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