January 30, 2009

Lane Kiffin rocks the boat in the SEC

Check out this article on Lane Kiffin and some of the rifts that he has already created among SEC coaches.

On the day he was introduced as Vols coach, Kiffin said one of the things he is most looking forward to in '09 is "singing Rocky Top all night long" after beating Florida.

That kind of preaching-to-the-choir comment fit perfectly into the rhetoric of his first press conference. I doubt it got much of a rise in Gainesville, since the Gators have owned the Vols in recent seasons.

What really irked Florida Coach Urban Meyer was that Kiffin continued to attempt to hire — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — receivers coach Billy Gonzales while the Gators were preparing for the national championship game.

More recently, Kiffin has gotten on the nerves of Alabama Coach Nick Saban to the extent that Saban is asking players who already have committed to the Crimson Tide not to take official visits to UT.

This is in response to Kiffin's hiring of Lance Thompson off Saban's staff. Thompson, considered Alabama's best recruiter, got a big raise to jump to the Vols just two weeks before signing day.

Considering that UT is a combined 1-6 since Meyer and Saban arrived at Florida and Alabama, you have to take your victories wherever you can find them.

And don't forget that Kiffin also has tugged on Steve Spurrier's visor. First Kiffin hired his brother-in-law, David Reaves, off the South Carolina staff. Then Kiffin and Spurrier exchanged comments in the press about recruiting.

While we're at it, Kiffin also threw a $400,000 offer at super recruiter Rodney Garner in an attempt to lure him off Mark Richt's staff at Georgia. Garner chose to stay at Georgia.

For those keeping score, Kiffin has kicked sand at Meyer, Saban, Spurrier and Richt. It's no coincidence that those are the coaches of the four most important opponents on UT's schedule every year. Those are also four programs that the Vols must match in recruiting if they are to regain relevance in the SEC.

WOW, Kiffin has come out charging in the SEC!! When you have the names Saban, Meyer, Richt, and Spurrier all mad at you within a month of taking the job at Tennessee, that is a bold entrance to the league.

Part of me absolutely loves what Kiffin is doing. Tennessee has been a bit of a dying brand for the last 7-8 years, and they needed someone to come in and give them their swagger back. UT doesn't have the in-state talent base, so they have always needed someone who can hit the road to sell that program regionally and nationally. When Tennessee was rolling, they were bringing in kids all over the country. New Jersey, California, Florida, even a kid or two out of Ohio on occasion. If you want to compete in the SEC, you need players. If they can start recruiting at the elite levels again, that would go a long way toward them becoming an elite program again.

Tennessee has apparently made the decision that they are done messing around, and they needed to do something bold and break out the big dollars. Kiffin seems to be more than willing to fire some shots across the bow of these other SEC coaches. And if he is taking the best recruiters off the staffs at Bama and Florida and maybe Georgia, he could start stockpiling talent. It seems like there is all kinds of buzz lately about Vols football, which is more than they've been able to say for a long time. If he can haul in some big time classes with this momentum, maybe things really start rolling at Tennessee.

It is amazing the amount of money that Tennessee is throwing around lately to build up this coaching staff.

Lane Kiffin - $2 million+
Monte Kiffin - $1.5 million
Ed Oregeron - $650,000

Plus, he's throwing around big dollars to raid these other coaching staffs in the SEC for their recruiters and assistants. All told I would imagine that Tennessee is easily going to have the highest paid coaching staff in the country next year. They are going to have some serious recruiting horse power on that staff, and obviously Monte Kiffin and Coach O have pretty strong reputations in the coaching world.

Here's the only thing that would concern me if I was a Vols fan. Kiffin seems to be putting his entire stake in this program on recruiting and selling himself. Everything he is out there selling is "hey man, come play for me and learn what I know about the NFL as a former NFL head coach, come play for my dad who invented the Tampa 2 and learn what it takes to play that defense and get to the league." Kiffin is selling HIMSELF and this idea that he is going to get you to the league.

That type of talk is obviously part of every recruiting pitch out there, but isn't there something to be said for also selling your school and the idea of playing for a championship?? Nick Saban is selling to recruits the following:

"Come to Alabama and let's win the SEC Championship"

Urban Meyer is saying the same thing. Mack Brown is selling the same thing. Pete Carroll....ditto.

With Kiffin, he is selling "The Lane and Monte Kiffin Show." That's fine when you're coaching at freaking Rutgers and trying to build something, but he's the head coach at Tennessee!! You have Neyland Stadium and Peyton Manning and Rocky Top and one of the most passionate fanbases in the country. Kiffin doesn't need to come in and sell himself as the savior to Vols football and that recruiting is the end all be all for his program. If your whole spiel is that the only way you are winning at UT is through recruiting, I'd be a little nervous about that.

There's a name that sort of pops into my head when I read about what is going on down at Tennessee, and I think it could be a cautionary tale for Vols fans: Charles Joseph Weis. Weis came to ND and sold himself and his rings and his Jersey guy stuff. Obviously, myself and most ND fans lapped it up and got excited about the newfound swagger. The problem is that it was a house of cards. When you are selling yourself instead of your program, everything suddenly depends on you. And if you falter at all and people lose a little faith, the whole thing crumbles. So even though Weis put a jolt into our program that has paid off in recruiting, the foundation of our program is still shaky even after four years.

Now, I do think Weis has learned quite a few lessons in humility and is making more of an effort to be a leader and not just a salesman/personality. The goal is to build a football program that can win football games and championships. It's not just recruiting and bravado. You obviously need to have great players to win, but I also like my coaches to be the types of guys who can win with anyone's players. A guy like Urban Meyer won at Bowling Green, he won at Utah, and it was obvious that he was going to win at Florida. Same with Saban. He can win with Bama players, and he can win with Toledo players. I hope Weis has learned that lesson and that our program will have a stronger foundation going forward.

Kiffin was a bold gamble by Tennessee, and I think he has done a good job so far of lifting their spirits. The best thing a new coach can give you as a fan is some hope that better things are ahead. That's exactly what Kiffin has done. But he better also be focusing on building a foundation that goes beyond recruiting and personality.

This whole SEC thing continues to blow me away. The arms race down there is unreal. Teams are willing to spend ANY amount of money for success, and coaches are jumping around for pay increases left and right. Even NFL assistants are showing up at these schools for big dollars. Is money just pouring into that league with the CBS contract and the new SEC deal?? Why aren't any other leagues busting out this kind of cash? The SEC is playing a different sport from the rest of college football. Between Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn, you are talking about six of the biggest recruiting and coaching budgets in the country. What other league is even in that stratosphere??

January 29, 2009

Mountain West: Automatic Bid?

Ok, I was all prepared to rip the Mountain West Conference for demanding an automatic bid to the BCS, but I dug a little deeper and actually am warming up to the idea. Here's the latest info on their bid.

According to a USA Today article released Monday, MWC officials are seeking an automatic berth into a BCS bowl.

this past season was the first year of a four-year examination period used by the BCS to determine which conferences can be eligible for automatic BCS bids.

The MWC was the seventh-rated conference after the last examination period, leaving them just shy of an automatic bid, he said.

The BCS uses three criteria to determine which conference get automatic bowl bids, according to the BCS Web site. These include "the ranking of the highest-ranked team in the final BCS standings each year, the final regular-season rankings of all conference teams in the computer rankings used by the BCS each year and the number of teams in the top 25 of the final BCS standings each year."

One MWC official said the conference was deserving of an automatic bid.

"Right now, the Mountain West is sitting pretty," said Javan Hedlund, football contact for the Mountain West Conference. "We have the highest-ranked (non-BCS conference) team at No. 6. We had three teams in the top 25, all in the top 16 team which makes that stronger."

Hedlund said the BCS would look at the conference differently because it has nine teams, as opposed to the Big East's eight and the Big 12 and SEC, which each have 12.

All these points are valid. The Mountain West no doubt had a great year this year, and I think they deserve all the praise in the world for probably being the best "non-BCS" conference right now. The MWC went something like that 5-1 against the Pac 10 this year. And I definitely think that Utah was deserving of a top 5 ranking and a BCS bid.

I acknowledge all those points in their favor, but I still wasn't buying in until doing a little further investigation. When I first heard about it, I was actually kind of annoyed about them wanting an automatic bid after one good year. Build some credibility over a few years, and then I'll start listening to your demands. My lingering concern was that the MWC is a one-year wonder type league that occasionally puts out some good teams. But check out their last five champions:

2004 - Utah - 12-0 (beat Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl)
2005 - TCU -11-1 (beat Iowa State in the Houston Bowl)
2006 - BYU - 11-2 (beat Oregon 38-8 in the Las Vegas Bowl)
2007 - BYU - 11-2 (beat UCLA 17-16 in the Las Vegas Bowl)
2008 - Utah - 13-0 (beat Bama in the Sugar Bowl)

That's not too shabby!! It's not like a bunch of 8-4 teams are winning the league. And the teams that have won the MWC have proven themselves in bowl games. I think I could live with the Mountain West getting an automatic bid if they are going to produce consistent 10-11 win teams for these bowl games. That's more than the Big East can say.

The downside to the MWC getting an automatic bid is that it adds even more of a foundation to the BCS. The plucky underdog will no longer care about a playoff or a new system if they are getting annual BCS paydays. When every conference is automatically invited to the BCS, the playoff chatter is going to quiet down in a hurry. The media can chirp all they want, but the real action is going to come from within the conferences. If the MWC isn't shouting them down anymore from the outside, the inertia of the Big 10 and the Pac 10 are going to be even tougher to overcome.

The other problem is that you KNOW that the media is going to prop up one of these MWC teams for the BCS title game as soon as they have an opportunity. If the MWC is suddenly an auto invite to the BCS, I guarantee that they'll start softening up their nonconference schedules to clear the path for somebody to sneak into that title game. Suddenly, Utah is going to be scheduling a couple I-AA schools instead of Pac 10 teams. And if the league is legitimized with a BCS bid, the media is going to use that as a reason to throw one of these Utah types into a title game over somebody like USC or OU or Florida that has had to run the gauntlet in a power league. No thanks. We already have one of these "problem" conferences with the sham that is the Big East, and I really don't feel like seeing another one around clamoring for the BCS title game. If you want to be in a title game, you should have to play at least 1 or 2 "heavyweights" to get there. That was my gripe with West Virginia under Rich Rod when they were running up 11-1 seasons, and that will be my gripe with Utah if they get into the conversation down the road. Heck, I am a Cincinnati football supporter, but I will never support them in a BCS title game unless they play a heavyweight in the nonconference and win.

Here are your Mountain West Conference schools and their home stadium capacities:

Texas Christian - Amon Carter Stadium - 44,000
UNLV - Sam Boyd Stadium - 40,000
Utah - Rice-Eccles Stadium - 45,000
New Mexico - University Stadium - 42,000
BYU - Lavell Edwards Stadium - 64,000
Wyoming - War Memorial Stadium - 33,500
Colorado State - Hughes Stadium - 35,000 (how is this not called Sonny Lubick Field?)
San Diego State - Qualcomm Stadium - 72,000 (NFL stadium that probably brings in 20,000 for SDSU games)
Air Force - Falcon Stadium - 52,000

You are talking about a league with exactly one school that plays in a "big time" atmosphere, and that's BYU. And even that is being generous to them. There aren't any 85,000 seat crazy environment games anywhere in that league, and the vast majority of these stadiums are small time venues.

Now obviously there is more to football than stadium sizes, but I can't really get excited about these MWC schools getting title game consideration. And while I don't necessarily have a problem with the MWC schools being involved with the BCS (since it appears that they usually have a deserving candidate), I really would prefer to see the BCS chop down on these automatic bid affiliations. Just pick the 10 best teams and forget the tie-ins.

I'm not ruling out the possibility that this league will continue to grow in profile, especially since demographics seem to be in its favor with so many people moving to that region of the country every year. In ten years, there may be 3-4 "heavyweights" in that league, and I might be able to get behind seeing a team like TCU or Utah in the title game. But for now, I don't think the week in and week out challenges in the Mountain West are anything compared to life in the Big 12 or the SEC or the Pac 10.

One other interesting Mountain West note is that they are trying to persuade Boise State to join the league. That could be a very interesting move. Adding Boise and Fresno to the league would really create a pretty strong top half of the league, and they would be able to claim that they now represent the best of the Mountain region in the United States (other than maybe Colorado). I definitely would like to see that happen. You'd suddenly have 4 "top 25"-ish programs in the Mountain West. That's certainly better than what the Big East has trotted out in the last few years.

January 27, 2009

Slipping Away

This snapshot is worth at least 2,000 words, or the equivalent of half a Doug post. I imagine the thoughts racing through The Mongoose's mind read something like this:

"What in the name of James A. Naismith is going on?! Did that really just happen? What else do I have to do? Why are half my shots fadeaways and beyond 10 feet? When did we become an NIT team? Why am I not having fun anymore? Is next year going to be like this? Do I leave? This is FUBAR!"

I feel bad for Luke. He doesn't deserve this whatsoever. Who would've thought Rob Kurz was such an integral part of the team's success? Kurz did all the dirty work, guarded the big man, rebounded with pure toughness, scored consistently in double digits (the missing 3rd scorer this year) and opened up the interior for Harangody to operate. Unless something drastic happens, it looks like a bleak March forecast for tournament expectations.

January 26, 2009

ND Hoops against Marquette - Gotta Stop the Bleeding

Tough game on Saturday. While we certainly didn’t play our best game, I thought UConn was far and away the better team. Not sure where I stand on UConn compared to the other elite teams, but I definitely underestimated them. They are a little disjointed offensively, but their defense is suffocating. And Thabeet in the middle is the most intimidating presence in the league. Having him down there gives their wing guys all sorts of freedom to cheat and take chances to come up with deflections and steals. I haven’t checked the stats, but it seemed like they had a ton of steals against us. I gotta hand it to them for getting it done in a tough environment (the ND crowd was phenomenal and definitely brought their "A" game; hopefully that made an impression for the football recruits in attendance).

The one thing UConn probably needs to figure out is who is going to be their “the man” in crunch time. Is it Adrien?? Is it Price?? Is it Dyson?? Is it Thabeet?? I think they need a little more of a hierarchy in terms of who they go to for critical buckets. It seems like they still haven’t figured that out yet, so they spend the first half of the game trying to determine who’s hot. I don’t know if that’s the blueprint for a deep tournament run though.

As for the Irish, the blueprint for how to beat us might as well be passed around various locker rooms in the Big East, and yet we still haven’t made any adjustments (or maybe we’re just not capable of it. We feed off our offense, so teams are going all out to take away our offense with the same game plan every week:

1) Put your best defender on MacAlarney and have him chase KMac through screens all game long with other guys coming out on switches to take away open looks from three
2) Let Harangody get his points but try to keep him away from the basket where he can get a lot of “energy points” (put backs, tip ins, plays where he keeps the ball alive); we feed off his energy, and keeping him on the perimeter takes that away; plus, there’s no one inside to rebound
3) Force the rest of the guys to beat you

It’s a pretty simple formula, and we don’t seem to have an answer for it at the moment. Part of the problem is that our two “alpha dogs” have limitations (size, athleticism) that make them susceptible to a good game plan, but the bigger problem is that the other guys on this team are giving us absolutely nothing. Hillesland was awful on Saturday. Just completely out of his league. He hasn’t gotten a lick better since last year, and nothing good ever seems to come out of him having the ball in his hands. And Ayers is just not consistent enough to be a 30-35 minute player in the Big East. How many games has Ayers had where he’ll play 35 minutes and give us 1 board and 1 assist?? If he’s not shooting well, he gives us nothing. And he couldn’t hit at all against UConn. Nothing against Ayers or Hillesland (who have both been nice contributors for us in their careers), but they are not 30-35 minute players in the Big East. Maybe in the MAC, but not against UConn. Tory Jackson has had some tough matchups in the league so far, but it would be nice to see him find more opportunities to drive and dish or create something off the dribble.

One thing I’ve heard a number of times from basketball coaches and announcers is that having a lot of seniors can either be the greatest thing in the world or the worst thing in the world. If you have a group of hungry seniors who continue to get better, they can be the leaders that you need to get your team to another level. But the downside to having a bunch of seniors can be complacency and familiarity. Ayers, Mac, Zeller, and Hillesland have been key players on our teams for three years now. None of them are really any appreciably better now than they were last year or the year before, so there is a level of familiarity with them. The other teams in the Big East know these guys and their games and how to guard them and play against them. If you aren’t getting better, then you’re getting worse because teams have scouted you for so many years. We saw it in 2004 a with the Chris Thomas/Jordan Cornette teams. Neither of them got any better, and teams adjusted and figured out how to beat us. This current group of seniors has gone stale for whatever reason.

That’s where Mike Brey comes into the equation. I will readily admit to being a Mike Brey apologist, but he deserves some criticism for not recognizing that complacency could become a problem for a team that has had the same core of guys for the last three years. It seems like Brey thought he could trot out his guys again this year and all would be fine. The reality is that we probably needed to introduce some new blood into the rotation just to keep teams honest and give them some extra things to game plan for. Someone like Tyrone Nash could have come in and given us a rebounding/slashing element that teams would have to look out for. Right now, everyone is just sitting on the “shut down KMac” strategy and we’ve done nothing to adjust. The mark of a good coach is to prepare for this type of thing BEFORE the season and in the early stages of the nonconference. We are probably going to make some changes for the Marquette game, but we’re going to be dusting off Tyrone Nash after he’s sat on the bench for half the year already. It would have been a better idea to get him into the flow of the season months ago.

We’ve been a marked team all year, and we haven’t handled it well. With our recent success and Harangody’s reputation as a stud, everyone is “up” for the ND game now. We aren’t sneaking up on anybody. Brey’s goal before the season should have been to prepare us for that type of scenario by making us a more well-rounded team that can beat people in ways other than lights-out three point shooting. It would have been nice if we could occasionally win a game with our defense once in awhile. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that, and we are now even more dependent on how well we shoot from the outside.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on Brey as a coach, and I think he will learn from this season if it continues to be a disappointment. Next year might turn out to be "the year" for the Harangody era with Hansborough and Martin coming on board for all we know. But I do think he’ll need to tweak some things in the future. Brey’s system works great if the players logging the heavy minutes are equipped to run it, but it breaks down if parts start getting exposed and we don’t have a backup plan. When Brey made the decision to go with his 2 juniors and 4 seniors exclusively in the nonconference, he didn’t allow for the possibility that some of these seniors wouldn’t be able to carry their weight and that underclassmen might be needed to give the team a new look and some fresh blood.

Ayers was a 20-25 minute a game guy last year. That’s really what he should be playing again this year unless he’s hot from the outside. Same for Hillesland. Instead of just bumping up their minutes to 30-35 right out of the chute, Brey really should have experimented with 15-20 minutes for Nash and even Carl Scott in the nonconference just to see how things shook out before conference play. If Ayers steps up and plays well, then go with him for 30 minutes in conference play. But if he falters, you have some insurance because you got minutes for Nash and Scott.

I’m glad to see that Nash is probably going to get more minutes. I actually think a case could be made for him starting at the 4. We need someone who can get boards down low because Hillesland can’t do it. The “four out one in” thing is not working. UConn controlled the glass on every possession.

I definitely think Marquette is now a must win game tonight. With three losses in a row and Pitt up next, we have to stop the bleeding at some point. If we lose tonight to Marquette, we’re in some real big trouble. If we come out of the Pitt game at 3-6 in the conference with games still left at UConn and WVU, we’ll be LUCKY to be on the NCAA bubble in March. The schedule gets easier in the second half, but we have some things working against us for an at-large bid. Our RPI has plummeted, and now sits at 77. If we end up at 9-9, I don’t think we’ll be in unless we do damage in the BET (which has not exactly been our forte). Even 10-8 would probably have us sweating heavily just hoping to get in since we’d be somewhere in the 7-9 range in our own league.

One positive thought. Marquette’s coaching staff has only had one day to drill the “shut down KMac” blueprint into the brains of their players, so maybe we can catch them napping early in the game. Plus, if we make some lineup changes, we could throw them off a bit. Marquette is a good team with a lot of experience, but I’m not sure they are THAT good. I watched them against Providence, and they didn’t have quite the same edge that they’ve had in the past. Everyone has sort of lumped them in with Pitt and UConn and Louisville lately, but I think that is a little premature.

I don’t want to sound all gloom and doom. Being 3-4 in the league is not a death blow by any means, and we’ve lost to three of the four best teams in the league. All we’ve established so far is that we aren’t one of the elite teams in the Big East, but there are still going to be anywhere from 7 to 9 teams from the Big East going to the NCAA Tournament. We haven’t played much of that meaty middle yet (other than a game against Georgetown that we won), so tonight is a good chance to see where we stand against that group. There are still plenty of opportunities to get some big wins at home and steal a couple games on the road and get ourselves right back in good shape for the NCAA Tournament. The bottom line though is that you have to win games, and a loss tonight would put us in real jeopardy.

January 23, 2009

Big Game with the Huskies

Color me fired up to get up to the Bend for the game this weekend. Haven't been up to the JACC yet this year for a game, so I hope it's a great crowd. Sounds like campus is already rocking for College Gameday's debut on the ND campus.

Big big game. I don't want to throw out the must win talk this early in the year, but I do think it would get a little scary if we lose tomorrow night (especially with Marquette coming in on Monday). We're sitting at 3-3 right now tied for 8th in the league, and I don't want to be in a situation where we fall further down the conference standings. The last thing I want to see is an Irish team facing a bunch of must win games down the stretch and in the Big East Tournament (which hasn't typically been our strong suit). Here's your standings in the Big East for now:

Marquette (11) 5-0 16-2
Louisville (9) 5-0 14-3
Connecticut (3) 6-1 17-1
Pittsburgh (4) 5-1 17-1
Syracuse (8) 5-2 17-3
Providence 5-2 13-6
West Virginia 3-2 14-4
Notre Dame (19) 3-3 12-5
Georgetown (12) 3-3 12-5
Cincinnati 3-4 13-7
Villanova (20) 2-3 14-4
South Florida 2-4 7-11
St. John's 1-5 10-8
Seton Hall 0-6 9-9
Rutgers 0-6 9-10
DePaul 0-6 8-11

By my count, there are probably 10 teams competing for NCAA bids right now: Pitt, Louisville, Syracuse, Marquette, UConn, Georgetown, ND, West Virginia, Villanova, and Providence. I'd probably put us somewhere in the middle of that pack, but I don't want to see us fall toward the back of the pack any time soon. It's obviously early and we are in the middle of our scheduling gauntlet, but I'd like to avoid any "bubble talk" freak outs by the ND Nation types who are prone to overreaction.

I feel good about this game coming up though. UConn is one of those teams that we have seemed to match up with well lately. Every time I watch them, it just seems like they have shaky chemistry and too many parts that don't match. And they don't have anyone who can exploit our two biggest defensive weaknesses: a dominant low post scorer or a bunch of guys who can light it up from 3. UConn obviously has guys who will cause problems for us (Adrien and Price will get their points), but their strengths don't cause as much concern for me for some reason.

The other thing is that we're finally back in the friendly confines at home. It feels like forever since we had our last home game, and you can just tell that a frenzy has been building all week over this game. It just feel like one of those games where we are going to come out of the gate like gangbusters and UConn won't be ready for it. It happens all the time in college basketball. We really really NEED this game, and they are coming off a bunch of solid wins and already are sitting at 6-1 in the league. Very similar to our game last week in Syracuse. The Cuse had been coming off a bad loss at Gtown, and they absolutely needed that win against us. We ran into a buzzsaw. I have a feeling that we might do the same thing to UConn. I think we jumped all over them last year early in the game (we were leading like 28-10 or something like that), they made their run, and then we pulled away. It seems like this game is setting up for a similar outcome.

We are a different team at home, and it has been proven time and time again to be the case. The one guy who ALWAYS seems to play with a different level of intensity at home is Tory Jackson. Mark it down, he'll have a big game tomorrow night. Maybe not a ton of points, but it will be one of those 7 point, 11 assist, 7 rebounds type games where he grabs a few huge boards in traffic and comes up with a couple big steals to really ignite the crowd. Tory Jackson is Mr. Electricity at home. On the road is a little different story, but I expect a nice game out of him. Same goes for Ayers.

McAlarney went off for 32 last year at home against UConn. If UConn doesn't come out and guard him, he'll go off again this year. I think UConn tends to underestimate us, so I do think we can jump on them again and get an early lead. That would be huge for our confidence.

And you KNOW that Harangody is going to be bring everything he's got tomorrow night with all the trash talk from Hasheem Thabeet in the offseason. As long as Harangody plays within himself, he can put up big numbers again on Thabeet.

I don't know, I could be wrong about this game, but UConn seems like the perfect matchup for a must-win statement game for the Irish. They are coming in as the #5 team in the country, but they always seem vulnerable to an upset. A win over UConn would be a high-profile win to quiet down the critics. I think the Irish will get in done, move to 4-3, and set up a big showdown with Marquette to hopefully give them their first loss in the conference. Back to back wins over Gtown and Marquette would put us at 5-3 with all kinds of momentum heading into the second half of conference play. At that point, we can start to revive the talk of a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Looking forward to it. Hope to be celebrating at The Backer afterward.

Club Trillion - "It's all White"

Not sure if this blog has made the rounds nationally yet, but the Club Trillion blog is definitely starting to pick up momentum here in the Midwest. Great stuff. One of the funniest blogs I have ever read, and this week's "It's all White" edition about who is the "whitest" player on the Ohio State basketball team is an all-timer.

Some highlights from this week's entry:

Nikola Kecman - When asked if he thinks of himself as a foreigner or a white guy, he responded "Serbian." So not only does he not think of himself as white, he doesn't understand how to answer either/or questions.

P.J. Hill - He has dreadlocks. Also, he is not white either. Sorry, P.J.

Danny would eat a roasted caterpillar off of Grandma Winslow's back hair if LeBron James told him to. And last I checked LeBron isn't a white guy. Beyond that, Danny doesn't even know the lyrics to "Callin' Baton Rouge", which is a must if you want to be white.

Evan is a perfect candidate for being the whitest guy on the team. He went to a private high school, listens to John Mayer, and regularly wears a scarf.

Kyle Madsen was literally born with a silver spoon in his hand. It baffled the doctors and Kyle really doesn't like to talk about it, but that's not the point. The point is that Kyle owns a membership to Costco and wears a pullover sweater at least six days a week. His high school boasts an impressive four minorities in his graduating class, proving that Kyle's concept of diversity is similar to that of Ron Burgundy's. He could listen to Dave Matthews read the dictionary and not even hint at being bored. Often times Kyle will have to take his Lexus into the shop, at which point he relies on his polo horse for transportation. As if this isn't enough, Kyle went to Vanderbilt for a year. In case you don't know anything about Vanderbilt, it's actual mission statement reads "...to offer a quality education for our students, provided they wear pink polo shirts with their collars popped." Simply put, this man is a bigger preppy than Zach Morris.

Highly recommended. If Mark Titus isn't writing for ESPN.com in two years, I will be stunned. I think he could be the next Bill Simmons.

Jim Nantz bullish on Eric Mangini

Courtesy of the Akron Beacon Journal, great stuff from Jim Nantz the other day at the Cleveland Sports Awards banquet. Here's the relevant text:

Emcee of the ninth annual Greater Cleveland Sports Awards on Wednesday night at the Renaissance hotel, Nantz made certain the cameras caught his guarantee.

''I'm calling it now,'' Nantz said. ''Eric Mangini is taking the Cleveland Browns to the Super Bowl.''

When Mangini joined Nantz on stage a few minutes later to present an award, Nantz asked Mangini, ''You're not mad at me for that? I believe in you.''

Nantz called play-by-play for several New York Jets games during Mangini's three-year tenure and got to know him during pregame production meetings. Nantz believes the Jets made a mistake in firing Mangini, who went 23-25 with two winning seasons and one playoff appearance.

''If he's a stock, I'm buying,'' Nantz said. ''I believe the Jets gave up on him way too early. From 10 wins to four wins to nine wins . . . what people don't realize is that [quarterback Brett] Favre played the back end of [last] season with a torn bicep, basically his bicep hanging by a thread. He wasn't the same guy the second half of the year. Mangini didn't use that as an excuse.

''This guy is maniacal about detail. Kind of like I am and I appreciate it. Nothing gets past him. He'll do well here. It's a nice fit, too, his history, his brother-in-law [Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro], to get away from that whole New York microscope, that meat grinder.''

Wow, I don't think I've heard anything that bold out of Nantz's mouth in all the years I've been listening to him. He's all but guaranteeing that Mangini is going to take the Browns to the Bowl. And Nantz even tips his own cap in saying that Mangini is "maniacal about detail" just like himself!

I actually agree with him about Mangini to some degree (although way too premature to start talking about the Super Bowl). Mangini is a smart guy, he has his eye on some good assistants and a good personnel guy from Baltimore who is from the Bellichick tree, and I get the impression that a lot of his players really liked him in New York. Leon Washington was raving about Mangini and saying that he basically made him into the players that he is today. He got a bad rap in New York, and Cleveland might turn out to be a better fit for him.

Should be interesting to see what happens in the AFC North over the next decade. Pittsburgh is the gold standard, but we'll have to see what happens with Baltimore. It seems like every team in the NFL has been trying to raid their personnel department and coaching staff and even Ray Lewis, so we'll have to see if they can withstand those losses. I think the Browns could be in position to make a move in the division.

I'll say one thing about Brady Quinn. I know he's been hurt and such, but it's time for him to step up and take that job. The Browns are practically begging for him to take the reins of this franchise, but he hasn't done it yet. Brady is heading into his 3rd year. Time to grow up and become the man for that franchise.

I had no idea that Mangini's brother-in-law is Indians' GM Mark Shapiro. What a family!

January 22, 2009

Upset Wednesday

I don't know how they calculate parlays, but check out these two lines going into yesterday.

Virginia Tech +13.5 at Wake Forest
Northwestern +13 at Michigan State

Imagine if you had plunked down some money on a moneyline parlay for those two games??

January 21, 2009

Texas, Swarbrick, 7-4-1, Gruden, and more!

Ok, all kinds of things going on in the world of ND football, so let's just do a rundown and address all these things at once.

3) First, I'll admit that any rumblings regarding our future schedules always get my attention, so let's start with this article out of the Austin American-Statesman (great newspaper name by the way) about a possible ND-Texas game. Here's the relevant text.

A series with Notre Dame is a possibility for a future season, Worley said.

"We'll probably roll something out there in their direction," Worley said. "We'd certainly think about it. We're not (officially) talking, but they have a new athletic director, and it's probably something we'll explore. But it probably will not be for seven, eight or nine years out."

Notre Dame associate athletic director John Heisler said no games with Texas are currently in the works. A date to play Baylor in the Dallas area was prevented by a Big 12 television contract rule.

Previously, Texas had tried to schedule Notre Dame, but the Irish wanted a marquee game in October or November and the Longhorns preferred dates in September.

If Texas-Notre Dame is scheduled, it could be played at the universities' home stadiums or at neutral site, such as the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, Worley said. "We'd probably look at either option," he said.

Cmon Swarbrick, they are calling us out for a game!! Go out and give them the two word response that would send chills up the spine of any Notre Dame fan with a pair:



Just looking at the Notre Dame schedule for 2010 and 2011 for a minute:


S18 @ Michigan St.
O02 @ Boston College
O16 Army (Chicago)
O23 @ Navy (Baltimore)
N13 Utah
N27 @ Southern Cal
2 games TBD


S03 @ Purdue
S10 @ Michigan
S24 @ Pittsburgh
O15 Army (Orlando)
N26 @ Stanford
3 games TBD

There is room on either one of those schedules for a "marquee" game. Couldn't we do some sort of home game with them in that late October slot in 2010 and then follow it up by going out there in November of 2011?? Wouldn't that be a MONSTER game?? I don't see how it wouldn't. You'd be talking about the 2nd and 3rd winningest programs of all time in college football. With all the uncertainty around the Michigan program these days, we are staring at a series of schedules where USC may be the only marquee team that we face for the next few years. ND football has a perception problem, and one of the perceptions that I hate the most is that we play a "soft" schedule. I'm tired of having that anchor around our neck, but there is a lot of truth to that perception. The reality is that we seem to have way too many games locked up with mediocre Big East teams and mediocre Big Ten teams and mediocre Pac 10 teams. If we go lock up a home and home with Texas, that would give us three marquee games for 2010 and 2011. That's all I'm looking for as a fan.

The other possibility would be a neutral site game in one of those years (or maybe both). I'm not a big fan of the neutral site game because I like seeing college football on college campuses, but that seems to be all the rage these days. If we played Texas in New York or Chicago and then somewhere in the south, I could get behind that. I actually heard something about Illinois and Northwestern playing a game at Wrigley Field next year. That's actually a pretty cool idea, but I'm not sure if Wrigley is big enough for an ND game. Lambeau Field could be another option. I've always wanted to go up there for a game.

It will be very interesting to see what happens with these open slots in our schedule in these upcoming years. I keep reading on NDNation that Swarbrick "gets it", but I'm not sure I buy it just yet. I'd be willing to bet that we fill those two slots in 2010 with UConn/Syracuse at the Meadowlands and either another Big East team or a Mountain West team at home. That's the ND football that I've come to know in the last 5-10 years, and I haven't heard one thing out of Swarbrick to give me any indication that he wants to do anything differently. Unfortunately, when everyone else is closing with big games and conference championship games, we're going to be finishing up with the UConns and Syracuses and Armys and Navys of the world. That perception might come back to haunt us.

If Texas calls us out for a game and we cower in fear and schedule UConn instead, that will be a very telling sign of what we have become.

2) Speaking of Swarbrick, all kinds of quotes from him in his interview in the South Bend Tribune. A few quotes in particular jumped off the page for me and any other ND fan I would imagine.

"I can make a pretty strong argument that we were three plays from being 9-3. And that gives you a much different perception. The flip side of that is we had some good plays that is if you take some good plays out of the mix, we would have been hurt. But you could point to very specific plays in our season that were game-changers."

Maybe I'm overreacting, but this kind of quote troubles me. I know he tried to qualify it by saying that we were a couple plays from being 4-8, but I still don't like the tone of what he is trying to say. The Notre Dame mentality lately has been "well, look at our record, we almost went 9-3." BIG WHOOP. I don't even really care about our record. I want to see a program that plays good football. Making a couple more plays to beat a mediocre team like Pitt and a bad team like Syracuse doesn't erase the fact that we weren't a very good football team last year. That's the bigger issue with me.

I don't even care that we lost to Syracuse. I care that they were even close!! Good teams beat teams like Syracuse by four touchdowns (i.e. what Penn St did to Syracuse this past year). Swarbrick seems to indicate that all would be well if we had snuck out a couple more plays to beat the Cuse by 3 at home. That's not really what I was looking for. If he was talking about a couple plays away from beating Texas or even Missouri, I can understand it. But the Cuse?? NO.

I don't want to spend a bunch of time banging on Swarbrick because he's brand new and he's an alum and he hasn't really had any time to put his stamp on the athletic program. Believe me, I hope he ends up doing an incredible job to restore the brand name of ND's football and basketball programs, and that we look back on his tenure as one of great success. But judging by what he's said and done in his brief tenure thus far, I haven't gotten any impression that he's really going to make a big push to change the status quo of ND football. I haven't heard one thing out of his mouth that made me go "wow, this is a different type of guy in charge." Its seems to be business as usual in terms of endorsing mediocrity and the weak schedules and all the other stuff that we had to deal with during the Kevin White era. Maybe he's doing a lot of good things behind the scenes, but his public actions and statements are straight out of the KW playbook. I will give Swarbrick all the credit in the world if big changes start happening on our future schedules, but I'd like to see some evidence of that happening before I start talking about him being a different type of leader for ND.

I appreciate Swarbrick's interest in data analysis and all that, but there is no amount of rationalization that can put a positive stamp on the 2008 season. It was a complete disaster, and I would prefer that Swarbrick say nothing over some Ty Willingham-esque nonsense about how we were "close" to being a decent team. We got blown out by freaking BC. We got humiliated by USC. We lost to Syracuse. We lost to every half-decent team we played. The team appeared to quit down the stretch. There was nothing good about the 2008 season.

I have come to terms with the decision to bring back Weis and actually support the decision, but I don't have a whole lot of tolerance for the spin game to try to portray last season as somehow "a few plays away."

I want to see some actual substance out of Notre Dame football for a change. Put away the Chicago Cubs marketing model of selling "hope" and "tradition" with a bunch of excuses mixed in, and start delivering some quality teams.

"I probably get questions about scheduling more than anything else. When somebody questions the quality of an opponent, what I would say to them is: 'Would you like to have fewer home games?' That is the tradeoff."

Of all the quotes from Swarbrick, this one is the one that really gets on my nerves. Is that why we're softening up the schedule?? So that alumni can get a couple extra tickets to the freaking UConn game??? Are you kidding me?? Why not just schedule 12 homes games and be done with it?? We can just call ourselves the Notre Dame Globetrotters and just play 12 exhibitions at home. Then the alums can get all the tickets they want against Duke and Syracuse at home in November.

Is there even one Notre Dame alum with some common sense who wouldn't happily trade a couple extra home games to get a big home and home with someone like Bama or Texas or even Clemson or Arkansas?? Are there that many people out there who are upset that they didn't get tickets to freaking Syracuse last year or Duke the year before?? By my count, there were PLENTY of tickets available for both those games. Heck, if an alum wanted to go to those games, he could have driven to ND and probably picked up a ticket for free.

I'm tired of getting my ticket application in the mail every year and trying to decide whether Pitt or Purdue is the second best home game on the schedule. ND can do far better than that. If we had Texas on the schedule, I'd gladly trade out my opportunity to get UConn tickets. I mean, come on. That's an absurd reason to not schedule a big home and home.

I'm tired of the excuses. It seems like we are always reaching for an excuse NOT to schedule these games when the job of the athletic director is to find ways to make it work. Stop with the NBC excuses and the "alums want more home games" excuses. ND's legacy is gradually eroding over time, and we are becoming a national joke and being viewed as cowards. That is far greater damage than whether a couple whiny alums don't get tickets to some bogus 8th home game against Army.

"It is very important for people to recognize that the motivation for this really has virtually nothing to do with football. "

This quote is in reference to the neutral site game against Wazzou and has caused a lot of outrage on the message boards, but I don't really have a big problem with the fact that we apparently have other motivations for these neutral site games. I get that. ND's mission is one of service, so I really don't mind that they are using these "road" trips to spread ND's message.

What I don't understand is why we can't achieve our goals of service as a university and also play a good football team in these games!! Would it take away from the service aspect if we were playing LSU in San Antonio??

I am not opposed to the neutral site games as a hard rule and don't even care that this particular game is against Wazzou (who is really not a bad program at the end of the day), but it just goes with the general theme that our football program is being used for too many purposes besides football. We have the Big East agreement for basketball, the neutral site agreement for community service, and we also have the NBC agreement to make sure they are getting enough games. It's just too many things on our plate, and combining all of it is damaging our ability to schedule.

"Schools like Notre Dame — and all the schools that are comparable to us — are engaged in the same process. It's why the market has gotten so difficult. Other than their Big Ten games, Ohio State and Michigan want to maximize their home games. Purdue the same thing. So we are all pursuing the same schools. It just creates a market that is a challenge for us.

Look, I don't want to make too big of a deal out of this quote because the reality of the 12 game schedule is that you are going to have at least 1 or 2 "buy games" on the schedule every year. I actually want ND to open with a cupcake every year to ease into the schedule and won't get bent out of shape if there is another one somewhere on the schedule. I did notice that one of our "peers" doesn't pop up in that quote from Swarbrick though.

The University of Southern California.

You see, USC doesn't play "buy" games. They schedule home and homes and sometimes just "road" games or neutral site games. They schedule like Notre Dame used to schedule. Their motto is "ANYTIME, ANYWHERE." USC is the gold standard when it comes to bold and creative scheduling, and that's partially why they have become the marquee program in college football these days. USC is always playing a big game. They always seem to be looking for ways to challenge themselves. Heck, the whole Pac 10 has become like that. I would love to see ND following their lead (heck, we should have been leading them!!).

Meanwhile, we are putting ourselves in a category with Purdue and the Big 10 schools that aren't exactly known for going out of their way to play interesting schedules.

1) Finally, I don't think you can have a post on Notre Dame football without addressing the ludicrous Jon Gruden to ND rumors that have been popping up of late. I can't even believe this thing has been gaining legs in the media after someone made up a completely false rumor in the NY Daily News. Can we just put this nonsense to rest?? Give me a break. Not only is Gruden not coming to ND, we don't even want him.

ND made the decision to bring back Charlie Weis for next year, and there is no way that they are backing off that decision now. If anything, Weis has solidified himself with the school by quietly getting the team ready to play in the bowl game and by having a very solid offseason. Weis has made some good hires with Verducci and Alford and Bryant Young, and it sounds like we are going to get a good d-line coach. Did Weis make some mistakes in hiring his original staff?? Yes, no doubt about it, but I think he had a legitimate excuse in that he was working with New England. There were going to be some growing pains in assembling a staff for a new coach who hadn't been around college football for 15 years, but he has been gradually making changes to upgrade the staff. Corwin Brown was a real good pick, Tenuta has been solid, and now the new guys are coming on board. I have no idea how things will turn out next year, but Weis is going all out to upgrade the staff and put this team back on the right track. At this point, he has done all that could be expected out of him, and I'm glad to see that the administration has his back.

As for Gruden, why would ND even think about getting involved with Gruden?? Nothing about Jon Gruden gives me any inclination that he would be a good fit in college football. The guy loves veterans, he runs an insanely complex offense, and his players don't really like him. Gruden is known as a guy who loves to get up at 3 am and bury himself in his office for 18 hours. Is that the type of guy you want as a college head coach?? If ND alums are complaining about Weis not being accessible enough, what would they think of Gruden the first time he blew off some fundraiser because he was breaking down film of Purdue's zone defense?? Is Gruden going to want to deal with parents calling to complain about playing time or a homesick kid or some alum who is badgering him to attend some banquet?? Life as a head coach in college is part coach and part salesman and part politician, and Gruden doesn't strike me as the type of guy who would want any part of the other responsibilities besides being the coach.

If Weis doesn't work out, maybe the talk of Gruden and ND will spark up. Maybe ND will talk to Gruden and find out his vision for how he would run a college football program and come away with a conclusion that he would be a perfect fit at ND, but it's not even on the radar at this point. Gruden is an NFL guy, ND already has a head coach who is bringing back a slew of experienced players that he personally recruited, and we've already told Weis that he's coming back. So let's put this Gruden stuff to rest. It's completely unfair to Charlie Weis, and the rumors can't be good for recruiting.

January 20, 2009

New Coaches - New Hope?

On the day that Barack Obama ushers in a new legacy of hope to the White House, Irish fans have new reasons to hope that 2009 will be a new and improved year for Charlie and his Football Factory. Two new grad assistants with sparkling resumes will join the Irish sideline: Bryant Young and Tim Grunhard. How can you get better entry level coaches than Bryant Young and Tim Grunhard?? Between them, they share 25 years of professional wisdom to impart and 5 Pro Bowl selections. Young won a Super Bowl with the 49ers, was voted NFC Rookie of the Year in 1994 and NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1999. Both were highly regarded by their professional peers as terrific teammates, leaving no question that their egos will be checked at the door. Both played in the last heyday of Notre Dame football, Grunhard a starter on the '88 champions, Young a stalwart on the defense that shut down the "national champion" Seminoles in '93. Even though they can't hit the road and recruit, they're impact with name recognition alone just sent tremors through high school programs. A year or two of grooming and they could become mainstays as line coaches on each side of the ball. They're obviously not taking the jobs for the money, but rather want to give back to the school that provided them with terrific opportunities. How these two even became interested and candidates to join the staff is beyond me, but it's a big step in the right direction for Charlie's resolve to fix what's broken.

Lost in the hoopla of the two alums returning to their alma mater is the addition of Tony "Don't Call Me Steve" Alford as the running backs coach, the position vacated by Mike Haywood. I won't pretend to know much about Alford other than what I gleaned from the SBTrib article, but he sounds well-respected in the field. He could very well be one of those diamond in the rough finds who exceeded expectations as a player at a mid-major (Colorado State) and now has built up a coaching resume to get to this point. The most heartening news from his stints at Iowa State and Louisville is the consistent production of 1,000 yards seasons (every year from 1995-2001) while taking care of the ball (13 fumbles in 8 years!). For a good stretch, Iowa State produced randomly great RBs with gaudy numbers. How? Credit must go in large part to Steve, err, Tony Alford for this surprising production from players like Troy Davis, Ennis Haywood, Stevie Hicks and Darren Davis. Let's hope he brings that same magic to South Bend.

Mark Sanchez is a top 10 pick?

Quick trivia question:

What do the following schools have in common?

Miami (Ohio)
Northern Iowa

Those were your four colleges that the four quarterbacks in the AFC and NFC Championship Games attended. A fledgling BCS school, a mid-major, and two D-IAA schools.

So what does that have to do with Mark Sanchez?? Because with that information in mind, I don't see how any team is talking about taking about taking Mark Sanchez with a top 10 pick this year. What is so exciting about this guy to NFL teams?? I haven't seen anything out of him in the last couple years to give me any indication that he has a bright future as an NFL quarterback. Everything about him screams "serviceable." He has an "ok" arm, he has a great line and running game and a great defense so he's never really had the pressure of having to put the team on his back, and he's already had knee problems. Haven't we already been through this same scenario with Matt Leinart?? Playing QB at USC is as high-profile as it comes in COLLEGE FOOTBALL, but it's not some guarantee that you are going to be a very good NFL quarterback. If he didn't play for USC, I don't think anyone would be talking about this guy.

And yet he's being discussed as a top 10 pick and maybe even the #1 pick. Color me nervous if I was a Lions fan. I'm not advocating that teams should shy away from big school quarterbacks or anything, but I do think that teams should be looking at them with a critical eye to make sure that they are not being propped up by a talented supporting cast. It seems like a lot of the good QBs these days are coming out of random programs where the QB had to throw the team on his back and maybe didn't have the greatest lines in front of him. A guy like Jay Cutler had to face SEC defenses week in and week out with a Vanderbilt line. Same for Matt Ryan. I remember going to the ND-BC game last year, and he had to make a lot of difficult throws under some heavy pressure (even from ND's lousy d-line). If you had to carry your team in college, it's not a huge of leap of faith to assume that they can do it in the NFL. A guy like Sanchez never gets touched, so who knows how he'll look when he's playing with the Lions' o-line and has Justin Tuck bearing down on him in the pocket.

I feel bad for the Lions by the way. There are so many possible busts in this draft that I feel like there is almost no way they don't blow this pick.

I can't blame Sanchez for going pro though. The guy put in his four years at USC and is projected to be a top 10 pick. Go to the league and get paid. I don't even consider it to be "leaving early" if you were at a school for four years. If the school decides to redshirt you to preserve your eligibility, that's their problem. A player doesn't owe it to the school to stay for a fifth year in college, especially if he already graduated from the school.

That's what I think it was bizarre for Pete Carroll to come out publicly and bash Sanchez for making the decision to go pro. That's absolute garbage if you ask me. It's his life!! Even if Pete genuinely doesn't think that Sanchez is ready for the NFL, I still don't think it's even remotely fair to Sanchez for Carroll to publicly question him after the guy has put in four years at your program. It's not like he was a redshirt sophomore or a true junior and you just think he's too young or whatever to go pro. He's a top 10 pick, and you gotta strike while your value is high. I don't think Sanchez is a great pro prospect, but I'm not an NFL GM. If someone wants to take him that high, get to the league.

Pete Carroll is a competitive guy, so I can see why he's upset that he's losing a starting QB from a loaded team that would have been one of the favorites for the BCS title game next year. Now they have a new QB who might have some growing pains and trip up somewhere on the road (ND?). But to take shots at Sanchez and pout at his press conference once the guy has already made his decision is poor form if you ask me. That handshake at the press conference was the sorriest excuse for a handshake I've ever seen. I don't care if you think the guy is going to be the biggest bust in the history of the NFL. He just won the Rose Bowl for you. Show him some appreciation for giving four years to the Trojan program.

Should be interesting to see who emerges out of this USC qb derby. I'm assuming that Mitch Mustain will be the frontrunner, but a lot of the USC people seem to really like this Aaron Corp guy. He's got a little more mobility. Then again, true freshman Matt Barkley was the #1 high school quarterback in the country, so maybe he'll work his way into the rotation when he gets on campus.

January 18, 2009

Mike Brey

After nine years of Notre Dame basketball under Mike Brey, we have accumulated more than enough evidence to draw reasoned conclusions about the future of the program. When determining whether Mike Brey should continue indefinitely as the head coach of Notre Dame, the question is quite simple: what is the goal?

If, after the terrible lows of the John McLeod era, Notre Dame is content to field a team that periodically contends for the Big East title, plays exciting basketball and makes the NCAA Tournament roughly every other year, then Brey is unquestionably the right man for the job. Brey is a good man and a fine representative of ND. Moreover, he has demonstrated exemplary patience in the face of a university that has failed to deliver on its promises with respect to facilities. Finally, his staff has shown an ability to identify and recruit skilled players who fit the system very well and who excel in the classroom.

If, however, you believe, as I do, that Notre Dame should never settle for less than excellence, then Brey is not the guy for this program. Even assuming that Notre Dame will upgrade the basketball facilities, it is unlikely that Brey will be able to recruit the type of athletic players that we need to compete with the big boys of college basketball. He hasn't recruited such elite players in nine years and I believe that it is extremely doubtful that his shortcomings on the recruiting trail can be fixed by simply improving the practice complex.

More importantly, in order for Notre Dame to ascend to the next level, Brey would need to adopt an entirely new coaching philosophy. While Brey's teams, including this year's outfit, are particularly proficient on offense, studies have shown that the shopworn "defense wins championships" cliche is, indeed, quite true. As observed by Basketball Prospectus and, most recently, SI's Luke Winn, no Final Four team in the past five years has been ranked outside the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency and only two Elite Eight teams in the past five years have ranked outside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

So where has Notre Dame ranked in defensive efficiency over the last five years? 2009-160th (yes, you read that right); 2008-42nd; 2007-49th; 2006-120th; 2005-64th. Thus, under Mike Brey, it is quite clear that Notre Dame has never been, and almost certainly never will be, a great defensive team. As such, it is highly unlikely that Notre Dame will ever reach the pinnacle of college basketball unless Brey is somehow able to (1) realize that defense should be a top priority, (2) recruit players who can play great defense and (3) coach said players effectively. In his sixteenth year of coaching, it is of course extremely unlikely that Brey will be able to change his stripes in this manner.

Since most Notre Dame alums and the administration appear to be behind Brey 100%, Notre Dame fans can expect to see more of the same. Commitment to mediocrity- it's the new Notre Dame way!

January 17, 2009

NFL Championship Week Picks

Looking forward to both these games on Sunday. Some interesting storylines.

Some picks:

Philly over Arizona -

When it comes to postseasons in any sport, I'm always interested in legacies. It seems like the big talk of late has been whether Kurt Warner or Donovan McNabb could bolster their Hall of Fame credentials by taking their teams back to the Super Bowl.

With Donovan McNabb, I can understand it. I've always felt like McNabb was a little overrated, but I can't deny his record. McNabb has been a top 10 quarterback for almost a decade, a five time Pro Bowler, and he's led Philly to 5 NFC Championship games. If you're talking about the NFL during this decade (especially the NFC), McNabb is going to be brought into the conversation within a couple minutes. If he goes to the Super Bowl for a second time, you can make a strong case that he's the Jim Kelly of this decade. And if he wins the Super Bowl, he probably enters a different strata and cements his status as the 3rd most accomplished QB of this decade. McNabb is a high-profile player in every way. Quarterbacks are always going to get the most attention, and he's definitely the biggest name out of this Eagles group.

Plus, McNabb has had NOTHING to work with. He has had exactly one season with a Pro Bowl receiver (2004), and he had his best statistical season. I do think that has to be taken into consideration.

Don't get me wrong, if I had a Hall of Fame vote, I probably would not vote for McNabb. When he had that stretch where he always got hurt, they would suddenly start playing better without him. He was like the poster child for the Ewing Theory for about a three year stretch. When you go down and Jeff Garcia suddenly reels off a bunch of wins and looks like a Pro Bowler as your replacement, I get a little leery of talking about you as a Hall of Famer. But I can at least UNDERSTAND why he would be considered a Hall of Famer.

But Kurt Warner??? Are you kidding me??? How is anyone talking about Kurt freaking Warner as a Hall of Famer??

Let's break down this guy's career.

Warner came into the league in 1998 as a 27 year old (not his fault) and became the starter for the Rams in 1999. Obviously, he had an incredible three year run with the Rams. 1999 NFL MVP, 1999 Super Bowl MVP, led the team back to the Super Bowl in
2000, and then goes on to become the MVP of the league again in 2001. That's as good of a 3 year run as anyone has probably had in the history of the league.

But after that, he was a borderline starter/backup for 6 years!! SIX!! The guy didn't start more than 10 games in a season from 2002 until 2007. He has obviously revived his career in the last couple years in Arizona, but how can a guy who spent the majority of his career as either a backup or a split time starter be considered a Hall of Famer under any circumstances?? I wouldn't even put him in the Hall of Fame if he wins the Super Bowl.

Warner has a bunch of career stats that will get touted as well. He has the second highest completion percentage in NFL history and the highest average passing yards per game stat in the history of the league. I think both those stats are interesting, but I think they just show that Warner has been really really good when he has had chances to start and be the man in an offense. But in terms of his overall career, Warner doesn't have the type of dominance over a long period of time that merits him for the Hall of Fame.

For that reason alone, I'm rooting for Philly to win this game. I can't stand the idea of Kurt Warner being touted as a Hall of Famer. I also think Philly is the better team here. Arizona has been hot, but they are still a one-dimensional team that could fall apart at any point. I don't think you can win a Super Bowl as a one trick pony, and that's basically what the Cardinals are. Philly has a great defense, a good coach, and great balance on offense. I think they'll create a game plan to limit Fitzgerald and win this game.

Steelers over the Ravens - Let me just say first that I can't wait for this game. I am so glad that this game will be starting at 6:30 pm on Sunday. Nothing like settling in on a Sunday evening to watch an absolute slug fest for the AFC Championship in a freezing cold setting. You can't beat it. These teams know each other real well and hate each other. Should be phenomenal. As a Bengals fan, I hope this game wears both teams out and sets them back for a decade. Hey, I can dream, can't I??

The only down side for viewers on this game is that I feel like it's not a Jim Nantz-Phil Simms type game. Steelers-Ravens in January is going to be a violent war. You sort of need an announcer who can bring up the intensity a little bit. Nantz announces football games like he's in the Butler Cabin. Don't get me wrong, I love Jim Nantz, but this game NEEDS a Gus Johnson or even a Greg Gumbel. I thought Gumbel and Dierdorf were great last week in Tennessee, and I'd love to see them back for this game. I can live with Nantz be waxing poetic about Jim Nantz type things and Simms telling us how great "Ben" is, but this game sort of demands a different broadcast team. Oh well.

I know everyone is giddy about the Joe Flacco era in Baltimore, so I figured I would throw a little cold water on the "Flacco is a young star" bandwagon. I think he'll turn out better than Kyle Boller and some of the other dreck that the Ravens have trotted out in recent years, but I think it's way too early to start talking about him as a "great" young quarterback. I'm not even sure that he's going to be a good NFL quarterback. Flacco doesn't turn it over or make any bad decisions, but he's not asked to do anything at this point. The Ravens play Tressel Ball offensively. Two runs up the middle and a deep out on 3rd and long followed by a punt. That's their offense for 2/3 of the game.

People are comparing Flacco to Roethlisberger since both led their teams to the AFC Championship games in their rookie years. LUDICROUS. If you watched Roethlisberger in his first year, he was a playmaker for that Steelers team and a big reason why they made it that far. They let him roll out and make throws. Flacco doesn't do any of that. He's just out there to hold down the fort until the defense gets back on the field.

Flacco may turn out to be good. He's got a nice arm, and I've seen him look good at times this year. I just don't think it's a foregone conclusion at all just because his team is doing well. He is not even close to the biggest reason why that team keeps winning.

That's the biggest reason why I think the Steelers are winning this game. Both teams have great defenses, but the Steelers have the offensive firepower to put points on the board. They are capable of winning a game with their offense unlike the Ravens. The Ravens have to scratch and claw just to do anything offensively.

The Ravens got it done last week, but they got thoroughly outplayed last week by the Titans. Tennessee was running and throwing all over them and would have won the game if not for some dumb fumbles. The Ravens D has a mystique about them, but they got exposed a little bit last weeks against the Titans. And some of their best defensive players are injured now. I think the Steelers will put up points on Baltimore.

The only way the Ravens can win this game is if the Steelers hand it to them, which definitely could happen. Roethlisberger is usually a pretty good clutch player, but he'll do just enough goofy/dumb things to always leave open the door for him to be a goat. Roethlisberger loves to hang around in the pocket to make a play, and he might not be able to get away with that stuff against the Ravens. He cannot afford to turn it over.

The Steeler have a history of choking at home in the playoffs, so I do think it's possible that Harbaugh will draw up a great game plan that keeps it low scoring and gives the Ravens a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter. And the familiarity between the Ravens and Steelers is definitely something to take into consideration.

Definitely should be an interesting game, but I think the Steelers will advance and get to the Bowl.

ND hires Frank Verducci as the o-line coach

Welcome aboard Frank Verducci. The o-line has been a disaster for the last couple years, so just about anybody would have been an upgrade to the position.

Some positives.

1) It seems like he really wants to be at ND -

"I'm very excited for this opportunity and am grateful to Coach Weis," Verducci said in the statement. "Notre Dame is the one college job I pursued and is the only school I considered leaving the NFL for."

That's a good sign if you ask me. Maybe he's just saying that at the press conference, but at least he gives the impression that he really wanted the job. I was a little worried that this guy was just going to be a space filler for Weis, but I do get the impression that he's excited to be in South Bend.

2) O-line experience in college - I'm not even going to pretend that I know anything about his o-lines at Iowa, but I'm encouraged that he was the o-line coach for 10 years at Iowa. Anybody who coaches at Iowa has to understand the importance of being a tough, physical unit that can man up and run the football and be physical at the point of attack. The Big 10 was a three yards and a cloud of dust league in the 90s (and still is in some ways), so you had to be able to run the football if you wanted to be successful in that league. I hope that he brings that type of mentality and attitude to our o-line. We should be able to physically dominate almost everyone on our schedule, but we need to become more physical to accomplish that goal.

I'm glad to see that we hired a guy with an understanding of Midwest football. I would like to see ND get back to playing good, solid, fundamentally sound Midwestern football as a foundation to go with our highly-touted skill players. I hope our new d-line coach has simliar ties.

3) NFL experience - Verducci has a good reputation as a recruiter, and it never hurts to have an NFL guy around who can tell recruits what it takes to get to the league.

Verducci was rated as one of the top 10 recruiters in the country at several points during the 90s, so I definitely think he'll bring something to the table in the recruiting department. He specializes in Jersey recruits, which has become a critical recruiting area for the Irish.

Some negatives:

1) Serial job jumper - Why is this guy seemingly in a new job every single year?? Has he just been incredibly unlucky in the jobs that he has picked?? It just seems like he had become a space filler in the NFL. If you needed to add someone to the staff, he was always available. I don't know that it's necessarily a bad thing, but I wonder how much this guy was valued around the NFL. He apparently coached with the Bengals, but I don't remember much about him. Between Buffalo and Cleveland and Cincy and a pre-Parcells Dallas, he wasn't exactly a guy who was a hot commodity with any of the good teams in the NFL. It seemed like he just floated from one bad NFL job to another.

2) Demoted in Cleveland?? -- According to the press release, here were his duties in Cleveland.

Verducci's duties in Cleveland included "assisting the offensive coordinator in framing the run game, presenting the weekly opponent scouting report to the offense and installing Friday's game plan for the offensive unit. Verducci assisted the play caller on game days with situational offense and was responsible for clock management."

Was he even really the o-line coach in Cleveland?? It looks like he was basically the "get back coach" with a couple extra duties. If he was responsible for clock management with the Browns, that's a red flag right there.

Call me crazy, but it's a little concerning that he's basically been out of favor as an o-line coach for a number of years. I was sort of hoping that we'd hire a young stud o-line coach either from college or the NFL who could bring some intensity and toughness to our lines.

3) Iowa fans are not real big on this guy - The biggest positive on Verducci's resume was his 10 year stint at Iowa, so I was curious to see what Iowa fans thought of this guy. The impression that I'm getting from the Iowa fanbase was that Verducci was not a popular o-line coach at all. Apparently Kirk Ferentz was the o-line coach in the 80s and had built up some great o-line units. Verducci took over for Ferentz and the o-line steadily declined during his tenure. He coached under Hayden Fry, and Fry stuck with him out of loyalty. When Ferentz became the head coach in 1999, Verducci was promptly booted from his job.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the guy. Maybe Verducci took some unfair blame during a time when Hayden Fry was losing control of his program, but it is a little concerning that Iowa fans aren't all that high on Verducci. I was hoping to get a little more positive reaction from the Iowa fans.

Should be interesting to see how the hire turns out. I think Weis has been hamstrung by the fact that his job is perceived to be in jeopardy, so Verducci might have been the best he could do. Verducci is a proponent of the zone blocking scheme that Weis wants to run at ND, so maybe he'll be more on the same page with Weis than Latina was. It certainly was strange that our o-line never seemed to be in sync. The rest of our team steadily has gotten better since 2007, but the o-line got worse. Maybe Verducci will get this group back on track. I certainly hope so.

All in all, not a bad hire considering the circumstances. With all the young skill talent that we have assembled, all it would take is an adequate line to make this offense pretty potent next year. That's a pretty low bar for Verducci. I hope he can get it done.

January 14, 2009

Bradford coming back

Interesting move by Sam Bradford to make the decision to come back to OU. He can obviously do whatever the heck he wants, but I'm trying to decide if I think it's the right move for his career. It's always good for college football when these guys come back, so I'm happy to see him make the decision that he did.

On the one hand, I can understand why he'd be coming back. Maybe the guy just isn't ready to go to the NFL and wants to put in his four years at OU (he's currently a redshirt sophomore). OU is losing a ton of players, but they've basically been in reload mode for about 10 years now. It's not like they won't have talented players replacing the guys who left. Maybe he wants to make another run at a Heisman or a national title. I get that.

From a career standpoint, I do think there is a correlation between guys with a lot of starting experience in college and success in the NFL. A guy like Matt Ryan had already been a starter for a few years at BC, and he was ready for the NFL by the time he left BC. You could say the same about Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger and Brady Quinn (who I still think will be a good player starting next year). All those guys were four year starters in college. Bradford will have three years as a starter at OU under his belt by the time he goes pro after next year. He could have made some money this year by coming out, but the BIG money in the NFL for quarterbacks is on that second contract. If you prove your value to your franchise, they'll rip up your rookie contract and lock you up to a huge deal. Guys like Manning and McNabb and Palmer and Brady are all working with $100 million deals. If you're a bust, you'll get your signing bonus and a few years of base salary and then probably get cut. It's obviously a good living, but some guys who came out early may have made less money over the course of their careers because they weren't ready to succeed in the NFL. It's a good idea financially to make sure you are 100% ready for the NFL.

On the other hand, I really think Bradford has shown all he needs to show on the college level. He's already basically mastered a college offense and proven that he can make every throw that a college offense demands. I'm not sure if playing another year against Big 12 defenses really does a whole lot for his career. Bradford was probably going to be the #1 pick this year (or at least in the top 3). If he comes back and maybe doesn't have quite as good of a year or doesn't have the o-line that he had this past year, maybe his stock drops down into the late first or something like that. That's a pretty risky career move.

Tough to say. If it's obvious that you need another year of maturity before going to the NFL, I'd always say come back to school even if you are a top 10 pick. But for a polished guy like Bradford, it might not have been the worst idea to get to the league while his stock is at an all-time high. Maybe he's ok with his draft stock dropping because he'd be on a better team. Should be interesting to see what happens with him next year.

Should be another doozy of a Red River Rivalry. Bradford vs McCoy again. WOW.

LeSean McCoy going pro

Not a huge surprise, but at least we know for sure now that LeSean McCoy is going pro next year. Pretty big blow for Pitt if you ask me. They have a good offensive line, but he was basically a one man team if you ask me. Those are some large shoes to fill for the Panthers. My brief glance at Pitt's roster seems to indicate that they are returning most of their defense and some of their o-line to go with Bill Stull and Jonathan Baldwin, but they were built around McCoy.

Should be interesting to see what Pitt looks like next year. With McCoy, I thought Pitt would probably be our second toughest game next year, but that game looks a little less imposing without him there. It's tough to really count any game as a likely win after all of the disappointing losses in 2008, but I'm not complaining about McCoy going pro.

Even if we were not playing them next year, I think McCoy is making the right decision. If you are a running back in college who is projected for the first round (or even the early 2nd round), you'd be crazy to come back to college. Too much risk of injury, and there's no reason to put extra wear and tear on your tires if you aren't getting paid for it. In the NFL, you only have so many miles on those tires as a running back, so it makes sense to get to the NFL as soon as you are ready. If you are a running back, your skill set in the NFL essentially boils down to whether or not you can run the football and stay healthy. That's it. Once you have proven you can do that, go to the league and start earning a paycheck. LeSean McCoy proved this year that he's one of the elite backs in the country. He had nothing to prove by coming back next year. Yeah, he probably could improve his draft stock a little bit, but the risk is too high for injury.

I think McCoy would be a good late 1st round pick, but an even better 2nd round pick. He would be a steal as a second rounder. With his speed and strength and ability to break tackles and catch the football, he's tailor made for a pro style NFL offense. The only question on him will be whether he gets banged up. He's kind of a Cadillac Williams player, so I hope he doesn't get hurt in the league.

I'm generally opposed to using high picks on running backs these days because of their short life span as a player and the high risk of injury/busts, but a guy like McCoy would have some value if you got him in the second round. I'd rather get McCoy in the early second than use a first rounder on Beanie Wells.

Vidal Hazelton transferring to Cincy

Big news out of Clifton today with the word that Vidal Hazelton will be transferring to Cincinnati. I know this guy was up and down at USC, but he has a ton of talent. I don't see anything wrong with Brian Kelly taking a chance on this guy. UC has proven in the last couple years that they have a good offense for wide receivers, so I can see why Hazelton was interesting in becoming a Bearcat. If he can get his head on straight, he could be a stud in the UC offense.

Good to hear that UC is continuing to build momentum as a program. I hope Brian Kelly stays in Clifton a long time.

January 13, 2009


Wow, what a bold hire by the Kansas City Chiefs to lure Scott Pioli into the fold. After reading that Patriot Reign book, I think Pioli is a legit stud as a GM. Belichick is obviously a driving force in that organization, but I get the impression that Pioli was an equal partner in their success.

Having a good GM makes a big difference. Might take awhile for him to rebuild, but I like the move a lot. Should be interesting to see who he brings in to be the head coach. Pioli probably laughed out loud when someone asked him if he was going to bring back Herm Edwards.

January 12, 2009

Why is everyone so down on Andy Reid??

7) I'll admit that I'm not privy to much info about Andy Reid as a Bengal fan, but I don't see why this guy gets made fun of so much. It seems like everyone is always ragging on him. Eagles fan, Simmons, general NFL fans. Everyone is knocking Andy Reid.

Check out the guy's record:

1999 - 5-11
2000 - 11-5 - NFC Divisional Round
2001 - 11-5 - Division Champs; NFC Championship Game
2002 - 12-4 - Division Champs; NFC Championship Game
2003 - 12-4 - Division Champs; NFC Championship Game
2004 - 13-3 - Division Champs; Super Bowl
2005 - 6-10
2006 - 10-6 - Division Champs; NFC Divisional Round
2007 - 8-8
2008 - 9-6-1 - NFC Championship Game

The guy is now in his 5th NFC Championship game in 10 years. That's a bad coach?? If Marvin Lewis was headed to his 5th AFC Championship game in the last 10 years, the Bengals would currently be playing on Marvin Lewis Field at Paul Brown Stadium and fans would be rubbing the gold statue of him that was built outside the stadium on their way into the game. I'm not even joking. Meanwhile, Andy Reid seems to be fighting to keep his job even though the guy has a great shot to get to his 2nd Super Bowl this year. The Eagles are probably the best NFC franchise of this decade. I don't care what his challenges are like. All the guy does is win. I'll worry about the challenges if the guy is going 6-10 every year, but I can live with it if he's going to the NFC Championship game.

Maybe Philly fans are looking for a change of scenery or something, but sometimes the grass isn't always greener when you start looking around. Andy Reid hasn't exactly been a slouch in Philly. I'm surprised at how much heat he gets. Every team is going to have a down year in the NFL from time to time with injuries and personnel losses, but Reid has won more often than not in Philly.

I've said this before about Andy Reid and I'll say it again. If Philly fans don't want him, I'll personally drive to Philly and escort him to Cincinnati. I'd be thrilled to have him even if he does look like Craig Stadler's long lost twin these days.

6) I don't know anything about Jim Caldwell, but I'm a little leery of this hire by the Colts. Is Jim Caldwell really the guy that you want for the last few great years that you might get out of Peyton Manning?? You have Peyton Manning in his prime!! That's a big time job that a good coach would want. Who knows how much longer Peyton Manning is going to be really good, but now you are rolling the dice with a guy who was a complete failure at Wake Forest and has never coached anywhere else. That just seems really risky.

And it’s not like Dungy was some risky hire. He was about the safest hire the Colts could have made when they hired him. Caldwell is not a Dungy redux by any stretch. We have no idea how this guy will pan out.

Wouldn't a guy like Shanahan love to take a job like that?? If they hired a big time coach, they could make a serious push in the next couple years to win Peyton another ring. Isn’t that the goal?? It just seems like Indy has gotten stagnant. If Caldwell doesn’t shake things up, you are wasting the last few good years where you can shoot for a ring.

I know the new trend in the NFL is for teams to hire no-names like John Harbaugh and Ken Whisenhunt, but I still think Indy probably would have been smart to go outside the family and try to re-energize that franchise.

5) No team owns a down year in the NFL like the Baltimore Ravens. It seems like they come out of nowhere whenever there is a year with extreme parity. If New England and Indy and some of the other big names aren’t a factor, the Ravens seems to pop back up. They can win games with defense and special teams and toughness when there are no great offenses out there.

It’s amazing how limited the Ravens’ game plan was on Saturday, but yet they somehow won that game. Somewhere Jim Tressel was smiling about that game plan. Run the ball up the middle twice, deep out on 3rd down, and punt. Keep it close, make some plays with your defense, and then put together one half-decent drive in the fourth quarter to win it. And Tennessee got lulled into the trap. The Ravens probably could have gotten away with punting on 3rd down at times in the third quarter.

I’m a big fan of John Harbaugh. He seems like a really good coach. He’s already one of the better clock management/timeout/challenge coaches in the league. If you can motivate, game plan, make adjustments at the half, and manage the game on the sideline, you’re already in my top 10 coaches on that alone. There are so many coaches who can only do 1 or 2 of those things (see Lewis, Marvin) or even none (see Crennel, Romeo).

If the Ravens win the Super Bowl this year, what will their legacy be?? They’d have 2 Super Bowl titles in the 00s, but I’ve never felt like the Ravens were the premier franchise in the league at any time. History would probably treat them better than they deserve because we’d look back and see 2 rings and assume they were an all-time great team. Don’t get me wrong, the Ravens are a great franchise that just hums along, but I’ve never thought about them in the same breath as the Colts or the Pats or even the Steelers.

4) Where did all these Asian guys come from?? It seems like every team these days is trotting out some dude from Thailand or Vietnam or some other Asian guy who can run and play. It definitely seems like a trend in football that more and more guys are coming out of Samoa and Phillipines and some of those random Asian countries. I swear, ND should be recruiting five Asians and Samoans a year.

3) In the last four years of the NFL Divisional Round, the home team with the bye is 7-9. Road teams went 3-1 this year. It's almost gotten to the point where you are better off NOT having a bye in the playoffs. It totally kills your momentum, and the other team can get into a rhythm with their first round game. If Arizona had gone into Carolina without that game against Atlanta, they probably would have gotten smoked. But they found something that clicked in the first round, and suddenly they got hot. Same thing for Philly to some degree.

I think Tennessee was up for that game against Baltimore, but Baltimore was maybe a little more “playoff ready” after that game against Miami. They had already been through a war. Not sure if Tennessee was prepared for that type of game against the Ravens.

I still can’t get over that Tennessee-Baltimore game on Saturday. That was the game of the weekend if you ask me. When Ray Lewis practically decapitated Ahmad Black on the sideline, I about lost my mind. What a hit. Dan Dierdorf’s reaction is phenomenal. “WHAT A SHOT!” Diabolical! That was the moment when that game went to another level, and Dierdorf is just excited to be a part of it. Ray Lewis brought everything he had, and Black just bounced up. Great stuff.

2) Even though I’ve been rooting for a team that plays in the same division as them for 20 years, I will never understand how the Steelers do it. The “magic” of the Steelers remains a mystery. Look at this defense:

DE - Aaron Smith - Northern Colorado - 4th round
NT - Casey Hampton - Texas - 1st round
DE - Brett Keisel - BYU - 7th round
LB - Lamarr Woodley - Michigan - 2nd round
LB - Larry Foote - Michigan - 4th round
LB - James Harrison - Kent State - Undrafted
LB - James Farrior - Virginia - 1st round (Jets)

CB - DeShea Townsend - Alabama - 4th round
CB - Ike Taylor - Louisiana-Lafayette - 4th round
S - Troy Polamalu - USC - 1st round
S - Ryan Clark - LSU - Undrafted

That’s the best defense in the league?? How do they do it?! Their best player this year and the Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison, was not even drafted!! He was a linebacker at Kent State who was cut twice, and now he’s an All-Pro. Check out that d-line. Casey Hampton is an elite player, but the other two guys are filler-types. The Steelers disprove everything I’ve come to believe about football that you need elite players on the d-line to be successful. They just turn over the roster year after year after year, and nothing changes. Their defense is great every year, and playing linebacker for the Steelers is practically a guarantee that you will be a Pro Bowler someday.

The only bonafide “studs” that they drafted on that defense are Polamalu and Hampton. Everyone else is either a mid-round guy, a signing, or a complete no-name. It’s amazing. And they are like that every year.

The Steelers really aren’t even that great with their drafts every single year, but it doesn’t even matter. Mendenhall was hurt, Limas Sweed looks like a possible bust, their first rounder last year Lawrence Timmons has done nothing. There are a ton of “misses” in their draft history if you go back and look at it.

Doesn’t matter. They just find these unheralded guys and plug them in there under LeBeau. The only real big time 1st round guys the Steelers have on their roster are Roethlisberger (I refuse to call him “Ben”), Polamalu, Hampton, and Santonio. That’s basically it.

I don’t know how they do it. Steelers football…toughness, attacking defense, and physical play. The formula never changes. It has to be the system or whatever, but you still need players too. They never seem to be in any type of rebuilding mode even though their roster is always changing.

Very frustrating stuff for a Bengals fan. If you want to be relevant in the AFC North, you have two great franchises that you have to beat every year. There are very few down years for either the Steelers or the Ravens.

1) Hopefully Charlie Weis watched these games this weekend and realized that physical football wins, especially on defense. Then again, Weis probably saw the Zona game, fell in love with all the ways they were flinging it around, and immediately drew up three new jump ball fades to Golden Tate.

By the way, if Weis wins 9-10 games next year, could he put himself back into the mix for NFL jobs?? Couldn't he make a "hey, I've proven that I can win with experienced players" argument to an NFL team that is looking for an offensive guru?? Just a thought. I doubt it would ever happen, but you never know.

1) Big game for the Irish tonight in Louisville. I would love to see us win at least one out of the next two at Louisville or at Syracuse. Tonight would be HUGE because we have generally played really well at Syracuse against their zone.

Should be an interesting game. If we are fired up and come out shooting well, we have a great shot. Louisville has been playing better, but they are still really up and down.