October 12, 2009

Around the Nation: Mark Richt update, Bud Light tailgateapproved.com, Terrelle Pryor, the White Stripes, and a plea for Gameday in South Bend

Tough to go a whole weekend in the fall with no Irish football, but here's where I stand after the week 6 action.

Could there possibly be a bigger disconnect between the national perception of Mark Richt and the perception of Georgia fans of him?? We had a few Georgia alums at the tailgate on Saturday (from Augusta, Georgia no less; I think I might have offered my house in a straight up trade for a round at "The National" as the locals call it), and I don't get the impression that Mark Richt is as idolized down there as you would think. In fact, the perception that I got from these guys is that he's sort of wearing out his welcome a little bit and that people are concerned about the state of the program. I don't actually think he's on the hot seat or anything, but it might get a little uncomfortable if they don't start playing better.

They got destroyed by Tennessee yesterday. Their defense has been horrible all year. Johnathan Crompton was looking like Peyton Manning against that defense.

Looking at their schedule for the rest of the rest of the season, they still have an opportunity to win 8 games. But that could easily turn into 6-6 if they continue to slump.

By the way, the rights to firemarkricht.com have already been purchased. By a Georgia fan. So that's probably not starting up any time soon. However, firemarkricht.net is up and running.

7) I'm officially torn on light beer choices now with this Bud Light "Tailgate Approved" ad campaign with the different school-color themed cans. I was always partial to the Coors Light NFL coaches' ad campaign, but how great is it to crack open a blue and gold can of "Irish koolaid" or a scarlet colored "Buckeye Bud Light"??? When I head up to South Bend next weekend, I'm coming home with as many cases of blue and gold ND Bud Light as I can get.

Great work In Bev. I can't believe no one has thought of this before. Make a can for every major college football program and sell them regionally. If I'm going in to the store to load up on supplies for a tailgate, it's a virtual lock that I'm buying those school-themed Bud Lights.

6) Great story out of Cincinnati this week with the news that Jimmy Clausen, Kyle Rudolph, Dayne Crist, and Golden Tate traveled down to the Elder-Moeller game to watch ND recruits Andrew Hendrix and Alex Welch.

Not only is it a good sign that these guys buy into this ND program and are trying to help build this program for the future, but it's also a good sign to me that there's a lot of chemistry on this Irish football team. For the guys to spend their bye week watching a high school football game four hours away from South Bend is pretty cool if you ask me. Weis has been saying all year that this is the closest team he's had in terms of chemistry and camaraderie, and it's stuff like this that confirms it.

Can't help but wonder if this is a sign that Jimmy Clausen would be inclined to stick around for his senior year just to have one more year with his buddies. Not only would he be returning as the Heisman frontrunner and a potential national championship contender, you never get those moments in college back once you go pro. You know guys like Tate and Rudolph will be leaning on Jimmy to come back. Awfully hard to turn down that money if he's a top 10 pick, but it will be a very difficult decision for Jimmy if his teammates are all coming back and telling him that the team could be special if he stays.

5) Might as well call out ESPN College Gameday again this week and put in a formal demand for ESPN to pull the plug on the Red River Rivalry this week and come up to South Bend, Indiana for the Notre Dame-USC game. I mean, come on ESPN. Is there even the slightest bit of doubt as to which of those games is going to draw a bigger rating?? It'll be like the President's Cup ratings versus NFL Sunday (although I will admit to enjoying the heck out of the President's Cup this weekend).

OU-Texas is a big game, but it doesn't have anywhere near the national appeal of Notre Dame-USC. Think about all the subplots for this ND-USC game:

--Charlie Weis looking for his "signature win"
--The Clausen Heisman watch and NFL Draft watch
--USC back in the national title picture
--Matt Barkley possibly showcasing for a 2010 breakout Heisman campaign
--The general feeling that this is ND's best chance to beat USC since the Bush Push game, which was an all-time classic
--ND's general "Cardiac Catholics" reputation in 2009
--The knee high "rough"
--The general buzz that comes from watching games at ND Stadium

If you're a college football fan, you're going to be watching ND-USC on Saturday afternoon. You might peek in on Oklahoma-Texas, but it's not the "must watch" game of the weekend.

When you look at it that way, why is ESPN Gameday not coming to South Bend?? Wouldn't Gameday's ratings be really good if you put it there?? Or is it a bone for Kirk Herbstreit since I'm assuming that he'll be doing the OU-Texas game??

4) Some thoughts from the B Deck of the Horseshoe after watching Ohio State-Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon.

--To the Buckeye fans who have been down on Terrelle Pryor and questioning his future, I might as well take the time to offer an official apology. It's waaaaaaaaaaay too early to throw in the towel on Pryor, but there's reason to be concerned. He's the worst QB I've seen in the Big Ten so far this year other than Juice Williams. Not only is not getting better, he's regressing. Not a good sign. How is a guy with his size and athletic ability so unable to make plays to move the ball down the field?? Is he just not a quarterback?? Is he not picking up the scheme?? Is it a "square peg, round hole" thing with him just not fitting in?? Is Tressel not taking advantages of his strengths and letting him do more with his legs??

Pryor has no juice on his throws. It's noticeable. The ball just floats down there. Plus, he locks in on guys, makes shaky reads, and really doesn't seem comfortable. Pryor is so focused on staying in the pocket that he's not even taking advantage of his greatest strength: his running ability.

And yet when he does make something happen, it can be breathtaking. Two examples would be when he ripped off that 30 yard scramble like it was nothing or when he just glides 8-10 yards on only 2-3 strides. You would think that he would be able to churn out far more than 35 yards on the ground with his ability to run with the ball.

Bottom line though is that Pryor in his current form doesn't help the Buckeyes win games. He was recruited as a superstar, but right now he's a liability. He's obviously not fitting in with this pro style scheme at the moment, and Tressel and his staff are going to have to figure something out that works for this offense if they are going to win another Big Ten title.

If I was Tressel, I think I'd make the decision in the offseason to hire a Gus Malzahn type spread guru as my offensive coordinator. A guy who knows how to make these spread option type offenses work. Pryor can talk all he wants about developing to become an NFL player, but he's not even going to make the CFL if he keeps this up. Someone has to create a system that will allow him to do what he does best. Run the ball, make plays on the edge, draw attention to his legs to open thing up in the passing game. If you could get Pryor into a potent offensive scheme, he might resurrect his career and become a dominant college player. And as we have seen through the years, if you are a dominant college player, some NFL team will talk themselves into taking you even if your game doesn't really translate to the NFL. We saw it with Vince Young, and we're seeing it with Tebow now. They went/will go far sooner than they should have gone in the Draft.

So that's where I would go if I was Tressel. Try to do enough this year that will get you by for the rest of the season (designed runs, short controlled passes, etc), and then really come in next year with an aggressive offensive scheme to go with that defense. Will Tressel give up the control?? We'll see.

One thing that has been especially damaging about the whole Pryor thing. Pryor's decision to sign with Ohio State basically scared off all recruits and even some of the guys already on the roster (Antonio Henton, Schoenhoft), so there really is no backup plan. Unless you consider a 26 year old walk on named Joe Bauserman as a legitimate backup plan. Terrelle Pryor is the only viable guy on the entire roster right now.

--Then again, even with all of their struggles on offense, I actually think Ohio State is more capable this year of playing with the better teams out there than they have been the past few years. Why?? One reason and one reason only. Their defensive line. This is the best defense Tressel has had since 2005 (and maybe even 2002), and it's all because of their defensive line. They just bring waves of bodies, and all of them are good. Heyward, Worthington, Latimore, Rose, Williams, even Lawrence Wilson. All they need to do is bring their front four, and they get pressure almost every time.

It just goes to show that the key to having a good defense in college football is all about your defensive line. If you have a great d-line, the rest of your defense can be average and it doesn't even matter. Look at Ohio State's linebackers and DBs this year. There's not a whole of lot of future NFL talent there, but this defense is significantly better than the Lauranaitis/Malcolm Jenkins defenses that had great LB and DB talent but not as much up front. If you can control the line of scrimmage with your front four, it makes all the difference in the world.

Ohio State has had statistically good defenses the last couple years, but there's a big difference between statistically good and actually good. The OSU defense got exposed by LSU and Florida and USC the last few years. I think they have shored up those problems with a more aggressive scheme and some superb depth on the defensive line. It started last year when the d-line really played well against Texas, and it has continued into this year against USC and in Big Ten play. They are playing more of an SEC style of defense this year, and it has really been noticeable so far.

--One last comment on the stadium atmosphere. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I wasn't that crazy about the new White Stripes "Seven Nation Army" thing that the crowd is doing now before kickoffs, but I'm changing my tune. I kind of like it now. I think it might even be time for Jim Tressel to invite the White Stripes to the sideline for a game.

First, it's not the Penn State song. Penn State does "Zombie Nation," so it's not quite the blatant copycat move that I thought it was. Second, the crowd really does get into it. It works. Isn't that what it's all about when it comes to the band and the crowd?? Doing things that make the crowd noisy?? When they get it going, everyone is doing the "ohhhhhh, oh-oh-oh-ohhhhhhhhhh" thing and the players are dancing and going crazy. If anything, my only complaint is that they don't do it long enough. They should get it going right after the extra point goes through so that it builds to a crescendo right before kickoff instead of waiting until the last second to start it. And I would start doing it on other key plays as well.

I'll admit, I'm warming up to it, and now I'm borderline hoping that Dr. Kenneth Dye drums up something similar for ND. Anything to get your crowd into the game is a good thing, and it actually makes the stadium more intimidating.

3) My Heisman ballot through week 6:

3) Mark Ingram
2) Jimmy Clausen
1) Tim Tebow

It's time to at least put Mark Ingram into the conversation. For my money, he's the best running back in the country.

And say what you want about Tim Tebow, but the guy gets the benefit of the doubt from me. Sure, he has a superb defense, but you can't sit here and tell me that Tim Tebow hasn't been a big factor in why Florida has been so successful these past few years. Go back and watch the national championship game and tell me that he didn't play a great game against Oklahoma. He didn't do much statistically on Saturday, but it's not like Tebow hasn't had great statistical games. Florida is playing a more conservative style of football this year, but Tebow is still the engine that makes them go. If they really need him to have a huge game statistically, he is more than capable of doing it.

Now, can Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy or Mark Ingram rip the award away from Tim Tebow?? ABSOLUTELY!! Florida has bigger goals than winning the Heisman, so Tebow is probably going to try to grind out wins with that defense. If someone else steps up and plays outstanding football, the award is there for the taking. Clausen can do that this weekend against USC. Same with Colt McCoy.

But for now, my default winner is still Tim Tebow until someone comes out and takes the award away from him. All he has done throughout his career is win big games, and I don't see any reason to hand the trophy to someone else until they can prove the same.

2) THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!! Maybe the most interested I've been in the NFL in several years. Two things that I love about the NFL right now:

1) Josh McDaniels!! I love this guy. Great to see another Ohio guy having success in coaching.

If you didn't like his postgame celebration, I don't know what to say. How can you not love that?? I thought it was one of the coolest things I've seen involving an NFL game in a long time. A coach who was fired up for himself, his team, his fans, and his city, and he just let it all spill out. Maybe people don't like their coaches chest-bumping and hugging players, but I don't see anything wrong with it if you have their respect in the locker room and during practice and meetings and all that. I don't want the coach to be some phony cheerleader, but I don't see what is wrong with having emotion and bringing energy to your team. The NFL has been trending every year toward the younger coaches, and part of the appeal is that they can relate to these players.

Any possibility that McDaniels was one of the big secrets behind Tom Brady's success?? He now has done some great things with Brady, Matt Cassel last year in New England, and Kyle Orton. Not bad for a 32 year old.

Plus, he's an Ohio boy!! Was there even a doubt?? Grew up in Barberton, Ohio, played football at John Carroll University, and grew up at the knee of Nick Saban. The Ohio coaching tree has added yet another branch. It is absolutely amazing how many big time coaches have come out of that little corridor in northeast Ohio.

We have no idea if McDaniels is the real deal (or Denver for that matter), and yesterday may represent the high point of his career. But I like what I've seen so far.

2) The 4-1 FIRST PLACE Cincinnati Bengals!! Cincy is another team that we won't really know for sure about until about week 10 or so, but everything about them screams out "for real" at the moment. I thought the Bengals would get outclassed by the Ravens in this game, but it became apparent as the game went along that the Bengals were flat out better than Baltimore. Their defense completely shut down Baltimore, and the only reason the Ravens were in the game was because of some fluke turnovers. Other than a shaky first half against Pittsburgh, the Bengals have been in control of every other game. Through five games, they've won at Baltimore, at Green Bay, at Cleveland, beat the Steelers, and lost on a fluke play to the Broncos. After that game against the Broncos, I never thought in a million years that the Bengals would be 4-1 right now against the toughest part of the schedule.

The Bengals are still a work in progress, but you can win a lot of football games if you play defense and run the football. The Bengals can do both. They've invested a ton of picks and money into the front seven of their defense, and the difference has been remarkable. Antwan Odom, Rey Maualuga, Keith Rivers, Pat Sims, Tank Johnson, etc. Was there any doubt that Rey Maualuga was going to be a stud?? I still can't believe he fell all the way to the second round. He's already the face of the Bengals defense.

And Cedric Benson!! Are you kidding me?? He's like Rudi Johnson reincarnated. Leading rusher in the NFL right now. Benson was a gift for this franchise, and he's playing with a chip on his shoulder. I tuned in to the Bengals postgame show on the radio, and Benson was literally crying in the locker room. Very emotional stuff, but I'm glad he has found himself in Cincinnati.

If anything, the Bengals are still an unfinished product. Andre Smith hasn't even played a down yet, and he will help make this o-line even better when he comes back.

I'm happy for Marvin Lewis, but I'm really happy for Carson Palmer. He's had a tough stretch these last few years, and he's now just starting to look like the old Carson Palmer. I thought he played great on Sunday, and the last drive was spectacular. Three straight game-winning drives.

If I had to rank the top NFL teams, I'd go like this right now:

1) New York Giants
2) Indy
3) New Orleans

I'm not buying into the Vikings at all. They've played three of the worst teams in the NFL. They have Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay at Lambeau. I'll buy into them if they win 2 of those games.

Would love to see a Manning Bowl this year. WOW.

1) WEISND Week 7 Power Poll:

4) Virginia Tech
3) USC
2) Florida
1) Alabama

Congratulations to the coaches poll and AP voters for finally doing the right thing and dropping Texas to #3. Texas has not proven one thing through four weeks of the season, and I haven't seen any reason to rank them in the top 5 up to this point. When your five wins have come against Louisiana-Monroe, Wyoming, Texas Tech, UTEP, and Colorado and you've looked somewhat middling in those games, that's not enough for me. I would love to see OU win the Red River Rivalry this weekend and put the Texas hype to rest.

I'm moving Virginia Tech into the mix just because I'm impressed with what they have done so far this year. They beat Nebraska, smoked Miami (FL), and smoked BC. There aren't many teams with three wins that impressive so far. Heck, their only loss was to an Alabama team that I think is the best team in the country this year. I don't know if they are one of the elite teams in America or not, but I give them a lot of credit for what they have done. Their performance against a very difficult schedule (ACC plus Bama and Nebraska in OOC play) has been outstanding.

USC is my clear cut #3 team this week. When I look around the nation, I find myself wondering if there is one team out there that could compete with the Florida/Bama juggernaut in a BCS bowl game. And the only team that meets that criteria for me right now is USC. USC may still be in transition, but it's still USC. They have the talent and the big game mentality to hang around with anyone. Maybe they lose to ND this week or to Oregon later this year, but I'm sticking them at #3 for now. We'll find out a lot more about USC this weekend in South Bend.

Then again, if the NCAA got together and made a decision that the winner of the SEC Championship game would be declared the national champion after the game, I would be perfectly fine with that. If Florida and Alabama are both undefeated going into that game and USC has more than one loss, I'm completely in favor of making that game the de facto national title game.


Sarah said...

I'm glad to see that I am not the only "other light beer drinker" who thoroughly enjoys the blue and gold cans...and bought her dog the Tailgate Approved beer backpack. Because my tailgate is missing tail.

Anonymous said...

nbc has an exclusive home game contract with notre dame. they put up with showcasing our crappy games vs. nevada and san diego state so that they can get the big games like usc. espn gameday is not welcome. i see your point, but that is the deal we made.

INCITEmarsh/Mike Marchand '01 said...

Re: beer — I can't believe you like the Coors Light "coach" commercials. Those got so old so quick.

I don't know if the NFL would let them have colored cans to match the pro teams given their contract with Coors Light, but I wonder if you couldn't find orange-and-black striped cans in Cincinnati.

Re: ND's players going to the 'Nati — how fast do you drive? Four hours seems damn quick.

Re: "College GameDay" — Oklahoma and Texas are ranked better than their counterparts in our game, and it has two Heisman candidates instead of one. They probably made the right choice. It's not because of Herbstreit; he generally works the night game on ABC, and the Red River shootout is a noon start. (And how is that game NOT in the Jerry Jones Vanity Project?)

(To answer anonymous: "GameDay" has come to Notre Dame seven times; all of them were NBC games. In fact, "GameDay" invented its roadshow format at Notre Dame when they showed up for the "Game Of The Century" versus Florida State in 1993; NBC has had ND's home game rights since 1991.)

Re: Alabama — the coaches' poll left them at #3.