October 06, 2008

Around the Nation - Week 6

Some thoughts from week 6 of the football season.

11. Randy Shannon - While it's a little hypocritical for me to say it after defending Charlie Weis last year during a 3-9 season, is it time to maybe start asking some questions about Randy Shannon?? I admittedly don't know much about their depth chart and know they are starting a freshman QB, but that's back to back disappointing losses at home for them. When you lose at home to a UNC team with a head coach in his second year and then follow that up with a blowout loss to a mediocre FSU team, I don't see how Miami is really progressing.

Sometimes you can tell if a coach has the "it" factor, and I have never felt like Randy Shannon had "it." I think he can make them better than they were under Larry Coker at the end of his tenure, but is that really the standard at Miami?? Miami has so many resources at their disposal. A really great coach could win right away at Miami. All you have to do is look at what Butch Davis is doing at UNC with less talent than Randy Shannon had to work with.

It's a little strange down at all the Florida schools right now. If you were a top recruit from Florida, where are you planting your flag in the next four years?? I'm not sure I trust Randy Shannon to get Miami to BCS bowls, I have no idea where FSU is headed, and why does it seem like Urban Meyer is having trouble finding ways to get all those top recruits to fit into his offensive scheme down at Florida?? If there was ever a great opportunity for other schools to dip down into Florida and raid the top talent, now would be the time. I'm assuming Nick Saban is doing exactly that.

10. Are we in the process of witnessing the demise of Nebraska football as we know it?? I know those words have been thrown around prematurely many times about other schools (ND, USC, Oklahoma, Penn State, etc) only to see those schools make a resurgence, but I have to wonder if Nebraska is getting passed up as a program and may never recover.

The previously mentioned schools all have something that Nebraska doesn't seem to have these days: access to talent. When you look at a small state like Nebraska, are they going to be able to get the players that they need to get back to the top?? How is the state of Nebraska any different from Iowa or Kansas or any other of those small population Great Plains states?? Are the players from Missouri and Chicago that used to go to Nebraska now just headed to Mizzou or Illinois or Notre Dame??

Nebraska has great tradition and great fans, but I wonder if that program will ever be a major factor nationally again. They were completely outclassed by Missouri in every way on Saturday night. Missouri was running through their defense like they were playing on air, and it was clear that Mizzou had more talent on the field.

9. Where is CC Sabathia going to end up next year?? I know players say this all the time only to leave for the top dollar, but it really sounds like he would be interested in signing a long term deal in Milwaukee.

I'll just say this. I think CC would be making a big mistake by signing with the Yankees. I know he'd be getting absurd money ($150 million), but he is not a good fit with the Yankees. CC is a great guy and a great pitcher, but he is one of those guys who thrives only when he's comfortable. Color me concerned about CC Sabathia in pinstripes under the scrutiny of playing in New York. It just seems like one of those situations where we'll be reading "CC unhappy in New York and wants a trade" stories about two years into his new deal.

Would Milwaukee even be interested in signing him?? With CC Sabathia, there's always the risk of him putting on a bunch of weight once he gets his big dollars, and there is a LOT of wear and tear on his arm. Even if they got CC at a "bargain" rate of $100 million or whatever, that's still a big percentage of their payroll that they have alotted to one guy. RISKY.

Should be interesting to see how it plays out. I think he'd be wise to stay in the National League. If only the Giants hadn't signed Zito to that AWFUL contract last year, they'd probably be a great fit for him to go with Lincecum and Cain since CC is from the Bay Area.

8. What exactly is Washington trying to accomplish by letting Tyrone Willingham coach out the string here?? Are they actually still undecided about whether they are going to bring him back next year?? His team has CLEARLY quit on him. Willingham is a program cancer. The quicker you get rid of him, the quicker you can start to heal and rebuild as a program. If they aren't doing serious homework right now for their next head coach, they are completely blowing it.

I can't say that I feel sorry for Washington though or their fans. They made an AWFUL hire of a complete failure of a head coach, they clearly didn't do their homework, and they are getting exactly what I expected them to get out of Willingham. If they had done even the slightest bit of investigation into what Willingham was all about, they never would have hired the guy. They could have interviewed any Notre Dame fan about Willingham, and immediately would have crossed him off the list. They got caught up with the PC police and fell in love with the concept of Willingham (Mr. Stoic, black guy, appears to be classy even though he's not, loves talking in cliches if you are into that sort of thing) even though below the surface, there is nothing there. He's the Sarah Palin of college football.

If Washington was smart, they'd be talking to Lane Kiffin or Brian Kelly or some other good young coach right now. Get the guy lined up and let him hit the ground running to try to salvage the recruiting class as soon as the season ends.

Whoever inherits that job is inheriting an absolute mess. If ND is thinking about another home and home series with Washington, I would like to see us hold off on that until about 2013.

7. For all the fuss about the Michigan offense and how bad it has performed, isn't it more concerning for Michigan that their defense has stunk so far this year?? Michigan has a veteran defense that was supposed to be good, but they haven't shut down anyone this year. Is it a scheme thing?? Are the players not fitting in with Rodriguez's scheme??

Even if Rodriguez fixes the Michigan offense, he's not going to produce any Big 10 championship teams at Michigan if he doesn't have top notch defenses to go along with it.

6. My Heisman ballot through week 6

5. Jeremy Maclin
4. Sam Bradford
3. Javon Ringer
2. Colt McCoy
1. Chase Daniels

That's a lot of Big 12 players, so hopefully that list becomes a little more diverse after we see these guys go against each other.

For the record, I've been as uncomfortable with the rise of Missouri as anyone, but I can't deny what they are doing on the field. That game on Saturday night was a bloodbath. Missouri is an offensive machine. They could have put up 70 if they had kept their foot on the pedal.

5. Will Michael Jordan be attending this ND-UNC game on Saturday?? Does he go to UNC football games when he's not running the Charlotte Bobcats into the ground??

More importantly, how much money will MJ have down on this game?? Is he going to try to convince Paxson to throw down $50,000 on the Irish just to get some action?? If only Tiger was an ND alum, they'd probably bet their Nike endorsement contracts or something.

4. The difference betweens the haves and the have nots in college football is clear as day. It's all on the defensive line. The d-line, the d-line, the d-line. If you don't have some big wide defensive tackles who wreak havoc, take on blockers, and clog the middle, you probably don't have a dominating defense. And if you don't have bulldozing, speedy defensive ends who blow by offensive tackles and make the quarterback rush his throws (if they don't sack him first), good quarterbacks are going to be able to pick you apart through the air. Alabama has them, LSU has them, USC has them, and even teams like North Carolina have a couple wide bodies who stuff the run.

A perfect example of how important the defensive line is in college football would be Ohio State. Ohio State is really fundamentally sound, they are disciplined on defense, they stay in their lanes, they wrap up when they tackle, and do all the little things well, but they don't have any gamechangers on their d-line. That's the biggest reason why their defense isn't as good as it's hyped up to be, and also the biggest reason why they've been blown out in all their recent big national games.

Great win for Ohio State to go into Madison and win a tough, physical game, but I can't help but wonder if Ohio State fans are feeling deja vu about this Ohio State program. Look, Jim Tressel can get away with "Tressel Ball" (super conservative, avoid turnovers, tentative offensive game plan, and rely on your defense and special teams) in a game like Saturday night because Wisconsin's offense wasn't going to put up a lot of points even against a susceptible Ohio State defense. He can just play the field position game, keep it close, and pull it out in the fourth quarter. That stuff doesn't work in a game against a USC or LSU though unless your defense is just THAT good, and their defense isn't at that level. Good teams like LSU can score 30+ on that Ohio State defense no matter where they start their drives, so the field position thing doesn't matter. When Ohio State is playing Tressel Ball and playing for field goals and good field position, it's a recipe to fall behind 21-3 in a hurry against a really good team.

While Tressel Ball has won many games for Ohio State, why is Jim Tressel so opposed to the idea of letting it hang out and going for the throat?? He has the talent to do it. They have Pryor, Beanie, good wrs, and a capable line. They had really good field position several times in the first half, but it seemed like they were content to punt and play the field position game. Why not push for a score and put the game away in the first half??

Different strokes for different folks I guess. You can't deny Tressel's record, but it seems like he squanders opportunities to put games away.

3. Most underrated NFL team: Washington - Is Washington one of the 2-3 best teams in the NFL right now?? For some reason, I've watched Washington three times this year, and I am impressed with them. Their defense is really really good, and their offense is starting to hit its stride a little bit. Washington physically dominated both Dallas and Philly on the line of scrimmage. Seems like we've been hearing about a breakout season for Jason Campbell for years, and he is really starting to play well. Perhaps Daniel Snyder has finally found himself a quality head coach with this Jim Zorn guy.

Most overrated NFL team: Dallas - Watching Dallas when they are hot is like watching a clinic in football, but there's something about the Cowboys that makes me a little leery of how good they actually are. The elephant in the room with Dallas is that they are a bit shaky in two very important areas: quarterback and head coach. Wade Phillips got outcoached yesterday by Marvin freaking Lewis. MARVIN LEWIS!! No joke. I just can't trust Wade Phillips in a big playoff game when he is getting outcoached regularly by guys like Marvin Lewis (who apparently has been told by Bengals management within the last week that he can be head coach for life....Bengals football 1990-forever....good times!). Dallas is probably the most talented team in the NFL, but they seem to fold up in big games way too much and it's unclear how mentally tough they are.

As for Romo, I really like Tony Romo and think that he has some Favre-like qualities and a lot of guts, but how many times do we need to see this guy throw a backbreaking INT in the worst possible spot before people start questioning whether he can win a Super Bowl?? If you had a choice between Romo and Eli Manning (who is quietly turning into the next Tom Brady) in a big game, is there any doubt who you would go with at this point??

2. As for the Irish, where would this team be without Jimmy Clausen?? If you took him off the roster and put Evan Sharpley in at QB, we'd probably be around 2-3. Clausen is going to have to carry this team again this week against North Carolina and for the rest of the season.

Are there 5 quarterbacks in America better than Jimmy Clausen?? I'm not completely sure that there are. Every ball he throws is a bullet. I haven't seen any other quarterback throw a better spiral or a more accurate deep ball than Jimmy Clausen. It is amazing how much he has matured through the first weeks of the season.

Hypothetical, are we going to be able to hold onto Clausen for four years?? I never would have even raised the question as recently as two weeks ago, but his performance in the last couple weeks has blown me away. I'd have to think about the other QBs who would be draft eligible after the 2009 season, but I can't think of anyone off the top of my head with a brighter NFL future than Clausen. And yes, that includes Mark Sanchez.

Speaking of NFL futures, when was the last time we had a WR who looked like an absolute lock to be a first round NFL pick someday?? Michael Floyd......WOW. This guy is amazing.

As for the ND running game (or lack thereof), we can get away with the lack of a running game against teams like Stanford and Purdue, but it is going to be an uphill climb to beat a USC type team or a big time SEC team in a bowl game with a one-dimensional offense. Trying to fling the ball all over the field is probably not a formula for success against the top level teams. A team like LSU has the athletes in the secondary to hang with our receivers, and they would just pin their ears back and force Clausen to rush his throws if they don't have to worry about our running game. While I am fine with airing it out this year since there is nothing we are going to be able to do during the season to fix the running game, we are going to have to find a way to get some balance in the offense over the next couple years. If the goal for this program is to try to win a championship during Clausen's time at ND, we probably have to find a way to impose our will on teams at the line of scrimmage in the running game. Clausen is a once in a generation type talent for the Irish, so hopefully we find a way to make it happen in the next couple years.

Jeremy, your post below pretty much sums up my feelings on the ND defense. I do agree that we are going to struggle defensively until we get better personnel up front. D-line is a priority for this staff, but we have actually brought in quite a few really good d-line recruits. Between Ethan Johnson, Ian Williams, Brandon Newman, Hafis Williams, Sean Cwynar, we've brought in a load of d-line recruits in the last two years. I think we will know more about our d-line group as those guys start to get more playing time. 2008 is still a transition year for this program for that reason alone.

Just a thought, does anyone think we might benefit from switching back to a 4-3 defense?? I can't help but wonder if our problems stopping the run stem from the 3-4 alignment and the lack of beef up front. Why not occasionally come out in the 4-3 so that we can get Ethan Johnson, Kuntz, Ian Williams, and Justin Brown all on the field at the same time?? Wouldn't we be a better run-stuffing unit if we had Ethan Johnson on the field instead of Harrison Smith?? Just a thought.

What happened to Kerry Neal?? He has NINE tackles so far this year. NINE. Holy cow, he has done nothing so far. I feel like I haven't heard his name much this year, and the stats confirm it. Darius Fleming is a true freshman who doesn't even play that much, and he has more tackles than Kerry Neal.

While it has been nice to get build a little momentum and unlock this offense the last couple weeks over two lousy Purdue and Stanford teams, it is time to see this team in a big game against a good opponent. College football is about the big games, and next week is going to be a big one in Chapel Hill. UNC is a legit top 20 team, and they are going to be jacked up to play the Irish at home. I've had a chance to watch them a few times, and they are the best team we've played so far this year. Can we win?? Absolutely, but it's certainly going to be a tough game.

We are clearly a much improved team and have made great strides through the first five games, but the next four games will be a great test to see how good we are as a team this year. I think it's a strong possibility that UNC, Pitt, and BC will all be ranked when we play them.

Should we be ranked this week?? Probably not. Let's be honest, Stanford is barely a top 70 team this year, and Purdue might be even worse. We played fairly well in both those games, but I can understand why pollsters are reluctant to move us into the top 25. I am a fan of the Jay Bilas approach when it comes to rankings. Who did you play, and who did you beat? Our best wins are over a 2-3 Michigan team and a 3-3 Stanford team that lost by 24 to Arizona State and by 17 to TCU. Beat UNC, and we absolutely should be in the top 25 (if not the top 20).

The future is bright in South Bend without question, but we probably won't know about the 2008 edition of the Fighting Irish until about 7:oo pm on Saturday evening. Hopefully Michael Jordan will be wallowing in his sorrows about losing another $100,000 betting on the Heels. Maybe Clausen and Floyd will be so impressive that MJ stores those two names in the back of his mind for future endorsement deals come draft day in the spring of 2011.

1. The WEISND week 6 power poll:

7. Penn State
6. Texas
5. LSU
4. USC
3. Oklahoma
2. Missouri
1. Alabama

These rankings are very fluid of course, but Missouri needs to be rewarded this week for that dominating performance in Lincoln. And don't look now, but that fairly comfortable win for Mizzou over Illinois isn't looking too bad at this point either. The Big 12 will shake itself out over the next month or so.

For what it's worth, I watched a good chunk of the Texas-Colorado game (mainly for fantasy football reasons), and Texas is really good this year. Their defense is awfully tough. That Texas-OU game is going to be interesting.

As far as LSU is concerned, they will have plenty of opportunities to climb back up this poll with Florida and Georgia coming up, but their best win at Auburn suddenly doesn't look as great after that Auburn meltdown in Nashville.

Alabama has a great chance to stay on top of this poll for several weeks (although we'll have to see what Georgia does in the next month). That Alabama-LSU game in Baton Rouge is already looming large.


Jeremy said...

On your defensive question Doug - I believe right now our personnel would be MUCH better suited to run a 4-3 defense. Laws and Landri showed that smaller D-linemen can play inside with that scheme and still be effective. Guys like Kerry Neal and Darius Fleming are probably ideally DEs in a 4-3 look. They're both going to end up being out of position in a 3-4...too small to play on the end and perhaps a step slow to play OLB in a 3-4.

But Corwin Brown is our current DC, and he's a 3-4 guy. I'll cop to liking the idea of a 3-4. Stick a couple huge dudes up front to keep the O-line busy, letting the linebackers fly all over the place and make the plays. Problem is, we don't have the big guys up front, and our LBs just aren't that good right now. Maybe tossing out a front of Nwanwko, I. Williams and Newman could occupy some space. But one guard or tackle can pretty much handle a guy like Justin Brown or Pat Kuntz, allowing the other lineman to move up to the next level and take the LB out of the play. Not even Ian Williams can successfully demand double-teams yet. We're just very green and very small up front, and a straight 3-4 doesn't seem to make much sense with this personnel.

I know there are signs that Tenuta has been winning the argument against the 3-4 and as such we've been tossing a bunch of junk defenses out there, but this strategy isn't working either.

Matt said...

No Heisman Top 5 is complete without Graham Harrell.

I'll go ahead and say it. The Big 12 has surpassed the SEC, at least for this year. Alabama is legit, I think LSU is, and there is a pretty big dropoff after that. In my mind, the jury is still out on UGA and Florida joining those two as top tier teams. Meanwhile, Oklahoma, Missouri and Texas are all potentially great teams, and the jury is out on Texas Tech.

Who in the SEC could score enough to keep up with offenses led by Bradford, Daniel and McCoy (and maybe Harrell). I think Alabama could, but I have serious doubts as to whether any other SEC team besides Florida when they're running on all cylinders could keep up with those three. And this is coming from an SEC apologist.