the two teams “most deserving” of playing in the title game. In that sense, I’m not really interested in trying to figure out who would win a playoff. I’m looking for the two teams whose resumes reflect the greatest achievement during the regular season.

1. Record
Winning is the name of the game. If you’re a BCS conference team with an undefeated record, that’s the most important thing to me. This means you brought it week in and week out. No one beat you. You’ve earned the right to play for the title. Schedules may vary in terms of strength, but for the most part, there isn’t enough difference between them to justify excluding an unbeaten team from the game. The case would need to be very egregious for that to happen–a Bill Snyder-type schedule comes to mind.

(Obviously, the rest of these factors come into play when evaluating multiple unbeaten teams or when there are no unbeaten teams.)

2. Opponents
Who did you beat? Who did you lose to? Also, no points for trying to schedule hard and it not working out (e.g., OU beating Washington this year). The issue is how good the opponent was when you played it. My thinking is that if you’re doing your OOC scheduling the right way, playing an opponent during a downturn shouldn’t really affect you. You may catch another opponent during an upswing. It balances out over time.

3. Home/Road
If a team goes on the road and beats a quality team, that says a lot, in my book. If a team loses at home, that says a lot, too.

4. “Nature” of Wins/Losses
Whether it’s a W or an L is most important. However, even though I don’t like getting down into the weeds like this, sometimes you have to look at the manner in which a team won or lost.

Bottom line for me: Win all your games and you should be fine.

2009 Danger Games

January 25, 2009


“Danger”–also known as “trap”–games wouldn’t be so dangerous if you could see them coming.

You know the games I’m talking about, right? Oregon State knocks off USC. Ole Miss stuns Florida. Iowa shocks an undefeated Penn State team.

Leading up to the 2009 season, Homerism will attempt to identify the danger games that could trip up the top contenders for the national title. Before we start trying to figure out what the 2009 danger games are, let’s try to figure what elevates a game to trap status. 
(There’s no science to this, by the way. It’s basically anecdotal conclusions by Homerism and his associates.)

1. The Look-Ahead Factor
We’ve seen it a million times before. Teams start gearing up for a big game a week ahead of time and overlook the upcoming opponent. It’s why seasoned gamblers love going against a team the week before a huge game. For example, catch a team the week before rivalry games, such as Oklahoma-Texas, Georgia-Florida, Florida-Florida State, Michigan-Notre Dame. Or, watch out for games before a big out-of-conference tilt, like the USC-Ohio State game in September.

(Historical Example: In 2007, Oklahoma and Texas lost to Colorado and Kansas State, respectively, the week before the Red River Shootout.)
2. The Letdown Factor
This is the converse of the look-ahead factor. When a team is coming off of a big game–win or lose–it’s so tough for a team to get up emotionally the next week. A plucky underdog can take advantage of that ennui and pull off a shocker.
(Historical Example: Second-ranked Notre Dame took down number-one Florida State in a college football classic in 1993. The next week, Boston College dashed the Irish’s title hopes on a last-second field goal.)

3. The Kerouac Factor (i.e., On the Road)
This almost goes without saying. For some reason, it seems like this takes on even greater importance during conference games. Also, look for other issues that would suggest a team will be out of its comfort zone or lethargic, such as the ever-ominous Thursday night game. Others include altitude, an early kickoff, a long road trip and the possibility of an extreme change in weather.

(Historical Example: This past season, Jeff Tedford took his Golden Bears across three time zones the afternoon before an out-of-conference game at Maryland. When the ball was kicked at noon EST, that was all she wrote for Cal, as the Terrapins went up fast and never looked back.)

4. The Motivation Factor

This one is a bit tougher to articulate and is somewhat of a catch-all. It may be a new coach looking to generate some enthusiasm with a marquee win. It could be a team seeking revenge for a particularly humiliating or stinging defeat the prior year. It could be a “secondary” rivalry game for a big-name team, such as Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Notre Dame-Boston College and USC-Cal.
(Historical Example: In Colorado’s aforementioned 2007 upset of Oklahoma, Buffs head coach Dan Hawkins reportedly was upset by what he considered to be OU running up the score in their matchup the year before.)
So, with all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the first of 2009’s danger games.
Penn State at Illinois (Oct. 3)
Look-Ahead Factor: None
Letdown Factor: Significant
Kerouac Factor: Medium
Motivation Factor: Low

Defending Big 10 champ Penn State was a late Iowa field goal away from earning the right to be slaughtered by Florida in the BCS championship game in 2008. Payback should be in order when the Hawkeyes travel to Happy Valley for both team’s conference opener in late September. With its hot finish to 2008, pundits will no doubt be pumping Iowa as a challenger to the Nittany Lions and Ohio State. All in all, there’s every reason to expect Penn State will be pointing to this game from the very start of fall practice.

Lurking in the weeds, however, is Illinois.
The Illini have yet to reach the perennial contender status portended by coach Ron Zook’s success on the recruiting trail. Still, Illinois has been known to spring the occasional stunner. In 2007, for instance, dual-threat quarterback Juice Williams and the Illini spoiled senior day in Columbus for top-ranked and undefeated Ohio State. Last year, Illinois dumped Iowa on the road the week before the Hawkeyes knocked off Penn State.
In his tenth year in Champaign, Williams returns to key Illinois’ spread attack in the upcoming season. He’s joined on offense by playmakers Daniel Dufrene at running back and receiver Arrelious Benn. It’s a group that’s super-talented and super-flaky.
Williams has just the kind of athleticism that makes him the ideal kind of QB to spring a huge upset when the offense is clicking. If the Nittany Lion defense shows any kind of let-up after the Iowa game, it risks putting the pressure on PSU’s Spread HD offense to keep up. That’s not Penn State’s style, and it sounds tailor-made for an upset.

Prestige and Prima Donnas

January 23, 2009

A couple interesting news-ish items permeating the Web right now:

*ESPN has named Oklahoma the most prestigious college football program of all time.

This wouldn’t mean anything if it was just someone’s opinion. But, hey, the Worldwide Leader used a mathematical formula to decide this, so you can’t argue with that. It’s science.
*(Jerry) Bomar Bitches About Bob.

Homerism always has maintained that Sooner castaway Rhett Bomar would have been the best quarterback in OU history. If there’s at least one person who agrees with me, it’s Bomar’s dad, Jerry.
Unfortunately, it’s that kind of mindset that ultimately brought his son down at OU. How else can Rhett’s brazen flaunting of both the law and NCAA rules be explained?
Anyway, now that Rhett wants to play in the NFL, Jerry has resurfaced. Apparently, he thinks the best way to advance Rhett’s career is to do interviews badmouthing OU and accusing Bob Stoops of being a cheater. Of course, this is the same guy who bitched in the press about Stoops playing favorites in the QB competition between Rhett and Paul Thompson. Then, when he got his way and Rhett was made the starter, Jerry pitched a fit to reporters that his son, whom he coached in high school, didn’t get enough reps before the season.
Jerry is no doubt bitter that things didn’t work out for Rhett at OU. He should be. The obvious sense of entitlement that this little league dad on steroids imparted to his son cost him a shot at the accolades that come with being a star QB at an elite program. It also cost him the millions of dollars that come with being a top NFL draft pick.
If you’re an NFL team looking for a late-round QB flyer with major upside, Homerism highly recommends taking a chance on Rhett Bomar. He has all the tools to succeed at the pro level.
And just ignore his dad.

Returnees Shoot Sooners Back Into Top 10

January 20, 2009

Homerism’s first stab at a preliminary 2009 power poll was done under the assumption that OU would sustain significant losses to the NFL draft. In fact, I figured that Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams and Gerald McCoy would be playing on Sundays in the fall.

Obviously, their return changes things. The biggest question in Homerism’s mind is whether the Sooners should be ranked second or third. While I suspect OU will have a better overall team than Texas next year, Mack Brown and Colt McCoy seem to have turned the tide in the Red River Rivalry. This is a power poll, though, so Homerism has the Sooners checking in at number two. The eye test tells me that OU is simply better.
Blatant Homerism Still Blatantly Premature Power Poll for 2009

1. Florida
No change here. Percy Harvin’s departure shouldn’t hurt the offense too badly, as the Gators have plenty of weapons to fill in. Brandon Spikes or Tim Tebow leaving would have struck a far bigger blow to Florida’s hopes to repeat.
2. Oklahoma
No team came away from the early entrant deadline looking like a bigger winner than OU. The Sooners are bringing back nine defensive starters, and that doesn’t include players like Mike Balogun, who filled in at linebacker when Austin Box–who was filling in for Ryan Reynolds–went down. The lack of defensive depth that burned OU in 2008 won’t be an issue. Losses on the offensive line and at wide receiver won’t have as big of an impact as the pundits believe.
3. Texas
The Longhorns fall a spot through no fault of their own. Keeping Sergio Kindle on campus one more year should help offset the loss of DE Brian Orakpo.
4. USC
No team is in a better position to bounce back from early attrition than the Trojans. QB Mark Sanchez would have triggered a potent offensive attack next year, but the drop-off between Sanchez and Aaron Corp or Mitch Mustain shouldn’t be too steep. The return of S Taylor Mays should help the defense transition.
5. Virginia Tech
The Hokies came on strong at the end of the 2008 season. Tech has a talented and athletic signal caller in Tyrod Taylor, and running back Darren Evans is back to build on a strong debut. Coach Frank Beamer has shown that his defense is predicated on a lunch pail mentality, rather than a system of stars.
6. Ohio State
I know, I know–Ohio State lost a ton in this offseason. In Terrelle the Buckeyes should trust. Pryor influence on OSU’s offensive scheme and play calling likely will be huge in his second year under center. And that’s a good thing.
7. California
Jeff Tedford’s team played better football in 2008 than it was given credit for. The Golden Bears return Hesiman candidate Jahvid Best at running back and their entire starting secondary. The defense must replace three starters at linebacker. Cal is one of three or four teams vying to end USC’s stranglehold on the Pac-10.
8. Oregon
The Ducks are another challenger to ‘SC.  The Oregon O will continue to rack up yards and points behind QB Jeremiah Masoli and RB LeGarrette Blount, despite heavy losses at receiver and along the O-line. Finding players to step in for departed DE Nick Reed and S Patrick Chung will be key.
9. Florida State
Homerism keeps waiting for the Seminoles’ return to glory. Might as well keep putting it out there, because it’s bound to hit once. FSU has plenty of talent on offense, including rock-solid QB Christian Ponder. Lots of losses on defense, in addition to superstar punter/kicker Graham Gano.
10. LSU
Homerism hates putting too much emphasis on the previous season’s bowl performance; that’s not why the Tigers are here. LSU simply has too much skill to stay down for long. New coordinator John Chavis looks like a good candidate to shore up a leaky defense. Meanwhile, QB Jordan Jefferson and RB Charles Scott should continue to chew up yards in Gary Crowton’s version of the pistol offense.
On the cusp: Oklahoma State, Boise State, Ole Miss, Alabama, Oregon State.
Update: Dr. Saturday takes the pulse of preseason polls.

Chuckie and Juliet

January 18, 2009

Think the ND brass would have gone a different coaching direction had Friday’s news out of Tampa Bay come about two weeks earlier?
The Irish eyes have long been affixed to Jon Gruden, a Super Bowl winner who–like roughly 79 percent of all football coaches–supposedly considers Notre Dame his dream job. Alas, like many romantic tragedies, the timing has never been right for these star-crossed lovers, as Chuckie’s professional commitments have kept him just out of reach.
Just their luck: the Buccaneers serve Gruden with divorce papers days after the Irish already had proposed (another year) to fading beauty Charlie Weis. The Gruden-to-South-Bend rumors already have funneled out to the media.
Now, ND fans are in the awkward position of possibly rooting for a 5-7 season in 2009. 
With few attractive openings in the NFL, it sounds like Gruden will probably be out of the game for a year. If ND can just abstain for a season, Weis may have time to break that BCS-or-bust prenuptial agreement, paving the way for Irish nation and their siren to be united.
(Of course, there’s always the possibility Gruden could be ND’s girlfriend from Niagara Falls. The last one’s name supposedly was Urban.)
*ND fans won’t get their way.
Have you seen the Irish’s 2009 schedule? It’s tailor-made for a coach who’s struggling to keep his job.

Road games: Michigan (still rebuilding), Purdue (starting rebuilding), Pittsburgh (always rebuilding), Stanford (almost rebuilt).
Home games: Nevada, Michigan State, Washington, USC, Boston College, Washington State (in San Antonio), Navy, Connecticut.
I’d go so far as to say USC is the only guaranteed loss among that group. Eight or nine wins looks like a given, which may be good enough for a BCS berth. Then again, Homerism would have said that prior to the 2008 campaign as well.

Choose Your Own Adventure in Troy

January 16, 2009


Let’s say you’re Pete Carroll. Your star quarterback decides he wants to go pro early. His mind is made up–he’s gone. You don’t like the decision, but you’ve talked with the kid until you’re blue in the face, and it didn’t do any good. The athletic department schedules a press conference to announce the decision. You decide your best course of action would be:

a.) Don’t attend the presser and issue a statement wishing your ex-QB well and praising his achievements with the Trojans.
b.) Go to the press conference. Talk about what a huge contribution the kid has made to your program. Talk about how you’ll miss him next season. Wish him well, and then stick around to show your support for the kid.
c.) Attend the press conference. Make a point to discuss your objections to the kid’s decision in depth, even though you allegedly “support” his choice. Emphasize how often underclassmen quarterbacks wash out in the NFL. Make absolutely no effort to hide your frustration. Give your boy a tap on the shoulder, avoid eye contact and head for the exit while the soon-to-be millionaire faces the press.
Homerism didn’t attend Mark Sanchez’s press conference today, but it sounds like Pete Carroll went with option “C.” Adam Rosen of the Los Angeles Times described Carroll as “peeved” and “visibly agitated.” Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News called the USC head coach’s performance “pathetic.” (In an update, Wolf notes that Carroll attributed his apparent irritation to the lack of a podium at the press conference.)
Homerism would like to think that Carroll’s behavior was the product of a fatherly concern for a player whom he considers to be making a mistake. If so, his candor is refreshing, if not ill-timed.
Yet, just because you say that your top priority is your player’s success doesn’t make it so. In reality, Carroll has plenty to gain by Sanchez hanging around for another year. The Trojans are losing plenty of talent off from this year’s defense for the ages. That blow would have been softened in 2009 by a potent offense led by a polished senior under center. Now, Carroll faces the prospect of replacing 10 of 11 defensive starters and playing with an unproven QB, albeit a talented one.
Seeing as early entrants have three days to withdraw from the draft, could Carroll be making a PR pitch to convince Sanchez to return?
Whatever his motivation, he certainly did Sanchez no favors today. If you were an NFL general manager listening to Carroll, wouldn’t you at least suspect the coach was telling you he doesn’t think Sanchez is NFL material? If Carroll didn’t think about that, he comes off as a self-absorbed egomaniac. If he did, that seems just a little vindictive.
The reality is that Sanchez has been at USC for four years. He’s going to be graduating this spring. If he’s ready to try his hand in the big leagues, who’s to stop him? Cite all the stats you want about the success of underclassmen QBs in the NFL, but no one has figured out to successfully evaluate prospects. Carroll should know that better than anyone–a young player who played tight end at ‘SC and never took a snap almost led the New England Patriots to the playoffs.
There’s plenty of buzz surrounding Sanchez right now, enough so that he’s being discussed as a potential number one pick by the Detroit Lions. You may not think Mel Kiper’s opinion is worth squat, but anyone who watched Sanchez this season could see he’s a talented quarterback who at least looks the part of a pro prospect. If he’s confident enough in his abilities to take his shot now, more power to him.

The Redeem Team

January 15, 2009

To be honest, Homerism had pegged all four as NFL-bound. Sam Bradford, Jermaine Gresham, Trent Williams AND Gerald McCoy? It’s not quite Kobe, LeBron and D-Wade, but it feels that way for OU fans today.

So the sting of another championship game loss has finally worn off, as the 2009 edition of the Sooners suddenly went from borderline-rebuilding to fully loaded. On top of that, this group should be motivated to get back OU’s good name.

Unfortunately for the rest of college football, the Sooners should be back in the national championship hunt come next fall.

Blasphemy!

January 14, 2009

Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports goes after Tim Tebow in a column published today.

OK, Doyel doesn’t go after Tebow exactly, but more the national love affair with the Florida quarterback. It’s not what you’d expect–Doyel isn’t suffering from the same kind of fatigue that Homerism is. No, Doyel takes issue with Tebow’s “beatification.” 
When it comes to Tebow’s on-field accomplishments, Doyel is correct in saying that the quarterback being touted by some as the greatest college football player of all time wouldn’t be held in such esteem playing at Louisville or New Mexio. Seeing as the team around him is Florida and all. But we don’t live in a world of hypotheticals.
Doyel’s take on Tebow’s off-the-field greatness really gets to the heart of a deeper issue, though, and it’s one that few in the media want to address for fear of being of raising the ire of Christians everywhere. Whether or not you agree with his criticism, it’s at least refreshing to hear someone go against the grain.

Lessons of 2008

January 11, 2009

It was a year dominated by even more BCS-inflicted turmoil and hair-splitting to the extreme among teams. What did we learn in 2008?

*The BCS system may seem like it’s here to stay, but we may be closer to a playoff than you think.
Few consider the BCS a satisfactory way to determine a champion, except for the people who count. The public’s disaffection for the current format finally may have turned a corner this season.
As SI.com writer Stewart Mandel pointed out earlier this week, television ratings for the BCS bowls sucked this year. It’s been a developing trend ever since the BCS administrators added a fifth game to rotation. Mandel goes so far as to declare the recent addition of a fifth BCS game “an abject failure.”
If fans continue to ignore matchups like this year’s Orange Bowl, the universities and, more importantly, ESPN may soon begin to feel the pocketbook pinch.
*You can have too much of a good thing.

The good thing in question here would be Tim Tebow.
Tebow is a fantastic quarterback who is forcing college coaches to reconsider how utilize the position. He’s not just a great quarterback, but a great football player. He’s not just a great football player, but a great person.
At what point, though, can a person be so thoroughly deified by the media that it reaches the level of obnoxious? Homerism thinks it happened with Tebow somewhere around the time Thom Brenneman said this during the national championship game broadcast: “If you’re fortunate enough to spend five minutes or 20 minutes around Tim Tebow, your life is better for it.”
What if you spend 20 minutes every day–and often much more–reading or hearing about the Florida quarterback in the sports media? I’d argue my life is worse for it. I’m so sick of the swooning over this guy that I’ve come to loathe someone who is by all accounts the ideal college athlete. I know I can’t be alone here. I detest Tebow for turning me into a worse person.
*Scheduling still matters.
Scheduling matters so much that it was enough to put a team in the championship game ahead of another team with a comparable record and head-to-head win.
Texas had an outstanding season, including a win over arch rival Oklahoma. But it doesn’t look like scheduling Rice, Florida Atlantic and UTEP out of conference will cut it when it comes to distinguishing your team. Thankfully, more elite teams are showing a willingness to play home-and-home non-conference games against other elite programs. Hopefully we’ll continue to see more match-ups like USC-Ohio State going forward.
*College football coaches are shameless.

Even as a Sooner fan, listening to OU coach Bob Stoops stump for his team in the weeks leading up to the end of the regular season made Homerism cringe. The comments of USC’s Pete Carroll and Texas coach Mack Brown following their BCS bowl victories took the politicking and winging to another level, though.
Listen up, coaches. If your team goes undefeated in the regular season, chances are that you’re going to get your title shot. (You get a pass for being pissed off, Kyle Whittingham.) Everybody knows that.
When you lose a game, you lose your right to complain. If you lose a game, it’s even more egregious to proclaim yourself the best team in the country when you haven’t won the national championship game. It’s annoying and just plain undignified. 
The reality is that you didn’t get it done under the rules you agreed to. There’s no injustice to it, and you’re not the best because you say so. We have a system for determining that, albeit a highly imperfect one. If you didn’t understand how it works when you signed your contract, that’s on you. If you want to change the system, go for it. But until we see a new way of determining a champ, this is it. 
Sit down, shut up and just admit you came up short. The rules are the same for everyone.