Who is overrated?
The easiest thing to do here is present The Hoosier Report's argument for Georgia:
To some degree, my rationale for ranking the Bulldogs #5 (as opposed to #14 in the Blogpoll at large) is inconsistent with above. UGa returns only 3 defensive starters. Consistent with my other logic, the Bulldogs do return QB Matthew Stafford, who should be better (of course, being worse would be almost impossible). In the SEC East, even compared to defending champion Florida, I trust Richt's track record at Georgia more than I trust the track record of any other coach/program. Last year was Georgia's worst season since Richt's first season, 2001. My hunch is that Georgia will rebound. That's good enough for the preseason, right?
Well... no! No, it isn't. Witness: we've got the three returning starters from the defense that kept Georgia afloat last year, a red flag from a clever theorem, and the low likelihood of a true sophomore with an almost 1:2 TD-INT ratio carrying a team anywhere except a Year of Considerable Pain . But this is the trump card:
Because of injuries, four true or redshirt freshmen are playing on the first-team offensive line right now.
In all, Georgia is down to eight scholarship linemen. None of the injuries is too serious.Projected starters Chester Adams, a senior, and Scott Haverkamp, a junior college transfer, should be back from ankle injuries within a couple of days. In the meantime, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Kiante Tripp was moved to the offensive line Tuesday.
Haverkamp is a first-year player, and Adams is at a new position and in a new role as a leader. Their brief departures from the practice field have shown just how tenuous Georgia's grasp on success up front is.
"I told myself after 2003 it wouldn't happen again," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said.
But the thin red line happened in 2006 and now, as proven the past few days, could easily happen again in 2007.
"We got pretty slim out there for a while last year," said Davis, a redshirt freshman. "And it is looking a little scary out there now."
It could be downright frightening if you look at it from the perspective of quarterback Matthew Stafford. There's a strong chance both tackle positions will be held down by true freshmen.
Trinton Sturdivant is almost a lock to start at left tackle, on Stafford's blind side. Clint Boling is making a push to play at the right tackle. (If the latter happened, Adams would move back to his natural guard position.)
And the learning curve is Everest-steep. Georgia kicks off the season against two teams with high hopes, Oklahoma State and South Carolina.
This is going to be bad. Very, very bad. Unless Stafford matures immediately (chances of this...
...are slim) or the Georgia offensive line turns into Christmas Miracle Voltron, the offense is going to be just as bad as it was last year when Georgia was wildly fortunate to finish 9-4. With a nearly all-new defense, replicating even that record looks like a longshot. The only reason to rank the Dawgs appears to be historical inertia.
I'm also highly dubious about Auburn for similar reasons. SMQB's brilliant "Life on the Margins" series is a preseason feature that explores the particularly lucky and unlucky teams of the previous year. Auburn comes in for a bludgeoning:
Sounding the alarm at least as loud as anything in that chart [which showed Auburn outgained significantly in four separate wins] is this: Auburn was 6-2 in the SEC, yet was outgained by about 33 yards per conference game (Vanderbilt, 1-7, was outgained by 24.7 ypg). Not only were the Tigers incredibly opportunistic â€“ the great turnover margin, the pass interference no-call against LSU, a defensive and a special teams touchdown against Florida, the onside kick at South Carolina, short field scores in rock-bottom offensive efforts against 'Bama and Nebraska â€“ but they were the only team in the conference that couldn't also argue about the one that got away, because their two losses were unambiguous blowouts at the hands of Arkansas and Georgia, both starting true freshman quarterbacks on the road.
Brandon Cox has never impressed and he regressed badly towards the end of 2006. He threw 19 interceptions, the same as Curtis Painter. Also, Auburn has a bit of a problem on the offensive line, too. One starter returns; true freshman Lee Ziemba is the probable starter at one tackle spot. Other freshmen dot the two-deep in uncomfortable places like wide receiver, safety, and center. I think 15 is pretty generous even though they were 11-2 last year. I can see ranking them somewhere at the tail end of the poll.
Who is underrated?
Arkansas. It's odd that the most hyped player in the country finds his team in need of this sort of defending, but apparently he does. The offense returns virtually intact, down only two offensive linemen and Mitch Mustain, still in possession of McFadden, Felix Jones, and Marcus Monk, three men undoubtedly raised in a secret laboratory somewhere. Even though the Hogs couldn't throw worth a damn last year, they still finished 29th in total offense. If Casey Dick can just elevate himself to slight competence...
Arkansas is suffering from a sort of inverse Charles Rogers Theorem effect, I think, after losing their final three games of the year. But I submit these facts to you: LSU was outgained in its victory and the final margin came courtesy a kick return touchdown. Wisconsin was outgained nearly two-to-one but managed to hang on to the Citrus Bowl. (Florida did outplay Arkansas, although that backbreaking Reggie Fish punt muff screams "alternate history fork point".)
Perhaps it's just my natural skittishness as a Michigan fan that has to actually face this team, but Oregon also seems low to me. Again, this is a team that finished the year poorly, in Oregon's case spectacularly so. The Ducks lost their last four games, the finale a 30-point loss to a pretty meh BYU team, and finished 6-7 only because of one of the all-time refereeing gaffes in college football history. Plus, their quarterback spent the summer screwing around with baseball. But, again, Life on the Margins reveals a major discrepancy:
Oregon is a classic "margin" team because of these two very relevant statistics:
Yardage Margin in Pac Ten Games: + 136.4
Turnover Margin in Pac Ten Games: - 13
The first number was by far the best in the conference. The second number was by far the worst. The second number is probably also more important: Oregon's ten-win team in 2005, for example, only outgained conference opponents by about 77 yards per game, good but well below last y
ear's team, yet it challenged for the BCS because it was also plus-13 in turnover margin.
SMQB goes on to point out that the reason for that -13 has much to do with Dennis Dixon's propensity for spectacularly bad interceptions and that a good deal about this season hinges on his ability to fix this problem. Will he? Dunno. That baseball thing has to give Duck fans the heebie-jeebies. But he is a senior with lots of starting experience and has a wicked set of skill position players to work with. The defense? I don't know. But Oregon's crap 2006 record has one clear cause that should get fixed. I expect a major bounce.
Oy. SMQ highlights a veritable barrage of Michigan-bashing coming out of the mouths of SEC coaches. Some of it is implied and has been addressed here. But cholesterol-addled Phil Fulmer throws a new, stupid log on the fire:
"The regular-season conference schedules we play in the SEC are very difficult. Maybe some of the other conferences have teams like Michigan that play just two or three tough conference games a year. Maybe a plus-one playoff concept would make sense."
If there's one thing I'm sick of in college football, it's conference this and conference that. I do not care and stick to the same script I have since forever: they're all basically the same save for the smallish Big East (and the suddenly powerless ACC, but let's withhold judgment on that for at least another year or two). But SMQ calls...
I'll let Brian vent and rebut that old news, but he'll have to come up with something new for Phil Fulmer's more direct shot
...and I respond.
For all the derision heaped upon the infamous Jim Delaney open letter, it did contain a salient piece of information: over the last decade, the Big Ten and SEC have played each other twenty-six times in bowl games and have split them exactly down the middle. Since regular season games between the two conferences are without exception either imbalanced beatdowns a la Michigan-Vanderbilt or irrelevant a la Indiana-Kentucky, -- which you may or may not know is an annual occurrence -- the bowl record is the only real data point we have on the relative strengths of the conferences. It says the two are equal; if you are inclined to view games in Florida or Nashville or wherever else as virtual road games for the Big Ten then you would have to give the Big Ten a slight advantage despite the outcome of one singularly embarrassing national championship game.
As for Fulmer's assertion, sorry, no sale. Both Mississippi teams, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky are perennial wrecks. South Carolina and Arkansas have never really done anything; over the past decade or so are they really more accomplished than Purdue or, hell, even Minnesota? Alabama is now Michigan State with a really buff history. (Hey... they've even got the same coach.) I don't mean this as disrespect to the SEC. It is obviously a fine football conference with many teams featuring sharp, pointy teeth. But to declare one conference or the other clearly superior is ridiculous. The bottom of the SEC is just as repugnant as the bottom of other conferences, and the nougaty middle is no less soft. When the two conferences meet the results on the field -- again, the only actual data point we have -- are dead even. This discussion should end.
(I deserve a cookie for getting through that without even one ill-considered stereotypical remark about the south. Peanut butter, please.)
More! Rebuttal! Sort! Of! Not sure what prompted Cornhusker blog Corn Nation to dredge up the old '97 M-NU controversy, but dredge they did:
As season's end approached Nebraska beat Texas A&M 54-15 in the Big 12 Title game and in the last game of Osborne's career destroyed number three-ranked Tennessee, 42-17, in the Orange Bowl.
Michigan ended their season hanging on to beat a Washington State squad in the Rose Bowl, 21-16. Washington State got the ball back at their own seven yard line with 29 seconds left. They drove to the nine yard line with two seconds left when officials ruled that time had run off the clock, thus ending the game. Had Michigan beaten the Cougars more soundly things might have been different. ...
Perhaps the writers had revenge in mind Nebraska - payback for the '94 season title when they were voted number one in both polls while Penn State had also gone undefeated - something that Penn State fans haven't forgotten after all these years.
The '97 National Title to Osborne as a gift from his fellow coaches? No. He got it the old-fashioned way. He earned it.
Any Michigan fan immediately perked up at the erroneous Rose Bowl ending described -- WSU was on the 28 or something and was only there because of history's most egregious uncalled offensive pass interference penalty -- but... yeah, sorry, I'm with them. Nebraska deserved a share of the '97 title even considering the infamous kicked ball against Missouri. Given the system in place at that point, that was the only just outcome. Did the coaches know the outcome they were enacting when they voted for Osborne? No. Did the writers when they voted for Michigan? No. Voting is still stupid and dangerous. But by a happy accident of history, both teams can claim national titles in '97 that they deserve. Corn Nation is also with me on this:
The two teams were very close in terms of their schedules and their records. Homerism aside - both deserved the title and since they couldn't settle it on the field a split was the right thing to do.
What I would like to see from Nebraska fans is an admission that Penn State deserved a share of the '94 title, which they did.
Note that there will be no budging on the Heisman issue -- it as Woodson's, by God, and if you think otherwise you're moonshine addled and possibly (feh!) confederate! -- in this space as long as its proprietor breathes free, abolitionist Yankee air.
Mallett. I saw Mallett video on Youtube and panted in expectation. It's not much, but here's 40 uninteresting seconds:
Rules and such. I think I already blew the cookie, so I may as well go for it... two proposals are getting kicked around by coaches. One, an early signing period, is a good idea that will allow kids who want to sign early to get their recruitment done and will prevent vultures from swooping in and playing pied decommit piper. The other, a fifth year of eligibility for football, is a silly idea that will only increase the sketchy practices of coaches who wish for noncontributing members of the team to leave and free up scholarship slots for their 35-member freshman classes. Naturally, the SEC is against the former and bang on board with the latter.
Urban Meyer's burgeoning reputation as sort of a huge dickhead won't be helped by this quote:
"I'm a big fan of it," Meyer said. "We've increased the season by one game with limited scholarships. In the SEC, you get guys beat up. I'd love to see that proposal go through. Every year we do that it gets blown up.
"It just makes too much sense. Sometimes some things come across and I say, 'Yes, absolutely.' And it doesn't happen. I'd like to know who makes those decisions. It's
Note the de rigeur "in the SEC we have it tough" and the disingenuous assertion that one extra game against Western Carolina or Appalachian State that's over by the second quarter imposes an unbearable strain upon already stretched-to-the-max student athletes. He's kind of a tool, isn't he?
So... a week or so ago EDSBS and I paged through the Rivals archives and extracted per-class scholarship averages for each BCS school and conference in the country. Quickie conclusions: the SEC is a bit sketchier than the Big Ten, as asserted by Jim Delaney, but not nearly as much as this year's enormous seven-to-eight scholarship disparity implies. Still, an attempt to provide some ethical and statistical context follows.
How big is this gap? Over the last six years, the Big Ten has handed out 22 scholarships a year and the SEC 25. This doesn't sound like a huge difference, but it depends on your perspective. In hockey, there doesn't seem to be much of a gap between a player with an 88% save percentage and a 92% save percentage, but rephrased it as "player A lets in 50% more goals than player B" and the gap is brought into relief. Similarly, 25 and 22 seem close enough but flip it around: if we ballpark the number of redshirts at 50%, a team retaining 100% of its players uses 19 scholarships a year. Every year the average SEC team experiences double the attrition of the average Big Ten team.
Is this scholarship gap necessarily a sign of poor moral fiber? Not necessarily. There are two different arguments getting conflated into one here:
- SEC classes are overrated on Signing Day and during the media blitz that follows because their increased attrition rate -- something the numbers show is indisputable -- allows them to sign a bunch more players who will never make an on-field contribution.
- The SEC doesn't care about football people. [/Kanye]
Argument #1, as noted, can be accepted as a given. Argument #2 is murkier and requires us to consider...
What exactly are the ethical obligations schools have here? The conventional wisdom from rabble-rousing sportswriters and tut-tutting moral arbiters is that College Sports Is Corrupt And Evil for even thinking about permitting players who are either dumb or heinously underserved by their schools to breach the local ivy-covered educational edifice. And there is a point in there somewhere: bluntly, most football players are not good at school and very few of them would be in college at all if they weren't huge and fast.
But it's hard to see how anyone's life is improved by strenuously demanding Stanford-level academics of 340-pound maulers from rural Mississippi. Stakeholder by stakeholder:
- 340-pound maulers. What's the alternative for these guys? Most of them will never sniff the NFL but it's a shame to take away their shot at it for an irrelevancy. Even if their education is remedial, that's likely better than they'd have otherwise.
- Normies. A few extra kids in big lectures dragging the curve down doesn't negatively affect the rest of the student body except in the smallest and most incremental way, and even that is offset by the contribution a healthy athletic department makes to the overall life of a collegiate campus.
- The University Ideal. Athletes' altered admissions standards don't necessarily compromise the university's academic purity. There already exist certain segments of the student population for whom the ability to put together a five-page essay or solve a differential equation is irrelevant: music and art students are admitted primarily on their talents in their field of choice, not arbitrary standards for performance on a standardized test. Essentially vocational programs already exist: a journalism major's classes are of secondary importance to his work on the school paper; an art student's GPA is secondary to his portfolio.
Besides, the idea of a cloistered, ivy-covered thing where you learn all about like Kant and Hegel and Thoreau in intimate seminars went away a long time ago in favor of enormous diploma mills. Large state universities -- where virtually every sporting program big enough to be corrupt lives -- are more expensive vocational schools these days for the vast majority of students. (Private schools, being private, can do whatever the eff they please.)
Where the ethical dodginess comes in is when the 340-pound mauler's education is less remedial and more nonexistent. The latest Sports Illustrated has an article on Greg Oden that details his courseload: a five-credit Sociology 101 course, a five-credit History of Rock And Roll course, and two credits for being a basketball player. It's hard to work up any outrage about next year's top pick in the NBA draft getting shorted in his education, but how many players with far more uncertain futures are getting educations in avoiding education at schools around the country?* The general feeling is lots.
This is because the system has a disconnect. It rewards teams for keeping players eligible, not for educating them. It encourages Harrick-like "how many points for a three-pointer?" classes, academic... er... tutors, and History of Greg Oden majors because the only people judging how educated our mauler is have a deep conflict of interest. The scary idea is not how many kids flunk out but how many "graduate."
It is an article of faith around these parts that the SEC is the worst offender in this department. Anecdotes filter up: former running back Max Martin got in the doghouse because he didn't go to class. When someone in the department asked him why, he replied that he didn't know he had to, since all of his buddies down south didn't. (Later, Martin transferred to Alabama; the coaches at the time reportedly asked if he had been arrested for any felonies, then hung up, thorough background check completed. He lasted a semester.) Varsity athletes in non-revenue sports relate similar tales on recruiting trips. Anecdotes prove nothing, though, proving nothing, and schools all over the place have issues. (Clem Haskins at Minnesota sticks out.)
All we have right now are some numbers that take a look from 10,000 feet up that reveal something indistinct. Even if we drilled further down into these numbers, they would only tell us the lesser half of the story, and the questions about "what about the guys who remain eligible?" would remain unanswered.
*(Referencing Ohio State here is sure to cock an eyebrow or two since I am an avowed Michigan fan. The intent is not to single out OSU as an exemplar of bad behavior; the SI article provided a rare concrete look at the courseload of a star athlete.)
There is a nasty rumor circulating the Michigan internets that three players, two of them potential starters, are in some degree of trouble. The rumor is multiply-sourced and probably true, IMO, but the assertion that all three are booted from the team is at the very least premature. Varsity Blue chips in with what they can:
Rumors have been perpetuated on the internet (including those damn bloggers -ed.*) that three players, whose names I will not drag through the mud until this rumor has been in some way substantiated, have been caught with drugs and kicked off the team. Per Tom Beaver [GBW poohbah -ed], at least the aspect of getting removed from the team is false, and he also stated unequivocally that the law is NOT involved.
He also offers some circumstantial evidence of his own that indicates anyone panicked should calm down a bit; hit up Varsity Blue's post for that additional bit of reassurance.
In sum: three guys probably in trouble but of the stairs-running variety. A complicating factor: a couple of the accused have been in trouble before and may be running out of strikes. (Any SEC fans wishing to jump down my throat about this would be advised to look into whether their favorite program conducts off-season random drug tests for recreational substances first.)
Mel Kiper is not a huge fan of Alan Branch. Detroit News article on instate draft prospects:
Branch has enormous physical ability, very athletic with tremendous physical prowess," the ESPN analyst said Wednesday during a teleconference. "I'd say he'd probably go top 10 to 12, but I have him right now at 18, 19, 20."
The knock on Branch, a 6-foot-5, 330-pound defensive tackle, is his lack of production, Kiper said.
"He should be a dominant player but was not on a consistent basis (in college)," Kiper said. "He probably needed another year at Michigan, in terms of production, because he was not a guy that gave you results in terms of tackles and sacks that you thought were possible.
"He's got a chance to be a heck of a player. The potential is there."
This is silliness on a par with those MaxwellPundit voters who downgraded Reggie Nelson because he only made one tackle in the MNC game. (How many tackles was Nelson, a deep free safety, supposed to make when Ohio State completed four passes?) Branch is a defensive tackle and to measure his impact on the game in terms of numbers is inherently shallow.
Kiper on Hall:
On cornerback Leon Hall (5-11, 193) -- "If you asked me where he'd go in September, October, November, I'd probably have said top 10. What hurt him a little was the Ohio State game and then the Rose Bowl, where he was beaten deep, and his recovery speed was in question. The combines and workouts overall are important for him. I think he's a mid-first-rounder right now."
No problems with that. Throughout the year it seemed odd that Leon Hall was being talked about like a top-ten pick and a Woodson-Law type corner. Don't get me wrong: Leon was a very good collegiate corner. But he never had that lockdown ability you expect from a guy with that level of hype. As far as corners of the last decade or so go, the list is like this:
- Enormous, Weis-sized gap.
- Similarly sized gap.
- Hall, Jackson
I think I'll have something more on this Delaney thing soon. I mean, lord knows I don't want to. It's been my longstanding opinion that the top five conferences are all fairly equal -- though if Miami and FSU don't pull out of their tailspins, the ACC isn't -- and arguing about which conference is incrementally better this year is a stupid and boring conversation to have. But Delaney and the Big Ten have been getting hammered ever since OSU didn't show up for the MNC game (and, granted, Michigan didn't show up for the Rose Bowl) by people who think the result of whatever the last game was is the way all future contests will go forever and ever.
A couple quick things, though. BGS posts something called "Big Tenvy" that has a nice table of the 19 recruits offered by both Big Ten and SEC schools this year, notes that 15 of them went to SEC schools, and claims that this effectively disproves the infamous Delaney line about not having six top-ten classes because of the modicum of scruples the Big Ten chooses to maintain or whatever. (<-- Delaney's words paraphrased and not, at this time, an expression of personal opinion.) Leaving aside the obvious sample size problems, a subset of players that have been offered by both sets of schools implies that their academics obviously met the standards of both conferences and proves nothing about a hypothetical gray area in which one says OK! and the other NO WAI. But what really drew my ire was the Larry Grant example, which is so dumb it featured heavily in a Matt Hayes article. General rule of thumb: if Matt Hayes is using something, run away. BGS excerpt:
Originally from Georgia, Grant selected Florida but could not qualify academically. After completing some make-up work he then enrolled at, you guessed it, Ohio State. Tell me again which conference had the higher standards?
Excerpt from BGS-linked article:
Although Grant landed at OSU, that was not his original destination. A few months ago, he was committed to Florida and all but had his bags packed for Gainesville. Originally from Norcross, Ga., an Atlanta suburb, Grant intended to play in the Southeastern Conference.
Then came the revelation that he had not passed a math course that the SEC requires of all junior-college transfers. Florida couldn't take him. He did the makeup work in January, but by then he was a free agent.
The implication of this sentence is that by the time Grant committed to OSU, he was eligible to play anywhere in the SEC. Second excerpt:
Tressel is not a fan of junior-college transfers, primarily because they can be in the program three years at the most. In his five years at OSU, he had not signed any, although he had inherited two, receiver Chris Vance and linebacker Jack Tucker.
Criticizing Ohio State and the Big Ten for taking an SEC-eligible Larry Grant when he's the only JUCO Ohio State has taken in five (now six) years of recruiting is something only Matt Hayes could come up with, and BGS should be embarrassed that they resorted to it.
Meanwhile, over at EDSBS Orson takes a look at the 2002 Michigan and Florida classes and checks them for relative flameouts. There are a lot of ways a player can fail to serve out their eligibility, and only some are ethically dubious. A rough division:
- Playing-time-related transfer.
- Playing-time related departure from team -- ie: buried so far on the bench the only chance you'd have to play is if the walkons all tear their ACLs. Most schools retain the option to cut guys after their fourth year.
- NFL departure (within reason: if you aren't going on the first day that's sketchy)
SKETCHY IN QUANTITY
- Guys who never qualify.
- Academic washouts.
- Showing your manhood to coeds and such
- Lawrence Phillips
Of Michigan's 21 recruits (Disimone only shows 20, counting Quinton McCoy against 2003, but he first signed a LOI in '02 so it's better to file him here for purposes of this discussion), 12 completed their eligibility. Six were "That's life" departures: Rembert and Guiterrez left so they could play. Kolodziej and Berishaj left because of injuries (2002 was a bad year to be an OL with a last name ending in "J"). Kevin Murphy and Jacob Stewart were not invited back for fifth years because they weren't going to see the field. Only three fall in the sketch category: Greg Cooper, who didn't qualify, prepped, and went to State, Larry Harrison, who loved running around town without pants on, and McCoy, who was an academic washout.
Orson's analysis of Florida's 2002 class, which is similarly sized, shows 13 guys (Orson actually shortchanges UF by undercounting here) who finished their eligibility or left early for the draft. One guy was injured, and another was unambiguously sketchy. The remainder:
Patrick Dosh: Became a pirate at ECU. Yarr for him.
McKenzie Pierre: Robbed Florida fans of an exceptional name by transferring after '04.
Jimtavis Walker: Became a cabbie-mugging Beaver before flunking out completely.
Guys who fell off the face of the earth.
Todd Bunce. D-lineman who fell into Federlineville.
Gavin Dickey: Fleet qb who opted to play British women's sport instead of football.
Ryan Carter, OL: Running guns in Cote d'Ivoire, for all we know.
Placing these guys into one big "didn't finish" category leaves something to be desired. In Michigan terms, there are Matt Gutierrez transfers and Max Martin transfers. The latter are sketchy. We can safely file Walker into "sketchy" and Dickey into "not" (baseball, for those having a hard time translating), the circumstances of the other two transfers and the mysterious disappearances of Carter and Bunce are ambiguous. So Michigan has 18 not sketchy, 3 sketchy; Florida 15 not sketchy, 2 sketchy, and 4 don't knows. Still fairly even. Orson's promised a look at Tennessee, who by dint of sheer numbers can't possibly maintain that sort of good citizenship record.
Anyway: this debate seems to be only starting and since it's the offseason you'll no doubt end up with as much of it as you care to absorb.