Saturday, October 17, 2009

College Football Blotter Report: Reality Check

At the close of the weekend, most college football teams have now played half their season.  So what have we learned?  What stories are people not recognizing?

1. Tim Tebow is out of the Heisman race:  This one must be confusing to most people.  Sports Illustrated still says Tebow is in the lead.  ESPN says he is in the lead.  The truth however, is that no sane voter could even give Tebow a 5th place vote if the season finished today.  He has had fewer than 200 total yards in three of his five games this season.  His passing numbers are way off; he is only on pace to throw for 1900 yards this year.  In comparison, in his Heisman season Tebow threw for 3200 yards and had ZERO, count em, ZERO games with fewer than 200 total yards.  The other huge factor working against Tebow is that he has already blown one of what may only be three Heisman showcase performances.  The Gators may have won, but Tebow was unimpressive against LSU: 172 total yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.  Unless Tebow goes on a historic passing stretch and has a huge SEC championship game, not only does he not have any business winning the Heisman, he doesn't even deserve to be invited to New York as a finalist.

2. Colt McCoy is close to being out of the race too:  Against the fluffy part of his schedule, McCoy has ranked as only the 22nd QB in the nation in QB efficiency.  He has also thrown at least one interception every single game. (He has 6 INTs already, while he only had 8 all of last year)  And on top of that, McCoy is putting up poor rushing numbers, averaging only 11 yards a game.  (McCoy ran for over 500 yards each of the past two seasons) While McCoy has been middling thus far, unlike Tebow he has not wasted any of his showcase games as of yet, and could still jump back into the race with big games against the two Oklahoma schools.  On the other hand, losing to a 3-2 Oklahoma team next week could knock him out of the race completely.

3. Iowa's resume is stronger than most think:  Iowa has been a hard team to peg this year.  One week they almost lose to a I-AA team; the next they are trashing an in-state rival by 30 points on the road.  One week they are beating a top 5 team on the road; the next they are holding on for dear life against a Sun Belt team.  So what do we know about this team?  While the style points haven't been there, the resume speaks for itself; wins against 3-3 Iowa State, 3-2 Arizona, 5-1 Penn State, and 4-2 Michigan give Iowa four victories against average to above average BCS teams.  Hard to argue with that.

4. TCU is going to have a better BCS case than Boise:  Take a look at the schedules of Boise and TCU.  If they both go undefeated, which resume looks better?  TCU will have road wins against two ACC teams, a road win against BYU, and a win against Utah.  Boise will have a win against Oregon, and.....and.....that's it.  If Boise gets to a BCS game this year, they will be the second non-BCS school to sneak its way into the big time with close to zero on their resume (Hawaii 2007).

On the Field Heisman Rankings:
The Heisman race continues to be completely unpredictable this year, as it seems that every week a new contender falters.  This week it was Greg McElroy posting a poor performance to push him out for the time being.

1. Tony Pike, Cincy: A bit of a ho-hum performance for Pike this week against Miami (Oh), but when 270 yards and 2 TDs is an off day, I think it speaks to how good of a season Pike is having.

2. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame: I really hate to put Clausen up this high before the USC game, but with a lack of strong candidates Clausen's numbers are just too huge to ignore at this point in the season.  Clausen leads the nation in passing efficiency and has 1544 yards and 12 TDs in 5 games this year, albeit against weak competition.

3. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech:  Williams keeps hanging around the Heisman discussion, and the Freshman's performance is becoming harder and harder to ignore.  Williams had 182 total yards and a TD against Boston College this week, and ranks fifth in the nation in rushing yards.

4. Jaquizz Rodgers, Oregon State: Quizz has quietly been racking up TDs all season for the Beavers, and added 4 more this past week against Stanford to go along with 271 total yards.  A monster performance like that combined with Rodger's 13 TDs so far this year deserves at leas a one week stay in the rankings.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

College Football Blotter Report: The Troy Smith Blueprint

The year is 2006.  Going into the college football season the Heisman favorite is an Oklahoma Sooner (Adrian Peterson).  One of the other favorites is the Senior quarterback for the Florida Gators (Chris Leak).  The Sooner gets injured early in the year and is knocked out of the race.  The Senior Gator QB never quite lives up to expectations.  As a result, the Heisman Trophy goes to the efficient, but not spectacular, QB of the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes, Troy Smith.

Flash forward to 2009.  Going into the college football season the Heisman favorite is an Oklahoma Sooner (Sam Bradford).  One of the other favorites is the Senior quarterback for the Florida Gators (Tim Tebow).  The Sooner gets injured early in the year and is knocked out of the race.  The Senior Gator QB has not quite lived up to expectations.  As a result, by the end of the year the Heisman Trophy could wind up going to this year's version of Troy Smith 2006: the efficient, but not spectacular, QB of the undefeated Alabama Crimson Tide, Greg McElroy.

In 2006 Smith benefited from a college football landscape where none of the preseason favorites for the Heisman played up to their hype, and his two biggest competitors at the end of the season (Darren McFadden and Brady Quinn) wound up playing for teams with multiple losses.  Because of the field dropping back, Smith was able to win the Heisman with a season that looks a bit odd in hindsight for a Heisman winner:

- One 300 yard game
- Six games with under 200 yards passing
- 2500 passing yards
- Less than 3000 total yards

So how did Smith win it?  Other than leading OSU to an unblemished record, only one individual stat stood out for Smith; his sterling touchdown to interception ratio, 30/5.  Other than that, Smith was downright pedestrian.  He was 38th in the nation in passing yards, and was only only fourth in his own league (behind the likes of Curtis Painter, Brian Cupito, and Drew Tate).

Smith's victory in 2006 is a blueprint for how Heisman voters react to a year without a clear cut winner; they go safe.  Starting QB for the #1 team in the country is about as safe as it gets.  The same thing happens in other sports as well; no clear cut MVP in baseball?  High RBI guy on the best team in the league.  No clear cut Cy Young winner?  Pitcher with the most wins for a playoff team.  No clear cut NFL MVP?  Starting QB for the team with the best record.  And on and on it goes.

As this year has unfolded, two things are clear in the Heisman race; the presumptive favorites are not playing as expected (Bradford, Tebow, McCoy), and nobody is stepping up to fill their place.  Because of this, McElroy is in prime position to follow the Troy Smith blueprint and steal the Heisman.

Think about it; McElroy is averaging roughly 220 yards and two TDs a game, while having only thrown one INT through five games.  Stretching that production out over the entire season (including an SEC championship game), McElroy's stats would wind up looking a whole lot like Smith's did in 2006; 2800 total yards, 27 total TDs, and 3 INTs.  If the other contenders continue to falter (Bradford, Jacory Harris, Jahvid Best, Max Hall, and Case Keenum have all already been bounced), McElroy could find himself with the Heisman Trophy come December.

Rank Me Please

If the teams below are not ranked come tomorrow, it is about time to call your local AP voter and start lodging complaints:

1. Auburn 5-0:  The Mighty Malzahns took down Tennessee Saturday night to earn their second SEC victory of the year.  Those two wins coupled with a win against West Virginia and one of the nation's most prolific offenses leaves little excuse for poll voters to leave Auburn off of their ballots this week.

2. South Florida 5-0:  When Matt Grothe went down in the Bulls third game of the year, most people wrote off the Bulls in the Big East.  Little did they realize, the Bulls had just as dynamic of a QB waiting in the wings in BJ Daniels.  The Bulls have two BCS conference wins and three road wins on their resume.

3. Wisconsin 5-0:  The Badgers have shown an uncanny ability to reload year after year and keep winning.  Case in point; Scott Tolzien is the 4th different starting QB in the last four years for the Badgers.  Wisconsin finds themselves at 5-0, with two Big Ten wins plus a victory over Fresno State.

On the Field Heisman Rankings

Excuse me sir, could I interest you in a Heisman?  It seems like nobody wants to win the trophy this year, as contender after contender falls by the wayside.  Last week it was Jacory Harris and Jahvid Best posting poor performances in losses, and this week Case Keenum and the Houston Cougars lost to a UTEP team that was drilled into the ground the week before.  (While Keenum did throw for over 500 yards in the game, one simple fact remains; Heisman winners don't lose to UTEP)

So where does that leave us?  As discussed above, it allows Greg McElroy to continue sneaking up the board, while also opening up spots for some big stat guys.  Going forward, it also allows for Tebow and McCoy to jump right back into the race, with each having a showcase game coming up in the next two weeks (Tebow vs LSU, and McCoy vs Oklahoma).

1. Tony Pike, Cincy:  Seriously, is Pike the only guy that wants the trophy?  Pike continued his sterling season with 270 yards and 2 TDs against Miami (OH).  His next game should be his national coming out party; a nationally televised Thursday nighter on October 15th pitting his 5-0 Bearcats against BJ Daniels and the 5-0 USF Bulls.

2. Greg McElroy, Alabama:  Another game, another win, another two TDs for McElroy.  Next week will provide him with his first big test since the opener against Virginia Tech, as he and the Tide travel to Oxford to play Ole Miss.

3. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame:  At some point Clausen and his video game numbers are too hard to ignore on a 4-1 team, averaging over 300 yards and two TDs per game.  You do have to worry however, about the fact that Notre Dame has had to pull out dramatics each of the past three weeks to win by one score against three teams with a combined record of 5-10.  With USC and Boston College coming up next, Clausen's stay on the Heisman list could be a short one.

4. Toby Gerhart, Stanford:  Gerhart led the Cardinal to a big win this week over previously undefeated UCLA with 158 total yards and three TDs.  Gerhart now leads the nation with 650 rushing yards to go along with eight TDs.

Type your summary here

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

College Football Blotter Report: Preseason-itis Attacks

Chaos abounded this week, as 6 of the 23 ranked teams that played falling prey to the upset bug.  Or the flu bug perhaps.  Or maybe even more accurately, they fell victim to the #1 cause of early season upsets; Preseason-itis.

To understand what Preseason-itis is, you must first comprehend what an upset is.  On its most basic level in college football, an upset is when a game occurs wherein a ranked team loses to either a lower ranked team or an unranked team.  Well, duh.  You see, I have to elucidate this point because otherwise some people may not comprehend why a game like Ole' Miss losing to South Carolina was a huge upset.  The #4 team in the country losing to an unranked team that had already lost once this season?  Huge upset, right?


Two pesky things get in the way of calling the Ole' Miss loss an upset; facts and logic.  These two teams played last year, returned all of the same core players (minus Ole' Miss losing two first round NFL draft picks), and the result was exactly the same as it was last year; a one score South Carolina victory.  So if this same Ole' Miss team lost to this same South Carolina team, why was there such a huge disparity in their rankings?


My number one pet peeve in college football is early season polls.  With the presence of these polls, voters will fall victim to one of three basic human instincts in their voting, which completely skew having an accurate poll early in the season:

1. The Desire to be Right:  Filling out a ballot is a significant investment of time and reputation for a voter.  So when someone goes out and puts a team like Florida #1 on their ballot in the preseason, naturally they will want to keep them there until they lose.  Even if after 4 weeks it is obvious to everyone in the country that this is not the same Florida team as last year, and that Alabama is going to steamroll them by four TDs in the SEC Championship Game.  (Purely hypothetical of course)  This is the same kind of thinking that is occurring right now to fantasy football owners; I am certain that there are those of you out there that are holding on to LT right now, even though every logical bone in your body is telling you he is not going to do anything this year, because dammit, you spent a 3rd round pick on him and you don't want to look like an idiot.

The symptom that arises from this aspect of Preseason-itis, is the gradual creep of unworthy teams up the polls, sometimes to absurd heights.  This year has seen three such instances already.  Ole' Miss had ZERO reason for being ranked #4 in the country, Penn State had no business being #5, and LSU has no business being #7, much less getting moved up one or two spots this week because the two aforementioned impostors were exposed ahead of them this week.  All three of these teams were able to attain these heights though, because for voters to drop them while they were winning would be to admit the one thing nobody likes to admit; that they were wrong.

2. Pack Mentality:  There is a certain magic to poll voting in college football.  Somehow the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll, the Harris Poll, and heck, even the "Blogger Poll" on CBS Sportsline, look stunningly alike.  Why is that?  Did all of these diverse groups of people make the same mistake of putting faith in Ole Miss?  In Oklahoma State?  In Penn State?  In some ways yes, put in one big way, no.  They made a different mistake; they wanted to be like everyone else.  So they look at the other polls from the week before and they slot winners up (even if they looked bad) and slot winners down (even if they looked good), because that is what the group-think decrees.  The reason for this is because going out on a limb is scary, and people tend to point and laugh when you do.  For example, Doug Lesmerises was killed in the media this week because he casts a daring, reactive ballot in the AP poll.  He committed such acts of blasphemy as ranking Florida #5 (gasp!) and ranking USC as #25 (the horror!).    Funny thing is though...want to know two of the teams Doug had ranked lower than almost anyone?  Penn State and Ole' Miss, who coincidentally both got "upset" this week.  Mr. Lesmerises isn't looking so dumb now, is he?

3. Voting for the Story:  Ah, now we are on to the big elephant in the room.  Everyone sees it.  Everyone knows it.  Nobody wants to admit they are going it though.  Why is Boise State ranked 8th in the country?  Why was a garbage Notre Dame team ranked 18th earlier this year?  Why was USC ranked 3rd earlier this year, after losing their starting QB, top 2 two WRs, and almost their entire linebacking corps from last year?  Simply put, voters vote for the story many times, not for the teams.  Non-BCS team making noise?  That's a story.  Perennial  power rising in the rankings coming off a bad year (Notre Dame, Michigan)?  That's a story.

Now here is a story nobody is talking about; for all intents and purposes, as a result of Preseason-itis, Boise State has already clinched a BCS berth.  What?  Boise is already solidly within the top 12, and does not have a single scary opponent left on their schedule.  So on the strength of beating one ranked team (at home mind you), Boise is going to go to a BCS Bowl.  The only worse case of this phenomenon was in 2007, when Hawaii went to a BCS bowl in a year when their best non-conference win was against a 4-9 PAC-10 team.  Yes, that actually happened.

You see, voting on Boise this year has exhibited all three symptoms of Preseason-itis.  They were ranked 14th going into the season, so they have moved up because people want to be right.  They are staying in the top ten because of the pack mentality.  And they are most clearly a result of voting for the story (you don't think voters aren't thinking of that Orange Bowl upset every-time they vote for Boise?), because their ranking falls victim to one huge logical flaw; they should be ranked behind TCU.  Why?  Well, TCU was ranked higher than Boise at the end of last year, and in fact BEAT Boise just 9 months ago in a bowl game.  Yet somehow both teams are undefeated, but Boise is ranked 7 spots higher.  Why?  They are a better story than a TCU team that the country is not familiar with, that's why.  The real problem is that if TCU does go undefeated, they would have a much stronger resume than Boise (@UVA, @Clemson, @BYU, and vs. Utah), but would fail to get a BCS bid due to poor voting habits.  And that would be a true shame.

Unranked Victims of Preseason-itis:

To stay on the theme, here are four teams that should be ranked, but are being held out of the polls:

1. Iowa:  While Iowa will probably be ranked by the end of the day due to their upset of Penn State, they should have already been ranked, and ranked highly.  Why?  Take a look at their schedule.  They are 4-0, with wins over Penn State, Iowa State, and Arizona.  Ok, who cares about Iowa State and Arizona?  Voters should; the four teams that Iowa has beat this season are a combined 12-0 this year against teams not named Iowa.  Now there is some food for thought.

2. Auburn:  Auburn is 4-0, with a trip to Tennessee this week that should be another easy victory.  So far this season they have defeated two BCS teams (Miss. State and West Va.), and have shown an explosive offense that has gone for totals of 37, 41, 49, and 54 points so far this season.  You are telling me this team isn't better than Nebraska or UNC?

3. Wisconsin:  Wisconsin always plays ugly football.  They play defense, and grind it out on the ground on offense.  As a result, voters never think of them as a sexy pick.  The Badgers stand at 4-0 this year, playing their typical brand of un-sexy football while beating Michigan State and Fresno State already this year.

4. South Carolina:  The other USC's only sin this season has been a 4 point loss on the road to a pretty good Georgia team.  Other than that, they have beat a better than you think NC State team on the road, as well as "upset" #4 Ole' Miss.  How are they not ranked?

On the Field Heisman Rankings:

Oh how the mighty have fallen.  A big shakeup in the rankings this week, as Jacory Harris and Jahvid Best both had disastrous days in upset losses to fall out of the rankings.  The real story in the Heisman race however, is that there is no story.  Nobody seems to want the darn thing this year.  Colt McCoy keeps throwing Interceptions.  Tim Tebow has not had a single Heisman worthy game.  Sam Bradford has missed to much time already to even be considered.  So who is left?  Tony Pike actually, the only man in the country that has looked like a Heisman winner every week thus far:

1. Tony Pike, Cincy:  Pike's resume gets stronger and stronger every week.  Adding to his 300+ yard, 3 TD performances over Rutgers and Oregon State earlier this season, Pike put in another outstanding performance against Fresno State.  Pike passed for 300 yards and 3 TDs and added another 22 yards on the ground.

2. Case Keenum, Houston:  Things didn't look too good for Case, down 28-23 to Texas Tech in the 4th quarter last night.  Keenum didn't crack under pressure though, leading the Cougars on a game winning drive late in the 4th to pull ahead 29-28 against the Red Raiders.  Keenum put up his typical video game numbers (457 total yards, 2 total TDs) and now has two big time performances against Big 12 teams on his resume.

3. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech:  You might be shocked to see Williams here, but the numbers don't lie; in three games against ranked opponents so far this year he has put up 412 total yards and 5 TDs.  Pretty good for a Freshman that only got the job due to an injury to the incumbent.

4. Greg McElroy, Alabama:  McElroy is ranked 3rd in the country in QB rating (first amongst BCS QBs) and has looked deadly for what I believe is the best team in the country.  With wins against Virginia Tech and Arkansas on his resume, he is looking as good as any QB in the country.

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