someone let radioactive Stephen A Smith into the state again
The Romer paper is sort of an MGoBlog cause celebre, so it's with great glee that I point out a Michael Lewis article in the most recent ESPN The Magazine($)*. It seems Romer's convincing statistical proof that NFL teams scoff at expectation when making fourth-down decisions has had zero impact. Since its publication NFL teams have actually gone for it less on fourth down (14.5 percent now, 15.1 then). The Sports Economist summarizes Lewis' theory as to why:
Lewis first asks if Romer is simply wrong, but concludes that this is not the case (and I agree). Lewis also wonders if NFL coaches simply can't understand the complexity of Romer's argument. This is a possibility, but Lewis argues the coaches are more than capable of understanding complex arguments. After all, just running an NFL team â€“ as anyone associated with the Detroit Lions has learned in recent years â€“ is quite complex and difficult.
No, Lewis thinks Romer is right and NFL coaches understand his arguments. For Lewis, the reason why coaches fail to heed Romer's wisdom is that coaches do not wish to undermine their reputation in the coaching fraternity. As Lewis puts it "Go for it on fourth down more often than any other coach, and you not only set yourself apart from your peers, but you call into question their intelligence. If your decision doesn't pay off â€“ if you go for it routinely and your team fails â€“ you'll stand accused of malpractice."
Interesting to see this theory in practice on the NCAA level. Two prominent coaches are liable to go for it on any fourth down that looks tempting: USC's Pete Carroll and Notre Dame's Charlie Weis. And you couldn't pick two coaches with more opposite public personas. Carroll, derisively nicknamed "Pom-Pom" by rival fans, shows up dressed like Ricky Bobby, plays practical jokes on his players, and is down with Snoop Dogg. He's the archetypical "players' coach" who is lauded mostly for hiring Norm Chow and his ability to get every OMG shirtless recruit in the country to commit to USC. I don't think it's out of line to suggest that he's regarded more as an organizational figurehead than an Xs-and-Os maven.
Weis, on the other hand, is a supergenius. A tactical master blah blah, you know the drill. He offhandedly implies that other coaches are kinda stupid on a regular basis (and, IMO, is not entirely wrong). He's subject alternately to "he's a genius" swooning and "he ain't no genius" sneering, depending largely on the POV of the author and the results of Notre Dame's most recent game. It's not difficult to imagine a lot of doors closing should he find himself in need of a job at some point in the future.
This is to say that the way a coach acts vastly outweighs what he calls when it comes to media perception. If The Orgeron was to suddenly convert to the Church of Romer (he may have already but hasn't been able to show us since Ole Miss never found itself in fourth and less than 20) and justified it to the media by declaring anyone wanting to question his new strategery would have to defeat him in a shirtless greasy wrestling match, chances are the next day's paper would be conspicuously light on assertions that Orgeron's brain has gotten to big for his, um, brain-britches. Or whatever.
I don't buy it. I don't think fired NFL head coaches panhandling for jobs get turned down because they went for it more often than the league average. So what could possibly explain the gap between Romer game theory and NFL reality? Poker. I've played a lot of it. It's game theory in one of its purest forms, and the lesson it teaches is this: for the vast majority of the population it is hard to play anything other than weakly (ie, betting rarely, raising even more rarely, but calling lots) . Variance is scary. Inexperienced players don't want to risk folding a winner, but neither do they want to risk getting into a big pot with a loser. So they'll call down with third pair or whatever. That's why the most popular games by far are cheap limit games. Most people will take a negative expectation (small limit games have a proportionally huge rake that makes beating the game very difficult) as long as it promises lower variance, because gambling's fun derives largely from fear. People like a little fear. It's rare to run across someone who likes lots of it. This is not a gambling thing, it's a human nature thing. There's a lot of cognitive science behind it. Humans, as a species that relies on the effective application of knowledge to survive as opposed to freakin' huge talons or whatever, are constantly torn between the realms they know, which are safe but boring, and the realms they don't, which expand his knowledge but are dangerous. The end result is a sort of addiction to slightly new experiences and a lot of timid poker.
If coaches are drawn from a fairly typical sample of the population and have a fairly typical amount of risk tolerance (little), then it makes sense that most coaches are tight-weak. The only reason they wouldn't be tight-weak is if it provided some evolutionary advantage -- coaching is nothing if not Darwinistic -- that forced it into the population. Evidence suggests it does: FO found that the most likely to go were Parcells, Belichick (not coincidentally Weis's mentor), Shanahan, Cowher, and Schottenheimer. The Sports Economist extrapolates from Lewis and surmises that crotchety, successful old coaches don't have to care about what their peers think, but maybe you get to be a crotchety, successful old coach because you're more concerned about extending your current job than finding your next one.
So why isn't everyone aggressive by now? Most coaches, Romer-intelligent or not, get fired and replaced with some other guy plucked fresh from the ranks of the coordinators. When you get thrust into the poker of the NFL for the first time, the stakes are high, the depths dizzying, and the consequences of a gamble that backfires severe. The natural inclination of the n00b is to cower and make the safe play. Most of them never live long enough to get out of the kiddie pool and start making moves.
*(I saw an ad for "ESPN the Weekend" something like a month ago. Is anyone reminded of "Spaceballs the Flamethrower?"
- Lone Starr: Yogurt. What is this place? What is it that you do here?
- Yogurt: Merchandising.
- Barf: Merchandising? What's that?
- Yogurt: Merchandising. Come! I'll show you. [to the Dinks] Open up the store
- [Yogurt walks over to a wall filled with Spaceballs merchandise.]
- Yogurt: Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money from the movie is made! Spaceballs: the T-shirt, Spaceballs: the Coloring Book, Spaceballs: the Lunchbox, Spaceballs: the Breakfast Cereal. Spaceballs: the Flame Thrower... [fires a short blast from flame thrower]
- Dinks: Oooooohhhh!
- Yogurt: The kids love this one. And last, but not least, Spaceballs: the doll, me.
- [Yogurt squeezes the doll, which says "May the Schwartz be with you!"]
- Yogurt: Adorable.
So I went to the Northern Illinois basketball game, but about halfway through it I started to get tired of unproductive sarcasm re: the program. Let's pretend there was a lot of hilarious snark, and then here we go:
Sims! Explosivo! Northern Illinois has one really tall guy who's even spindlier than Sims. He was a nice player who came up with a couple blocks, but he was also the kind of defender Sims consumes whole, as he can get set up deep on the block and then use his length, which is lengthy, to finish. He did this a lot, and Michigan fed the post with a skill and intelligence I haven't seen in a while. Sims got the ball in a position to get a shot with one dribble, and when he can do that he does things like score 20 points. His shooting percentage wasn't great but a lot of that had to do with a couple of hilarious sequences that went missed bunny-offensive rebound-missed bunny-offensive rebound-missed bunny-offensive rebound-turnover. Or something like that.
I expect this will go away whenever someone decides it's time to push him away from the basket. The announcers were apparently drooling over a potential Sims-Oden matchup, because thats what ESPN+++ announcers do. Maybe they have a point: I guess it will be interesting to see a 6'11" man attempt to crawl back into his mother's uterus.
Line changes. With Michigan playing kind of stupid in the first couple minutes, Amaker yanked the starters (Sims, Petway, Coleman, Harris, Abram) for, well, the rest of the team (Udoh, D. Sims, Shepherd, Smith, Baker). Oddly, this worked. The scrubs entered with Michigan down four and left with Michigan up around four. There was a brief glimpse of what Amaker's motion offense is supposed to accomplish, as the checking line got D. Sims and Udoh open fifteen-footers, which the freshmen both drained confidently. Courtney Sims would later emphasize this point by taking a shot from just inside the three point line. A "what?" escaped my mouth before the shot ever left Sims' hand; it sailed through the air and smacked down out of bounds having threatened no one except inattentive cheerleaders.
Speaking of cheerleaders, there was one who spent much of the game mournfully watching her compatriots actually, you know, lead cheers. She was suffered to pom-pom away during the game, but whenever the cheerleaders ventured onto the court she was excluded from their reindeer games, hands propping up her chin as she watched the cool kids get on with their cool activities. This might have been understandable if she was new or injured and could not safely participate in any of the various acrobatic stunts cheerleaders do, but she did the mournful puppy-dog thing even when the task at hand was throwing t-shirts into the stands or encouraging the crowd to start the "Go... Blue" call-and-response cheer.
- She had been suspended for conduct detrimental to the squad. What this constitutes I don't know. Probably a refusal to participate in the weekly Sexy Lingerie Pillowfight.
- She has some sort of physical Tourette's syndrome that makes her presence on the floor during cheerleading activities impossibly dangerous. Like, if she gets anywhere near the "GO" sign or the "BLUE" sign the next thirty seconds become one of those cartoon fights where all you see is a hellacious dust cloud of fists and legs and pain-stars and when it's over the rest of the cheerleaders are lying in a moaning heap, clutching their newly-maimed extremities.
- The Michigan cheerleaders really do operate like cheerleaders in movies and Rudolph had displeased the catty leader by wearing the wrong shade of pink.
- Carmelo Anthony was in the arena and may have fled if she approached.
Attendance. I estimate around 400,000.
Reed Baker. I've seen pictures, but it's hard to describe just how hilarious Reed Baker looks on a collegiate basketball court. (This is not a knock on his play. He hit a couple threes and showed that when the other team also sports an elfin player, he can be effective.)
Reed Baker looks like someone who would have this guy very excited:
Attempt at basketball-talkin'. Our inability to get dribble penetration against such a weak team is worrying. I don't know what our offense would have looked like if NIU had the ability to push Sims out from the block, but it probably would have been ugly. That's an issue that's been discussed ad nauseum, but probably the oddest thing about our offense is that we hardly ever screen, instead preferring to use our big men as pressure outlets whenever our passing around the perimeter gets too hectic.
Sometime early in the first half Jevohn Shepherd made that cut where he flashes in front of a guy in the post and presents himself near the elbow, having used the two guys battling for the position as an inadvertent screen. The result was an uncontested layup, and I thought to myself "Richard Hamilton does that all the time," and then my mind wandered to the Pistons offense and the NBA's general obsession with the screen and roll (or pop). Why don't we use our big men to get Abram or Dion Harris either a favorable matchup or a driving lane? This I don't understand, but I also don't pretend to have all the answers here. 1) Is this a figment of my imagination? 2) If not, why don't we do this? 3) With our next two post starters capable shooters might this change in the future?
Friday I posted "Backlash Backlash Backlash," which spawned what I think was the third-dumbest comment thread in the history of MGoBlog. I said a couple things that I shouldn't have: the two assertions that BGS hated black people were, indeed, not cool. By distorting what they were saying because I needed to do so for my post, I committed the same sin I was accusing them of. Consider it retracted.
Sorry about late/crappy content today. I plead nasty cold/wake up late.
So BGS posted this thing. And I find it really irritating because it encapsulates much of the deeply irritating things about the nuttier outposts of the Irish worldview, which somehow manages to simultaneously claim that Notre Dame is the most important program in college football, citing copious media coverage, and that anti-ND bias is incredibly widespread and a major reason for everything wrong with the program. As someone who follows the exploits of more than one college football team and reads articles about teams other than Michigan, it seems clear to me that the reason it seems that lot of dumbly negative articles get published about Notre Dame is that a plurality of columnists can't do anything except write dumb, negative articles. Add in the natural tendency of fans to link anything negative wrote about their rivals or themselves and stupid negativity is the best way to get attention. (Anyone seeking confirmation of this in the wild need only go back a year or so to the Great Sissy Boy Blogger Slapfest.)
As a fan of a preseason top-5 team that finished 2005 7-5, let me reassure any ND fans out there that this happens to any prominent team or player that doesn't meet expectations. Poor Steve Breaston.
Anyway, the main thing I hate is dishonesty and the BGS article is dishonest. It starts with a brief intro and the Heisman results, then gets into its arguments that there was a concerted media backlash against Quinn because he's a very pretty man from Notre Dame:
Pundits engaged in a lot of purposive data-mining to criticize Quinn, while failing to mention glaring issues with other candidates. For instance, I can recall several talking heads arguing that Quinn played poorly against Southern Cal because he completed less than 50% of his passes. Anyone making this argument is either stupid or disingenuous. First, Quinn was barely under 50%, and had even one of the dropped passes that he laid in a receiver's hands been caught, he would have been over 50%. Second, Quinn put up 348 yards of total offense and three touchdowns without a single turnover.
Pot, this is kettle. Accuse away. Anyone arguing that Quinn performed adequately is either stupid, disingenuous, or high off paint fumes (Brent Musberger). One wonders if BGS bothered to watch the USC game -- it would have been reasonable not to given the results of Notre Dame's previous expedition against quality competition -- as Quinn's late surge towards respectable numbers came entirely in garbage time. Notre Dame got the ball back down 20 points with 7:30 left, a perfect prevent situation in which the defense doesn't really care if you score as long as you do it slowly. Notre Dame obliged, driving for a touchdown. Brian Cushing returned the ensuing onside kick for a game-sealing touchdown, then Quinn went to work again, game long decided.
Before the USC defense found itself in a situation where it didn't really care what ND did, Quinn's numbers: 13/31 for 163 yards, plus a mindblowing 60-yard scramble. Pretending that all yards, no matter how meaninglesss, are created equal is "purposive data-mining," not reasonably asserting that Quinn was something less than spectacular against the Trojan defense. Granted, Rhema McKnight is the suckiest suck who ever sucked and granted that a lot of quarterbacks have struggled against the Trojan defense, but the Heisman isn't an award for the most valiant struggler.
And when someone disregards the events on the field in favor of a pretty box score, no matter how shaky its meaning, you don't have to wonder at motivations. Note the artful insertion of "total offense," which helpfully includes Quinn's anomalous quarterback scramble that any quarterback faster than John Navarre could have accomplished. Also note the strawman: Quinn isn't competing for the award against Nate Longshore.
What are these glaring issues with the other candidates, I wonder? Smith didn't have a great game against Illinois or Penn State, but Quinn's main contribution against Georgia Tech was running the ball and he has those two clunkers against Michigan and USC. And while McFadden was roped in from time to time this year, he also drove a team with no passing game to the SEC title game. This is an accomplishment.
The same people that searched so hard for Quinn's flaws were just as quick with excuses for his competitors. That Darren McFadden could only manage 36 yards against USC on 11 touches was blamed entirely on his (self-induced) injury, if it was acknowledged at all. You would be hard pressed to find media criticism of Troy Smith's performance against Illinois, though it was statistically worse than the performance against Michigan that hung around Quinn's neck like a millstone.
There is a natural tendency of overlook Smith's ugly performance against Illinois (and don't forget Penn State) or McFadden's against USC when the two of them clearly dragged their teams forward the rest of the year. The Heisman is mostly about a player's performances in the really big games, and McFadden and Smith delivered multiple times this year (Auburn, Tennessee/Texas, Michigan). Quinn did not.
The suggestion that Quinn's wretched performance against Michigan shouldn't be a millstone around his neck -- he rifled the game's first pass high, inside, and hard, leading to a Michigan touchdown and setting the tone for the day, he led his team to something like two first downs before the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, he WOOP WOOP WOOP Lamarr Woodley touchdown -- is preposterous, especially when put into direct contrast with Smith's surgical dissection of the same defense. Of course it's relevant, far more so than an Illinois game that Ohio State wasn't really threatened in. More fuel for the fire that ND fans only tolerate the rest of college football because without other teams there would be no vehicle via which to glorify Notre Dame. If you watch the games and understand the context of the events in them (Arkansas goes from hopeless to the SEC championship game on the strength of Humanity Advanced, Smith lazily shreds a Michigan defense for the ages, leaving me speechless at halftime). If all you do is watch Notre Dame and look at boxscores, then, sure, Quinn has an argument.
Midway through the season, many commentators (including one ESPN Heisman Watch writer) offered Smith's superior TD-INT ratio as proof that he was the nation's best QB. When Quinn ultimately finished ahead of Smith in this statistic (recording the fifth best such ratio in CFB history), I can't recall the stat's previous champions acknowledging this.
Probably because that whole destroying-Michigan thing removed the need for a rickety justification like TD-INT ratio. And as long as we're going to statistical measures of quarterback play, we may as well take a look at quarterback rating:
- 4. Troy Smith
- 14. Brady Quinn
Statistician, heal thyself.
But what really gets me is the venom directed at Quinn. In a field of candidates that included an admitted NCAA rules violator and convicted criminal (Smith) and someone who put FnDC -- Fightin' 'n Da Club -- before his team (McFadden), many commentators acted like Quinn was the asshole, an overrated impostor who scammed his way into the conversation by virtue of his good looks and the ineluctable star power of the Notre Dame brand.
In a field of candidates including an admitted black guy and someone who put being black before his team, many commentators refused to acknowledge that Quinn was white!
Also: Irish fans are always talking about how they "are" college football, or the center of college football, or whatever, and then freak out when someone points out that maybe the disproportionate amount of media attention paid to ND has something to do with the prominence of a quarterback who wouldn't be anywhere near the Heisman converation if you changed his named to "Ian Scrofolski," transported him to Washington State, and had his team go 10-2 with two humiliating losses against the only above-average teams he faced all year.
Quinn's stumbles (or stumble, singular) was cause for great celebration. You might remember this representative article from Mike Freeman of CBS Sportsline, back in September:
C'mon, be honest. You chuckled when you heard Notre Dame got beat by Michigan one cajillion billion to seven, didn't you? You laughed. You giggled and burped. You frolicked around the house like you were being tickled on the feet by a supermodel in her skivvies. You spit mustard and bratwurst all over your shirt when you saw Brady Quinn's face planted in the turf and throwing sloppy interceptions like Kerry Collins. I can tell you loved it. I still see the smirk cemented on your face.
Introducing Brady Quinn. Fine gentleman, future NFL quarterback, and the most outlandishly overrated player in the history of college football...If I ask who the best college quarterback in the nation is right now and you answer Quinn and not Smith, then you are a brainwashed fool.
Furthermore, while Troy Smith's early indiscretions were being recast as an inspirational story of redemption -- look at what he had to overcome! -- Quinn's four-year odyssey from Diedrickian punching bag to the top of the Irish record books was all but forgotten.
We need to introduce the Freeman corollary to Godwin's law: Whenever you cite Mike Freeman as a representative sample of anything, you lose. Mike Freeman writes dumb columns for attention. He is, in internet terms, a troll. Earlier this year he wrote a story claiming that Chris Leak should be furious at Urban Meyer for denying him a chance at the Heisman by bringing in Tim Tebow.
Also, one article is not a trend.
During his time under the microscope at ND, especially during a rough and tumble two years where he was repeatedly thrown to the lions, Quinn never faltered or pouted. Whether he was taking his lumps under Willingham or besting Peyton Manning's marks under Weis, Quinn always carried himself with aplomb. In the volumes of quotes the media extracted from Quinn, you won't find a single damning word. He was never in trouble off the field. He was a good student.
And for such a well-known celebrity, he was exceedingly modest. When Chris Fowler greeted Brady on stage to present him the Maxwell Award, the first thing out of Fowler's mouth wasn't "Congratulations", but, "So, do you consider this an upset, since everyone expected Troy Smith to win?" Quinn might have been shocked, and he might have been forgiven for snapping off some snide retort. But he humbly deflected the slam, and instead praised Smith, calling him a "great player" and saying that "he should do just fine for himself" on Saturday at the Downtown Athletic Club.
Aaand now the Heisman is recast as some sort of Academic All-American award that cares about what you do off the field; McFadden and Smith are recast as unworthy of the award because of minor indiscretions in their past -- Smith's last misstep was over two years ago.
That combination of stellar talent and grounded character is so rare in a sport where it seems just about everyone
has a checkered past. Quinn's everything you'd want in a college football player, both on and off the field.
Unless you want to stay within 20 of a major opponent.
Everybody, regardless of alma mater, would love to have this guy on their team, wouldn't they? In our "Villains" piece, we stated that we had to respect John McKay because the only reason he gave to dislike him was the success he had against the Irish; he was a consummate class act. I would have thought fans of other programs would feel the same way about Quinn, but obviously I was wrong.
You mistake disdain for dislike. Arguing that Quinn doesn't deserve the Heisman is not dislike. It is not venom. (Note that hell, yes, there is venom here about Quinn, but we aren't arguing about me. Also, there would be venom about Smith... but what am I supposed to say? "I'm taller than you" is about all I can come up with.)
Such was the season for Notre Dame in the media: we really took it on the chin, over and over.
They don't call it "Weis media bukkake" for nothing.
The voters who put ND way up at #2 at the beginning of the season and the reporters who touted Brady as the preseason Heisman leader fell over themselves to tear Quinn and Notre Dame from that perch when the season didn't go as predicted. The national mood changed almost immediately as the season began, and it never recovered. As ND struggled (but won) against Georgia Tech (and Ohio State was busy beating Texas), that #2 ranking suddenly seemed terribly undeserved, even if it were the writers and voters who put the Irish there in the first place. The Michigan loss sealed it.
The backlash was ferocious, a negative feedback loop that devoured itself. An offhand comment by Charlie to local reporters about ND's place in the BCS rankings turns into a full-fledged brouhaha, with Charlie portrayed as a big whiner; when Urban Meyer goes on the PR offensive to lobby for the Gators, he's praised for being the squeaky wheel that got the grease.
While many top BCS squads are feasting on vastly inferior teams (including some really embarrassing matchups, like Florida-Western Carolina), it's ND that's pilloried for playing -- stop me if you've heard this -- three service academies in one year. The Heisman race becomes a zero-sum game; it is not enough for Troy Smith to win, but Brady Quinn must lose (in fact, it is not enough for Brady Quinn to lose; he must be eviscerated in the process).
The "evisceration" is an article by Jemele Hill about how Troy Smith should be the top pick in the NFL draft. There is a section comparing Quinn and Smith. This is your "evisceration":
On the other side of it, Quinn's coach and his offensive system are already the most overrated traits of any prospect. I'm not trying to take anything away from Quinn, who put up the numbers to justify his being the No. 1 pick in April, but there were very few games in which his presence alone was responsible for the Irish's winning. You never got the feeling he won the game.
If this serves as evisceration, then Jack t
he Ripper lurks in every graf that mentions the Irish.
Other teams lose to inferior opponents on their schedule and suffer lesser consequence; Notre Dame loses to two of the top five teams in the country and is saddled with disdain. And when that 10-2 Notre Dame team gets selected for a BCS bowl, it is, of course, unfair; yet by the BCS's own rules Notre Dame is a clear and proper choice for selection. Such was 2006 for Brady Quinn and the Irish.
But the book on the season isn't closed just yet. There's one chapter left. Maybe a win over LSU will knock the anti-ND narrative off its rail, and recast this Irish team as something more worthy in the eyes of the college football punditry. Oh wouldn't it be nice...
On the other hand, who cares. To hell with the pundits. Let's win it for the only group that matters. Let's win it for us.
It would. Because LSU is badass, and Weis beating LSU would give him a win over a ranked team (his first). The reason so many are skeptical about Notre Dame is this: two non-competitive losses versus USC and Michigan. Two miraculous wins over mediocre opponents in MSU and UCLA. A narrow win over a team quarterbacked by Reggie Ball. Only the PSU win gives an indication of much quality.
Anyway: any team in the country could have composed a flimsy bitch about media bias like this if the author chose to cherry-pick negative articles after a disappointing season.
General Tenor: Ha, ha, you're Michigan State.
If you were looking for a brief summary of the last thirty years of Spartan football, 2005 was your lucky year. It had everything you could want: a humiliating 35-point loss to Northwestern, heartbreak at the hands of Michigan, an incredible -- in the "this is too strange to possibly believe" sense -- special teams meltdown against an OSU team they should have beat, an unexpected victory over a quality opponent (Notre Dame), and a final collapse that prevented Michigan State from going to a bowl game -- one that involved a loss to Purdue and a 41-18 waxing at the hands of Minnesota. It had just the right mix of burgeoning hope with soul-mangling incompetence, the right mix of surprising success with surprising failure, the right mix of Duffy Daughterty with Bobby Williams. Michigan State's porridge is never too hot, never too cold, always just mediocre. On a micro level MSU is completely unpredictable week-to-week. On a macro level it's always Same Old Spartans.
This was followed by an excerpt from the previous year's preview, which was nearly identical save the niggling details of the season and this assertion:
I may never have to write a new Michigan State intro for as long as I live. Rotate in Rutgers, Lousiana Tech, Hawaii, or Central Michigan in the "humiliating loss" slot, occasionally move Michigan into the "unexpected victory" slot, find the most hilarious available collapse, lather, rinse, and repeat. In the rare event Michigan State finishes more than a couple games away from .500, simply blow it off as random chance and project a reversion to the mean the next year. Voila: preview.
Next year's dilemma: which hilarious collapse? Michigan State managed to blow a million-point lead and the last shreds of Mike Valenti's sanity versus Notre Dame, but they also lost to Illinois.
We do have a slam-dunk for the unexpected victory: Michigan State's NCAA-record comeback versus Northwestern, which provided one of the year's most surprisingly poignant moments. When the final seconds ticked off the clock and the Spartans spilled onto the field, the uncomprehending joy on the faces of JLS and his (soon to be ex-) charges was pure.
Quarterback Misstep #1: Drew Stanton came in for a tongue-bathing.
Last year Drew Stanton (AKA "The Jesus") made a remarkable transformation from a crazy-legged scrambler who happened to occasionally throw with great accuracy to a great quarterback, period. He is accurate in the pocket or on the run, in total command of the Spartan offense, and still capable of taking off when the situation demands it. The numbers show it: Stanton finished 10th nationally in passer efficiency. The win-loss... eh, not so much, but one can only do so much when you are playing opposite a defense as offensive as Michigan State's.
What happened here? State's offense collapsed after the Notre Dame game -- during the Notre Dame game -- and hardly emerged for the rest of the season. Injuries to Matt Trannon, Javon Ringer, and several offensive linemen didn't help but Stanton, like the other QB named Drew in the conference, looked like a shadow of his former self. He morphed from an object of terror to one of pity.
Ah-ha! Potential source of offensive ineptititude:
The offensive line is the potential achilles' heel of the 2006 Spartans and its performance is the greatest variable in their upcoming season. Unfortunately for MSU, the early returns are not encouraging.
MSU finished 82nd in sacks allowed and couldn't run effectively on anyone except Notre Dame once Ringer went down.
Like predicting that there will be embarassing pictures of Britney Spears.I projected the Spartan defense to be bad at football. Defensive line:
In sum: one experienced, decent player in Ryan, and then a vast wasteland of guys who haven't ever seen a meaningful snap and were panned by recruiting gurus. Sure, they could be better.
Linebackers were adjudged "meh" and I didn't get off any rippin' one liners. Secondary:
Q: How do you know when your defensive backfield is in bad shape?
A: When a guy with a name "Cole Corey" is kicked off the team and this causes concern.
I also reiterated this slam-dunk in the "Final Verdict" section:
Without a miracle from several players on the defensive side of the ball they're just going to suck. Where does the pass rush come from? You can excuse Long for not showing up a year ago as a 230 pound true freshman, but Kershaw is much bigger, had a year of experience, and got four garbage-time tackles despite the complete lack of production from the starters. MGoBlog has a cardinal rule of player projection: if you're not a true freshman and you're stuck behind a terrible player on a terrible defense, there is a 90% chance you are a terrible player. The coaches have nothing to lose by trying a kid out in that situation -- is the defense really going to get worse? -- so if you find yourself watching the carnage, you are in no position to correct it. There will be no pass rush; the secondary is going to remain impotent.
104th in sacks, 110th in pass efficiency defense, 88th in total defense, 99th in scoring defense. (Note decency in rush D: 55th, though that could be an artifact of the pass defense.)
Final Verdict on the Final Verdict. My actual prediction, 7-5, turned out to be excessively optimistic. But I do want to point out this worst case scenario:
The spring practice was more indicative of the offensive line's ability than the defensive line's. Stanton scrambles for his life, Ringer's production drops, and the offense is average. The defense is just as brutal as expected, and a further series of hilarious Spartan mistakes loses a game or two. JLS goes 4-8 and gets some lovely parting gifts.
So I didn't foresee a loss to Illinois or Michigan State getting its collapse to the finish in ASAP this year, but come on... not bad, eh?
General Tenor: I dunno.
So what will happen? I abdicate. I've spent hours combing stories, previews, player profiles, statistics, tarot cards, &c and have come up with nothing definitive. The OL could be great! It could be awful. The WRs could be great! They could be awful. The defense should rebound! Or maybe not. You'll get nothing definitive out of me on this team ready for mocking at season's end. Wisconsin will either be good or bad. If they are not, they will be average. Bold!
You could argue that we still don't know all that much about Wisconsin. The Badgers' best win is over Penn State. They played one ranked team, Michigan, and lost that game by two touchdowns.
I should have considered the Fat Wisconsin RB Factor. PJ Hill was the Big Ten's breakout star, but though I projected him as the starter I also dismissed him out of hand:
More disturbing than the tolerance shown for Stanley's behavior was that shown his totally inept running -- please don't pay attention to his approximately five yards a carry last year, as almost all of his carries were against the BGSUs and Hawaiis of the schedule -- as it indicates that his plodding, fall-over-at-slight-contact style was the best option left the Badgers when the ball didn't go to Calhoun. You can probably write off junior Jamil Walker and senior Dywon Rowan as a result. That leaves redshirt freshman PJ Hill as your projected starter. Hill seems to have Stanley's temper -- in February he was arrested for wielding a bat outside of a Wisconsin dorm
-- and size at 235 pounds, but Wisconsin has to hope that he has something other than his talent-like substance. I have my doubts despite the puff-job coming from the coaches and media, as Bielema is talking about having four or five guys who are in competition for the job. Running backs are sort of like quarterbacks with greater amplitude: if you say you have five, you don't really have any.
This might have been wrong. It also might have been Wisconsin's typically crooshing offensive line paving vast lanes against the overmatched front sevens of the Big Ten. Against Michigan, Hill was swallowed alive, though he's far from alone there. In any case he warranted better than the "2" he got.
Er. And you were again? Travis Beckum didn't even get mentioned. No tight end did.
About that fat guy thing. On the OL:
Chalk it up to excessive Badger-related optimism, but this line seems like it'll transition smoothly enough to a new generation of impossibly huge guys paving the way for oft-overrated running backs. It will be rough at the start -- it has to, especially with the Thomas injury -- and thus the "3" rating, but I would look at it more as a 2-progressing-to-4 by year's end.
This was exactly right. The Wisconsin offensive line was largely responsible for UW's ugly offensive output against a selection of nonconference tomato cans and the Badgers' total inability to go forward against Michigan, but after the Michigan game Thomas, et al., figured things out and started battering opponents into goo.
Why? My personal hero, Wisconsin offensive line coach Bob Palcic:
Besides, how can you go wrong when you've got this guy...
Bob Dole. Bob Dole! BOB DOLE! ... is apparently UW's new offensive line coach. In yet another article about recruiting and text messaging, this passage made my day:
[Text messaging is] bad news for coaches like Bob Palcic, the newest hire on Bielema's first staff. Palcic, who was hired Monday to coach the Badgers' offensive line, said he barely knows how to use a cell phone, much less text messaging.
"If they do eliminate text messaging, that will be a positive for Bob Palcic," he said, "because I'm still just a guy who likes to talk to people on the telephone."
Bob Palcic's teaching the offensive linemen. Bob Palcic's going to the store. Bob Palcic's trying to mash the tiny buttons on a cell phone to tell some punk kid to have a good time tonight. Bob Palcic fought in 'Nam! Bob Palcic has a purple heart... Bob Palcic doesn't need this bullshit!
...as your offensive line coach? Bob Palcic fought in 'Nam!
Yes, that is three levels of blockquote nesting. But it's worth it.
Another omission. Virtually, anyway. Jack Ikegwuonu was mentioned here:
Cornerback Brett Bell graduates, leaving the position in the hands of two true sophomores, Allen Langford and Jack Ikegwuonu, who struggled a year ago.
That was all the mention a guy who ended the year on the extremely prestigious MGoBlog first team All Big Ten list. There were two main reasons Wisconsin finished the year #1 in pass efficiency defense:
- Incompetent opponent quarterbacks.
A remarkable turnaround. Bret Bielema may be a bit of a meathead, but everywhere he's ever been has had a kickass defense save Wisconsin's 2005 unit, which struggled through a ton of injuries and finished an ugly 92nd. This year? #2. Schedule blah blah, sure, but that's a huge improvement and another notch on Bielema's belt.
Final Verdict on the Final Verdict. I projected 9-3 because of a weak schedule but didn't fully comprehend exactly how weak it would be. I think Wisconsin is about the team I thought they'd be save for a much better secondary than I gave them credit for and plus Travis Beckum. This...
The pain of losing Calhoun will be immense
... wasn't the best assertion, though. Middling to good. Bob Palcic fought in Nam!
Hello. There are blog awards coming. Joel @ Rocky Top Talk has the details. There are 22 of these freakin' things, so I'm going to post nominations in blocks. The nomination process is open to anyone who wants their opinion to be heard. All readers/bloggers are encouraged to hit up the nomination form and proffer opinion. Each category will have 1-2 nominees selected by a blue-ribbon committee instead of nomination volume, so even the most obscure blog or post will get notice.
Anyway, on with the show.
The Sports Fans Don't Cry Award
(for best response in the face of crushing misery.)
Hey Jenny Slater. In my head this award is about putting the agony of defeat on paper in a way that simultaneously acknowledges the ridiculousness of feeling anger towards a fundamentally meaningless game and makes it clear that you and your little View-watching compatriots can take your condescenscion and stuff it up the gerbil hole. Bonus points for property destruction. Take it away, Doug Gillett:
While I take college football a lot more seriously than some people, I'd always figured that I could still approach it with a measure of reason and sanity, keeping a level head and venturing toward neither the extreme of overexuberance nor the extreme of seething despair as I see so many other people doing from time to time. Only once have I ever even come close to getting in a fistfight over a game, and I can't remember a single time when I actually destroyed property. But during the Colorado game, my feeling toward the team went beyond disappointment, where it has been before on occasion, and advanced straight into anger. Rage, even. Enough anger that Ann and I had to leave Loco's Deli and Pub in Homewood, where we had been watching the game, for fear that I would do something to get thrown out if we stuck around.
This turned out to be an astute decision on our part, because after Matt Stafford's fumble to end the first drive of the third quarter, I knocked a chair over in the kitchen, then picked it up and threw it a ways. And when Georgia's next drive also ended in a fumble, I yanked my toaster oven off the counter and hurled it off my balcony.
The clincher is the next sentence.
No, I'm not proud of it, but it happens. I'm moving on.
Keith Jackson Circa 1995
(for the best prose.)
Every Day Should Be Saturday. This is a "duh," right?
Sunday Morning Quarterback. Also "duh."
Ron Bellamy's Underachieving All-Stars. One of the persistent frustrations of the past year is that Johnny's posting schedule on RBUAS was around once or twice a week. All that nasty "class" and "writing things for newspapers" interfered with his god-given talent, which was telling us all why Steve Breaston was still his hero and making it sound goooood. I remembered a particular sentence vividly; I looked at RBUAS' August archive -- surely it couldn't have been that old if it stuck in my head like that -- and the June archive, and the May, and April, and March, and February, finding it in none of these. Eventually I did locate it, January 21st of this year:
There's this feeling you get when you know a player's worth something, where you sense the eyes of the world and every loose molecule in the atmosphere gravitating toward them. And then before you can catch your breath Michigan's trailing Penn State by a touchdown, the kick off's fallen into his hands, he's at midfield, your lungs deflate, and the camera pans out and you see an image like the one at the end of "Field of Dreams" where miles of headlights are being pulled to that one player everyone can't stop watching.
So, yeah, I just went through 2/3rds of a year's posts to find that, and I think it was worth it. This is not a phenomenon unique to me.
Best New Blog
Two votes here. One: Card Chronicle, a Louisville blog that introduced the world to Ill-Advised Haircut, Kentucky's version of Spain. Um... "Spain" as in the "Spain" of the On Notice board, an apparently blameless entity that is nonetheless blamed for all the issues facing the favored program. (Though I should point out that Spain has recently done me very wrong indeed and now actually warrants its place on the board. And no, ain't tellin'.) Why? Well, this was the #4 reason Louisville might lose to Rutgers:
4. We got a haircut
We weren't sure whether or not we were going to admit this, but damnit we've never known how to lie you.
Still drunk with happiness last Friday afternoon, we decided things were getting a little too shaggy up top and that it was time to head to our fancy Barbershop (Super Cuts) and get a dome chop. The chair was comfy, the conversation exquisite, and the hair (obviously) glorious. It wasn't until about five minutes after we'd left the lovely Sharon with a generous tip (37 cents) that we realized what we had just done.
Our last cut had been right before our birthday, meaning it was the last week of August, and more importantly meaning it was before the season started.
We may have been the only ones present in our atumomobile at the time, but that didn't stop us from saying "Oh. My. God." out loud. We thought about pulling a U'ey in the middle of the road, sprinting back into the SC and asking what their policy is on super glueing the used hair of a recent client back to his head. Alas we came to terms with the fact that there was nothing to be done, and that we may have just ruined the hopes and dreams of all of Cardinal nation.
If the unthinkable were to happen tonight, rest assured there will be a self-inflicted penalty, and it will involve our hair. Or testicles.
Ill-Advised Haircut recently came in third in a CC poll of BCS opponents Card fans would like to see. One question: what happened to the hair/testicles punishment promised?
Vote #2: Corn From A Jar, the Tennessee blog that gave us "We Must Protect This Cheese" and many other bits of hilarity throughout the season. I am a sucker for a blog that can make me laugh.
Post of the Year
(Tyrone Prothro Award)
On January 12th of this year -- a mere eight days after the NC game which marks the boundary of available posts, Every Day Should Be Saturday posted the triumphant peak of its "Your Schools Promotional Ad Is Teh Suxors" series: Appalachian State is HOT HOT HOT. About a week later, VH1 featured it on its Web Junk show. Coincidence? Maybe. It's now got its own Wikipedia page. Point Orson.
(I reserve the right to expound further here.)
Best Regular Feature
(Old Faithful Award)
Desperately torn here between "Friday Morning Quarterback" and "Sunday Morning Quarterback" from, yes, Sunday Morning Quarterback. I don't actually have to choose, but it poses
a philosophical issue: is the most essential preview column in college football more important than the most essential review column in college football? If so, why? 8-10 pages due Monday.
MaxwellPundit. Chris Wilson at Rakes of Mallow put together the Heisman alternative and gave me real reason to hate Reggie Ball, since I kept shoving Calvin Johnson at the top of my ballot right before Ball would lead Georgia Tech to, say, a stirring 31-7 loss versus Clemson in which he wouldn't even look at Johnson all game. Unfortunately, Troy Smith sliced Michigan into ribbons and removed all suspense from further proceedings, but if things had been a little bit different you could see the potential for a person who wasn't a quarterback or running back to win. Wilson also deftly combined everyone's opinions into an entertaining weekly post, pioneered the use of descriptions like "Robot-God of Aerial Destruction" when describing awards candidates, and weekly reminded me to actually vote in the damn thing.
Under The Hood. Burnt Orange Nation's pro-bono comprehensive statistical breakdown of teams and matchups not involving Texas in even the slightest itty-bitty way was an unexpected boon. The Michigan-Ohio State one saved me a couple hours. Distilling a mass of numbers into something sensible is a difficult enterprise, and BON did it with aplomb.
Best Podcast/Audio Thing
Ohhhh yeah, baby... Lee Corso. "I'm about to run a freaky option like you never seen between passion and ecstasy." Orson, Orson, Orson, you have no idea how many sweet love-makin' sessions you've ruined when Corso's head has floated in from the side and hovered over the lovee, Reese-Witherspoon-in-Election style. Half nightmare, half dream, all sexy: The Lee Corso Soul, er, Explosion. Mascot head don't lie.
The Orgeron Song. Memphis radio host Chris Vernon revolutionized the state of the art in weird Orgeron parody/tribute with "Colonel Reb is Crying." yawwwwyawwwyawww yaw yaw footbaw, indeed.
Friday Nite Lites. House Rock Built's semi-regular podcast disappeared towards the end of the season but was still to my knowledge the only regularly produced college football podcast. Also I ruled the lightning round.