August 31, 2006
The intro for Saturday's Prime Time "ESPN on ABC" event surfaced on the web. Brent Musberger leads us out of the gate, revving the hype machine one last time before the players back up the expectations on the field.
Lingering questions since walking out of Rula Bula's January 3rd with a clean slate, fresh outlook and a minor buzz:
Will the Offense According to Weis v.2 ascend to comical levels of effeciency and production?
Can a RB switch to starting LB without ever playing a college defensive down and have an impact, preferably positive?
How much has the secondary learned from their past indiscretions of biting on ball fakes and miscommunication?
How much will the forgotten one, Rhema, blow up in the mastermind's grand scheme? McKnight and the Shark will be option 1 and 1A for Brady as he rewrites every school record imaginable.
What will supplant "Same Old Jesus" in the parking lot T-shirt sweepstakes? I'm talking to you enterprising freshmen. Dazzle us.
Will Brady and the rest of this cast of characters etch their place in Irish legendary status with a championship season?
Game On. Let's Go Irish!
August 15, 2006
Am I the only one who mises the Sunday Night NFL ESPN guys? I'm as big a Tony Kornheiser fan as anyone, but I sort of miss the silliness of the Joe, Paul, and Mike team. Can we get at least one "HOLY COW, How good is Peyton Manning?!" this year in honor of those guys?
What on God's Earth are the Raiders doing as an organization? Art Shell? Aaron Brooks? You gotta be kidding me! How could the Raiders possibly think that Art Shell and Aaron Brooks are going to provide long term solutions at Head Coach and QB? I'm surprised Al Davis didn't just hire himself to complete the mess. Granny Davis has been clueless for about 15 years, but it's amazing that there isn't more outrage from the Raider Nation about the direction of that franchise. Instead of demanding change, Raider fans have just stopped going. Just more fuel to the fire for the argument that there isn't the same level of passion for sports on the West Coast as there is in the East.
Not that I'm all that surprised about it, but Reggie Bush is incredible. I really have no idea what to expect of Reggie Bush as far as stats go this year. Would love to see the Saints just get him 25-30 touches a game to see what kind of numbers he could put up. Sky is the limit. The league is THAT much more exciting with Reggie in the league.
Jay Cutler! How good did he look in the preseason opener?! Bronco fans have to be pretty excited about their future at QB. How long before Tennessee Titan fans start wondering why they drafted Vince Young (who has bust written all over him) over Jay Cutler?
I know the Arizona Cardinals are super cheap as an organzation, but I think Matt Leinart really blew it by holding out. How many times have we seen QBs come late to camp, lose credibility in the locker room, and have trouble adjusting to the league? It seems to happen every year. Leinart has no leg to stand on here by asking for top 5 money. Just take what you can get, get into camp, prove yourself on the field, and then load up on a huge contract extension in a few years.
Speaking of quarterbacks, if Alex Smith ends up becoming a good quarterback, I am personally writing an apology letter to that guy and ordering up an extra large bowl of crow. He is supposedly looking great in the preseason. I'll believe it when I see it, but I'm a little more nervous about the "Bust" label that I've gleefully pasted on him since the day he was drafted.
On the Bengals front, if Carson Palmer wasn't out with this injury, I'd be legitimately thinking about the Super Bowl this year. This is the most talented Bengal team I have seen, and there is depth everywhere. Very excited about some of the new young DBs and LBs. And if anyone is looking for a big time fantasy sleeper, keep an eye on Chris Henry. I know he's a thug and a menace to society and that I probably shouldn't like him, but the guy is an absolute STUD. As good as Chad Johnson was early in his career, I actually think Chris Henry is better. If the guy isn't suspended or in jail, he could become one of the top receivers in the league.
Not sure what to make of the Bengals this year, but I have a feeling that they'll dig themselves into a hole early in the year without Palmer. The toughest games of the year are in the beginning of the season, and I'm not ready to trust Anthony Wright for any extended period of time. With Palmer in limbo, I think this team is going to have trouble making the playoffs this year.
By the way, the story of the preseason so far is this Bill Cowher retirement scenario. If this season is really the last for The Chin in Pittsburgh, AFC North fans across America are quietly pumping their fists. I have as much respect for Cowher as a coach as I do for any coach in any sport. Remarkable consistency, phenomenal motivator, and one of the all-time great characters of the NFL. He will be missed (but not by me).
Is it me or is fantasy football almost getting TOO big? I feel like everyone and their grandma is signed up for fantasy football this year. Might be time for some sort of football IQ test that you have to pass to be eligible for a fantasy football team.
Great to see Maurice Stovall looking good in camp. If you watched the guy play at Notre Dame, you knew he would turn himself into a good pro. Great size, underrated hands, good blocker, great playmaking ability on the deep ball. I couldn't believe he fell all the way to the 3rd round, but the Bucs got a steal with MoSto. There are going to be some teams that regret not drafting him. Still think he will be missed more up in South Bend than we are willing to admit.
Overrated NFC team: Dallas. I don't really buy into the Dallas hype this year. Drew Bledsoe is still wildly inconsistent, T.O. is showing his true colors as a team cancer, and they weren't all that sound in the running game last year. That team has major questions on offense. Pretty good defensive team, but I am skeptical about them as a Super Bowl contender.
Underrated NFC team: Philadelphia. I thought about going with Tampa Bay, but I'll go with the Eagles in this category. The Eagles have been looking good in the preseason, and I think they have their mojo back. I could see the Eagles getting back to the playoffs this year and maybe even winning the NFC East.
Overrated AFC team: New England. Call me crazy, but I think New England is going to take a step back this year. There's only so many years that you can contend for a title before you start to lose pieces, and I feel like New England has lost a ton of talent in the last couple years. Their only playmaker at WR is Deion Branch, Corey Dillon is getting older, and they've lost a ton of players on defense in recent years. If it wasn't for Bellichick and Brady, I'd be predicting a 7-9 type season.
Underrated AFC team: Don't really know. Maybe Miami (although they might be in the "so underrated that they might be overrated" category), maybe San Diego. Seems like there are a lot of AFC teams that are weaker this year than they were last year. I have a feeling that the AFC is going to take a step back this year. I could see the balance of power shifting back to the NFC.
July 31, 2006
July 19, 2006
NCAA Football 2007 is Here
While the season is still a month and a half away the Saturday Afternoon football fans can now get their fix. NCAA Football 2007 from EA sports is that fix. I went to Best Buy this afternoon with visions of National Championships dancing in my head. I rushed home to find out just how good the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish Varsity Travel Tackle Football Squad is. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the offense is. Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija are the best Touchdown Duo in the game. Everything thrown by Brady is on the money and Jeff makes catches that would make a Chinese acrobat jealous.
Darius does what he does best just run down hill and gain yards. The offensive line makes holes and protects Brady. But as a whole, the offense is as solid as a Brick Shit House.
Defense is where the season could be derailed. It seems every player on the team forgot how to wrap up when they tackle. I was ashamed to have given up a touchdown to The Gentleman Caller Joe Tiller and his Mustached Men from West Lafayette, because the secondary cant seem to tackle a running back on a sweep. I hope that isn’t a sign of things to come for the season.
NCAA 2007 fills the much-needed void that has existed since the National Championship Game until the first kick off of the new season. Since then there has been a top five recruiting class, a spring game, and a bunch of recruits that have committed before they even take a snap of their senior seasons. All of this is trying to fill the emptiness that is the off-season.
Weekend Warriors rejoice in that fact that football season is around the corner and NCAA Football 2007 gives the fanatics a chance to live out their hopes and dreams of a National Championship in their living room. So teams like Boise State can use this time to get your National Championship out of the way. So you don’t have to complain later when you are undefeated in the WAC and claim to have a stake of the National Title.
So take solace football fans and gamers alike. NCAA 2007 is here to save you from yourself and going nuts refreshing NDNation and Irish Eyes every 5 minutes to see if Arrelious Benn has committed or if Gary Gray has spurned South Carolina for the Irish.
Get ready for the season in the virtual world then get ready to strap it up for the real thing on September 2nd at 8:00pm down in Atlanta.
June 27, 2006
Quick flash poll. Any thoughts on this? I am curious to hear some perspective from ND fans on this one because we are one of the schools that could have benefited from a few extra slots in the Big Dance over the last few years. It puts our fanbase in a unique position to gauge this idea because, unlike UConn and Carolina fans, we have actually been sweating it out on that bubble.
Personally, even as a Notre Dame fan, I’m completely opposed to the idea. And I have my reasons.
1. Expansion would devalue the regular season
Yea, I know this argument gets brought up by college football and basketball “purists” all the time, and people are tired of hearing these doomsday projections about how regular seasons won’t matter anymore if changes are made to the postseason formats. With that said, isn’t there some truth to the argument?
I think so. The best part of the college hoops season is during that late February and early March period when every night there are big games with tournament implications. I love following all the “Bubble Watch” and “Bracketology” stuff on the internet, arguing with friends about mid-majors vs. power teams, and all the other buildup leading to Selection Sunday. It’s one of my two or three favorite sports seasons of the year. I’d be bummed to see that go away. If you expand the tournament, the bubble essentially goes away. Let’s say a mediocre Alabama team beats LSU on the road on a Tuesday night in late February. With the present format, that is a huge statement win for them and means a lot for their NCAA Tournament chances. After expansion? Alabama is probably already dancing, so the game loses a little luster. It’s still a big win for Alabama and their fans, but the regular season suddenly becomes a little less interesting for college hoops fans in general.
2. Tournament Dilution
Let’s say this expansion idea goes down. Who are we really adding here? 17-12 teams with bad strength of schedules and losing conference records? Small conference schools that are already overrepresented as it is? Why on Earth does anyone want to see those teams in the Big Dance?
In the end, that’s the biggest reason I am not in favor of this thing. As it stands now, making the NCAA Tournament is a big deal. The small schools have truly accomplished something, and the big schools have distinguished themselves by getting the invite. If you expand this thing any further, it cheapens the whole thing. I know that ND has been squeezed a few times recently, but did we really “deserve” to be dancing? The 2005 team lost to Rutgers in the first round of the BET and looked like it could care less about continuing the season. The 2004 team was an average team at best. Those teams could have made a case for being in the tournament, but I sure as heck didn’t consider it some sort of injustice that they were left out.
Maybe I’m just a patient type, but I’d rather it mean something when ND gets back to the Big Dance and not just be some charity case. If we get in now, it's a source of pride. It should remain that way in the future.
3. Coaches in favor of this proposal just want a safety net
If you manage to wade through all the rhetoric being bandied about by college basketball coaches championing this idea, you get to the heart of the matter. Coaches want expansion because they are pissing down their leg about missing the NCAA Tournament and want a guaranteed safety net. They want to be able to say that they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament 7 times in the last 9 years. By expanding the tournament, it makes their job a whole lot easier. Coach (Insert mediocre big conference head coach) doesn’t have that “failed to make the NCAAs 3 out of the last 4 years” tag hanging over him anymore because pretty much everyone with a pulse is getting in.
I understand where those guys are coming from, but I still don’t support the idea. Notice how the idea is only getting support from the “bubble” coaches. You don’t see Calhoun, Roy, and Kryskewski jumping on this proposal. They sure as heck don’t want to have to play an additional tournament game against some undeserving run-of-the-mill squad. Adding another round strikes me as unnecessary. It would drag along the tournament, and dilute the field.
The tournament is perfect as it stands. Buildup in the regular season, meaningful conference tournaments, 65 teams, 6 rounds, one champion. It’s the best tournament in the world (yes World Cup fans, read that last sentence again.). Leave it alone.
June 21, 2006
It just never gets old. Chris freaking Berman. If that story is actually true (and I'm 99.999% convinced that it is), doesn't it completely change your perception of Berman? We're talking about the Swami. The man who loves to say Jake "Daylight comes and I wanna" Delhomme. You're with me, leather? Can you even picture Chris Berman waddling around the local watering hole working the singles scene? Does he bust out the ESPN catchphrases for the ladies as well?
Oh and by the way, there are now shirts commemorating the "You're with me, leather" line from the Swami himself. Pretty sure I'll be hitting "Add to Cart" for that beauty as soon as I finish this post. You gotta love capitalism.
If you're out at the bars this weekend, PLEASE pull out the "You're with me, leather" line. Just once. It worked for Berman, and it might even work for you. For all we know, "You're with me, leather" as a pickup line is batting 1.000.
June 19, 2006
Remember the Jason McElwain story? His accomplishments are certainly worthy of at least a double Utley and would be a fitting first bestowal, but that story's been played out. We gotta start with something fresh and original, something distinct with flavor. That said, the inaugural Utley of the Week is a touch off the wall, but, then again, so is this site.
I came across this article (and it's accompanying gallery) during a recent surf and was smitten. You mean to tell me there's people who care enough to rally public opinion to bring the 'stache back into our culture's good graces? That is Good News.
You may be asking yourself- what possible relevance does facial growth have to sports? Unbeknownst until recently, I discovered a subculture, much like professional eating and the Great Outdoor Games, where the growing gets a little competitive. We all have a friend who beats everyone to the 5 o'clock shadow by noon, but can they do this? And if you need inspiration, here's a celebrity montage of well-coiffed mustachios from some of our most beloved characters.
Believe it or not, there's serious follicle festivities at work at the New York City Beard & Mustache Championships. And if your mane is the main event domestically, you just might be a contender for the World Beard Championships.
If you think you've got what it takes, perhaps you should get in touch with the founder and self-appointed captain of the Beard Team USA, Phil Olsen. I'm awe-struck that a national circuit for this sort of thing even exists. His blog offers as in-depth a look into competitive beard growing as you'll find. And what's more American than growing your God-given hair to the length of your choice and "splitting hairs" over it?
For that, the "Americans For More Mustaches And Beards" movement gets an Utley.
And we've reached a new low. The Atlanta Braves are now in Last place in the NL East a place they have not seen since the Miracle season in 1991. When they went from worst to first. Where have you gone mister Sid Bream? During their decent into last place the Braves have lost 17 of their last 20. The last time we won a series was Memorial Day weekend when there was a solid sweep of the Chicago Cubs. I think the Braves caught a solid case of suck from the Cub when they made their holiday stop. I am not only one disheartened by the fact that they are 14 game out and got swept by the Florida Marlins. A team that has given away any player that was a part of their World Championship Team in '03.
The thing that is wrong with the Braves is I think are expecting to lose. They have their roster issues like no Bullpen and no lead off hitter. But they have lost their will to win. They need some serious therapy, they also need to look into making some trades. What good is having the best farm system in the game if you never use it for anything? They all need to get together and listen to some rocking tunes by Peter Gammons and grow a set of balls.
Where is the camaraderie that helped them win the last 14 NL East titles? Where is the pitching that has been the staple of the Braves organization? Where is the Wizard John Schuerholz making deals to fix the problems? Where is the owner of the team?
Where are you Jeff Francoeur? Where are you Brian McCann? Where are you Chipper Jones? Where are you Andruw Jones?
Where were you when Sid slid???
June 17, 2006
Album features vocals from Theo Epstein, Bronson Arroyo, Trot Nixon, Tim Wakefield, and the rookie sensation himself, Jonathon Papelbon. I'm just shocked to see Gammons line up some current and former Red Sox for this thing. Shocked I tell you. I mean, when does Gammons ever talk about the Red Sox?
Laugh all you want, but tell me you aren't a little curious to hear what Gammons sounds like. Here's an article about the process of making the album.
Close your eyes and picture these lyrics coming out of the mouth of the man who loves to discuss the Double A prospects of the Milwaukee Brewers:
''She fell from heaven.
She fell from heaven.
She fell from heaven.
And landed . . . on her face."
I'm having a hard time refraining from laughing every time I look at the picture of Gammons on the album cover trying to rock out. At the very least, if the rock star thing doesn't work out, he can always go back to posing for the $20 bill.
June 14, 2006
Apologies for the brief hiatus. I was sent on assignment to the Galapagos Islands to study the evolution of Fitches in the NBA. In a nutshell, the genus Bill Fitch adapted to its surrounding environment and evolved into the genus Gerald Fitch, and the NBA game became better. A fleshed out thesis is pending.
In my absence, the sporting world certainly kept turning, chock full of compelling stories and developing situations. A quick recap of some highlights to catch up on what's transpired.
-The NFL found a new way to stir the pot this spring, stealing headlines for weeks with Draft coverage. In a bold, and most would agree, stupid move, the Houston Texans passed on the unparalleled Reggie Bush to snatch a DE from a 7-5 NC State team. This reeks of the 1983 Bowie-Jordan NBA draft mulligan. Time always tells, but that is one ginormous silverback gorilla placed on Mario Williams' back.
Always encouraging to see Irish names pop up on draft boards, especially 1st Day draftees Fasano and Mo Sto. The talent cupboard is being replenished. More under the radar, it's quite obvious that Charlie's willing to reach out to his NFL frat brothers in securing jobs for his graduating seniors. All the more reason for players to buy into his system. Charlie will get you to Sunday.
- Barry Bonds "cleared" and "creamed" his way past the Babe, yet only San Franciscans gave a hoot. Meanwhile, Albert Pujols started as hot as Hansel, well ahead of pace to break Bonds' single season home run mark, a fitting parting gift to the sullied slugger. The Cardinals could roll Pujols out in a wheelchair and he'd still knock a few out of the park. Don't call it a conspiracy theory yet, but anyone else perplexed at teams' insistence on pitching to
-Cowboy Dirk and the Dallas Mavericks keep trucking through this snails pace playoffs. It appears Mark Cuban's insanity will pay off with a title. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Cuban fan and think his ownership mentality is great for sports. His blog is quality, too. It's nice to finally see some new blood in the NBA Finals. It's hard to believe only 5 cities have brought home a championship since 1987. Can you name them? Answer at the bottom.
-Rafael Nadal continued his clay court mastery, fending off Roger Federer to defend his French Open crown. His unbeaten streak on the red clay is now a record 60 matches long. There's a rivalry brewing in ATP-land. It appears Federer has finally found a worthy adversary in the 20-year old Nadal, a perfect foil to keep his supremacy in check.
-The World Cup kicked off last week in Deutschland, sending myriads of futbol fans into a frenzy. Nothing really tops the Copa Mundial. Olympian in its four-year intervals, the world's best athletes grab center stage, showcasing their dazzling array of tricks. Critics (read: Americans) cry that there's not enough scoring. Whatever happened to that virtue called patience? Whaa whaa all you want, but the wait is almost always worth it, as the best goals of World Cup 2002 prove. There's a magnetism inherent in every game. Just listening to the omnipresent drone of the crowds chanting and cheering for their country is intoxicating. It's truly pure sport at its finest.
You want to know the origins of the endzone celebration? Look no further than soccer goal celebrations. It's a showman's dream come true for that brief moment before your teammates mob you. Liverpool's Robbie Fowler makes T.O.'s antics look childish as he sniffs a white line after a goal. (Add your own subtitles). England's got a new dance craze- The Crouch- which is a notch above The Sprain. Thankfully, this dumb luck can't happen to you amidst celebration on the gridiron.
-Last but not least, ND Football made plenty of headlines of their own this off-season. The Blue-Gold game affirmed that Charlie Mania is in full bloom. A record number of Weisaholics turned out to watch the ho-hum affair. The game was icing on the cake after the #1 QB in the country committed to Notre Dame earlier that morning. Boy Wonder Jimmy Claussen plans to enroll in January, 2007 to fully immerse himself in Weis’ regimen for success. Top recruits are following his lead, making sure not to be left out of a bumper crop. Charlie has piqued the country's best and so far 7 commitments have fallen like dominos with a predestined goal – dynasty.
One certainty this fall will be the full-blown media overkill hyping Brady Quinn's Heisman campaign. He can try and evade the attention like a blitzing safety, but if he puts up comparable numbers to last year, the Debate for Eight will rage all season.
The player that may have the biggest hand(s) in making Quinn's Heisman hype a reality is creating a mystique onto his own. Jeff Samardzija, 5th round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs, has agreed on a contract and should test the waters of summer ball in Boise, Idaho. Don't be calling him Bo just yet, despite this clever allusion.
The Shark’s not the only one with a high-profile summer job. Roommate Tommy Z stepped into the ring at
May 21, 2006
Baseball is in full swing and everything that is wrong with Baseball is taking center stage. Barry Bonds just hit homerun 714 to tie Babe Ruth. The New York Yankees and Mets and their purchased teams are in first place in their respective divisions. That is what I hate about baseball, teams in the smaller markets can not compete and get left behind and this makes for no revenue in these markets during the later months of the season. They can never recover. Baseball needs to take a long look in the mirror and step up and ratify a salary cap. I know this will mean some of the great old time players will get run out of town when they get to expensive, but this will make George Steinbrenner stop holding a fire sale on his farm team. The farm system is what keeps fans interested in the game. I don’t like watching a team of a bunch of guys purchased to play one or two seasons. They don’t have anything vested in the franchise. Fans want to watch a player rise up from the ranks and have some vested interest on how this kid develops. They want to see him become the super star for their team. They don’t want to see an aging star that cant play every day because his knees cant handle jogging to first base.
Until baseball levels the playing field and makes everyone competitive, baseball will never be America's game. It will be the game of the fans in a few select cities and everyone else is thinking football season cant get here soon enough.
April 12, 2006
This Classic Peanuts turned up in the Chicago Tribune yesterday. Being a wee bit superstitious, it's hard not to buy into Lucy's optimism this season, especially after winning last night's home opener against the playoff contending Oakland A's on an evening dedicated to Kirby Puckett's lasting influence on Minnesota Twins baseball.
Cheers to Mr. Charles Schulz, a native Minnesotan, for steadfastly believing in the team's fortunes, even from the grave. Go Twins!
April 11, 2006
But thanks to the PBA, a bust will be enshrined this summer to the ring-toting Notre Dame star, inducting Jerome as the very first Celebrity Bowling Hall of Famer.
Unbeknownst to many, Bettis has been an avid bowler since childhood. Those Campbell Chunky Soup commercials in the bowling alley weren't a coincidence.
Football was his profession, but bowling remains his past time, and he happens to be pretty damned good. He maintains a 200+ average on the greased lanes, even laying claim to a perfect 300 game, a turkey party John Madden would have been proud of.
All hail the Bus. Hopefully his athletic career is reincarnated on the PBA Tour. You're telling me you wouldn't be glued to the set watching the drama unfold between Bettis and bowling royalty like bad boy Pete Weber, horseshoe champion Walter Ray Williams and the inspiration for the Bohn Zone, Parker Bohn III? Sign me up!
April 10, 2006
Ok, show of hands. As much as you enjoyed last season, did any of you start to daydream a little bit about 2006? How could you not? Brady Quinn returning as a senior, most of the o-line back, Samardzija coming off an All-American season, Darius Walker, Derek Landri, Trevor Laws, and tons of stud recruits coming on board. Throw in a schedule that looks very manageable with most of the traditional powers at home, and it was hard not to start thinking about a #1 ND team heading into the LA Coliseum to play a #2 USC team for a Fiesta Bowl birth.
Well folks, 2006 has arrived. Spring ball is finally here, and we are ready to get the ball rolling on some ND spring football discussion. I would love nothing further than to be partying it up next January after a national title victory in the Fiesta Bowl, but we have some things that need to get done in order to make it happen.
I’m going to call this little discussion the “Spring Buffet.” Lots of different stuff to discuss, and hopefully something in here for everybody to enjoy.
Here are the ten things on my mind as we head into the Blue-Gold game:
1. Maurice Stovall
Look, I think the offense will be fine and might even be better than it was last year, but is anyone else mildly concerned about the loss of Maurice Stovall? You get the vibe that ND fans feel that Rhema McKnight and company will keep the passing game rolling along without any type of transition. I have been in this camp for the most part, but now I’m starting to wonder if I’ve underestimated the impact of losing Stovall. If you haven’t watched some of those individual game highlight videos on NDNation.com, do yourself a favor and check them out. They are PHENOMENAL. Anyway, I watched most of the videos, and was in awe of Maurice Stovall. I completely forgot how much of a stud the guy was last year. Good god, talk about a man-child! The Terrell Owens of college football. Pretty much unguaradable on those jump ball throws, and always found a way to get open in the endzone. If you threw him that sideline stop route, he could bull his way to an 8 or 9 yard gain with ease. Stovall’s performance in the MSU game was beyond belief. It was positively Puckett-esque in the second half. Having Stovall was such a luxury because we always had the threat of a quick score on the deep ball with him. The buzz in camp is that Rhema has looked great, but our offense might be a little more tailored to the mid-range passing game with McKnight and Grimes in the mix. Might be something to keep an eye on this year. I have faith that Weis will maximize the talent on the roster, but it will be interesting to see if our offense has a slightly different look this year. Also curious to see how DJ Hord looks this year. You can tell that DJ has loads of ability. I am hoping for a promising sophomore year out of him with a potential breakout junior year in 2007.
2. Anthony Fasano
Another personnel loss that ND fans will want to keep an eye on. Fasano is another guy who had an incredible year last year. I can’t even count how many times Fasano had a clutch catch in a big situation over the last couple years. I really enjoyed watching him. Pretty sure my dad has already inducted him into his personal “white ND tight ends with great hands” Hall of Fame along with founding member Dan O’Leary. I will miss that paisan tremendously. How do you replace a guy like Fasano? Well, we’ve been hearing Charlie Weis rave about John Carlson as the “best athlete on the team” for a couple years, but we’ve only seen the guy in small doses. All the spring articles have been raving about Marcus Freeman, so that is a nice surprise. Marcus Freeman’s recruiting video highlights are right up there with the most impressive high school highlights that you will ever see. Glad to see him putting it together. Those two guys need to give us production in the passing game and in the running game for this offense to keep trucking along.
3. Charlie “The Mind” Weis
Ok, enough with the concerns. Think about how much Charlie Weis accomplished with this team in one year. The team literally turned into an offensive juggernaut overnight. ND has great players and great athletes, but there’s no denying that Weis’ schemes and playcalling were a huge catalyst for the offensive explosion last season. Weis is not one of those coaches who is only successful with the right personnel. He has been a master in New England and at ND in creating an offensive scheme to match his personnel by taking advantage of the strengths of his roster.
I can’t wait to see what Weis has in store for this season. I really wouldn’t be surprised by anything at this point. More reverses and screens to McKnight? Done. Increased emphasis on the running game? Sounds good. More play action? Works for me.
Bottom line, ND is going to put up a ton of points. Might be a little different than last year, but the offense will be a consistent force throughout the season. As long as the offense is rolling this year, you have to like our chances to run the table.
4. Offensive line
4 starters back, one or two All-American candidates, 5 stud recruits coming in. Have to be really excited about the progress of this unit. There wasn’t an area of the team more improved than the offensive line last year, but I’ll be curious to see if there is more of an emphasis on straight run blocking out of this group. Most of our success running the ball came through draw plays and misdirections, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of a power running game with James Aldridge on board. With Penn State and Michigan coming up early in the schedule, I wouldn’t mind seeing ND try to match their physical play with a little flexing of our own.
O-line could be trouble after this year though. We have very little depth from the upperclasmen and will be relying on youth in 2007. Honestly, how bad was Ty Willingham? Could he have possibly done a worse job at ND than he did? How hard is it to recruit o-linemen to Notre freaking Dame? Linemen are usually foaming at the mouth to play for ND, and yet he couldn't bring in more than two linemen in that second recruiting class. What an absolute joke that man was.
5. Defensive line
Returning: Trevor Laws, Derek Landri, Victor Abiamiri, “Play like a” Ronald Talley today, and Chris Frome. Derrell Hand, Dwight Stephenson and Justin Brown as backups.
Strengths: Laws and Landri. If there is a better combo in the middle than Landri and Laws, I would be stunned. Landri has been a force for three years now, and I expect an All-American type year out of him. I love how active both those guys are. They both make plays behind the line of scrimmage, which is all I can really ask out of a defensive tackle. Abiamiri has been a solid player at ND, Talley has some ability to get up the field, and Frome was somewhat underrated while healthy.
Concerns: The D-line is probably the strength of the defense, but I’m still not in love with this defensive line. Abiamiri has his moments as “The Manimal,” but I wouldn’t call him a disruptive force on that d-line. Talley got shoved around a lot last year, and no one really knows how Frome will look coming off the injury. There is absolutely no depth with this unit. If Laws or Landri go down, we are staring at a virtual unknown like Derrell Hand.
Outlook: We have to get some more consistent pass rush this year. Those 3rd and 10 conversions late in the OSU game fall squarely on the D-line if you ask me. Abiamiri needs to step up and become a Justin Tuck type dominator on the end. No real word yet on Frome’s health. Would like to see him return healthy and give us some production at end. Might be nice to see Hand take a step up with an eye toward a starting job in 2007. This unit looks ok now, but will be a major question mark in 2007. Could be staring at a Talley, Brown, Hand, Stephenson front four or something along those lines. Yikes.
Probably the biggest concern on the team right now. I think there are some sleepers at LB, but it doesn’t help that we’ll be breaking those guys in against some heavy hitters like Penn State and Michigan. Is anyone else a little concerned about a linebacker trio of Anthony Vernaglia, Maurice Crum, and Mitchell Thomas with a little Joe Brockington and Steve Quinn sprinkled in? Umm..me too. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been apologizing to their recruiting profiles for about 3 years, but we’ve never seen them on the field.
Is Vernaglia the real deal or the next Mike McNair? Is he big enough to play LB? Is Mitchell Thomas ever going to make a contribution after all the recruiting promise? What about guys like Joe Brockington and Nick Borseti that have flown under the radar but haven’t really played? Where do the young guys like Steve Quinn, Toryan Smith, and Mo Richardson fit into this picture? Will Ndukwe see any time at the Apache spot?
Lots of question marks. On the bright side, there is talent and possibly a little more speed than we’ve had in the past. Nothing against Brandon Hoyte or Curry or Goolsby, but those guys were a bit on the slow side. If your linebackers are running 4.9 40 times, you are susceptible to some big plays and might have some trouble on the sidelines. Vernaglia and Thomas have some speed, and the young guys look promising. ND has always had solid linebacker units, so I’m not too worried about finding guys that can play. Whether or not there are any standouts in this group is something that we will have to find out. Hope a couple of them break out next year. LBs could be a strength of this team in 2007 with so many young guys expected to get time this year.
7. Defensive Backs
Did I just say that the linebackers were the biggest concern on the team? Scratch that. Unless you’ve chosen to eliminate the Stanford and OSU games from memory (I wouldn’t blame you), you are probably thinking that the DB situation needs to be improved this year.
Let’s breakdown the starters and throw out some potential backups to ponder:
Ambrose Wooden – I know there are a lot of people who are really high on Wooden, but is he really good enough to be starting on a top 10 team? Ehh. Not a bad player, but not even close to an elite player. He’s got some speed, and made some huge plays for us last year. Still, do you think Ambrose Wooden will be playing on Sundays some day? Me neither.
Mike Richardson – Currently in his 12th year at ND (at least it seems that way), the elder statesman of the defense. Again, not a terrible player, but hardly the lockdown guy that this team needs.
Leo Ferrine – Uncle Leo rose onto the scene last year with a great offseason, but his debut last year was scary. My heart shot up into my throat every time the ball was thrown in his direction. Made a big play on the td return in the Syracuse game, but left a lot to be desired in other games (namely Tennessee). Need Leo to step up this year.
Terrail Lambert – The story of the camp so far! I like Lambert. He’s the one corner on this team who looks like he has played the position before. I’ve been impressed with this guy in limited playing time, and am somewhat perplexed as to why he hasn’t played more. Supposedly has had a great camp, and will be starting in the BG game. I think Lambert has a bright future, and like his cover skills.
Raeshon McNeil/Darrin Walls – The young phenom freshmen. See me in August. I will say this right now. If these guys are better than the upperclassmen, you have to get them on the field right away. With Dwayne Jarrett, Calvin Johnson, Mario Manningham, Derrick Williams, and Matt Trannon on the schedule, we need some corners who can lock guys down.
Tommy Zbibkowski – Not much to worry about. Zibby is the one guy on this defense that makes plays. Just throw him out there and watch him make some plays. Not the best coverage guy in the world, but you have to love his aggressiveness.
Chinedum Ndukwe – No knock on the Duke, but I’m not sure that he’s a strong safety. How many times did we get beat on deep balls last year with no safety in sight? Ndukwe has a knack for the big play, but I’d really prefer a Glenn Earl type safety out there to defend the pass.
David Bruton/Ray Herring – Word out of camp has been that these guys have both looked great. I’m excited to hear that. If they are better than the players above them, Lewis/Minter have got to get them on the field. Between UCLA, Stanford, USC, G. Tech, MSU, and a potential major bowl game, we will face some big time aerial attacks this year. Can’t afford to have weak coverage from the safeties.
Outlook: Spring reports indicate that the DBs will be much improved. I hope so. Big plays killed us in all 3 losses. Take away the big plays, and the pass defense should be better.
8. Special Teams
You didn’t think we were going through a spring preview without any mention of the special teams, did you? I really believe in the importance of special teams. Love him or hate him, Bob Davie always had a good special teams unit, and it kept us in a lot of games during his tenure. Would like to see us playing special teams at a high level in the near future.
Three most important issues:
1. Who is kicking the field goals? - Well, looks like Goia has the inside track, but that could change when Ryan Burkhart shows up on campus. Would like to see someone emerge with a great summer camp to take this job.
2. Who is kicking off? - After watching OSU’s kicker bomb every kickoff out of the end zone, I’ve realized more than ever how critical it is to find a kicker who can boot the ball deep on the kickoff. Nothing against DJ Fitzpatrick, but his kickoffs were routinely being fielded at the 10 yard line. Doesn’t help your defense when the other team is starting at the 35 on every possession.
3. Who is returning kickoffs? - I thought our kickoff return unit was much better last year, but would like to see someone emerge as a legitimate home run threat in this spot. Never hurts to have a Julius Jones type returner back there.
On a sidenote, how bad was our kickoff return unit under Ty Willingham? I hate to make people do this, but do you all remember those returns where Chase Anastasio would catch the ball at the one, look around, run it out of the endzone at about 1 mph, and get snowed under at the 11? The other team would be chest bumping while poor Chase limped off the field with the “I wish I was dead” look going. Absolutely infuriating to watch. Willingham was bad on so many levels, but this area might have been the worst. Or was it the pass defense? Or was it the running game? Oh, what about the blowout losses? How about the ridiculous nonspeak at his press conferences? What about the "last time I checked, we've won 4 out of our last 6" comments? Or the John Saunders interview?
Ok, I'm getting fired up. Let's move on.
9. The schedule
I’ve been pointing to this schedule for about three years now as a “national championship run” type schedule. It sets up really favorably with a lot of tough home games in the beginning to pump up the ranking followed by a string of easier games before heading to USC. Some of the better programs on the schedule appear to be down (PSU and UCLA), and we have owned Michigan at home over the last decade.
Book those tickets to Tempe, right? Well, I still think the schedule sets up well for us, but I get more and more nervous the more that I look at it. We’ll break it down more in depth as the season gets closer, but let’s take a quick look now. I think this schedule is going to be significantly tougher than last year’s schedule when it’s all said and done. We should be favored in all those first four games, but that’s still a pretty tough slate. I’m not all that worried about G. Tech because I know Weis will have us running and gunning for the opener. PSU looks like a 7-4 type team, but you know that JoePa will have them cranked up for that game. Michigan is starting to worry me a lot more than I thought they would because of the motivation factor. You know Lloyd Carr has been barking at them about the ND game all offseason. MSU is still MSU. In a vacuum, we win all those games. But over the course of 4 straight, it will be tough.
Unless Ben Howland or Roy Williams show up on the sidelines, I’m not too worried about UCLA or UNC. That leaves USC with Fiesta Bowl birth on the line. Wowsers. I’m sure those bandwagon SC fans will be firing up the shrimp cocktails and cosmopolitans for that one! Somebody pass me an umbrella straw!
Is USC still a top 5 team after all those personnel losses? Umm..have you seen their recruiting classes of late? I think they’ll be just fine. I really wish we were playing SC earlier in the year. If Sanchez is as good as advertised, that is going to be a brutal game at the end of the year.
If we survive that slate unscathed, we undoubtedly head into the Fiesta Bowl at 12-0 against some form of Texas/Oklahoma/SEC champ with the title on the line. If you want to dream big dreams, imagine going 13-0 with wins over Michigan, Penn State, USC, and Texas. That would be incredible!
Is the schedule tough? Oh yea. But let’s not get crazy here. We can run the table with that schedule. It’s not like we’re stuck in the middle of the SEC East or anything with a seemingly unwinnable road game in a crazy, hostile environment (think Auburn).
10. To go or not to go
That is the question. Figured I would end the Buffet with some thoughts on this “go for it on 4th down” debate. Wouldn’t mind seeing some discussion in the comments area.
Look, I LOVE Charlie Weis, but I personally wouldn’t mind seeing him cut back on the “go for it on 4th and 4 from the 15 yard line” stuff. That’s why you have a kicker. That won’t kill us against Navy or Purdue, but I don’t want to lose a bowl game or the SC game by 3 because of a failed 4th down conversion. Last year, we left points on the board at the end of the MSU game, and killed our momentum in the OSU game with a bad 4th down play.
I hate to sound so old-fashioned. I love that Weis has so much confidence in our offense to convert, but I just don’t think it’s worth it to go for it as much as Weis does. I’ve never been a big “go for it on 4th down” guy, so maybe I’m biased. I understand the argument for going for it. Weis loves to stay aggressive, and he isn’t afraid to go against conventional wisdom in those 4th down situations. For all I know, Weis has done some Moneyball statistical analysis on this exact issue, and has figured out that it’s always worth trying to go for it on 4th down. Maybe he’s on to something that I haven’t thought about. The guys like Weis, Belichick, Billy Beane and Peter Gammons who aren’t afraid to buck the conventional wisdom are usually highly successful, so I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I favor the sure three points, but I would be curious to hear Weis’ ideas on this issue.
Feel free to comment. I think I could be persuaded in the other direction. And yes I just compared Weis to Peter Gammons. I consider it a compliment. Yea, yea, I worship at the altar of Gammons. I’m just biding my time until I write a 10,000 word post on this blog about how Peter Gammons has revolutionized the game of baseball and should be made commissioner for life.
March 28, 2006
In a span of 12 games, as 16 contenders were whittled to 4, The Tournament (there is no equal) treated us to bracket-busting upsets, Maalox sponsored overtimes, gripping comebacks galore, breathtaking buzzer beaters, incredulous turnovers and a game-changing goaltending call that will haunt my bank account for tournaments to come.
You want historical significance? For the first time since 1980, not a single #1 seed advanced to the Final Four and George Mason's #11 seed is the lowest since Villanova's remarkable romp in 1986.
This is the same George Mason, mind you, that barely cracked the field of 65 and survived their 1st round with their starting point guard suspended (I'm taking the high road on that can of worms).
That, my friends, is March Madness in its purest form.
Without fail, the tournament lived up to its maddening ways as the gripping saga of hardwood dreams unfolded, some realized, others shattered.
The farewell of scoring machines J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison, the regular season's feel-good story, launched us into a wild weekend of tourney unpredictability every turn along the way.
The beauty of the Final Four is at work with the emergence of four teams dedicated to the Norman Dale ideals of team basketball, passing and defense, and none have been caught watching the paint dry.
Though not the usual suspects as we enter "One Shining Moment" territory, each knocked off the #1 seed in their regional, seizing the opportunity to shine on basketball's biggest stage, proving to bracketmaniacs that it's the hungriest teams that feast in Indy this weekend.
It's anybody's guess who will surf their tidal wave of momentum to the laddertop of Monday night's climax. Here's each school's permission slip to run with scissors.
No, football hasn't instituted the playoff system just yet. But these Gator hoopsters are every bit as Fun N' Gun as their gridiron counterparts. They cruised through the Minneapolis Regional like a spring vacationer in the Sunshine State, dictating the tempo with their athleticism and play-making abilities. Watching Joakim Noah quarterback the full-throttle attack is a spectacle to behold. If he continues to dismantle the opposition at both ends of the court, it will be party time in Gainesville and bon voyage for the son of Hall of Fame tennis player Yannick Noah, the inspiration for his diggable hairdo. Billy Donovan's experience leading Florida to a runner-up finish in 2000 only helps their cause, .
You'd think the hard part was done after toppling the defending champ Tar Heels, another 2005 Final Four participant in Michigan State, and easily the country's most talented team and odds-on favorite, Connecticut Huskies. Unfortunately, the road has just begun for the Virginia darlings. Their biggest advantage? Underdog factor. They've ridden it this far, what's another two games? They wear their small-school chip on the shoulder like a badge of honor. Why couldn't history repeat itself as George Mason mimics the small school that could, Milan High School, and win one for mid-majors everywhere? These Patriots don't need Adam Vinatieri to chip in game-winning 3-pointers. If they play the loose, team-oriented basketball that trumped the traditional powers, we could be privvy to the ultimate shocker in college sports history. Regardless of the outcome, George Mason's epic run will be cherished in tourney lore forever.
Another SEC football powerhouse making a splash in the tourney, the Bayou brand of basketball has overwhelmed the likes of Duke and Texas with unbridled athleticism and unmatched intensity. Glen "Big Baby" Davis is the Tigers poster child, an ex-running back who's as hard to stop in the paint as Jerome Bettis on the goal line. Along with the lightning quick instincts of Darrel Mitchell and the long-armed freak of nature Tyrus Thomas, LSU defends its goal like a tigress guarding her cubs. As long as they keep exploiting their mismatches and wreaking havoc on the glass, we could be in for a Mardi Gras redux.
College basketball's most storied program finds itself in a familiar setting as the Bruins aim to bump their banner total to an even dozen. Granted, they'll have to aim a little better than they did in eeking by Memphis to win the Oakland Regional. But Ben Howland's boys have bought in to their defense first mentality, harrassing their opponents beyond frustration. With such emphasis on keeping the score to a minimum, any offensive rhythm established is icing on the cake. UCLA knows this trip to Indy means nothing without any hardware. Call it a hunch, but the powder blue and gold seem to be saving their best for last, poised to add their name to the legendary list of Westwood wonders.
March 13, 2006
The scoring system is easy. For each team that advances to the given round, you get the designated point value. Add them up to determine a winner, with the tiebreaker being closest guess to the total points scored in the Championship game.
Sweet 16: 2 points
Elite 8: 4 points
Final 4: 6 points
Finals: 8 points
Champ: 10 points
On to the picks! (which can be viewed in the comments section below)
March 12, 2006
Reports claim that more than $3 billion in production will be lost at workplaces with extended "lunch breaks" and refreshing of websites ad nauseum. That'd be more of a problem if bosses weren't side-by-side with their employees rooting on their brackets. Water cooler bragging rights are at stake in office pools, where someone invariably wins basing their picks on jersey color or meaner mascot. The ritual of filling out a bracket(s) stands unmatched by any other sporting event as the 63 game slate captivates the nation for 19 days. There's a communal vibe that draws us all together, owing to the vested interest in the outcome of every game.
Storylines run as thick as Rick Majerus' clogged arteries, spotlighting senior leaders, emerging stars, deserving coaches and unheralded schools. Auditions begin Thursday for the lead role of Cinderella in this year's dramatic exposition. Fanbases making their first trip to the tournament will be as excited as Dickie V. courtside at Cameron Indoor. And there's no greater joy than witnessing the elation of Small School U. realizing its dreams with an upset victory.
Miracle endings etch their place in tourney folklore with relative unknowns becoming household names come tournament time. Who will become the next Bryce Drew or Lorenzo Charles is anybody's guess. Mid-majors, rightly or wrongly, snared more bids than ever, a subplot with long-term ramifications if the middies can back up their selections. Nearly all of the top teams had weaknesses exposed down the stretch with clear cut favorites lagging close to the pack - a parity proponent's dream.
Cue the 6:41 pm tip-offs and get on with the show. Anything is possible from now until April 3rd, when the smooth sound of Luther Vandross "The ball is tipped..." anoints a new champion, signaling the end of another maddening march to the Final Four.
March 06, 2006
Monday March 6, 2006. The cruel Chicago wind wasn't my only greeting walking out of the house. I stared at the cold black newsprint stating Kirby Puckett was in critical condition after suffering a stroke. The reality of the message took a few moments to sink in...
Puck doesn't lose this way, does he?
A day of uneasy speculation unfolded, refreshing webpages compulsively looking for reassurance that Kirby would deliver his late inning heroics once again. The prospect that the world would wake Tuesday without our beloved Puck refused to burrow its way into my consciousness.
Couldn't he jump on his own back in this time of need just as he prophetically told his teammates to do before rescuing the 1991 World Series? For someone who overcame long odds ever since emerging from Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes as a 5'8'' dynamo with a heart as big as his smile, what was one last wall to scale? Unfortunately, this hurdle proved too high for the portly Puck to surmount.
The consummate teammate played the game he loved with a contagious enthusiasm, infecting all lucky enough to cross his path. A rare breed in this primadonna age of sports, Kirby affected games with his bat, glove and clubhouse zeal while winning everyone over with his signature charismatic charm. Even during the dark days that followed his retirement, it seemed inevitable Puck would find the light and make things right, like busting out of a rare batting slump.
The day the Twins retired #34, Kirby echoed the historic words of Lou Gehrig, declaring on that day to be the luckiest man on the planet. Those same exuberant words personifying Kirby's magnetic aura have a haunting effect now that he follows The Iron Horse as the second youngest player to die already enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Losing the athlete who captured my imagination as a child and inspired my athletic ambitions has left me a blubbering mess several times in the wake of the news. His impact will long be remembered and his legacy preserved by those touched by Puck's joie de vivre.
The roly-poly wunderkind waxed poetic from time to time, bestowing life lessons that defined the way he played and conducted himself. As he said during his Hall of Fame speech, "It doesn't matter what your height is, it's what's in your heart." His legacy and spirit will carry on.
We're all luckier to have jumped on his back for the ride. We'll miss you #34. You were our hero.
February 20, 2006
Seems to me that there has been too much of an effort recently to hype up undeserving mid-majors for NCAA at-large bids. I’ll start off by saying that I don’t have a problem with mid-majors. If anything, I’m all for giving them some love if they deserve it. I grew up around A-10 and MAC hoops, and the quality of play in those leagues is better than some people realize. It's no coincidence that one or two of these mid-major teams always seem to end up in the Sweet 16. If a team in a mid-major league piles up a 14-2 conference record, beats a couple decent teams in the nonconference, but happens to stumble in the conference tournament, I have no problem with giving them an at-large bid.
With that said, take a look at the latest Bracketology on ESPN.com. Five teams are listed as “in” from the Missouri Valley Conference. FIVE. More than the ACC, Pac-10, and Big 12. Southern Illinois and Wichita State are each listed as #7 seeds. The Colonial Athletic Association has 2 teams. The WAC has 2. The Mountain West has 2. Conference USA has 2. In all, 8 at-large bids to mid-major teams.
Ten years ago, it would be notable if 2 mid-major teams got a bid to the Big Dance as an at-large team. Three mid-majors was unheard of. The thought of 5 teams going into the Big Dance from one mid-major conference was unfathomable.
Why has college basketball fallen in love with the mid-majors in recent years?
In my opinion, there are three reasons:
1) Thin-skinned committee – You know the committee. Bunch of old ADs from BCS conferences who love nothing more than a little face time on CBS. The last thing they want to deal with is a bunch of criticism from the media over their selections. So instead of picking the best 34 at-large teams, they try to appease everybody and throw a bone to the mid-major leagues. Let’s be honest, these people on the committee are going to get a lot more grief from the reporters out there if they snub a bunch of plucky mid-majors in favor of mediocre BCS conference teams. On the other hand, if they select the mid-majors, you won’t hear too many people screaming about an 8-8 Indiana team getting left out. The perception is that a team like Indiana that can’t even finish above .500 in its own league probably isn’t that good anyway, so you might as well just give the mid-major team a shot. The committee comes off looking great by doing this.
Solution: Grow a pair! If one of these committee members actually had any guts, he would point out that some of these mid-majors up for consideration would be lucky to finish 5-11 in a BCS conference. It’s true. Throw Missouri State or Southern Illinois in the Big East, and they’d be bringing up the rear with St. Johns, Providence, and DePaul. There’s too much size and depth in the Big East for those teams, and they would fall apart down the stretch.
Instead of some brutal honesty, the committee wimps out and picks the mid-major to avoid getting slammed for favoring the big school teams. Why won’t a committee member sack up and tell the truth? Seems to me that they’re afraid of being labeled as the oppressor holding the little guy down.
2) ESPN – If you don’t think ESPN has been partly responsible for all the mid-major hype in recent years, you’re kidding yourselves. ESPN is constantly hyping the mid-majors. I can’t really blame them for it. Between Bracketology and the Bracket Busters games and the Bubble Watch stuff, ESPN has a ton of programming/web content related to the mid-majors. By throwing some love to the mid-majors, they get increased interest from those fanbases. It's great for these mid-majors to get the exposure, and it's even better for ESPN. Now they have fans from these small MVC schools logging in every Monday to see what ESPN thinks of their chances to get in the tournament. By listing Southern Illinois and Missouri State as bubble teams, ESPN throws them into the conversation. College hoops fans know about the MVC teams because we’ve been hearing about them all year. If ESPN had never mentioned them, I highly doubt they even would be considered for an NCAA bid.
Solution: Not much you can do about this. ESPN has a ton of influence on sports, and it doesn’t appear that they are going to stop showcasing the mid-majors any time soon. As long as ESPN decides to list a bunch of undeserving mid-majors as “bubble” teams, the committee is going to have a tough time leaving all those teams out of the dance.
3) RPI ratings – Here’s the thing about the RPI. It can very easily be manipulated. I can’t believe more people haven’t caught onto this yet. Look at all these MVC teams. They all have quality RPI ratings.
Wichita State – 19
Missouri State – 21
Northern Iowa – 24
Creighton – 28
Southern Illinois – 34
Now let’s look a little closer. Who have these teams actually beaten other than themselves? Not a whole lot.
Wichita State has beaten absolutely nobody out of the league unless you consider a home win over Providence a quality win (most Big East teams sure as heck don’t). Missouri State boasts Oral Roberts as their best nonconference win. Yes, Oral freaking Roberts.
And then there’s Southern Illinois. The same Southern Illinois currently listed as a #7 seed on Bracketology. Home loss to Monmouth (who?) by 12. Lost to Alaska-Anchorage. Lost to Louisiana Tech at home. Lost to Indiana State at home by 9. Mid major apologists will point to their 18-9 overall record and strong conference performance. This just in. 18-9 in the Missouri Valley Conference isn’t good enough. Syracuse is 18-8 for god sakes, and I’ll be damned if Syracuse hasn’t played a tougher schedule than Southern Illinois.
Well, now you’re probably wondering “how do these schools have such high RPIs when they aren’t playing anybody?" Here’s the answer. The MVC has cracked the RPI code. They figured out how to manipulate the RPI to give their teams inflated RPI ratings. Everyone in the conference stays away from the really, really bad teams (+200 RPI), plays a bunch of teams in the 80-199 RPI range, and schedules a few teams from big conferences with good RPIs (of course they lose to them). That keeps the conference RPI up pretty high going into conference play.
Then they get into conference play, play each other, and the wins they get are all looked at as quality wins. By beating Wichita State, Creighton (twice), and Missouri State, Southern Illinois can point to 4 top 30 RPI wins. Are those great wins? Heck no, but the RPI thinks they are. At the end of the season, they can flash their sweet RPI rating and demand an at-large bid. The unassuming hacks in the media will shrug their shoulders and start to campaign for them. It’s a sham. The small conferences get together and meet about this stuff, and it’s become a road map to get a bunch of teams on the NCAA bubble.
I watched Cincinnati manipulate the RPI for 10 years, so I’ve seen how it works for awhile now. Huggins readily admitted that they scheduled a bunch of 100-150 RPI teams instead of +250 RPI teams because it made a huge difference in the final RPI numbers. They used to scout the mid-major leagues and schedule home games with the projected best teams in those leagues. In the end, a home win over Northern Iowa meant about the same to the RPI as a home win over Arizona or Oklahoma. UC would go the entire year without any marquee wins, but you’d look up at the end of the year and see them sitting in the top 10 in the RPI. The committee never caught on. UC got #2 and #3 seeds year after year that they didn’t deserve. You could count on them losing in the second round game because they had no business being seeded where they were.
Truly amazing how dumb the NCAA is at times.
Solution: Get rid of the RPI already. I can’t believe this thing is still being used as a tool for selecting at-large teams. It is no longer a good indicator of how good you truly are. Instead, it shows how skilled you are in statistics and accouting.
I say forget the computers. Take a look at the team’s schedule, and figure out who they beat and who they lost to. If a mid-major dominated its league and has a couple decent nonconference wins, then they should get consideration. If not, then tough luck. Blind faith in the RPI rating makes absolutely no sense at all.
Conclusion: Enough with the mid-major affirmative action. I can’t believe there hasn’t been more of a backlash from college basketball fans. As a Notre Dame fan, it chaps me to see a team like Southern Illinois in the tournament because I know we would roll them. Stick ND in the MVC, and we’d probably be leading that conference. Stick Southern Illinois in the Big East, and they might as well change their name to Providence.
February 19, 2006
February 07, 2006
He thinks, therefore he coaches.
The prestige of his own video game validates his coaching prowess, joining the pantheon of immortals like John Madden, Bill Walsh and Coach K.
A stickler for fundamentals.
Comes equipped with his own fashion statement.
Oops, I meant this fashion statement. The Phantom of the JACC.
Will raise the roof off the JACC and be a cult hero for the Leprechaun Legion.
Can take a charge for Homeland Security.
Experience with former Irish legends.
Knows what it takes to be a champion.
Did I mention he knows how to win?
Wanna hear a funny joke? Notre Dame's Big East record.
The NFL? Now that’s a different story. How can you not notice the NFL officials? They have become the focal point of the NFL experience in recent years. As everyone already knows, there’s been a lot of discussion about the officiating throughout the NFL Playoffs and especially following the Super Bowl. Whether or not you thought the Seahawks would have won the game without the costly flags, there’s no denying that the officiating in the game had a major impact on the Super Bowl. Not only did some big plays get called back, but I felt like it was hard to get into the game with so many penalties and stoppages of play. Don’t get me wrong. Pittsburgh was the better team, made the plays they needed to make, and deserved to win. I was rooting for (and betting on) the Steelers, but thought Seattle got the raw end of the deal on some devastating penalties.
Was the officiating poor in the Super Bowl? Technically it was not. Those officials are lackeys for the league office. They are told what to call and what not to call, and I’m guessing their calls on the pass interference and holding penalties were technically correct. HOWEVER, are the league policies on holding and pass interference completely ridiculous? You bet.
If you’ve watched NFL games over the last five years, you’ve probably noticed that more and more games are being dominated by yellow flags every Sunday. Personal fouls on the sideline, roughing the passer, helmet to helmet, block in the back, holding, pass interference. The list goes on and on and on. Seems like every other touchdown drive is spurred on by a huge penalty, and punt returns are constantly being called back.
I understand that penalties are penalties. I don’t blame the officials. They are taught to throw the flag on certain occasions, and if they are in position to see a penalty, then they have to throw that flag. That official who called the push off on Darrell Jackson had to make that call. He was standing right there, and he was following the rules of the league. You can’t really blame the official even if you thought the call was cheap. If anything, I’m advocating for some policy changes in the NFL league office to lessen the impact that officials have on the outcome of the game. As it stands now, officials dominate the action of the game. Constant flags, constant reviews, meetings, controversial calls. The referees slow down the action, and take away momentum. Most importantly, they are taking the game out of the hands of the players. The few chances that players have to make spectacular individual plays (knocking a deep ball down, a big punt return, throwing a big block on a reverse) are the plays that are the most penalized in the NFL. That shouldn’t be the case.
Here are three changes that I would love to see implemented by the NFL (and college for that matter).
1. REDUCE THE NUMBER OF OFFICIALS
Why are there so many ticky tack holding and block in the back penalties these days (especially on special teams)? Here’s the primary reason. Has anyone been to an NFL game recently?! There are like 37 officials on the field during the game! You got line judges, back judges, backfield guys, endzone guys. You don’t really notice them on tv, but look for this next time you attend an NFL game. There are officials EVERYWHERE. When you have an official behind the linebackers, an official in the backfield, and two officials on the sideline, you think they might get a little antsy to call a holding penalty once in awhile? There are too many eyes looking for penalties, so calls that don’t need to be made are being called.
Think about your average punt return. With seven officials standing there looking over the action, there is literally one official for every block that is made on the play. You wonder why there are so many “block in the back” penalties called on punt returns? There’s your reason.
I say cut the officials down to 3 or 4, and let the players play. Tell the smaller crews to focus on the important things (spot of the ball, sideline, and fumbles), but keep the flags in the pockets unless something obvious comes to your attention. It hurts enjoyment of the game when every decent punt return gets called back for a holding call.
2. ALLOW COACHES TO REVIEW PENALTIES
What is the #1 complaint that NFL fans have about officials these days? Hands down, the answer is the questionable pass interference on a deep ball into the endzone. You know the play. QB tosses up the 45 yard bomb from midfield, both the receiver and the defender go up for the ball, the defender nudges the receiver, ball falls incomplete, yellow flag falls to the ground, team gets the ball at the 1 yard line. Absolutely infuriating if you’re the fan of the team that just got penalized. The other team basically got a free 45 yards for a questionable call on a ball that probably wouldn’t have been caught anyway.
If that’s the biggest complaint from NFL fans and coaches, why the heck can’t you review that play? Tell me what is a bigger play between these two events:
1. 8 yard pass to the sideline where the official ruled the player only had one foot
2. 45 yard pass interference penalty putting the ball on the 1 yard line
Pretty sure that answer is #2, and yet only #1 can be reviewed. If pass interference penalties make such an impact on the game, why not allow a coach to challenge the penalty and have it reviewed? What’s wrong with kicking the call up to the booth to determine if the defender really interfered with the receiver? I’ve never understood why a play as big as a pass interference penalty can’t be reviewed.
If you allow the replay, maybe the official can take a second look it in slow motion and determine whether the contact by the defender really warranted a pass interference penalty. Maybe he’ll see that the receiver pushed off, or that both players were bumping each other, and decide to reverse the penalty call. Maybe he won’t. At the very least, it should be an option. I bet if you pooled all the NFL refs about it, they’d probably support review of penalties.
This change needs to happen. I’m guessing it isn’t easy to make that call in the end zone as an official, so there should definitely be a support system in place to help these guys out.
3. ELIMINATE THE HOLDING PENALTY
If you ever listen an ex-linemen or linebacker talk about holding, they will tell you an official could call a holding penalty on every single play. Every one of these guys is clutching and grabbing throughout the game.
If that’s the case, then how are officials able to pick out 5 or 6 instances where they feel the need to throw the flag? Here’s my take. They aren’t. It’s almost as if they are throwing flags at random. The whole thing just seems very subjective to me. It’s especially frustrating when you watch the replay and don’t see an obvious hold.
Here’s my solution to the problem. Eliminate holding penalties. I’m not saying that you can’t call a guy for a hold. Put the egregious holding penalties under the “unnecessary roughness” umbrella or something like that. In other words, if a guy tackles a blitzing linebacker before he gets to the QB, throw the flag. If a special teams blocker shoves a gunner to the ground from behind, hit him up for “unnecessary roughness.” Otherwise, just let it go. A 10 yard penalty is a huge drive killer, so that type of penalty should only be for something really bad.
Holding penalties have gotten way out of hand in recent years in the NFL. NFL teams probably have reached the point where they have to scheme for 1st and 20 situations to deal with the constant holding penalties. That hurts the game.
There you go. Make those three simple changes to the league rules, and I think there would a lot fewer controversies and a better overall flow to the game.
January 31, 2006
It’s time for another update and some adjustments to these rankings.
Pretty sure UCONN is going to stay in this spot the rest of the year. Comfortable wins over St. Johns, Providence, and Lousville in the last week. No reason to think UCONN will lose more than a couple more games through the rest of league play. I am really looking forward to that UConn-IU game. Two very talented teams with loads of size and athleticism. As Brent Musberger would say, it should be a dandy.
Anyone think Rudy Gay should come back another year? I never have a problem with guys leaving early (you’re telling me you would turn down that kind of paycheck?), but he seems like the kinda guy who could use another year to get used to being “the guy.” If Rudy Gay comes back next year and dominates, he heads into the NBA brimming with confidence and probably is ready to contribute right away. If he leaves right now, he ends up sitting on the bench a couple years before he starts making an impact. I know the NBA is where the best basketball is being played and that the only way to get used to the NBA game is to play and practice with those guys, but I think Gay would benefit from a year as the alpha dog on his team.
2. West Virginia
First update to the rankings. Yea, yea, I know they just lost to Marshall at home, but I’m just chalking that up to one of those random losses that every team has at times. I just like West Virginia’s moxy. 5 seniors and a junior. You just get the impression that they aren’t afraid of anybody, and I wouldn’t count them out of any game.
By the way, in response to Jeremy’s great post, I do think West Virginia is more talented than ND right now. Definitely not next year (they will be lousy), but West Virginia has better players on this current team. Gansey and Pittsnogle are legit studs, and their guards complement the team well. They will be down next year. Villanova will be down too. It’s all cyclical, but I do think the players on their roster are a big reason that West Virginia has been successful the last couple years.
Nothing much to add regarding the Wildcats. Villanova is kind of skating by, but doing what they need to do to win games. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Nova skid a little before the Tournament, and then regroup with a nice March.
Might be a little surprising to put G’Town over Pitt, but how can you not be impressed with the Hoyas right now? Put Georgetown and Pitt on a neutral court, and who do you think wins that game? I’m going with Georgetown right now.
Everywhere you turn there are matchup problems for opposing teams. Green, Hibbert, Wallace, Bowman. They are just really hard to guard. If you looked at their roster, you would think you were staring at an NBA roster with all the size they have. They are bringing in 6’9” guys off the bench. You just don’t see that in college hoops anymore.
Georgetown controls the tempo, they dominate the glass, they defend, they’re well-coached, and oh by the way, they’re talented. The Hoyas aren’t all the way back, but that program is really on the upswing.
I know Big East fans love to rag on Carl Krauser because he whines a lot to the officials and may or may not be 30 years old. He's one of those guys who has been around forever, and everyone is sick of him.
I’ll be the first to admit though. I love the guy. He’s a leader, he’s tough, he can score in a lot of different ways, and he doesn’t mind mixing it up inside.
Cheers to you Carl Krauser. I've enjoyed watching you play these last four years.
For all the hype about the Big East, do you really feel that great about this league when Marquette is the 6th best team in this league? Who else belongs in this spot? Seton Hall? Check back with me in a couple weeks. Syracuse? Not with 4 straight losses.
Novak is a possible all-conference selection, and Dominic James is hands down the best freshmen in the league. Still, let’s not get crazy about this team. Put Marquette up against the sixth best team in the Big Ten (Michigan/Wisconsin), and I think it’s pretty easy to figure out which conference is the best in college hoops this year.
7. Seton Hall
Maybe Louis Orr and Kelly Whitney read my last Big East post on this site, and got all fired up. Maybe Terry Dehere and Anthony Avent popped into the locker room for a pep talk. Maybe PJ Carlessimo has been pulling all the strings from behind the scenes. I have NO IDEA what is going on, but Seton Hall has suddenly become the hottest team in the Big East. Yes, the same Seton Hall that lost to Duke by 53 points earlier in the year. Seton Hall winning by 18 at NC State has to rank in the top 3 of most surprising wins of the year.
I don’t know what has gotten into the Pirates, but they are officially the biggest wildcard in this league. Stay tuned.
Tough stretch for the Cuse. Three straight games against top 10 opponents and a home loss to Seton Hall. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them turn it around and get the ball rolling again, but any further struggles could put the Orange in jeopardy of making the NCAA Tournament. The schedule lightens up in the upcoming weeks, so they can get back into the “lock” category with a nice winning streak.
How many teams from the Big East get into the NCAA Tournament? 8? 9? 10? I think 8 can get in, but I also wouldn’t want to be sitting in 8th place and sweating things out on Selection Sunday. There’s no real precedent to work with, so no one really knows how many teams the Big East will get in.
9. Notre Dame
ND at #9? Who else deserves this spot? Put ND on a neutral floor against any of the remaining teams and I think they’d win the game. ND will end up close to .500 when it’s all said and done.
Since it’s safe to say that ND’s season is all but over at this point, I think it’s time to take a glance at next year’s roster.
Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006-07 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (cue the new TBDBITL)…..
PG – Kyle McAlarney
SG – Colin Falls
SF – Russell Carter
PF – Rob Kurz
C -- Luke Zeller
Who’s excited?! Might as well start printing out those NIT Brackets right now. Four things would have to happen for ND to become a tournament team.
1) Kyle McAlarney makes a fairly smooth transition to PG and even excels at times
(Likelihood: 60% - I think McAlarney will acquit himself well in the Big East starting next year. Tough guy, unlimited range, gym rat, decent quickness. Might be some growing pains, but I don’t feel bad about the PG situation)
2) Colin Falls makes the leap into Matt Carroll territory and develops an all-around game
(Likelihood: 35% - For all the talk about how great Matt Carroll was, he didn’t truly make the leap into the “stud” category until his senior year. For three years, Carroll was basically a lights out shooter who could carry the team at home when he was hot. Senior year, Carroll just took over. Got stronger, took it to the hoop, ran the break. Carroll made the leap. Can Falls do it? I won’t count out the possibility, but I don’t see it happening.)
3) Russell Carter turns into a poor man’s Carl Krauser
(Likelihood: 50% - I would love to see Russell Carter develop into a consistent 15-17 ppg type guy, a solid defender, and opportunistic rebounder. If Carter could back his man into the post for some buckets or get some stick backs on the glass, he could really add some badly needed versatility to this team. I have no idea if he’s capable of it, but I’d love to see it.
4) Kurz, Zeller, and Harangody give ND some kind of consistent inside presence
(Likelihood: 50% - Kurz brings effort, Zeller looks like he has some decent skills, but picturing those two guys trying to guard Roy Hibbert next year is a scary thought. If I hear Sean McDonough saying “these young big men have been solid all year”at some point in February 2007, I’ll be satisfied.)
This has become customary during the latter years of the Mike Brey era, but the talent will obviously be down again next year. If I have any beef with Brey, it’s been over his recruiting. His guys play hard, never give up, don’t turn the ball over, and shoot free throws well. But when it comes down to needing a rebound, or a tip in, or a big stop late in the game, we just don’t have a difference maker who can step up and make a play. At some point, Mike Brey needs to identify this type of player, and get him to commit to Notre Dame.
We have some nice pieces, but don't have a difference maker up front or on the wing. Troy Murphy was a difference maker. You knew it the moment he walked on campus. I remember watching that guy with the other 37 students who attended ND games during his freshmen year, and you just knew he was a stud. He had the inside post moves, the baseline fadeaway shot, always found a way to get to the line when ND needed it. Every time ND seemed to be slipping a bit, Murphy was there to tip in a rebound or draw contact. Danny Miller, for all the criticism he got, was a difference maker. He got to the bucket, made the big stops on D, hit the big shots when the team needed it. Ryan Humphrey—difference maker. Great athleticism, explosive leaper, blocked shots, high energy, leadership. Put any one of those guys on the current ND roster, and this team is a top 25 team. Seriously. All those close losses suddenly become close wins.
Are any of these young forwards/wings future difference makers? I think the jury is definitely out.
I keep reading stuff on NDNation/Rivals about how talented the freshmen are. Everyone seems to be enamored with Ryan Ayers and his “athleticism.” Everyone is fired up about Hillesland’s quickness and agility. Zeller is getting rave reviews for his passing and defensive rebounding.
Hey, maybe all those guys will end up being productive Big East starters, and maybe one of those guys will end up being an all-conference caliber player. Guys can develop. Happens all the time. I’ve seen it happen at UC throughout the years (Kenyon Martin, Steve Logan) and even at ND (Matt Carroll).
Here’s my only concern about it. Can we wait and see how things turn out before we start building these guys up? I really think McAlarney will be a standout point guard. I think he’ll be pretty solid next year in fact. Seems like one of those guys who will be hitting dagger shots in a couple years. I’m pretty confident that Jay Bilas will be on ESPN in 4 years talking about how McAlarney could start for just about anybody in America.
But how about we slow down on the other three a little bit? Are Ryan Ayers and Hillesland even still on the ND roster? I just checked my program and noticed that they’re still listed, but I’m not ready to throw out the “these guys could lead ND back to prominence!” talk just yet. I have yet to see the athleticism that everyone likes out of Ryan Ayers, and I honestly didn’t even know Zach Hillesland was white until a couple days ago. From what I had read about the guy, you would have thought he had Kevin Garnett type quickness. Zeller looks like he has the potential to be a solid player, but I’m not ready to call him a future all-conference player.
On a positive note, if Harangody comes in and plays like a young Kevin Bookout, he could be that difference maker. If Tory Jackson comes in and reminds people of a young Luther Head, then maybe this ND program will head back in the right direction. Maybe Brey has turned the corner in the recruiting game, and now he’s figured out the kind of players he needs to get to win in the Big East.
Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
10. St. Johns
The Johnnies have been playing pretty well of late, but you really can’t even put them in the conversation for a tournament bid with home losses to Hofstra and Marist. If St. Johns somehow ends up at 9-7 and gets in with those losses, every member of the 2003-04 ND team should raise hell. How are Hofstra and Marist any different than Central Michigan? With that said, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it.
Ok, get out the shovels. Time to bury Louisville. I watched bits and pieces of a couple of their recent games, and they just aren’t any good this year. For whatever reason, Dean and Palacios haven’t been as good as they were last year, and the rest of the team is really undisciplined and sloppy.
I think the world of Rick Pitino as a coach, but his recruiting has been a little strange since he’s been at Louisville. Instead of focusing on the three and four year guys that he can coach up, Pitino keeps shooting for the moon and focusing on the “one and done” types like Telfair, Donta Smith, Amir Johnson etc. Hasn’t worked out. None of those guys ever made it to campus. Now they have a depleted roster. Could be a lesson in there for some other coaches (cough cough..Thad Matta..cough cough).
By the way, how much must it suck to be a fan of a football program where the head coach not only gets rumored for every college or pro head job in the country, but he also openly lobbies for these jobs? There’s a classy way to handle the speculation, and then there’s the way Bobby Petrino handles things. Weasel.
So it looks like the national media has picked up on the Skip Prosser rumors that have been buzzing about the UC program since Huggins got the axe. If you follow college hoops, you probably know the story by now. Skip misses Cincinnati, his wife never wanted to leave, the UC job is now available….connect the dots.
I’m not sure if I buy the rumors that Prosser is even interested in the job, but I think Prosser would be a decent hire for UC. At the very least, Prosser could come in for a few years and stabilize the program. Prosser likes the up tempo style, and he’s always done well recruiting at Xavier and at Wake Forest given the circumstances of both jobs. Some UC people aren’t sure about Prosser because he won’t be around that long and hasn't lit the world on fire at Wake, but I think Prosser would do a nice job of changing the image of the program and bringing in some talented players. UC’s goal should be to hire a coach who can make them somewhat of a regular in the NCAA Tournament. Prosser can accomplish that.
With that said, if I were UC, I definitely would take my time and interview anybody and everybody who showed interest in the job. If there is some young firecracker out there from a mid-major program who is promising a Final Four birth in the next five years, you gotta explore that option. If a big time assistant with future coaching star written all over him becomes a candidate, UC should definitely take a look. UC could do a lot worse than Skip Prosser, but I definitely would explore all the options before hiring the guy.
For all I know. Prosser might not even have any interest in the job, so UC better be ready with a backup plan.
If there are any Rutgers fans reading this blog, I got a question for you. Do you consider Rutgers to be a football school or a basketball school? Rutgers has never really had a lot of success in either sport, so I figured I would inquire. You would think Rutgers was a hoops school, but they’ve had enough entertaining football players over the years to make you think about it. If Marco Battaglia isn’t the most popular athlete in Rutgers history, I’ve seriously misjudged that fanbase.
A little homework assignment for you Scarlet Knights apologists.
Hypothetical for all the ND fans out there. If some corporate sponsor came forward and pledged 75% of the money for a new state of the art arena in exchange for the naming rights, would you support it? I absolutely would be in favor of it. It might sound a little corny at first, but would it really bother anyone to see ND play in a brand new KFC Arena if it was a sweet new building?
Take Providence. Ok, so playing in the Dunkin Donuts Center is a little cheesy compared to Cameron Indoor or Rupp Arena or Assembly Hall, but is it really that big of a deal? If the place is nice, it doesn’t really matter if we have to give it some nickname like “The Oven” or whatever.
I don’t care what ND has to do to get the money. If some company is willing to pony up the money to build a new arena, they could rename it the Hooters Center for all I care. I’d be putting those naming rights up to the highest bidder right now if I were the A.D.
Why did DePaul think it would make any sense to hire the lead detective from Law & Order to coach the basketball team?
16. South Florida
Hey, how about those Devil Rays?! How can you not be excited about all the young bats? Crawford, Gomes, Baldelli, Delmon Young, Lugo, Upton, Cantu…the Rays are loaded! It’s time for the poor man’s Theo (Andrew Friedman) to trade off some of those young parts for a couple promising arms. Might as well move a couple of these guys while their value is high.
(Super Bowl picks coming Friday!)