Archive for February, 2009

Study Hard, ‘Horns

February 28, 2009


In Homerism’s experience growing up, even the best students had at least one subject they just couldn’t master. While they typically breezed through most of their classes, there was always that one that gave them a surprisingly tough time. (Think Anthony Michael Hall and his shop class woes in The Breakfast Club.)

Mack Brown is lucky the BCS wasn’t part of the curriculum back in his day. He just doesn’t seem to get it.
Brown has announced he and his team will be knuckling down this offseason for a crash course on the ins-and-outs of the BCS. He has even hired some top-notch tutors, extending invitations to supposed “BCS gurus” to come to Austin and break down college football’s system for picking a champion.
As Dr. Saturday points out, the BCS isn’t that tough to figure out–both in how it’s calculated and how it affects teams. (The Doc’s analysis is brilliant and succinct: “Win every game as convincingly as possible against the best possible competition.”) If Brown really can’t put it together on his own, well…
On the other hand, if this announcement is some kind of stunt, credit Brown for his persistence in publicizing what he considers to be the injustice foisted upon his team by one of the world’s most famous algorithms. Brown should give up the class dunce routine, though, if he wants to be seen as a reformer, rather than a whiner.
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On the Spot: Mike Leach

February 27, 2009

2008 was supposed to be the year Texas Tech made the leap. Contrarian offensive guru Mike Leach had all the pieces in place for the Air Raid attack to flourish. The move in midseason 2007 to put Ruffin McNeil in charge seemingly transformed Tech’s defense overnight. Coming off a strong finish the year before, numerous preseason prognostications put the Red Raiders in the top 10.

By many measures, Leach’s team had its best year in 2008 since he arrived in Lubbock. Tech tied with Oklahoma and Texas for the Big 12 South division crown. The Raiders beat the Longhorns in one of the most exciting games of the season. Offensive stars Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree received numerous individual accolades. Tech ended the year with an 11-2 record and ranked No. 12 in both major polls.
In the aggregate, it all sounds pretty good. Yet, what really made the Red Raiders of 2008 any different from their predecessors under Leach?
  • Tech pasted a tissue-soft out-of-conference schedule of Eastern Washington, Nevada, SMU and Massachusetts. Nothing new about that.
  • The Raiders pulled off a big win in Lubbock over a quality opponent–Texas, in this case. Seen that one before.
  • Leach’s O rolled up some gaudy numbers. Old hat at this point.
  • Tech’s allegedly improved D gave up points in bunches. Very familiar.
  • Despite a supposedly newfound toughness, the Raiders were outmuscled–badly–by more physical opponents Oklahoma and Ole Miss. Same old story.
The brutal beating administered by the Rebels in the Cotton Bowl seemed particularly telling, as Ole Miss moved the ball at will against Tech’s sieve-like defense. Leach’s team looked soft, small and defensively undisciplined that day. That certainly didn’t seem any different from the past.
In reality, about the best thing that can be said for 2008 is that in a top-heavy conference, Tech didn’t drop any games to clearly inferior opponents. It’s a step forward for sure. However, the Raiders’ performances in their losses suggested that underneath the shiny record, little had changed.
It may seem nit-picky to criticize a team coming off arguably its best season ever. It is. Such is life for the country’s top college football programs. And for all the hype about Leach’s wacky persona and innovative, no-holds-barred offense, last season did little in Homerism’s eyes to alter the perception of Tech’s place below the powers in college football’s pecking order. And the gap remains relatively wide.
Especially after the soap opera that played out as he negotiated a new contract this offseason, the pressure should be on Leach to put together a team that looks and feels like a national title contender. If not 2009, then it needs to happen pretty soon. It’s easy to lose patience with a novelty act, no matter how many copies of Geronimo’s death certificate he may own.

Bustin’ Out: Jacory Harris

February 26, 2009


If you want to trace the steady downfall of the Miami Hurricanes, just take a look at the parade of quarterbacks who have been put in charge since Ken Dorsey graduated in 2003 with a national championship ring and another appearance in the title game.

The U’s QB woes came to a head last season with prized recruit Robert Marve’s ugly departure from the program. Head coach Randy Shannon yo-yoed between Marve and freshman Jacory Harris all season, creating an uncomfortable power-sharing arrangement that ultimately proved untenable. When Harris took a greater role in Miami’s offense late in the year, it didn’t exactly produce sparkling results, as the ‘Canes dropped their final three games of the season. That included double-digit losses to Georgia Tech and North Carolina State.

In the Emerald Bowl versus California, Harris had a pedestrian stat line: 25-of-41 for 194 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. However, the young signal caller’s numbers don’t tell the whole story when it comes to his impact in that game. 

Finding themselves down two scores at the end of the first quarter, Shannon and the ‘Canes turned their freshman QB loose. Miami abandoned its ground-heavy attack and let Harris try to do some damage both in the pocket and on the move. Harris rallied his team back, only to fall short, 24-17. 
Despite the loss, Harris gave his team the sparked it had lacked with Marve in the mix. Now, he’s firmly entrenched as the starter. Also, Shannon has switched offensive coordinators, jettisoning Patrick Nix in favor of former Philadelphia Eagles assistant Mark Whipple. As Dr. Saturday points out, Whipple’s pro propensity may not maximize Harris’ skill set.
However, Miami is oozing young offensive talent at the offensive skill positions. If Harris can keep up the scrappy Willie Beamon routine, Homerism is betting the ‘Canes will make it work.

Unfettered Capitalism

February 24, 2009

New York Times article published today revealed that USC head coach Pete Carroll raked in a whopping $4.4 million in 2007.

A study conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education found Carroll to be the highest paid private university employee in the country in the 2007 fiscal year, one of 88 seven-figure earners.
This isn’t going to be some rant about the outlandish compensation of college coaches, a la the spectacle that occurred at UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun’s postgame press conference last weekend. Coaches such as Calhoun and Carroll and Urban Meyer and Rick Pitino are worth every penny. (Charlie Weis may be a different story.)
Sure, we may be stumbling through the most significant financial downturn since the Great Depression. But ultra-successful college sports teams–particularly in football–tend to be profit centers for universities, generating substantial returns on the investments athletic departments make in them. Also, if wasn’t USC shelling out that kind of dough for Carroll, it would be Tennessee or Daniel Snyder. It’s the way the labor market works. If top professors want to complain about excessive coaching salaries, they should consider how they’d feel if their salaries were depressed artificially on the open market.
However, news like this drives home that at the end of the day, this is an obscenely lucrative business for college coaches. Believe what you want about their care for their players–or their schools. Taking care of your players’ best interests before your own isn’t going to get you to the point where you’re being paid $4 million per year to coach football, though. It’s not going to help you stay there, either.

Mack on a Mission

February 22, 2009

When Mack Brown sets his mind on something, he follows through.

Texas’ head coach is still lobbying for the Big 12 to change its divisional tiebreaker system, which is likely to be on the agenda at the conference’s spring meetings.
Homerism would prefer to see the Big 12 eliminate its divisions and move to a round-robin regular season in which all teams played each other every season, a la the Pac-10’s scheduling system. Given athletic administrators’ preference for squeezing in extra home games to fill their coffers, that option seems unlikely. Anyway, that’s a discussion for another time.
Brown’s determination is admirable, but he has yet to explain exactly why the rule should be changed. (As a refresher, the Big 12 uses the BCS standings as the fifth of six tiebreakers to determine division winners in the case of a three-team tie. The rule came into play last season, sending Oklahoma to the conference title game.)
During the regular season, Brown pushed for the Big 12 to adopt the three-team tiebreaker system used by the other two-division conferences, which awards the division crown to the head-to-head winner of the top two teams in the standings if those teams are within five spots of each other in the BCS standings. That system would have put Texas in the conference title game this year.

“Since this situation has never happened before in the Big 12, I think the conference should follow the lead of all of the other BCS leagues with championship games in how they settle three-way ties. I think their systems are fairer and give more credit to how the two highest ranked teams performed against each other on the field,” Brown said at the end of the regular season.

In December, Dan Beebe, commissioner of the Big 12, acknowledged that the rule would be reviewed. However, Beebe didn’t sound particularly convinced by Brown’s rationale, noting that the system in place was designed to advance the team with the best chance of reaching the national championship game.
Homerism can understand why Brown would have preferred having the other conferences’ system in place this year, as it would have put his team in the Big 12–and most likely national–title game. Yet, that doesn’t explain why that system is supposedly “fairer.” Also, why is it that only the two highest ranked teams deserve more credit for how they performed against each other on the field, while the third team is left out of the mix?
The reality is that the Big 12’s set-up is simply a matter of realpolitik–it’s meant to give the conference the best chance of putting a team in the national championship game. “Fair” doesn’t appear to be an issue at play. After all, what is really fair among three equally deserving teams?
Homerism is all for instituting a new system that would produce a more satisfying result for all involved. Unfortunately, I fear the current system may be as good as it gets.

Combine Time

February 20, 2009

I don’t know what it is about the buildup to the NFL draft, but Homerism can’t get enough of it. The difficulties projecting a college player’s success in the NFL are fascinating. Plus, as what I consider to be a hardcore college football fan, I love it when I can pick out a college player who I know is destined for greatness or bust-dom on the pro level.

Rivals.com collected these interesting insights from an NFL scouting director about his/her assessment of this year’s class heading into the combine.

Who’s Minding the Offense?

February 20, 2009


The rube in Homerism wants to believe that USC coach Pete Carroll’s performance at Mark Sanchez’s farewell press conference showed his genuine concern for one of his players. My cynical side says it was motivated more by his genuine concern for the state the Trojans’ quarterback situation.

Nothing like a quarterback derby to get college football fans talking and coaches’ blood pressure rising. Some of the top programs have clear-cut replacements for departed signal callers. Georgia, for example, plans to install fifth-year senior and one-time starter Joe Cox as the man following Matt Stafford’s early declaration for the NFL.
Other situations like USC are a bit more muddled. Here’s a look at the spring quarterback competitions to keep an eye on:
*Florida
Just kidding.

*USC

Can the Trojans continue to plug in quarterback after quarterback and not miss a beat? With last year’s starter Mark Sanchez making his debatable move to the NFL, USC will have a full-blown quarterback competition going this spring. The list of candidates is long and distinguished. Redshirt freshman Aaron Corp appears to be the frontrunner and is considered the most athletic QB prospect Carroll has had. Super-transfer Mitch Mustain from Arkansas has the billing, but he has yet to really take the reins. Incoming freshman Matt Barkley also is generating loads of buzz, even though it’s tough to see a true freshman playing quarterback in Troy.

*Michigan
Year one of the RichRod era for Big Blue failed to identify a Pat White-type quarterback with the tools to trigger the spread option. The news that the relatively underwhelming Steven Threet was heading out for greener pastures has heightened the uncertainty in Ann Arbor. Consequently, year two could find a freshman under center. “Underwhelming” would be a compliment when discussing Nick Sheridan’s play in 2008, but as of now, he’s the only quarterback with any experience in coach Rich Rodriguez’s version of the spread. That probably means he’ll get most of the spring snaps. Early enrollee Tate Forcier will learn at Sheridan’s side. However, both may be keeping a seat warm for when promising recruit Denard Robinson arrives in the fall.
*Alabama
Just-good-enough John Parker Wilson has departed, leaving an opening for a more feisty successor to take hold of the job. The depth chart currently shows redshirt sophomore Greg McElroy on top, he of 11 pass attempts in 2008. McElroy looks the part of a Nick Saban archetypal caretaker. Dual-threat freshman Star Jackson, a four-star recruit who redshirted in 2008, offers a little more pizzazz.
*Nebraska
The Cornhuskers got off to a solid in coach Bo Pelini’s first year in Lincoln, thanks in large part to the steady play of QB Joe Ganz. But Ganz is gone–probably off to coach eight-man somewhere outside of Omaha. Pelini and his staff will have a chance to evaluate four signal callers vying for the starting job this spring: sophomore-to-be Patrick Witt, juco transfer Zac Lee, dual-threat prospect Kody Spano and Cody Green, an athletic early enrollee out of Texas. 

Sailing On?

February 18, 2009

Could college football’s favorite pirate enthusiast really be walking the plank in Lubbock?

Tuesday’s deadline for coach Mike Leach to sign a contract extension with Texas Tech passed without a resolution. Next up in this standoff: a meeting of the Tech Board of Regents on Friday to further discuss Leach’s future with the Red Raiders.
Tech’s options are somewhat unclear. After all, Leach’s current deal runs through the end of the 2010 season. Tech’s chancellor has said Leach and the university would continue to work under the coach’s existing agreement if they failed to seal a new deal.
However, ESPN’s reporting intimates that Tech will either fire its coach or accept his counterproposal to the school’s extension offer.
Leach found creative ways over the weekend to take his mind off the stress of the entire ordeal. On Saturday, he was in Wales taking in a rugby match. Sunday found him in Florida for the Daytona 500.
If they do decide to part ways, Red Raider fans may find comfort in the words of Queen Amidala and the Commodores:

Do You Care About The Juice?

February 10, 2009

No, for once, this isn’t about Orenthal James Simpson.

I mean A-Rod and Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. I mean Chris Benoit and Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. I mean Mike Webster and Lyle Alzado.

As sports fans, I’d hope we’re all way past the point of giving athletes–on any level–the benefit of the doubt anymore when it comes to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. I mean, here we had arguably the greatest baseball player of my generation up on ESPN this afternoon confirming a news report–as well as our long-held suspicions–that he was all ‘roided up. Yet, to Homerism, the most striking part of the interview was that I was more interested in seeing how A-Rod handled Peter Gammons’ questions than I was stupefied by his juice-y admissions.

But all of this goes college football, too. We hear stories about former Ohio State Buckeye Alex Boone hulking out and ex-Oklahoma Sooner Dusty Dvoracek beating the tar out of his supposed friend. Are we really supposed to believe these behemoths are just drunk, or maybe having a bad day?

The dirty secret of steroids in baseball has always been that we just don’t care. Oh, I mean, we say we care about people cheating. And we certainly enjoy calling out synthetic prima donnas like A-Rod and straight-up assholes like Barry Bonds for brazenly defying our standards of fair play, even when the de facto rules have changed.
But, we also know that chicks dig the long ball. I don’t think I’m the first to asset that “Baseball” turned a blind eye to swelling heads and tape-measure shots in the name of getting fans back in the seats in the mid-’90s. And Homerism doesn’t think he was alone in scrambling to find a TV when he heard Sosa and McGwire were up to bat.

Chicks dig the long bomb, too, though. As college football fans, we love our team’s players. What we love even more, however, is watching them perform at the highest levels of their abilities. And when do we love them the most? When they’re winning. 
If performance-enhancing drugs are as prevalent in college football as they are in professional baseball–and Homerism’s completely unscientific opinion is that they are–do we even care? Do we want to trade 4.4s for 4.6s? How about measuring arm strength in 17-yard outs, instead of 20? Conference titles for clean “student athletes?”
Sounds kinda boring to me.
(Homerism would love to hear his reader’s thoughts on the subject.)

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

February 6, 2009

While some college football fiends like to portray National Signing Day as Christmas in February, that’s not entirely true. 

With the explosion of recruiting information providers such as Scout and Rivals, it’s more like the Christmas morning after you figured out where your parents hid the presents. You already knew what was coming, so there weren’t too many surprises in store. Of course, if you hadn’t seen that official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time, there was always the chance it could show up magically underneath the tree.
Hardcore Sooner fans went to bed on Tuesday night with visions of stud Louisiana receiver Rueben Randle and New Jersey “athlete” Josh Evans dancing in their heads. Instead, though, Les Miles and Urban Meyer ended up adding the coveted recruits to their already substantial hauls.
That doesn’t mean Bob Stoops and his staff didn’t add a bunch of nice pieces to the OU roster, however. The makeup of the group indicates a clear emphasis on bolstering the defensive side of the ball, particularly at linebacker and defensive back. With so much depth returning on both side of the ball for OU, don’t expect many of the newcomers to get extensive playing time right away in 2009. Touted junior college pickup Cameron Kenney could be one exception. With the Sooners losing three 2008 starters at receiver, the fast, physical wideout from Garden City Community College in Kansas may challenge for a spot opposite Ryan Broyles.
Other recruiting news and notes:
*Did Miles make a deal with the devil to lure Randle to LSU? Gannett’s Glenn Gilbeau has the details of the whole saga. Basically, it looks like it boils down to this: Randle’s father strong-armed the LSU coaching staff into pulling a scholarship offer to one of his son’s potential competitors for playing time among the Tigers’ receiving corps DeAngelo Benton. Oh, yeah – Randle and Benton just happen to have been high school teammates.
When asked about what went down, Miles answered–over the objections of his athletic director–in his own tortured vernacular: 

“I have to be real honest with you, recruiting has its own view,” Miles said. “And I’m not going to dispel or concern myself with how that all fits.”

OK, Homerism isn’t even going to bother trying to parse that out.

*Speaking of nettlesome meddlers, check out this New York Times profile of Wichita-area recruiting “mentor” Brian Butler. Of course, it’s written by Thayer Evans, so there must be some way that the article is meant to screw Texas.
*Homerism has made his thoughts on trash-talking in the media known before. I’d expect coaches to know better. All that being said, how awesome has it been to see Lane Kiffin set the SEC ablaze with some completely unearned–and somewhat unwarranted–jabs at the conference’s leading men?
Is it smart for Kiffin to run his mouth like he has? It certainly won’t look that way on September 19, when Florida administers one of Urban Meyer’s patented payback beatdowns.
But Homerism suspects there’s a little Cassius Clay in all of Kiffin’s blustery bravado. The reality in the final season of Phil Fulmer’s tenure was that buzz surrounding Tennessee football was sorely lacking. Kiffin’s tough talk is giving Volunteer patrons something to get pumped up about. He’s also announcing to the nation that he has his sites set squarely on the king of the SEC mountain. That’s a story that may sell among the southeast’s top talent.
Whatever Kiffin’s motives, without a dog in this fight, Homerism can’t wait to see more fireworks.