Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Labor Day Weekend College Preview

I am heading north to Winston-Salem on Thursday to watch my Deacons take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in a game with definite BCS implications; of which I am not yet sure. While my presence in no way guarantees a Wake Forest victory, it does indeed increase the level of attractiveness of the young male population in Groves Stadium. With that out of the way here is the inaugural edition of what is to become a weekly piece; the college football weekend preview.

Weekend Six-Pack: In this section I will attempt to correctly predict the winner of 6 college football games through foolproof methods such as rolling dice, flipping coins, and ascertaining the position of heavenly bodies. I will dutifully make sure all of the 6 BCS conferences are represented. Typically, the game I choose to predict will be the ‘marquee’ game in that conference for that particular week.

ACC Game: Miami at Florida St.
I’m as surprised as anyone that Wake/Vandy is not the ACC’s top game this weekend. Miami, to put it simply, owns Florida St. The Seminoles have not beaten the ‘Canes since I was a senior in high school. Back then, Y2K was still several months away, Britney was still wholesome, and Lancaster did not have a Taco Bell. Florida St. will take the collar against Miami for my college career as they lose their 7th in a row in the series.
Winner: Miami

Big East Game: Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
The Irish battle the Panthers in a prime time tilt to open the season. Pittsburgh QB Tyler Palko and WR Greg Lee are the best players on the field and will prove to be the difference in a closely contested game.
Winner: Pittsburgh

Big 10 Game: Bowling Green at Wisconsin
Bowling Green goes into Camp Randall Stadium with Omar Jacobs, one of the top QBs in the nation. Bowling Green has played in hostile environments before, having lost by only 16 points last year at Oklahoma. No Erasmus James means no pass rush, so Jacobs will have time to throw against the Wisconsin defense. Wisconsin relies on its defense to win games and will not be able to win a high-scoring affair.
Winner: Bowling Green

Big 12 Game: Texas A&M at Clemson
In a courageous move, Texas A&M will travel to Clemson to open the season in prime time. The Aggies dominated last year’s game 27-6, but Charlie Whitehurst and the Clemson offense are simply too good to have another season where they struggle to score. Clemson also has a new offensive coordinator which should heighten their ability to put points on the board. Clemson wins a close one and gains momentum for the difficult schedule that lies ahead.
Winner: Clemson

Pac 10 Game: Arizona at Utah
Mike Stoops looks for improvement in his second year as coach of the Wildcats, while Utah looks to continue its winning ways under new coach Kyle Whittingham. While Utah will certainly not be as dominating as last year, a win over a lower-level Pac 10 team should be the norm, especially at home.
Winner: Utah

SEC Game: Georgia Tech at Auburn
Auburn will roll at home over the Yellow Jackets despite the loss of their entire offensive backfield. Their defense is simply too tough, and the home crowd will be too much for QB Reggie Ball.
Winner: Auburn

Underdog Section:

This section has 2 parts: Close but no Cigar and Upset City. Pretty self-explanatory.

Close but no Cigar:

Boston College at BYU: Provo is never an easy place to play, and despite the fact that BYU has been down in recent years, they should still give BC all they can handle.

Maryland Vs. Navy (Baltimore): Maryland’s offense got their struggle on last year finishing 109th in scoring offense. Their defense was the sole reason they won 5 games, including an upset over Florida St. Navy has shown steady progress under Paul Johnson (winning 2, 8, and finally 10 games in his 3 seasons), but never beating a legitimate team from a BCS conference (Duke and Vandy do not count). Navy will keep it close, but they simply lack the manpower to finish the job.

Miami (Ohio) at Ohio St.: MAC schools always seem to put a scare into their Big 10 brethren (Ohio St. beat Marshall on a last second FG last season) and occasionally beat them (Bowling Green over Purdue in 2003). Ohio St. has an uncanny knack for playing close games and this should be no different.

Northern Illinois at Michigan: Ditto. Joe Novak is a heckuva football coach, but winning in Ann Arbor will be a monumental task. His Huskies will keep it close, but succumb to Michigan’s superior athletes.

Upset City:

Minnesota at Tulsa: After this game, Glen Mason and his Gophers will indeed be livin’ on Tulsa time. Check out a few posts back and see how the Gophers struggled away from home last season. Tulsa, while certainly not a powerhouse, is just one year removed from a bowl berth so they are no patsy either. Tulsa in a shocker.

Boise St. at Georgia: If Boise is gonna win a road game at a BCS school, this is it. Georgia will be breaking in QB David Greene’s successor. They will also have to replace DE David Pollack, LB Odell Thurman, and S Dr. Tom Davis. Boise on the other hand returns 17 starters and will not be rattled by the atmosphere. Is Mark Richt worried? Boise ever.

Bowling Green at Wisconsin: See 6 Pack.

Enjoy the weekend.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

AFC Preview

AFC East Projected Order of Finish:

New England Patriots
Last Year: 14-2, Super Bowl Champs, yada, yada, yada
This Year: Any discussion of the Patriots must begin with their stellar defense. In 2003 they finished 1st in points allowed and last season they were a close 2nd to Pittsburgh. The loss of LB Teddy Bruschi will be a tough void to fill. The Patriots will attempt to replace him with newly signed LBs Chad Brown and Monty Beisel. Brown comes over from the Seattle Seahawks with a reputation as a fine defender. The only downside is that Brown is hardly a spring chicken. He will be 35 when the season starts. Beisel on the other hand comes to New England from the Kansas City Chiefs. I think it’s safe to say that any LB coming over from Kansas City is a significant downgrade. Chiefs’ LBs appeared to follow Smithian principles and follow a ‘hands off’ approach to opposing running backs. However, in the secondary, New England should be stronger. In the off-season they acquired CB Duane Starks, CB Chad Scott, and drafted Ellis Hobbs from Iowa St. This should prevent them from running help-wanted ads in the Boston Globe for defensive backs. On offense, the Patriots still have Tom Brady, who despite being overrated is still a top 5 quarterback. Corey Dillon also returns to anchor the running game although he may start to slow down as he is 31 this year. The receiving corps should be just as strong as last season. The Patriots lost David Patten, but acquired David Terrell to take his place. While Terrell is no star, his addition should keep the passing game on par with last season.
Summation: New England’s run defense should get worse, but this will be somewhat offset by a better pass defense. The offence should remain about the same; unspectacular, but consistent. The running game may falter somewhat if Corey Dillon shows his age, but Kevin Faulk should be a serviceable back-up. There is no reason to expect any significant gains or losses in the special teams department. Put New England down for 11-13 wins, a 3rd straight AFC East title, and another year of contending for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

New York Jets
Last Year:
10-6, lost to Steelers in Divisional Round
This Year: They rode an easy schedule to a wildcard berth last season. To upgrade in the off-season, they added CB Ty Law to embolden the secondary. On offense, they traded Santana Moss to the Washington Redskins in exchange for Laveranues Coles. This trade appears to be a wash for both parties. Coles and Moss are basically the same receiver, and this trade neither strengthens or weakens the Jets passing game. A significant loss for the Jets on offense was RB LaMont Jordan. Jordan has spelled Curtis Martin the past 4 years in New York and had done an admirable job. A back-up running back is what the Jets will be in need of this year as Curtis Martin is due a serious decline. Not only will he be 32 this year, but he also lead the league is rushing attempts last season. The Jets did address this need by acquiring Derrick Blaylock from Kansas City. It remains to be seen whether Blaylock’s rushing stats were a product of the dynamic Chiefs’ offensive line, or if he is indeed a solid starting running back. Chad Pennington should improve upon last season’s performance as his shoulder appears to be fully healed.
Summation: The Jets defense should improve somewhat with the addition of Ty Law, and pending the running situation with Martin and Blaylock, the offense should also improve with a healthy Chad Pennington. However, this season’s schedule appears to be more difficult than last seasons. Hence, although the Jets may actually be a better team, they will win fewer games. 8 wins sounds about right, which would put them in the playoff hunt until the last few weeks of the regular season.

Buffalo Bills
Last Year:
9-7, no playoffs
This Year: Last season, the Bills were done in by an inept offense and poor luck. Their defense and special teams were top notch, but their offense prevented them from making the playoffs. They also lost 3 games by 3 points or fewer. A few lucky bounces here or there and the Bill could have been 10-6 or 11-5 and a playoff team; and suffered the same fate of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the late 90’s and early 00’s (great defense that couldn't get over the hump thanks to a high school level offense). The defense remains virtually intact with the only significant loss being that of DT Pat Williams. On offense, the Bills decided to change conductors as they let Drew Bledsoe go and promoted J.P. Losman to starting quarterback. If Losman develops the Bills could surprise as he has a very talented backfield mate in Willis McGahee and solid receivers in Eric Moulds and Lee Evans.
Summation: Despite all the potential, 2005 much like 2004, will be a lost season for the Bills. Again, a very talented defense will be wasted while the offense undergoes a Buddhist-type journey to find itself. The defense and special teams should remain strong, but not quite as strong as last season thanks to simple regression to the mean. However, Losman will struggle on offense as most young quarterbacks do (remember, Roethlisberger is the exception, not the rule). McGahee will improve on his sold rookie campaign, but in the end it will not be enough as the Bills will win 7-8 games and miss the playoffs.

Miami Dolphins
Last Year: 4-12, no playoffs
This Year: The biggest off-season acquisition may have been coach Nick Saban. Personally, I have no idea why Saban would leave LSU for the pro ranks. No matter how well he performs in the pro game, in 10 years he probably will not be employed by the Dolphins, and that’s just the nature of the pro game(Bill Cowher has the longest current tenure; this season will mark his 14th with the Steelers). On the other hand, at LSU he could have built up a collegiate power and stayed there until he was ready to retire. But to each his own. Ricky Williams returns, but he will not make much of an impact. Look at his rushing average for the 2003 season (3.5 yards per carry). The year off may actually do him so good in the future as he was likely to break down from overuse. Ronnie Brown is the runner to watch. He won’t have nearly as many holes as he had at Auburn behind Miami’s pitiful line, but as long as he stays healthy, he can be the foundation for the next good Dolphins team. It has recently been reported that Gus Frerotte and A.J. Feeley will alternate turns at quarterback. I don’t understand this move. Neither one exhibits markedly different skills from the other. It’s not like you have to prepare a different gameplan for each of these guys. You simply plan for crap and crappier. On defense Miami loses two stalwarts in CB Patrick Surtain and S Sammy Knight. The defensive line and linebacking corps remain mostly intact.
Summation: Miami will experience some growing pains as they make steady progress back to respectability. They will win more game than in 2004, although not many more. 5-6 wins is the limit for this team.

AFC South Projected Order of Finish:

Indianapolis Colts
Last Year:
12-4, lost to Patriots in Divisional Round
This Year: The offense with Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokley will remain one of the best (if not the best) in the league. Expect some regression from the record-setting year the passing game had last year. The defense also remains mostly the same from last season. The only significant addition is CB Marlin Jackson. Of course, some turnover on defense may have actually helped because that is the one crucial area where the Colts have been lacking in the Peyton Manning era. It has been steadily improving under Tony Dungy, but it is not yet at an elite level. Incidentally, with the Colts offensive prowess, it may never have to reach elite status for the Colts to bring home the Lombardi Trophy.
Summation: The Colts run roughshod over this division on their way to 11-13 wins. The holes in the defense prevent them from garnering the AFC’s top seed and they eventually lose a playoff game on the road where Peyton Manning is again unjustly vilified for ‘failing to win the big one.’

Houston Texans
Last Year:
7-9, no playoffs
This Year: The honeymoon is over for 4th year coach Dom Capers. In order to keep his job, he probably has to get the Texans into the playoffs. Can he? The offense seems on the verge of a breakthrough. David Carr is entering his 4th season as the starting quarterback. Domanick Davis has proven himself to be a capable runner and a threat in the passing game as well. The receiving corps is also young anchored by big-play threat Andre Johnson. However, there is one problem. When most prognosticators look at offenses, they look mostly at the skill positions (QB, RB, WR), but often overlook the offensive line. And lets just say, the Texans line is certainly not a strength. They gave up 76! sacks in 2002 (last in the league), improved to 35 sacks in 2003, and regressed to 49 sacks last season (27th in the league). If the line gives Carr time to throw and opens up holes for Davis, the offense can be explosive. The defense should be improved with the addition play-making CB Phillip Buchanon. He will team with 2nd year man CB Dunta Robinson to form a formidable duo in the secondary.
Summation: The Texans will do as they have done throughout their existence and improve upon the previous year’s performance. However, it will not be enough. The AFC is very strong (if they played in the NFC they would probably be a Super Bowl contender) and they will finish just out of the playoff picture with 8-9 wins.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Year: 9-7, no playoffs
This Year: The one thing you should take away from the Jaguars 2004 season is that they were damn lucky. They scored 261 points and allowed 280 for a Pythagorean projection of only 7 wins. The Jaguars first 2 games were vintage Deus Ex Machina performances. In Week 1 against Buffalo, they converted several 4th down opportunities on their final drive culminating in a TD pass on the last play of the game. In Week 2 against Denver, despite being outgained by almost 200 yards, they won 7-6 when Quentin Griffin fumbled with under 2 minutes to go and the Broncos within field goal range. To improve their offense in the offseason, Jacksonville drafted Matt Jones in the first round. However, the odds of Jones making a significant impact in his rookie season are small for two reasons. One is obvious, he is a rookie, and the other is because he played quarterback in college. On defense, the Jaguars added Reggie Hayward at DE to improve their pass rush, and added CBs Scott Starks (draft) and Kenny Wright (free agent) to improve their pass coverage.
Summation: The Jaguars are a playoff team if: Byron Leftwich improves dramatically from a caretaker QB to a playmaker QB, Fred Taylor stays healthy *snickers*, and Matt Jones develops into a competent receiver. The offense must improve from their dismal showing last year (29th in the league) especially in a division with such potent offenses. All these thing won’t happen and the Jaguars will win 7-8 games and be utterly mediocre.

Tennessee Titans:
Last Year:
This Year: This could be one of the more exciting teams to watch in 2005. No they probably won’t be very good, but their offense could be very high-scoring. The addition of Norm Chow and the healthy return of Steve McNair could be a prolific combination. I for one am very anxious to see how Chow performs in the pro game as his offense was at times unstoppable at the collegiate level. The much ballyhooed addition of RB Travis Henry will not be of much consequence. He simply wasn’t that good in Buffalo, although he was far from bad. As long as he cuts down on his fumbles, he will give the Titans an average performance from the running back position. The defense on the other hand would love to be league average. The Titans were 30th in the league in points allowed and 30th in yards per pass attempt allowed. Things will get a little better with addition of Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, but no matter how well he plays or how many ghosts he eats, Tennessee will still likely be on the wrong side of the points allowed distribution.
Summation: Perhaps the movie Unbreakable was a biography for Steve McNair? McNair will lead the offense down the field time and again only to have the Titan’s defense extend the same courtesy to the opposing team. 6 wins and 16 very exciting games are in store for Titan’s fans in 2005.

AFC West Projected Order of Finish:

Kansas City Chiefs
Last Year: 7-9, no playoffs
This Year: In what could be a case of ‘too little, too late’; the Chiefs bolstered their defense in the off-season with the additions of CB Patrick Surtain, S Sammy Knight, and LB Kendrell Bell. With these trimmings, the Chiefs’ defense should improve from horrid to mediocre. The Chiefs high-powered offense remains intact. There is but one problem. Almost every member of the offense is old enough to join the AARP. QB Trent Green is 35, RB Priest Holmes is 32 and played in only 8 games last season, WR Eddie Kennison is 32, G Will Shields is 34, T Willie Roaf is 35, and C Casey Wiegmann is 32. The Chiefs strength is their offensive line and if any of the gentlemen miss significant time, the offense will struggle. If Priest Holmes is out for an extended period, Larry Johnson has proven to be a capable runner in his stead.
Summation: This is the last year that this Chiefs’ core has a chance to contend for the NFL championship. One of 2 things will happen this year: The offense will continue to roll and the defense will improve making the Chiefs one of the leagues top teams, or the offense will collapse with age like the 2003 Oakland Raiders and the defenses marginal improvement will not be enough to stave off a 5 win season. I believe the Chiefs’ offense has one more good year left, and they will capitalize on this opportunity. 11-13 wins and a Super Bowl berth are in the cards.

Denver Broncos
Last Year:
10-6, lost to Colts in Wildcard Round
This Year: This off-season, the Broncos imported almost the entire Cleveland Browns defensive line to the mile high city. Ebenezer Ekuban, Gerard Warren, and Courtney Brown all made the trek westward. Consequently the front four should not be as strong as last season. The Broncos still have CB Champ Bailey to shut down opposing receivers. They also attempted to give Bailey some help in the secondary by using their first 3 draft picks on CBs (Darrent Williams, Karl Paymah, and Domonique Foxworth). On offense the Broncos should remain relatively stable. QB Jake Plummer should remain erratic yet effective. WR Rod Smith should start declining as he is 36 years old, but WR Ashley Lelie should improve in his 4th season resulting in a wash. Whomever Mike Shanahan decided to plug in a running back should generate solid production.
Summation: Broncos fans should expect more of the same. Another 10 win season, and another loss in the Wildcard Round.

San Diego Chargers
Last Year:
12-4, lost to Jets in Wildcard Round
This Year: Is Drew Brees the answer? This season will go a long way toward determining the correct response. Brees, TE Antonio Gates, and RB LaDainian Tomlinson all return. Tomlinson should improve upon his 2004 numbers (a low 3.9 yards per carry) and Gates should continue to improve. Brees should remain an above average QB, but expect a marginal decline from last years tremendous numbers. On defense, the young secondary remains intact. A good thing too, considering the offenses that exist in this division. Expect marginal improvement from CBs Quentin Jammer and Sammy Davis and S Terrence Kiel. Donnie Edwards should continue to anchor a strong linebacking core that may regress somewhat thanks to age and injury.
Summation: The offense should be similar and suffer only a minor decline and the defense should be somewhat better than last season. So why are the Chargers picked to finish 3rd? Look at the schedule. Non-division road games at New England, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New York (Jets), and Washington make this schedule a killer. Expect 7-8 wins, but in actuality a better team.

Oakland Raiders
Last Year:
5-11, no playoffs
This Year: The offense added Randy Moss. This instantly makes Kerry Collins a bonafide fantasy stud. The Oakland offense should be spectacular in 2005 with Moss drawing coverage away from Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry. They also added RB LaMont Jordan who performed admirably in relief of Curtis Martin in New York. On defense the Raiders lost one of their best playmakers in the secondary, CB Philip Buchanon. This means that CB Charles Woodson will have to anchor the secondary with rookies Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt. Not a good thing in a division with so many talented offenses. On defense, the duo of DT Ted Washington and DE (in the 3-4) Warren Sapp would do well in an eating or hyperventilating contest, but not stuffing the run or sacking the quarterback. They are simply too old to be effective.
Summation: The Raiders will play in a number of high-scoring affairs, and will even win some of them. The Raiders will win 6 games in 2005, and if they improve the defense could be legitimate contenders in 2006. On a side note, the 2005 edition of the AFC West should be as fun to watch as the old AFL West. Instead of John Hadl, Len Dawson, and Daryle Lamonica, we have Drew Brees, Trent Green, and Kerry Collins.

AFC North Projected Order of Finish:

Cincinnati Bengals
Last Year: 8-8, no playoffs
This Year: QB Carson Palmer, WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Whosyourdaddy, and RB Rudi Johnson are ready to make a quantum leap forward and take Cincinnati to the playoffs for the first time since the fall of the USSR. On defense the Bengals drafted LBs Odell Thurman and David Pollack from Georgia. The secondary should build on its improvements in 2004. CBs Deltha O’Neal and Tory James will lead the way and youngsters CB Keiwan Ratliff and S Madieu Williams will be much improved in their second year.
Summation: An explosive offense and a resurgent defense will lead the Bengals to 12 wins (their first double digit win season since the Berlin Wall fell).

Baltimore Ravens
Last Year:
9-7, no playoffs
This Year: The Ravens D will remain stout as always. In the off-season, they added CB Samari Rolle to compliment S Ed Reed and CB Chris McAllister. On paper this appears to be an absurd pass defense. The linebacking corps is again lead by Ray Lewis who, although he may be slowing down, is still one of the best in the game. They also drafted DE/LB Dan Cody from Oklahoma who could become a dynamite pass rusher to compliment DE/LB Terrell Suggs. The offense will be what makes or breaks this team. More specifically, QB Kyle Boller. The addition of Derrick Mason should improve the passing game and the running game should remain relatively strong with Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor.
Summation: Any type of offensive contribution should have the Ravens looking at 10-11 wins and a Wildcard berth.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Year: 15-1, lost to Patriots in AFC Championship Game
This Year: The Steelers went 15-1 last year but only had a Pythagorean record of 12-4. Of the other teams that went 15-1, the 1985 Bears had a 14-2 Pythagorean record and the 1998 Vikings had a 13-3 Pythagorean record. The Bears team won 14 games the next year, but the Viking only won 10. Therefore, there is some precedent for a large dropoff in wins after winning 15 games. Combine this with the fact that the Steelers lost WR Plaxico Burress and may have a less than 100% Hines Ward after his hold-out, it is not inconceivable for the Steelers to drop out of the playoff picture. The Steelers defense was great last year, but it consisted of many of the same players who were part of a merely average defense the year before. QB Ben Roethislisberger showed he was a rookie at times down the stretch last year. Expect some growing pains in his second season especially of Jerome Bettis or Duce Staley declines or misses significant time.
Summation: The Steelers had their Super Bowl chance last season. They are almost a mirror image of the 1998 Vikings (remember mirrors exchange the right and left side in their refelction). The Vikings went 15-1 with a great offense and above average defense. The Steelers went 15-1 with a great defense and an above average offense. The Vikings slumped to 10 wins the next year and won 11 games the next year in a division that is weaker than the one the Steelers currently occupy. Greatness is hard to maintain, and the Steelers defense will again be solid, but to expect a repeat of last year is foolish. The competition is stronger with the Bengals and Ravens both improving. Pittsburgh will not be bad by any stretch, but they will only win 8-9 games and barely miss out on a playoff berth.

Cleveland Browns
Last Year:
4-12, no playoffs
This Year: A new coach and A New Hope come to Cleveland. Just as Luke Skywaler had it rough at some points in his journey, so too will Romeo Crennel. The Browns lost almost their entire defensive line to the Broncos, which may not exactly be a bad thing. The Browns also rid themselves of QB Jeff Garcia who didn’t fit into the system Butch Davis was running. In his stead they signed Trent Dilfer and drafted Charlie Frye from Akron (I guess MAC is the new black). On defense, the Browns added CB Gary Baxter to improve their secondary. However, there is not much else to like about this squad.
Summation: I believe Crennel is the right man for the job, but he may have to go through a few Empire Strikes Back hardships before he turns this franchise around. 3 or 4 wins and that’s it.

Friday, August 26, 2005

What's In a Name?

Shakespeare’s Juliet asked, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

As some of you may know, I am currently hard at work writing a book on the history of the National Football League; more specifically on who the greatest quarterback of all time is. Unfortunately, I will not be answering that question in this post. However, what I will be doing is probably more entertaining. What follows is a list of some of the more interesting names I have come across while doing my research. Enjoy.

Dirty Names:
Dick Shiner- yep that’s his name
Dick Wood- ditto
Dick Butkus- everyone has heard of him
Lynn Dickey
Chuck Long- in the context of the previous 4 he fits right in; also runner-up to Bo Jackson for the Heisman Trophy
Todd Philcox
Boobie Clark- real name is Charles

Not who you think:
Randy Johnson- bad quarterback not ace pitcher
Bob Jones
Sam Adams- the Brew Master

No Relation:
Don Trull- not Jethro’s brother
Neil Lomax- no relation to Bernie
Terry Nugent- can’t play guitar
Eric Wilhelm- not related to the Kaiser

Steve Sloan
Bob Berry
Doug Dressler
Dan Darragh
Larry Lawrence
Gale Gilbert
Mark Malone
Mike Moroski
Ken Karcher
Bubby Brister
Tom Tupa
Cody Carlson
Steve Stenstrom
Moses Moreno

King Hill- middle name not ‘of’; actual name Stuart King Hill
King Corcoran- James Sean Patrick Corcoran; I would have gone by King too
Terry Nofsinger
Cotton Davidson
Larry Rakestraw
Tobin Rote

Turk Schonert- was young at one point
David Archer- not as accurate (50.8% completion) as his name would suggest
Stoney Case- sounds like a Flinstones’ character
Spergon Wynn
Milt Plum
Alge Crumpler
- I didn’t like him at first, but he grows on you
Clyde Goodnight
Weldon Humble


For Ro:
Leo Hart

For Young James:
John Hufnagel- son, Duane (WR), would lead Idaho Vandals to the top of college football under the tutelage of an offensive genius

For Felipe:
John Friesz- everybody chill

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dome Sweet Dome

4 Division I-A football teams play their home games in domes. They are Syracuse, Minnesota, Tulane, and Idaho. In 2004, each school performed dramatically better at home than they did on the road. It has long been supposed that dome teams in the NFL struggle when they are forced to play outside on grass. Does this same dichotomy exist in NCAA football? The following is home/road breakdown of the 4 dome teams in 2004 including home/road record, points per game, points allowed per game, and opponent's record for all games and for conference games.

Home: 4-1 30.6 ppg 23.2 papg Opponent’s Record: 36-23
Road: 2-4 20.0 ppg 29.5 papg Opponent’s Record: 36-34

Home: 3-0 40.3 ppg 30.7 papg Opponent’s Record: 20-15
Road: 1-2 24.3 ppg 26.0 papg Opponent’s Record: 19-16

Syracuse was drastically better offensively and defensively inside the Carrier Dome. Their only loss was a 4 point defeat at the hands of Florida St (9-3). They also defeated bowl participants Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Pittsburgh in the friendly confines. Away from home they lost to Big East luminary Temple. In fairness, they did defeat Boston College on the road, but otherwise they performed atrociously with all their road losses coming by 10 points or more.

Home: 5-1 38.5 ppg 15.8 papg Opponent’s Record: 32-27
Road: 1-4 22.0 ppg 32.4 papg Opponent’s Record: 30-28

Home: 3-1 32.8 ppg 13.3 papg Opponent’s Record: 23-23
Road: 0-4 19.0 ppg 36.5 papg Opponent’s Record: 26-21

Much like Syracuse, Minnesota played substantially better offensively and defensively at home. In conference games the disparity is an astonishing 23 points per game difference on the defensive end. At home Minnesota’s only loss was by 2 points to Iowa (10-2). On the road, they suffered expected defeats to Michigan and Wisconsin, but they also lost to Michigan St. (5-7) and Indiana (3-8).

Home: 4-2 34.3 ppg 33.7 papg Opponent’s Record: 40-30
Road: 1-4 18.8 ppg 31.8 papg Opponent’s Record: 21-35

Home: 2-2 31.3 ppg 43.3 papg Opponent’s Record: 27-20
Road: 1-3 21.8 ppg 32.8 papg Opponent’s Record: 18- 27

Tulane’s offense was significantly better at home, and their defense was equally awful both inside and out of the Super Dome. The high papg for home conference games is a function of a pair of double-nickel games against UAB and Louisville. However, against UAB the plucky Green Wave managed to score 59 of their own. Against Louisville, they managed only 7.

Home: 2-1 32.3 ppg 24.0 papg Opponent’s Record: 12-21
Road: 1-8 16.4 ppg 44.6 papg Opponent’s Record: 55-49

Home: 2-1 32.3 ppg 24.0 papg Opponent’s Record: 12-21
Road: 0-4 14.3 ppg 36.5 papg Opponent’s Record: 22-24

No that’s not a misprint; Idaho played only 3 home games last season. And while the real Vandals sacked Rome, these Vandals merely got sacked. They were equally terrible at the Kibbie Dome and in hostile territory. Their non-conference slate included games at Boise St., Oregon, Washington St., and Hawaii.

Be forewarned that this is only one season’s worth of games, but in a future post I plan to analyze the road struggles of these dome teams over an extended period of time compared to the ‘average’ NCAA football team’s road record.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Mild, Mild Mess

On the morning of August 17, the NL West standings are as follows:

San Diego Padres 59-59
Arizona Diamondbacks 56-64
LA Dodgers 54-64
San Francisco Giants 52-66
Colorado Rockies 45-75

The NL West champion is in very real danger of finishing with a losing record. Is there any precedent for this in Major League history? Sort of.

Baseball has a labor stoppage and the season is divided in two. Each division has a first half and a second half champion. The Kansas City Royals won the second half of the AL West with a record of 30-23, but had an overall record of only 50-53. Kansas City is dispatched in a 3 game sweep by the New York Yankees in the Division Series round of the playoffs.

In the first season of baseball’s new three division format, the AL West was home to a quartet of losers. Unfortunately, 114 games into the season, the players went on strike preventing the first playoff appearance by a losing team in a full season’s worth of games. It is highly likely that the winner would have finished the year with a losing record. Here are the standings as of the strike:

Texas Rangers 52-62
Oakland A’s 51-63
Seattle Mariners 49-63
California Angels 47-68

So how likely is it that the NL West champion will be a team with a losing record? Let’s analyze the top 3 teams.

San Diego:
Through 118 games San Diego has played 59 games at home and 59 games on the road. At home they are 32-27, while away from home they are 27-32. So who is left on the schedule? They play only 11 more games currently against teams with winning records: 2 on the road at Florida, 3 at Atlanta, 3 home games Houston, and 3 home games against Washington. The majority of San Diego’s remaining schedule consists of an equal mix of home and road dates against NL West opponents. If San Diego can take car of business against its similarly flawed NL West brethren they should finish the year a little north of the .500 mark.

Through 120 games Arizona has played 59 at home and 61 on the road. However, they have a better road record (29-32) than home record (27-32). The Diamondbacks play only 9 more games against teams with winning records: 2 on the road at St. Louis, 4 against the Mets in Phoenix, and 3 against Philadelphia in Phoenix. Arizona’s remaining schedule also consists of mostly home/road dates against division rivals. However, they must win almost 60% of their remaining games (25 out of 42) to simply finish with a non-losing record.

Through 118 games the Dodgers have played 59 at home and 59 on the road. At home they are almost dead-even (29-30) while on the road they are only 25-34. Their remaining schedule consists of 9 games against teams with winning records: 2 at Atlanta, 4 at Florida, and 3 against Houston in LA. Like their main competition, the backend of their schedule consists of an equal mix of home and away games against division rivals. To finish 81-81 the Dodgers must go 27-17 the rest of the way.

Final Prognosis:
If the NL West champion is to finish with a winning record it will be San Diego. Arizona and LA have fallen too far below the .500 mark to finish the year with more than 81 wins. And while there is no hisorical baseball comparison for a team winning their division with a losing record over a full season; they certainly wouldn't be the first entity from out west to win when they really lost.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Legends of the Fall

You could have forgiven Virginia Tech fans for fearing their seemingly annual swoon had started a month early when kicker Brandon Pace missed a 43-yard field goal attempt as time expired resulting in a 17-16 setback at NC St. last September. However, unlike the past few years, the Hokies shook off the defeat and won their 8 remaining regular season games, culminating in a de facto ACC championship victory over Miami in the Orange Bowl. How did the Hokies avoid the late-October/early-November sag that had affected them the past 3 seasons? The answer is simple: They were a better team. Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation. To emphasize this point lets analyze the Virginia tech teams from 2001-2003.

Virginia Tech began the season 6-0. They then proceeded to lose 4 of their last 6 contests and finish 8-4. However, of their first 6 victories, only 2 came on the road – at perennial Big East doormat Rutgers (2-9) and rebuilding West Virginia (3-8). Additionally only 2 of those wins came against teams with winning records – Central Florida (6-5) and Boston College (8-4). In their last 6 games Virginia Tech faced 4 teams with winning records, including Syracuse (10-3) at home, Pittsburgh (7-5) on the road, eventual National Champion Miami (12-0) at home, and Florida St. (8-4) in the Gator Bowl. They lost all 4 of those games. The reason for their slide is pretty evident, they faced stiffer competition.

Virginia Tech began the season 8-0. Just like the season before, they lost 4 of their last 6 and finished 10-4. However, this 8-0 start was not fueled by home dates with lesser competition. At this point in the season, Virginia Tech had won 3 road games, at Texas A & M (6-6), at Western Michigan (4-8), and at Boston College (9-4). They also claimed quality victories at home over Louisiana St. (8-5) and Marshall (11-2). The backend of the schedule was once again strong. The Hokies faced 5 teams with winning records, Pittsburgh (9-4) at home, West Virginia (9-4) at home, Virginia (9-5) at home, Miami (12-1) on the road, and Air Force (8-5) in the prestigious San Francisco Bowl. Virginia Tech managed to win 2 of those games, against Virginia and Air Force. However, they would also lose on the road to Syracuse (4-8). Again the reason for the slide is fairly simple, an upgrade in competition. The road loss to a poor Syracuse team may look like an anomaly, but remember Virginia Tech has only beaten Syracuse once in the Carrier Dome with Frank Beamer as coach (and that required a 55 yard TD run to seal the game by Ron Mexico).

Virginia Tech again began the season 6-0. This year the slide was even more magnified as they lost 5 of their last 7 to finish the year 8-5. Their first 6 games included only one against a team with a winning record, Connecticut (9-3), and only one on the road, at Rutgers (5-7). Their last 7 games included 4 road games and 6 contests against teams with a winning record. The schedule consisted of West Virginia (8-5) on the road, Miami (11-2) at home, at Pittsburgh (8-5), a little breather at Temple (1-11), a home date against Boston College (8-5), at Virginia (8-5), and a shootout with Cal in the Insight Bowl. They defeated Temple and (amazingly) Miami, and lost the remaining 5 games. Again the prime culprit for the slide is the schedule. Without a major upset over Miami, the Hokies would have finished the year on a 1-6 slide.

The Hokies of 2001-2003 were a solid middle of the pack Big East team that fooled the general public into thinking they were a championship contender for several reasons:

1) Frank Beamer, the head coach, who raised the Virginia Tech program from the doldrums in the late 80’s to National Championship contenders in the late 90’s. Too much emphasis was put on Beamer and not enough on the Hokies talent level relative to the rest of the Big East.
2) The legacy of Michael Vick. The Hokies lost only 2 games with Michael Vick at quarterback (to Florida St. and Miami). People, especially the poll voters, tend to overrate teams who performed well the previous year(s).
3) Great starts powered primarily by home games and contests against inferior competition. Poll voters will continue to move ‘name’ programs up in the polls as long as they win. ‘They beat Western Michigan 31-0. They have to be in the Top 10.’ 2002 was the exception, but the next reason still applies.
4) A back-loaded schedule with road games and games against winning teams (and sometimes a combination of both).

2004 was the polar opposite of the previous 3 seasons as the Hokies lost their opening game against eventual National Champion Southern Cal, and began the season only 2-2 after their defeat at the hands of NC St. The schedule was again back-loaded with home games against West Virginia (8-4) and Virginia (8-4) as well as road tests at Georgia Tech (7-5), North Carolina (6-6), and Miami (9-3). This time Virginia Tech finished the season strong because they were a better team.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Landing on their feet?

There is optimism and anticipation for football season in Athens and Champaign this year not normally behooved for teams that finished the previous campaign 4-7 and 3-8 respectively. The reason for this sanguinity is the presence of two recognizable head coaches, Frank Solich and Ron Zook. Solich and Zook share the common distinction of being the guy who followed The Guy. Solich followed Tom Osborne at Nebraska and Zook followed the ol’ ball coach, Steve Spurrier at Florida. Solich and Zook were both canned at their respective schools despite the fact that they posted solid winning percentages and frequently took their teams to bowl games. What is their prognosis for success at Ohio and Illinois, not just in 2005 but beyond? One possible way of ascertaining the answer to this question is to look to the past. How have other coaches fared who:
1) replaced a legend
2) enjoyed moderate success following the legend
3) were fired for not being the legend
and finally
4) returned to coaching at another school following their dismissal

I found 4 coaches from the past 30 years who fit all 4 of these criteria. They are Fred Akers, Earle Bruce, Ray Perkins, and Ken Hatfield. Before discussing these gentlemen, here are some coaches who were left out because they did not fit the final standard of returning to collegiate head coaching. I also included where they coached and who they succeeded

Jim Lambright, Washington, Don James
Ray Goff
, Georgia, Vince Dooley
Gary Moeller, Michigan, Bo Schembechler
Gary Gibbs, Oklahoma, Barry Switzer

Now lets concentrate on the 4 coaches who fit all the criteria.

Fred Akers replaced Darrell Royal at the University of Texas in 1977. Royal had been with the school since 1957 and had won 3 national championships. Prior to receiving the job at Texas, Akers coached for two seasons at Wyoming going 10-13 overall and appearing in a bowl game his second year with an 8-4 record. Akers lasted 10 years at the school posting 9 winning seasons and an overall record of 86-31-2. He had only one losing season and his teams appeared in 9 bowl games. Twice his Texas teams finished 11-1 with the both losses coming in the Cotton Bowl denying Texas a chance to win the National Championship. After he was fired for finishing 5-6 in 1986, Royal was hired by Purdue University to resurrect their football program. He was unable to do this. In his four years there, he never won more than 4 games and finished with an overall record of 12-31-1.

Earle Bruce replaced Woody Hayes at The Ohio St. University in 1979. Hayes had won over 200 games and 3 titles at the school. Bruce had coached at Iowa St. the previous 6 seasons, turning around the moribund programs fortunes. He had posted 3 consecutive winning seasons and 2 consecutive bowl appearances. Bruce’s tenure at Ohio St. lasted 9 seasons. He never had a losing season, and missed only one bowl game (his final season when his team finished 6-4-1 in 1987). His team fell one point short of winning the National Championship in his first season falling to Southern Cal 17-16 in the Rose Bowl. In 1988, Bruce coached Division 1-AA Northern Iowa to a 5-6 record. He then took over the Colorado St. program in 1989 and guided them for 4 seasons. He had one winning season (1990) when his team also participated and won a bowl game. He finished his term at Colorado St. with a record of 22-24-1.

Ray Perkins replaced arguably the greatest collegiate coach of all time, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant at Alabama in 1983. Bryant was the NCAA leader in coaching victories at the time of his retirement. Perkins coached the New York Giants in the NFL before he got his ‘break’ at Alabama. His record in 4 seasons was 23-34 with one playoff appearance. At Alabama, he lasted only 4 campaigns, three of which were winning seasons. He took Alabama to 3 bowl games and was fired after a 10-3 season. His final record at Alabama was 32-15-1. After his firing, he returned to the NFL to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was fired 13 games into his 4th season. He never won more than 5 games and finished with a mark of 19-41. Then in 1992, he returned to the college coaching ranks. This move can only be described as an unmitigated disaster as he lead Arkansas St., an independent at the time, to a 2-9 mark. His tenure lasted only 1 year.

Ken Hatfield took over for Danny Ford at Clemson in 1990. Ford may be the least likely of the 3 previous coaches to be called a ‘legend’, but he did deliver Clemson its only title in 1981, and was well-liked by the schools fan base. Hatfield had by far the most head coaching experience of any legend successor. He coached for 5 seasons at Air Force compiling a 26-32-1 record highlighted by bowl victories in his final 2 seasons. He then coached at Arkansas (where ironically Danny Ford would end up after his departure from Clemson) for 6 seasons where he finished with a record of 55-17-1. He never had a losing season and appeared in 6 bowl games. At Clemson Hatfield lasted 4 seasons, 3 of which were winning campaigns. His record at the school was 32-13-1 with 3 bowl appearances. He was fired after the 1993 regular season after posting an 8-3 record. Hatfield landed on his feet in 1994 at tiny Rice University. Hatfield is still there, but his tenure has been a mixed bag of successes and failures. His overall record is only 54-68-1, and he has only 3 winning seasons. He has not appeared in any bowl games, primarily because the WAC does not have as many bowl tie-ins as other conferences. However, when put into proper historical perspective he has had some success. In 2001 his team finished 8-4. This represented the most wins by Rice since 1953!

Now lets analyze Solich and Zook.

Frank Solich had no previous head coaching experience when he replaced Tom Osborne in 1998. He lasted 6 seasons at Nebraska finishing with a final record of 58-19. His teams appeared in bowl games in each season. His best year was his second season when Nebraska finished 12-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl. He was fired after the regular season in 2003 after posting a 9-3 record.

Ron Zook also had no previous head coaching experience when he replaced Steve Spurrier in 2002. His stint at Florida lasted only 3 seasons. His final record was 23-14 and his teams appeared in 3 bowl games and never had a losing season. He was fired prior to the season being complete, but was allowed to finish coaching the regular season.

What then can we expect from Solich and Zook? Zook definitely appears to have the more difficult task. Only one previous guy who replaced The Guy landed at a school in one of the big time (BCS) conferences. This was Fred Akers. Akers ironically landed in the same conference as Zook (Big 10), at Purdue. However, he was not able to turn the program around. As for Zook, he had trouble winning games when he had superior talent, so he will struggle to beat schools such as Michigan and Ohio St. Although he is a gifted recruiter, his talent pool at Illinois will not be as large as it was at Florida. However, with the decline of Penn St., the forthcoming retirement of Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin, and the seemingly perpetual mediocrity at Michigan St., Minnesota, and Northwestern, Zook could turn Illinois into a perennial Big 10 bowl contender (as in Sun or Alamo, not Rose or Outback). Solich on the other hand steps into a small-time program. Solich compares better with Hatfield or Bruce than he does with Perkins thanks to his high winning percentage at Nebraska. Additionally, Solich will not face the academic restrictions that Hatfield does at Rice. Therefore, I feel Solich can resuscitate the Ohio football program as Bruce did for Colorado St. Then, depending on his aspirations (whether Ohio is a stepping stone back to major program or not) Solich can turn the program over to a capable successor (as Bruce did with Sonny Lubick) or he can continue to build the program into a perennial MAC contender.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Prtoecting the Pigskin

A quarterback has many important jobs and responsibilities. One of these is holding onto the football. This aspect is occasionally overlooked because a quarterback’s fumbles are not typically included on the back of his football card with other basic stats such as touchdowns and interceptions. As any fan of football will tell you though, fumbles are an integral part of the game. With this in mind I decided to undertake the task of determining who the most sure-handed quarterback was in 2004.

Let’s start with the obvious; fumbles can only occur when the quarterback is tackled. Therefore it is of little value to rate a quarterback’s sure-handedness based on the number of fumbles per pass attempt. Instead we should only count the number of times the quarterback has been tackled in the equation. Hence the sure-handedness formula is:

Fumbles / (Times Sacked + Rushing Attempts – Rushing Touchdowns)

I computed the fumble percentage for all quarterbacks with significant playing time (at least 160 pass attempts) in 2004. There are 37 quarterbacks who fit this criterion. The league average fumble percentage was 12.7%. The most sure-handed quarterback in 2004 was none other than AP offensive rookie of the year, Ben Roethlisberger with a fumble percentage of only 2.4%.

The complete list:

Player Pct
Ben Roethlisberger 2.4
Carson Palmer 4.8
Daunte Culpepper 6.8
Joey Harrington 7.1
Jake Plummer 7.9
Byron Leftwich 8.1
David Carr 8.2
Marc Bulger 8.8
Matt Hasselbeck 8.9
Chad Pennington 9.8
Michael Vick 9.8
Drew Brees 10.1
Tom Brady 10.1
Brian Griese 10.7
Donovan McNabb 11.4
Kyle Boller 12.6

League Average 12.7

Peyton Manning 13.2
Aaron Brooks 13.7
Steve McNair 14.3
Brett Favre 14.3
Vinny Testaverde 14.8
Billy Volek 15
Drew Bledsoe 15.3
Jeff Garcia 15.8
Eli Manning 15.8
Kerry Collins 17.1
Mark Brunell 17.6
Patrick Ramsey 18.2
Josh McCown 18.5
Trent Green 19.3
Jake Delhomme 21.1
Tim Rattay 22.4
Kurt Warner 23.5
Jay Fiedler 24.3
Chad Hutchinson 27.6
AJ Feeley 27.8
Ken Dorsey 27.8

And tied for last are AJ Feeley and Ken Dorsey who dropped the ball more often than Dick Clark in Times Square at 27.8%.

An interesting aside: Of the starting quarterbacks on the 12 playoff teams from 2004, only 2 fumbled more often than the league average; Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. However, several quarterbacks (Harrington, Griese, Carr) whose teams did not come close to qualifying for the postseason had better fumble rates than the league average. Not sure what (if anything)this means. Any thoughts?