Archive for July, 2009

A New Twist in the USC Investigation

July 30, 2009

The NCAA investigation into the USC athletic department took yet another turn today, as the Los Angeles Times reported that the football team had employed an outside consultant to advise on the Trojans’ special teams play. In fact, coach Pete Carroll confirmed today at the Pac-10 media day that he has brought in multiple ex-NFL coaches in consulting roles after receiving approval from the university’s compliance department.

Sounds innocuous enough, but, like everything else, the Association actually has rules governing this kind of thing (bylaw 11.7.1.1.1.4):

“An institution may use or arrange for a temporary consultant to provide in-service training for the coaching staff, but no interaction with student-athletes is permitted unless the individual is counted against the applicable coaching limits. An outside consultant may not be involved in any on- or off-field or on- or off-court coaching activities (e.g., attending practices and meetings involving coaching activities, formulating game plans, analyzing video involving the institution’s or opponent’s team) without counting the consultant in the coaching limitations in that sport.”

Sounds like a clear violation, but I guess it depends on the definition of “coaching activities.” In the end, it may come down to savvy.

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Can the SEC Handle the No-Huddle?

July 30, 2009

Chris Brown, Smart Football’s preeminent voice in football strategy blogging, has written extensively about Guz Malzahn’s unique offensive system. Brown astutely points out that Malzahn’s offense is predicated less on complex schemes and more on speed–not the kind of speed that makes for a good 40-yard dash time, but hustling up to put the ball in play.

Homerism actually wrote about this earlier in the year prior to the national championship game. I calculated a statistic for offensive and defensive tempo for every team in the country based on time of possession and total number of snaps.
Looking back, we found that the SEC actually played at a plodding pace relative to the rest of the country. Three of the bottom 10 teams in the country in terms of offensive tempo in 2008 came from the SEC.
Last year, Malzahn’s offense at Tulsa averaged 22.819 seconds per play, good for fifth fastest in the country. That’s nearly four seconds faster than the quickest team in the SEC, LSU.
On the defensive side, Arkansas, whose non-conference schedule included Malzahn’s TU offense, was forced to play at the fastest defensive tempo of all the SEC schools at 25.717 seconds per play. The Hogs were the only team in the conference whose defense played above the national media of 26.779 seconds per play. In fact, three of the 10 slowest teams in terms of defensive tempo were SEC members.
So it should be interesting to see if the best conference in the country can handle the Malzahn’s fast-break O. Florida shut down the high-speed Sooner machine in the national championship game in January. However, that came after preparing for weeks during an extended break. The Tigers should provide a tough match-up problem for their fellow conference mates this year, and I expect they’ll win a game or two for that reason alone.

Announcements and Odds and Ends

July 29, 2009

A few housekeeping notes and items of interest:

-Everyone’s favorite college football guru, Phil Steele, has enlisted Homerism to blog about the Sooners for his Web site. I’ll be posting on there a few times a week, and look for the activity to really ramp up once the season starts. Here’s the URL:
http://www.philsteele.com/Blogs/Individual_Team_blogs/Oklahoma_Blog.html.
Bookmark it right now, just like you did for this site. You do have this site bookmarked, don’t you?
-My final post in the Colorado season preview for Tilting at Windmills is up. I’ll be tackling Baylor beginning later this week.
-Conference media days are nothing more than an excuse for beat writers to repackage the same old stories they’ve been writing all offseason, but this time under the guise of “breaking news.” Count on lots of headlines from the Big 12 meetings like “Stoops Says Big Game Criticisms Unfair” and “Bradford Ready to Defend Heisman.” If you really want to check out some of the coverage, though, SoonerSports.com appears to have most of the bases covered.
-Lastly, it appears as though Homerism will be transitioning to a new site platform soon. It’s an exciting opportunity to expand the types of content I can provide and to promote the blog. Anyway, the URL will be the same and everything; the only real difference is that things will just look a little different. If you have any ideas on things you’ve seen on other sites that you think I should incorporate or suggestions for ways to improve, please feel free to drop me a line via e-mail or leave a comment here. Pretty much everything is on the table.
More details to come.

2009 Oklahoma Season Preview: Linebackers

July 24, 2009

To paraphrase Marlo Stanfield, the biggest issue facing the Oklahoma linebacking corps in 2009 “sounds like one of those good problems.” Namely, how is defensive coordinator Brent Venables going to find enough time to keep all his young bucks happy?

Look at the middle spot. Ryan Reynolds returns after his promising 2008 campaign was cut short by a torn knee ligament. The fifth-year senior carries himself like Venables’ proxy on the field, calling the defenses and overseeing alignments. More than just his leadership, though, Reynolds had grown into the fearsome linebacker last season that he was projected to be as a five-star recruit. He was on pace for more than 110 tackles in ’08 before he went down, and his pass coverage had improved markedly. Although Reynolds is reportedly full speed heading into fall camp, can he stay healthy for a full season? Definitely, Maybe.
Sooner Nation seems to have latched on to the theory that Reynolds’ season-ending injury in the Red River Shootout doomed the Crimson and Cream, as OU lacked a capable backup and struggled to stop Colt McCoy and the Longhorn offense from that point on. By the end of the year, however, the reserves who had been pressed into action not only proved capable. They looked ready to challenge for the starting gig. Enid’s own Austin Box stepped in late in the season and played phenomenally, particularly in pass defense. When Box went down with a knee injury in the Sooners’ final regular season contest at Oklahoma State, OU turned to 25-year-old Mike “The Bricklayer” Balogun. The hard-hitting ex-construction worker gave a valiant effort in the national title game, logging six tackles.
Then, there’s the weak-side linebacker spot. Travis Lewis led OU in tackles as a redshirt freshman in ’08 with 144, earning Associated Press Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and All-Big 12 first team honors. Lewis returns for his second season as a starter gunning for a spot on the All-American team and the Butkus Award. If all goes well this year, the San Antonio native could be headed to the NFL after the season.
Senior Keenan Clayton will man the strong-side linebacker position for the second season in a row. Early in his career, Clayton was billed as the next great Sooner safety–so good, in fact, that he started the first two games of his redshirt freshman season in 2006. Then, he disappeared for two years. When he re-surfaced in ’08, OU fans found out Clayton wasn’t the next great safety, but he was a pretty solid linebacker. Clayton’s background as a defensive back is a great asset for the Sooner D, as Venables can leave him on the field in passing and running situations. In a league loaded with spread offenses, that’s a huge benefit.

J.R. Bryant, a highly regarded recruit from Georgia by way of Garden City (Kan.) Community College, will be backing Clayton up. To be honest, the fact that Bryant didn’t make first team last year really surprised me. The OU staff brought in Bryant prior to ’08 to shore up a linebacking corps decimated by departures. With a year under his belt in the OU system, expect to see more of Bryant on the field this year, possibly as a pass rush specialist.

While the Sooners are already loaded with experience at linebacker, coach Bob Stoops and his staff may have a hard time keeping a duo of talented freshmen off the field this year. British import Tom Wort, an early enrollee, created a stir in spring practice with ferocious hits. There has even been talk he could see action at middle linebacker right away. Kansan Jaydan Bird wowed the staff as well, so much so that he earned a spot on the second string behind Lewis.
The combination of defensive linemen and linebackers in Norman give OU the best front seven in college football this season. As strong as the D-line is, the linebacking crew is the strongest unit on the team.

More Colorado

July 23, 2009

Preview of the CU defense for Tilting at Windmills.

Not So Easy Money

July 22, 2009

We’ve reached the magical point in the preseason where the bookies let us know what they expect out of our favorite college teams in the upcoming season.

Based on the win total set for Oklahoma–9.5–it would seem Vegas’ initial assessment of the Sooners jibes with my own. Keep in mind that the threshold for hitting the over is 10-2, which, if looked at as a best-case scenario, would almost certainly take the Sooners out of the national championship race. (It should be noted that the odds on the over are -150 in this case.)
While Homerism doesn’t think any of the projections seem particularly off-base, a few opportunities did catch my eye.
Take the Over
*Arkansas (7)
In case Homerism’s loyal readers haven’t figured it out by now, I’m big on the pig this year. I’ve previously discussed all the reasons to love this team: great coach in his second year, a talented quarterback and 18 starters returning from a 2008 team that finished strong down the stretch. Homerism thinks nine wins is possible.
*North Carolina (8)
Big ups to Homerism associate P$ for putting the bug in my ear on this one. The Tar Heels should contend for the ACC title in Butch Davis’ third season. The non-conference schedule is more than manageable: Citadel, Georgia Southern, East Carolina and a trip to Storrs to take on rebuilding UConn. Virginia and Duke come to Chapel Hill, and both show no signs of sucking any less than usual. Assuming those are six wins, two wins out of the following six games would be a push: Miami, at Virginia Tech, at Georgia Tech, at Boston College, Florida State, North Carolina State. Works for me.
*Stanford (5.5)
Homerism buys into the buzz surrounding Jim Harbaugh and his Cardinal reclamation project, which has even caught the eye of talent evaluator extraordinaire Al Davis. “Captain Comeback” has upped the talent level in Palo Alto considerably. Witness standout quarterback recruit Andrew Luck, who will be piloting the offense this year. A loss to USC is a given, but I can’t find another game where I’d count the Cardinal out right away.
Go Under
*Alabama (9.5, Under -140)
Nick Saban’s team oozes talent. Yet, the Crimson Tide lost experienced standouts at important positions–quarterback, left tackle, running back and free safety. (OK, it’s a stretch to call Sunshine Wilson a standout, but you get my drift.) Hence, Homerism expects ‘Bama to struggle early on, so a couple losses in the first half of the year–probably Virginia Tech and at Ole Miss–wouldn’t surprise me. Working in the Tide’s favor, though, is the fact that Florida isn’t on the regular season schedule. This is the shakiest out of all of these picks.
*Missouri (6.5)
With all the losses this team sustained in the offseason, a few steps back is inevitable. Out-of-conference matchups against Illinois and Nevada are dicey, while the Tigers draw Texas and Oklahoma State out of the Big 12 South. A .500 record would be an accomplishment.
*West Virginia (8.5, Under -150)
If I gave a flip about the Mountaineers, I’d shudder for their football future. With Pat White last year, WVU won eight regular season games. Why should we believe a White-less team will win nine this year?

On the Spot: Four or Five Guys at Florida

July 21, 2009

Florida fans will take this as heresy, but Tim Tebow wasn’t the Gators’ best–or most important–offensive player last year. The guy who really kept opposing defensive coordinators up at night was Percy Harvin.

Jump passes and stirring speeches are cool and all. But whether he was lined up behind center or split out wide, Harvin provided coach Urban Meyer with a unique multipurpose weapon who was a threat to take it the house whenever he got his hands on the ball. Think Reggie Bush, Rocket Ismail, Desmond Howard–Harvin was that kind of playmaker par excellence during his time in Gainesville. So, if you’re looking for the biggest chink in the consensus number one’s armor, I think this is it.

(Yes, Homerism realizes that Florida beat Alabama in the conference championship with Harvin on the sidelines, so it’s not like he’s irreplaceable. The flip side: in my opinion, Harvin was the difference in the national championship game.)

Heading into 2009, Meyer will look to a host of Gators young and old to give his offense that Harvinesque spark.

Brandon James
The diminutive James has made some electrifying plays on special teams for Florida, returning four punts for touchdowns in the past three seasons. He has yet to make much of an impact otherwise. In his entire college, James has just 357 total yards and four touchdowns.

Frankie Hammond, Jr.
Hammond redshirted in 2008, making him somewhat of an unknown. The 6-0 wide receiver is cut from the classic Gator mold, though. In other words, he has plenty of speed to burn (4.4 40-yard dash). 

Jeff Demps
Demps may be the fastest of the heralded speedsters Meyer brought in with his 2008 recruiting class. Listed on Florida’s roster as a classic all-purpose “athlete,” Demps made immediate contributions in a variety of ways during his freshman season. He averaged 7.8 yards per rushing attempt, scoring seven touchdowns. Five of those scoring scampers covered more than 35 yards. He also caught 14 passes for an average of 9 yards per reception and blocked two punts.

Andre Debose
Debose, a true freshman, was rated as the second-best wide receiver in the country by ESPN coming out of high school. Despite being listed as a receiver, expect to see Debose line up as a running back frequently in ’09. With his speed and athleticism, there’s no question Debose has the skills  to be a home run hitter in the UF offensive scheme. How much of that scheme he can absorb in his first season is a big question, though.
Debose, Demps, Hammond and James clearly have the talent and athleticism to thrive in Florida’s offense, which feasts on friendly match-ups in space. Here’s the problem: none are Harvin.

Just because a committee of players can replace a departed superstar’s production, that doesn’t mean they can replace all the benefits he brought to the offense. For example, USC’s backfield has been populated by a fleet of outstanding players since Bush left campus, but not one has been able to match the Heisman winner’s brilliance. USC’s offense has continued to click in the past three seasons, but not to the level of the Bush era.
Like Bush, Harvin impacted a game in ways that were both measurable and not. Now that Harvin’s gone, who’s going to preoccupy opposing defenses? Who’s going to open up opportunities for the offense’s other players? And, most importantly, who’s the go-to guy when the Gators are in a tight spot?

Bustin’ Out: Joe Adams and Michael Smith

July 20, 2009

Hate him or love him–and at this point Homerism can’t imagine there are many of the latter outside of Arkansas right now–you can’t deny that Bobby Petrino is an outstanding offensive tactician.

In his most recent stops on the collegiate level, Petrino’s teams have shown noticeable progress right off the bat. When he took over as offensive coordinator at Auburn in 2002, the Tigers saw their points per game rise to 29.8 from 21.2 in 2001. Total yards per game climbed from 343.6 to 387.5. In his first season as Louisville head coach in 2003, the Cardinals’ points per game increased from 28.8 in the previous season to 34.6, while total yards per game went from 333.8 to 488.9.
In his first year in Fayetteville, Petrino inherited a team in transition. Now, the Razorbacks appear ready to make the leap witnessed under Petrino at Auburn and Louisville. After a year spent learning a complicated new system, eight starters return for the Hogs on offense. Additionally, hyped Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett will be taking over under center. Mallett, the top quarterback in his recruiting class, has a rocket arm and should be a major upgrade from the Dick brothers, who ran the show in ’08.
Mallett’s potential is already well-established. However, among the returnees are two jitterbugs at wide receiver and running back who should benefit significantly from the coming offensive explosion.

Sophomore WR Joe Adams made an immediate impact as a freshman, finishing the year third on the team in receptions with 31 for an average of 12.2 yards per catch. The 177-pound Little Rock native should be a major threat for the Hogs this year out of the slot. Petrino will find a variety of ways–receiving or running the ball–to take advantage of Adams’ speed and shiftiness.
Tiny senior tailback Michael Smith was surprisingly productive last year, rushing for a total of 1,072 yards and eight touchdowns. And that was in just 10 games. Despite Petrino’s penchant for big backs, the 5’7″ Smith still looks like the lead dog for 2009. The only issue: a torn hamstring that sidelined Smith late in ’08. Petrino has pronounced his top runner 100 percent heading into the fall, though.

Colorado Season Preview: Offense

July 19, 2009

I’m chipping in some Big 12 season preview work over at partner blog Tilting at Windmills. I’m looking at Colorado first, starting with the offense. Check it out if you have a chance. Thanks.

2009 Oklahoma Season Preview: Running Backs

July 19, 2009

DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown certainly aren’t the best individual running backs in the country. That honor probably belongs to Jahvid Best or Jonathan Dwyer. But there isn’t a better 1-2 punch in college football than Oklahoma’s backfield tandem.

In his three years at OU, the senior Brown has proven himself to be as reliable as a Honda Accord. Homerism can’t recall one particularly memorable play from the Bayou State native’s career, but his consistency has been nonetheless remarkable.

In 2007, Brown’s longest run of the season was just 17 yards, yet he still averaged nearly four yards per carry. He was outstanding in key short yardage situations that year, averaging more than four yards per carry on third downs with three or fewer yards to go and converting 17 of 22 attempts for first downs in such situations. In fact, Brown gained a first down on 25 percent of his rushing attempts for the entire year.

Brown continued his steady play in ’08 and grew into more of an offensive threat, running for 20 touchdowns on the year. He raised his yards per carry up to 5.62 despite seeing his attempts increase by about 30 percent. That’s all while remaining a strong short-yardage option, turning about a third of his carries into first downs. The highlight of Brown’s junior year had to be his gutty performance in the national championship with Murray missing in action. Brown finished with 150 total yards in a losing effort.

(Let’s hope those unfamiliar don’t mistake the tailback for an infamous “runner” of the same name. Maybe OU’s Brown should consider going by “Christopher” to avoid any brand confusion and improve his marketability. But I digress.)

I’ve already written about the health issues facing Murray heading into ’09. If Brown is an Accord, Murray a Porsche–flashy, but always in the shop. (My apologies for the lame metaphor, but it seems apt.) The fact that the Las Vegas native has been cleared for full-speed workouts is promising. As good as Brown is, he lacks the explosiveness and breakaway speed Murray possesses when fully healthy. Murray also has proven himself to be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, averaging nearly 13 yards on each of his 31 catches in ’08.
With Mossis Madu’s move to slot receiver, heralded redshirt freshman Jermie Calhoun will hold down the third-string spot. As a spread option quarterback in high school, Calhoun displayed a punishing running style. Obviously, how he dealt with a year off from game competition has yet to be seen. With all the promise he showed prior to arriving in Norman, though, don’t be surprised if Calhoun gets meaningful snaps this year.
Fullback Matt Clapp, a favorite of the OU coaching staff, is as nasty as his namesake. The first-team all-conference selection reminds Homerism of former OU fullback JD Runnels–he isn’t much of a threat running the ball, but he’s an outstanding lead blocker. He also has proven himself to be an underrated receiving threat, catching three touchdown passes last year. And we haven’t even touched on Clapp’s long, flowing locks yet.
Clearly, Murray’s health will play a major role in the effectiveness of OU’s running game this year. Besides being a dynamic playmaker in his own right, Murray’s full arsenal of skills nicely complement Brown’s move-the-chains game. Having both involved in the offense opens up the playbook and gives opponents that much more to prepare for. If Calhoun can contribute this year and offer offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson another weapon, all the better.