27 August 2008

The Rivalry Goes Corporate.

Friends and faithful readers, on the eve of the 2008 season, we're thrilled to bring you up to speed on our behind-the-scenes exploits over the past six weeks.

It's official. We have a new home.

The Rivalry, Esq. is now covering college football's most esteemed conference -- the Big 10 -- for Sports Blogs Nation.

You can check out the action here.

See you on the other side.

25 August 2008

The Big 10 Network Lives!

Recently, God decided to give me a pre-3rd year of law school gift. He ordained it that the Big 10 Network would somehow be beamed into my 12th floor Detroit apartment. I stumbled upon The Network one lazy morning last week when I was flipping channels during breakfast......

Graham's Thought Process

Channel 58: HSN...no
Channel 59: Fuzz...
Channel 60: History Channel...too early for that
Channel 65: Spanish Channel...wait...this isn't the Spanish Channel...this is the 1990 matchup between Michigan and Michigan State when Desmond Howard got tripped in the endzone...wait a minute, who would be showing this game...Oh yes....amen

All the supposed idiosyncrasies and Iowa Woman's lacrosse games that were supposed to plague the Big 10 Network are meaningless in my eyes. Do you want to watch an hour of the Purdue Boilermakers practicing, with full hitting and passing drills? I sure do! Do you want to watch Desmond Howard get tripped over and over, ending Michigan's national championship hopes? I sure do, even if it is for the same reason people gape at a blazing house fire.

"All the supposed idiosyncrasies and Iowa Woman's lacrosse games that were supposed to plague the Big 10 Network are meaningless in my eyes."

I think the best part of the Big 10 Network is the classic games. The other day, OSU v Arizona State '97 was on, the Jake Plummer/David Boston game. That game had everything: a Heisman contender at QB, an upstart program, the John Cooper face (the look on Cooper's face during crucial junctures of this game was Classic in itself; his face showed so much confusion, so much anger...and it was made even better that he is/was a dead ringer for Rudy Guiliani)...

And it's for these reasons that the Big 10 Network is a somewhat religious experience. I think the only real problem is the commercials, an endless loop of Big 10 school promotion. But the college football season is starting in 3 days and I am in a great mood, so I can turn these commercials into a positive for you. The Rivalry Esq brings you:

Advice From the Corny Commercials that Endlessly Loop on the Big 10 Network

Be Remarkable (Iowa)

Stay Connected (Archie Griffin and the Ohio State Alumni)

It's Your Time (Penn State)

Be Driven to Discover (Minnesota)

23 August 2008

Defending the Indefensible


Alcoholics, pedophiles, Young Republicans, Michael Moore....all have nothing on me. I have the worst sickness of all: I am a Notre Dame fan.

And before you trip over yourself out of your OSU, Michigan or USC beanbag chair to tell me how fat Charlie Weis is, how badly Notre Dame was beaten in their last game against your team and how Notre Dame has not won a bowl game since Carlton Banks was in primetime, please understand that I’ve heard it all. I have been desensitized to the anti-Notre Dame invective that has been bandied about since the days of the Rocket.

But now that we’ve gotten to know each other (I like Notre Dame, you have a beanbag chair), I would like to try to refute (or even corroborate) popular notions about Charlie Weis and his Fighting Irish. As my good friend, classmate and co-founder of this blog, Graham Filler said to me, “Charlie Weis is a mythical figure in the blogging world.” And hopefully, I can work to dispel some myths, or maybe we can even reach a common ground.

So in no particular order, here is a list of some popular conceptions and misconceptions about Notre Dame football’s big cheese: Charlie Weis.


This is often a criticism leveled by individuals with no substantial argument to make (ahem, Mr. Filler). But yes, Coach Weis is both large and in charge, and he doesn’t aid any visual efforts to trim down with the way he pulls his slacks up about four inches below his chin on game day. Hadn’t I always heard that those Adidas stripes can be “slimming”?

And yes, the “Beat Notre Dame and send Charlie Back to the Chocolate Factory” shirts are amusing (and just speak volumes for how clever the t-shirt wearer is), but of course it’s more of a testament to how one feels about Notre Dame than Weis himself. Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen and Kansas’ Mark Mangino both seem to be a bit larger, though their girth hasn’t quite been the subject of ridicule to the degree of Charlie Weis. Charlie is a portly fellow; that I’ll give you. But in a profession that often comprises former football players that have let their physiques go to pot, he’s certainly not the portliest of them all.


This typically depends on whom you ask. To Notre Dame fans (or at least to some) it’s confidence; to others, it’s bravado, hubris, arrogance, indigestion...whatever you want to call it.

Much was made of Charlie’s comments at an alumni fundraiser over the summer regarding his team’s upcoming September 13 clash with the University of Michigan, and the anticipated “excuses” the Wolverines would make in the midst of a rebuilding year. Weis reportedly finished up with a “to hell with Michigan.” Considering that Michigan will be in a rebuilding phase not dissimilar from Notre Dame’s in 2007, these comments certainly seem tasteless. Then again, if every alumni gathering for every major athletic program was mic’ed, I’m sure we’d all hear something similar. I can’t defend the “winning with thugs and hooligans” comment, as that was indeed a stupid assertion to make. Still, I feel Weis’s actions are a better reflection of what type of person he is than a few off-the-cuff remarks he made at some booster dinner.

Weis may not have as much humility as Sweater Vest, but that doesn’t necessarily make him arrogant, nor is he close to the malcontent Nick Saban is. He’s never seriously denigrated an opponent, nor made any gesture close to belittling an opposing team’s victory over the Irish. So many seem to forget that after easily the most crushing defeat of Weis’ young Notre Dame career – a 34-31 loss to #1 USC in 2005 – Weis walked into the visiting Trojans’ locker room and thanked them for a fine game and wished them the best for the remainder of the season. When asked for his opinion on the Trojans’ game-winning touchdown where running back Reggie Bush illegally shoved quarterback Matt Leinart into the end zone (a runner’s progress can’t be aided by a teammate), Weis responded that if Brady Quinn was stuck in a similar situation (Leinert had actually been stopped at the goal line), he’d hope that his teammates would have been there to push him in. And after the second-most crushing defeat in Weis’ head coaching tenure at Notre Dame – a 46-44 triple overtime loss to Navy, their first loss to the Midshipmen in 43 years – Weis made sure his players kept up with the tradition that he started two years prior by having his Fighting Irish team stand behind Navy at the conclusion of the game to sing Navy’s alma mater.

These are just a few examples, and on more than a handful of occasions, Weis has remained gracious in defeat, which is typically not a trait of arrogance.


I always found this argument to be more of an indictment of Willingham’s acumen than of Weis’s. Brady Quinn was consistently running for his life as a young quarterback in Ty’s ill-managed West Coast offense, while wide receiver Jeff Samardzija rode the bench. Enter Charlie Weis, and Brady Quinn was quickly in Heisman conversations, and Samardzija became one of the most dominant receivers in college football, earning All-American status and an almost certain first round pick before ultimately opting instead for a professional career in baseball. If Charlie was indeed winning with Willingham’s recruits, then Charlie was developing them and showing them how to win in a way Ty couldn’t. But when Willingham started his first season with the Irish in 2002 at 8-0, there was nary a criticism echoed that Ty was winning with Bob Davie’s players.


It’s difficult to argue that in the biggest games on the brightest stages, Weis has had his Irish prepared.

Everyone remembers the narrow loss to USC in 2005. Everyone also remembers Buckeyes Ted Ginn, Jr. and Santonio Holmes running wild in the Irish secondary in the Fiesta Bowl that same year in a 34-20 Ohio State romp. People also remember Michigan tearing apart #2 Notre Dame in South Bend, USC humiliating Notre Dame yet again in the Coliseum and the Tigers of LSU running Notre Dame off the field in the Sugar Bowl. Whenever the light seemed to shine the brightest on Weis and the Irish, they scattered for cover. The big boys of the BCS conferences always seemed to make games against the Irish look like walk-throughs against the local middle school team.

"[N]ow that we've gotten to know each other (I like Notre Dame, you have a bean bag chair), I would like to try to refute (or even corroborate) popular notions about Charlie Weis and his Fighting Irish."

But at the outset of Weis’s career at Notre Dame in 2005, each game seemed to be “the big one.” Often overlooked, Weis became the first coach in Notre Dame history to win his first two games on the road: at #24 Pittsburgh and at #3 Michigan. At the time, each could certainly be deemed as a “big game,” especially the 17-10 victory against a third-ranked Michigan team in Ann Arbor, where the Irish hadn’t won since 1993. It is also worth noting that Charlie Weis won his first nine road games at Notre Dame, spanning all of his first season and almost all of the second before a loss at USC in the final regular season game of 2006. As any ardent college football fan would attest, it’s never easy to win on an opponent’s home field.

So, all tolled, Weis has won really...um...one big game with the Irish.


When USC split a national championship with LSU in 2003, it was USC’s first in 31 years. 2003 also marked LSU’s first national title in 45 years. Ohio State won it all in 2002, its first in 34 years (since Woody in 1968). The Texas Longhorns ended a 36-year drought when they won it all in 2005. Michigan’s split national title with Nebraska in 1997 was its first in 49 years.

Oklahoma went 3-8 just five years before winning a national title in 2000. Penn State hasn’t won a title in 22 years, but Joe Paterno is still the dean of college football.

And you get my point.

Notre Dame is approaching the 20-year anniversary of their last consensus national championship, and they last competed for a national title about 15 years ago. No doubt, Notre Dame hasn’t won with the consistency of years past, but the argument that Notre Dame will never win it all again has no rational support.

As long as Notre Dame has a national audience, a national TV contract and continues to bring in top-10 recruiting classes, they will remain relevant in the college football world. Any program with that kind of support always has a chance to win. When beating Notre Dame is no longer a headline on ESPN.com, then maybe one could argue irrelevance.


I honestly feel this criticism will last only until 1) Notre Dame has a better season in 2008 and 2) Willingham is summarily dismissed from Washington. After three years as Notre Dame’s coach, Weis has just one more win (22-15) than his predecessor Tyrone Willingham (21-15) in the same amount of time. Willingham owns an 11-25 record as the head coach at the University of Washington.

The difference most remember is that Weis was delivered a massive contract extension just six games into his career at Notre Dame. Most shocking of all, the extension came the week following a loss (the aforementioned setback to #1 USC). Despite the loss, for whatever reason the athletic department saw this as Notre Dame finally turning the corner against an archrival that had humiliated them by a combined 93 points in three previous contests. At the time, who could blame the athletic department? Notre Dame’s offense became something to be feared and, at least, their defense wasn’t yet losing games. Further exacerbating the haste of the decision were the swirling rumors that several floundering NFL teams were looking to Weis as a possible head coaching candidate. If Charlie could turn around Notre Dame so quickly by transforming Willingham’s rejects into All-Americans, he could do something similar in the NFL, right? Not wanting him to waddle back to the professional ranks, Notre Dame slapped Weis with a fat contract extension when just a year earlier they wouldn’t even let Willingham finish out his first one. It’s arguable that the move was equal parts opportunism and foolish haste, just like the firing of Willingham.

No one’s going to confuse former Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White for George Patton. The dismissal of Tyrone Willingham in 2004 and the hiring of a successor was one of the most botched and humiliating procedures in the history of the University of Notre Dame, so much to the point that faculty, students, famous alumni and revered former University President Rev Edward Malloy spoke out publicly against the termination of Tyrone Willingham. Critics even went so far as to say that Willingham was the victim of a racial hit, and that blue and gold were no longer important colors to Notre Dame, but that black and white were.

The truth was, green is the most important color for Notre Dame, and I’m not talking about the green that adorns the leprechaun’s pantaloons. Feel free to make a value judgment, but Willingham showed little sign of commitment in getting Notre Dame back to prominence. Sub-par recruiting classes (which many point to the reason for Notre Dame’s poor performance in 2007), alleged increased golf outings during critical recruiting and practice periods, and categorical refusals to make adjustments on his coaching staff didn’t sit well with the athletic department (if you think coaches are the only ones who make personnel decisions, you’re officially adorable). It appeared to all the big donors that Willingham wasn’t as concerned about national titles as he was about maintaining a status quo: as long as they had semi-winning seasons, players weren’t flunking out and no one was arrested, all was well. But if that’s the case, what separates Notre Dame from Northwestern or Stanford? Notre Dame’s sea of green doesn’t grow from clover.

As far as an on-field difference between Weis and Willingham, Willingham’s Irish teams seemed to wilt commensurate with the autumn leaves, instead of buckling down for the stretch runs. In each coach’s two most successful seasons in South Bend, Willingham was 3-4 in the month of November, Charlie Weis was 7-1. Specifically, Willingham’s teams lacked any consistency from game to game, sometimes beating teams they weren’t expected to and often losing to teams they shouldn’t. Willingham’s teams never could find a rhythm throughout the season, specifically on offense. In Willingham’s final season with the Irish, they lost to Brigham Young, were destroyed by Purdue, beat Michigan and Tennessee, blew a big lead at home and lost to Boston College and were downed at home on Senior Day by Pitt.

Willingham’s last two recruiting classes weren’t even filled, with the dwindling upperclassmen in this year’s and last year’s class as evidence. He signed three offensive linemen in three years, and often his recruiting classes finished outside the top 30 nationally. Weis’s last three recruiting classes have each ranked nationally in the top 10, with his most recent being ranked at #2 by most recruiting publications. In addition, Weis took Notre Dame to two BCS bowl games, essentially paying back the university for his lofty contract. He was also the first coach to give Notre Dame back-to-back 9+ win seasons since Lou Holtz did it in 1992 and 1993. Make no mistake, a 3-9 season is inexcusable considering the talent on Notre Dame’s roster, and if Weis repeats such a season, you can expect his dismissal, but differences between Weis and Willingham’s respective horizons at Notre Dame are jarring. And it doesn’t appear Washington fans are all too thrilled with Willingham either (www.byebyety.com).

And unlike Willingham, Weis has at least made an effort to learn from his mistakes. He has ceded all play-calling duties to (*gasp*) third-year offensive coordinator Michael Haywood. In efforts to increase defensive pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Weis hired defensive lifer Jon Tenuta from Georgia Tech. And after watching his young players become physically over-matched and out-classed in games against Georgia Tech, Michigan and USC, Weis quit the NFL-run practices of minimal contact and set his players loose on each other. Weis may seem obstinate when it comes to the media, but he certainly hasn’t been averse to change on the field.

As a Notre Dame fan, I have high hopes that Weis will succeed. The fact that despite the turmoil, Weis continues to reel in consecutive Top 10 recruiting classes has many of the Irish faithful dreaming for the glory days (or at least better ones). And as far as where the blame lies in Notre Dame’s 3-9 season of 2007, Weis has repeatedly fallen on the sword, pointing the biggest finger at himself and saying simply that he was out-coached, which is in stark contrast to Willingham’s post-loss press conferences, complete with shrugging shoulders and “we just didn’t execute” ho-hums. The only problem with Weis’s wholehearted acceptance of accountability is that fans will know exactly where to point their torches if play doesn’t improve, so it’s now up to Fat Charlie the Archangel (or is he a cherub?) to take the next step forward...slacks permitting, of course.

Anthony Mosko is a special guest contributor to The Rivalry, Esq. He is a third-year law student at The University of Detroit Mercy. Please direct comments to fatony13@yahoo.com.

19 August 2008

Triple Entendre: Penn State Centerfold

It sounds like a sex toy from the future, but the Spread HD arrives in less than two weeks, and it's anything but voyeuristic.

Penn State's new affair hooks up with 2005 when the Nittany Lions came off back-to-back losing seasons to win a Big 10 Conference Title and a triple-overtime BCS Orange Bowl. That squad rode on the shoulders of Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Michael Robinson who single-handedly contributed 2,350 passing and 806 rushing yards to a No. 3 final AP ranking.

So what is the "Spread HD" and why does it have better resolution than Discovery Theater?

Don't ask Joe Paterno. The old fart refuses to fan the flames. As The Morning Call reports, he insists there's no such thing as new when it comes to college football. Joe points to a spread he ran as quarterback at Brooklyn Prep in 1944 to cement the point. But Joe High School didn't have the runs like he does today. And his son Jay is somewhat more opportunistic: "We want to go beyond the spread offense," he says, "...a running offense...throwing the ball with an NFL passing attack" (emphasis added).

If you live in Big 10 country it's hard not to be slightly intrigued at the mention of a fusion between the spread offense that's a la mode in CFB and the NFL pro-form. After all, about all we have left to brag about in the North is the number of athletes we send to the next level each year. [Actually -- let me help you out on this one before you make an ass out of yourself with your fishing buddy from Jacksonville -- the SEC led all conferences on the 2007 NFL opening day roster with 263 players in the league. The ACC placed second with 238 representatives followed by the Big 10 (234), Pac 10 (183), and Big 12 (176).] But the fact remains, we send a lot of guys to the NFL, and it's important they play what's relevant.

"It sounds like a sex toy from the future, but the Spread HD...(is) anything but voyeuristic."

As Jay Paterno describes, the "Spread HD" includes: 1. Multiple receiver sets, 2. zone reads, 3. option options, 4. rollouts, and 5. more passing than ever before.

Who will bring the cablebox antics to life? Let's start with the receivers. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood are the big three -- with support from Brett Brackett, Derek Moye, and Graham Zug. Add on slot capabilities from true freshman back Stephfon Green and you've got an lineup that's steep and deep.

Williams, symbolically, is the critical link to the 2005 squad -- after playing just seven games that season he was nominated to The Sporting News' Freshman All Big Ten Team. After beginning 2007 a modest 6 catches for 45 yards he lit up a 78 yard punt return touchdown against Notre Dame and finished with 55 receptions for 529 yards and three endzones. His performance in 2008 may well determine the success of the aerial variance the Lions hope to sustain.

Presumptive quarterback nominee Daryll Clark had a modest 2007 behind Anthony Morelli. That doesn't stop the speculation that he's one of the top dual-threats to watch in 2008. What's clear is that Clark is not another winged-tipped Robinson. His bruiser reputation behind center overcompensates for a lack of raw turbo, all but ensuring Penn State will have the opportunity to capitalize off soft-line coverage. His Alamo Bowl performance showcased his range, but that's not to take away from the competition. Sophomore Pat Devlin is a more than capable alternative, and the trifecta is rounded off by Senior Paul Cianciolo.

While it's not clear who will start, the finish is somewhat more determined. Watch for precision rollouts to simultaneously temper and tantalize opposing lineups. And oh yeah, there's the run too.

15 August 2008

11 Things I Want to See This Year in the Big 10

Part 1

It seems the Midwest is relatively quiet in early August. If you were to drive through the small farming town I grew up in in Mid-Michigan, even the most intense observer wouldn't see or hear a whole lot. That observer wouldn't have to stop either; I believe the town's one stoplight is a blinking yellow now.

But if you did take a quick drive up to the intersection of Meridian and Colony, you may hear the crunching of football pads and the yelling of high school football coaches. All over the flattened (thanks glaciers) Midwest, the sound of football glory rings in the ears of young combatants, coaches, and fans.

That same sound is ringing in the ears of The Rivalry. Our attempts to correctly predict the 2008 season will surely fail, so in true vainglorious fashion, here are 11 things that The Rivalry wants to see this year in the Big 10.

#1 - I want to see someone punch OSU right in the mouth.

Figuratively of course. Ohio State rules the Big 10 roost right now, just like they did last year...and the year before that. But the Buck's need a challenger to that throne or the Big 10 risks losing respect and legitimacy. Last year, the upstart Zookians successfully ran the shotgun spread right at the heart of the undefeated Buckeye's and their #1 ranked defense. Fans of the Scarlet and Gray watched in horror as Juice Williams and Rashard Mendenhall hammered the interior of the OSU defense with an 8 minute, game ending drive that shook up the BCS rankings. The Illini used this upset to springboard onto the national consciousness.

Punching the Bucks in the face will be a formidable test this year, with that #1 defense improved (check out Jon's article on Blue Ribbon's odd thoughts about the Buckeye's defense) and raring to prove they aren't too slow to beat top SEC teams. But the Rivalry doesn't want to watch a one horse race in the Big 10. The games @Madison on October 4 and @Champaign on November 15 will be the best chances for The Rivalry's #1 wish to come true.

#2 -I want Michigan State to live up to expectations.

I have talked about this before; the ingredients are mostly there for a successful Spartan season. Veteran QB, stud halfback, solid coach blah blah blah...the truth is, a strong base for success in East Lansing has been in place before, only to be shoved aside by drug problems, shocking losses, and bad coaching. The Rivalry fervently hopes that the Spartans can return some of the glory of 1965-66 to East Lansing. Michigan State's three game stretch versus OSU, UM, and Wisconsin will show whether a consistent effort can be displayed against the Big 10's powers.

But why would I, a Wolverine fan, root for the Spartans to be have a solid season? Simple: the Big 10 needs a middle of the pack team to step up. The SEC has Arkansas, the Big 12 has Kansas, the Big East has UConn and Cincinnati...These perennial 6-7 win teams have catapulted themselves over the hump of mediocrity into the national spotlight. MSU has the tradition, coaching, and veteran experience to do the same.

#3- I want Terrelle Pryor to break out in a "Sportscenter Top 10" way.

There are certain recruits that take on national appeal because of their seemingly otherworldly talents. Chris Webber, Adrian Peterson, Jesus Shuttlesworth...Pryor's high school star shone brighter than those three, plus he couldn't skip to the NFL so there was an added onus on him having to pick a college. Now he plays at the Horseshoe, backing up Todd Boeckman, and this leaves me deeply unsatisfied. He is a singular talent with Vince Youngesqe poise and speed and I want to see what he can do against Linebacker U and Brandon Graham.

#4 - I want people to stop talking about Joe Paterno retiring.

I don't care if hes 80 years old. I don't care if Greg Schiano is practicing his "JoePa was a legend, but it's a new day in Happy Valley" speech. Longevity of a head coach/coaching staff is one of the most important things a college football can have and Paterno has cornered the market on longevity (Bobby Bowden, calm down). Penn State has been a relevant and thriving football program for 40 years; in fact, JoePa should be toasting a 40th anniversary glass of champagne to his undefeated 1968 team, a team that went undefeated and was denied the national title. Paterno is the highly respected face of a program that pushes players into the NFL consistently and reinvents itself consistently (look at the offense becoming more varied and adaptable in the last 5 years, look at the 3rd ranked 2005 Nittany Lions with running QB Michael Robinson).

Blame for the undisciplined and felonious behavior of Penn State's players shouldn't lie in Paterno's lap either. No Nittany Lion player has ever thought, "Hey, my coach is so old that he has forgot to instill discipline, F*** it, lets go break down a door and assault someone." Paterno's age just isn't relevant, only his results are.

Stay tuned for Part 2...

13 August 2008

The Pistol Formation: Is Tressel Packing Heat?

[Editor's Note: For those of you who've earnestly logged on the past several days only to find the stale fragments of last week's words, we apologize. We're thrilled to announce that (like the mythical Phoenix) The Rivalry, Esq. will soon be undergoing an ambitious transformation in scope and platform. We'll have more details in the near future. Stay tuned.]

You've got to give it to him, he looks the part.

When the Big Ten Network visited Columbus last week as part of its fall camp circus tour it caught Offensive Line Coordinator Jim Bollman sporting a high-crowned Cowboy hat,
rim pulled down over his eyes a la Butch Cassidy. Like any professional outlaw, the gunslinger didn't want to show his hand. Fortunately, the tape doesn't lie.

What it's shown has sparked debate from The Plain Dealer to Around the Oval. The Buckeye offense appears to be flirting with the Pistol Formation, an offspring of the shotgun and singleback offenses. Pioneered by Chris Ault for his Nevada Wolf Pack the Pistol gives ground gunpowder to an attack while maintaining the vertical extendability of the shotgun. It works like this:

The quarterback lines up approximately three yards behind the center (compared to at least five in the shotgun). The shallow set allows the running back to position himself an additional three yards behind the quarterback like in the I-Form. At direct snap the quarterback can do one of three things: 1. Hand the ball off to a running back that's already in motion, 2. Look up to pass, or 3. Execute the "option" in tandem with the running back. (For a graphical illustration, see Men of the Scarlet and Gray).

"Bollman's not planning on firing blanks."

The obvious suitability of the formation for a Buckeye Offense that arguably boasts more turf torque than any other club in the FBS has been well documented. Ideas I can't take credit for include:

1. Freezing the linebacker corps
for an extra second after the snap while they wait to get a visual on the back -- until they see Beanie, they can't commit to run or pass (MotSaG)

2. Speaking of No. 28, giving the bruiser more momentum at conception since the back is already running downhill at the time he takes the hand off -- compare that to the traditional shotgun lateral transfer (The Plain Dealer)

3. The general threat of a Pryor/Wells Pistol option -- from a defensive perspective you're damned if you do, damned if you don't

4. Allowing the offensive line to play soft up front, and

5. North/South diversification provides greater opportunities to run and throw the football
-- the quarterback has the visibility of the Shotgun with the versatility of the I-Form (Around the Oval).

Even Tressel himself has sung its praises: "Your back now has the ability to go both ways as opposed to being offset one way or the other," he said, before
adding, "...28 gets to go downhill, and I think he's a pretty good downhill guy."

Sold? It seems like a no brainer -- which immediately makes this blogger skeptical. So, in the spirit of our taking sides approach, lets turn to the aspects that have received considerably less airtime: the conventional weaknesses of the Pistol.

First, quarterbacks under center can conceal the ball significantly better than at drop. The further away the quarterback is from the line, the easier it is for the defense to see what's going on. By this reasoning a linebacker that follows a QB's arm movements might mitigate the lauded "freezing" effect.

Second, while limiting a defense's field of view is important, running backs need to see too (huge surprise, right?). A lineup directly behind the quarterback keeps prospective lanes concealed until the back is all but committed (See All Experts). Don't buy it? Beanie Wells was candid about his difficulties adjusting. As he reported "It's hard. It takes getting used to."

Whether you like the Pistol or not likely depends on who you've seen run it. Good timing and execution? See LSU. Poor adaptability? See Syracuse.

One thing is certainly clear: Bollman's not planning on firing blanks.

05 August 2008

Preseason Poison: Red and Black, Cardinal and Gold Top Coaches' Poll

My first look at the preseason rankings came whilst running to catch a green line train into Chicago over the weekend. Tripping over the Metra station stairs, I caught a glimpse of a USA Today newspaper in a curbside rack.

It was the wide-shoulders of Knowshon Moreno that first caught my attention -- elevated over the typeface like a boxed action figure.

The coaches have spoken and the Georgia Bulldogs are the No. 1. team in the country, at least for now.

I could take a minute to reflect on the particular dangers the honor affords. Premature accolades have a strange way of distracting the otherwise focused. The athletic psyche is profoundly sensitive: The more you're told you're the best, the more you begin to believe it. The drive to overcome the odds then transforms itself into a simple manifestation of destiny -- a rightful ascension of heir to throne.

Once that mentality takes over it's not a question of if, but when a team will fail. All of the talent in the world can't make up for an inability to deal with adversity -- an impotence to adapt.

Here are The Rivalry, Esq.'s thoughts on the 2008 Preseason Top 25:

For better or worse, it's clear the coaches haven't paid much attention to other programs since the conclusion of bowl season in January. From No. 1 Georgia's perch atop the count, to No. 2 USC's consolation entry, the ringleaders were obviously influenced by shock and awe season ending performances. And rightfully so. I can't think of school colors that feel more poisonous at present than red and black, or cardinal and gold.

Still, both programs have their weaknesses: Geogria's offensive line must replace two starters. And Stafford will have a new set of targets in a young receiver corp. USC's rising star offense returns only five vets -- Sanchez will have to step up, and grow up quickly. His limited appearances in 2007 were marked with missteps. The Trojan defensive line looks like a grinning eleven year old with noticeable holes from the lost teeth of Jackson and Ellis.

A No. 2 start might be a little premature for So Cal. If Carroll can live up to his infallible reputation for swatting premiere out of conference opponents like gnats with opening matchups against Virginia and No. 3 Ohio State, you'll hear no complaints from us. (In fact, the only registered groans on record might come from the SEC crowd, when they realize the new generation of championship foe might be a faster and flashier Blockbuster).

Speaking of the Buckeyes, thank God the water Buffalos didn't wade their way to the top of the list. While Ohio State might be the most statistically formidable calculus in the bunch, they'll have to prove it to a nation of skeptics. Additionally, little press coverage has been given to a dismal two weeks in Columbus that saw both the dismissal of Eugene Clifford, the Big Red Back, and the arrest of Doug Worthington for driving under the influence. (The Rivalry, Esq. has three words for Mr. Escalade: Motion to Suppress).

The only surprise about No. 4 Oklahoma is that they probably should have been ranked higher. We suspect it's another example of coaches influenced by last season's bowl blunders. Expect post-pubescent quarterback Sam Bradford to pop more cornerbacks than pimples in the Big 12.

Because it wouldn't be a Top 5 if the SEC didn't earn at least two entries No. 5 Florida is at least as good as any team Urban Meyer has ever fielded. In fact, The Rivalry, Esq. thinks they'd Leak the 2006 National Championship squad in a scrimmage (although it's not clear what side Tebow would play for). Whatever happens to the Gators before November 1st, expect them to give Georgia a helluva sticky scare in Jacksonville when the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party turns ugly.

LSU is an ambitious pick at No. 6 after gaping losses on both sides of the ball bled into a messy spring. With a definitive lack of leadership, and a shotgun schedule, the Bayou Boys might find themselves barely cracking the Top 20 by the end of November. That said, the Tigers are the only two-time BCS national champions for a reason, and accordingly the jury's still out on this one.

No. 7 Missouri should have been ranked in the Top 6 after showing in Spring Ball they've still got their stripes, along with 3 All-Americans, their top quarterback rushers, and a favorable regular season schedule. Still, two four-year starters and trench reserves walk away from an offensive line that couldn't be more crucial to the new Tiger's success. Gary Pinkel coaches granite tough, and quarterback Chase Daniel is as thick and consistent as they come. Expect Mizzou to be the new West Virginia, at least for the next eight months.

"All the talent in the world can't make up for an inability to deal with adversity -- an impotence to adapt."

And speaking of the Mountaineers, West Virginia is a familiar favorite at No. 8. Was their disrobal of Oklahoma in last year's Fiesta Bowl an emotional campaign, or does it represent the tent-pitch smarts of Boy Scout Bill Stewart's new troop? Two things are for sure: West Virginia is the best program in the country that's never won a national championship, and they got that way on the blue-collar back of Rich Rodriguez.

If No. 9 Clemson can't run the ACC this year, they never will. It's the exact opposite for No. 10 Texas who should be just good enough to lose a close game to Oklahoma, and get passed over in favor of Missouri for a wild-card BCS pick.

No. 11 Auburn will look different than ever before with Tuberville's new marriage to a spread offense that's ever en vogue. Expect Auburn to make a few waves when they travel to Morgantown on October 23rd and upset the Mountaineers. Whether the Wisconsin of the SEC can handle their conference contenders remains to be determined. And, yes, if you're keeping track the SEC does own 1/3 of the teams in the Top 12. Huge surprise.

The last time No. 12 Wisconsin looked this good in the preseason was, well, last year -- before injuries and a lack of creativity held back P.J. Hill and Co. It's not often that teams are given a second-shot at greatness. Expect Bret Bielema to capitalize off of his block of veteran talent, core physicality, and sleeper status. It doesn't hurt that the matchup that should determine the outcome of the Big 10 will go down in Camp Randall against the stalwart Buckeyes. You better believe Bielema is praying for rain.

Kansas is a bit of an anomaly at No. 13, although we don't doubt they've earned they recognition they've gotten after last-season's full-court press and Orange Bowl juicer. The return of Todd White Wine sparks consistency from the get go, but to make it past the fifteenth minute they've have to tackle rival Mizzou and hold the Big 12 north. Truth be told, they probably shouldn't be ranked ahead of No. 14 Texas Tech. If anyone doubts the potency of that other program in the Lone Star state, ask your friend who'se dating his DVD recorder to borrow last year's matchup against Oklahoma.

Frank's lunchbox work ethic has helped No. 15 Virginia Tech to consistently show up on the national stage. To stay there, a young defense will have to adapt to their featured role in Beamer's scheme, sans last year's front seven. Tandem quarterbacks Sean Glennon and Tyrod Talor should spur an inventive merger between drop-back and option play.

Don't forget No. 16 Arizona State who, under the tutelage of Dennis Erickson should continue to challenge for rank in the upper eschelon of the Pac 10. An early visit from, and almost certain slaying at the hands of No. 1 Georgia will either inspire first-class play, or sink the encore ship.

The first non-BCS program to hang its hat in the Top 25 (thereby gaining premature favorite status to crash the BCS party) is No. 17 Brigham Young, whose name couldn't be any more misleading. Thirteen returning starters and the nation's longest winning streak (10 wins) form the vertebra of one of the most exciting offenses in college football. Still, the Cougars won't dance if they can't develop -- a second week trip to Washington, and away contests against TCU and Utah (they feel your pain, Rich) will determine if these cats have multiple wives -- um, lives.

Tennessee is a bit of a yawn at No. 18, but it's a mistake to overlook Phil Fulmer's raw achievement and returning stock. In the last five years he's seen three 10-win seasons and New Years day bowls. Last season's rebound from a Strawberry Canyon spanking by Cal to finish at the top of the SEC East is a testament to the Vol's core grit. With the loss of offensive coordinator David Cutcliff to Duke, no one is expecting the checkers to do much. Which is exactly why they might...

Still, I probably would have put No. 19 Illinois ahead of them -- that is provided Juice Williams can carry the pass.

No. 20 Oregon rounds out the Top 20. And, while they might struggle as they navigate the early season schedule (away at Purdue, home against Boise State), a step up in leadership under center might be enough to put them in the wings for the Pac 10 race, although they won't win the title.

What? South Florida at No. 21? Didn't they totally get mulled by Oregon in the Sun Bowl? 51-21 is no fun when you're trying to build a contender, but two nine-win seasons in a row means Tampa stays relevant. A veteran offense, led by quarterback Matt Grothe should keep things moving. Just don't expect a tidal surge to No. 2 in the polls.

Penn State is in a familiar position, starting the season at No. 22, and despite strong receiver, offensive line, and linebacker (you're kidding me) packages, the scariest thing in State College right now is probably the Beaver Stadium white-out crowd under the lights. If Joe Pa can coax consistency from his quarterback and replace begotten running back Austin Scott, this team should gel -- but The Rivalry, Esq. is still perplexed that many pundits have them finishing second in the Big 10.

Wake Forest, the team we're used to seeing in the "Also Receiving Votes" subscript, is in at No. 23, which is a testament to coach Jim Grobe. Quarterback Riley Skinner is the real deal, as is a defense that's strong up the middle. Expect this squad to continue to add to its 20-win mark over the past two seasons while challenging for the ACC title. And to stay in the Top 25.

At least half of The Rivalry, Esq. has no idea why No. 24 Michigan is No. 24 Michigan outside of the fact that 1. They're Michigan, and 2. They have Rich Rodriquez. Then again, when it comes to premptive valuations, these reasons are about as good as any. The architect knows the college game as well as anyone, and a new approach to strength and conditioning means this team could marry the best of Big 10 power with southern speed -- if it finds an offensive line, and a quarterback. The jury will be out on this one until at least Week 3.

The Top 25 begins and ends with Bulldogs. No. 25 Fresno State is another team that could spike the BCS punch, under the explosive aerobatics of wide receiver Marlan Moore. Easily the best of the Pat Hill era, this balanced bunch might play past December if it can at least split the out of conference gauntlet against Rutgers, Wisconsin, Toledo, and UCLA.

02 August 2008

Bo Jackson, Meet Jeff Samardzija

I always wanted Jeff Samardzija to go to the NFL; I would have loved to see how his excellent size, sticky hands, and long stride would have translated to a Pro-style offense. The 6' 5'' wide receiver was an excellent route runner of course, but his impressive catches and ability to adjust to the ball were the characteristics that separated Samardzija from other talented WR's.

But Jeff felt his future lay in baseball and who am I to argue. In 3 appearances with the Chicago Cubs, Samardzija has shown a consistent 97 mph fastball with a "nasty sinking motion," according to Cubs analyst Bob Brenly. The dual sport star has also shown the ability to strike out Major League hitters, which is a rare skill.

With all respect to Jeff's baseball success, here's a quick look back at the wide receiver's college stats at Notre Dame...and for more Jeff Samardzija information, take a look at his very interactive website, http://www.jeff-samardzija.com/index.asp

179 Receptions
2,593 Yards Receiving (Notre Dame record)
17 Touchdowns

31 July 2008

Channeling the Crazy Spirit of John L. Smith

Mark Dantonio Plays Russian Roulette With the Karma Gods

Any tried and true Michigan State Spartan football fan remembers the bad old days of John L. Smith. The much hyped former Louisville coach brought in a spirit of mountain climbing toughness to East Lansing and made a boatload of coaching mistakes. One of Smith's most egregious errors was his decision to play 4 star recruit quarterback Drew Stanton on special teams in a bowl game, a decision which of course ended up with Stanton horribly injuring his knee. Stanton was a pro-style quarterback who should have been practicing his 5 step drops and taking snaps, but Smith wanted to institute toughness in his team. Similar coaching missteps helped land Smith a pink slip out of East Lansing.

Now Coach Mark Dantonio, who as by all accounts done things the right way every since coming to Michigan State, is tempting fate by seriously discussing the possibility of playing All-World halfback Javon Ringer on Special Teams as a kick returner. And although a stud running back holds up better on special teams than a drop back QB, here is some advice for Coach Dantonio:

Please God, don't put your All-Big 10 halfback on the kick return unit. 1) Unless he is the next Devin Hester, there won't be a marked difference between Ringer and the next guy. 2) You're in perfect position to beat Michigan and possibly pull a 10 win season off. A veteran QB leads the offense and the defense should be solid. The only thing that could derail you instantly is, of course, injuries. And God knows the last thing you want to see is Ringer getting crackback blocked to the turf by some 250 lb special teams demon running full speed down the field. 3) You have made excellent decisions at every turn in East Lansing: you brought in solid players at the line positions and you didn't spout off to the media or make wild predictions...you even pulled an Elite 11 quarterback to headline your next recruiting class. Take a lesson from the missteps of John L's past and leave Ringer off the field for one extra play.

Happy August!

Although it's still 5 hours away from the States, this Brit welcomes you to the month of August, and the triumphant return of college football.

In 28 days we'll replace our Chablis with draught-beer, our Polos with oversized mesh jerseys, and our summer sensibilities with super-egos.

Here's to sauce-drenched fingers, sun tan hangovers, and dry throats.

To celebrate, here's the latest update to the ESPN/ABC Network Schedule.

27 July 2008

Part 1: Big 10 Coaching Inquiries

What if you could ask a Big 10 head coach anything you wanted?

The Rivalry Esq. missed Media Day (weren't invited), but that didn't stop us from scribbling on the legal pads. Suffice it to say, the big guys would have faced some serious cross-examining
if one of us wasn't in England all summer.

For the sake of our dignities as pseudo journalists we've split the inquisition into two parts: serious football strategy and satire, because lets be honest, lampooning Big 10 head coaches isn't exactly difficult this year.


Jim Tressel

Chris Wells carried the ball 39 times against Michigan for 222 total yards. Against LSU, he saw only half that many touches (20). His falloff in performance has been pointed to as the reason for the reduced reliance on the ground game in the Championship: he gained 119 yards off his first 10 carries, and only 30 the second 10. I think you would agree that LSU was successful outsourcing your offensive line in the second half. Simply put there weren't openings, and a power back like Beanie is significantly less effective when he has to go to the outside. What changes are you making in 2008 to the offensive line sets to ensure better opportunities for the running backs?

WR Ray Small was supposed to have a breakout season last year. He finished with a disappointing 20 receptions for 267 yards. What opportunities will he be given in 2008 to step up and shoulder some of the load from Hartline and Robiskie?

Ron Zook

Juice Williams is a great runner, but his passing accuracy was abysmal last year. How did you and your Offensive Coordinator work with him this year to make his passing more precise?

Bret Bielema

You've seen the trouble certain Big 10 opponents have had defending tight end audibles. How do you plan to use what some consider to be the best tight end tandem in the nation in Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham to diversify your offense?

It's been reported that 26 players missed some portion of spring ball due to injuries. How does that affect your efforts to establish consistency?

"What if you could ask a Big 10 Head Coach anything you wanted?"

Tim Brewster

You've had some exciting personnel changes in the off season -- perhaps most notably picking up Ted Roof as defensive coordinator. What will he bring to a squad that was last in the nation in total defense last year?

Kirk Ferentz

Much has been made of the Satterfield scandal and the university's handling of it. How have you instilled in your team a focus on football admist the clutter?

Rich Rodriguez

Michigan's returning starters are ill-suited for a spread running offense. How have you tweaked the West Virginia Spread (dive option + pitch option + QB run) to accommodate the players you inherited?

Mark Dantonio

You lost two monster playmakers to the NFL in Jehuu Caulcrick and Devin Thomas. These two fit your run-based offense perfectly, Caulcrick as the short yardage pounder and Thomas as the sticky hands home run threat who provided a change of pace. Has anyone stepped up, like Andre Anderson or Mark Dell, to take over the vacated roles?

Pat Fitzgerald

The 2005 offense put up an obscene amounts of yardage and ran the shotgun spread beautifully. What is the key in channeling that teams offensive success?

Joe Paterno

Are you open to playing two quarterbacks interchangeably, considering Daryll Clark (athlete) and Pat Devlin (passer) bring different strengths to the field?

Bill Lynch

The nations leader in sacks last year, Greg Middleton, anchors your defense. He is sure to face double teams and tight end chips this year. How will you make teams pay for spending extra time on this sackmaster?

No one is giving you a chance in hell in playing a "13th game," the term Coach Terry Hoeppner coined. What do you tell your team to inspire them to overcome these pessimistic predictions?

Joe Tiller

The lack of a strong run game has been the biggest knock on your offense. What steps are you taking to make teams respect your ability to rush the football?

(Stay tuned for Part 2)

25 July 2008

Columbus. Ann Arbor. Can either be Title Town?

It's not often that we at The Rivalry, Esq. choose to patronize the publicity vehicles ESPN.com invents on a yearly basis to stimulate the culture of off-season. I've been politely ignoring their most recent brainchild -- a comprehensive search to identify Title Town, USA -- since the contest was announced on Sports Center in the spring.

But, after it was made clear that the honor would be both vertically and horizontally integrated, extending into all levels and facets of athletics, I was intrigued. A Democratic process that pits the most polished professional sports cities against the country Friday night lights crowd -- capstoned by a traveling interview committee broadcasting from each locale is hard to pass up.

"I'm surprised, slightly humored, and fully anticipating Graham's outrage at the fact that his Wolverines are only given credit for 3 National Titles (the school claims 10), while the Buckeyes get 7 (incidentally the exact number the school claims)."

You've got to hand it to ESPN, they've put their money where their mouth is. The research, and production value of each edition is laudable, making the search (and the ultimate selection) at least as relevant as the MTV Music Video Awards.

So, in honor of Monday's grand finale, here are the broadcasts that originally aired live from two places close to our hearts: Columbus and Ann Arbor.

If the raw esteem of watching these doesn't absolutely rivet you, you might have accidentally clicked on Carson Palmers' 2007 Post-Season Highlight reel.

A few first blush observations:

1. I'm impressed that ESPN diversified the Columbus sports-scape by firmly exploring our link to Jack Nicklaus and Jesse Owens.

2. I'm surprised, slightly humored, and fully anticipating Graham's outrage at the fact that his Wolverines are only given credit for 3 National Titles in football (the school claims 10), while the Buckeyes get 7 (incidentally the exact number Ohio State claims).

So, what do you think? Do either Columbus or Ann Arbor deserve the nod?

23 July 2008

Is Carson Palmer Nuts?

Carson Palmer doesn't like Ohio State.

This week the USC alum went on the offensive during a scheduled radio appearance with KLAC Los Angeles.

"I cannot stand the Buckeyes," said the outspoken Heisman winner, "...having to live in Ohio and hear those people talk about their team...drives me absolutely nuts." (USA Today has the full transcript.)

Carson's shrink must have been on vacation in Bermuda. His press relations advisor must have been out of town. How else do you explain the errant pathological tragedy of a hero who shoots himself in the foot?

"You've got to stay faithful to the Gangsta scene. Try instead, 'Dog we're gonna go pop a cap in yo ass.' Then go pee on yourself at a humanitarian protest and order a Vegan dinner for your fake-boobed girlfriend."

Granted, I have a Karmic view of college football. I hold certain truths to be self-evident. Namely you:

1. Never criticize a marquis opponent. [I made this mistake before the 2006 National Championship Game -- heckling Florida fans that 1. You have to win all your games to be the National Champion, and 2. (After Ted Ginn gazelled the opening kickoff return for a touchdown) You've got to guard him. A broken ankle, and a blitzkrieg soon followed.]

2. Don't call the kettle black. (When you're the posterboy for one of the most obnoxious pop dynastys of the modern era, you don't assail the brethern. I defy you Carson to tell me how USC is any different than Ohio State when it comes to public patronage. If anything, the Trojans should be grateful for their revival. After all, The Rivalry, Esq. remembers when it took Jenny McCarthy in a bikini at halftime to fill the Coliseum half full. Do yourself a favor and reflect on the fact that when you committed to the Trojans, they were a 6 win team.)

3. Never, ever use the phrase "butt-whoopin" on the West Coast. (You've got to stay faithful to the Gangsta scene. Try instead, "Dog, we're gonna pop a cap in yo ass." Then go pee on yourself at a humanitarian protest and order a Vegan dinner for your fake-boobed girlfriend.)

4. Finally, don't forget where you're from. (Statistics suggest that at least 80% of the Bengals faithful are Buckeye fans. Talk about falling on your own sword).

The truth is that Carson Palmer (like Chad Johnson) is struggling with his own mortality. After a lackluster five seasons in the NFL, and more Growing Pains than ABC, he's focused on trash-talking rather than legitimately evolving as a leader.

Instead of losing sleep over the demonic youngsters up north, try focusing on the task at hand and making your team relevant.

And in the meantime watch your blind side. Apparently the Buckeyes have a few guys in the NFL that might not agree with your bearded banter.

19 July 2008

Fair-Weather Facts: Disrobing the Blue Ribbon Bias

I'm writing from a passenger train in the United Kingdom en route from Oxford to London. I'm across the pond studying comparative legal processes for the summer. If you're a regular reader of The Rivalry, Esq. you haven't noticed, because I haven't mentioned it. I'm 100 percent wired at my desk making it easy to keep up to date with the American football scene.

And the truth is, I like this temporary separation from sport because July has always been and will always be a sort of college football purgatory. With two weeks until the first snaps over the sun-scorched August grass mark the beginning of fall camp in Columbus, it's easy to get complacent.

And so, like ants on a dropped Popsicle, commentators dissect -- turning men into numbers and programs into sums.

It's a process I usually cherish -- a word tonic for the anxious fan's thirst. But lately, there's been a lack of accountability at the top.

"After initially rating the Buckeye Offense and Defense units a C and C+ respectively, Blue Ribbon changed the grades to B+ and B without explanation."

Each year in an attempt to garner publicity for its flagship college product NCAA Football 2009, EA Sports outlines their Top 25 picks for the fall. To maximize the effectiveness of the hype campaign, they spread the countdown out over a full week -- releasing ascending ranks in neat groupings of five. Like all prognostications, the selections are often more normative than empiric.

Still, I tune in every day to find out where my beloved virtual Scarlet will land.

Two weeks ago it was the 25 Toughest Stadiums. The Horseshoe placed third -- which, considering its lack of permanent lights (and therefore, night kickoffs) is respectable. But as I scanned down from the photo-realistic screenshot, I noticed EA had mistakenly listed the official capacity as 89,500. The OSU Department of Athletics reports the Shoe presently seats 102,329 -- a number that often swells to over 107,000 during marquis contests. ESPN has since corrected the feature. So no big deal, right?

That's what I thought -- until I turned to last week's offering, the Top 25. Packaged in the form of streaming video gameplay, the lifelike simulations give the fan a small preview of how the premiere matchups of 2008 will go down. What's particularly clever is the built-in equilibrium -- after we watch No. 4 USC's Joe McKnight take an outside pitch 30 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State -- Brian Robiskie returns the favor for the No. 3 Buckeyes as he sources an open field catch for an easy six against the Trojan secondary.

But for all the effort the press relations folks at EA put into editing their segments, they must have forgotten to conduct basic research on their scripts. As a result the preview for No. 5 Florida opens with the observation that "The Gators look to build off their Gator-Bowl victory last season..."

Strange. I could have sworn Florida was swamped by the Michigan Wolverines in last season's Capital One Bowl. The only thing they might want to build on from that effort is the pressure their defensive line put on Mike Hart.

Still, EA Sports makes video games. Clearly, they can't be expected to deliver at the same level as professional sports writers.

That's why I was absolutely flabbergasted when I read Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook's Ohio State Team Preview.

After spending 95 paragraphs absolutely gushing over the Buckeyes, their 18 returning starters, super-recruit Terrelle Pryor, and conference favorite status the preview proceeds to give the Scarlet a lower average than Clemson, BYU, and California, none of whom figure to crack the top 10 when the pre-season polls are released. Ohio State will easily place in the top 4.

After initially rating the Buckeye Offense and Defense units a C and C+ respectively, Blue Ribbon changed the grades to B+ and B without explanation.

Okay, call it another mistake -- but this time there's something substantively wrong with the result. Blue Ribbon writes the following about the Buckeye defense:

"The Buckeyes lose one starter and gain one starter, so the net result might be improved play overall."

Considering that last year the "same" defense (now "improved") ranked first in the nation statistically might be grounds to award them the coveted A+ (traditionally reserved for power programs like BYU). But no. As Blue Ribbon sees it, this merits a B, a lower grade than an offense returning the same number of players that ranked in the bottom 50% (62nd out of 119) of FBS teams in 2007.

Intangibles aside (Blue Ribbon actually has a separate mark for those variables) this kind of blatant intermeddling of logic and emotion is usually reserved for the Blogosphere -- not the glossy pages of a commercial almanac. It's irrational, and amateur.

That's why I'm inclined to grin when the preview writer concludes in part by noting, "The talent and depth is amazing."

Amazing? Really? On a B Average squad?

What kind of adjective will Blue Ribbon be forced to use when they write about an A+ effort?

How about capricious?

14 July 2008

The Big 10's Most Intriguing Player Needs a Nickname

Todd Boeckman does not strike the casual observer as the most intriguing player in the Big 10. But this 6' 4'', 240 lb. Buckeye quarterback will be a prime player in some of the most interesting subplots of the 2008 college football season. Can USC expose this signal caller's weaknesses to pull off a win in the "game of the year"? Will the Buckeye faithful call for Terrelle Pryor to start if the Buckeye's struggle early? With teams keying on Heisman favorite Beanie Wells, can Boeckman put up monster numbers?

But I digress...Hate OSU or love 'em, I think Todd Boeckman needs a nickname. If he is going to spend so much time in the national spotlight, announcers, critics, and fans need something to grip onto instead of a boring German sounding name. My ideas are below, feel free to post or email me (grahamfiller10@yahoo.com) with your own.

"Becks" (like David Beckham)
"Lodi Toddy, he likes to party"
"Fast Version of Ryan Mallet"
"Slow Version of Chris Leak"
"Give Me the Ball" (Beanie Wells' suggestion)

12 July 2008

The Rivalry Classics - Little Brother and the UM-MSU Rivalry

How the University of Michigan bypassed the Spartans of Michigan State on the way to being the dominant college football team in the state of Michigan

On the speed limit insulting drive on I-96 from East Lansing to Ann Arbor, an observant driver is sure to notice a few speed traps, a lot of open fields, and a green fuel truck with a white smiley face somewhere near Fowlerville. This hour long drive offers little excitement, just like the “rivalry” between the college football teams residing in the two aforementioned cities.

Since Bo Schembechler began his reign as Michigan football coach in 1969, the Wolverines have easily surpassed the Spartans as the dominant college football program in the state of Michigan. The Wolverine program has become a national brand, recognized for its indomitable winged helmet and the numerous NFL players it produces, while the Spartans have struggled with slap-happy coaches, drugged up star players, and mediocre results. Wolverine RB Mike Hart infamously compared Michigan State to an annoying little brother who struggles a lot until you push him down. The Paul Bunyan Trophy has spent so much time in Ann Arbor that I hear Paul has decided to get a nice ranch over on Stadium Drive and settle down platonically with Babe the Blue Ox.
Statistics Since 1969
Bowl Appearances
Head-to-Head Matchup

But the question remains: How…in the world did the University of Michigan cultivate a respected national reputation and a higher standard of football excellence than its East Lansing counterpart?
When Duffy Daugherty took the reigns at Michigan State, he was inheriting a program that had just posted a 35-2 record over the last 4 years with Biggie Munn. The Spartans were national champions under Munn and Daugherty had high expectations. After a disappointing first season, Daugherty delivered on those expectations, carrying the Spartans to a couple of legendary seasons (’65, ’66) and consistently solid records in an increasingly competitive Big 10. Daugherty, a smart and witty coach, took the socially progressive step of recruiting top African-American athletes from the South. George Webster, Bubba Smith, and Charlie “Mad Dog” Thornhill were tremendously physical athletes from the South, all recruited by Daugherty at a time when many Southern schools were ignoring African-American athletes. Most importantly, Daugherty pulverized the Wolverines in the 1960’s, winning 70% of the rivalry games. East Lansing had the best damn college football program in the Mitten.
The Spartans began falling off at the end of the 1960’s as other schools began following Daugherty’s recruiting example and the Wolverines named a young Miami (OH) man named Bo Schembechler to be its head coach. In 1969, Schembechler took a moribund Michigan program and led them to the most famous upset in Michigan football history, a 24-12 victory over the #1 Buckeye’s. Schembechler’s media-created rivalry with Woody Hayes (they were close friends, a product of their Miami (OH) days) began a period where Michigan and Ohio State were the only two relevant programs in the Big 10, earning the Big 10 the nickname “Big 2, Little 8.”
Woody and Bo outshone Michigan State and every other Big 10 team during the 1970’s, a period where college football’s popularity began to rocket. As Bo’s sideline temper and powerful teams became entrenched in the national psyche, Michigan State struggled through unsuccessful no-name coaches and continued ass-thrashings by its Ann Arbor counterpart. Players like Anthony Carter and Rick Leach helped lead Michigan to a 17-3 record versus the Spartans during the 1970’s and 1980’s
A concept that a number of Michigan State fans pointed out to me was the “Bo Schembechler” effect on the Big 10. Coaches in the Big 10 began to follow Bo’s example of practicing plays over and over and playing an extremely physical style of football. The Big 10 began to look at Michigan (and Ohio State) as the Granddaddy’s of the Big 10.
Michigan football had a consistent coach from 1969 until the mid 1990’s in Schembechler. While Bo was building a nationally recognized program with tremendous marketing appeal (that very recognizable yellow swoosh on a blue background), the Spartans best hope became George Perles, a former Pittsburgh Steeler defensive coach brought in to recruit the Western Pennsylvania hotbed. Perles recruited studs like Percy Snow, Lorenzo White, and Andre Rison and gave Michigan State an image that fans could associate with Michigan State football. Perles won 4 out of 11 games versus Bo and returned some sizzle to the rivalry.
Contrast George Perles’ recruiting coup (Rison was a top recruit at Flint Northwestern) and general popularity…to the recent coaching reign of John L. Smith. Smith was brought from Louisville to bring excitement to the Spartans program. Smith trumpeted his fancy new offense (no fullback needed) and his motivational skill, only to be ridiculed for on-field embarrassments and off the field incidents. No one will forget the horrendous coaching in the 4th quarter of the loss to Notre Dame in 2006; up 3 touchdowns in the 4th quarter, Smith called risky passes instead of burning time off the clock and the Irish came back for a historic win. Smith also incurred ridicule for the perceived lack of discipline he instilled in his players and the time he slapped himself during a press conference. Needless to say, his reign is over at Michigan State.
The players to come out of Michigan and Michigan State have also helped build the reputation of the programs.
"Star WR Andre Rison tried to coin his own nickname (“Spiderman,” it never caught on) and then had his mansion burned down by a member of the R&B group TLC."
High profile players like Tom Brady, Charles Woodson, and Steve Hutchinson have gone on to successful and lucrative NFL careers after excelling in Ann Arbor. In comparison, four of the best Spartans to come out of East Lansing in the last 20 years have become famous for matters completely unrelated to football. OL Tony Mandarich, the “Incredible Bulk” himself, burned out of the NFL amidst allegations of steroid use and attitude problems. Star WR Andre Rison tried to coin his own nickname (“Spiderman,” it never caught on) and then had his mansion burned down by a member of the R&B group TLC. Jeff Smoker, MSU’s all-time leading passer, was suspended in 2002 for his very well known cocaine habit and flamed out in the NFL. Finally, Charles Rogers, who was a tremendous all-around athlete (I watched him score 32 points against Waverly in the Class A state title basketball game, including three dunks), missed most of his first three seasons in the NFL due to injury and drug suspensions and was recently cut by the Detroit Lions.
The Wolverine-Spartan rivalry is at a crucial juncture. The Spartan’s have lost the last 6 games and the losses have been heart wrenching; the Spartans led deep into the 4th quarter last year, only to lose on a late touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Mario Manningham. Even the few wins that the Spartans have pulled off in this rivalry are so clouded with controversy that Michigan fans almost refuse to recognize the validity of these Spartan victories. Watch Desmond Howard get tripped up to seal a Spartan victory (http://www.umgoblue.com/Old/HTML/Football/90/90UMMSU.htm) and watch “Clockgate,” when the East Lansing clock operator stopped the clock to allow a final play (http://youtube.com/watch?v=yoFZIBY-IVU).
But MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has come in and made similar moves to what his mentor, Jim Tressel, did at Ohio State. Dantonio has not made excuses (like Bobby Williams did in 2002) or made a fool of himself like John L. Smith. He has taken a business-like approach to recruiting better in Michigan and mining the rich recruiting fields of Ohio, where Dantonio coached for years. My father attends Dantonio's booster club meetings and reports that Dantonio is not a funny, humorous guy, but is a detail oriented and serious coach. Judging from the recent history of the Spartans, Dantonio's attitude is a welcome change.
As I’ve written before, the Spartans are favored in 2008 against the new look Wolverines. Michigan State returns a veteran quarterback and a star running back and there is no reason Dantonio cannot make this an even rivalry. Michigan State has great facilities, an attractive campus, legendary players, and a solid coaching staff. During the fall, Saturday's revolve around Spartan football in East Lansing and the students are fervently supportive. But the stigma of being 2nd best in the Great Lake State is a hard thing to overcome, and Dantonio has his work cut out for him. 5 star recruit James Jacksons recent decision to attend Ohio State over his hometown (Grand Ledge/East Lansing: close enough) Spartans nicely illustrates the struggle that Michigan State has with playing second banana to Michigan and Ohio State.
Will the “little brother” in this rivalry finally grow up and make this rivalry even? Until the Spartans can win some recruiting battles and capture the Paul Bunyan Trophy, Michigan will be a state dominated by Wolverine college football.