Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What to Do About Lloyd

Thanks to those who stuck with my self-indulgent journey over the past few blog entries. I think I've got that out of my system and I'm returning to a more common format: ranting about particular issues in College Football.

Today's topic, if you missed it in the headline, is Lloyd Carr. My heart has been telling me for some time that things were amiss with this guy -- no longer just crusty and unfriendly with the media, but really wrong in his approach to coaching. This of course is the most important thing he does so far as I'm concerned, but I needed to know factually, with numbers, that my suspicion was spot on so I went for a ride on the Information SuperHighway.

On rateitall.com, Lloyd Carr carries an overall rating of 3.01 out of a total possible 5. Converting this number into a standard letter grade, as utilized at schools around the country, including the University of Michigan, yields a D-

That sounds bad, but just to see, I looked up the rankings of a few other notable coaches.

Dan Hawkins (the coach, not The Darkness' heavy metal guitarist) riding on the strength of his love fest at Boise State came in first pulling a 3.54

Pete Carroll, still smarting after the unfamiliar sensation of losing, came in at #5 with a score of 3.38; just above...

Cheaterpants McSweatervest*, who was curiously tied with himself for four spots on the list, 6, 7, 8 and 9, pulled in a 3.37 overall approval rating.

Lloyd checked in at number 40, a hair below Oregon's Mike Belloti and hair above Tom Amstutz of the University of Toledo. That's good company.

Maybe his ranking is so low because he's better to the opposition than he is to his own.

One saucy Iowa fan summarizes Michigan's embattled coach, calling for his continued reign of terror:

"As an Iowa Hawkeye fan I fully support Lloyd Carr. Even though Michigan is able to recruit superior talent, Iowa will always have a chance with Carr at the helm.... teams from Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota don't fear the Wolverines, and in fact look forward to playing a game that is very winnable."

iBlogForCookies.com (check out their awesome Michigan highlights link dump if you're bored at work or if you have forgotten what the Wolverines have been capable of, on ocassion) made this keen observation:

"In the past, a critic had to open his list of complaints with a preface stating 'I think Carr is a good man and runs a clean program and is a great mentor for our kids, but ...' lest he be accused of ignoring all of Carr's good traits. The poor, negligent soul who forgot The Caveat stood exposed to accusations of being an unmerciful critic with unrealistic expectations..."

But ..."over the course of the last 14 games, the tables have turned. Now it is acceptable to start straight in with the criticism, and if called out, to fight back. Now it is the 'Carr apologists' that have to preface their defense of Carr. 'This was a disappointing season, and I was as unhappy as anyone. The coaching staff really let the team down, and it's frustrating how the same problem keeps recurring, but ...'. The poor, negligent apologist who forgets The Caveat stands exposed to accusations of 'accepting mediocrity', as if it was ours to accept or reject."

I don't know about you but I think this marks a significant change of the tide with respect to the average Michigan fan. Imagine the pressure now, when even the typical fan, not just the diehards, are calling for his head.

That's why I think things are changing. It won't be Carr this year, but in cases like these the discontent of the proletariat can only be quenced with the blood of the bourgeoisie. That means an Offensive Coordinator or a Defensive Coordinator, minimum.

As usual the Michigan PR machine is keeping things quiet, but the buzz from the underground is that Michigan fans will shit their pants when the imminent coaching changes are announced. This is after all Lloyd's last ditch effort to regain the luster he's lost and it comes at a critical time when two of Michigan's bitterest rivals, tOSU and Notre Dame, appear to be trending upward.

*Thanks EDSBS.com for the inspired nickname.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gambling for Money

Another thing I thought I'd reflect on this offseason is gambling. The big question being, why can't I shake the habit of losing money? I owe everyone from my stepdad to the lunch lady an estimable debt from some foolish, heartfelt bet on a college football game. So I guess you could actually call this reflection more of a cry for help.

Here in the cool, clean air of the offseason I can take a step back and think a bit more clearly as the passion I carry for other sports, the NBA for example, wouldn't put me on the cross like college football. Though this is an Olympic year, something feels a little out of step gambling on amateur athletics in the name of peace and diplomacy. Still, something tells me I could find a bookie to take almost any bet I could propose. I wonder who's the odds on favorite to win this year's curling competition.

Switters discovered the parlay this season, which is essentially low-risk, high reward betting in which you place money on a number of situational outcomes that all must happen for you to win. Since the odds are long that all four or five things happen (first score is a field goal, half time +/-, total number of sacks) the returns are generally pretty good. So when Switters put up $25 on his very first parly and pulled in some three-figures' worth of compensation, he started feeling pretty good about himself and continued to bet, thinking maybe he was on to something or just smarter than the rest of us.

Then the losing started. Even betting just $25 at a time, usually every weekend, the house steadily closed the gap until such time as Switters was wallowing in the bottom of a shitcan of debt. Being that human beings are incapable of perpetual improvment, in terms of decision making mostly, statistics invented a term for this inevitable fall from grace, regression to the mean. Which also explains why Miami, Nebraska, Oklahoma, USC or any football dynasty before or since, including the Patriots, cannot keep getting better year after year. Sometimes there's a crash, and that crash is known as regression to the mean (except to USC, for which that crash is called, with a shudder, Vince Young).

Of course the only solution to gambling debt is placing more bets with borrowed money (cash advances on a high-interest credit card if you really like to live dangerously) and promising that you'll honor your fiduciary obligations once your ship comes in.

And that's only since you can't count on luck like befell my friend Dexter after a season of bad judgement (betting on Clemson and against Boise State on the spreads and over/unders back in 2004) left him under a mountain of debt.

His bookie, some wastrel he knew from his frat daze at the old alma mater (we'll call him Gene) was starting to pressure him to make good on his debt after Charlie Whitehurst for Heisman started to fizzle. Gene was as much a villain as they make these days and had little respect for Dexter's knees and made no secret of his intentions toward them.

But one drunken night Gene tried to pay for a case of beer with his driver's license. When the clerk behind the six inches of plate glass predictably refused, Gene grew incensed and insisted harder that the clerk just swipe the fuckin' ID so he could take his case of beer. One thing lead to another, Gene flew into a wild, cursing rage, push came to shove, and the clerk had Gene arrested and thrown in the drunk tank to cool off.

Sometime in the night, perhaps when someone had come and paid Gene's bail, the officer at the jail attempted to wake Gene from his slumber in a puddle of urine on the cell's cool, concrete floor. Gene was never one to be interrupted, least of all when comfortably sleeping off a blacked-out drunk, and awoke furious. Without hesitating, he snatched the keychain from his own pocket and in one efficient, ninja-like blur, jabbed the long ignition key deep into the neck of the policeman. For good measure, and at least in the eyes of the law, because he was trying to kill the officer, Gene then jerked the key downward, ripping a good two-three inch gash in the man's throat.

Somehow the officer survived and Gene's problems went from bad to insurmountable. In the process of defending himself in court and presumably losing, Gene fell out of touch and like magic Dexter was exonerated from one full season's gambling debt.

Of course, Gene may get out of prison someday. And he'll probably need money, in which case I wouldn't answer my door late at night if I were Dexter. But that's only conjecture and in the here and now Dexter got off pretty damned lucky.

The takeaway for the rest of us is that the debt in the first place may be the wiser thing to avoid since we all can't be the lucky beneficiaries, like Dexter, of a surprisingly gruesome twist of fate freeing us from the bondage of gambling debt.

We instead ought not to bet. Or if indeed we must we might start paying attention to the percentages and stop betting with our hearts.

College Football News ran a feature that presents a strategy I might have to follow next year that says take the double-digit home underdog against the spread. This may not be sexy but you should win about 66% of the time.

Until I can try this out then, there's the SuperBowl, Olympics, NCAA Basketball Tourney, most of a baseball season, probably a heavyweight fight or two and I'd better get to work if I'm going to be even or up by the Kickoff Classic.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ah... the Offseason

In regions affected by cold weather there's a time of year inbetween seasons that turns those regions into no-man's lands. It usually accompanies the Spring thaw. In Alaska they call it Break Up as huge blocks of melting, 'broken up' ice choke the rivers. In New England they call it Mud Season and you wear your duck shoes and roll up the cuffs of your cordurouy pants if you know what's good for you.

In College Football we call it Offseason and fuck all if it isn't the better 2/3 of each and every year. It's the time when recruiting, depth chart and coaching staff rumors run wild. It's a time when transfers, juco and prison walk-ons and early NFL-draft declarations can radically alter the makeup of a team.

For fans, it's a time when chatboard trash talk takes on bold, creative, wildly unsubstantiated new forms of audacity. And while the bullshit quotient is turned up to 11, it's also the time for patient, thought-out blog entries that penetrate to the philosophical core of this sport.

Since most of the 'news' being crowed this time of year is speculation anyway and the pace is slow, what better time to really overthink absolutely everything?

There's still a lot to talk about. Thanks to our modern invasive media, the next 8 months will amount to an enormous, pre-season hype campaign. So, if you look at the glass half-full, as I try to do, the *Offseason* can really be seen as *Preseason*.

Here's what I've been following so far this preseason:

In Pocatello, Idaho, home of the I-AA Powerhouse Idaho State Bengals, they're pretty stoked for the 2006 season after reaping the benefits of Michigan's recruiting and landing transfer QB Matt Gutierrez, who was named Michigan's starter before the 2004 season but absolutely fucked by fate when a freaky shoulder injury sidelined him and Chad Henne took the reins.

Michigan's third back on the depth chart, Fumble Master Pro, Max Martin, has transferred to Alabama, in what I think is a fair karmic trade with the South, for surprise, stud Michigan commits Carlos Brown and Jai Eugene.

With strong linebackers in Chris Graham and Cobrani "This Guy Knows Facial Hair" Mixon it's shaping up to be another strong recruiting class that addresses Michigan's glaring defensive needs. (The core of the offense returns next season). So the team should be well-rounded, but as always the big question is will Michigan, admittedly the NCAA's most underachieving football program, do anything with the talent?

Again, the Information SuperHighway addresses this question too, with dark, angry rumors coming out of the Michigan blogosphere to the effect that Michigan offensive coordinator, Terry Malone, and defensive coordinator, Jim Herrmann, are in big, big trouble. People talk and they are saying that Herrmann's dusted off his resume in search of a face-saving assistant post in the NFL as he and Malone are facing demotions, forced resignations or possibly even outright firings.

It doesn't sound like Llllloyd to shake things up like this. I mean he takes his turkey on white with no mayo, mustard or veg. But the fact is Michigan's got to do something drastic to turn the tide and one more year of this shit, throw in two more losses to Notre Fucking Dame and tOSU and a fourth consecutive Bowl loss and that 1997 National Championship shield is about to break.

If the rumors are true, and Scott Loeffler and Ron English are the heir apparent OC and DC, this could mark a seachange in Michigan's on-field philosophy with Carr taking more of a figurehead role ala Bobby Bowden or JoePa.

No doubt it will be interesting to see how things shake out.

I do have to take one issue with the previous posting, and that is with Ohio State's #1 Preseason ranking. They're losing their entire defense. I don't care how loaded the offense is, who is going to pick up A.J. Hawk's 121 tackles? Not Paul Posluszny, he's coming back for Penn State. The defense was the margin last year in the close games, the Texas, Penn State and Michigan games. That could be three losses plus Iowa if they show up.

I think next year will be marked by ridiculous parity, with no dominant teams. The National Championship winner will be flying under the radar for a while.

Finally, what is Marcus Vick's problem?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Our First Look Forward

Alright, Vince is officially going to the big time, so it's time for the ridiculously early 2006 NCAA Football Top Ten.

Understand that this involves a decent amount of media fellating (hence ND being ranked so high) and major speculation (hence WVU being ranked so high).

And just to prove out irrelevant preseason rankings are, over the past 20 years, only 3 teams have started AND finished the season ranked #1. Those teams were:

1993-1994 Florida State
1999-2000 Florida State
2004-2005 USC

What am I supposed to do, just sit back and watch the NBA for 6 months? Without further ado:

1.Ohio State: I know this is bold, especially at this early stage, but you have an offense here that averaged 38 points in the last 7 games, and developed into a true unit. Troy Smith ended up 4th in the nation in passing efficiency. This offense will be very dangerous. Plus there's this little nugget. But replacing key defensive players will be tough.

2. Texas: Hey, you're dealing with the defending national champions. And although they lose Vince Young (who I believe needs one more year to develop), but they still have a tough rushing and receiving corps. The Longhorns will also be looking to replace some key defensive players.

September 9, in Austin, they'll host the Buckeyes. I'm counting down. In fact, it's exactly 8 months from today.

3. Notre Dame: Now, this is complete media fluffing in my opinion, but if Brady Quinn and Charlie Weis are as good as everyone thinks they are, the Irish will be tough. The bottom line is that they were exposed in the Fiesta Bowl, and they're losing a few key players. Plus they have to play Penn State, Michigan, Purdue, UCLA, and USC. Maybe in 2008.

4. USC: After watching the transition from Carson Palmer to Matt Leinart in 2003, everyone's wondering if this team will ever stop recruiting superstars? And is it me or is this team just kind of on another level in general? They come back with LenDale White, and they'll probably kick some more ass this year. But without Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart, they'll be dragging a little behind.

5. West Virginia: This is a team that almost ran the table with freshmen playing BOTH quarterback and running back. This team is a long way from being out of the top 10, and with playing in the Big East, maybe they can run the table next season?

6. LSU: Why? Well, first of all because of their thoroughly boring 40-3 destruction of Miami in the Peach Bowl. Secondly, they have a tough offense returning, so they'll be able to put up those kind of numbers next year. But like so many other teams, they have numerous defensive spots to fill.

7. Florida: I believe in Urban Meyer. I really do. My friend played for him at BGSU and attests to him being a great coach, so I can't argue. Chris Leak will be a top Heisman finisher, and they'll be returning lots of good players. This team is hard to overlook every year, and they had HUGE wins against conference rivals this past year (Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State). Look out for the Gators.

8. Penn State: Joe Pa should hold a press conference where he just says "Fuck You" to all the haters out there who have told him to retire year in and year out. There is that issue about whether or not he has anything to do whatsoever with play calling (he doesn't wear a headset), but still, he knows how to build a team. They lose Michael Robinson, but have someone named Morelli replacing him. Will he be the next Kerry Collins?

9. Oklahoma: Let me just state for the record how thoroughly pleased I was watching Oregon lose to Oklahoma in the Whatever Bowl. After the whining, crying, and pouting about anti-PAC 10 bias, it was nice to see the Ducks get put in their place. Anyway, Oklahoma has a quarterback in Bomar who has a bit more experience, and they have this Heisman candidate you may have heard of named Adrian Peterson, who even has his own Web site. I think they'll even get back on track against Texas next year.

10. That Team Up North: Michigan was overrated coming into this season, but they'll be worth it next year. With the return of Henne, Hart, Manningham, and Breaston, you know they'll be better than this year. Lloyd will make the appropriate coaching adjustments, but Michigan has been disappointing fans since that 1997 national championship (Since 1997, Michigan has had at least 3 losses 7 out of 8 years). I truly hope they turn it around next year, and I think they will.

Now I, like any other sensible college football fan, have biases against the Pac 10, Big East, and teams from Florida in general. Please keep that in mind. With that disclaimer, all comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Morning After

You might have watched a very good National Championship game last night in which Texas fulfilled it's team of destiny, er, destiny and toppled the USC Dynasty du Jour. And I never thought I'd say this about anything Texan, but thank God. Maybe now ESPN will stop fellating Pete Carroll and Matt Leinart and eating Reggie Bush.

Perhaps that was too vulgar, but I'm just trying to express how glad I am for the sport that it manages to stay interesting. You remember when Miami seemed invincible? It was getting kind of boring just about when Ohio State and a happier Maurice Clarett pulled the underdog card and rocked the 'Canes world. I think very much the same thing happened last night with the one difference being the incredible amount of hype surrounding this game. In fact this year's Rose Bowl game enjoyed the highest television rating for any college football game since a 1987 matchup between Penn State and Miami in the Fiesta Bowl.

Texas set the table for this matchup in last year's wild Rose Bowl and rode the team of destiny wave perfectly to its inevitable conclusion -- a 10 yard Vince Young scamper in, around and through USC defenders, to the end zone.

Well done Vince. Well done Texas. Now, who's next?

All the major media outlets have their Top 10 lists for 2006 out so early they may as well be stillborn. Does this appear a tad impatient?

I think so. Especially when considering that to the list, all give Texas their Number 1 position contingent on the return of Vince Young, which we will all know for sure on January 15 when he must declare for the draft or hold his peace as a coed fucking, beer-swilling undergrad as Matt Leinart did a year ago.

If he declares for the draft, of course, throw the whole thing to the wind because in a refreshing change for college football, it looks like anyone's game next year and that's a very good thing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Buckeyes Win Fiesta Bowl

As an Ohio State fan, last night's Fiesta Bowl couldn't have been much better.
The win proved many key points:

1. Being an Offensive Coordinator on a perennial Super Bowl-bound NFL team does not make you a great coach, a legend, a miracle worker, or a Saint.

Conclusion: I heard "Weis has a month to prepare for this game" a thousand times. It turns out Ohio State has a coach as well.

2. Troy Smith is an underrated quarterback. He put together 400 total yards against the Irish, and our 617 offensive yards ranks third best in Fiesta Bowl history. We also set a Fiesta Bowl record with 27 first downs.

Conclusion: Our offense will be VERY good next year.

3. I finally got vindication on Wide Receiver Jeff Samardzija. Not only did he drop several key passes, his 6 catches for 60 yards really didn't factor into the game at all. After his taunting incident in the Stanford game, I lost all respect for him.

Conclusion: Being cocky and having long, wavy hair doesn't mean anything when you're playing a hardcore defense. Hey Shark, good luck in baseball.

4. Ted Ginn is very, very, very fast.

Conclusion: We're looking at a 2006 Heisman contender.

It was a great game, and the Buckeyes played great on both sides of the ball.

Now let's go Nittany Lions to get a little Big Ten redemption out of this bowl season.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bad Calls

One of the biggest stories this bowl season so far has been the lousy officiating. Two games immediately come to mind:

1.) the Alamo Bowl: Michigan was twice forced to use timeouts to coax official reviews and the outcome of the game was changed by a questionable fumble call, not to mention an obvious Pass Interfence, non-call that ended Michigan's 4th quarter comeback drive.

2.) today's Outback Bowl: Iowa was robbed of possession after perfectly executing an onsides kick in their comeback bid against Florida on a completely bogus offsides call.

In both of these games even dimwitted color commentators like Kirk Herbstreit were appalled at the ineptitude of the Sun Belt and Conference USA officiating crews. Is this BCS Conference envy? Unlikely.

It's probably just part of the game.

As I have come to believe over the course of watching several lifetimes' worth of College Football in around a quarter of a century, officiating, for better or worse, is the inseparable, human part of the game that comes along with wanting to have rules governing the game and then of course having to enfore those rules.

Good officiating is not debatable. If your team cheats and gets caught doing it, you pay the piper. The game has rules.

But *bad* calls (*bad* means a call that should not have been called; this is not to say that a bad call cannot be good for one team, or disastrous for another, in fact that's what usually draws attention to bad calls) are another creature entirely, if judged by the intensity of debate surrounding them.

But does that mean anything can, or should, be done about them?

No for two reasons. First, nothing, not even instant replay, official review, or godly omniscience, can cure the human animal of its fallability, hence, bad calls. Second, nothing should be done about the chance of bad calls, and here's why:

With *bad* calls, much like Karma, what goes around comes around. Sorry to Michigan and Iowa this year, Nebraska and Florida were the lucky recipients of all the bad call good juju. But I can say without hesitation or risk of perjury that both Iowa and Michigan have been the beneficiaries of their fair share of bad calls.

For every bad call that has genuinely fucked my favorite team, at some point, sooner or later, another bad call has come along fortuitously to save the day.

But the important point to remember, as I just watched Notre Dame lose not only a touchdown but a fumble recovery on a Fiesta Bowl one-two punch of illegal block in the back and receiver did not have possession, so therefore no fumble, is that calls, good or bad, are part of the game.

In all probability, just like the beer money owed mutually and universally between drinking buddies, the plus/minus of calls comes out in the wash. As a fan you just have to be patient and serene, though I know that's a tall order, to see it.

But in the meantime, please, no more bitching about bad calls. And that goes doubly for you Miami fans still whining about Pass Interference from 2003. That gets a J Jesus Christ for get over it already.