Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Paul Johnson is the best option for Michigan

Ask any college football fan or analyst who the best football coach in America is and you will likely get a plethora of answers with only one thing in common: it will be a coach from a BCS-conference school with access to the best recruits in the country. It’s much easier to recruit and, thus, win at USC or Michigan than it is at a lesser known school. Half the job is done for a coach at a school like Oklahoma or LSU. Those schools recruit themselves on name alone. An excellent recruiter and coac--like Pete Carroll or Urban Meyer--can take those programs to a new stratosphere but those schools sell themselves. There is a coach out there who doesn’t need to coach at such a school. In fact, there is a coach out there who doesn’t even need a top 100 recruiting class, ever! Paul Johnson hasn’t had a recruiting class ranked in the top 115 in his six years at Navy. Johnson maximizes talent more so than any coach in America. Imagine what he could do at a school like Michigan. Johnson would do the same for Michigan that Urban Meyer has done for Florida. Johnson faces the same questions that Meyer faced with respect to his coaching. There were numerous skeptics who said that Meyer’s style wouldn’t work against the great teams in the SEC. I’m sure the Gators are getting a kick out of that as they look at their National Championship rings. Not hiring Paul Johnson would be a monumental mistake by any institution that makes such a decision.

The resurrection at Navy

"Football is not exactly what the academy is about, but it's important for the
spirit there. They like to be proud of the athletic teams. It's a tribute to
Paul and his staff that they've brought a lot of excitement back by making Navy
very competitive in Division I-A. " (Roger Staubach)

Facing the most challenging on-field situation that any coach could ever endure in college football, Johnson has brilliantly transformed the Navy program into a raging success. It took just two seasons for Johnson to take Navy from winless to an eight-win team. After a 2-10 first-year, Johnson has guided Navy to a 41-19 record with five bowl appearances. Navy had only been to nine bowl games in the previous 100+ years.

Navy has won at least eight games in each of its last five seasons. Navy hadn’t won eight games in a season since 1980 before Johnson arrived, with the exception of 1996 when Navy went 9-3. Care to guess who Navy’s Offensive Coordinator was at the time? Yep, Paul Johnson.

Navy has been to a bowl game in each of its last five seasons. Navy hadn’t been to a bowl game since the Liberty Bowl in 1981 before Johnson arrived, with the exception of 1996 when Navy played in the Aloha Bowl. Again, Johnson was the Offensive Coordinator.

Navy is 2-2 in bowl games under Johnson including a one-point heartbreaker to big favorite Boston College last season. Navy hadn’t won a bowl game since 1978 before Johnson arrived, with the exception of 1996 when Navy beat Cal in the Aloha Bowl with Johnson guiding the offense.

Johnson took over the worst football program in the country in terms of talent, recruiting prowess, and attractiveness. There isn’t a more difficult recruiting handicap in the country than having to explain to recruits that they must serve a five-year mandatory commitment in the military before ever sniffing the NFL? Things got so bad that Navy’s program was even worse than hapless Temple having lost to the mighty Owls in each of the previous two seasons before Johnson arrived in 2002. In those two years, Navy went a combined 1-20.

The Naval Academy is a phenomenal academic institution that churns out the best leaders in America but a destination for aspiring professional football players it is not. Most of the “best” coaches in America would fizzle out at Navy in a hurry. Name a coach and you would likely see that coach bomb at Navy. I don’t care if it’s Bob Stoops, Pete Carroll, Steve Spurrier or Nick Saban. None of them would likely sniff a winning season at Navy. Urban Meyer is the only coach that I can think of who could duplicate what Johnson has done for the Navy program. Spurrier left the cozy confines of Gainesville only to end up in Columbia, SC. His success at a lower profile college football program has been minimal at best. The dropoff in talent from Florida to S. Carolina has been too much for Spurrier to overcome. Saban coached a few years at Michigan St. with mild success. It wasn’t until he traded in Michigan St’s talent level for LSU’s that he was able to build a dominant program. Both South Carolina and Michigan St. have more talent on their benches than Navy will ever see. Likewise, S. Carolina and Michigan St. are much closer in terms of talent level to Florida and Michigan, than Navy is to virtually all of its opponents.

The only school that can claim as great of a talent shortage is Army. Bobby Ross—one of the most respected coaches in football—coached at Army for three seasons where he amassed a 9-25 record. Amazingly, that was a massive improvement over Army’s previous four seasons that saw the Black Knights go 4-32. The Service Academy football teams are at such a talent disadvantage that the only possible way a school could have a run like the one Navy has been on over the last six years is to have a vastly superior coach.

Here is another way of putting it…think of a situation—any situation—that would be the absolute greatest challenge to a coach. Let’s say you want to put every coach in the country through a “test” to find out who is the absolute best coach in America. Think of the most difficult challenge you could possibly imagine. What challenge did you think of? Is there anything more challenging than asking a coach to take over a school with the least amount of talent in the country, the most challenging recruiting obstacles, and a program that had gone 1-20 over the previous two years and 66-143 over the previous 19 years? What Paul Johnson has done at Navy is the most impressive feat that any coach in college football can claim.

Degree of Difficulty (Recruiting)

"Recruiting has always been hard at the academies and it is always going to be
that way. We try and sell the experience and the education value you get for a
lifetime. You can't change the academics or the commitment required. And there
are certain kids who don't want to have anything to do with it. We just try and
sell the positives about the program." (Paul Johnson)
Baltimore Sun

I can’t emphasize enough the up-hill battle the Navy program faces in terms of recruiting. The only thing keeping Navy (and Army) in I-A football is pride. In terms of talent, there is little difference between Navy and the best I-AA teams. In fact, the best I-AA teams can sell a successful football program combined with a number of professional opportunities. Navy can only recruit players who are willing to commit their lives to serving in the military. Navy’s recruiting obstacles are apparent when looking at recruiting rankings. Navy finished no better than 116th in recruiting from 2002-2007. At other schools, success breeds success in large part due to improvements in recruiting. At Navy, no matter how good the football program is, the recruiting classes will never get better. Johnson has the same talent that his processor had in 2001-2002 that led to that 1-20 record.

"I think we need to play almost that way to beat anyone. I don’t think that
anybody is going to accuse us of ‘out-athleting’ anyone. It comes down to
execution, playing hard and all those things. Certainly if we don’t do that we
can get embarrassed by Boston College. We don’t have anybody on our team that
they recruited." (Paul Johnson)

The Triple Option aka "The Spread"

"They run it all the time, and we throw it a lot, but in my mind
that's sort of where the differences end...It's about distribution of the
ball. They make sure everybody touches the ball, and the quarterback makes
good decisions about who gets the ball. Philosophically, I think we're
incredibly similar." (Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach)
Much has been made of Johnson’s coaching style specifically his use of the triple option. It has been described as gimmicky and not conducive to big-time college football. Apparently, those critiques were M.I.A for the 2006 season that saw Urban Meyer win a National Championship using a version of the spread option at Florida. Johnson has repeatedly stated that his offense is best used when tailoring it to the strengths of the team. At Navy, he has to use it to emphasize the run to mask a weak passing game. Johnson has said that his offense would actually work the best with an emphasis on the passing game which is hard to imagine considering Navy averages an incredible 350 yards rushing per game (#1 in the country by close to 50 yards per game). Still, it’s not like Johnson’s offense only works against shady defenses. Last season—when every team knew that Navy would run the ball 80% of the time—Johnson’s running game rolled up 322 yards on the ground against Boston College in the Meineke Bowl. BC had the 12th best rushing defense in the country having allowed only 90 yards rushing per game. This season, Navy put up 328 rushing yards against Wake Forest which has the 18th rush defense in the country. Give Johnson the worst talent in the country and he’ll give you an offense that averages 350 yards per game. Give him the best talent in the country and……(fill in the blank). With Michigan’s talent, Johnson would put up 500 yards per game with a balanced offense. The rest of the Big Ten would be helpless to stop Michigan's superior talent combined with Johnson's superior coaching.

"In fact, this could possibly be the best passing offense ever...Because when
you run the option, it limits what (defenses) can do coverage-wise, and you can
get all kinds of one-on-one matchups (against the defense downfield)." (Paul
"What's great about this offense is that you can emphasize whatever best fits
your people... If you've got a great quarterback, of course you're going to
throw; that's what you do to win. If your personnel is better rushing the ball;
that's what you do, because that's what you do to win." (Paul Johnson)
News Observer


Navy is an extremely well-coached football team and it shows in virtually every measurable statistic. Navy is first in rushing offense, 9th in points per game, 3rd in fewest penalties, 2nd in fewest penalty yards, 10th in 4th down conversion percentage despite going for it the 6th most in all of college football, 4th in 3rd down conversion percentage, 11th in first downs per game. Navy is near the top in every one of those categories despite there being 120 teams in I-A football. Considering the talent discrepancy between Navy and its opponents, those rankings are hard to believe.

Tradition and Values

Navy has a rich tradition in college football. It participates in one of the great rivalries in all sports against Army. It boasts a National Championship and two Heisman Trophy winners. No school offers a more grueling academic schedule. No school puts a greater emphasis on character and integrity. Navy athletes are held to much higher standards than every major college football program. There is no question that Johnson has tremendous experience in emphasizing the principles that Michigan values the most in terms of academic and athletic excellence. Don't forget that Johnson is teaching young men who are training to give their lives for their country. This is an experience that few coaches in the country can bring to the table. As far as values and integrity go, Johnson can bring something to Michigan that most coaches have never experienced. Real-world problems are constantly in play.


In no way whatsoever could Johnson’s success at Navy be considered anything other than a masterpiece. However, he is clearly not a “one-trick pony.” Before coming to Navy, Johnson turned around the Georgia Southern program. He inherited a team that had gone 4-7 the previous season. What followed is only equaled by Johnson’s transformation at Navy. He guided Georgia Southern to five consecutive conference championships in what is widely considered the most difficult conference in I-AA, and two consecutive national championships including a dominating win over Jim Tressel’s Younstown St. team in 1999. Johnson also won four consecutive National Coach of the Year awards. Did I mention this was all in just five seasons? In those five seasons, Johnson guided Georgia Southern to 62 wins. Only four coaches in the history of college football (any division) have won 50+ games in a four-year span. Johnson is one of them.

Before restoring Georgia Southern to dominance, Johnson had a short stint as the offensive coordinator at Navy for two seasons. In the previous four seasons, Navy had gone 9-35. Johnson guided Navy to nine wins in 1996 alone which was Navy’s first winning season since 1982. When Johnson left for Georgia Southern, the Navy program hit rock bottom. Johnson was the offensive coordinator for Georgia Southern’s back to back national titles in 85-86. Teams start winning when Johnson arrives. Consider the following:

First stint with Navy as offensive coordinator

Before Johnson: 9-35 (zero bowl games in previous four seasons)
With Johnson in '96: 9-3 (first winning season in 14 years)

Second stint with Navy as head coach

Before Johnson: 1-20 (previous two seasons)
With Johnson: 43-29 (five bowl games in six years)

First stint with Georgia Southern as offensive coordinator

With Johnson: 1985 and1986 National Champions

Second Stint with Georgia Southern as head coach

Before Johnson: 4-7 (in previous season)
With Johnson: 62-10 (five conference championships and two national titles)


When degree of difficulty is taken into consideration, Johnson is the best coach in the country by a mile. He was the best coach in I-AA and he has been the best coach in I-A. Johnson has won a National Coach of the Year award five times in just ten years as a head coach. Nobody can touch that.

There is no question in my mind that Johnson would put Michigan on par with USC, Florida, and Ohio St. in terms of college football supremacy. The most successful programs have the best coaches. They have the best game-plans and the best in-game adjustments. Johnson is the best of the bunch. Michigan would never enter a football game with a coaching disadvantage again with Johnson at the helm. The Michigan program deserves a coach like Johnson. He would be the greatest thing to happen to the Michigan football program since Bo was hired in 1969. I realize that Johnson probably won’t even be considered for various reasons that have nothing to do with coaching. If this hire was made strictly on who would lead Michigan to the greatest success, Johnson would be named the head coach yesterday. The biggest mistake Michigan could ever make is to hire someone other than Johnson. Time will tell. Hopefully, it will tell with Johnson on the Michigan sideline.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday Poll Bashin’/Worst #1 Ever Par for the course

I must admit that I am somewhat gleefully rooting for a Missouri/West Virginia BCS Championship game. If there’s one sporting event that could do worse in the ratings than the Pistons/Spurs NBA Finals in ’05, that would be it. If when Oklahoma beats Missouri for a second time, the BCS will luck into a non-controversial championship game involving Ohio St. and West Virginia. That would set the playoff movement back five years as BCS officials will surely refer to that one success whenever forced to defend its ridiculous championship system. Meanwhile, Missouri sits atop the AP Poll in the most absurd ranking of the season and possibly all-time. At least, S. Florida, BC, and Kansas only made it to #2. Missouri is ranked ahead of at least 10 teams that nobody would expect it to beat. Is there anyone out there—outside of the state of Missouri—who thinks that Missouri would beat Florida? If Missouri is #1, then Hawaii may as well be #2.

Just when I thought the dumbness was over for the year, this week’s polls were released…

Va. Tech over LSU

I’ve been waiting for it all season since it would be the ultimate sign of group-stupidity and unbelievably—and really not unbelievable at all when you think about it—it happened. Virginia Tech is ranked ahead of LSU. I know three months is a long time to remember but just three months ago, LSU beat Virginia Tech, 48-7. The yardage discrepancy was 598-149. Both teams share an identical record at 10-2. LSU reached its record against a much more grueling schedule. This sort of reasoning is what gets dumb Presidents elected. “Don’t pay attention to this (LSU 48 Va. Tech 7/Thousands of soldiers killed in a manipulated war). Pay attention to this (Va. Tech has pretty uniforms/Democrats love Satan).”

Texas at #17

Texas A&M had been so mediocre that its coach resigned before the administration could beat him to the punch. Texas hadn’t beaten a ranked team all season and barely snuck by a slew of mediocre teams including Central Florida, Nebraska, and Oklahoma St. So how is it that Texas—with its already empty resume—only drops four spots after losing to Texas A&M? Virginia dropped six spots for losing to #6 Va. Tech. Is there any incentive whatsoever to not filling out an absurd ballot? How the polls managed to keep Hawaii out of the top spot with its shiny undefeated record is beyond me.

S. Florida is underrated

The AP and Harris polls are the only polls to rank S. Florida and it’s only at #25. Every poll has Auburn ranked ahead of S. Florida. If you follow college football at all, then I don’t need to explain this to you so I’ll just address the voters since they obviously don’t follow college football. S. Florida has a better record than Auburn. S. Florida beat Auburn at Auburn. S. Florida has wins over two ranked teams including a win over #1/#2 West Virginia. Auburn has one win over a ranked team. I know that sound evidence is tough to accept so I’ll even dispel the myth that all SEC teams are simply better than all Big East teams. West Virginia destroyed Mississippi St. 38-13. S. Florida beat West Virginia. Mississippi St. beat Auburn. At the very minimum, S. Florida should be ranked ahead of Auburn. Realistically, S. Florida should be ranked in the top 15. It has one of the more impressive combination of wins in the country. Yet, S. Florida was lucky to be ranked at all this week. I think the new slogan for polls should go something like “where 1+1=4”.

Kansas over USC, Oklahoma, and Florida

Here is an inevitable and unfortunate byproduct of ignorant polls: when two overrated teams play a close game, we’re still left with two overrated teams. Missouri beat a vastly overrated Kansas team to vault to #1 in the AP Poll. Kansas lost to an overrated Missouri team and thus only fell to #5 in the USA Today Poll and #7 in the AP Poll. Who did Kansas beat again? That’s right, I forgot about the win over Central Michigan. My bad. Kansas has two wins over teams with a winning record; Central Michigan and Texas A&M. In all seriousness, doesn’t Hawaii have an equally impressive resume? It beat Boise St. and Fresno St. If Kansas was ranked #2 with its resume before last weekend, then Hawaii should be ranked #2 this week. Would Kansas be within a seven-point spread against USC, Oklahoma, and Florida? Don’t you love the fact that the BCS is based almost entirely on this sort of stupidity? Who needs a playoff?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Pistons would've rocked with Kobe

Last week, rumors swirled on the internets that Kobe Bryant vetoed a trade to the Pistons. The purported trade had Kobe going to Detroit in exchange for Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson, and a first-round draft pick. The story was reported by three sources that included Ric Bucher of ESPN, 1270 AM radio in Detroit, and Rotoworld. Members of the Detroit media—including Krista Jahnke of the Detroit Free Press—quickly refuted these claims because of a number of tacit denials by the Pistons front office including an “unnamed source” and Joe Dumars. Dumars had said that he was furious about various trade rumors involving the Pistons and that he was not shopping his players.

Due to the ambiguous nature of the reports, whether you believe the trade was discussed by the Pistons or not is entirely up to you. There really is no right answer. Hoopsworld has an interesting opinion on the feasibility of the rumors. Chris McCosky hates bloggers and sports radio so he certainly doesn’t believe the reports. However, I have to advise extreme caution against choosing not to believe the rumors solely because of Dumars’ strong public denial. If I was Dumars and I had agreed to the trade only to see it fall through, I would do the exact same thing that he did. There is no reason for anyone—his players included—to know that a trade almost happened. It is in everyone’s best interest—especially Dumars—to vehemently deny those trade rumors. Taking his word at face value would be akin to asking George W. Bush if he manipulated a war with Iraq and then saying case-closed when he inevitably says, “no.” Dumars’ denial is nothing close to evidence that the trade was never discussed.

My opinion—and this is simply my own personal opinion void of any inside knowledge—is that a trade involving Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince was at least discussed at some point since September. It may be that the Lakers and Pistons discussed a trade in September and Kobe let it be known then that he would not accept a trade to Detroit. Whatever it was, I think the Lakers and Pistons tried to do something. It makes sense for both teams. The package the Lakers would receive would be significantly better than what it received for Shaq. The Pistons would receive the best all-around player in the NBA and immediately challenge the Celtics as the best team in the East and possibly the NBA. A Kobe Bryant/Chauncey Billups/Rasheed Wallace triumvirate would be an incredibly potent attack every bit as formidable as Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen. The Pistons would probably have a stronger supporting cast than the Celtics with Antonio McDyess, Jason Maxiell, Flip Murray, Rodney Stuckey, and Aaron Afflalo. There is nothing about the trade that seems crazy in the slightest. The money works. The talent exchange works. Detroit’s window of opportunity for a championship with the current roster has come and gone. Barring an injury epidemic of unfathomable proportions that hits the Spurs, Suns, Mavs, and Celtics, the Pistons have no chance of winning the NBA Championship this year or any forthcoming year with its current cast of players. Dumars is too smart to hold on to the past for fear of change. He nearly completed a trade for Allen Iverson seven years ago. He traded Jerry Stackhouse—in his prime—for Rip Hamilton five years ago. He brought Rasheed Wallace—and his notorious reputation—to Detroit three years ago. Dumars isn’t afraid to make a deal.

If this trade was discussed—and I believe some form of it was—I couldn’t be happier with Dumars’ aggressiveness. If there was at least some discussion, it proves that he is willing to do whatever it takes to win and that he isn’t married to his aging core. That would bode well for the future because it would mean that Dumars knows he needs to make a significant move to get the Pistons back to being a championship-caliber team. I wrote a post earlier in the summer about Kobe and the Pistons being perfect for each other. I also wrote that I didn’t think Dumars had it in him to break up his team. If Joe D did talk to L.A., then I'd be happy to admit that I was wrong.

As for Kobe, if he did veto this trade—or any facsimile thereof—at any point, then I have lost virtually all respect for him. The reports cited that Kobe would not want to play for the Pistons because the remaining members of the Pistons would not be good enough to compete. Is he crazy? There aren’t more than five other teams in the NBA that Kobe could be traded to that would leave a team in better shape than the Pistons would be in. Kobe has said in the media that his motivation to get out of L.A. is all about wanting to win. I call B.S. If he wanted to win, he would be seeking a trade to Detroit rather than refusing one. Kobe wants to win but do it in a beautiful destination of his choosing. Then again, this whole thing could be a heaping serving of bologna. Nonetheless, I think Joe D is on the prowl.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Incredibly contradictory Jim Carty

I don’t report the news here. I comment on the news. This forum is about informed opinions. This is an argumentative blog based on sound evidence. My readers may not always agree with me and I don’t expect them to. I take pride in backing up my claims and opinions with evidence. I don’t throw stuff out there without doing the requisite amount of research. There may be a lot of garbage on the web but you won’t find that here. Differing opinion? Yes. Garbage? No. So, when a journalist from the MSM attacks my blog--or another credible blog--I take offense to it.

The MSM (mainstream media) doesn’t understand the difference between blogs with integrity—there are many of this variety—and blogs that spew venom—not nearly as many as the MSM would have you think--so it bunches them all together. And even if it did understand the difference, it would pretend it didn't just to keep it's ever-shrinking readership from embracing blogs. Just last week, the New York Times—the bastion of journalistic integrity when it’s not employing Jayson Blair—decided to take a shot at Brian at Mgoblog while at the same time, using MGoBlog as it’s primary un-credited source for reporting Lloyd Carr’s imminent retirement. The exact quote went, “Let’s just say that MGoBlog is not exactly a rock of journalistic credibility,” I feel sorry for the MSM. Its approach is stale and as a result, it is losing much of its readership to blogs. So, one can understand why it seems to need to take potshots at blogs—most of the time while doing it in blogs of its own like in the NYT case—to make itself look more credible. Anyone who reads MGoBlog knows that while Brian does not fancy himself a journalist, he, in fact, is a rock of journalistic credibility. He has broken numerous stories before the MSM and by any account, has never falsely reported a story. So, the New York Times—the extremely credible New York Times—took Brian’s “news”, discredited his site, and then used Brian’s “news” to report credible “buzz” surrounding Carr’s retirement. As far as I’m concerned, there is no integrity involved in that sort of reporting.

The MSM taking shots at blogs is everywhere these days. I experienced a similar bout of anti-blogger mentality from the MSM that became even more ridiculous this past weekend. It’s not nearly the size and scope of MGoBlog and the New York Times but it features the same sort of questionable journalistic integrity, nonetheless. Jim Carty covers the Michigan football program as a columnist for the Ann Arbor News and as a contributor to Mlive.com. Last July, he wrote an article about Les Miles possibly being Michigan’s next football coach. In that same article, he chose to cite my blog and specifically a post about my preferences for Michigan's next football coach as a reason why “you can't just blog up a list of hot coaches and say these are the guys Michigan should look at.” Two of his points of contention for saying this can be found in Carty's following criticisms of my blog-entry:

“It's ridiculous to even suggest, for instance, that Bobby Petrino would be a candidate for the Michigan job. No one leaves the NFL after one season, and even if Petrino would, anyone with a passing knowledge of his background and personality knows he probably wouldn't fit at Michigan.”

“To continue down the linked list ... Rich Rodriguez has never worked with anything near the academic restrictions he'd face at Michigan and his flirtation with the Alabama job either showed he's totally committed to West Virginia or liable to embarrass the next school that contacts him. Big red flags either way.”

Clearly, these comments are laughable. Carty attacked my post for suggesting that “Petrino would be a candidate” when I did no such thing. If he had actually read the piece, he would have known that I clearly fashioned it as a personal wish list and not a list of coaches who will be candidates. I was fully aware that some of my preferences would be pursued by Michigan and most probably wouldn't. I’m not sure when even “suggesting” candidates became a no-no but Carty clearly has never heard of Butch Davis, Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, and Steve Spurrier—all NFL coaches who lasted two years or less before bolting to take over a college program. Also, when this column was written, nobody knew that this was Carr’s last season so Carty’s comment about “no one leaves the NFL after one season” was an obvious attempt at piling on. As far as anyone knew—including Carty—Carr could have been around long enough for Petrino to easily sour on the Atlanta Falcons (which could be as soon as next year if he hasn't already). And even if Carr did retire this season, putting Bobby Petrino--one of the most talented college football coaches in America--in the discussion is mandatory. If he isn't available, then so be it.

At the time, I was annoyed that a professional journalist would stoop to the level of misrepresenting a blog-entry to further a story. His arguments were poorly put together and wreaked of desperation. I was convinced then, and I’m still convinced, that Carty decided he wanted to discredit a blog to bolster his column about Les Miles being one of the top candidates to replace Carr. Again, this is purely conjecture, but I think he probably googled “Michigan next football coach” and found my blog and decided to discredit it in his article to make his piece look more credible. The inclusion of my blog in his story doesn’t even fit with what he was trying to say. I clearly stated that it was a wish list only to have Carty basically say that you can’t make your own wish list. Does that even make sense?

Carty's potshots went from annoyance to blatant hypocrisy when he contradicted himself in a column he wrote on Mlive.com on Sunday. Carty listed his own group of candidates--how this is different than what I did, I have no idea--for Michigan’s next football coach. Second on the list? Urban Meyer. Anyone with a passing knowledge of college football knows that Meyer would not leave Florida for Michigan at this point in the evolution of the two programs. Additionally, does Carty really believe that his contention that, “anyone with a passing knowledge of his (Petrino’s) background and personality knows he probably wouldn't fit at Michigan” wouldn’t also apply to Urban Meyer? I don’t have a problem with bringing up Meyer’s name. However, I do have a problem when the guy who suggested that it was ridiculous for me to bring up Petrino’s name, brings up a name like Urban Meyer. Even worse, Carty's list featured an array of candidates that would cause Ann Arbor to riot in protest if they even sniffed the Michigan job.

If that isn’t flaky enough, Carty contradicted himself again in his list of candidates. Remember, the other shot that Carty took at my list was the inclusion of Rich Rodriguez. Apparently, Carty has a short memory because in his column on Sunday on mlive.com, this is what he had to say about Rodriguez, “you'd hopefully at least make this phone call (Meyer) - and one to West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez”.

Then, Carty goes on to list Ron English as a candidate while at the same time saying he has “no shot” at the job. Like I said above, I don’t have a problem bringing up candidates but after saying that it was ridiculous for me to even “suggest” Bobby Petrino on my own personal wish list because he is in his first year with the Falcons, Carty “suggests” Ron English who he admits has “no shot” at the job.

I want to be clear; I have no problem with Carty’s—or anyone else’s—right to express his opinions in his column. However, I do have a huge problem with Carty attempting to discredit blogging—using my blog specifically—to bolster his story in the same way the New York Times did with MGoBlog. Carty cited problems with my opinion that he didn’t even end up disagreeing with in the end. Journalistic integrity doesn’t involve attempting to discredit a blogger by attacking the inclusion of Rich Rodriguez and Bobby Petrino on a wish list, and then four months later, including Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer—the college equivalent of Bobby Petrino in terms of personality and availability—on your own list of candidates. It doesn’t involve attacking a blogger’s knowledge of Michigan football and then four months later including Ron English on a list of candidates while at the same time, saying he has “no shot.” And it certainly doesn’t involve attacking a blogger’s knowledge and/or integrity by framing the piece as a list of coaches that Michigan will look at when the list is nothing of the sort.

This is just another instance of a member of the MSM taking a shot at a blogger in an incredibly contradictory way. Bill at Detroit Tigers Weblog.com was all over Chris McCosky’s anti-blogger column earlier this month. The New York Times took its shot at MGoBlog. Carty—in his own blog mind you—felt the need to attack my blog only to contradict himself four months later.

The MSM has attempted to convince the public that blogs and “lack of integrity” are one in the same. I don’t know how many more times it can accuse bloggers of being pajama-wearing, basement-dwellers with no credibility without being asked to produce even one photo of such a blogger. The problem is that the more the MSM repeats this mantra, the less credible the MSM becomes. In fact, my primary source of information—not just opinion but actual information—for Michigan-related sports comes from extremely credible blogs like MGoBlog and The Detroit Tigers Weblog. With hundreds of thousands of sports fans just like me turning their attention to blogs, it's no wonder the MSM has gone on the attack.

Monday Poll Bashin'/Tebow 4 Heisman

Let me first start off by saying congratulations to Lloyd Carr on a fantastic coaching career that spanned almost 40 years. Things didn’t end the way he had hoped but that won’t take away from what he accomplished including Michigan’s only National Championship since 1949. It’s bittersweet to see him go. On one hand, the face of Michigan football for the last 13 years is stepping down. On the other, things could be looking up in a hurry for the 'M' program. Hopefully, Saturday will mark the last time that Michigan will face a significant coaching disadvantage against Ohio St. for a long, long time. Michigan’s play-calling and in-game adjustments have been notoriously weak but the most glaring weakness has been preparation. Michigan has consistently fielded poorly coached athletes for the better part of this decade. Ohio St.’s players have been more disciplined and technically sound since Jim Tressel took over in 2001. Given the fact that Michigan and Ohio St. recruit the same caliber player, Michigan’s 1-6 mark against OSU over the last seven years can be pinned directly on the coaching staff. It’s one thing to have a superior play-caller at the helm who can win the game on the sideline. It’s another thing to have a coach who prepares his team to win in practice. You don’t have to have the former to have the latter. Michigan has had neither. Whoever takes over next year will—at the very minimum—have one of the two. The good news for Michigan fans is that there isn’t—and never has been—a talent deficiency in Ann Arbor. The difference between Ohio St. and Michigan on the field has seemed much greater than it actually is. The right coach should have Michigan back to competitiveness against the big boys soon.

A theoretical debate that college football fans and analysts have partaken in over the last few years looks like it’s going to come into practice in two weeks. There is an excellent chance that Oklahoma will beat the winner of the Kansas/Missouri game in the Big XII Championship game. That would leave Ohio St. and West Virginia to duke it out in the “public perception” poll for the second BCS Championship spot. Have you guessed the debate? Yep, “does a one-loss Big East team deserve to make it over a one-loss team from a major conference like the SEC, Big Ten or Pac-10?” Given the Big Ten’s relatively weak season, it’s tough to argue that Ohio St. is all that more deserving than West Virginia. This could be the season that leads to the Big East’s legitimacy as a player in the BCS Championship game. Plus, that would mean another embarrassing end of season for the BCS.

I’m all for Tim Tebow winning the Heisman Trophy. By the time his season is over, Tebow will have over 50 touchdowns, 3,000 yards passing, and could have 1,000 yards rushing. Those numbers are absurd. With no other obvious choices, I think Tebow has earned top-billing at this point. The crazy thing is that he probably isn’t a good enough passer to go pro anytime before his senior season. He would be the first sophomore to win the award. I don’t want to get a head of myself here but given Urban Meyer’s scheme and Tebow’s athleticism, there’s no reason to think he can’t put up similar statistics in each of the next two seasons. Barring injury, Tebow could become the second two-time winner. With better Florida teams on the horizon, anything is possible.

The polls are actually fairly reasonable at this point with the exception of the following…

Kansas at #2

You know where I’m going with this one so I’ll save you paragraphs of ranting. Kansas hasn’t beaten anyone of note. Its schedule is a joke (101st SOS according to Sagarin). Kansas will get to prove itself worthy over the next two weeks against Missouri and Oklahoma. If it wins both, it’ll be in the BCS Championship game. So, this sort of insanity—Kansas at #2—won’t result in any injustices. Kansas will decide its own fate. It’s just annoying that this many “experts” would be willing to vouch for Kansas as the second best team in the country. Why not Hawaii at #3?

Missouri at #3

See Kansas with a few additions. While I’m almost certain that Kansas is not the second best team in the country, I think it’s evident that Missouri is not the third best team. Missouri is clearly not better than Oklahoma who the voters have rated 9th and 10th respectively. Shelve the groupthink, please! It’s nauseating.

Hawaii/Boise St./Air Force/BYU

Hawaii is a joke. I’m not going to waste another sentence on them. As much as I like rooting for Air Force and BYU, it burns me to see these teams beat up on the lousy Mountain West Conference and then get ranked for it. Pollsters are shallow. They look at records only. So, at the end of every season, teams from the MWC or WAC creep into the rankings. Since pollsters seem to be oblivious to which teams fatten up on weak schedules, I’m going to provide a little “game” that will help identify frauds. If you are considering ranking teams from the MWC or WAC, ask yourself if those teams would have a better or worse record if given the same schedule as an unranked BCS Conference team. For instance, would Air Force have a better or worse record than Florida St. if given the same schedule? Air Force would be no better than 4-7 with FSU’s schedule. FSU is 7-4 and unranked. So, please don’t vote for Air Force over Florida St. Don’t vote for Florida St. either but if you’re going to vote for one of the two, vote for the one coached by Bobby Bowden. Hawaii would have six losses with Kentucky’s schedule. You can do the same thing with Boise St. and Cal or BYU and Michigan. Feel free to use this “game” at your discretion. I came up with it to help you.

Auburn over S. Florida

I’m not sure how Auburn can be ranked ahead of S. Florida. I’m all for Auburn being ranked despite four losses but not in lieu of S. Florida which won at Auburn and sports a 7-3 record. Each of S. Florida’s three losses has been by seven points or less and two were against ranked teams. Its resume is better than Auburn’s.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Carr's timeline could get interesting

Thanks to Brian at Mgoblog, we now know that Lloyd Carr’s long-rumored retirement is a full-go. The when, though, is not nearly as certain. Various rumors have Carr retiring anywhere from this Monday to the end of November. While the when might not seem all that “juicy” compared to the news of Carr retiring, it could have a substantial impact on the football program. Most coaching changes involve an athletic director trying to decide exactly when to fire a coach to maximize recruiting efforts (both keeping the current commitments and continuing to recruit effectively until signing day). Since Carr is retiring on his own, exactly when he retires is out of the hands of the Michigan Athletic Department. Carr isn’t being forced out like Bill Callahan at Nebraska. The decision to retire was entirely his and no outside influence—other than Carr’s desire to cease coaching for any number of personal-related reasons—had anything to do with his decision. The national medial—namely ESPN—is not hip to this. Every ESPN “expert” who I have seen comment on this situation seems to think that Carr’s departure is tied to his lack of success against Ohio St. or pressure from unhappy fans and boosters. A question was asked yesterday on College Football Live as to whether this is the right time for Carr to step down because of his struggles against OSU. The national media is framing this whole thing as if Carr is under too much pressure to win. I think people will find out in time that Carr stepping down had nothing to do with on-field success. Bill Martin has said as much as he has repeatedly stated that Carr could coach at Michigan forever. So, the timeline for Michigan’s coaching change is entirely up to Carr.

This unique situation presents a dilemma for Carr and the university. Most scenarios either feature a coach who is fired, asked to resign on his own terms (effectively fired), or announces retirement in advance (i.e. Barry Alvarez). In each of those situations, the athletic director can manipulate the timing to benefit the program the most. In Michigan’s current situation, Carr holds Michigan’s fate in his hands. There are at least two (possibly more although I have not heard any other sides) schools of thought as to what Carr should and/or will do. Clearly in this situation, what’s best for Carr and what’s best for the football program are at odds.

The best possible course of action for Carr is to announce his retirement as soon as possible. Not wanting to steal the spotlight from the Michigan/Ohio St game, Carr has eliminated the possibility of announcing before “The Game.” However, the sooner Carr announces following the game, the better it will be for him in terms of being appropriately acknowledged at Michigan athletic functions and finally being through with hiding such a “bombshell” story and dealing with incessant media speculation. As humble as Carr is, it’s only human to want to go out with at least a small amount of fanfare. Even if that is something as simple as a standing ovation at the Annual Michigan Football Bust. Carr famously has a special relationship with his players. They adulate him and voraciously defend him in the press. He clearly develops a family atmosphere within the football program. As a result, I’m sure he’ll value breaking the news to his players instead of forcing them to ride the media storm of speculation that would surely hound the team if he waited until after the bowl game to announce.

On the other hand, I don’t think there is any question that waiting until after Michigan’s bowl game—even immediately following the bowl game—to announce his retirement is the best course of action for the football program. It isn’t necessarily “best” for this year’s team but rather the football program as a whole. The advantage of Carr retiring later rather than sooner can be broken down into two distinct categories; recruiting and successor. If Carr retires the week after the Ohio State game, that gives other schools the opportunity to send their sleazy recruiters after Michigan’s committed recruits. Michigan can’t exactly ensure the recruits who the next coach will be when they’re at least seven weeks away from naming a new coach assuming Michigan is going to seriously consider Les Miles before making any decision. Carr’s “word” with the committed recruits likely won’t carry a whole lot of weight because a). he’s not their coach anymore and b). he has little-to-no control over the hiring of the next coach. Without anyone to reassure the recruits, things could get dicey in a hurry. Keeping the already-committed recruits is just half of the equation. Michigan’s ability to continue to recruit “targets” will suffer greatly without a head coach in place. High school athletes and their parents don’t live in a vacuum so even if Carr waited until after the bowl game to announce his retirement, they would be asking questions about the rumors. Nevertheless, Carr staying on board until a replacement can be named or at least within a week or two of a replacement being named would carry a heck of a lot more weight than a seven-week period of uncertainty fueled by rumors and speculation. Again, rumors and speculation will likely be present regardless but at least Carr would keep things on an even keel as he already has amid similar speculation over the past few years.

While Carr announcing too early puts Michigan in a bind with recruiting, it also puts Michigan in a bind with Carr’s successor. According to all people with a pulse (excluding LSU’s Athletic Director who seems to be living in a bomb shelter), Les Miles is the top candidate to replace Carr. Unfortunately for Miles (and LSU), he is about to lead LSU to the BCS National Championship game which is approximately 51 days from Michigan’s last regular season game. That means 51 days of the Michigan, LSU, and National media hounding all parties for the scoop. Miles would be bombarded every day for seven weeks about his interest in the now vacant Michigan job. If he thought things were annoying already when Michigan still had a head coach and was in the middle of its season, then wait until he sees what things will be like when Carr retires and the Michigan fan-base and boosters are batting their eyes in the direction of a particular office in Baton Rouge. This puts the Michigan Athletic Department in a tough bind as well because it will have to faux interest in other candidates or deny interest in Miles for seven weeks. That stance will get old fast as the media will likely get suspicious when nothing of note has been accomplished in the search for Carr’s successor for the next seven weeks. This all adds up to a media circus that will likely be bigger than anyone ever thought. If Miles and LSU don’t suffer an upset and end up in the BCS Championship game like everyone expects, then this story will blow up.

There is always the possibility that LSU loses in the next couple weeks, Carr announces his retirement effective immediately, and Miles takes over for the bowl game preparation. Michigan could immediately court Miles, the recruiting season could be saved, and everything could be over by the beginning of December. Sticking around for a National Championship is a lot more rewarding than postponing the inevitable LSU hate-fest that will surely follow Miles’ departure for a lousy BCS game.

Carr has certainly earned the right to go out on his terms. Bill Martin isn’t going to pressure him into delaying his announcement to best suit the program. Nobody is going to “dog” Carr for putting the program in a bit of a bind. The negative effects of one slightly-compromised recruiting class likely won’t mean a whole lot in the long run anyway. And, Miles stands to be the one most adversely affected by a seven-week vacancy in the head coach position at Michigan. I doubt Carr is too concerned with how all of this effects Les Miles. I don’t really care too much how the timeline unfolds. Carr is about to coach his last game and that will be an extremely emotional time for him. The impact of Carr’s timeline seems somewhat trivial now and will seem almost entirely trivial five years from now. It’s just an interesting dynamic to think about. One course of events benefits Carr and another course of events benefits the team. It ironically boils down to Carr choosing between his own wishes and the possible benefits of a football program he just spent 27 years of his life coaching.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Poll Bashin'/Illinois destroys the BCS

There are few things in this world that would cause me to root for Ohio St. to lose the week before the Michigan game. First, the last thing Michigan needs to see is an angry OSU team. Second, beating a 7th ranked OSU team with a 10-1 record just doesn’t have the same ring to it as beating number one ranked and undefeated OSU. However, Illinois’ shocking win in Columbus made all legitimate, undefeated teams extinct. Hawaii’s schedule is softer than Oliver Hardy’s Mark Mangino’s love handles and Kansas’ best win is against 5-5 Oklahoma St. If Kansas beats Missouri and Oklahoma, then we can recognize Kansas. Until then, they are Hawaii II. Thanks to Illinois, the BCS is left with the following one-loss teams to fit into a two-team Championship game; LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Ohio St., Missouri, and Arizona St. The first five teams listed are unlikely to lose again. If Arizona St. beats USC, and Kansas beats Missouri, then we could be looking at seven one-loss teams from BCS conferences at the end of the season—or otherwise known as a BCS-buster. Even better is that of those five teams, there would be a one-loss representative from the SEC, Pac-10, Big XII, Big East, and the Big Ten. The only thing better than pissing off five teams and their respective fan-bases is pissing of five conferences and their respective fan-bases. So, thanks to Ron Zook for making this all possible.

As disappointing as it was to see Michigan pretty much concede the win to Wisconsin before the game even started, Michigan’s tank-job in Madison can end the ludicrous talk that somehow Lloyd Carr should be considered as having done the best coaching job in the country. I’m not sure when “being the first head coach ranked in the top 25 to lose to a I-AA team” and “losing the next game by 32 points at home” became legitimate qualifications for being recognized as a coach-of-the-year candidate but it was certainly materializing with some serious momentum before the Wisconsin-game. He is a good man but that doesn't change the fact that Carr was closer to being the worst coach in 2007 than he was to being the best. Beating a bunch of teams who everyone expected you to beat going into the games and doing it in ugly fashion can only be considered impressive by a few people who may or may not be Mark May or immediate family members of the Michigan coaching staff. Nonetheless, the news that Carr has apparently made it clear to the Athletic Department that he is, indeed, retiring after this season is going to be a huge story. I'll have more on this later.

There isn’t too much to bitch about since the season is almost complete and just about every opinion can be rationalized with the exception of a few head-scratchers. The polls are nearly identical at this point.

Hawaii and Kansas

I mention this every week and I already mentioned this above. Most TV people have already given Hawaii credit for an undefeated season which is equal parts premature and ignorant. Hawaii still has to play Washington and Boise St. While I don’t expect the Huskies to do much damage in Hawaii, I think Boise St. has a 50/50 shot at victory. So, Hawaii may not steal a BCS spot after all. As much as I can’t stand Kansas’ lofty rankings in the polls, it will have a chance to prove its worth very, very soon. Just like Arizona St. had an opportunity to prove it’s metal against Cal, Oregon, UCLA, and this week against USC, Kansas will have the same opportunity against Missouri and Oklahoma. Both are ranked in the top five of the BCS. Win both, and Kansas can take all of the number one votes it wants. However, the seven coaches who voted Kansas #1 are either completely incompetent, or are being savvy in their attempts to undermine the BCS. As much as I would love for it to be the latter, I’m pretty sure it’s the first one.

Missouri over Ohio St.

How does Ohio St. fall behind Missouri? Missouri has won win over a ranked team. Ohio St. has three. Missouri hasn’t beaten a team with less than four losses since September 1. I realize that Missouri beat Illinois and Ohio St. lost to Illinois. However, the Illinois team that Missouri beat on September 1 is hardly the same team that showed up in Columbus last Saturday. For starters, Juice Williams was knocked out of the Missouri game in the second quarter. Still, Missouri only beat Illinois by six. Interestingly, of LSU, Oregon, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Ohio St., the Buckeyes have the best loss and have beaten the most ranked teams (3, tied with Oregon). The “it doesn’t matter who you lose to but rather when you lose” mantra has never been more present in college football.

The order of the non-Ohio St. Big Ten teams

The Big Ten has five teams ranked in the USA Today poll after having two teams ranked just two weeks ago. Sorting out the non-Ohio St. Big Ten teams that are ranked is no easy task. The four non-OSU Big Ten teams ranked in the AP Poll are Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Penn St. Michigan went 2-1 against the other three losing at Wisconsin without Chad Henne and Mike Hart. Illinois went 2-1 against the other three losing at home to Michigan. Penn St. went 1-2 against the other three destroying Wisconsin 38-7. Wisconsin went 1-2 against the other three. None of the teams have any quality non-conference wins. So, it seems like Michigan and Illinois should be ranked ahead of Wisconsin and Penn St. since both went 2-1 against the other three. Michigan won at Illinois. So, it would be reasonable to rank Michigan ahead of Illinois. However, Illinois did win at Ohio St. If you think that’s enough to jump Illinois over Michigan, then that is at least reasonable. Either way, Michigan and Illinois should be ranked ahead of Wisconsin and Penn St. Penn St. beat Wisconsin by 31. So, the order of these four teams should go Michigan/Illinois (whichever order you want), Penn St., and Wisconsin. None of the polls has it that way instead preferring to do insane things like ranking Wisconsin ahead of Penn St. despite a 31-point loss to Penn St. with the same record.


Just when I thought the world was on to Virginia’s fraudulence, both polls handed them the keys to the BCS top 15. Two weeks ago, Virginia lost to NC State—yes, the same NC State team that lost to Central Florida and managed 10 points against Louisville—and fell out of the top 25 only receiving 33 votes in the AP Poll. After a one-point win against Wake Forest and a beat-down of a bad Miami (FL) team, Virginia bolted up to #16 receiving 539 votes. Did Darren McFadden and Matt Ryan transfer to Virginia?

Virginia Tech over Boston College

This erroneous ranking was a direct result of Virginia Tech being ranked too high to begin with. The Hokies had two tests this year. They failed the first one in the form of a 41-point loss to LSU. They failed the second one when they lost to BC at home. Virginia Tech has one notable win and that was against the schizoids at Clemson. Since the polls drop teams x amount of spots after a loss no matter what and raise teams x amount of spots after a win no matter what, the polls couldn’t help but to drop BC behind Va. Tech. Here’s a refresher: Both teams are 8-2. BC won at Virginia Tech two weeks ago.


There are a number of three-loss teams that should be ranked ahead of Texas. The Longhorns haven’t beaten a ranked team all year. Florida, Kentucky, Michigan and Illinois have two such victories each. With Texas A&M and—in all probability—an unranked SEC team as a bowl opponent, Texas will likely finish the season ranked in the top five without a single victory over a ranked team. Sounds fair.

Navy Rules!

For those of you who missed Navy’s performance on Saturday, let me fill you in on the particulars. Navy was down 21-3 with :33 left in the first quarter against North Texas. Then, from what I understand, Navy got pissed. Over the next three quarters and 33 seconds, Navy scored 71 points. In 28:03 of game-time—or less than a half—the :33 mark of the first quarter and the 2:30 mark of the third quarter, Navy scored 62 points. The Midshipmen finished with 572 yards rushing on 57 attempts. Eight different players scored offensive touchdowns for Navy. Six different players scored a rushing touchdown. Navy had 942 yards of total offense. I would be remised if I didn’t mention that North Texas quarterback Giovanni Vizza threw for 478 yards and eight touchdowns.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Lions are finally not terrible

The fact that the Lions are—at the very least—a decent team is awesome. Since Barry Sanders tore my still-beating heart from my body and ate it Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-style retired, the NFL has been a letdown every season. When your team sets the record for “worst five-year stretch” in NFL history among other notable achievements in futility, everything else in professional football ceases to be enjoyable. That is one of the first things that I noticed when the Lions started winning this season. Obviously, winning makes fans happier which in turn makes everything more enjoyable including the simple act of breathing and eating doughnuts. However, the fact that other games actually matter to the Lions now changes everything. Instead of watching a Packers-Redskins game and wondering why the NFL even exists, I can actually view the match-up as a game featuring possible playoff opponents. Whereas in most seasons, a Redskins game would put me to sleep, the fact that they are only one game behind Detroit with the tiebreaker advantage makes their games important. The Lions being competitive again allows fans to take part in the whole NFL experience again. The last Saturday in April (the NFL Draft) used to be the playoffs, Super Bowl, and off-season wrapped up in one for Lions fans. I’m used to focusing on the draft starting in week three of the regular season. Since #20 left (or since Millen arrived if you prefer), every game after week four or five had the same significance whether it was against a good or a bad team: none. The presence of the Giants, Packers (2), Chargers and Cowboys on the remaining schedule used to just be another way of saying, “0-5.” Now, it means an opportunity for the Lions to play their way into the playoffs.

As happy as I am that the Lions are winning, I’m equally pleased with the way it has happened and the manner in which the success has been treated and accepted by the fans, media, and players. I read a quote the other day from a Lions player—I can’t remember who said it or where it was printed so please don’t hurt me Chris McCosky—that expressed satisfaction at the idea that the Lions were finally giving their fans something to cheer about. Lions fans have been pissed off for six years. They had a right to be. The fact that the current players acknowledge that right and appreciate what the fans have been through makes it easy to support this bunch.

The media has also treated the Lions success the right way. The players have been annoyed—and I can see their point—with the relative skepticism shown by the local media. I would be disappointed if the media wasn’t skeptical. Six years of misery and failure doesn’t get thrown out the window because of one good eight-game stretch or even one good season. Millen isn’t all of a sudden a great GM. The players have not earned the right to never be criticized or second-guessed again. The Lions are winning right now. If that keeps happening this season and next, then perceptions can start to change. Only then can Millen be viewed as a good GM or as having done a good job. Only then can the players be given the benefit of the doubt.

The Lions have matured as the season has progressed. That maturation has happened on the field and on the sidelines. The team has started to rely on the running game which has yielded a more balanced and effective attack. The defense is putting pressure on the quarterback which is the hallmark of a good defense. Granted, the Lions have not beaten a slew of great teams. In fact, I’m not sure that the Lions haven’t even beaten a single “good” team. However, good teams are supposed to beat the bad teams. The Lions have done that. Clearly, the debacles at Philly (L 56-21) and at Washington (L 34-3) are worrisome. This team still has to play its best game to even have a chance against good teams. I presume, though, that at least half of the teams in the NFL would gladly change places with the Lions. This isn’t a talent-less team like the last Lions team to finish above .500 (2000). This team has talent. This team has a very good and sometimes dominating defense. This team has playmakers all over the field. One could look at the current version of the Lions and make a pretty good comparison to the ’05 Tigers. People who follow baseball closely knew the Tigers were heading for an explosion in the not-so-distant future. I get the same feeling with this team. Obviously, there are positions that need to be improved and personnel obstacles that will need to be overcome. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the offense if/when Mike Martz leaves for another tour as a head coach. It takes 2-3 years to install his offense. The Lions are still getting used to everything his offense entails. If he leaves, it’s possible that the offense will undergo a change in philosophy which will likely cause some stagnation. Jon Kitna is much better than anyone thought he’d be. He clearly has a grasp of the offense. He has a tremendous amount of confidence. However, he probably has a shelf-life of two or three years. When he moves on, the Lions will need to bring in a capable replacement or everything could go south in a hurry. Fortunately, those are problems that all teams face—even good ones.

This team is young and talented. It appears to have a man with a winning vision at the helm (Marinelli). I don’t think this version of the Lions is going to resemble the “win one year and lose the next” version that we had to endure in the 90’s. This might just be the first consistently good Lions franchise in most of our lifetimes. It’ll be interesting to see if all of this comes to fruition because Millen will need to get the credit. Nobody has ever been more publicly maligned than Millen—and deservedly so. However, if he can do something that nobody has ever been able to do since the NFL/AFL merger—turn the Lions into a winning franchise—then he will be a hero in Detroit. And really, Millen’s failure thus far has been no different than Ilitch’s decade-long failure as the Tigers’ owner. The only difference is that Ilitch had the Red Wings to mask the failures of the Tigers. Plus, doing a terrible job does not preordain someone to doing a terrible job forever. Bill Belichick is a perfect example of that.

The remaining schedule is not easy. I can say—with a decent amount of confidence—that the Lions are going to beat my best-case scenario prediction before the season (which was seven wins). I have never been happier to be wrong. However, the Lions have a lot of work to do if they are going to even sniff the 10-win mark as predicted by Kitna. I’m starting to think that the Lions will have to do just that to make the playoffs. The way it looks now, there is one playoff spot open in the NFC. The Packers, Cowboys, Saints, and Seahawks will probably end up being the Division winners. The Giants appear to be on their way to one of the Wild Card spots. That leaves the Lions, Redskins, Bucs, and Panthers to fight for the last Wild Card spot. The Lions hold the tiebreaker over the Bucs and the Redskins hold the tiebreaker over the Lions. Hopefully, the Bucs can beat the ‘Skins on November 25 which would give the Lions a reprieve if all three teams finish with the same record. The Lions have—by far—the most difficult schedule of the group. The Bucs have—by far—the easiest schedule. The Bucs get Atlanta (2), Houston, and San Francisco. Even their more difficult opponents aren’t the greatest in Carolina, New Orleans and Washington. The Lions have the Packers (2), Chargers, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Giants. All are .500 or better. The Lions also have to play at Adrian Peterson. That makes this week’s game at Arizona the most important Lions game in seven years. Win and the Lions can afford to close out the season 2-4 and still have a pretty good chance at the last Wild Card spot. Lose and the Lions will have to split against one of the most difficult end-of-season schedules in the league. The good news is that, win or lose this week at Arizona, the game the following week against the NY Giants immediately becomes the most important Lions game in seven years. I can get used to this flirtation with hyperbole. It’s much more exciting than preparing for the draft in late-September.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Poll Bashin'/Morgan Trent needs to run faster

For the first time this year, nothing too crazy happened in college football other than Darren McFadden rushing for 321 yards, Jim Brandstatter saying that Terrance Taylor—possibly the strongest player in Michigan football history—needs to get stronger, and George Blaha saying that Morgan Trent “isn’t as fast as you’d like him to be.” I don’t think anyone was too shocked with the Florida St. upset of Boston College. BC had no business being ranked #2 and it was just a matter of time before one of the mediocre teams left on the schedule beat them. The results of this week cleared up the BCS picture big-time. The way I see it, we’re looking at a three-team race to the BCS Championship game. Oregon has a relatively easy three-game stretch against Arizona, UCLA, and Washington St. If either LSU or Ohio St. falters, then Oregon will likely sneak into the top two. LSU has a fairly easy three-game finish of its own against La. Tech, Ole Miss, and Arkansas. The SEC Championship game makes things a little more difficult but LSU should be able to handle Georgia or Tennessee. If Florida sneaks in, then LSU has problems. Ohio St. should take care of Illinois and Michigan. So, the BCS Championship game will very likely be a combination of Ohio St., LSU and Oregon. There is a pretty good chance that West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Boston College will have one-loss each which would create a nightmare for the BCS (woo hoo!) But—as Kirk Herbstreit points out—the BCS is perfect because the regular season is a playoff. Unless—of course— the BCS prevents five one-loss teams from playing for the championship because of “public perception”. That definitely sounds like a playoff to me.

There is another situation that could happen that would create a media hurricane. Let’s assume that LSU and Ohio St. win-out creating a Tigers-Buckeyes BCS Championship game. Then, let’s assume that Oregon wins out. For the final ingredient, let’s also assume that Lloyd Carr retires after the Ohio St. game. That situation would create three monstrous storylines that would get beaten to death by the MSM.

1). Oregon would be left out of the BCS Championship game for the second time because of the fabulous BCS system that Herbstreit thinks is so fair. Many people—including around 45% of voters—feel that Oregon is better than LSU. This would be the biggest blow to the BCS, yet. Herbstreit’s non-playoff playoff idea of a “plus-one” game would very much be on the table after a debacle like that.

2). Much has been made of the 51-day layoff that Ohio St. has between the “The Game” and the BCS Championship game. That number becomes more interesting if Lloyd Carr retires and LSU plays in the BCS Championship game. That’s 51 days that Les Miles will have to field daily questions about his interest in the Michigan job. The Michigan media will obviously be all over that story for the majority of those 51 days. If this scenario plays out, things are going to get very interesting. However, I’m guessing that Carr would wait until after the bowl games to help Michigan’s recruiting efforts and to keep Miles from having to go through 51 days of hell. Carr is considerate like that.

3). As if storyline #2 isn’t already crazy enough, Miles could be coaching against Michigan’s all-time nemesis in the BCS Championship game. If Miles beats Tressel in the BCS Championship and then leaves Baton Rouge for Ann Arbor, you can expect Miles to be crowned the Ohio St.-killer the second he steps foot into town. He would have all of the fanfare that Tressel had after he beat Michigan for the first time without having coached a single game at Michigan.

The polls weren’t too ludicrous this week but there is some weak rationalizing going on. So, here goes…

BC over ASU

Boston College really had no business being ranked four spots ahead of Arizona St. last week. Both teams were undefeated. Neither team had faced a particularly daunting schedule. After this weekend, BC has no business being ranked ahead of Arizona St. at all. BC lost to an unranked Florida St. team by 10 at home. Arizona St. lost to the #3 team in the country on the road by 12. Which one is more impressive to you?

Alabama over FSU

Florida St. should be ranked ahead of Alabama. Both teams are 6-3. Florida St. beat Boston College on the road which is more impressive than any Alabama-win. Florida St. also beat Alabama.

Missouri and Kansas are ranked too high

Hawaii has no business being ranked for obvious reasons. However, if you’re buying that, then you should probably buy Kansas not deserving to be ranked in the top 15. Kansas has the 107th toughest schedule in the country according to the Sagarin ratings. Kansas hasn’t beaten a single team with less than four losses. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Kansas is a top-ten team. Missouri has faced an equally inept schedule with the minor exception that Mizzou had to play Oklahoma and Kansas doesn’t. Not surprisingly, Missouri lost to Oklahoma by 10. Kansas and Missouri have combined to beat zero ranked teams. I wish the pollsters would have the self-control to withhold judgment on these two teams until they actually beat a formidable team. However, with Hawaii ranked #14, I guess I should be surprised that Kansas isn’t ranked #2. If beating nobody gets you into the top-five, then Illinois should separate from the Big Ten, become and Independent, and schedule 12 non-BCS schools and get into the top-ten every year. Texas A&M might want to think about that, too. In fact, everyone but Ohio St—they obviously don’t need to—should do that.

Texas jumps Michigan for no reason

I’m not a believer in the idea that “it doesn’t matter how you get something right, it just matters that you get it right.” For example, just because the AP moved Michigan ahead of Texas this week—which is the way it should be—doesn’t mean it made sense to do it. Texas was inexplicably ranked ahead of Michigan last week—and for every week previous—despite Texas having zero wins over ranked teams or a team that could even remotely be considered good. Michigan’s wins over Illinois, Penn St., and Purdue—albeit not the greatest collection of wins—are all better than any of Texas’ wins. This week, Texas beat Oklahoma St. on the road by three. Michigan beat Michigan St. on the road by four. Oklahoma St. is viewed by most as a better team than Michigan St. So, how does Michigan leap Texas? It’s not like a couple voters changed their minds either. Michigan picked up 50 votes on Texas just this week alone. Are we to believe that Texas was finally exposed as being resume-challenged by beating Okie St. on the road by three—its best win of the year by far—while Michigan was credited for a courageous four-point win on the road against Sparty? Michigan should be ranked ahead of Texas but not because of what happened this week.

Va. Tech, Florida over Auburn, Hawaii

Instead of wasting a bunch of time and space on things that have been constants in my Monday Poll Bashin’ posts, I’ll just quickly bunch these together. Va. Tech has a weak resume and should be outside of the top-15. Auburn beat Florida on the road and has the same record. Auburn should be ranked ahead of Florida. Hawaii has the easiest schedule of all-time (or something like that) and needed overtime to beat La. Tech and San Jose St.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Tigers transformation to Marlins is almost complete

The Tigers were quick to acquire the shortstop that would enable the club to finally move Carlos Guillen to first-base permanently. Acquiring Edgar Renteria dually shores up the infield and effectively removes the Tigers from the A-Rod Sweepstakes. With the Yankees and Tigers out of the picture, it looks like A-Rod will either go to the Dodgers, Cubs, or Angels. Scott Boras can’t be too pleased with an audience of three teams. That seriously reduces his bargaining power. Nonetheless, the Tigers picked up Renteria in almost the exact same way they did Sheffield last season. They did it quick—even quicker than the Sheffield trade—and had to part with some pretty good prospects. Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland clearly look for familiar players who have helped them win in the past. It’s no coincidence that Sheffield and Renteria were both members of the ’97 Florida Marlins in which Jim Leyland was the Manager and Dave Dombrowski was the General Manager. Unfortunately for them, the number of productive ex-’97 Marlins who are left to acquire is basically zero. That means the Tigers will have to get creative next off-season. I’ll be looking forward to that especially with another ex- Marlin (Pudge) and his $13 million coming off the payroll.

My first reaction to the trade was basically the same reaction I had to the Sheffield trade last season. It seems steep. Although, Sheffield is more important and came at a cheaper price. Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez are big-time prospects. Jurrjens was considerably more advanced than Hernandez but both were known commodities around MLB. The Tigers have a surplus of pitching in the organization with Andrew Miller and Rick Porcello still waiting to get into the starting rotation. Losing Jurrjens stings in the sense that it immediately downgrades the overall talent level in the minors but it won’t affect the Tigers chances of winning a World Series in the near future. The Sheffield trade—giving up Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan, and Anthony Claggett—brought the same dynamic. The Tigers lucked-out when Sanchez suffered a serious elbow injury for the Yankees but considering Sheffield's health--or lack thereof--the winner of that trade is still uncertain. Losing prospects like Sanchez and Jurrjens is especially difficult for Tigers fans because for 20+ years, there wasn’t but one or two players who were as good as either. We’re not used to seeing the “future” traded away. Any time a player like Juan Encarnacion, Gabe Kapler, or Justin Thompson came along, the Tigers held on to them like they were gold. Fortunately, the Tigers have legitimate “prospects” now and equally fortunate is the fact that the Tigers are good enough to be able to trade away those prospects without incurring years of regret. The Tigers traded away John Smoltz 20 years ago and—because the organization was run into the ground—it has been a notorious trade ever since. Even if Jurrjens turns into the next Smoltz, or Hernandez becomes the next Torii Hunter, fans will be too busy cheering for the Tigers in October to dwell on a trade gone awry.

I’m remorseful to see Jurrjens and Hernandez go; Jurrjens especially. He has great command, a 95-MPH fastball, and the confidence to match. I think he’ll end up being a pretty good pitcher. However, you have to give to get. The Tigers needed a bona fide shortstop and the price for one of those is clearly not cheap. My concern is that Renteria isn’t a top-tier shortstop. The Tigers didn’t just seek anyone to replace Guillen. The goal was to come close to replacing Guillen’s power and/or drastically improve the position defensively. I’m not sure Renteria does either. His career OPS+ is 97. He has had three above-average seasons in 12 years. He is extremely inconsistent from year to year as you can expect anything from an OPS+ of 77 to 130. He is coming off the second-best season of his career as he posted an OPS+ of 125. His best season came in 2003 in which he produced an OPS+ of 130. He followed that with two miserable seasons.

I don’t mind giving up prospects for a proven commodity. The current depth in the Tigers system allows for that trade-off. However, in this instance, I do at least slightly mind giving up Jurrjens and Hernandez for Renteria. According to Bill at The Detroit Tigers Weblog, the Tigers picked up 2 to 2.5 wins by essentially replacing Guillen’s defense and Sean Casey’s bat with Renteria. Two wins isn’t anything to scoff at but given Renteria’s unreliability from year to year, a two-win improvement is no guarantee. Plus, it’s not like the Braves had all the leverage in this deal and the Tigers had none. The Braves were actively trying to unload Renteria because Yunel Escobar—a promising, young shortstop in the Braves organization—was ready to take over. Given Renteria’s unreliability and Escobar’s pending promotion, it seems a little much to give up Jurrjens and Hernandez.

If I were a Braves fan, I would be elated with this deal. Not only does Escobar get to move into the shortstop position on an everyday basis, but the Braves also picked up a top-of-the-line pitching prospect and a centerfielder who has been drawing rave reviews ever since he stepped foot in the minor leagues. Players like Renteria are relatively easy to find. This trade isn’t going to cripple the Tigers. The chances are actually very good that this trade will have a net impact of zero or slightly positive. That said, I don’t think there is any doubt that the Braves got the better end of this deal.

After quickly acquiring Sheffield early in the off-season last year, the Tigers were done with major acquisitions despite some speculation to the contrary. The same could be the case this year at least offensively. Although, the recent revelation that Joel Zumaya might miss at least half of the 2008 season makes finding a good-to-great relief-pitcher a high priority. Said injury might increase the odds that the Tigers will make a run at Mariano Rivera. The Tigers have long been rumored to be searching for a left-fielder but the combination of Marcus Thames and Timo Perez apparently seems somewhat manageable to the front-office. Plus, with the payroll at an all-time high (well over $100 million) and the increased need to find bullpen help, I think the offense is pretty much the way it’ll look on opening day.

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