Monday, December 31, 2007

I feel bad for Les Miles

I am a huge fan of the Rich Rodriguez-hire as you probably already know. He has always been near the top of my wish-list to replace Lloyd Carr. Bill Martin may have made a few miscues but he atoned by bringing in Rodriguez who was very likely the last “home run” left considering Michigan’s apparent disdain for Brian Kelly. I am elated about the future of the program in all its facets. Game-planning and player development—the two most obvious indictments of Michigan Football gone wrong over the last six years—should take off. Recruiting will likely benefit—in the short term—due to the momentum of the Rodriguez hire (see; Terrelle Pryor’s immediate interest) and—in the long term—because of the attractiveness of the spread offense at high-profile schools (see; Florida). However, before it gets lost on everyone, I wanted to rehash the “Les Miles to Michigan” situation with a bit of a twist. Every Michigan fan knows with painstaking detail how the process went. I’m not going to waste everyone’s time with a play-by-play of the situation. There is one thing, though, that seems to have gone unnoticed and that’s the fact that Les Miles threw away his dream because he couldn’t suppress his stubbornness for simply a few hours.

Scrape away all of the hoopla and hyperbole, blame and innuendos, and only one thing kept Miles from Michigan. Miles chose embarrassing Kirk Herbstreit over fulfilling his dream. It seems incomprehensible that someone would let such a petty thing get in the way of a lifelong goal. Miles could’ve let Herbstreit make his report and simply chosen to focus on the SEC Championship and reserve comment for later. Commenting on anything unrelated to on-field stuff hours before a Championship game is ridiculous anyways. Instead, he scheduled an immediate press-conference declaring the report to be full of “misinformation” and that he would remain at LSU. After the press conference, Miles took heat from LSU officials for not stating clearly enough that he would remain at LSU next season creating a firestorm that never would’ve been there had he avoided comment to begin with. His initial statement left too much wiggle-room thus the LSU-forced second statement in which he declared unequivocally that he would absolutely be at LSU next season. Miles then had to repeat that message just short of a trillion times over the next few days making it nearly impossible to go back on his word with any ounce of integrity remaining (see; Nick Saban). The window for “Miles to Michigan” closed the minute he vehemently refuted Herbstreit’s report. Whether the report was true or not was irrelevant. It was the fact that Miles said anything publicly that did him in. LSU deserves credit for staying in-touch with reality and offering Miles a lucrative contract extension the day before and forcing Miles’s hand when he wasn’t conclusive enough about staying with LSU beyond this season. LSU wasn’t going to wait around after the entire nation saw Miles’s outburst as an attempt to play both sides. Herbstreit’s report pressed the issue and Miles unwittingly dictated the outcome. Miles could’ve ignored the report but he chose to address it and his fate was sealed. I feel bad for him because he obviously didn’t know the events that would be put into motion based on what seemed like an innocent attempt to reassure his players before a huge game.

The onslaught of public criticism that Bill Martin received for not being aggressive enough in luring Miles to Michigan was deserved but certainly not nearly as damaging as Miles’s overreaction to Herbstreit’s report. Culpability can be assigned to a number of people and factors. Herbstreit, Martin, Carr, the media and blogosphere all deserve some blame for the outcome. However, Miles is the most responsible of the bunch because none of the other factors closed the door on his candidacy. Carr’s announcement-timeline made it difficult but not impossible. Martin’s decision to wait until after the SEC Championship game sent the wrong message to Miles but had Miles remained patient it wouldn’t have been an issue because Michigan likely would’ve made an offer in the next few days. Herbstreit’s report was damaging but if it wasn’t true—and it seems like it wasn’t since Michigan had not talked to Miles yet—then Miles had nothing to hide from LSU. The media and blogger “leaks” made LSU aware of Michigan’s “interest” and the extent of such interest and prevented Michigan from methodically conducting a coaching search as was commonplace 38 years ago when it conducted its last national search for a football coach. That approach may have been possible in the past but “leaks” mean such searches need to be done with stealth and secrecy now days. (It’s no coincidence that Michigan conducted its own “Get Rich Quick”-scheme where it did everything it should’ve done in its courting of Miles just a few weeks later to nab Rodriguez. Michigan learned the terrain and adapted very well. That’s no consolation to Miles but it did land Michigan a top-flight coach nonetheless.)

All of those factors made things difficult but only Miles’s impromptu press-conference ended the whole thing. I can understand the argument that Miles had no choice but to reaffirm his commitment to LSU because Michigan hadn’t shown that it clearly wanted him. Miles wasn’t going to double-cross LSU without knowing for sure that the Michigan-job was his. That’s true and that was a big mistake by Martin. However, Miles could’ve talked contract extension with LSU—and even signed a contract extension—and still ended up at Michigan. It was his bold proclamation admonishing Herbstreit’s report and affirming his commitment to LSU that made that the point-of-no-return. I am certain that Les Miles would’ve been named the Michigan coach within a few days had he not scheduled the initial press conference. He didn’t know what he was doing at the time but his ambiguous reassurance that he would remain at LSU was what ruined the whole thing for him.

The irony is that—throughout the whole ordeal—Miles wanted to come to Michigan and Michigan—although Martin may have been a bit reluctant—wanted Miles. In fact, there was rampant speculation that Miles was still interested in the job when Michigan began talking to Rich Rodriguez. Remember, Miles’s contract never changed with respect to how much it would cost to leave for Michigan. Miles’s decision to sign an extension at LSU didn’t make it any more difficult contractually to leave than it had ever been. I think Miles’ comments did two things that inevitably ended a realistic chance that he would end up at Michigan. First, to say with such boldness that he would remain at LSU next season only to renege would be a huge blow to Miles’s image and be a slap in LSU’s face. Regardless of his love for Michigan, I think Miles loves LSU enough to be upfront and honest. Second, I think Michigan—right or wrong—was turned off big-time by Miles’ antics and his agent’s comments about Michigan leaving Miles out to dry. Those two factors made it nearly impossible for the two sides to get together despite mutual interest all the way up to the Rodriguez hire. Miles appears to be wired in such a way that he comes out firing without considering the ramifications and that’s what he did here. It’s ironic that a trait he likely acquired from Bo Schembechler ended up keeping him from his dream job.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Jay Bilas needs an ethics class

Everyone says dumb things from time to time. It’s an inevitability of life. However, most people aren’t as transparent as Jay Bilas when doing so. Before I get into his illogicalities, let me first remind you that Bilas played and coached at Duke with Tommy Amaker. Everyone knows that but I figured I’d reiterate it because only a Duke graduate could provide us with the following comments regarding Amaker. Here is Bilas’ response when asked in an ESPN chat to compare the respective troubles of Michigan and Kentucky basketball…

"Michigan. They just don't get it. I think that John Beilein will do a great job, with time. But, it will take time. Michigan had a dirty program, brought in Amaker to clean it up, and he did that. Along the way, he won. He just didn't crack the NCAA Tournament barrier.“ (Emphasis mine.)

So, you’re saying it’ll take time? This is the most incoherent piece of biased rambling you will ever get from a paid “expert”. His whole argument is absolutely ridiculous. He defends Amaker by saying, “Along the way, he won. He just didn’t crack the NCAA Tournament barrier.” That’s like Charles Manson saying, “Along the way, I did some good things. I just killed some people, too.” You can’t just sneak that last sentence by without anyone noticing. The fact that Amaker didn’t go 0-192 at Michigan isn’t an indicator of his ability to coach. The fact that he “just didn’t crack the NCAA Tournament barrier” in five years or, the fact that Amaker went 17-3 against Northwestern and Penn St. and 26-56 against the other eight Big Ten teams, however, is an indicator.

Bilas goes on to say:

“Now, with good talent, they are getting their heads bashed in because they are starting over. How do you think those kids feel? Their heads are spinning. It is clear to me that one person needs to go...and that is Bill Martin. He has presided over this, and if the prior coach needed to go, then Martin should go too. If an AD's job is to put the pieces in place to have a winning program, then Martin is not living up to that end. Sorry, but that is how I see it."

I am shocked not shocked at all that someone actually gets paid for this sort of analysis but it's annoying nonetheless. First, Bilas insinuates that Michigan fired Amaker just as he was getting talent into the program. Yep, the Michigan basketball program was just about to explode after graduating four senior-starters with only one contributing upperclassmen returning. This year’s Michigan team is littered with underclassmen. It had absolutely no shot of winning this season under Amaker, John Beilein, or John Wooden. Just to clarify, Michigan does not have any more “good talent”—as opposed to the underrated bad talent—now than it ever did under Amaker.

Bilas then rails Bill Martin for putting the Michigan players through the unbearable situation of “starting over.” Let’s see, Manny Harris, Kelvin Grady, C.J. Lee, Zach Gibson, and Anthony Wright—all of whom are averaging at least 10 minutes per game—are all in their first year of playing time at Michigan. How can those players be “starting over” if they hadn’t even played a single minute at Michigan before this season? DeShawn Sims and Ekpe Udoh are sophomores. That leaves Ron Coleman—a senior—as the only meaningful player who is truly “starting over”. Bilas then attempts to play the “those poor kids” card by saying, “how do you think those kids feel?” Yeah, I bet they’d rather be losing under Amaker than losing under Beilein. I bet they’re all torn up about playing for a coach who took his team to the Sweet Sixteen in two of the last three seasons instead of a coach who had a .320 winning percentage against all non-Northwestern and Penn St. Big Ten teams.

Bilas obviously has had a beef with Michigan ever since it mercifully let his buddy go last March. This isn't the first or second time Bilas has defended Amaker or tried to put heat on Bill Martin. The fact that Michigan struggled in its search for a football coach was just the perfect opportunity for Bilas to get a shot in on Martin. It was clearly a premeditated strike. Bilas even admits that Beilein “will do a great job at Michigan” which I believe means Bill Martin did a “great job” in bringing Beilein to Michigan. Instead of reaching the universally accepted conclusion that 1=1, Bilas says, “If an AD's job is to put the pieces in place to have a winning program, then Martin is not living up to that end.” Apparently, hiring a coach who will do a “great job” is utter failure in Bilas’ world. In other news, the rest of the college basketball world was so smitten over Amaker’s availability that he ended up at Harvard.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Martin's Atonement

Rich Rodriguez is the new coach of Michigan football. There aren’t too many names that could make that sentence a better one. Rodriguez kind of came out of nowhere in the search after being somewhat overlooked by the media, speculators and, by most accounts, Bill Martin over the last few weeks. Jim Carty—in a ridiculous post in which he attempted to use this blog as an example of incompetence—wrote over the summer that Rodriguez wasn’t even worth talking about from a fan-perspective. I’ve always liked Rodriguez as have a number of Michigan fans who have seen his results at West Virginia. I had him #2 on my list of coaches who I felt would be best for Michigan. Here is Carty’s quote—and subsequent reaction to my thoughts on Rodriguez—in all its glory:

“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.”

Point taken, Jim. I was clearly out of my mind for suggesting Rodriguez. Here is a bonus gem from the same article in which Carty again tries to cite an example of my incompetence:

“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 be fair, Petrino didn’t actually leave the NFL “after one season.” He only lasted 13 games. Considering Petrino is now the head football coach at Arkansas, I can’t imagine what I was thinking even considering the idea that Petrino might be coaching a college team in the near future. Well done, Carty. Well done.

We can all be thankful that Carty is not the A.D. at Michigan. However, in a crazy twist of fortune, we can all be happy that Bill Martin is. If Martin really handled the first 27 days of the search as poorly as it has been speculated, then all is forgotten because of the “home run” that is the hiring of Rich Rodriguez. If the Kirk Ferentz/Greg Schiano/Jim Grobe flirtations were just elaborate ruses to eventually get to Rodriguez, then I apologize for being previously critical. Only Martin really knows the answer to that. He had to balance a number of volatile situations including attempting to satisfy Mary Sue Coleman, Lloyd Carr, former players, boosters and alumni. Virtually every faction had a different vision for the program. Martin may have intentionally “slow played” Miles just to faux interest long enough to appease the right people or he could have “blown it” as many have speculated. Nobody knows if Martin played this whole thing perfectly or backed his way into the right choice. I don’t really care either way. He ended up with the right guy and he should be congratulated on a fantastic selection. Coleman deserves kudos as well since things started to pick up steam when she started to get involved in the search.

The addition of Rodriguez spells the end for Michigan football as any of us has ever known it. Rodriguez will undoubtedly slowly implement the spread offense into the program. The day after Ryan Mallet graduates, expect Michigan to resemble Florida or West Virginia offensively. Rodriguez is lauded for his ability to attack defenses at their weak points which is something “M” fans have been clamoring after for years. Don Nehlen--Rodriguez’s mentor and former college coach--said, "His offense is a no-huddle, get-after-you-real-fast, different-tempos offense. They attack you where you should be attacked."

Rodriguez has turned the WVU program into a relative powerhouse without the aid of top-tier recruiting classes. His defenses don’t get much credit but were very effective this season ranking 7th in the nation in points allowed per game and 4th in the nation in yards allowed per game. I’ll be interested to see which coaches he brings with him from WVU, which coaches he keeps from the previous UM staff, and whether he brings in coaches from around the country. There is already confirmation that he will be bringing his Strength and Conditioning Coach from WVU with him which would be a huge upgrade for the program.

When the Michigan/Rodriguez speculation started to heat up on Friday, I was skeptical as to why Rodriguez would come to Michigan—or more specifically, why he would leave West Virginia. Rodriguez at WVU is like John Calipari at Memphis if Calipari was a Memphis-alum. Rodriguez had built a powerful program in a mid-tier conference. He was making a good salary and very likely could have gotten more money if he wanted it. Most importantly, he was coaching at his alma mater. Michigan is a great job. But, it seemed like Rodriguez would have to walk away from a lot to take it. However, it is highly likely that Rodriguez’s connection--albeit a distant one--to the Michigan program had everything to do with why Martin was willing to offer Rodriguez despite more than a few concerns and why Rodriguez left his alma mater to come to Michigan. Rodriguez coached and played under Don Nehlen. Nehlen coached for Bo Schembechler at Michigan in the late 70s. This angle was never explored by anyone in the media or blogopshere previous to the hire as far as I know. I don’t think it’s merely a coincidence, though. Nehlen went on to say of Rodriguez’s decision, "I think it's tremendous. There are very few Michigans. When you coach at West Virginia, you walk on water in West Virginia. But when you coach at Michigan, you walk on water, period. There's a difference. Some people around here don't want to believe that." Martin had to overlook a number of well-known concerns regarding Rodriguez including some questionable recruits he brought to WVU. It’s likely that Rodriguez’s 2nd degree lineage to UM was all Martin needed.

Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that my number one choice for Michigan’s next football coach would’ve been Paul Johnson. Thankfully, Rodriguez is the functional equivalent of Johnson. Both had major success at schools with marginal talent levels. Both run the spread option. Johnson definitely has the “degree of difficulty” factor in his favor but Rodriguez is six years younger. If you thought Johnson would be a great fit for Michigan, then you have to feel the same way about Rodriguez and vice versa. Neither coach’s philosophy fits Michigan’s current roster in the slightest but you don’t hire a coach based on the current make-up of your roster especially in college when players only have four years of eligibility. You hire the best coach you can get and either guy would’ve been the right choice. Rodriguez will do more to revitalize the program in one day than anything the program has seen in six years. Plus—and possibly most importantly—Rodriguez likely has no interest in the NFL and certainly won’t be leaving Michigan for his alma mater.

Rodriguez-related links:

Wojo's take

Albom's take

Terrelle Pryor

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

3rd Annual Bowl Extravaganza

You might notice an increased level of cynicism and sarcasm in this year’s edition of the Bowl Extravaganza. The BCS and the girth of excruciatingly painful-to-watch games have me worked up a bit. But, I promise to look for the silver lining whenever possible. For instance, we’ll finally get to see if Purdue is really better than Central Michigan because Purdue’s 33-point drubbing earlier in the year wasn’t conclusive enough. Additionally, Conference USA has six bowl teams so there's plenty to be excited about there (extra credit for those who can even name six Conference USA teams without looking it up). I’m not sure what the point of all of this is but you’ll find shady analysis, too much information, baseless predictions, little-known statistics, lame trivia and a brand new, Bowl-Mania saving feature called “common opponent alert”. My goal for each game is to give you a pretty good idea of who is going to win or leave you utterly confused. I'll be satisfied with either one. In the interest of keeping your job, I strongly advise against reading it all at once. Lastly, all of this nonsense is for you—my loyal reader—so enjoy it....

Poinsettia Bowl

Utah (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4) -------San Diego, CA

December, 20, ESPN, 9 p.m.

This match-up is an intriguing one and an excellent way to start the bowl-season. In most years, I’d give the edge to Navy due to its unstoppable ground-game and the wizardry of Paul Johnson. However, Paul Johnson is now at Georgia Tech while Navy’s defense has been absolutely abysmal this season allowing 36.5 points per game. With eight seniors gone from last year’s team and the reality that is perpetual talent deficiency at the Naval Academy, the defense never stood a chance this year. So, it’s not likely that we’ll see Navy destroy its third MWC bowl-opponent in four years. More likely is a tight contest with a lot of scoring. Utah is 3rd in the nation in points allowed per game so yards won’t come as easy as usual for the Midshipmen. However, Navy scores and runs on everyone. Boston College and Wake Forest (two top 20 defenses against the run) can vouch for Navy’s ground game. Utah—despite its respectable record and even more respectable defense—is a tough team to get a read on. Utah destroyed obliterated embarrassed UCLA 44-6 and put a pretty good whoopin’ on Louisville at appetizingly named Papa John’s Stadium. UCLA and Louisville were each ranked in the top ten at some point in the season. However, the other three good teams (Oregon St., Air Force, and BYU) that Utah played resulted in L’s. Navy has a better ground-game than Air Force and Air Force ran for 334 yards against the Utes. So, if there was any doubt that Navy was going to put up 300 on the ground in this game, there shouldn’t be any now. Common opponent alert: Navy beat Air Force. Utah lost to Air Force. This could end up being a bittersweet game for Navy fans. Navy should always relish the opportunity to play in a bowl game but losing Paul Johnson has to be demoralizing. Navy should remain somewhat competitive under new coach--and former Johnson assistant--Ken Niumatalolo. Utah’s D will probably be the deciding factor in this game.

New Orleans Bowl

Memphis (7-5) vs. Florida Atlantic (7-5)-------New Orleans, LA

December 12, ESPN2, 8 p.m.

With all due respect to these two schools, this game is lame. If I were promised $500 to stay awake for the entirety of this game, I’m not sure I could do it. Memphis finished the season—and clinched a bowl bid at the same time—by beating 1-11 SMU in 3OT. At least Iowa can be reassured that there is good reason why it isn't in a bowl game this year. It wouldn’t be a bowl season without a bunch of 7-5 mid-majors diluting the games. On the other hand, I have to give credit to Florida Atlantic for the non-conference schedule it put together. I can’t say I’ve seen a more impressive schedule from a mid-major in maybe ever. FAU played Oklahoma St., Minnesota (who wasn’t terrible when this game was scheduled), S. Florida, Kentucky, and Florida. FAU lost all of the games with the exception of Minnesota by at least 10 points but at this time of the year, it’s the thought that counts. Double common opponent alert: Memphis and FAU both played Middle Tennessee and Arkansas St. Memphis lost both games. FAU won both. Deduce whatever you will from that. Bowl

Southern Mississippi (7-5) vs. Cincinnati (9-3)------Birmingham, AL

December 22, ESPN, 1 p.m.

If you’re going to name a bowl after a company, you might as well name it after a pizza joint. Like most people, I get tired of the ridiculously named bowl games, but I can’t say I mind this one. Southern Mississippi apparently thinks the directional word in front of Mississippi in its name is invisible and that the Mississippi part of its name is actually Florida. That’s the only rationale I can come up with as to why it would fire/force-out Jeff Bower. Bower led USM to 14 consecutive winning seasons. He led USM to 10 bowl games in the last 11 years including a 6-3 bowl record. So, I hereby nominate the USM Athletic Department for the second annual, “Who do you think you are?” award. Minnesota won the inaugural award last season when it fired the only good thing that has happened to its football program this side of 1960 Glen Mason. A good rule of thumb to follow is if Brett Favre—the only USM QB to throw more NFL touchdowns than everyone—doesn’t like it, don’t do it! The other side of this game features no dissatisfaction at the coaching position whatsoever. Cincinnati probably thought its football program was finished when Michigan St. plucked Mark Dantonio away last season. Little did anyone know that was the best thing that could’ve happened. Brian Kelly is one of the brightest stars in the coaching ranks. His offense is lauded while his defense inconspicuously dominates. Cincinnati would be best advised to start looking for Kelly’s successor right now. He is going to end up someplace huge very soon. As for the outcome of this game, Southern Mississippi played three good teams (Tennessee, Boise St., and Central Florida) and lost all three by at least 17 points. Cincinnati crushed Oregon St. and Connecticut, and also beat S. Florida. Common opponent alert: Cincy hammered Marshall by 26. USM beat Marshall by 11. So, clearly Cincy might want to plan a post-game celebration ahead of time.

New Mexico Bowl

Nevada (6-6) vs. New Mexico (8-4)-------Albuquerque, N.M

December 22, ESPN, 4:30 p.m.

Your life absolutely depends on answering this question right and you have to do it in five seconds; which one of these teams is in the WAC? Could you do it? If you even attempted to answer this question, you are incredibly nerdy. If you answered the question right, then you are as nerdy as me. Nevada is in the WAC. New Mexico is in the MWC. Now that I’ve tragically wasted 20 seconds of your life, I’ll move onto the game. Luckily, we have the “common opponent” option to sort this game out. Common opponent alert: Both teams played UNLV. Nevada won by seven at home. New Mexico won by 21 at home. So, New Mexico is better. Plus, New Mexico can’t lose the New Mexico Bowl two years in a row. That’s just unfathomable. That’s all you’re getting from me on this game.

Las Vegas Bowl

UCLA (6-6) vs. BYU (10-2)-------Las Vegas, NV

December 22, ESPN, 8 p.m.

I can’t stand bowl rematches. There are 64 bowl teams. Is it that hard to avoid a rematch? If something needs to be settled in a BCS Championship game, that’s one thing. But, to double-check to see if UCLA's win in the first game on September 8, was an aberration seems like a waste of a game to me. Plus, UCLA was ranked #13 when they played the first time around. To have to play BYU a second time when they aren’t ranked at all is totally unfair. Yes, I’m kidding. Nonetheless, these two acronym kings will duke it out again with nothing on the line. UCLA has two of the worst losses of the season by any team. The Bruins were violated by Utah 44-6, and lost to Notre Dame which was winless at the time. UCLA also lost to Arizona and Washington St. which would be more embarrassing if it weren’t for the Utah and ND games. BYU—on the other hand—has won nine in a row including wins over four bowl teams. Clearly these teams come in with vastly differing momentum levels. Plus, UCLA can’t be all that excited about having to play BYU again. On the flip side, BYU probably wouldn’t rather play anyone else. This one has all of the makings of a BYU blowout.

Hawaii Bowl

Boise St. (10-2) vs. East Carolina (7-5)-------Honolulu, HI

December 23, ESPN, 8 p.m.

This is just a bad match-up. Boise St. lost to the two best teams on its schedule (Hawaii and Washington) but handily thumped everyone else with the lone exception of its 69-67 victory over Nevada in one of the most entertaining games in recent memory. Nevada ran for 396 yards in that game and lost. Boise St.'s other nine wins were all by at least ten points including a 22-point win over Southern Mississippi which just happens to be better than East Carolina. Common opponent alert: Boise St. beat USM by 22. USM beat East Carolina by seven. So, you can probably guess where I’m going with this. Records don’t always tell the story but in this case, I think it lays out the story very nicely. So, this game will be terrible.

Motor City Bowl

Purdue (7-5) vs. Central Michigan (8-5)-------The D, MI

December 26, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.

Did I mention I hate rematches? At least the UCLA/BYU game features a game with the final outcome in doubt. A rematch should—at the very least—have that dynamic. Instead, we get a rematch of a game in which Purdue won 45-22 earlier in the season. I didn’t think the bowl season could get any worse than a diluted slew of games featuring terrible match-ups. But, I was wrong. Now we have to deal with a diluted slew of games featuring terrible rematches. If the Big Ten has any prayer—and it doesn’t—of going .500 or better in its bowl games, Purdue must win this game. In fact, when Purdue wins this game the Big Ten will be atop the Bowl standings for at least two days. So, get your bragging hats on and be ready to go at it starting promptly at 11:00pm on December 26th. You won’t have much time so line up your best “jorts” jokes and let ’em fly. Common opponent alert: Both teams clobbered Toledo but Purdue did it by 28 points and CMU only did it by 21 points. So, Purdue will destroy CMU.

Holiday Bowl

Arizona St. (10-2) vs. Texas (9-3)-------San Diego, CA

December 27, ESPN, 8 p.m.

This game should be intriguing but it’s not. Neither team is very watch-able. Texas is having a down year after an amazing streak of six consecutive 10-win seasons which would end if it loses this game. Texas also lost to Texas A&M for the second straight year. Making matters worse is that despite a decent record, A&M wasn’t very good in either year. So, this isn’t vintage Texas. Arizona St. had a breakthrough year under Dennis Erickson record-wise but proved virtually nothing by beating one team with a winning record. ASU beat four bowl teams but none of them are ranked and only one of them is not 6-6. So, its record doesn’t tell us a whole lot. There really are no fascinating angles or anything for the non-vested fan to grab onto in the name of intrigue in this game. I hate to say it but it’s tough to take these two teams seriously with their incredibly weak collection of wins. Moving on…

Champs Sports Bowl

Boston College (10-3) vs. Michigan St. (7-5)-------Orlando, FL

December 28, ESPN, 5 p.m

This game would make a good Holiday Bowl but, instead, it’ll make a good Champs Sports Bowl. The list of teams with winning records that BC and MSU have beaten (Va. Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Bowling Green (2), Penn St., Purdue, and Indiana) is much more impressive than the list of winning teams that ASU and Texas have beaten (Oregon St., Central Florida, TCU, and Texas Tech). Both teams have had ups and downs but they have proven that they can play at a high level. BC has the 6th best passing attack in the country while MSU has the 25th best rushing attack. Those dynamics, combined with the fact that MSU doesn’t roll over for every post-September opponent anymore makes this game very intriguing. Michigan St. very easily could’ve had nine wins with BC’s schedule so this game isn’t as big of a mismatch as it might otherwise look. This game is enormous for the MSU program. A loss here doesn’t really take away too much from an otherwise successful first-year under Mark Dantonio. A win, though, combined with the UM coaching uncertainty, would be an enormous boost for recruiting. Not to mention, the season would end on a three-game winning streak with wins over Purdue, Penn St., and BC. This might just be my “Big Ten bias” shining through but I’ll definitely be tuned in for this one. Double common opponent alert: MSU beat Notre Dame by 17 while Boston College beat Notre Dame by 14. However, my instincts tell me that this game will come down to which team beat Bowling Green by more points. BC holds the edge there, 31-11.

Texas Bowl

TCU (7-5) vs. Houston (8-4)-------Houston, TX

December 28, NFL Network, 8 p.m.

Let’s put aside the awfulness of this game for just a second. If your bowl is going to stink and you’re going to call it the Texas Bowl, you might as well have two teams from Texas in the game. And sure enough, that’s what we have here. I am at least 50% more likely to watch this game than I would’ve been otherwise. Kudos to you, organizers of the esteemed Texas Bowl. Houston comes into the game on the strength of its zero wins over teams with a better record than 4-8. One of Houston’s wins was over 1-11 SMU. That looks pretty bad until you see that it also beat Texas Southern which went 0-11 in I-AA. TCU, on the other hand, is vastly more impressive with victories over one team with a better record than 4-8. Common opponent alert: Both teams played SMU. TCU won by 14. Houston won by 10. So, that pretty much closes the case on this game from my perspective. TCU was tested much more vigorously and beat SMU by more points. The good news for the Texas Bowl is that I’m 50% more likely to watch this game. The bad news is that 50% more than zero is still zero.

Emerald Bowl

Maryland (6-6) vs. Oregon St. (8-4)-------San Francisco, CA

December 28, ESPN, 2:30pm

Alas, a splendidly named bowl game. It’s too bad this game doesn’t have a match-up befitting its name. Maryland—despite having a much less shiny record—has a more impressive resume than Oregon St. Among Maryland’s victims were Rutgers, Georgia Tech, and BC. All finished with winning records. Oregon St.—a team that played Oregon at the perfect time—can gloat about victories over Utah and a Dixon-less Oregon. Neither win is very impressive. However, I do feel compelled to give a shout-out to the Oregon St. program for its work in the Civil War over the last ten years. I bet most people would be surprised to know that Oregon St. is actually 6-4 in their last 10 games against Oregon. Oregon St. hasn’t lost at home to Oregon since 1996. Oregon St. also has a better winning percentage over the last seven seasons. Oregon St. has won four bowl games since 1999. Oregon has won three bowl games since 1999. So, congratulations to Oregon St. for being every bit as good as Oregon without anyone really noticing. As for the game, it’s going to be brutal. OSU should win based on location and location only.

Meineke Car Care Bowl

Connecticut (9-3) vs. Wake Forest (8-4)-------Charlotte, NC

December 29, ESPN, 1:00 p.m.

This might sound insane, but this is a game I can get behind. The winner will likely finish the season ranked while the loser will most definitely not. That’s something worth playing for. I have had Connecticut on “fraud” alert all season and I still do. The fact that UCONN lost by 44 to West Virginia and 24 to Cincy over the last three weeks of the season didn’t do anything to dispel that notion. Wake Forest is the ACC version of Connecticut. Before last season, Wake Forest had never had a nine-win season. A win here would give the Demon Deacons back-to-back seasons of at least nine wins. Connecticut has never had a 10-win season in I-A. A win here would accomplish that feat. Either way, this will be an historical season for the winner. Just to show how much the bowl season has deteriorated just in the last few years, UCONN finished 9-3 in 2003 and didn’t even garner a bowl bid. There would be riots if that happened in 2007. These two teams played last year with Wake winning a defensive battle. Double common opponent alert: both teams played Duke and Virginia. Each team beat Duke—although Wake only did it by five points while UCONN won by 31—and lost to Virginia. Incidentally, each team lost to Virginia by one point. This game is a toss-up. It should be mildly entertaining and will certainly fly under the radar as one of the top 15 bowl games.

Liberty Bowl

UCF (10-3) vs. Mississippi St. (7-5)-------Memphis, TN

December 29, ESPN, 4:30 p.m.

Mississippi St. held its opponents to 15 points or less in six of its seven wins. Virginia Tech and Kansas are the only teams with more wins of that variety. The Bulldogs bounced back from a 45-0 season-opening drubbing to LSU with a 7-4 finish that saw shocking wins over Auburn, Kentucky, and Alabama. UCF played three non-conference games against BCS conference teams. All three games had vastly differing outcomes. UCF squeaked out a two-point win over a bad N.C. State team. UCF barely lost at home to Texas—what was Texas doing playing at UCF?—by three. UCF was annihilated by S. Florida 64-12. There is no question that UFC can be competitive against BSC schools but I’m not sure why it is favored over Mississippi St. considering their respective resumes. I don’t even think UFC would’ve been bowl eligible if it had Mississippi St.’s schedule. This game should be fairly competitive but the real story will be whether or not UCF’s Kevin Smith can break Barry Sanders’ all-time I-A single-season college football rushing record. Smith needs 181 yards to beat Sanders’ mark of 2,628. If Smith does break the record, Tulsa should get some mention from Smith in some sort of a “this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my family, friends, teammates, coaches, and Tulsa.” Smith hit up the Golden Hurricanes for 454 yards in two games this season. Mississippi St. doesn’t have a great rush defense so anything is possible especially since the UFC coaches will probably give the ball to Smith at least 40 times. Common opponent alert: both teams played UAB. UCF won by 14 (Smith ran for 320 yards) and Mississippi St. won by 17. I hate to pick against a hallowed-record going down but I would be surprised to see Smith gash MSU for 180. I would be even more surprised if UCF won in the process.

Alamo Bowl

Penn St. (8-4) vs. @ Texas A&M (7-5)-------San Antonio, TX

December 29, ESPN, 8 p.m.

Before Penn St. joined the Big Ten, it was the equivalent of Texas. After 14 years in the Big Ten, it is now the equivalent of Texas A&M. Penn St. fans can’t be happy about that transition. So, it would appear that this would be a good match-up. However, I don’t believe Texas A&M to be a good team. Anyone who saw the Aggies get throttled at Miami (FL)—the same Miami that lost 48-0 to Virginia—is well aware that this team is borderline bad. At no point in that game did I think that Texas A&M was even close to being as good as Miami. Four of its five losses were by at least two touchdowns. Penn St. lost games to Michigan St., Michigan, and Illinois by five, four, and seven points respectively. Neither team has an impressive list of wins but only Penn St. can claim that it was competitive in just about every game. If Penn St. loses this game, the Big Ten has no chance of finishing above .500 in the bowl standings. The more I think about it, the more boring this game sounds. In fact, I could’ve skipped this game entirely and nobody would’ve noticed. I apologize for choosing not to.

Independence Bowl

Colorado (6-6) vs. Alabama (6-6)-------Shreveport, LA

December 30, ESPN, 8 p.m.

Remember when Michigan and Nebraska played in the Alamo Bowl two years ago and Nebraska fans were saying it was time to settle the ’97 co-National Championship debate as if a game eight years later has any significance to 1997 whatsoever? Well, we might as well extend that logic to this game and make it about whose national championship team was better: Colorado in ’90 or Alabama in ’92. I'll go with the team that didn't need five downs. Alabama accomplished an incredibly difficult feat this season. All six of its losses were by seven points or less including games against LSU, Auburn, and Georgia. I don’t think a “we’re seven points worse than every team” motto is going to work for Nick Saban. Not when he is making $4 million a year. Colorado actually had a pretty difficult schedule. It had to play Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, and Arizona St. That’s four games against teams ranked in the top six at some point this season. Neither team is anything close to being consistent. Colorado beat Oklahoma and lost to Iowa St. Alabama beat Tennessee and lost to UL Monroe. Common opponent alert: both teams played Florida St. Colorado lost by 10. Alabama lost by 7. So, Alabama is clearly the better team.

Armed Forces Bowl

Air Force (9-3) vs. California (6-6)-------Fort Worth, TX

December 31, ESPN, 12:30 p.m.

Has there ever been a bigger collapse in college football history than the one California orchestrated this season? On October 7, Cal was 5-0 and ranked #2 in the country with impressive wins over Tennessee and Oregon. Cal finished the season on a 1-6 stretch including losses to Washington and Stanford. Even Cal’s only win over that stretch was a three-point squeaker at home against a bad Washington St. team. What happened? Jeff Tedford should consider getting out ASAP before his career goes the way of Kirk Ferentz. Cal has been pretty good over Tedford’s tenure but the program will never be able to out-recruit USC and UCLA. Ferentz is “stuck” in Iowa—maybe he doesn’t care that he’s stuck but he’s stuck nonetheless—for lack of a better word. Tedford might get “stuck” in Cal if his career suffers the plight of the Ferentz. Even with Cal’s monumental struggles, it should feel good about playing Air Force. The Airmen lost to three of the four best teams it played (BYU, Navy, and New Mexico). The lone victory of the group was over Utah. On a scale of 0-100 in terms of “motivation to play this game”, Air Force is probably at a “99”. Where Cal is on that scale will probably be the deciding factor in this one. Anything less than “50” and you could see Air Force pull the upset. It’s not uncommon for a BCS-conference team to come in overconfident and under-motivated against a mid-major. It happened last year in the Las Vegas Bowl when BYU destroyed Oregon, 38-8.

Humanitarian Bowl

Georgia Tech (7-5) vs. Fresno St. (8-4)-------Boise St., ID

December 31, ESPN2, 2 p.m.

This might be the least significant game in the history of Georgia Tech football. Other than being able to say, “we won” or "we lost", nothing good or bad could possibly come from this game. Chan Gailey was fired after the regular season. Paul Johnson won’t start coaching until the ’08 opener. Tech’s style under Johnson won’t resemble anything fans will see in this bowl game. This is truly a unique situation. It’s not as if any fan-base dreams of a Humanitarian bowl bid against Fresno St. anyways. But, the added element of irrelevancy with respect to the future makes this game truly one of the most meaningless games that any team has ever played in any sport ever. Georgia Tech fans are more likely to be concerned with whether the A.D. or Johnson keeps Jon Tenuta around as Defensive Coordinator. That seems like a no-brainer to me. Nonetheless, this could end up being a competitive game. Georgia Tech is close to a carbon copy of Texas A&M . Fresno St. lost by two at Texas A&M earlier in the season. Fresno St. will probably be more motivated to play this one and the score will probably reflect that. More importantly, I think I have come up with the most impossibly difficult trivia question for qualified answerers. I would be shocked to find out if there is even a single person east of the Mississippi—who hasn’t had the task of following these conferences specifically as a job—who could identify all of the teams in the MWC and WAC without making a single mistake. Here is a just a sample of how hard that task might be for you: place the following three teams in the correct conference: Tulsa, New Mexico, and New Mexico St. See answer under the Sugar Bowl.

Sun Bowl

S. Florida (9-3) vs. Oregon (8-4)-------El Paso, TX

December 31, CBS, 2 p.m.

If you want to know if a particular coach takes pride in his ballot, simply check to see if he voted for S. Florida. If not, then there is no pride present. S. Florida was inexplicably left out of the AP Top 25 and only ranked #25 in the USA Today. S. Florida’s computer average is ranked #14. It has impressive wins over West Virginia and Auburn. All three of its losses were by seven points or less against bowl teams. It is an insult to the S. Florida program that it isn’t ranked higher. If Oregon loses this game, it will do what Oregon usually does which is lose at least five games in a season. It would be the fifth time in the last six years with five losses or more. Oregon hasn’t shown much competitiveness since Dennis Dixon went down losing at Arizona (first loss at Arizona since ’98), at home against Oregon St. (first home loss to Oregon St. since ’93), and at UCLA (first time shutout since ’85). Given all that, S. Florida should win.

Music City Bowl

Kentucky (7-5) vs. Florida St. (7-5)-------Nashville, TN

December 31, ESPN, 4 p.m.

This is one of eight bowl games that features a team that was ranked #2 at some point this season. The Sun Bowl has two such teams making it an unbelievable total of nine different teams that were ranked #2 at some point. Can you guess them? Answer below the Orange Bowl. Kentucky’s Andre Woodson would’ve won the Heisman easily had his team won one or two more games. He threw for 14 touchdowns and 1100 yards against LSU, Florida, and Tennessee alone. It’ll be interesting to see who gets drafted higher between Woodson and Darren McFadden. Common opponent alert: both teams played Florida. Kentucky—as it was against every team it played—was competitive in an eight-point loss to Florida. Florida St. was not competitive in the slightest as it allowed the production of the “Tim Tebow Show” in the form of a 33-point blowout loss to take place against its defense. Kentucky’s offense will likely prove to be too much for FSU’s 91st rated offense to keep up with.

Insight Bowl

Indiana (7-5) vs. Oklahoma St. (6-6)-------Tempe, AZ

December 31, NFL Network, 6:00 p.m.

This is another game that the Big Ten needs if it has any prayer of salvaging a respectable bowl record. Indiana had the gift from God luxury of not playing Michigan and Ohio St. which is the only reason it became bowl eligible for the first time since 1993. Indiana’s list of wins is borderline atrocious. It beat Indiana St., Western Michigan, Akron, Ball St., Iowa, Minnesota, and Purdue. That’s one I-AA team, three MAC teams, a 1-11 Big Ten team, and Iowa and Purdue. Okie St. was almost as bad beating Sam Houston St., Baylor, Nebraska, Kansas St., FAU, and Texas Tech. There won’t be any defense in this game. Both teams average over 30 points per game and both give up more than 26 points per game. The 68.5 point over/under might be a little low for this one. Oklahoma St's coach is 40. Indiana's is not. That should be the deciding factor in this one.

Chick-fil-A Bowl

Clemson (9-3) vs. Auburn (8-4)-------Atlanta, GA

December 31, ESPN2, 7:30 p.m.

Auburn is often called the Clemson of the ACC and vice versa. That certainly seems to be the case but I think that comparison is a little bit unfair to Auburn. Auburn has consistently had more success than Clemson over just about any measurable time frame. Auburn has 667 all-time wins (63% winning percentage). Clemson has 616 (59 %). Auburn holds a 31-11-2 record against Clemson. Auburn has been to 33 bowl games and won 18. Clemson has been to 29 bowl games and won 15. Auburn is 13-6-1 in its last 20 bowl games. Clemson is 4-8 in its last 12 bowl games. Auburn has won the SEC West six times since 1997. Clemson hasn’t won the ACC since 1991. So, other than having the same mascot, not being named after their state but having chief rivals that are, and being fairly successful college football programs, these two teams really don’t have as much in common as one might think. This should be a pretty good game though. Auburn has won 13 in a row in the series although all but one of those was before 1972. This game is in Atlanta which is right smack dab in the middle of the two schools. I have no idea which team is going to win. Auburn has had more impressive victories so if I had to choose, I’d take the Tigers—but I’m not saying which one.

Outback Bowl

Wisconsin (9-3) vs. Tennessee (9-4)-------Tampa, FL

January 1, ESPN, 11 a.m.

This will mark the fifth straight year that Wisconsin has played an SEC team in its bowl game. The Badgers have held up their end fairly well going 2-2 despite being underdogs in every game. Tennessee played 10 bowl teams this season so it has definitely been tested. Many of Tennessee’s wins were of the close variety while most of its losses were blowouts. I don’t get the impression that Wisconsin’s offense is good enough to blowout Tennessee even on its best day. So, chances are this will be a close contest with Tennessee—the better team—coming out on top. If Wisconsin does pull the upset it would be an unexpected boost to the Big Ten’s chances of going .500 in the bowl season. I never think Wisconsin is going to win these games and this year is no different. However, win or lose, Wisconsin is always competitive.

Cotton Bowl

Missouri (11-2) vs. Arkansas (8-4)-------Dallas, TX

January 1, FOX, 11:30 a.m.

Bobby Petrino leaving the Atlanta Falcons to return to the college ranks shocks only one person in the universe. Michigan, of course, couldn't consider Petrino for its vacant head coaching position because it would disrupt its theme of ignoring all of the best candidates. Petrino will definitely impact the Arkansas program but my guess is he'll soon find out what Steve Spurrier is well aware of after three seasons at South Carolina. Reaching elite status with a middle-of-the-pack school in the SEC is borderline impossible. As for the Cotton Bowl, it should be a good game. Missouri isn’t as good as its record while Arkansas is not as bad as its record. Two of the four Heisman Trophy Finalists will be on display. I would be surprised if both teams don’t pass the 30-point mark. This will likely be your last chance to see Darren McFadden in college before he destroys the NFL. The only thing that can keep Adrian Peterson McFadden from dominating the next level is the injury-bug. McFadden has the speed/power/vision combination that few NFL running backs have ever had. Common opponent alert: both teams played Ole Miss. Missouri won by 13 while Arkansas won by 36. Both of these teams are ranked in the top 10 in total offense but get it done in different ways. Missouri has the 7th rated passing offense in the country. Arkansas has the 3rd rated rushing offense. This will be one of the most exciting games to watch. I’m slightly leaning towards Arkansas in an upset but I think it’s pretty much a toss-up.

Gator Bowl

Texas Tech (8-4) vs. Virginia (9-3)-------Jacksonville, FL

January 1, CBS, 1 p.m.

This should be another great game featuring contrasting styles. Texas Tech is #2 in the country in total yards per game. Virginia is #18 in the country in total yards allowed per game. This game could go one of a million different ways. Texas Tech could destroy Virginia with its pass-happy offense or Virginia’s defense could stifle Texas Tech. I would imagine that the over/under (60) is probably the lowest of the year for Texas Tech. Even though Virginia is ranked #20 and Texas Tech is unranked, the Red Raiders are five-point favorites. I think that has to do with the fact that Virginia hasn’t played a team with a good offense all season. Virginia has played in a number of defensive struggles that have resulted in an amazing total of five wins by two points or less. Making matters worse for Virginia is the fact that its offense is 101st in yards per game. This should be a very interesting game to watch that could get ugly or stay very close.

Capital One Bowl

Michigan (8-4) vs. @ Florida (9-3)-------Orlando, FL

January 1, ABC, 1 p.m.

Urban Meyer is putting together an unprecedented resume. His last four seasons have been monumental. Three years ago, he led Utah to a 13-0 record and made Alex Smith the #1 pick in the NFL Draft. Two years ago—in his first season at Florida—he led the Gators to a 3-0 record against Tennessee, Florida St., and Georgia for the first time since 1996. Last year, he led Florida to the National Championship. This year, his quarterback scored an unbelievable 51 touchdowns on his way to becoming the first ever sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy (feel free to question the sanity of the 21 voters who didn't have Tebow in their top three here). Meyer is 53-9 over the last five seasons including a 4-0 bowl record outscoring his opponents 124-45. Florida will likely be co-favorites to win the National Championship next season as Meyer could have the Heisman Trophy winner and a NC in the same season. So, yeah. I think he’s good. Michigan basically needs Les Miles to come to AA at this point to salvage any kind of momentum for the program. Lloyd Carr is mercifully coaching his last game which will almost undoubtedly end in his fifth straight bowl loss and his fifth straight season of losing to Ohio St. and in a bowl game. Michigan is a prohibitive underdog. Anybody who has watched Michigan play against mobile quarterbacks working out of the spread understands why. Florida was the worst possible bowl opponent Michigan could face. There are a number of teams ranked ahead of Florida who would’ve given Michigan an opportunity to win. Florida should dominate this one. In fact, I have a score…37-24.

Rose Bowl

Illinois (9-3) vs. @ USC (10-2)-------Pasadena, CA

January 1, ABC, 4:30 p.m.

The 13.5 point spread for this game has to be one of the biggest in Rose Bowl history. USC is the superior team and it has the ultimate post-season advantage in sports. Everybody wants to talk about how the Big Ten doesn’t fare all that well in bowl games but nobody wants to venture any guess as to why other than the Big Ten simply must be overrated. While that argument might be convenient for an SEC or Pac 10 fan, it ignores the fact that the Big Ten virtually plays on the road in every Rose Bowl and in most games against the SEC and Big XII. Over time, a team that plays constantly on the road against comparable teams will inevitably lose more times than not. That’s why I would love to see a playoff format with home games at college venues. It would be great to see USC travel to Ann Arbor or Columbus in December on occasion. I think Illinois has enough talent to keep this game closer than the spread. I hope this isn’t a repeat of the ’03 Orange Bowl when USC crushed an Iowa team that was somewhat similar to this year’s Illinois team. Illinois is probably the most accomplished team that USC will have faced all season. The Illini beat Wisconsin, Penn St., and Ohio St. That collection of wins is actually more impressive than what USC accomplished this season. USC only beat one team all season that is currently ranked and that’s Arizona St. This could be an entertaining game or it could be over by the end of the first quarter. I’m pulling for the former.

Sugar Bowl

Hawaii (12-0) vs. Georgia (10-2)-------New Orleans, LA

January 1, FOX, 8:30 p.m.

Hawaii had one of the easiest schedules in the history of college football this season. It needed overtime to defeat San Jose St. (5-7) and La. Tech. (5-7). Hawaii also beat two I-AA teams and 1-11 Idaho. However, Hawaii did play the four best teams on its schedule over the last four weeks of the season. The wins weren’t decisive but they were wins nonetheless. There is no question that it would take a “good” team to beat Fresno St., Nevada, Washington, and Boise St. over a four game stretch. Hawaii deserves to be in a BCS game just as much as Utah did in ’04 and Boise St. did last season. Georgia can’t be happy in the slightest to be playing Hawaii for a number of reasons. Georgia was the next team in line to play in the BCS Championship game when Missouri lost to Oklahoma. That was until the voters decided that they really didn’t believe Georgia was better than LSU despite voting that way the week before. So, playing Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl isn’t much of a consolation prize. Also, playing a team like Hawaii is a no-win situation for Georgia. If Georgia wins, then everyone will say Hawaii was terrible. If Georgia loses, then everyone will laugh at Georgia. Just ask Oklahoma. They faced this exact situation against Boise St. in the Fiesta Bowl last year. Georgia has been on a heck of a roll lately having won six in a row including wins over Florida, Auburn, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech. I believe Hawaii is in for the beat-down that just about every fan was hoping Boise St. or Washington would administer at the end of the season.

Trivia answer from above: New Mexico is in the MWC. New Mexico St. is in the WAC. Tulsa is in C-USA.

Fiesta Bowl

Oklahoma (11-2) vs. West Virginia (10-2)-------Glendale, AZ

January 2, FOX, 8 p.m.

This would’ve been a great National Championship game. Had Pat White not injured his thumb against Pittsburgh, West Virginia would be playing Ohio St. for the National Championship. Both of these teams will likely be in the pre-season top five next year. This game features strength vs. strength as Oklahoma sports the 8th best rush defense in the country while West Virginia has the 4th best rush offense. WVU is looking for its third straight bowl victory after going 1-11 in its previous 13. If WVU can win by a score of 38-35, it would be the third straight bowl victory for WVU by that score. I can’t imagine that has ever happened before. Oklahoma is a 6.5-point favorite but I think that is incredibly high. These teams are very close in ability and this game is easily one of the top five intriguing games of the bowl season. If I had to pick, I’d go with one of my two alma maters (Boomer Sooner).

Orange Bowl

Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. Kansas (11-1)-------Miami, FL

January 3, FOX, 8 p.m.

The Big XII has the distinction of being the only league in modern I-A history to have three 11-win teams before the bowl season. I’m not sure we’ll see that again anytime soon because it’s nearly impossible. It takes the right schedules in the right conference with the right caliber of teams. Ironically, this distinction doesn’t shed much light on how good the conference is because none of the three teams beat anyone worthwhile out of conference except for Illinois. As for the Orange Bowl, it is the Gator Bowl on HGH. Virginia Tech is a better version of Virginia and Kansas is a better version of Texas Tech. This game features the same contrasting styles of the Gator Bowl except each team is more balanced. Kansas has the #2 offense in the country and Virginia Tech has the #2 defense in the country. Kansas hasn’t beaten a single quality team all season. It didn’t have to play Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech—a game that would’ve seen an over/under of at least 80. Va. Tech isn’t perfect but at least it beat Clemson, Boston College, and Virginia. I’ll take the team with a more difficult schedule than Hawaii which is Va. Tech.

Trivia answer from above: Cal, USC, LSU, S. Florida, Boston College, Oregon, Kansas, West Virginia and Missouri were all ranked #2 at some point this season. If Va. Tech beats Kansas, it will likely be added to the list.

International Bowl

Rutgers (7-5) vs. Ball St. (7-5)-------Toronto, Canada

January 5, ESPN2, Noon

This game would probably garner more attention if it were renamed the Michigan Candidate Bowl. Unfortunately, Greg Schiano became the first coach in Rutgers history to soberly turn down an offer to be the head coach at Michigan. So, the International Bowl it is. The fact that Brady Hoke’s name is even relevant to the Michigan coach search is a sign that the search has turned into a disaster Lloyd Carr is heavily involved. Double common opponent alert: both of these teams played Navy and Buffalo. Rutgers beat Navy by 17 and Buffalo by 35. Ball St. beat Navy by 3 and Buffalo by 35 as well. Rutgers suffered a letdown-year after achieving unprecedented success last season. Had it been Penn St. calling and not Michigan, Schiano would be in Happy Valley as I type this. Rutgers could be in danger of taking this game lightly but it should still have a substantial enough talent advantage to hammer Ball St.


Bowling Green (8-4) vs. Tulsa (8-4)-------Mobile, AL

January 6, ESPN, 8 p.m.

This is the game that Bowling Green has been waiting for 18 years to play. Tulsa shellacked the Eagles 45-10 in their only previous meeting back in 1989. It’s time for redemption. This group of BGSU players can put to rest the shame that the program has endured ever since that fateful November 18th afternoon. Likewise, Tulsa will have redemption on its mind as well. Entering that game in 1989, the two teams sported nearly identical winning percentages (.60031 to .60000 in favor of Bowling Green). Ever since, the results have been drastically different. Bowling Green has only managed a .557-clip while Tulsa’s football program collapsed to a morbid .389 percentage. Clearly, that win destroyed the Tulsa football program. While that game in 1989 wasn’t good for either team, this game can make everything right for one of them. Based on the aftermath of their last meeting, these teams might be better off agreeing on some kind of a forfeit. I hope that was entertaining.

BCS Championship Game

Ohio St. (11-1) vs. @ LSU (11-2)-------New Orleans, LA

January 7, FOX, 8 p.m.

Wow. What a shocker. The Big Ten is playing a road game in the BCS Championship game. I never in a million years…..Before I get into the game itself, I'd like to devote a few sentences to the awesomeness of LSU AD Skip Bertman. In the span of two days, Bertman said, "I'd be under the assumption that the permission to speak to Les Miles has expired," and "You don't need permission, because you already have it. I feel very confident, and I don't have a problem with that." I am rooting for THE Ohio State University in this game for a number of reasons but first and foremost is because it may put Michigan in the history books. I don’t have the passion nor the resources to look this up but I think Michigan could become the first I-A team in college football history to lose to both the I-A and I-AA Champions in the same season. Michigan needs to start lightening up on the schedule a little bit. These two coaches might very well meet again on November 15, 2008 in Columbus, OH. Let’s hope if that does happen that Miles/Tressel resembles something closer to Bo/Woody than Carr/Tressel. As for the game, I think these teams are mirror images of each other despite the fact that the SEC rules the universe in every game ever played ever. Both have loaded defenses and meticulous offenses. I actually have more confidence in Todd Boeckman than I do Matt Flynn. I also have more confidence in Chris—I’m not going to say it—Wells than I do Jacob Hester. I would be shocked if this game isn’t close. The only problem for Ohio St. is that LSU will be by far the best team that it has played all season. LSU has been battle tested. This should be a good one. If LSU wins, it would be only the second team in the history of I-A college football to win a National Championship with two losses. The only other time it happened, Minnesota won the NC in 1960 after losing to Washington in the Rose Bowl. Washington won a split of the NC. So, that would be like Ohio St. losing to LSU and still winning the NC. LSU would be the first team in I-A history to lose two games in the regular season and still win the NC.

Monday, December 10, 2007

At least Georgia Tech has a great coach

While Bill Martin was busy fumbling the “Les Miles situation”, he—and his paper search-committee—was simultaneously busy making an even bigger faux pas by ignoring virtually every dynamic coach fit to revolutionize the Michigan football program. Allowing chivalry to ruin the Miles situation could have simply been an isolated blunder albeit a regrettable one. Not getting the list of "the best available candidates" anywhere close to right is totally inexplicable. The second one is a much bigger indictment of Bill Martin’s incompetence. I’m not sure if Martin understands this and chooses to ignore it, or if he’s so enthralled with Lloyd Carr’s “integrity” that he couldn’t possibly see it but: any average coach could guide Michigan—a program that could go 8-4 for 30 years on auto-pilot—to respectability. Lloyd Carr is proof of that. Mike DeBord and Ron English could be—and likely would be—every bit as successful as Carr. The problem with that is that nobody—with the ironic and troublesome exception of Carr’s boss—was happy with respectability. Carr’s retirement was what virtually an entire fan-base was hoping praying for . This was supposed to be the point when Michigan stepped up to the elite status that was not possible under a limited coach. This was supposed to be the point when Michigan would now enter football games with the talent and coaching advantages which anyone who has heard of USC, Florida, and Ohio St. knows is a devastating combination.

By most accounts, Paul Johnson wasn’t even among the list of 30 coaches who Martin wanted to talk to. Considering Michigan’s organizational arrogance, the fact that it didn’t contact Johnson was no surprise. Georgia Tech did what Michigan was too afraid and small-minded to do, which was contact and then hire one of the best coaches in football. That concept—that truly revolutionary concept of hiring a great football coach—has apparently been lost on some. Georgia Tech didn’t beat Michigan to the punch like we saw LSU do in the Miles situation. Johnson didn’t shun Michigan like Greg Schiano did. For anything like that to have happened, Michigan would have needed to first show the competency necessary to even acknowledge Johnson’s existence. Michigan simply chose to ignore him. While the search has turned into a nightmare amongst the fan-base and alumni, Martin and Michigan always had the answer sitting right in front of them. As long as Johnson was available, Michigan’s search was never in danger. Just because the majority of the fan-base didn’t know it, didn’t make it any less true. Johnson was Michigan’s Jim Tressel or Urban Meyer—or more appropriately, a combination of the two. This search didn’t reach “inept” status in my mind until Georgia Tech proved to be more competent than Michigan. Sure, Michigan could’ve handled the Miles fiasco better. But, the situation never needed to be “Miles or bust.”

Any competent AD would’ve had a list of the best coaches in football that would’ve included Johnson right at the top along with Brian Kelly and Rich Rodriguez among others. Rumor has it that the latter two never made the list either because of various “they’re beneath us” reasons. It has been speculated that Kelly wasn’t considered because of a comment that was totally misinterpreted and overblown by media types while Rodriguez is one of a number of coaches who Carr may have given the “thumbs down” to. Obviously, Carr’s petty grudges are something that nobody at UM would ever in a million years admit to publicly because UM only admits good things. Plus, acknowledging them would set Michigan up for the inevitable ridicule that would accompany admittance that Michigan was ignoring qualified coaches because of petty grudges. Carr handicapped the search process by announcing his retirement when he did—it was always best for the Michigan program for Carr to announce much later despite Carr's insistence to the contrary—and by sabotaging the list of candidates by reportedly giving the subtle “thumbs down” to Miles and Rodriguez among others. Martin, for his part, allowed all of this to happen.

Still, even with Carr’s reported attempts to make it difficult for Miles to get the job, Michigan always had the best coaching option on the table in Paul Johnson. It is my belief that Michigan didn’t hire contact even consider Johnson because it was too dismissive of him as a “gimmick” coach who would never have success at a school like Michigan. That is the status quo that I have come to expect from the leaders of a football program that still haven’t acknowledged that the spread offense even exists. Well, I for one can’t wait until the Georgia Tech football program blows up. There haven’t been too many bad days for University of Georgia football fans in recent years but this certainly counts as one of them. Under no circumstances can they be happy that Johnson is now in charge of the Yellow Jackets. If this guy was taking over your chief rival’s football team, would you feel good about it? If Martin had done his job, this would’ve been a bad day for Ohio St..

There is a very good chance that Michigan will end up with Les Miles when this thing is all said and done. Everyone will forget any of this ever happened. There will be no accountability for any of this stuff. The Michigan program will be stronger than it has been since the mid-80s and everyone will be happy. However, none of that will change the fact that the people in charge allowed arrogance and ignorance to get in the way of putting Michigan in the best possible position to be successful in this job search. While a competent AD never would’ve gotten into the situation of “Miles or Bust”, the fact that Martin never even considered Johnson, Rodriguez, and Kelly essentially guaranteed that the whole success of this search hinged on Miles coming to Michigan. He will bail out Michigan and—despite the fact that he will have to go back on his word to come to Michigan—he will be hailed as a savior.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The GM of infinite mastery strikes again

I have been waiting 28 years for a trade like the one the Tigers made on Tuesday. Nabbing Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis without giving up a single contributing piece for next season is just one of the things that makes this trade the biggest one in Detroit sports in my lifetime. I can’t think of another trade that brought in two All-Stars—one of which is a 25-year old lefty who already has 68 career wins and the other is a 24-year old third baseman whose similarity score most resembles Hank Aaron—who haven’t even entered the prime of their careers, yet. The way things generally work in MLB is that you trade talented youth for accomplished veterans. In this instance, the Tigers managed to trade talented youth for even more talented, accomplished youth.

The Tigers may have gotten a great combination of players but they certainly didn’t get them for cheap. Back in June, I put together a list of the 40 best prospects in the Tigers minor league system. In this trade alone, the Tigers gave up the #1, #2, #3, and #5 prospects along with Burke Badenhop (#24 and rising fast) and Mike Rabelo who would’ve made the list but started the season in Detroit because of Vance Wilson’s injury. Combine that with the Edgar Renteria trade and the Tigers have traded their top five prospects and six of the top seven prospects in the last month alone. It’s extraordinary to think that Dave Dombrowski spent four years re-tooling the Tigers moribund farm system and--in just one month--all of that hard work and patience got cashed in in two moves. This is exactly how the Yankees and Red Sox have been doing business for years. It’s great to be on the ecstatic side of one of these deals for once. To look at things incredibly bluntly and simplistically, the minors are for cheapskates and losers. The Tigers are neither anymore.

There are a number of fascinating elements to this trade. For starters, the arrival of Cabrera mercifully spells the end of Brandon Inge’s bat from the third base position. Third base is generally a position that is expected to contribute respectable offensive numbers and Inge wasn’t doing that. However, with Pudge possibly on his way out after this season, Inge could again become a factor at catcher. This is just speculation on my part but the Tigers could do a lot worse than having Inge’s bat coming from the catcher-position. In the intermediate, Inge could be a valuable utility guy in the infield. Look for him to not only spell Cabrera at third base but possibly get in at shortstop and second base as well if he stays which gets more and more unlikely by the day. Seeing Inge at 2B would certainly take some time to get used to from a visual perspective.

Something else to think about is the impressive bat of Dontrelle Willis. In 2007, he hit .286 with an impressive OPS+ of 121. Just to compare, that was better than Pudge, Sean Casey, Brandon Inge, Craig Monroe, and Marcus Thames; none had an OPS+ greater than 100. Before I get too carried away, it’s important to note that ’07 was by far Willis’ best season with the bat. The rest of his career has been decent for a pitcher but certainly less than spectacular for an everyday hitter. However, if Willis’ performance in ’07 is a sign that his hitting skills are on the rise, his arrival to the American League adds some versatility to the Tigers lineup. All the more interesting is the fact that Willis bats left-handed which is something the Tigers are short on. It’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers plan on using him at all as a pinch-hitter or in any hitting capacity.

Incredibly, the Tigers now have six players in the lineup who were All-Stars in 2007. Throw in Gary Sheffield and Curtis Granderson—who were two of the biggest snubs in All-Star history—and the Tigers trot out eight All-Star caliber hitters on any given night. As if that isn’t impressive enough, the addition of Jacque Jones now allows the Tigers to platoon him with Marcus Thames in the ninth spot to create a virtual All-Star-caliber hitter. Marcus Thames hit .310 against lefties with a 128 OPS+--or a .927 OPS—in 2007 and Jacque Jones’ career OPS+ is 110—or an .825 OPS—against righties. This offense—if it can stay healthy—should be as good as any offense in our lifetime. Much of the expected offensive fireworks hinges on Gary Sheffield’s health. However, the addition of Cabrera will give the Tigers a powerful lineup regardless. Bill from the Detroit Tigers Weblog ran a simulation and discovered that this offense should generate around 5.8 runs per game. If everyone stays healthy--and most importantly if Sheff's shoulder is fully recovered--I think there's a pretty good chance it could be even more than that.

This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime deal. The Tigers may have issues with the bullpen but no team in MLB has a better lineup and few can touch the depth of the rotation. Dave Dombrowski is the best GM in baseball just ahead of Randy Smith everyone else. It’s one thing to run a baseball team when an unlimited payroll or a loaded farm system is waiting for you the day you take the job like the Yankees or Red Sox. It’s something entirely different—and with a degree of difficulty vastly more impressive—to take over an organization with neither and turn it into one of the two or three best organizations in baseball in just four years.

The addition of Cabrera and Willis brings the total number of Latinos in the starting lineup to six. So, —just as a bit of advice—the next time you visit South America you may want to wear an Old English D cap. It may just be a “get out of kidnapping free” card.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Misunderstanding Paul Johnson

Most college football fans are relatively unfamiliar with Paul Johnson. I don’t necessarily blame them, but that unfamiliarity has led to some damaging misconceptions that could prevent Michigan from even considering one of the elite coaches in college football. Before writing Johnson off as a “gimmick” coach not befitting of a national power, fans and Michigan officials owe it to the program to get the story straight. Johnson is in a class with Urban Meyer, Pete Carroll, Jim Tressel, and Bob Stoops as the truly elite coaches in college football. He is a brilliant football coach who would almost certainly take the Michigan football program to the next level. Unfortunately, there are a few misconceptions that keep Johnson from being embraced by major college football programs…

Misconception #1

“Johnson’s offense wouldn’t work at a BCS-school.”

I remember the same criticisms of Urban Meyer when he went to Florida via Utah via Bowling Green. A bevy of pundits claimed that Meyer’s “gimmick” offense would get destroyed by the speed and athleticism of the defenses in the SEC. In year two at Florida, Meyer won a National Championship. In year three, Meyer’s quarterback had 51 touchdowns. The writing was on the wall so to speak before Meyer ever went to Florida but many chose to ignore it. Meyer’s Utah-teams clobbered good teams and bad teams alike. Utah destroyed BCS-conference teams such as Texas A&M and Pittsburgh but Meyer’s offense was still criticized as being “gimmicky” as he made the move to Florida. The same writing is on the wall for Paul Johnson. His offense destroys good defenses and bad defenses alike. People forget that since Johnson can’t recruit a non-terrible throwing quarterback to Navy, he has to run the ball 80% of the time. Defenses know that Navy is going to run. Imagine how much more devastating the Navy offense would be if Johnson could run a more balanced offense. Still, even when defenses know the run is coming, there isn’t anything they can do about it. To suggest that Navy’s offense can’t have success against good teams is just wrong. In last year’s Mieneke Bowl, Navy ran for 322 yards against Boston College which had the nation’s 13th best rush defense allowing only 90 yards per game. Navy ran for 331 yards against Pittsburgh this season. West Virginia—with the #4 rushing attack in the country—ran for 104 yards against Pittsburgh. Navy ran for 328 yards against Wake Forest which has the 17th best rush defense in the country. Clemson—with the talented duo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller—ran for 145 yards against Wake Forest. Navy ran for 245 yards against Rutgers. South Florida—with the #29 rushing attack in the country—ran for 115 against Rutgers. Navy ran for 302 yards against Air Force. Utah—with the #48 rushing attack in the country—ran for 73 yards against Air Force.

With the least amount of talent in the country and the handicap of defenses knowing that Navy must run the ball to be successful, Johnson’s offense rolled to an average of 350 yards rushing per game this season. Just imagine the damage Johnson could do with the best talent in the country and the added advantage of being able to keep defenses off-balance with an equally effective passing attack. The results would be dramatic. The closest equivalent that I can think of is what Urban Meyer has been able to accomplish with Florida’s vast talent level.

Misconception #2

“Paul Johnson isn’t a good defensive coach.”

I say we put Pete Carroll at Army and ask him to run his vaunted USC passing offense. Then, when Army has the worst offense in the country, let’s conclude that Carroll isn’t a good offensive coach. Sound logical? It’s amazing to me that people keep ignoring the fact that Navy is not like any other school in the country. Along with Army and Air Force, Navy has the least talented players in the country and it’s not even close. Year in and year out, regardless of success level, Navy has one of the five worst recruiting classes in the country. Johnson has taken Navy to five consecutive bowl games and that hasn’t had even the slightest impact on Navy’s recruiting efforts. People who follow college football closely understand that it is possible to put together a high-scoring offense without much talent. However, it is virtually impossible to do the opposite. When the ball is in the hands of the offense, coaches can keep defenses off-balance with misdirection. On defense, those sorts of advantages do not exist. Texas Tech, Hawaii, Boise St., West Virginia and Navy are just some of the examples of programs that annually have tremendous offenses despite poor recruiting. On the flip side, how many programs routinely have tremendous defenses despite poor recruiting? As far as I know, the answer is zero unless you want to count Georgia Tech or TCU as poor recruiting schools. Johnson could only dream to have Georgia Tech’s talent at the Naval Academy. Defenses with vastly inferior talent and athleticism have virtually no chance of being successful. Navy’s defenses are considerably outweighed by, slower than, and less athletic than, every offense it faces. Knocking Johnson for not having a great defense at Navy is like knocking Michael Jordan for not being able to dunk on a 15’ rim.

Nonetheless, Johnson has managed to take the worst talent in the country and put the Navy defense in the middle of the pack in the NCAA in most years. Below is Navy’s national rank in defense (Points Per Game and Yards Per Game) since 2003…

#29 PPG
#31 YPG

#29 PPG
#42 YPG

#61 PPG
#51 YPG

#40 PPG
#65 YPG

#110 PPG
#100 YPG

Johnson has managed to keep Navy’s defense fairly competitive despite its significant talent disadvantage. The Navy defense struggled in 2007 but with the loss of eight starters from last season’s defense, Navy’s defensive struggles in ’07 were inevitable.

Johnson’s offensive success at Navy is a testament to his brilliance as an offensive coach. To expect anything in the name of defense or recruiting at a school that requires five years of military service is just being ignorant. A better indicator of Johnson’s ability to recruit and field a competitive defense is what he did at Georgia Southern when he was on a level playing field. Everyone knows that Jim Tressel can recruit and field a stellar defense. He has proven that his dominance at I-AA Youngstown St. was just a precursor to his dominance at Ohio St. Most people would be shocked to find out that while Johnson was coaching at Georgia Southern, his defenses outperformed Tressel’s. In five seasons at Georgia Southern, Johnson’s teams gave up 18.7 PPG. During that period, Tressel’s teams gave up 19.7 PPG. Under Tressel, Ohio St. is the premier defensive program in the country. There is no reason to think or even suggest that Johnson would fail to produce a winning defense when his defenses outperformed Tressel’s on the I-AA level.

Misconception #3

“Paul Johnson can’t recruit.”

This is just silly. Anyone who knows anything about football knows that the Service Academies cannot recruit on a level playing field against the rest of I-A college football. I’d like to see Pete Carroll recruit at a school with a five-year mandatory military commitment incurred by every graduate of his football team. Then, I’d like to see people lambaste Carroll for not being able to recruit. Sound reasonable? Johnson had no problem recruiting at Georgia Southern where he put together a 62-10 record with five conference championships, three national title games, and two national championships in just five seasons. Jim Tressel and Paul Johnson were the top coaches in I-AA football in the late 90’s. Johnson’s resume—albeit much shorter—includes a more impressive record and a head-to-head, five-touchdown, beat-down of Tressel’s Youngstown St.-team in the 1999 I-AA National Championship game. Ohio St.—amid similar recruiting concerns—hired Tressel and the rest is history. Tressel has brought in a top 15 recruiting class in six of the last seven years. More importantly, Tressel’s ability to develop those players and maximize the talents of those players has made Ohio St. one of the top two or three football programs in college football. Michigan and Ohio St. will always be able to recruit with the best programs in the country. The question is whether or not Michigan will be able to develop and utilize those recruits. Johnson is clearly the coach to do that. Tressel has proven everything we need to know about whether a great coach without name recognition can recruit at a national power.

Michigan can't afford to settle

This is the one chance that Michigan has to make a leap to national superiority. The difference between a “safe” hire and “the best” hire is the difference between mediocrity and excellence. This is the most important decision that the Michigan program has faced since 1969. So many Michigan fans are holding their collective breaths right now for fear of a mistake. A mistake at this point would be a brutal blow to the Michigan program. The landscape of college football has changed to the point that simply having a recognizable football program is not enough. The elite football programs in the country are the ones that have combined the recognizable name/program (i.e. USC, Oklahoma, Florida, and Ohio St.) with a top-notch coach. Michigan must do the same if it wants to compete with those programs. There are only one or two coaches out there who would give Michigan the coaching advantage it needs to excel. Paul Johnson is at the top of the list.

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