Sunday, July 31, 2005

BlogPoll Roundtable #4- Rivals

1. Well, the Big Ten and the media tells us (Penn State fans) that Minnesota and Michigan State are our rivals. I don't hate or dislike either school. Though I still hold a small amount of disdain for the '99 game. I hate Michigan. The rest of Big Ten schools I am indifferent on. As I see it, Pitt is Penn State's only real rival. Since the series has been discontinued (the last game was in 2000), Pitt and Penn State no longer play. Though the hate still runs strong, especially on the Pitt side. I would say Penn State has a minor rivalry with Notre Dame. Two of the most historical programs in college football will meet in 2006 and 2007.

2. Well Penn State should beat both of our "rivals". Minnesota should be an easy victory at home. The final game against Michigan State will be a bit of a challenge unless the Spartans crumble early on in the season. PSU seems to have some trouble in East Lansing but I don't see the Spartans living up to expectations.

3. I would like to see another long term Penn State-Alabama series. Unlike most rivals, Penn State and Alabama have a mutual respect for one another that is still present today. Bama fans are some of the best fans in college football. Tuscaloosa and State College are two of the nation's best college towns and the fans travel in droves. Right now, PSU and Bama are slated to play again in 2013 and 2014.

4. Ohio State-Michigan. Always something on the line and usually a well played a game.

Best: Golden Hat, Paul Bunyan's Axe, Black Diamond Trophy and the various drums and bells
Worst: The Land Grant Trophy. Too bad the only winning symbol from last season for Penn State was this ugly hunk of wood.

Is Charlie Weis the Right Man for Notre Dame?

He was supposed to be the savior of Fightin' Irish football. Tyrone Willingham was lured away from Stanford, who had defeated the Irish in 2001 to capture the Legends Trophy, to the Golden Dome to resurrect the mess Bob Davie had created in five years since Lou Holtz's departure. Davie had won 9 games twice during his tenure but had also suffered through two five loss season, the final one ultimately costing him his job. Expectations for Willingham's ND teams grew dramatically when the team finished 10-2 in the regular season and a loss to N.C. State in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day. However, the Irish fell back to Earth in 2003, finishing 5-7 including an embarassing 38-12 loss to Syracuse to end their season. 2004 didn't prove to be much better for Willingham as the Irish finished 6-5, including a loss at BYU to open the season. Despite wins over Michigan and Tennesse, the season cost Willingham his job as was fired before ND's loss to Oregon State in the Insight Bowl. Willingham didn't last long on the open market, soon accepting the head coaching position at Washington following their 1-10 season under lameduck coach Keith Gilbertson.

The ND coaching search couldn't have begun any worse than it did. When Willingham was fired, it appeared as though the Irish already had his successor chosen, Utah coach Urban Meyer. Then came the big blow, almost as embarassing as when George O'Leary was fired only days after being hired to succeed Davie, Urban Meyer chose Florida over Notre Dame. The Irish were suddenly left scrambling to find a coach. The Irish were so desperate that at one point it looked as though ex-ND QB Tom Clement would become the next head coach. Fortunately for Notre Dame, New England Patriots offensive coordinator fell into their laps and suddenly became the savior of Notre Dame football. Ask any ND diehard, Charlie Weis is going to resurrect the Irish and make them winners again.

Personally, I like the hire. Weis brings great NFL experience and Super Bowl rings with him, two sure things to impress any recruit. So far it has worked out well for Weis and ND, having already received a verbal commitment from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania QB Zach Frazer. They are also in the mix for Springdale, Akransas QB Mitch Mustain. Weis never had the most talented players on offense in New England, he simply got the best out of what he had and that's what has made the Patriots so successful over the past several seasons. That's exactly what he's going to have to do at ND for now. QB Brady Quinn and tailback Darius Walker are ND's only two offensive weapons. Weis will have no problem getting talent to ND and and his quality coaching staff should have no problem molding that talent into wins. Weis made a brilliant decision bringing in ex-Cincinnati Bearcats coach Rick Minter as his defensive coordinator, a position Minter held at ND in the early '90's.

My outlook for ND this season isn't overly positive. This team is capable of winning 6-7 games and anything above that would be overachieving. The schedule is brutal but they do catch a break getting USC at home.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Sylvester Croom, Mississippi State and Alabama

I was briefly listening to Sylvester Croom's Media Day press conference today on ESPNews. To say the least, I was very impressed. After taking over a program that Jackie Sherrill (another crooked coach, see Lou Holtz below) brought to prominence and then left in a state of devastation, Croom appears to have the Miss State program headed towards recovery. The Bulldogs crowing victory in their 3-8 2004 season came when they upset Florida in Starkville, the game that finally cost Ron Zook his job. I don't see a great season on the horizon for Croom and Miss State but after a getting a nice recruiting haul this past year, the future is beginning to brighten. This is still a project but I would expect to see Miss State at least in the hunt for a bowl game by 2007.

Now for Alabama. Why didn't they hire Sly Croom? He had just as good, if not a better resume as Mike Shula. Obviously Bama has far superior talent to Mississippi State and I fully believe that Croom could have the Tide further along than Shula does. Injuries, especially Brodie Croyle's, crippled the team last season but they lost some games they shouldn't have, specifically the South Carolina game. Croom played for Bear Bryant and coached at Alabama. He has NFL experience. I think Shula will do a fine job at Bama but he is another in a long line of curious coach hirings by Bama since the end of the Bear Bryant era.

Lou Holtz is Done

It's not often that a program loses a head coaching legend and then gains another. However, that is exact situation that occurred at the University of South Carolina this past winter. After a 6-5 season that did not end with a bowl game after a fight between Clemson and South Carolina players, Holtz rode off into the sunset once again as he did after the 1996 season when he left Notre Dame. Gamecock Nation was excited about the future under Spurrier, Holtz was getting his own show on the ESPN networks and everyone seemed happy. Then at the beginning of July, the University of South Carolina admitted to 10 NCAA violations including five classified as "major". While this would be troubling news for any school, it is even more troubling for the Gamecocks and Holtz himsef. This if the FOURTH program that Holtz has left amid controversy or to have it turn up later. After stints with William and Mary, N.C. State and the New York Jets, Holtz became the head coach at Arkansas in 1977. After seven seasons in Fayetteville, Holtz departed for Minnesota amid controversial goings-on within the program. After just two seasons at Minnesota, Holtz left for Notre Dame amid a scandal involving steroids and other hainous activity. Holtz went on to spend 11 seasons at Notre Dame and produced five 10+ wins seasons. Holtz then "retired" following the 1996 season and controversy soon followed. The best account of his actions are published in the book "Under the Tarnished Dome" from Donald Looney and Don Yaeger. After a brief two year retirement, Holtz took over at South Carolina and quickly turned the program around, going from 0-11 in 1999 to 8-4 and 9-3 in 2000 and 2001, winning back-to-back Outback Bowls against Ohio State. In 2002, the NCAA began investigating South Carolina and Holtz was enraged, claiming that he though the NCAA believed that South Carolina couldn't win without cheating. Now we all know that it was just another Lou Holtz cover up.

My personal opinion of Lou Holtz has never been a good one. Now after these revelations, it has become even less. I can't wait to see his new show and if he is able to dodge questions about the South Carolina program and these violations, or his trouble at Arkansas, Minnesota and Notre Dame for that matter. Any program willing to hire Holtz after now leaving behind a legacy of controvery at FOUR universities aught to get the NCAA's "death penalty" on the spot. He is a crooked old coot who brings wins to the program and then leaves when the going begins to get rough. It is not yet clear what sanctions Spurrier and South Carolina will face because of Holtz's actions. I feel sorry for the Gamecock faithful who fill Williams-Brice Stadium every game and now find out that two of their greatest seasons are tainted. Spurrier will succeed at South Carolina, but the controversy left behind by Holtz will never be forgotten. The man doesn't deserve another chance. Only a fool would allow him to have one.

The Wild Mountain West

Last season, Utah was clearly the team to beat in the MWC. Long before he became the most overrated QB in the nation, Alex Smith was well regarded as the best QB in MWC. Urban Meyer had quickly began turning the Utes program around, winning the MWC in 2003 and defeating Southern Miss in th Liberty Bowl. The popular team in the pre-season to run the table from a mid-major conference was West Virginia (c'mon folks, the Big East doesn't belong with the big boys). That dream was quickly dashed after WVU lost to Virginia Tech. Attention was then shifted to Utah and the Utes did not disappoint. They ran the table in the regular season and then dispatched Pitt, the most unworthy BCS team since the system's inception in 1998, 35-0 before a mostly pro-Utah crowd in the Fiesta Bowl.

Now enter 2005. Urban Meyer left Utah for sunny Florida and Alex Smith cashed in as the 1st overall pick in the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. But as Utah has gotten weaker, the rest of the conference has significantly improved. New Mexico returns many starters including star tailback DonTrell Moore. BYU was inconsistent last season but should begin to stabilize under new coach Bronco Mendenhall and put up a lot of points with some talented tailbacks and highly touted WR Todd Watkins. Wyoming defeated UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl last season and appears primed to break out under Joe Glenn, who's name is beginning to circulate as a hot coaching candidate to move up in the college ranks. Utah is still the favorite heading into the season but are unlikely to go undefeated and will have to stave off stiff competition from the aforementioned team as well as MWC newcomer Texas Christian from C-USA. Sonny Lubick's Colorado State squad and Fisher DeBerry's Air Force squad are both always tough but neither seems to be among the elite in the MWC this season. San Diego State and UNLV will fight it out to stay out of the MWC cellar.

I like New Mexico to win the Mountain West and get their first bowl win since the 1961 Aviation Bowl. I also expect Utah and Wyoming to reach bowl games and BYU to be in the mix. This is a conference on the rise and a conference as worthy of a BCS bowl bid as the Big East.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Pre-Season Top 25

1. Southern Cal (Pac-10)
2. LSU (SEC)
3. Texas (Big 12)
4. Tennessee (SEC)
5. Michigan (Big Ten)
6. Louisville (Big East)
7. Virginia Tech (ACC)
8. Florida (SEC)
9. Purdue (Big Ten)
10. Oklahoma (Big 12)
11. Iowa (Big Ten)
12. Boise State (WAC)
13. Ohio State (Big Ten)
14. Georgia (SEC)
15. Texas A&M (Big 12)
16. Georgia Tech (ACC)
17. Miami (FL) (ACC)
18. Auburn (SEC)
19. Fresno State (WAC)
20. Bowling Green (MAC)
21. Boston College (ACC)
22. Arizona State (Pac-10)
23. Alabama (SEC)
24. California (Pac-10)
25. Penn State (Big Ten)

Five to Watch:
1. N.C. State (ACC)
2. Florida State (ACC)
3. Michigan State (Big Ten)
4. Iowa State (Big 12)
5. Pitt (Big East)

Mid-Major Top Five:
1. Bowling Green (MAC)
2. Utah (Mountain West)
3. Texas-El Paso (C-USA)
4. Toledo (MAC)
5. Houston (C-USA)

Rating the Nation: Top Defensive Players for 2005

Defensive Ends:
1. Mathias Kiwanuka, Boston College
2. Mario Williams, N.C. State
3. Manny Lawson, N.C. State
4. Tamba Hali, Penn State
5. Eric Henderson, Georgia Tech
6. Loren Howard, Northwestern
7. Darryl Tapp, Virginia Tech
8. Parys Harralson, Tennessee
9. LaMarr Woodley, Michigan

10. Ray Edwards, Purdue

Defensive Tackles:
1. Rodrique Wright, Texas
2. Jesse Mahelona, Tennessee
3. Haloti Ngata, Oregon
4. Orien Harris, Miami
5. Gabe Watson, Michigan
6. Dusty Dvoracek, Oklahoma
7. Baraka Atkins, Miami
8. Le Kevin Smith, Nebraska
9. Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State

10. Gerald Anderson, Georgia

Inside Linebackers:
1. Abdul Hodge, Iowa
2. D’Qwell Jackson, Maryland
3. Anthony Schlegel, Ohio State
4. Spencer Havner, UCLA
5. Leon Williams, Miami
6. Trent Bray, Oregon State
7. Aaron Harris, Texas
8. Freddie Roach, Alabama
9. Ted Sims, Kansas State
10. George Hall, Purdue

Outside Linebackers:
1. Chad Greenway, Iowa
2. A.J. Hawk, Ohio State
3. Will Derting, Washington State
4. Dan Connor, Penn State
5. Ahmad Brooks, Virginia
6. Ernie Sims, Florida State
7. Paul Posluszny, Penn State
8. Kai Parham, Virginia
9. Bobby Carpenter, Ohio State
10. Rocky McIntosh, Miami

1. Alan Zemaitis, Penn State
2. Jimmy Williams, Virginia Tech
3. Jason Allen, Tennessee
4. Charles Gordon, Kansas
5. Michael Huff, Texas
6. Ashton Youboty, Ohio State
7. Kelly Jennings, Miami
8. Will Blackmon, Boston College
9. Darrell Hunter, Miami of Ohio
10. Travis Johnson, Ole Miss

*Note- Florida State CB Antonio Cromartie will miss the 2005 season due to injury therefore he is not ranked. He would be ranked #4.

Free Safeties:
1. Ko Simpson, South Carolina
2. Nate Salley, Ohio State
3. LaRon Landry, LSU
4. Jaxton Appel, Texas A&M
5. Pat Watkins, Florida State

Strong Safeties:
1. Darrell Bing, Southern Cal
2. Daniel Bullocks, Nebraska
3. Bernard Pollard, Purdue
4. Greg Threat, Miami
5. Jarrad Page, UCLA

1. Tom Malone, Southern Cal
2. Daniel Sepulveda, Baylor
3. D.J. Fitzpatrick, Notre Dame
4. John Torp, Colorado
5. Jeremy Kapinos, Penn State

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Rating the Nation: Top Offensive Players for 2005

1. Matt Leinart, Southern Cal
2. Chris Leak, Florida
3. Reggie McNeal, Texas A&M
4. Omar Jacobs, Bowling Green
5. Vince Young, Texas
6. Chad Henne, Michigan
7. Tyler Palko, Pitt
8. Bruce Gradkowski, Toledo
9. Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson
10. Drew Tate, Iowa

Running Backs (Fullbacks and Tailbacks):
1. Adrian Peterson , Oklahoma
2. DeAngelo Williams, Memphis
3. LenDale White, Southern Cal
4. Laurence Maroney, Minnesota
5. Reggie Bush, Southern Cal
6. Gerald Riggs Jr., Tennessee
7. P.J. Daniels, Georgia Tech
8. DonTrell Moore, New Mexico
9. Michael Bush, Louisville
10. Leon Washington, Florida State

Wide Receivers:
1. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
2. Martin Nance, Miami of Ohio
3. Derek Hagan, Arizona State
4. Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State
5. Todd Watkins, BYU
6. Jarrett Hicks, Texas Tech
7. Maurice Stovall, Notre Dame
8. Steve Smith, Southern Cal
9. Ryan Moore, Miami
10. Dorien Bryant, Purdue

Tight Ends:
1. Marcedes Lewis, UCLA
2. Leonard Pope, Georgia
3. Zach Miller, Arizona State
4. Vernon Davis, Maryland
5. Dominique Byrd, Southern Cal

1. Greg Eslinger, Minnesota
2. Mike Degory, Florida
3. Donovan Raiola, Wisconsin
4. Kyle Young, Fresno State
5. Nick Mangold, Ohio State

1. Max Jean-Gilles, Georgia
2. Mark Setterstrom, Minnesota
3. J.B. Closner, Alabama
4. David Joseph, Oklahoma
5. Matt Lentz, Michigan

1. D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Virginia
2. Jonathan Scott, Texas
3. Eric Winston, Miami
4. Jeremy Trueblood, Boston College
5. Zach Strief, Northwestern

1. Mason Crosby, Colorado
2. Andrew Wellock, Eastern Michigan
3. Connor Hughes, Virginia
4. Ben Jones, Purdue
5. Justin Medlock, UCLA

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The Rise of the MAC

In September of 2003, the Mid-American Conference had their proverbial coming out party. In one weekend Big 12 North power Kansas State was finally scalded for scheduling cupcakes as MAC power Marshall defeated the Wildcats in Manhattan. Kansas State would go on to win the Big 12. Later that same day, the Toledo Rockets defeated Larry Fitzgerald and the Pitt Panthers, one of the Big East’s top teams. Earlier in September, Bowling Green knocked off eventual New Year’s Day bowl participant Purdue and came very close to defeating the defending national champion the Ohio State Buckeyes. These were three very big wins for a conference that had been long regarded as a big step down from the Big Ten. The MAC was founded in 1946 and for the first 50 years of the league’s existence, no power team ever emerged onto the national stage. That all changed in 1997 when the MAC’s first national power, Marshall, joined the league after dominating 1-AA football for the past 15 years. During this time period another team emerged as a MAC and national power, longtime league member Toledo. The Rockets announced their presence on the national stage when future Baltimore Ravens running back Chester Taylor ran all over Penn State as the Rockets embarrassed the Nittany Lions 24-6 in Happy Valley. After a very successful eight year run in the MAC, the Marshall Thundering Herd are now leaving to join Conference USA along with short time MAC member Central Florida. With Marshall’s departure, an opportunity now opens for teams, especially ex-bottom dwellers, to become successful programs on the national stage. Some of these teams include already established Bowling Green and Northern Illinois but also teams such as Akron and Eastern Michigan who typically suffer through losing season after losing season.

Marshall’s return to the MAC in 1997 after a 28-year hiatus marked the beginning of what can be called no less than a dynasty. The Herd rejoined the MAC and 1-A football after having spent the past 15 years as one of the most dominant 1-AA football programs. Head Coach Bob Pruett and the Herd hit the ground running, winning the MAC title in their first season back. The Herd’s star wide receiver, Randy Moss, was a Heisman Trophy finalist and went on to become of the best receivers in the NFL. The 1997 team laid the groundwork for what would be the MAC’s first national power. From 1997 through 2002, Marshall won five MAC championships and went to six bowl games. The Herd has also sent several players to the NFL over that span including QB Chad Pennington, QB Byron Leftwich and WR Darius Watts in addition to Moss. As mentioned earlier, Marshall will be leaving the MAC for Conference USA beginning in 2005. The Herd finished up their final season in the MAC by earning a birth in the Fort Worth Bowl against Cincinnati.

Not only has the MAC made an impression on the college football landscape, but on the National Football League as well. The MAC has become a stable of future NFL quarterbacks as they have sent several since the 2000 season. The cream-of-the crop includes Chad Pennington (Marshall), Byron Leftwich (Marshall), Ben Roethlisberger (Miami of Ohio) and Charlie Frye (Akron). The MAC QB class of 2006 will include Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green and Bruce Gradkowski of Toledo. Some other notable MAC players sent to the NFL in recent years include RB Chester Taylor (Toledo), DE Jason Babin (Western Michigan), RB Michael Turner (Northern Illinois), WR Doug Gabriel (Central Florida) and DT Cullen Jenkins (Central Michigan). The tragic death of Northern Illinois offensive lineman Shea Fitzgerald prevented the MAC from adding a terrific offensive lineman to that list of players. Outside of Akron QB Charlie Frye there were not many draft prospects from the MAC in the 2005 NFL Draft. However, there are several MAC players who will highly touted going into the 2006 draft. Bowling Green QB Omar Jacobs and WR Martin Nance of Miami of Ohio are regarded as potential first round draft picks.

Despite Marshall and Central Florida both leaving the MAC, the future remains bright for one of the nation’s top mid-major conferences. Temple will join the MAC in football only beginning in 2006. The addition of the Owls will once again leave the MAC with 13 teams, making it slightly more difficult to align into two divisions. There are several schools that may join the MAC in the future to bring the number of schools back up to an even 14. At the 1-A level schools such as Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt) and Army (Independent) may receive consideration. The addition of a 1-AA school may be the route taken. Some of the potential choices include Youngstown State (Gateway), Western Kentucky (Gateway) and Delaware (Atlantic 10). 2004 may have marked the best season by the Mid-American Conference as a whole. The MAC placed four teams into bowl games (Bowling Green (GMAC Bowl), Marshall (Forth Worth Bowl), Miami of Ohio (Independence) and Northern Illinois (Silicon Valley Football Classic). The Akron Zips finished 6-5 and were the only bowl eligible team (excluding self-penalized 6-5 Clemson and South Carolina) to not receive a bowl bid. The MAC should continue to grow as a conference and continue to reach new heights. After sending four teams to bowl games last season, receiving a BCS bowl bid is the next goal. In 2003, Miami of Ohio finished the season 13-1 and came very close to receiving to a BCS bid. Had the Redhawks not lost to Iowa to begin the season, it is very likely that they would have preceded Utah as the first school from a mid-major conference to earn a BCS bowl bid. In 2005, Bowling Green will have the best chance to achieve the feat. However, the Falcons will need to get past arguably the nation’s premier mid-major power in Boise State as well as the rest of the MAC.

Some may believe that the MAC has already reached its pinnacle. The league has already beaten some of the nation’s premier major football programs, won bowl games and sent a myriad of players to the NFL. Many claim that the 85-scholarship limit has helped the MAC as well as the other mid-major conferences. Prospects who would in the past ride the bench at Michigan or Penn State are now becoming rising stars in the MAC. While that has been a contributing factor, the brand of football is simply getting the better. The MAC has sent several head coaches onto bigger programs with some of the bigger changes being Ohio’s Jim Grobe to Wake Forest, Toledo’s Gary Pinkel to Missouri, Bowling Green’s Urban Meyer to Utah and now Florida and Miami of Ohio’s Terry Hoeppner to Indiana. In today’s world of parity in college football, the rise of the MAC and the rest of the mid-majors are only going to become progressively greater. It will not be much longer until we are talking about a MAC team making it into the BCS. The MAC is here to stay and there is nothing the Big Ten or anyone can do about it.