October 27, 2008

Around the Nation - Week 9

Some thoughts from yet another wacky and exciting week of the football season.

12. Dear College football fans,

I come to you in a time of great peril for our beloved sport of college football. While this season has been as exciting and entertaining as ever, I am troubled by the inevitable BCS controversy that we are about to incur. Now that Penn State has cleared their toughest hurdle, they are on the path to a 12-0 season. All it is going to take is one loss out of Texas or Alabama over the next month for Penn State to waltz into the title game. It would be a third straight appearance in the title for game for a team from the Big Ten Conference, which has become a complete embarrassment of a conference and a national laughingstock.

Someone explain to me how we are headed down this path of yet another title appearance for a Big 10 team?? Are you freaking kidding me?? After an entire offseason of every college football fan in America coming to the conclusion that the Big 10 should be banned from BCS title game appearance until they can prove themselves on a big stage against a major opponent from the South or USC, we are now on the verge of forgetting all that and rewarding the pathetic schedules of the Big 10 with another title game appearance?? Even after Ohio State went to USC and got absolutely shredded?? Even when the Big 10 has proven to be even worse than we thought it would be with the down years at Wisconsin and Michigan?? REALLY??

Wake up college football fans!! This is not right. A 12-0 Penn State team will have done nothing to prove that they are one of the top 2 teams in America. NOTHING. Does anyone really believe that Penn State would go undefeated in the SEC or the Big 12?? Cmon, I'm not knocking Penn State, but I don't see how you can slide into the title game when your best win is over an Ohio State team that already got killed by USC.

The thought of a 12-1 Florida or Alabama team coming off an SEC championship victory not having a chance to play in the title game because they lost one game is an absolute abomination to me. The Southeastern Conference has won the last two national titles in convincing fashion over Big 10 teams, and yet they wouldn't have an opportunity to prove to America that they are better than Penn State??? That is absurd.

The need for reform in college football is so obvious that it pains me that it still hasn't happened. One of the reasons that I love sports so much is that the action is so definitive. You get your answers on the field. In every other sport, the champion is revealed on the field. In college football, it is revealed three years before the season when you purposely set up as weak a schedule as possible with an eye toward making a run that year. It has become a beauty pageant and goes against everything that sports stands for. Could you imagine awarding the national championship in college hoops the day after the conference tournaments?? That is what we have in college football.

A new system is needed. The 4 team playoff is intriguing of course, but I still find myself coming back to a boxing style belt system that was hatched by Jeremy a little more than a month ago. I really think he might be onto something. College football is such a regional game that there might be something to the idea of creating regional belts and setting up your postseason in a round robin format. If you want to become a championship team, you have to unify the belts. I think it would be a great way to get championship games in different regions (imagine a title belt game between ND and Alabama in Chicago or something like that), and you would insure that all regions of the country had a say in deciding that year's champion. You could have little regional championships to determine the champions of each of the three regions (North, South, West) and then get started on a three team round robin showdown. I would love to draw up a proposal and send it to the NCAA.

I think the winner of the Bama-Florida/Georgia SEC Championship game should declare themselves as national champions. I'm more than willing to recognize them as a champion. If you go through the SEC with one loss, you deserve to at least play for a title.

If we are subjected to a Texas-Penn State championship game, I am going to strongly consider boycotting the game. They are both good teams that should definitely be in the mix for determining this year's national champion, but I can't stand the idea of a game like that occurring without either team playing USC or the SEC champion. It's not right.

I don't want this post to be construed as a jab at Penn State's team. I think they are very solid team and definitely a top 10 team, but I can't support them being thrown right into the title game after all we have seen out of the Big 10 in the last five years or so.

11. Longtime reader Stan chimed in via email with a VERY interesting scenario:

If Oregon State wins out, they will win the Pac-10 outright. Their remaining schedule is Arizona State, at UCLA, Cal, at Arizona, Oregon. Unlikely they will win out, but if they do, will USC play for the title?

Hmmm, didn't the NCAA change the rule so that you couldn't play in the title game if you don't win your conference?? USC obviously needs some help to get to the title game, but that scenario would be crazy if they had themselves in position to play for the title but didn't win their conference.

10. Since it appears that ND is headed to a bowl this year, it is probably time to start peeking at some possible bowl opponents. If we are headed to the Gator Bowl, it's probably going to be against the #3 team from the ACC. Florida State is starting to emerge as the favorite to win the ACC, and there are a whole host of teams positioning themselves just below them. I really have no idea who to project against us. It could be anyone in the UNC, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia, Miami, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech range. I'd feel ok about playing any of those teams.

The other scenario that is gaining some traction according to the South Bend Tribune is an ND appearance in the Cotton Bowl against the best available Big 12 team not in the BCS. While a trip to Dallas would be fun, the thought of ND going up against someone like Texas Tech or Oklahoma State is a little scary. Not sure if that is the best matchup for us.

Selfishly, I'd like to attend the Gator Bowl, and I think a matchup against a solid ACC team gives us the best chance to win and build some momentum heading into 2009.

9. Take it for what it's worth since I know nothing about the NBA, but I think the Cavs could be a major sleeper team to win the East. I went down to the Cavs-Wizards exhibition game on Friday night and was impressed with the wine and gold. No one is really talking about them this year. Mo Williams is not an all-star point guard or anything, but he's a good player. Most importantly, he can knock down some shots. The Cavs never seemed to have a guy who could consistently hit shots on the perimeter. Mo Williams might solve that problem. They go 9-10 deep now with Lebron, Daniel Gibson, Delonte West, Mo Williams, Sczerbiak, Zydrunas, Varejaeo, Pavlovic, and Ben Wallace. And of course, Lebron is an absolute monster capable of carrying them to the finals on his back. Just one man's thought on the East.

The other big story for me in the NBA is the debut of Greg Oden. Gotta say that I am looking forward to how the big fella looks. Can he become a dominant center in the NBA?? Can he stay healthy?? He has the talent to be a great player, but we'll have to see how much he wants it. The Blazers look like they are on the verge of becoming a great team. They need Oden to live up to the hype.

8. After a quick scroll through the Auburn message boards, it appears that we might want to keep an eye on them as a team that makes a coaching change in the offseason. I would not be surprised to see them get involved in the Will Muschamp sweepstakes, especially since he has some ties to Auburn. Auburn fans appear to be regretting that they missed out on some of the bigger names in the last couple years (Saban, Petrino, etc), so they might be looking to jump on the hot name before he gets snapped up by someone else.

Tuberville and Auburn have had great success in the last 7-8 years, but they are at a bit of a crossroads. Alabama is on the rise, and there's a little fear that Auburn football might take a major step back if they let Bama take over the state. Probably just comes down to whether Auburn thinks that Tuberville can be the guy to lead that program over the next five years and compete with Nick Saban. I really don't know the answer to that question.

By the way, someone has already "parked" the rights to www.firewillmuschamp.com. Probably a great move. He could be a great coach, but he obviously wouldn't be the first guy with no head coaching experience to fall flat on his face. Let's be honest, if he takes an SEC job, he will face heat at some point in his career no matter where he ends up or how successful he ends up being. Kudos to the guy (or girl) who bought the rights to that site. I'm kicking myself for not thinking to do it earlier in the year.

7. My Heisman poll through week 9

1 Colt McCoy
2 Tim Tebow
3 Graham Harrell
4 Sam Bradford
5 Michael Crabtree
6 Knowshon Moreno
7 Percy Harvin
8 Mark Sanchez

This trophy is Colt's to lose.

6. Quick ND hoops thought. ESPN The Magazine's NBA preview has an interesting discussion of the "possession" stat, which I admittedly had no familiarity with until reading the article. It gives you a possession rating based on certain stats that have to do with your value to the team in terms of getting/keeping possessions (Steals, rebounds, turnovers (or lack thereof)). I guess the theory behind the stat is that the more possessions you get for your team, the more opportunities they have to score. Pretty interesting stat, and it occurred to me that I would love to see the "possession" stat for the ND basketball team.

The name that popped off the page for me was Tory Jackson. If you crunched the numbers, I bet that Tory's "possession" stat would probably give you an indication of how we did in a particular game. When he is getting steals and grabbing boards in traffic and avoiding turnovers, he is the engine that makes our team go. On the other hand, when he gets bottled up, we have had problems.

This whole new "stathead" aspect for hoops is interesting stuff. I had no idea that it was as in-depth as it is. The days of looking at points, rebounds, and assists on the box score might be a thing of the past, and we'll all be looking inside the numbers for greater insight into our teams.

5. I wanted to echo Matt's thoughts about Bob Davie from the Big East hoops post. I am so tired of all the Davie bashing. If you listened to the guy on Saturday night, it is obvious that he loves ND and has a great affinity for the school. He was singing the praises of Clausen and Brey and Weis and everyone involved with the school, and I've never heard the guy say a bad thing about ND.

Bob Davie wasn't a great coach, but I think he's a great announcer. Maybe my favorite color analyst other than Gary Danielson. The guy knows football. He certainly knows more about football than guys like Bob Griese or Herbstreit or 90% of the other guys out there doing color analysis. Plus, Davie is just a funny guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. I always enjoy listening to him, and any chance to hear him say "YUUUUUUUUUUGE" every time he's trying to say "huge" is the highest of high comedy

There was some talk on NDNation about making Davie the permanent NBC color analyst for ND football. I like Pat Haden a lot, but I would love that idea. Maybe we could get Davie into a three man booth or something. I would love to see Davie brought back into the fold at ND. Plus, we could make him the permanent pep rally host. I can't tell you how many times I listened to Davie at a Friday evening pep rally speech and felt like I was ready to run through a wall immediately after. The guy always knew how to put on a great pep rally speech.

4. The news that Syracuse has recently hired a search firm to assist with their search for Gregg Robinson's replacement is disturbing on so many levels. If I was the president of Syracuse, I would fire every person in the athletic department who supported the decision the bring back Robinson for another year as a dead man walking. Second, I would apologize personally to every player on the team for ruining their college careers.

What about this 2008 season made Syracuse decide to get rid of Robinson that the 2007 and 2006 seasons didn't reveal already?? Don't they work at the university and observe the guy every day?? Why give him an entire 2008 offseason to further dig your program into a deeper hole?? Absolutely maddening. If they had canned him after last year when it was obvious that he was and always will be a terrible head coach at Syracuse, the new coach could have had all of this past offseason to implement his program. With the right hire, 2008 would be a rebuilding year and they could be contending for a bowl bid as soon as 2009. Now, they are putting themselves another year behind and maybe even two years since the change will kill recruiting.

Washington should be equally ashamed, but we've already covered that one. Now Ty has been fired, so maybe they can start healing. Bunch of racists they are at Washington. I can't believe they didn't give a fine upstanding man like Tyrone Willingham the full five years.

3. Since there has been a lot hand-wringing locally about the Buckeyes the last couple days, I figured I would chime in with a few thoughts. A lot of folks are treating this game as a referendum on the state of the program, and I think that fans are starting to wonder if they should continue to worship at the altar of "Tressel Ball" as the end all be all for winning football games. Fans have tolerated the bad offensive teams under Tressel because of his great record, but I think for the first time fans are starting to really push for some changes to the way that Ohio State plays football. Personally, I've never understood why Tressel Ball is so revered within the Ohio State community. Tressel is bringing in good talent, and I refuse to believe that a good offensive coordinator couldn't develop that talent into some explosive offensive football teams. Why do they need to be so conservative?? When your goal in a big game is to try to get off a good punt, I can't imagine that it gives the players in your offense a whole lot of confidence. It's a philosophy that would seem to lead to players being unnecessarily tight and afraid to make mistakes. Tressel's style of play leaves no margin for error. One fumble or mistake, and you lose.

I don't even want to suggest that Tressel's job is in even the slightest bit of jeopardy (it's not), but a pattern has emerged in his tenure at Ohio State. He has dominated the Big 10 and the Michigan rivalry, but seems to be coming up short quite a bit in the big games against other top 10 teams. Tressel is a very good head coach and great motivator and runs a very disciplined and focused program, but he is certainly not an offensive innovator.

Should be interesting to see where Ohio State ends up in their bowl game. Tressel probably needs to find a way to get a win over a good team this January. Another shaky offensive performance in a losing effort would probably ratchet up some questions and increase the rumblings for Tressel to pull a Mack Brown and hire a top notch offensive coordinator.

Finally, for all your people who are criticizing Terrelle Pryor and labeling him a goat, you are an embarrassment. The kid is a true freshman who is barely out of high school. So he fumbled. Big deal. He also made a number of big plays to get his team into scoring position only to watch the offense go conservative and punt. If his coaches had come up with a more dynamic offensive game plan to put points on the board, that fumble wouldn't have been as costly. Pryor will be a great player someday, but you can't expect the guy to play like an All-American as a freshman. The Buckeyes should stick with him and let him continue to mature. It will eventually pay off.

2. Some quick thoughts on the ND game on Saturday:

- While Washington was obviously terrible, it was nice to see us take control right from the start and pound them. Having had a chance to watch a lot of other teams during the ND bye week and this past Saturday, I sometimes forget how many things we have going for us as a team. There are not a lot of Jimmy Clausens and Michael Floyds out there. Floyd is capable of completely dominating every game that he plays in. Pretty remarkable for a freshman.

-- Obviously tough to tell based on the opponent, but I thought the defense was really aggressive on Saturday. Our blitzes were coming from all areas of the field. Seems like we worked on that in the bye week. I hope our defense plays like that against Pitt and BC.

-- Great day for the running game on Saturday. Love those running backs all of the sudden. Aldridge is really stepping it up lately. Jonas Gray looks like a player as well. We are loaded at tailback. Hopefully the running game continues to progress.

-- Not Clausen's best day, but it's not like the guy wasn't making plays out there. He still made a lot of real good throws.

-- I think our guys fell asleep after we got up early. Hard to blame them. Weis is not the kind of guy who likes to run up the score. I actually think it's a great quality for Coach Weis to be like that. I swear, if anyone tries to use margin of victory against us in the next couple years compared to teams that are notorious for running up the score (OU, Florida, et), I will go to the mattresses for Coach Weis and defend him. He could easily run up the score on teams, but he chooses not to. I like what Weis does. It's the right thing to do.

-- Good win all around for the Irish, and these next two games get more and more winnable. Sounds like Pitt's QB is hurt, and BC got bludgeoned by UNC. We have a great shot to be 9-2 headed to USC.

1. The Week 9 WEISND poll

8 Oklahoma
6 Texas Tech
5 Georgia
4 Penn State
3 Florida
2 Alabama
1 Texas

We're headed for another huge week in college football with Texas headed to Lubbock to play Texas Tech. Should be a madhouse down there.

And it's great to see that the Cocktail Party is going to have a lot at stake. Georgia is peaking at the right time again this year, but Florida has been playing as well as anyone in America the last couple weeks. I think Florida is the best team in the nation right now, but I'll be the first to admit that I have underestimated Georgia the last couple years. Should be an incredible game, and I'm admittedly a little bummed that it's the same time as the ND-Pitt game.

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