July 30, 2009

Big East Preview: Over/unders, sleepers, predictions, fantasy impact, and more

It's that time of year again!! Time to start breaking out the annual college previews. Yes, this is a Notre Dame blog, but we also love all kinds of college football all over the nation. As was the case last year, we relied heavily on the good people over at VegasInsider.com for providing us with a bounty of over/under win totals. Always fun to take a look at those, and I plan on spraying around multiple bets on over/under totals before the season starts.

We'll start this year with the Big East conference, and we're going to try to keep things fresh this year by looking at the league from a number of different perspectives. I also wanted to add in a little fantasy spotlight since it seems like more and more people are starting to see the light and embrace college football fantasy leagues.

Let's get to the preview....

League Overview: Not a very good year for the Big East in 2008. The league champ (Cincinnati) gets blown out in the Orange Bowl, the perennial power (West Virginia) might have made a serious mistake with its head coaching hire, the up and comer (South Florida) hit a major speed bump that might have derailed its path to becoming a powerhouse, the bottom has fallen out for a school that played in a BCS bowl just a couple years ago (Louisville), and the darling of 2007 (Rutgers) is facing a major rebuild only two years later. Oh, and there's always the possibility of Big Ten expansion that could steal away a team and the persistent rumors that the Big East's automatic BCS bid could be in jeopardy if the league doesn't find some answers. Other than that, everything is going great in the Big East.

Not everything is bad in the league of course. There's parity up and down the league, Syracuse could be on the rise, UConn has steadily built itself into a competitive program, and there are actually quite a few good coaches in the Big East. I actually enjoy watching the brand of Big East football that we've seen the last few years. It's a little more wide open and innovative than what you see in the Big Ten for example.

The key for the league in 2009 will be to continue building up some of these fledgling programs (USF, Pitt, Cincy, Rutgers, etc) with the hope that a couple of them break out over the next few years.

Over/Under Win Totals from VegasInsider.com:

West Virginia - 8.5
Rutgers - 8
South Florida - 8
Pitt - 7.5
Cincinnati - 6
Connecticut - 6
Louisville - 5
Syracuse - 3.5

Best Bets (aka bets that won't clean out your online account):

West Virginia - UNDER 8.5 wins

West Virginia is still one of, if not the most talented teams in the Big East, but I can't shake the feeling that they just hired the next Larry Coker. How many times have we seen an assistant take over a loaded program and do well for a year or two before the bottom starts to fall out?? Even last year was somewhat of a disappointment considering that they had an all-time great player in Pat White. Everyone was talking about 10-11 wins for them, and they ended up going 8-4 with a bad loss at home to Cincy and a loss to Pitt in the season finale. If not for Pat White's incredible performance in the Meineke Bowl to carry the 'Neers to a win over North Carolina, it would have been a really shaky debut for the Bill Stewart era.

We almost need to create an "All Stars" group for these interim coaches who win a bowl game or a couple NCAA tournament games and then get hired on as the full time coach even though they're completely in over their head. You could call it the "Brian Ellerbe All Stars" or the "Larry Coker All Stars" or the "Mike Davis All Stars" or any other number of guys. There are so many examples of coaches who have won a major head coaching job just by being in the right place in the right time and by winning the support of their current players. Memo to athletic directors. Never hire a coach just because your players want to keep him around.

WVU had a chance to keep their momentum going after Rich Rodriguez by hiring a big time up and coming coach to take over in Morgantown, and they went out an hired a 56 year old first time head coach whose only claim to the job was that he was lucky enough to be retained by Rich Rodriguez as a quarterbacks coach.

Perhaps I will be completely wrong, but my gut tells me that West Virginia is going to take another step back this year. Noel Devine is back and Jarrett Brown can probably emerge from Pat White's shadow as a good spread quarterback, but I think that program will continue to lose some momentum. They are a lot closer to being a 6 win team than they are to becoming a top 10 team again in my opinion. This program is officially Bill Stewart's program now, and that might not be a good thing.

I think WVU will stumble down the stretch, fall short of the 8.5 number, and Bill Stewart will enter 2010 with a very warm seat.

Cincinnati --- OVER 6 wins

FREE MONEY ALERT!! Always feels good to get that first one out of the year. If you want to make a little money this year, please get yourself to your nearest casino or online sportsbook and bet the "over" on Cincy's win total. I had this one in last year's preview, and I'm guaranteeing it again this year. Cincy is going to leap past that 6 win total with no problem.

Where is the respect for the Bearcats?? VegasInsider had them at 7 wins last year, and they won 9. I think they were at 6 wins in 2007, and won 9. And yet they're still listed at six wins?? I know it's Cincy and that they were a MAC type team within the last five years, but it might be time to start paying attention to what is going on in Clifton these days.

I know UC has lost some serious talent on the defensive side of the ball, so I won't gloss over their issues entirely. UC's defense was probably the best they've had in recent memory, and you could argue that the seniors who "graduated" last year represented the best class in the history of the school. Four guys were drafted in the NFL from their defense last year, and ten starters total are gone. A pretty devastating loss for a program that isn't exactly busing in loads of four and five star players every year.

But there are some big reasons for optimism in the Queen City this year. Quarterback Tony Pike has the ability to be drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft and might end up being the MVP of the Big East this year. Pike came out of nowhere, but he's got some big time ability. At 6'6", 225 pounds with really good mobility, it might be blasphemy to say it, but he reminds me a lot of Brady Quinn. A big guy with good instincts who is dangerous when he gets out of the pocket. Tony Pike is now entering his second year as the starter, and I expect him to be even better this year.

In terms of finding a guy to throw the ball to, the Bearcats have the best receiver in the league in Mardy Gilyard. Not even debatable. Gilyard is an absolute stud and probably should have gone pro after last year. I'm pretty sure he couldn't read "My Pet Goat," but he can burn just about any DB in the country and capped off a monster year with a big game against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Gilyard will be a first day NFL pick next year, and probably will be giving Roger Goodell headaches for many years after.

The other reason to be bullish about the Bearcats in 2009 is Mr. Brian Kelly. The man who could probably run for Mayor in Cincinnati and win. The man who presides over the only good thing going in the Cincinnati sports scene these days besides Xavier basketball. The man who has brought enthusiasm and passion to a program that never had any reason to be excited before. The man who has made UC football fans believe that they really can be a big time football program, and that they might even someday be on par with that school up in Columbus.

Words cannot even begin to describe how much Brian Kelly has meant to the UC football program. Yes, Mark Dantonio helped stabilize the program to some degree from the depths of the Rick Minter era, but Brian Kelly has taken this program to another level. He is recruiting players that never even considered the idea of going to UC in the past, and he has laid the groundwork for dramatic improvements in the facilities for the football program. If you were to tell me ten years ago that Cincy would be building an indoor practice facility for the football program, I would have laughed you out of the room. An indoor practice field?? They were lucky to even have an OUTDOOR field!! And yet Kelly has raised the money to get it done.

I know Brian Kelly has become a whipping boy of sorts from ND fans who don't think he should ever be considered for the ND head coaching job, but the man is not going away anytime soon. All he has done is go 157-57-2 in 19 years as a head coach, win two national championships at the D-IAA level, win the MAC at Central Michigan within three years after taking them over when they were a doormat, and go 21-6 in two years at Cincinnati and win the Big East title. Maybe he doesn't have the coaching pedigree that you'd see out of a big time coach, but the guy is a winner and a motivator and an intense coach. Cincy is not going to go in the tank this year because of a few personnel losses.

And if Weis melts down again in 2009, I think Brian Kelly ends up on the radar again as the next head coach. I think we'll try to go big for an Urban Meyer type, but who knows if that actually goes down. I don't necessarily think he should be the top candidate, but I think we could do a lot worse than Brian Kelly. All of this is hypothetical of course, but it could easily become a very hot topic again if we stumble out of the gate early.

Cincy has a tough nonconference schedule that includes Fresno, Oregon State, and Illinois along with some tough road trips to Rutgers and Pitt and USF in Big East play, so I do not necessarily think they'll win 9+ games again this year. But I do think they can get back to a bowl game and set themselves up for more success in the future. Anything beyond that would be gravy.

Coach in trouble: Steve Kragthorpe

I just googled "Steve Kragthorpe," and the first few things that come up in the search are "Steve Kragthorpe hot seat", "Steve Kragthorpe resigns," and "Steve Kragthorpe fired." Yikes!! Not the type of descriptions that you want to see next to your name when you get "googled." But hey, at least people are googling him! So he's got that going for him.

I don't know what has happened with this guy. Was he just a complete fraud at Tulsa??? Kragthorpe went 17-9 there and seemed to be a real up and coming coach. I don't want to rattle another hornet's nest with those wacky Tulsa fans, but maybe some Tulsa fan could come on here and tell us what the story is with Coach Kragthorpe. Was he overrated at Tulsa??

All I know is that Tom Jurich is a really good AD and that he loved Kragthorpe. To me, that is what makes Kragthorpe's failure so shocking.

Louisville has road trips to Kentucky and Utah (bold scheduling!) in September, so they could really dig themselves a hole early. It wouldn't even really knock my socks off if Louisville lost to Indiana State in their opener.

Maybe Kragthorpe turns it around, but there are too many rumblings of massive discontent to make me think he can right the ship. Louisville might never get back to the glory days of the Bobby Petrino era (Bobby P can flat out coach), but they are capable of being a decent program. I think they'll decide that they can do better than Kragthorpe if he has another bad year.

Best nonconference games:

West Virginia - 9/19 at Auburn and 10/1 Colorado --- I'll give credit where credit is due to the Mountaineers. Home and home series with Auburn and Colorado is not too shabby. If you're in the Big East, this is what you should be doing to get some respect around the nation. Playing Eastern Kentucky and Youngstown State does nothing for you. That Auburn game is going to be big for both West Virginia and Auburn. If Auburn loses that game at home, Gene Chizik could be on the hot seat by the end of his first month.

Connecticut - 9/12 North Carolina and 11/21 at Notre Dame -- Just a general observation, but the Big East teams deserve some commendation for their nonconference schedules. UConn is basically signed up for 10 road games with ND since their "home" games are at Foxboro where I'm guessing 75% of the fans will be ND fans. And a home and home with UNC is solid.

South Florida - 9/26 at Florida State 11/28 Miami -- HEAVYWEIGHTS!! How about South Florida signing up Florida State and Miami in the same year?!

Honestly, I've generally had the attitude that a Big East team should never get a chance to play in the title game even if they go undefeated, but I actually would make an exception for USF if they pulled it off this year. Look at their schedule:

9/5 Wofford
9/12 at West. Kentucky
9/19 Charleston Southern
9/26 at Florida State
10/3 at Syracuse
10/15 Cincinnati
10/24 at Pitt
10/30 West Virginia
11/12 at Rutgers
11/21 Louisville
11/28 Miami (FL)
12/5 at Connecticut

Two heavyweights, five road games, a good nonconference schedule, and a fairly decent Big East slate. If you beat Miami and FSU in the same year and run the table in the Big East, that's good enough for me. Congrats USF. You have my approval to play in the title game. Now you just have to go undefeated.

Cincinnati - 9/19 at Oregon State and 11/27 Illinois -- Good work by the UC athletic department to get these two games lined up. If UC could go 1-1 in these two games, that would be a good showing. That Cincy-Illinois game will be very telling when it comes to comparing the Big East and the Big Ten. If UC whips Illinois, couldn't you make the argument that the Big East is at least somewhat on par with the Big Ten??

Pitt - 9/26 at NC State and 11/14 Notre Dame -- Potential statement game for Pitt at NC State. I expect them to be an underdog in that game, so that would be a pretty big win if they pull that off.

Syracuse - 9/5: vs. Minnesota and 9/19: Northwestern -- Two big opportunities for Syracuse to put themselves on the map with wins over middle of the road Big Ten teams. I'm really pulling for Doug Marrone to turn around the Cuse, and I'd love to jump on their bandwagon early if they pull off an upset in either or both of these games. On paper, there's no reason that they couldn't win those games at home. If that happens, it's a great sign for the future of the Syracuse program.

Worst nonconference schedule: Rutgers -

9/12 Howard
9/19 FIU
9/26 at Maryland
10/10 Texas Southern
10/23 at Army

Cmon Rutgers!! Three DI-AA teams and Army> I know you got Maryland in there, but how do you go to your fans and tell them that they're paying for home games with Howard, FIU, and Texas Southern?? I didn't even know Texas Southern was a real school. I thought they were the school from "Necessary Roughness."

That's really bad. Keep in mind that Rutgers balked about playing a series with ND. I understand why they didn't want to do it (no home games in the 10 game series), but the alternative is god awful. You should not be allowed to play three DI-AA teams in one year.

Fantasy impact:

Since fantasy college football usually involves only a couple teams from each conference, I'm only going to address the guys on teams that we're using for my fantasy league this year. For the Big East, we're using Pitt, West Virginia, and South Florida. So if you're wondering about Syracuse's running back situation, I got nothing for you this year.

Pitt: The only guy to really get excited about from a Pitt standpoint is Jonathan Baldwin. I think he's got a Plaxico Burress type game about him right down to the off the field problems. He could be the type of guy who only has 50 catches but ends up with 12 touchdowns or something like that. Depends on if he's got his head on straight and if Stull can actually get him the ball. Definitely someone to keep an eye on for a late round receiver pick.

From what I'm reading, true freshman Dion Lewis is going to be the starting running back right out of the gate. No idea if he can hold up at only 5'8, but it sounds like he's going to be the man. Probably the guy you gotta draft if you're looking for some RB depth.

Under no circumstances should Bill Stull be on anyone's roster even as a backup QB.

South Florida: I have no clue why our executive committee decided to use USF as a team, but the only guy I'd even be looking at is Matt Grothe. And Grothe is one of those guys who turns out Craig Krenzel numbers. You don't get fantasy points for blood stains on the jersey and nicks on the helmet. So I don't see him as a viable fantasy QB option.

Apparently this Mike Ford dude is an SEC talent who ended up at USF, so maybe he ends up as a surprise fantasy player. I don't know, I can't see him being a fantasy starter outside of a bye week since Grothe usually ends up doing all the running for USF (mostly on broken plays). USF doesn't really run the ball that well.

West Virginia: Noel Devine is obviously a good back who will be drafted somewhere in the first couple rounds, but only four touchdowns last year. That's kinda weak for a guy who probably would be a number one back on a fantasy roster. His production is sort of sporadic since you never know how many carries he's going to get. I never like having those types of guys on my team. Give me a horse who I know is getting 25 carries every game.

He also wasn't quite as dangerous a receiver as I thought he'd be. Compare his numbers to what a true stud like Jahvid Best or Shady McCoy did last year. I don't know, I think there are a lot of guys out there I'd feel better about in the 2nd/3rd round than Noel Devine.

Jarrett Brown could be a little bit of a sleeper at QB, but more as a backup than as a #1 starter. I'd definitely take a chance on him as my bye week quarterback over several SEC quarterbacks. If he can run, he can put up some numbers.

The only other guy I'd keep an eye on is this Jock Sanders guy, but he's currently under suspension. I'll predict he's playing on opening day though. Mountaineer football!! Anyone with a pulse can play there.

Most intriguing teams in the league:

Rutgers - I went with Rutgers here because I'm curious to see where their program heads over the next five years. I think they have the potential to be a pretty strong program in the Big East, but there's so many uncertainties. How long will Schiano be there?? And if they get consistently good, will the Big Ten come calling and steal them away??

I really like Schiano as a head coach. I like how they play, and he's a tough coach. I think he's one of those guys who could very easily take the next step up at a good program and really make some noise. I still think Miami should go after him hard again if/when they get rid of Randy Shannon. And I think he's gotta be somewhere on Swarbrick's list of people to talk to if Weis doesn't get it done in 2009 or 2010.

Rutgers has lost a lot of players though. All their best offensive skill players are gone. If Schiano can hold down the fort and keep them in the 8 win range this year, that would be an impressive job.

South Florida -- The "South Florida will be the next powerhouse in college football" talk has died down considerably in the last two years. I'll admit that I drank the kool-aid a little bit and was even temporarily excited to see them pop up on ND's 2011 schedule, but now I'm sort of ambivalent about them. USF really hit the wall last year. It's hard to take them seriously when they lost 49-16 to Rutgers at home.

USF has the talent and the Big East is there for the taking, but it all comes down to wins. Are they going to rise back up and win 9-10 games this year or float along at 6-7?? Looking forward to seeing them at Florida State in late September.

Quick note on their current team. Matt Grothe and George Selvie are still at USF?!? My god, have they taken every class ever offered at USF by now?? I thought both those guys were seniors two years ago.

Team to beat: Pittsburgh

Yikes! If Pitt is the class of the Big East, the league has some problems. I do think the Panthers are the team to beat in this league this year though. Their defense is going to be pretty strong with all of their d-linemen back. For the most part, their defense held up last year. If their offense had done anything, they would have beaten Oregon State in the Sun Bowl.

Offensively, I don't know what their plan is to replace LeSean McCoy (who was the closest thing to a one man team in college football last year), but Pitt does have most of its offensive line back. And Bill Stull! I'm not sure a quarterback has ever inspired less confidence than Bill Stull. He was awful last year, and he actually had weapons and pretty good line play. If he can't play better, Pitt is staring at another 7-8 win season. If he makes a mini-leap, the talent is in place to win the Big East.

On an unrelated note, Philly Eagles fans, get excited about the LeSean McCoy era. I love that guy. I'm predicting that he slowly nudges Brian Westbrook aside over the course of the 2009 season.

Wannstedt gets a lot of heat as a bad coach, but it's hard to really give him too much flak about the job he's done. I keep hearing that Pitt is this sleeping giant, but I think of them as a second tier city school that's not all that attractive to recruits. The fact that Wannstedt won 9 games last year at Pitt is pretty impressive. The guy took over a very average program, and has made them pretty good. He's not Urban Meyer or anything, but at least his teams compete. Their lines are good, and he keeps them in games. Is he a bad strategist?? Potentially. Does he make some boneheaded moves?? Yes. But couldn't Pitt do a lot worse than Wannstedt?? They could easily have a Gregg Robinson type guy right now who's churning out 3-9 seasons. Wannstedt has recruited pretty well thus far, and he's winning games. Good for him.

July 27, 2009

Weighing in on the Eddy Street Commons project: What we can expect and what I would do to make it great

Like most Notre Dame fans who enjoy traveling up to South Bend for games, I've been casually following the developments going on with the new Eddy Street Commons project across the street from the Notre Dame campus. While I am always startled by how much the campus changes every year with new development projects (I will admit to getting lost the first time I drove on the newly renovated Angela Boulevard), I definitely think this type of project is long overdue. ND sorely needs a little campus strip for students and visitors that is outside of the ND bubble. You see it in every other Midwestern college town, so there's no reason that concept couldn't work in South Bend if it's done right. Sounds like things are really starting to progress, and we may be seeing some restaurants opening up by the football season.

I think the Eddy Street Commons development has a chance to be an outstanding addition to the Notre Dame community, but I really hope that the right choices are made in terms of a hotel and retail options. For starters, I think it's a great idea to build a hotel in that area. The ND campus has been starving for an on-campus hotel to go along with the Morris Inn. Between the football season, graduation, reunions, and various weddings throughout the summer and fall, there is quite a bit of demand for a hotel on the ND campus. It also never hurts to add a little more competition in the hotel industry, especially when the other South Bend hotels are asking for three night minimums during the football season. Three nights! That's nuts.

I'm also glad that the hotel is not going to be built on the old Burke Memorial Golf Course (which was rumored for a number of years). Maybe the Burke isn't a championship links, but how can you not love that course?? It's the perfect nine hole campus course for a student or employee who just wants to get away from the grind for a couple hours and blow off some steam on the course. I don't know what it costs nowadays, but it used to be $5 and you could be standing on the first tee within about five minutes of walking out of your dorm room. Sure, it's an easy course, but I've never had a bad time out there. The views of the campus and the Dome are worth it alone. More importantly, the Burke has become a part of the fabric of the ND campus. It's the first thing you see when you approach the ND campus from US-31, and it's a great green space for the campus. I was never a fan of the idea of bulldozing the Burke for an on-campus hotel, so I'm really pleased that the Eddy Street Commons provides a suitable spot for the hotel.

I'm also curious to see what type of food and beverage options open up in this development. They've already announced that Kildare's Irish Pub and Doc Magrograns Oyster House will be two tenants, and I think both are pretty good choices. They'll be good for students, good for alums, and good for faculty types. If you want to get a bite to eat after a football or basketball game where you can sit at a real table and order beer out of a glass and not a plastic cup, where else are you going in South Bend?? Legends?? Fiddler's Hearth?? Not a ton of options. There's definitely a need for a couple more good casual restaurants near the campus area.

So where do they go from here in terms of finding restaurants to fill out the slate?? My suggestion would be to try to find someone to open up a really good sports bar and grill. Here in Columbus, there is a similar retail/housing development on the Ohio State campus that was built about five years ago, and one of the anchor tenants is a restaurant called Eddie George's Grille 27. It's a phenomenal sports bar with good food and a good atmosphere and also plenty of tvs and sound systems to enjoy the action. It's such a simple concept. Create a "nice" sports bar and attach a famous athlete's name to give it a little extra name recognition. It's a place that appeals to students but also is attractive for twenty and thirtysomething types who might want to get some decent food. Every time I'm there, it is packed with people of all ages.

I think this "Famous Athlete's Grille __" concept is a chain because Pittsburgh has a Jerome Bettis Grille 36 as well. It's literally the exact same restaurant as Eddie George's place, and it's right near Heinz Field.

Anyway, if I was the developer of Eddy Street Commons, I would be looking to open up some sort of ND-related "Grille ___" with this same chain company. Think about how many famous ND athletes you could use to do something like that. Heck, Jerome Bettis could open up a second location at Eddy Street Commons. Or Rocket Ismail or Tim Brown or Brady Quinn or even Rudy Ruettiger. You could even get me excited about Sean Milligan's Grille 65!!

How cool would a Rocket Ismail's Grille 25 be at the Eddy Street Commons?? I would go there every time I went to South Bend. The Rocket could host some events there, and maybe store some of his great sports memorabilia in the restaurant. There are a lot of ND-themed places in South Bend, but no real place that pays homage to any particular ND athlete. If they did it right and had good food and a good bar, it would be a fun place to go and a cash machine all within walking distance of the ND campus.

I know what you're thinking at this point. But Doug, South Bend already has the greatest sports bar in the world.....Between the Buns! I know, I know, the Buns is great, and I've ordered just about everything on their menu in the last 10 years. Heck, my wife and I went on our first date at the Buns! It's my favorite bar in South Bend, and no trip to South Bend is complete with a couple 32oz. drafts at the Buns. You won't hear a bad word about the Buns from this guy.

But here's an idea. Why not have two great sports bars in the Bend?? Crazy idea, right?? The ND community is a huge sports community, and I think there's plenty of room for a second really good sports bar in South Bend. The Buns can appeal to a little more of the college crowd, and the Grille ___ concept could be a better fit for gameday weekends and students who just want to walk from their dorm to a place to watch Sunday NFL games or get a bite to eat when they're sick of the dorm food. It might also be a fun place to go if you're a grad student or a professor or a professional working in South Bend.

I think that would be a phenomenal addition to the Eddy Street Commons. Get a big name former ND athlete on board and start building it. Heck, if they're looking for investors, I'm in. The place would do really well in that spot, and it would instantly be one of the top attractions for a football weekend. If you didn't have tickets to a big game, you could probably have a great time over at Brady Quinn's Grille 10 watching the game. Certainly a better time than you would have at Legends.

The question is whether ND would allow this to happen. My guess would be no since it would be a direct competitor to Legends and also a potential nuisance for some of the collars over there at the Dome, but that's where I think a famous athlete could help to grease the wheels a little bit. Who is going to turn down Rocket Ismail if he goes to Father Jenkins or Father Poorman and says he wants to put in a Rocket Ismail's Grille 25 at the Eddy Street Commons?? That would be borderline sacrilegious to turn him down after all he's done for the school.

After that, do whatever you want to fill out the development. Put in a couple shops, a bookstore, a Chipotle, a pizza place, and a Potbellys or some other sandwich place. But you gotta get one big anchor tenant, and I think the sports bar idea would be a great one. ND only has one shot to make this thing work ,and it would be a huge bummer if it turned out to be some watered down version of Lafortune and a virtual ghost town on gameday weekends. The Eddy Street Commons has potential to be a great addition to the ND community. I'm looking forward to checking it out when it's done.

July 26, 2009

Overexposed: Why Roger Goodell is killing my interest in the National Football League

The NFL Draft. One of the strangest "sporting events" on the sports calendar. If you are a non-sports fan or just a casual sports fan, the appeal of the NFL Draft would make absolutely no sense. Who in their right mind would sit around for 18 hours on a spring weekend to watch a bunch of guys in suits analyzing draft picks?? On the surface, it sounds dumb.

And yet I love the NFL Draft. I've been watching the NFL Draft for 20 years and enjoy it as much as I ever have. Heck, I wrote about eight bazillion words on this year's NFL Draft on this site. I think people love the NFL Draft because a) it's football in April b) it combines college football and the NFL and c) it gives you immediate hope as a fan of an NFL franchise and d) every fan gets to be an NFL GM for a weekend. Throw all four of those things into play, and you have the perfect recipe for a great event.

The other thing about the Draft is that it's the ultimate male bonding weekend. NFL Draft weekend is an excuse to get a group of dudes together for the weekend to watch the Draft, talk football, curse your team or sing its praises, eat a ton of crappy food, and sample some adult beverages. All in all, you end up watching 6-8 hours of football over two days, and don't really feel bad or guilty about it at all. The weather is usually pretty good, so you inevitably end up tossing the football outside or going to a spring college football game or maybe hitting up the links at some point. It's impossible not to have a good time on NFL Draft weekend.

And yet Roger Goodell seems to be determined to ruin all of the fun in attempt to squeeze a couple more dollars out of the event (which I am predicting will not happen....more on that later though). The Draft is about to go from a Saturday afternoon/evening and Sunday afternoon event to a THREE DAY extravaganza beginning with the first round on Thursday night at 7:30pmEST. The second and third rounds are now on Friday night at 6:30pm, and the final four rounds are on Saturday morning.


Who actually thinks this is a good idea?? Do we really need three days for the NFL Draft?? How is this a good move for NFL fans?? Instead of getting together on a Saturday afternoon to cook out and drink some beers with a few buddies while watching the bulk of the Draft, it has now turned into this convoluted three day "event" that starts on a Thursday and is effectively over by Saturday morning when it would normally just be starting up. The first round is on a Thursday night at 7:30pm on the east coast. Yea, I'll still watch the draft and might head to a sports bar to watch some of the first round, but Thursday is still a work night. The first round probably won't be over until 1am or something like that, which means you'll be feeling guilty about staying up to watch it. It's certainly not going to be the riproaring event that it would be on a Saturday afternoon.

Moving it from Saturday to Thursday also kills the camaraderie of the event. My brother and his friends have been getting together in various cities for years to watch the Draft, but now the main part of the draft is on a Thursday night. When you are talking about people with jobs and things going on at home during the week, those types of get-togethers become obsolete with this change. What about all of the people who camp out to go to the NFL Draft?? How does that work now that it's spread out over three days?? That makes me sad to think about all those Jets and Giants fans who have loyally attended the Draft for all these years.

Will people still get together with friends to watch the first round of the Draft?? Sure, it can be done. It's no different than getting together at a bar or a friend's house to watch Monday Night Football or a Thursday Night game. But are people really going to double down and get together AGAIN on Friday night to watch the 2nd and 3rd rounds?? Is Roger Goodell aware that people have lives outside of the NFL?? How many nights in a row can you ask your fans to blow off their wives/girlfriends and/or kids to watch something like the NFL Draft that isn't even a real sport??

The other thing is that the NFL Draft will start at 4:30pm on the west coast on Thursday and at 3:30pm on Friday. If I lived on the west coast, I would be bummed about that. You went from being able to roll out of bed at 9am on a Saturday to watch the draft to now being forced to leave work early to watch it at 4:30pm on a weekday.

I know the NFL and ESPN will probably make a bunch of money from advertisers in the short term. Primetime tv during the week draws more eyeballs than a Saturday afternoon telecast, and they get to show three days of coverage now. Plus, they'll have all of Friday to hype up the post first round stuff and all the trades that come out of that. Maybe the dollars are worth it. I don't know.

But one thing I do know is that this move RUINS a very special spring Saturday for football fans. Football fans starve for football 365 days a year, and the NFL Draft has always been like an oasis during a long offseason. Now, it won't be the same. I'll still watch the Draft of course, but it will no longer be "NFL Draft Weekend." It'll just be like any other sporting event during the week where you might watch it over a couple beers but won't look forward to it all week/month.

Roger Goodell is undoubtedly a very shrewd businessman, but I think he is quietly turning into the David Stern of the NFL. He is in such a hurry to "expand the brand" that he is forgetting about his core audience. You know, like actual football fans. He can't wait to globalize the NFL and create the NFL Network even though no one gets the channel and to put the Super Bowl in London and expand the Draft into primetime that he is forgetting that the only reason the NFL Draft is so popular is because of all the diehard fans who have supported it through the years. When you go for the "casual fan," you dilute your product and alienate your core fans.

Stern made this same mistake with the NBA even though no one calls him out on it. He went out of his way to bring the NBA to urban audiences, teenagers, and foreigners while skipping over the rest of the American public. Maybe the game is more popular in China, but no one cares about the NBA in places like St. Louis and Pittsburgh. Heck, even a lot of markets with NBA teams could care less about the league. By taking those fans for granted, he lost them forever. Now, their tv ratings stink, and half the teams in the league are bankrupt.

The NFL has always succeeded by being the ultimate American brand. It is a game played almost exclusively by Americans, and it's a game that has traditionally been marketed exclusively to Americans. The Super Bowl is practically a national holiday, and the Thanksgiving NFL games are as much of a tradition as turkey and mashed potatoes. The NFL Draft is a part of that lore. The NFL provided this great event for football fans in April, and fans returned the love by staying fiercely loyal to the league.

Perhaps this is purely anecdotal to base it on the opinions of a few friends/family, but I really think the interest in the NFL in America may be waning just a bit. It seems like a lot of people are steadily losing interest in the league. It's still the top dog and maybe the ratings are still strong, but the league has gone stale. There's too much coverage on ESPN (Brett Favre....ugh), every team runs the exact same offense, all the stadiums are exactly the same, all the announcers sound exactly the same, etc, and now you have Goodell trying to take away the few good things about the NFL that make it unique. When you compare it to the college game with all of the pomp and circumstances of marching bands and legendary stadiums and student sections and fabulous uniforms and passionate fanbases, there really is no comparison. College football seems to be growing in popularity every year as more and more fans are drawn in to the magic of college football.

The NFL has taken its fans for granted. If you take your fans for granted, they might just start tuning you out. Creating the NFL Network and putting a bunch of regular season games on the channel even though no one gets the channel (and still don't get it!!) was the height of arrogance, and now they've taken the NFL Draft from a perfect spring Saturday to a watered-down three day event that will not hold my attention past Thursday. When you ask for three days from your NFL fans to watch the Draft instead of one, they might just not bother to watch it at all. And that could carry over to Sunday afternoons in the fall. Plenty of yardwork to be done in the fall on Sundays. Or fans might just turn their attention to college football, which would be fine with me.

Mark this down. I think we'll look back in ten years at the Roger Goodell era and say that he presided over the downfall of the league as the uber-sport in America. Goodell is in such a rush to expose the brand to new audiences that he doesn't seem to realize that he is alienating his core fans. There's something to be said about dancing with the girl that brought you there. Fans are upset about this draft thing, and I think we could have a little populist revolt on our hands. I hope that's the case.

July 24, 2009

Speaking of bad scheduling: Penn State

It's no secret that EVERYONE is taking shots at ND's football schedule this year. Every magazine or preseason ranking I have read on the Irish this year has hammered on this point with the general refrain that ND will be taking advantage of a paper thin schedule to put together a 10-11 win season and a BCS bowl bid.

While I don't disagree that our schedule is unusually soft this year due to some teams being down and some poor scheduling decisions, I do think there's a little bit of a double standard out there when it comes to assessing football schedules. For whatever reason, ND becomes an immediate target for playing a "weak schedule" when there are far worse offenders out there in the scheduling department.

Exhibit A for this double standard would be the Penn State Nittany Lions. I haven't heard much criticism of them from the national pundits, but check out their schedule for 2009:

09/05/09 vs. Akron University Park, Pa. 12:00 p.m. ET
09/12/09 vs. Syracuse University Park, Pa. 12:00 p.m. ET
09/19/09 vs. Temple University Park, Pa. 12:00 p.m. ET
09/26/09 vs. Iowa University Park, Pa. 8:05 p.m. ET
10/03/09 at Illinois * Champaign, Ill. TBA
10/10/09 vs. Eastern Illinois University Park, Pa. TBA
10/17/09 vs. Minnesota * University Park, Pa. 3:30 p.m. ET
10/24/09 at Michigan * Ann Arbor, Mich. TBA
10/31/09 at Northwestern * Evanston, Ill. 4:30 p.m. ET
11/07/09 vs. Ohio State * University Park, Pa. TBA
11/14/09 vs. Indiana * University Park, Pa. TBA
11/21/09 at Michigan State East Lansing, Mich. TBA

Apparently Joe Pa has become an alum of the Bill Snyder school of scheduling. You would think that Penn State would be aggressively seeking some better competition after that horrific loss in the Rose Bowl against USC last year. Maybe a big nonconference game or two to get your team prepared for what they will face in a big bowl game. I guess that option wasn't as attractive as guaranteeing yourself 9-10 wins without even breaking a sweat.

For starters, let's look at their nonconference schedule:

Akron (home)
Syracuse (home)
Temple (home)
Eastern Illinois (home)

Wow, bold scheduling there Joe Pa! Four home games against two MAC schools (Akron and Temple), a DI-AA school (Eastern Illinois), and a Big East team coming off its worst stretch in school history (Syracuse). The combined record of those schools will probably be something like 15-33. It's one thing to line up a couple MAC schools, but to add a I-AA team in there five weeks in the season?? What is the point?? Is the whole purpose of Penn State football just to sell tickets?? Isn't there something to be said for the competition??

If you were a Penn State fan, wouldn't you be ashamed of that type of schedule?? Don't you owe it to your fans to try to get better games than that??

More importantly, don't you owe it to your players to get better games than that?? When you recruited them, you would think there is some responsibility to get them the best competition possible. How does lining up four tomato cans to start the season do anything for your players?? What does that prove??

And it's not like they play in the SEC or even the Big 12. At least the SEC teams can point to their conference schedule and say "hey, maybe we're playing the Florida Atlantics of the world, but we're also playing LSU/Georgia/Bama/Tennessee/Florida in conference play." SEC teams have a built-in reason for playing a bad nonconference. They have enough competition in the league. Penn State is a Big 10 team! You got OSU and Michigan and a bunch of mediocrity all over the place.

When I read this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the Penn State players and their reaction to the schedule, I actually felt bad for these guys. They're put in a position where they have to defend that lousy schedule. This quote is from quarterback Darryl Clark:

"Everyone is looking ahead to the Big Ten opener," Clark said of the Sept. 29 home game against Iowa. "And I am the first to say, [in] the first three [weeks], we are going against two good MAC teams [Akron and Temple]. . . . And we play Syracuse as well, a good team coming up."

Clark points out that Penn State struggled a bit before eventually beating Temple, 45-3, last season.

"So we are not going to take any of those teams lightly," he said, "because it is a big-time spoiler if we are not able to take care of the job before we get to Iowa."

He's forced to defend the indefensible there. Why not give him a big home and home series that he can get excited about and point to as a big reason why he came to play for Penn State?? If PSU has Texas on the schedule (or even Texas Tech), at least he can say defend the nonconference schedule with a straight face. Making him put a positive spin on a Temple team that they beat 45-3 last year is silly.

Just for fun, I went back and looked through the Penn State media guide at some of their schedules from the 80s and 90s. Check these out:

1988 - at UVA, BC, at Bama, at WVU, at ND, Pitt, Maryland
1989 - Virginia, BC, at Texas, Bama, WVU, at Maryland, ND, at Pitt
1990 - Texas, at USC, at BC, at Alabama, at West Virginia, at Notre Dame, Pitt
1991 - Georgia Tech, at USC, BC, at Miami (FL), West Virginia, at Maryland, ND, at Pitt

That's incredible! Even when Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993, they played a nonconference slate of USC, Rutgers, and Maryland. And that was in the days of 11 games, so Penn State was playing 11 BCS schools that year.

What has happened to those days in college football?? Back in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, there was no "scheduling your way to the BCS." Everyone played everyone. Teams like PSU and Notre Dame regularly played 3-4 (sometimes five) heavyweights a year. Look at that 1990 schedule that Penn State played. They played Texas and USC to start the year, and then later played Bama and Notre Dame on the road. How great is that?? Isn't that what fans want?? Fans want to see these behemoths colliding on the field. As recently as 15-20 years ago, that happened on almost a weekly basis.

And you know what?? They went 9-2 that year. Doesn't that pretty much kill the straw man that the White/Swarbrick types want to trot out that it's impossible to play that type of schedule and do well?? Wouldn't you rather go 9-2 against that schedule than against the crappy schedule I just listed above for 2009 where you beat no one and end up 9-3/10-2?? I sure as heck would. At least you can look back on the season and remember some great victories against big name powers. These days, I look back on the schedule and can't really think of big wins anymore.

Penn State fans, if you're reading this, wouldn't you rather go back to your old scheduling ways?? Is it really worth it to "schedule your way into the BCS" when you don't play anyone and don't beat anyone?? How much satisfaction do you get out of beating Akron and Eastern Illinois?? Wouldn't you rather play Bama and USC like the old days and see how you stack up??

The same applies to Notre Dame. In the 80s and 90s, it was routine for ND to play Miami, Michigan, Penn State, USC, and Bama/Tennessee just about every year. How cool would that be?? If you were a fan, you got to see ND play a huge game every week. If you're an alum looking to get tickets, you knew there were a boatload of great games to try to apply for. Now, you take a look at the schedule and try to talk yourself into UConn and Tulsa and TCU.

College football is the greatest sport on earth, but the sport has a serious problem these days. Everyone is so determined to schedule their way to 10-11 wins that everyone just avoids everyone else in the regular season. You don't know who is better between Penn State and Texas because they don't play each other or even anyone similar. Fifteen years ago, they were playing EACH OTHER to find out who was better. What a novel concept!

No other sport has this problem because every other sport has a legitimate postseason. You don't get to choose your schedule in the NFL, and college basketball has such a long regular season and postseason that it's impossible to schedule your way into anything. Maybe you can fake your way into a little bit better seed by playing a weak schedule, but that will probably catch up to you in the NCAA Tournament in a hurry.

If I was the NCAA, I'd be worried about the competitiveness of the sport. The standard major college schedule nowadays involves 8 home games and 3-4 cupcakes in the nonconference. In other words, most programs are down to 2-3 big games a year on the high end and some are down to one. Twenty years ago, you played 6 home games and 5 road games or vice versa, and you played nonconference games against actual BCS schools and not "buy games."

One solution would be for the NCAA to create a rotation of nonconference games. Of your four nonconference games, you play two of them against schools from other BCS leagues. You could set up a little rotation. Maybe the Big Ten gets the Big 12 and ACC one year. The SEC gets the ACC and the Pac 10. And so on. With that in place, you have your league commissioners get together and create interesting matchups like they do in those basketball "ACC-Big 10 Challenge" type events.

If you're Penn State fan, wouldn't you rather play Oklahoma State and North Carolina instead of Temple and Akron?? If you're an Ohio State fan, wouldn't you rather play Missouri and Florida State instead of Youngstown State and Bowling Green?? If you're a Texas fan, wouldn't you rather play Michigan and West Virginia than Florida Atlantic and UTEP?? You can schedule cupcakes with your other two nonconference games, but you have to play at least two meaty nonconference opponents.

Would it solve every problem with college football regular season schedules?? Not necessarily, but it would be a heckuva a lot better than what we have now. What we have these days is not a sport. It's a Harlem Globetrotters travelling exhibition tour.

This idea would be a no-brainer to me. College football has reached the breaking point with scheduling, and it's time to turn the tide in the other direction.

July 20, 2009

More scheduling rumors: Notre Dame and Georgia Tech at the Georgia Dome?

(Quick update on yesterday's post about the Tulsa and TCU games. The South Bend Tribune is reporting today that ND and Tulsa are in negotations for an October 30, 2010 game in South Bend.)

Any time Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhart, has something to say, it's probably a good idea to saddle up and listen. His latest blog post in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution muses on the possibility of a Notre Dame-Georgia Tech matchup in the Georgia Dome. Sounds like the Atlanta Sports Council would love to have the Irish down in Atlanta for one of our neutral site games.

I think this game would be a great opportunity for the Irish to get a little exposure in heart of SEC country in a major city like Atlanta. From what I have heard, Atlanta is a huge college football town with SEC and ACC grads all over the city, and the city has been making quite a push to take advantage of their huge college football fanbase to host some major college football games in addition to the annual SEC championship game. They just started this Chick-fil-A College Football Kickoff event in 2008, and there has been some discussion about rotating the Florida-Georgia Cocktail Party between Atlanta and Jacksonville. I've also heard that they would be interested in becoming the new home to the College Football Hall of Fame someday. No idea if that's true, but it sort of matches the city's goal of becoming a major player in the college football world.

This Chick-Fil-A thing is not some half-baked event either. It has become the premier showcase of the opening weekend in college football. Here's a little closer look at the games on the docket for the Chick-fil-A Event:

2008 - (last year) Alabama vs. Clemson
2009 - Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
2010 - (rumored) North Carolina vs. Georgia/LSU/Ole Miss
2011 - TBD
2012 - Tennessee vs. North Carolina State

Seems like they have tried to match up an SEC school with an ACC school, and it looks like they've done a heckuva job putting together these games.

I have no idea if the plan would be for Notre Dame to play in the Chick-Fil-A kickoff event or another game, but I think Atlanta would be a very attractive option for a neutral site game for the Irish. It's a big college football town, recruiting is fertile in that area, the weather is good, and it's a huge city that we don't get to visit that often. There are so many big time football schools within a couple hours drive from Atlanta who would make for a quality option in a neutral site game. You've got Georgia and Georgia Tech in the state, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, FSU, Miami, South Carolina, Clemson, North Carolina, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee. All kinds of options, and every one of those teams would be great.

It sounds like ND might actually be serious about wanting to play a quality opponent in Atlanta. This line from the article is especially interesting:

The word I got here is that the Irish might consider it for a chance to play a Georgia Tech or an Alabama.

Now, we're talking! That type of game would be a major departure from what we have seen so far out of the "neutral site" home game. Thus far, the neutral site game has been used as a revenue generator and as a venue for a primetime NBC telecast. If we were to play Alabama or Georgia Tech in Atlanta, I'm presuming that it would be more of a classic neutral format. Split the gate, and sell tickets so that both fanbases can get an equal crack at tickets. More of a true bowl game atmosphere than this Washington State in San Antonio or Army in NYC nonsense.

Plus, Georgia Tech is actually a quality program with good tradition. They are your classic above-average ACC program that has had some excellent teams throughout their history. You can all but guarantee that GT is going to be a Gator Bowl/Peach Bowl type team every year, and we've had some great games with them in the past. Put it this way. Georgia Tech would be a SUBSTANTIAL upgrade over some of the other games we've been adding in recent years. I would never have a problem playing them.

The other great thing about a possible neutral site game with Georgia Tech or Alabama is that you could use it as a vehicle for a 1-1-1 series with home and road games added in. That would be outstanding. Maybe we couldn't do the games three years in a row, but signing a three game contract with one of these schools would be cause for excitement from the ND fanbase (and some relief as well). It would be nice to see ND renew a commitment to play more home and home series.

And if the game is actually Alabama, then I will be jumping for joy. An ND-Alabama game in Atlanta would be the game of the year in college football. Two historic programs that haven't played in a number of years, and it appears that both programs are on the rise. It would be an absolute blast to mingle with some Bama fans. I'd also love to have them up to South Bend for a game, and then I'd love to go down to Tuscaloosa the following year to experience all the pomp and circumstances of a game deep in the heart of Dixie. Rammer Jammer! I've got goosebumps just thinking about it.

Two questions about this matchup.

1) When would it happen?

My guess is that we would be looking to do this type of game some time in the middle of the next decade when some of our contracts start freeing up a little more flexibility. I think the NBC deal runs out in 2014, so maybe we can renegotiate at that point and get rid of the 7-4-1 model. I believe we are playing Baylor in New Orleans in 2012 and Arizona State in Dallas in 2013. After that, maybe ND would look for a game in Atlanta. Maybe we would even ask to be one of the teams in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff event in 2014 or something like that. I couldn't think of a better way to open the season than by participating in a game like that one. It would bring back a little pizzazz to the opening weekend of the football season for the Irish. Historically, we have played some very big games in the opener.

In the meantime, why not just tell the city of Atlanta that we'll also do a neutral site game there in 2011 towards the end of the season?? Can anyone think of a good reason why we couldn't do that game?? Look at this 2011 schedule as it stands for now:

S03 @ Purdue
S10 @ Michigan
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O15 Army (neutral site)
N26 @ Stanford
Two games TBD

Isn't there a gaping hole in the back end of that schedule?? After the USC game, we're basically playing no one. We could sign up for that neutral site game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech or Alabama, and suddenly we'd have a quality opponent for the November schedule. Why couldn't this work?? If you're worried about the fact that we're already playing Army in Orlando, then move the Army game to South Bend. Or just keep it in Orlando.

We could maybe set up something like this:

Neutral site game - November 2011
Chick Fil-A Kickoff game - Opening Weekend 2014
Home game - South Bend - 2017
Road game - GT or Alabama - 2018

Bottom line, that 2011 schedule needs another quality opponent, and Swarbrick has two years to find one. There are two opponents still to be determined. I don't want another Tulsa/TCU combo for 2011 when you have two years to fix the problem. If you get Georgia Tech, then you can add in your MWC "buy game" for the other game. But you can't tell me that there's no room for another big time game on that schedule, especially late in the year. Like it or not, college football is a beauty pageant, and you gotta play some good teams late in the year. When everyone else is impressing pollsters with conference championship games and big rivalry games, we can't be out there closing up shop with UConn and Navy and two "buy games." Go set up the game with Georgia Tech or Bama and put some teeth into the back end of the schedule.

2) Can the athletic department get it done??

In order to get a game like this one done, it is going to require a new line of thinking from the administration. This game will not happen if we pull the Heisler/White routine and ask for all the revenue. The fact that ND asked about playing Georgia Tech or Alabama instead of Central Florida or Army is encouraging. Swarbrick can't be naive enough to think that either of those schools would play us in Atlanta while we kept all of the revenue, so presumably he has made it clear that we would be willing to split the gate with whoever we play. Maybe the tv contract would be negotiable as well. Either way, that would be a major change from the Kevin White era of scheduling.

This is the type of flexibility and creativity that I would like to see out of Swarbrick. I know the ND schedule can represent a jigsaw puzzle at times, but this is his job. This is why we hired him. The scheduling process requires negotiation, but the guy is supposed to be a trained negotiator. He's supposed to figure out how to make these games work to make sure ND has a quality football schedule every single year. If it means occasionally bending on the 7-4-1, then that's what you gotta do. If it means using the neutral site as a true neutral game instead of a de-facto home game, then you do that. If it means putting Purdue and Stanford on the backburner for a couple years, by all means let's make that happen. Maybe it even requires that you play teams a few years apart to make it work. At the end of the day, the only thing I care about is that you get the job done.

We've heard lots of rumors, but we won't really know what we have in Jack Swarbrick until we start seeing some announcements for games in the upcoming years. I am curious to find out if Swarbrick is willing to make concessions to get this game lined up, or if he's just paying some lip service to get frustrated alumni off his back. If Jack Swarbrick is really serious about exploring one of these matchups in Atlanta, he might turn out to be an effective AD after all.

July 19, 2009

Tulsa and TCU on the 2010 Notre Dame schedule?? Yikes

With the 2009 football season getting closer and closer every day, the clock is starting to tick on filling out the rest of the 2010 football schedule. Most of the schedule has already been filled, but there are still two mystery opponents that remain unannounced to this point. Many ND fans have been hopeful that at least one of these final two games would be an exciting home and home series with a big name opponent. Perhaps the much-rumored series with Miami would be beginning?? Perhaps a big announcement with Alabama?? Maybe even that Wisconsin series that had people excited for a bit??

Well, the athletic department has apparently found those two opponents for 2010. These schools are historic powers with long traditions and huge fanbases. When you think of college football, you think of both these schools. Television networks worship at the knee of these fine universities and salivate over the ratings bonanzas that follow them. According to the latest rumors, here are your final two opponents for the 2010 schedule:

TCU Horned Frogs
Tulsa Golden Hurricanes

Whoa!! The suits over at the Dome are really thinking big with those two blockbuster games. Who needs an epic showdown with Alabama that would shatter television records when TCU is available?!? Why go out and follow the lead of USC and play "Anytime, Anywhere" when you can just buy these half-baked home games for a million bucks late in the year with no return game?? I can't wait to get my Tulsa tickets for November 20, 2010 when it's going to be 20 degrees and rainy in South Bend. Imagine how excited NBC must be!!

Here's how the 2010 football schedule could be shaping up:

S18 @ Michigan St.
O02 @ Boston College
O23 @ Navy (Meadowlands)
N6 Army (Yankee Stadium)
N13 Utah
N20 Tulsa
N27 @ Southern Cal

Let's break this thing down now that we can finally get a look at it. There are three true road games in 2010. THREE. We actually go almost two full months between visits to an opposing team's campus (October 2 at BC to November 27 at USC). We're playing three usual suspects (MSU, BC, USC) in traditional road games and Navy on the "road" at the Meadowlands. The days of interesting road trips to places like Lincoln and Knoxville and Baton Rouge and even Chapel Hill or College Station appear to be a distant memory. The "unique" road trips these days for ND fans are glorified exhibitions at pro stadiums against teams like Army and Navy. Hey, if you want to go to NYC to watch ND play Army, that's cool with me. I'd just rather go to Tuscaloosa or Austin personally. I don't know. That's just me.

If we're going to only play 3 road games, why not go one step further and just play zero road games?? Why not just play 12 home games?? We might as well take this Harlem Globetrotters act all the way and "generate revenue" for all 12 games. We could just play 8 one-off home games, 2 "road" games at pro stadiums where we split the revenue, a neutral site home game, and a "road" game against Navy.

In "even" years, it appears that the 3 road games model will be the plan going forward. I'm pretty sure we're the only school in the country doing that. Apparently, the goal of our independent status these days is to play as many home games as possible. Call me crazy, but I didn't think that was the purpose of our independence.

Another thing I like to look at when a schedule is finalized is the home schedule. I love going up to South Bend for home games, and nothing gets me more charged up than a big time game at Notre Dame Stadium. It's my favorite venue in all of sports, so let's take a peek at those 2010 home opponents to find out the big games that fans can attend:


Where do I buy my season tickets?!? Check out that list of historical powers right there. HEAVYWEIGHTS! You can see mediocre Purdue and Stanford for the thirtieth time, or you can brave the cold to see games against legendary programs like TCU and Tulsa. Great to see Tulsa willing to put aside their chase for the Conference USA title to come up to South Bend for a week at the end of the year. When CBS is showing Florida-Georgia and ABC has Penn State-Ohio State, I'm sure NBC will be thrilled to show ND-Tulsa up against those games.

Finally, let's take a close look at the games leading up to the USC game at the end of the year. Hopefully the football team will be peaking as we head out to Los Angeles. Ideally, the schedule will have a few interesting challenges leading up to that big rivalry game that will have our squad battle tested by the time USC week rolls around. Maybe a big home game, maybe a road trip to toughen the team up. Let's take a closer look at those five games before the finale at the Colisseum.

O23 @ Navy (NY/NJ)
N6 Army (Yankee Stadium)
N13 Utah
N20 Tulsa

Man, talk about battle tested!!! 3 home games against non-BCS schools with 250 pound linemen and a couple service academies!! When I think of USC, the first thing that comes to mind is how similar they are to Army. Nothing like coming down the stretch with 4 "buy games" and a "road" game against Navy. When our kids walk into the LA Coliseum, will we draw upon our experiences in other hostile environments like.........well.......ummm...............Yankee Stadium when we played Army?? When the USC band is playing "Fight On" every other down and the crowd is getting on us and the team is facing adversity, will we demand that the second half be moved to a neutral site?? Or better yet, maybe we could threaten to cancel the game unless USC agrees to a "one off" relationship with all games played in South Bend. Yea, that will show them!

If you didn't know any better, wouldn't you assume that was some CUSA team's actual schedule?? And yet that's our schedule!! The most famous program in college football!! An independent who could play anyone in America! A school that once had a legacy of playing "Anytime, Anywhere" and regularly played 4-5 ranked teams a year. Now, we're dialing it up with the Golden Hurricanes of Tulsa.

What the heck has happened to Notre Dame football?? How did we lose our way so badly?? Doesn't Swarbrick realize how silly this whole thing has become?? It's one thing to make money. It's another thing to completely devalue your brand to the point where it's not even recognizable. Why are we playing 5 consecutive non-BCS schools in a row leading up to our biggest game of the season?? Did I miss the memo that we joined the WAC?? Does anyone think the pollsters are going to be impressed by this stretch?? What other school is playing that many home/"neutral" games in a row against non-BCS schools??

Hasn't Swarbrick been reading all those preseason magazines ripping our schedule this year?? What are they going to say about us next year?? Doesn't Swarbrick find that to be embarrassing?? I sure as heck do. It's one thing to have the 7-4-1 scheduling model as a guide, but to hold to it like it's gospel is creating schedules that don't resemble Notre Dame football at all.

It's becoming more and more obvious that the commitment to that model should have been gradual. You can do the 7-4-1, but do it when you've gotten out of the Stanford and Purdue contracts. Do it when you have a better idea how to use the neutral site game as a tool for a big 1-1-1 series. Until then, keep things the way they were back in the 1980s and 1990s and the early part of this decade. Those schedules were phenomenal. The 7-4-1 is capable of producing good schedules (as we showed on this blog last week) when you have the flexibility to do it properly, but it's not possible to create a good schedule with that model when you have to cram in all these games in a limited number of home and home spots. That's how you end up with a schedule like the 2010 schedule.

I guess Swarbrick can avoid taking blame for this 2010 schedule by saying that his hands were tied and that there was nothing else he could do within the 7-4-1 framework, but it's hard for me to really take comfort in that line of reasoning. Swarbrick has been at ND for over a year now. At the end of the day, he is ultimately responsible for the scheduling product. If he arrived at the Dome with a mandate to shake things up, I think we would have seen a big time announcement coming our way for the 2010 schedule. I think we would have seen a temporary tweak to the 7-4-1 model until we had the room to operate it the right way. When you have a year to work on something big and bold and you come back with Tulsa and TCU, that's a statement to me that the Jack Swarbrick era might not be all that much different from the disastrous Kevin White era. Perhaps he will prove me wrong. Perhaps the 2010 schedule is going to be a blip in the radar and big games are on the horizon. I am not ruling out that possibility, but I would like to see some proof of that before singing his praises. Until then, all this talk about Miami and Wisconsin and Alabama is just talk. The 2010 schedule stinks, and he missed his opportunity to fix it.

And before someone posts in the comments section with the completely absurd "hey, you big meanie! You're an ELITIST! Utah and TCU are top 10 teams!" nonsense, just stop. Stop, stop, stop. These schools are non-BCS schools. There's a reason they aren't in a position to demand a return home game. We're paying them to come here for a game. I don't care what they're ranked, and I don't care that they would have beaten us last year. The fact that TCU has been decent doesn't make me any more interested in playing them. They're a Mountain West team. If they were truly a marquee opponent, we'd be going down to Abilene in 2011 to give them a home game. I don't have a problem with playing a couple "one off" home games, but we already have Army, Utah, and Navy on the schedule. I realize TCU is one of the better "buy games" we could find, but we should have been looking to play a home and home series instead. Heck, it doesn't even have to be a home and home with a "heavyweight." Give me a home and home with Arkansas or South Carolina. We play them at home in 2010 and on the road in 2011. If I have the choice between a "buy game" and a traditional home and home, give me the home and home all day long.

And for god sakes, Tulsa! It's one thing to schedule TCU, but to tack on Tulsa as well?? Come on! There's gotta be something better we could have done for a November game. Would I have a problem with opening the season against Tulsa?? No, I could live with that. In fact, I think we should open with a Tulsa/Nevada/San Diego State type team every year. But on November 20 when we already have all those other duds on the schedule in October and November???

I know "buy games" are here to stay for the forseeable future, but we need to use some common sense with these games. Use them early in the year when everyone else is playing those types of games. I don't think we should be playing any more than one "buy game" in November. Right now, we have three in November. That doesn't fly with me. The number one goal for this administration should be finding a solution for better November games. If it can't be done, then we probably should be looking around at a conference arrangement.

When Heisler and Swarbrick and company look back on their legacies at Notre Dame, I wonder if they will come to regret what has happened to the ND brand. We're talking ourselves into the idea that scheduling all these "buy games" is good for the program, but I think someday we'll look back and say "We scheduled Tulsa?? We played 5 non-BCS schools in a row down the stretch and none on the road?? What the heck were we thinking??"

July 15, 2009

WEISND Roundtable Summer Edition: The State of College Football (Part Two)

And we're back! Here's part two of our roundtable discussion of the biggest issues in college football. If you missed part one, here it is.

7. What is your prediction for the future of the Big East conference?? Will it still be a BCS conference in five years?? Who will be the premier program in the Big East in five years??

Jeremy: I know the BCS has come under quite a bit of “heat” this offseason, but what motivation is there to change anything? Anyone who matters in the equation is making a ton of money, and they’ve actually managed to whip up a few decent results over the years. I definitely agree that the system is broken, but I just don’t see things changing anytime soon.

As far as the Big East goes, it's not a viable football conference. But I’m thinking Cincy and UCONN become the beasts in the conference in the near future. Edsall and Kelly are two of the better young coaches in the NCAA, and the better question might be how long can their respective programs keep them around in their present jobs? Both have very publicly said that they aren’t interested in going anywhere, but they’d be crazy not to consider a move if one of the big boys come calling.

Dan: I actually think this could depend on the future of the basketball conference. If the basketball conference splits, the football conference will not have much of a reason to stay together. I do think the basketball conference is destined to fall apart, so I’ll say that the Big East will be a different or non-existent conference in 5 years.

Matt: Interesting question. It really comes down to West Virginia. If they can stay as the perennial BCS contender, I think the Big East can hang around where they are now with WV and USF as the lead teams, and a solid slate of Rutgers, UConn, Pitt, Louisville, Cincy and maybe a revitalized ‘Cuse. I know, that’s not great, but that is enough to be a BCS conference for sure. Unfortunately for ‘Neers fans, I don’t think they are going to be the premier program in 5 years. For me, that label goes to South Florida. They have the homegrown talent to choose from and a solid head coach (which is more than you can say about most teams in the B.E. – Wanny, Stewart, Kragthorpe??) I think the Bulls are on the rise.

Despite being a Big East supporter, I realize that the league is the weakest of the BCS conferences. Nonetheless, the individual programs within the Big East should remain strong enough to ensure that the league will receive an automatic bid in the next round of BCS contract negotiations. I am not bullish on the entire crop of current coaches, especially Bill Stewart, Dave Wannstedt and Steve Kragthorpe, and the top coaches such as Greg Schiano, Brian Kelly and Randy Edsall are frequently mentioned for other jobs, but there is enough talent in the league to maintain a seat at the lucrative BCS dinner table.

I do not expect for one particular team to emerge as the clear leader of the Big East in recent years. While Pittsburgh and West Virginia have the most tradition and perhaps the best talent, both teams will likely underachieve under their bumbling head coaches. South Florida and Rutgers have shown potential, but the latter will be hurt severely if Greg Schiano decides to leave, perhaps to Penn State. I think Cincinnati and Connecticut are flashes in the pan and Syracuse, though rich in tradition, is so far in the tank that it will take years to climb back out to the ranks of the respectable.

Doug: I think the Big East will have a tough time remaining viable as a BCS league, especially if the basketball side of the league breaks down some time in the next few years (which I still think will happen). There's just not a lot of anchor tenants in the Big East right now. Not one in fact. The only program I would consider to be close to a big time football program in the Big East is West Virginia, and even WVU sits on shaky ground. A few questionable years with Bill Stewart, and that program could easily go back to mediocrity for a long time.

The rest of the league is pure mediocrity. Would any of these schools be upper echelon programs in any other league? Pitt is a second tier program that doesn't even have its own stadium. UConn and Rutgers are gaining traction, but both are still a long way from becoming crown jewels in the league. Cincy and Louisville are basketball schools that don't have the access to the football talent that you need to be a consistently great program. As we have seen with Louisville, one bad coaching hire and the program completely falls apart. If Brian Kelly ever leaves UC, they will have the same problems. South Florida is somewhat intriguing, but it's tough to say if they have the financial support to continue to move up in the college football pecking order.

Incredibly, the school that might be the worst program in the Big East right now (Syracuse) might be my pick to claim the mantle over the next few years as the premier program in the league again. The Cuse have as much tradition as anyone in the league, and I've been hearing some good things about Marrone. If he can sell that program, there's plenty of room for the Cuse to get right back on top in the Big East.

The other school that really should be going all in financially to build up the program is Rutgers. Rutgers has the in-state talent base and population to have a good talent base year in and year out, and I think Schiano is one of the most underrated coaches in the country. I thought he did one of the more amazing turnaround jobs I've seen last year. They could have easily packed it in after a tough start, and ended up finishing as one of the hottest teams in the country. I think they are heading into 2009 with a ton of momentum and might win the league this year.

If I was the Big East, I would make a huge push behind the scenes to the following schools:

Penn State, Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech, Virginia, Maryland, Notre Dame

Go out and try to land 3-4 of those schools, and you might have something. If they could get PSU and Miami, the league would suddenly have a ton of credibility again.

I think we're going to see a ton of grumbling from the Seton Halls and DePauls of the world within a year or two about how they can't compete in the Big East in hoops. I don't see why you would hang around in the Big East when you can't compete in the league. Is the money that good?? What about attendance when you're sititng at 2-9 in the league??

When the basketball side starts erupting, the Big East better be ready with a backup plan for football if the league breaks in half. If they could hold together some of the football schools and entice a couple big names into the league from elsewhere, they can probably hold onto their BCS status. If not, I could see the Big East getting the boot.

6. What are your predictions for the Lane Kiffin era??

Jeremy: I must say that I’m getting a big kick out of Orson and Co. and their constant shots at Kiffykins. I must also say that I completely agree that Kiffin is going to be a complete disaster at Tennessee. I’m no fan of Al Davis but it certainly sounds like Kiffin was just as culpable during the Raiders episode. His antics thus far in Knoxville don’t seem to be endearing him to anyone. UT fans seem much more enamored with Mrs. Kiffin (and rightfully so). Also, I can’t help but remember the SC fans on NDNation breathing a sigh of relief when Kiffin left South Central. They all seemed to be of the opinion that Sark was the better coach and better recruiter, and would have been a bigger loss once Kiffin made the jump to Oakland.

Dan: Not off to a good start. Not only that, but Carroll assistants have not had a great track record. UT were dissatisfied with what they had, but what they had was a good thing. Now they have an uncertain commodity and 5 years from now, they’ll be exchanging him for a different commodity.

Matt: What is it that Spurrier used to jab Fulmer with? You can’t spell Citrus without UT? That’s about the level I see the Vols rising (Or Outback / Champs Sports Bowl in today’s lingo). I just don’t see any national championship banners coming to Knoxville any time soon. Kiffin has been running his mouth since Day One, and he obviously has upgraded the recruiting. But I don’t know if he’s beating the Florida’s and Alabama’s and LSU’s of the SEC on a consistent basis. But it will get better than it was under Fulmer the last couple of years.

Mike: To Kiffin’s credit, he has assembled a staff of ace recruiters and, through his antics, he has made Tennessee football relevant again. Still, in the absence of any evidence that he can actually coach, I find it hard to believe that Tennessee will ever challenge for SEC titles under Kiffin’s watch. In a conference with great coaches who have more access to in-state talent than the Vols, it will be an uphill battle for the inexperienced Kiffin. In the end, Kiffin will be known for his bombast, not his coaching acumen.

Doug: I'll start by saying that I am fervently rooting against the Tennessee Volunteers this year. That actually makes me a little sad because I actually like Tennessee. I love their unis, love the orange and white checkered endzones (my high school did the same thing), love the huge letters on the back of the jerseys, love Rocky Top, loved my time in Knoxville for the ND-UT game, loved Neyland. Tennessee fans are among the best fans in the nation. Easily in my top two fanbases next to Nebraska fans. UT is one of the schools that I would love to see ND play on a regular basis.

But I can't stand Lane Kiffin!! He's got the Charlie Weis syndrome. Constant foot-in-mouth disease. All sizzle and no steak. He's been running his mouth since the day he got hired even though the guy hasn't even coached a game. I just hate that style of management. It's a house of cards. As soon as your players see that you can't back up your words, you lose the locker room and your team falls apart. What is the point of all the bravado, especially when you KNOW he's not going to back it up right away?? Kiffin is going to look like a complete clown when Florida is up 41-0 just before halftime, and Urban is kicking onsides to try to put another one on the board.

To be honest, I actually think Kiffin will be ok at Tennessee someday. He's put together a great staff with Coach O and his dad running the defense. They are going to get some talent, and Kiffin is a pretty good coach himself. He's got the pedigree, and he actually did a good job with the Raiders given the circumstances of what he had to work with. I think UT can be a regular top 20 type team with him. There's probably not much more that you can do at Tennessee these days with all these other great coaches in the league.

That's the thing that annoys me about Kiffin's antics. I would really be rooting for him to do well this year if Kiffin had just put his head down and gone to work instead of calling out every other SEC coach and acting like a jerk. Instead, he took the pompous route, and now I want them to go 0-12. I would like to see Tennessee return to prominence, but I don't want Kiffin to be the guy who does it for them.

5. Does Tim Tebow make your list of top 10 college football players of all time??

Jeremy: Right now? Probably. Win another Heisman and another title and he could be #1. I know everyone likes to throw around the “system QB” label, but honestly, what great college QB isn’t a system QB? Enough has been said about this kid. He’s incredibly special, let’s leave it at that.

If he goes and wins a 2nd Heisman and a 3rd national title this year, how can he not? How many players have won two Heisman Trophies? One. How many players have won three national titles as starters or co-starters (counting TT as a co-starter his freshman year)? Not many. Since I think that is what will happen, he has to be in the top 10.

Matt: For sure. Not even a question. Ok, so I’ve only been around since 1980 and my first college football memories are from Notre Dame in the late ‘80s. So Beano Cook would probably be a better person to answer this question than me. But absolutely Tebow is. I know that a lot of people are sick of hearing about him, but guys like Tebow only come around every so often. Allow me to channel my inner Dickie V – the guy is just a flat out winner. IF he wins another title or Heisman this year, he will vault to Number One. Ever. He’s that good.

Yes. Tebow will go down as an absolute legend: incredible leader, tremendous performer and a winner of multiple national championships. Moreover, Tebow could join Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner. Although the excessive praise for Tebow can get annoying (I’m looking at you, Thom Brennaman), he is the type of player that only comes around about once every decade.

Doug: Of course! How could he not make my list?? The three best college football players I've watched this decade are Reggie Bush, Vince Young, and Tim Tebow. We're judging players on what they did in COLLEGE, and Tebow's accomplishments are right there with anyone in the history of the game.

Does his game translate well to the NFL?? Probably not. He might not ever be anything more than a backup QB. Maybe he'll find a niche as a Wildcat/H-Back/Slash type player who can come into a game and make a play, but he's probably not going to be lining up behind center as an NFL starter.

But that's not the measuring stick. In terms of his impact on the college game and his team, I can't think of anyone who has made a bigger difference. Tebow has been the most dominant force in college football the last two seasons, and his best may be yet to come. He is their primary running back, he makes plays through the air, and he's a leader. I don't know how you could watch Florida and not appreciate Tim Tebow.

My criteria for legendary status is whether I will remember that player well 20-25 years from now. There aren't many guys that you can say that about, but Tim Tebow is one of them. All I know is that Tebow won the Heisman as a sophomore (deservedly so), should have won the Heisman last year, and is probably the favorite to win it again along with a 3rd national title. If he does all that, he'll go down as one of the best players I've ever watched in college.

4. Who do you think is the strongest non-BCS conference football program?? Do you think a non-BCS school will play for the national championship in the next five years?

Jeremy: BYU

Boise and Utah are great, but I’m gonna take this in another direction. BYU. Bronco Mendenhall is methodically creating the perfect small conference team – explosive, pass-happy offense with a quirky, pressure defense. Mendenhall is young, he’s a legend at BYU, and he’s not going anywhere. Plus they’ve got an in on any big-time LDS athletes. And there seem to be more and more of these every year.

Dan: Boise State. No. Who cares?

Matt: Utah

Great question. And a tough one. To me, it comes down to Boise State or Utah. No disrespect to TCU, who is has carved out a nice little niche under Gary Patterson, but I think they are a half rung behind the other two. I’ll go with Utah, if only because they play in a tougher conference and have proven they can beat the big boys. That beatdown of Alabama last year was absolutely stunning.

But to answer the second question – NO. I don’t see it. If Utah couldn’t squeeze their way in last year, then it’s just not happening. I have mixed feeling about that too. If you would have asked me last year before the Sugar Bowl, I would have said no way in hell should the Utes be in the title game. But after the game, I would have loved to see them have a shot at it. Maybe that’s where a plus one game would have been great – we could have had Florida – Utah. Although then USC would have had a legit complaint. Ahh, I don’t know…

Mike: TCU

I am, admittedly, a sucker for defense, so I have a strong admiration for the job that Gary Patterson has done in Fort Worth. Boise has been remarkably consistent, but the WAC is not nearly as strong as the Mountain West, which proved its mettle last year by bullying the Pac-10 (most notably of which was BYU’s 59-0 massacre of UCLA in Provo). Furthermore, Utah deserves to be commended for its performance last year, but the Utes have not been as strong as other non-BCS schools on an annual basis and there were plenty of games that could have gone the other way in 2008.

As for the second part of the question, a non-BCS program will not play for the national championship in the next five years. The recent successes of Utah and Boise State in major bowl games have improved the reputation of these teams, but the current system will preclude these teams from playing for the title. Although some may claim that this setup is unfair, I really don’t care. College football, like life, is not always fair and there will always be the haves and the have-nots. Besides, nobody in their right mind really believes that any non-BCS team could run the gauntlet in a major conference during the regular season, so it is perfectly appropriate to exclude these teams from the national championship. Hence, any argument for a playoff system that cites the need for “equal access” to the national championship for the smaller schools should be summarily disregarded.

Doug: Utah

Kind of a tough decision here. I gave consideration to a number of different schools. Historically, BYU has probably had the most success among the non-BCS schools How many non-BCS schools have produced a Heisman Trophy winner and a national title in the last 30 years?? I can't think of anyone other than BYU. There are only a handful of BCS schools that have done it.

Boise State also merits some consideration. How can you argue with what they've done in the last decade?? They're the dominant program in a region that is small but growing (Idaho, Dakotas, Montana, etc). And those folks are football crazy. As mentioned in a post earlier in the year about Big Ten expansion, I think Boise is a VERY intriguing option for the league if some of their prime targets don't pan out. There is a real commitment to have a great football program out there, especially on the financial end.

TCU is also hard to ignore. I don't know how they're doing it down there with so much competition for players in the state of Texas. You got all those Big 12 teams going into Texas for recruits, SEC teams, even Big Ten teams and ND, and yet TCU seems to be good every year. They routinely beat BCS schools and often on the road. Gary Patterson is doing a heckuva job down at TCU.

But I think my vote has to go to the Utah Utes. This pick makes me a little guilty of jumping on a bandwagon, but I really believe that we are seeing the emergence of a potential power program in Utah. Not only are they the flagship state school in a state that is growing rapidly in population (they are about to add 2-3 seats in the House of Representatives in the next census), but they also have the added affiliation with the Mormon religion. The football program benefits from the missionary efforts of the Mormon church out in the Pacific Islands. Hawaii, Samoa, Phillipines, etc. Utah has a steady pipeline of Samoan players on their roster every year that doesn't seem to be going away any time soon. Outside of Notre Dame (the new Samoan U!) and maybe USC, Utah is the preeminent Samoan football school in the country right now.

This is a huge generalization, but football seems like a huge deal in the Mormon community. What else is there to do if you're a Mormon kid?? No drinking, no caffeine, no troublemaking. You might as well watch film, get huge in the weight room, and work on your tackling/routerunning/throwing. If football continues to grow in popularity in the Mormon world, there are going to be a ton of players interested in going to Utah someday.

Within 10 years, I'm predicting that Utah and BYU will be playing in a BCS conference. Maybe it's the Pac 10, maybe it's a recalibrated Big 12, maybe there's a new spinoff conference that forms, but I do think they will get their spot in the BCS club at some point down the road.

As for the title game question, I'm going to say that it COULD happen under the current formula. This Orrin Hatch congressional thing has really put Utah and the non-BCS schools on the radar. I think the voters are going to be looking to put one of those schools in the title game if they have another 12-0 season with multiple wins over BCS schools like Utah did last year. I don't think Utah deserved to be considered for the title game last year, but their performance in the Sugar Bowl certainly didn't hurt. If we get another team like that in the next couple years and no clear cut top two among the BCS schools, I think it would be the perfect storm for a non-BCS school to play for the title.

If that happens, it would be a TRAVESTY. There is no way that a non-BCS school should ever be in a title game. You can't tell me that these teams would go undefeated in a BCS conference where you are facing tough competition in tough venues week in and week out. Unless you'd played a full slate of BCS-school competition, you shouldn't be playing for a championship. Could you imagine a Boise State-Penn State title game because the SEC champ and USC each had a couple losses?? I would boycott that game.

3) Who is the best college football coach in America??

Jeremy: Pete Carroll

There’s really only 4 potential answers to this question, right? Let’s take them in reverse order.

Bob Stoops – He’s got a ring, but 2000 seems like a long time ago. The only bowl win in the past 6 years was the Holiday Bowl in 2005. Granted, the 5 losses all came in BCS games, but he’s starting to acquire a reputation for coming up small on the big stage. Generally considered to be a defensive mind, his Sooner defenses haven’t been great in the recent past.

Nick Saban – Brought MSU back to respectability. Turned LSU back into a powerhouse, including a (shared) title in 2003. Quickly bringing Bama back to its rightful place at the top of the college football world. Since he’s been something of a journeyman thus far, he hasn’t really had the opportunity to cement a legacy as the best coach in the game. One of the finest defensive minds in college football and turning into an amazing recruiter as well.

Urban Meyer – An amazing winner everywhere he’s been, no more evident than in his two titles in four years at the Swamp. I’m very interested to see what he plans to do this year to mix it up with Tebow, and especially interested to see what he can do once Tebow is gone. Appears to be a great recruiter, though it certainly doesn’t take much to recruit to Gainesville right now. If it weren’t for the next guy, Meyer would be a runaway.

Pete Carroll – I know his teams sometimes lose focus during the middle of the Pac-10 season, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to win when he lines his squad up against the best of the best. The best recruiter in the country, Carroll has waves upon waves of 5-star talent at every position. Until he leaves, no one’s better.

Dan: Urban Meyer

This is tough. I’d say it is definitely one of three: Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, or Nick Saban. Pete Carroll consistently gathers the most talented players and has coached the only team that I would feel comfortable stating that his USC team every year for the past 6 years could compete with and beat every team in the country. But he lets his teams get bored during the middle of the season every year. If USC played in the SEC instead of the PAC-10, maybe that would not happen. Nick has been successful at 3 different schools. He turned Bama around almost instantly. Is there any doubt he’ll win a title at Alabama if he stays? No. Is there doubt he’ll stay put? Yes. Will he be consistent? I am not sure. Urban Meyer? Do I really need to say anything about what he’s done? Bowling Green. Utah. Florida. I think either Florida or USC will win the title of this year. The winner of that gets the best coach title. In the mean time, I’m going to go with Urban Meyer.

Matt: Pete Carroll

Hmmm. Pete Carroll. Sure he has a stable of players, but so do all of the big boys. He gets a roster full of 5 stars to buy into the committee approach, and it seems like his players LOVE playing for him. At times, it looks like our guys wouldn’t run through a wet paper bag for Charlie Weis, let alone the proverbial wall.

Mike: Pete Carroll

Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops are in the discussion, but Carroll’s record of success stands unrivaled as the best. I really hope he leaves USC.

Doug: Pete Carroll

So many great coaches out there. Urban Meyer has won 2 national titles and might win a 3rd. Bob Stoops has already won 6 Big 12 titles. Nick Saban has built two programs into powerhouses in the toughest conference in America. It's really hard to argue against any of those guys.

But how could you pick anyone other than Pete "Anytime, Anywhere" Carroll?? I don't see how you could possibly pick anyone else. If you had to pick one guy to win you a big game, who are you picking?? I'm going with Pete Carroll.

I don't think I've ever seen USC come out flat in a big game. I love USC's approach in the big games. They go for the throat right out of the chute. They blitz you, they hit you in the mouth, they go for the jugular on offense, and they're fearless. I love that. All coaches should coach big games like that.

When you watch USC in a big game, it is amazing to watch them assert their will as the game goes on. You look up at the scoreboard and suddenly it's 21-3 late in the 2nd quarter, Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson are ripping off 10-15 yards a pop, and Musberger is waxing poetic. This is the USC football that we've seen ever since Pete Carroll has been there.

USC would have 4-5 national titles if they had been allowed into more of these national title games in the last few years. Does anyone really believe they wouldn't have beaten LSU in 2008 or even Florida last year?? I don't have any doubt about it.

I also love Carroll's attitude about scheduling. I think he encourages the athletic department to go and take on all comers. They will literally play anyone, anywhere. How many other top 5 programs open the season on the road with no return home game like SC?? That type of attitude rubs off on the entire program. They don't duck anybody. Unlike the Big Ten schools with their 4 MAC opponents to open the year and ND's recent trends in scheduling, USC sends a message to their players that they are the best in the nation and want to prove it week in and week out.

USC has lost a lot of personnel, but I still expect them to be the most impressive team in the nation by the end of the year in 2009. That's a credit to Pete Carroll.

2) On a scale of 1-10, rate the Tom Hammond-Pat Haden duo for Notre Dame football. Is there anyone else you'd rather see in the booth calling ND games for NBC??

Jeremy: 6 or 7

Hammond stinks, but there are certainly worse out there. Haden definitely knows his stuff. I’d rather not have a USC guy doing color, but I also don’t want any Ron Santo types in the booth, openly rooting for the home team. Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age, but they don’t bother me as much as they used to.

Dan: 4

They are miserable. I want nothing to do with Tom Hammond. My guess is that he can’t even tie his shoes anymore, let alone remember players’ names and numbers. Pat Haden is ok, but really nothing more than maybe serviceable. You know who I’d put in the booth? Bob Davie and Chris Collinsworth. Not really sure who would do the play by play, but maybe we could bring in someone else for that and do a 3 man booth. Chris already works for NBC, and Davie has ND connections. Say what you will about the ole “footbaw” coach, but he knows the game and I actually enjoy him as an announcer.


OK, I’m sure I’m definitely in the minority here when it comes to ND fans and announcers, but I don’t mind the Hammond – Haden duo. Sure, Hammond can at times take apparent glee in the failings of ND, but to me, those two voices represent ND football. I actually think that Haden is a very good color commentator and for the most part is both insightful and fair when it comes to discussing ND.

Without a doubt, if I could take any other announcing pair, I would take Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson. I probably wouldn’t attend any more ND games just so I could watch Gary break down the play before it happens and here Verne throw around some “In your life’s!”

Mike: 2

Hammond is scary in HD and Haden adds little to the game as an analyst. I would like to see Ted Robinson, who is a Notre Dame alumnus that is already employed by NBC for other sports, including tennis, as the play-by-play announcer. I always enjoyed Robinson’s work as the lead broadcaster for the Mets and I think he would be a perfect addition to the booth for Notre Dame games.

Doug: 6

I might be one of the few ND fans who don't really mind the Hammond and Haden team, but even I'm not going to say that they are one of the best college football broadcast teams out there. Not a lot of legendary calls from Tom Hammond that I can recall, and Pat Haden is really just there as the resident "Mr. Nice Guy" who isn't going to say anything too controversial. I know it's hard for NBC to attract a big time crew for only 6-7 home games a year, so I can live with the Hammond-Haden team. Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson are not walking through that door. Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit are not leaving the ESPN stable for 6 ND games a year.

I do like Pat Haden though and actually enjoy his analysis of the ND football team. I know he's not funny or a big time personality, but I think he watches film and really knows the ND team inside and out. That's really all I'm asking for. Plus, Haden is a class act. I don't think I've ever heard him say a bad thing about ND in all the years I've watched him do games. Haden seems to have a great affection for the institution and our players.

As for Tom Hammond, he definitely is a goofy looking guy, but how can you not respect those pipes?? Hammond has one of the best voices in the business, and I don't really have a problem with his call. I don't get goosebumps like I do when I'm watching a classic Verne Lundquist game, but I think Hammond is capable of rising to the occasion when the moment calls for it. Go back and watch his call of the Quinn to Samardzija drive in the 2006 UCLA game. Great stuff. I don't know how he could have handled that any better.

With that said, I think the Hammond-Haden booth is screaming out for a 3rd guy to come in and shake things up. Hammond and Haden are basically the same personality. Nice guys who bring the same demeanor and sensibility to the table. They're basically just background voices for the ND telecast.

If I was NBC, I would bring one of these two guys into the fold:

Lou Holtz or Bob Davie

Holtz would be a homer (which I don't really want), but I think he'd be great. Lou would be there purely for comic relief and some storytelling. If he gave you some football insight, even better. He's a perfect third wheel. If you told him to tone it down and not go overboard, I think he would be a lot of fun to listen to during ND home games. I don't think he'd get in the way of what Hammond and Haden are trying to do, but he'd bring something to the table.

The other guy who would be even better would be Robert Montgomery Davie. Say what you want about Davie's coaching career, he is one of the most entertaining analysts out there. He's got stories, he's funny, and he knows the game. And make no mistake, Davie loves ND. He is always singing our praises every time he does a game. I think he has come to appreciate his time at ND, and it shows during his telecasts.

Davie seems to be getting marginalized a little bit at ESPN. Now, would be a great time for NBC to swoop in and offer him the ND gig. I think he'd take it, and I'd be thrilled to have him on board.

1) Are you a fan of the "head coach in waiting" trend that is popping up at schools like Texas and FSU where the school names the future head coach while the current head coach is still there??


Not a fan. These guys have no HC experience. Even if they’ve been learning at the foot of some of the best in the business. Of course its questionable just how much guys like Bowden and Brown do anymore, so maybe the “coaches in waiting” are doing the brunt of the work after all. But in my opinion, tabbing guys who haven’t actually been there is pretty dangerous. ND has been burned twice in the recent past by this – Bob Davie probably would have been a decent HC if he had gotten some experience prior to starting in South Bend. He was too hands-on and unwilling to delegate to his assistants. Charlie Weis seems to be heading down a similar path. While it may seem like a dangerous move to let guys like Jimbo Fisher and Will Muschamp go sow some royal oats at a smaller school, I wouldn’t want to turn my program over to a first-time head coach


No. It’s a terrible idea. I’m a Colts fan. I hated it for my team. Look at Texas and FSU. They are settling for assistants years in advance. I think they try and do this to provide stability for recruits. But who cares? These programs are going to get the recruits regardless of the coach. And by settling for 2nd tier candidates with no HC experience, they are almost damning themselves to several years of mediocrity followed by a second coaching search. It’s an awful, awful, idea.


Not really. But I get it. If you want to hang onto your valuable ‘right hand men,’ you’ve got to give them something to stick around for. For FSU and Bowden who will probably be gone soon, fine. Let Jimbo Fisher start to plan what he’s going to do and maybe get more involved in the day to day operations. But with Texas, I don’t really get it. Is Mack Brown really going anywhere soon? He could easily coach another 15 years if he wanted to and nobody would think anything of it. Is Will Muschamp just supposed to wait it out? What if LSU comes calling in 5 years and he’s still just sitting there waiting for Mack Brown to hang up the whistle? I guess it just depends on the situation whether the head coach in waiting makes sense.


Yes, tentatively. As with other areas of business, it seems sensible for programs to engage in succession planning. In fact, Purdue has already used this approach to effectuate a successful transition from Gene Keady to Matt Painter, so it is easy to see why the Boilermakers were eager to nominate Danny Hope as their coach-in-waiting. Of course, since the practice has not been used in college football until recently, it is virtually impossible to predict whether this plan will work on the gridiron.

This year, Chip Kelly and Hope will take the reins at Oregon and Purdue respectively, so it will be interesting to chart their progress. Likewise, all eyes will be squarely fixed on Will Muschamp and Jimbo Fisher, both of whom will have the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of two legends. Although it is, as mentioned above, exceedingly difficult to predict the future, I suspect that the coaches who take over smaller programs will have a higher probability of success than those first time coaches who, despite having no head coaching experience, are asked to lead a high-profile program.


I'm still trying to wrap my head around this whole idea. Part of me think it's smart planning, but part of me thinks it is way too risky.

In theory, I like the idea of having a succession plan in place. That's what you see at just about any corporation or business out there. The smartest companies will groom their CEO from within and make the transition as easy as possible. Continuity can be a good thing for a college football program as well. At a school like Texas, Mack Brown has built a recruiting and winning machine. He has put a fence around the state of Texas that all but guarantees 9-10 wins a year at a minimum. It makes sense to train the next guy in the Mack Brown system and keep that good thing going. If you go out and hire an outside guy after Mack Brown retires, that guy might not have the relationships with local Texas high school coaches. Suddenly, the cracks in the foundation of the Texas program start showing, and you're starting all over.

On the other hand, what if this groomed replacement isn't any good?? What if Will Muschamp can't hold it together like Mack Brown did?? He's never been a head coach before. I don't care how much training you have. Until you've sat in that big chair, you are an unknown. If Muschamp takes over and can't get it done, you could set your program back for a decade. It just seems like a huge risk that a school like Texas shouldn't necessarily have to take.

The other thing is that you don't get a chance to look around at other hot young coaches out there. It's the freaking University of Texas. When Mack Brown retires, they could literally have their pick of the litter. What coach wouldn't want to coach at Texas?? You have the first crack at the best talent in the state of Texas, you have tons of money and resources at your disposal, you get to live in a fantastic city like Austin, great weather, great school, flagship institution in the state of Texas. I'm not sure there's a better job in America than Texas.

That's why it's so strange that a school like Texas would be in such a hurry to name their replacement from within the program. It's not like Texas groomed Mack Brown from within. They brought him in from North Carolina. If you are always looking internally, you might miss on a chance to hire an elite coach from another program. What if the next Mack Brown is out there coaching at another school but you're already committed to Will Muschamp?? What if Major Applewhite goes to another school and wins big?? Wouldn't he be an attractive candidate for the Texas job as well?? Why eliminate the competition to find the best possible head coach??

How do we even know that Will Muschamp is going to continue to be a great defensive assistant?? What if Texas' defense stinks next year?? Will that mean that Muschamp is not only out as the future head coach but also potentially out as a defensive coordinator??

The key will obviously be whether Muschamp turns out to be a great coach. If he is, then it's a genius move by Texas to lock him up. By all accounts, he is one of the bright young coaches in the game. I love watching him fire up the troops on the sideline. I thought he was going to end up at Auburn or Clemson last offseason, so maybe Texas is absolutely convinced that Muschamp will be a coaching superstar someday.

Chip Kelly is the first of these "succession" coaches to take over. It will be interesting to see what he does at Oregon. He's been credited as the brains behind the Oregon offense in the last few years, so it's logical to think that he'll be a great fit as the head coach. But you never know.

I'm predicting that one of these "succession" schools reneges on their offer at some point. Maybe FSU with Jimbo Fisher if their offense doesn't start looking better in the next couple years. And I still don't think it's set in stone by any means that Will Muschamp will be the head coach at Texas. Things can change in a hurry.