Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Nobody's Home

I don't post here anymore. I post at Around the Oval. This site's dead, that one's not. If you're so inclined, please update your bookmarks and read my rantings and ravings over there. And if you're really ambitious, ask the person whose site directed you here why they haven't updated their links. I understand if you don't want to put in that much effort, though. All I ask, is that if (for some reason) you enjoy reading what I write, continue to read it over at Around the Oval.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Moving Onward and Upward

The Cliff’s Notes version of this post: I’m taking over Around the Oval, and will be posting there from now on.

Why? If you pay attention to the college football blogosphere, you’ve noticed that the former proprietor of AtO, JD, hasn’t posted regularly there for some time now. Turns out he had a bit more on his plate than he could handle, and asked SportsBlog Nation to find a replacement for him, so he could focus on his Cincinnati Reds blog, Red Reporter (which is excellent, by the way, if you’re a Reds fan). Peter of Burnt Orange Nation, the dude in charge of SBN’s collegiate section, asked me to be that replacement, and I accepted. Today, I’m taking my show on the road, and headed over there.

So what changes in this scheme? Well, the net result is the end of The 614. It makes more sense to keep AtO going rather than starting this site over again at SBN. So I’m gonna start posting at AtO, and stop posting here. Net result, minus one OSU blog. That’s alright, it’s not like we were all starved for Buckeye-related content anyway, and another OSU blog will probably be started shortly, anyway. OSU blogs can’t be stopped. You strike one down, two more rise in its place. Never fear.

That’s pretty much it in terms of negative changes. The rest is all good. Over at AtO, I’ll reach a larger audience, which I am of course excited about. But I’ll also get to take advantage of all the features of SBN, in particular the diary system, which allows readers to offer insights, opinions, analysis, and all that type of stuff without having it tied to a post of mine. Effectively, it’s an opportunity to work toward creating a Buckeye community at Around the Oval, which is a pretty exciting possibility.

The point of all this is that today’s the big move to Around the Oval. If you want to continue reading whatever I write (and I hope you do), that’s the place to do it in the future. Please update your bookmarks. If you link here from your blog, I hope you’ll link to me at AtO. I’ll be sure to reciprocate once I get settled in over there.

That’s it. Everything I have to say will be said at Around the Oval from here on out. I’ll see you over there.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gonzo's Gone. . . zo

Per The Ozone, who presumably has someone at Anthony Gonzalez's press conference, Gonzo is passing up his final year of eligibility and declaring for the draft. Ted Ginn is expected to announce before long that he's also entering the draft, but Gonzo's officially headed to the draft.

It's not a major surprise. While Ginn was the better athlete and a good receiver in his own right, Gonzo was the best receiver on the team this season. We'd all hoped he'd stay out of a love for college life or a desire to not end his collegiate career on such a down note, but he and Antonio Pittman are probably the two most NFL-ready juniors on the roster.

Initially, my concern, for both Gonzo and Ginn (assuming he goes), was that they might be underestimating the depth of the receiver class this year. Jeff Samardzija, Calvin Johnson, and Dwayne Jarrett could all easily be drafted before either OSU receiver. With excellent workouts, Robert Meachem from Tennessee and Sidney Rice from South Carolina are two other juniors that could give Gonzo and Ginn some competition. Is it worth leaving school early to be the fourth or fifth wide receiver drafted?

Last year, it certainly wasn't. Santonio Holmes was the only wide receiver drafted in the first round. But if you look at other drafts, their decisions make more sense. Six wide receivers went in the first round in 2005 and seven went in 2004. So in reality, both guys would likely be taking first round money by leaving early, and that's something that's worth doing, especially when they could end up hurting their draft stock by staying and working with a new quarterback. Gonzo (and presumably Ginn) made the safe choice, and probably the smart choice.

But where does this leave Ohio State for 2007? In a rather nebulous cloud of receiving mystery and potential. Brian Robiskie will move to number one receiver, up from rough number 3.5 receiver. He was pretty good this season, but there wasn't a whole lot asked of him. All he had to do was capitalize on openings created by Ginn and Gonzo. How will he respond to the dramatically increased attention?

Opposite him will likely be Brian Hartline, who was the fourth or fifth receiver this past season. He looked pretty decent over the course of the season, but as the fourth or fifth option, it's tough to look bad, unless you're helping the defense make tackles or running the wrong way with the ball or something. He came in as a pretty highly-touted recruit, so we'll get to see what has become of that potential.

But we'll save the in-depth looks at the receiving corps for much later. For now, good look to Gonzo and (again, presumably) Ginn in the draft, and good luck to the Brians that will be replacing them.

Update: There's an AP article with some more information on Gonzo leaving. The biggest piece of new info from it is that an NFL committee told him that he would be a second-round pick. Interesting that he decided that the risks inherent in returning for another year outweighed the benefits (chief among them: a degree and a better contract if he improved his stock to first-round status). Not necessarily a wrong decision by him; who are we to tell him what's best for him? But interesting. The question is: did he just want to make the safe play and head to the NFL, or does he suspect something about next year's offense that the rest of us might not?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

National Championship Postgame - A Guest Piece

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not especially interested in rewatching, thinking about, or acknowledging the national championship game. I felt a little bad about not providing any analysis, but it was my sanity at stake, so you all were out of luck. Or so I thought. Jeff Forward, an Ohio State alum out on the West Coast, e-mailed me a piece sharing his thoughts on what went wrong Monday night. I figured I'd share it with you all, since it allows me to post thoughts on the game without actually having to think about the game. I'd like to emphasize that this is his work, not mine. All the credit for the time and effort put in goes to him. I just did the cut-and-paste shuffle. I don't agree with all of it, but he does make some good points. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or send them to Jeff here.

Why The Buckeyes Got Trounced - A Few Theories
By Jeff Forward

I don't think any sane Buckeye fan thought that what happened on Monday was possible. I am sure that a 41-14 butt-whupping with a mere 80-some yards of offense was not on anyone's mind.

But, that's exactly what happened in a stunning and painful fashion. As I sat in a sports bar in Granite Bay, Calif. with 120 other Ohio State fans and alumni, the pain of the game grew with each passing minute and Tim Tebow run up the gut of a tired, on-the-field for 40-minutes Buckeye defense.

Obviously the press jumped on this blow-out in typical fashion, with Lee Corso from ESPN telling viewers the Gators would beat Ohio State nine out of 10 games. Amazing how fast they switch sides, isn't it.

Here are my theories of why what happened in Glendale happened.

The Florida Gators simply played the best game they possibly could on the same night that Ohio State played their absolute worst game possible. When they showed the stats of Chris Leak through the first quarter, he was having a near perfect game. I didn't think he could maintain that for four quarters, but it's exactly what he did. Same thing goes for the entire UF team. They all played their best on the night the Buckeyes played their worst.

I am sorry, but 51 days between games for the Buckeyes was insane and unfair. Florida had an extra two weeks of serious, meaningful practice and two difficult and important games on the road while OSU was at home twiddling their thumbs. Say what you will, but it was obvious the Buckeyes were rusty.

Bringing me to this point: give credit to Urban Meyer for realizing the Buckeyes would be rusty and out-of-sync and creating a great game plan for the beginning of the game to exploit this. As things unfolded and the Gators were en route to 21-unanswered points, I turned to a friend and said, "Meyer has run nearly every trick play in the book in the first quarter alone." My friend replied the Gators hadn't run a reverse yet. Well, two plays later, there it was - a Percy Harvin reverse. Those trick plays really affected the Buckeye defense and its confidence.

As much as it pains me to say this, Jim Tressel did a very poor job preparing the Buckeyes for this game. And, during the game, he made some very questionable calls and decisions. Not only that, but Tressel and his staff did not make any in-game changes to the game plan or strategy which may have swung momentum back to the Buckeyes.

Trailing 21-7, Tressel decided to run the ball. Troy Smith and Antonio Pittman combined for a lot of yards on the ground and OSU scored and cut the lead to 21-14. A great three-and-out by the defense gave the Buckeyes the ball back with a prime chance to climb even at 21. But, instead of going back to the successful running of the previous drive, Tressel had Troy throw on first down - incomplete; and then throw on the next two downs - both incomplete; and was forced to punt. Why not stick with the run when it was already successful and Troy's bad passing game was so very evident? Then there was an ill-advised fourth and one play that was a failure and led to more points.

The last questionable coaching decision Tressel did not make was benching Troy Smith. As soon as I mentioned this, my friends laid into me. "Come on," they said. "Troy is the Heisman winner. We have to stick with him." I agree to a point. But by the third quarter it was evident that Troy was not going to get any better. He was playing poorly on all fronts and was not improving. Why not put Justin Zwick into the game? I mean, this guy has started a lot of games and he can throw the ball. He may not be as mobile as Troy or the leader, but with the terrible game Troy was playing with no signs of getting better, why not gamble and put Zwick in?

I can see it now....add in a tight end on every play for extra protection on the offensive line, put Stan White at fullback and rotate Pittman and Chris Wells and have two receivers and run - no, pound - the ball until you make them honest on defense. Then throw when things open up. I was saddened to not see Zwick in the game for at least one or two series at the end.

My final thought is the Ted Ginn Jr. injury affected the Buckeye offense much more than any of us could have imagined. After the big win over Michigan, Troy was on the set of Game Day and told the crew that he felt Ted Ginn Jr. should win the Heisman. That's how important Troy thinks Ginn is to this offense. With Ginn out of the picture, there was no worrying about everything he could and can do by the Gator defense. No direct snaps to Ginn. No reverses. No post routes blowing by a DB. No punt or kick-off returns. That absence of talent and speed hurt the Buckeye offense and special teams, no question.

In the end, people will say Florida deserved the title and are the champs. But, I can't help but wonder what the outcome may have been if this game was played in December. But, as my father always said, if my grandma had balls, she'd be my grandpa.

Here's to next season and thanks to the Ohio State football team for one hell of a ride and a lot of memories I will never forget. Well, there is one memory I hope goes away fast. I think you know what I am talking about.

Final BlogPoll

A little late, I know, since the official version is out, but here's my ballot:

1 Florida 2
2 Ohio State 1
3 LSU 1
4 Southern Cal 1
5 Michigan 3
6 Boise State 4
7 Wisconsin 1
8 Louisville 1
9 Auburn --
10 California 1
11 Oklahoma 3
12 West Virginia 1
13 Rutgers 2
14 Arkansas --
15 Notre Dame 3
16 Texas 2
17 Penn State 3
18 Oregon State 5
19 Brigham Young 3
20 Boston College 6
21 Wake Forest 4
22 TCU 4
23 Tennessee 4
24 Virginia Tech 8
25 Central Michigan --

Dropped Out: Nebraska (#21), Texas A&M (#24).

Like I said, the final poll is posted at mgoblog, and yours truly won the "Mr. Stubborn" award convincingly. I think my ballot looks pretty reasonable, but Brian has said I am stubborn, and Brian is an honorable man. So I suppose I should defend my ballot a bit.

Since this isn't really a "Your rankings suck!" award, but more of a "Did you even watch the bowls?" award, I won't work through my thinking for all the rankings. It would seem to me that if my rankings are reasonably close to the actual BlogPoll, they're alright, and my lack of change in my ballot is due less to ignoring the bowls, and more to my amazing skill at ranking teams prior to the bowls. So let's just take a look at the teams whose place on my ballot differs from the actual BlogPoll by more than, say, three places. Arbitrary, but it doesn't seem out of line to say that's where personal opinion starts to become personal stupidity.

10. Cal (14 in BlogPoll) - This was basically semi-irrational exuberence throughout the season that wasn't going to be corrected now, since they crushed Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl. I've had Cal ranked a little high all season. What can I say? I heart Marshawn Lynch and DeSean Jackson (Seans unite!).

17. Penn State (23) - Big Ten pride is some of that, probably. But still, their only losses are to OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame. According to the BlogPoll, the collective wisdom of the voters is that every team ranked below Notre Dame would also lose to those teams. We know PSU should be ranked below the four teams that beat them, but beyond that, it's a judgement call. My ranking isn't too crazy; Sagarin and Billingsley have PSU at 18, and they use computers and numbers and stuff.

21. Wake Forest (17) - Any faith I had in the quality of the ACC was crushed repeatedly throughout the season (Georgia Tech, Clemson, Virginia Tech, etc., not to mention Miami and FSU). So yeah, I didn't have much respect for Wake Forest. Maybe it's just because they're Wake Forest, but am I so crazy?

24. Virginia Tech (20) - See above. I got no love for the ACC.

25. Central Michigan (UNR) - Leftover wackiness, mostly. I figured winning the MAC oughta count for something, and then they went out and crushed Middle Tennessee State, so who knows? But this is almost certainly the least defensible ranking in my ballot.

So there you have it. Five teams whose rankings could reasonably be called into question. Brian himself has five teams that meet the above criteria, and Brian is an honorable man. I expect most bloggers have a similar number of questionable rankings, and they are all, all honorable men.

In conclusion, it wasn't that I was stubborn, or in denial about the bowls (much as I tried). It was that I was just that awesome at ranking teams prior to the bowl games. When you're this damn good, you don't have to change your rankings much.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men. . .

Well, that wasn't what I had in mind.

If you're hoping for any breakdown of the game from me, you're out of luck. I spent most of last night in shock, and I intend to spend the rest of today in denial. There will come a day when I am prepared to rationally discuss the national championship game without the extensive and creative use of profanity, but by that time, everyone will have moved on, so this is probably all you get from me.

Congratulations to the Gators, though. They clearly showed that they were the better team last night. The Buckeyes were outplayed and outcoached, something that has seldom happened under Tressel's watch. Florida played a great game and deserves that fancy crystal football.

But it's not as though this season was a failure for Ohio State. A Big Ten championship and a win over Michigan define a successful season for me, however disappointed I am in the beating the team took in the national championship game.

The basketball team has a big game tonight at Wisconsin. They crushed Illinois over the weekend in a game where they didn't even shoot very well. That's something to build on, but that's not the Illinois team of a few years ago. The Buckeyes have come up short in their two big tests thus far this season, and I'm not too wild about their chances in this one. I think Ohio State is the most talented team in the Big Ten, but Wisconsin is playing better right now, and they'll be at home. A win for the Buckeyes would be a big statement, but if they're in the game for its entirety, that will be satisfactory.

That said, if they turn in the second loss in a big game in 24 hours for Buckeye teams, this week is officially ruined for me. But if they win. . . well, it's still probably ruined. Such is the risk you run when you attach your emotional well-being to the success of a collegiate athletic program.

Friday, January 05, 2007

National Championship Preview

It's you. It's me. It's the Hypothetical Interviewer 9000. Let's do this.

Um, hold on. HI9000, why are you locked in your room?

The door doesn't have a lock. It's just closed. I'm protecting myself from alligators. They have Florida speed. And SEC speed! They said that Buckeyes can't handle that sort of speed! We're all doomed!
Easy, HI9000, they weren't talking about real alligators. They were talking about the Florida Gators football team. They're - they're just people. Not man-eating reptiles.

Even worse! People have thumbs! They can open doors!
Calm down, the Florida football team is not out to get you. They're just claiming that their players are faster because they're from/playing in the southeastern part of the United States.

Well, okay. But isn't that still a problem for the national championship game?
No. We've been through this whole speed argument before. Remember the last national championship game? How our slow, plodding Buckeyes were going to get crushed by Miami, whose players were so fast that they were only visible with the aid of high-speed cameras? That one worked out okay, didn't it?

True. But we're still at a disadvantage. By the time the game rolls around, we will have gone 51 days without playing a football game. Isn't that a problem?
Ohio State's had long layoffs going into bowl games for decades. Was the long break a problem last year against Notre Dame? Or the year before, against Oklahoma State? Or the year before, against Kansas State? Or in the aforementioned national title game against Miami?

Well, no.
Exactly. With the exception of the Miami game, OSU won comfortably every year. In fact, they generally played their best football of the season. The long break hasn't been a problem under Tressel. If anything, it seems to have been an advantage.

Okay, then, the layoff doesn't matter. Give me an overview of the game.
Very superficially, Florida looks pretty similar to Michigan. A team with an outstanding defense and an offense that just gets the job done. Of course, the two teams aren't actually that similar. Florida's offense, for example, is very different from Michigan's.

Let's talk about that offense.
You already know the basics. They're running that Urban Meyer spread option offense with a quarterback, Chris Leak, who is not made for it. Running is not his thing. When he throws the ball, he's alright, but not great. He has 14 picks to his 22 touchdowns, a ratio that is not too good. His two favorite targets are Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell, who both average a bit over four receptions per game. Baker is the big play guy, but both are solid receivers.

What about running the ball?
That has been something of an adventure for the Gators. They average 160ish yards per game, which is above average NCAA-wide, but not very good in reality. Their leading rusher, DeShawn Wynn, averages less than ten carries per game. Tim Tebow, uber-recruit QB, is used pretty regularly as a running back, and averages 33 yards per game. Chris Leak, an option QB in the offense but not in reality, has 23 yards on the season. It appears to be something of a running game by committee, but with an exceptionally large and diverse committee, ranging from backup quarterbacks to wide receivers.

So is there anything to be afraid of from this offense?
Sure. They aren't outstanding running or passing, but they also aren't bad at either. It's a pretty balanced offense. That's always a concern.

But a bigger concern is Percy Harvin. He's technically a wide receiver, but he's more likely to carry the ball than catch a pass. He hasn't been used a whole lot during the season, due to injury, but he exploded the last two games of the season, particularly against Arkansas, when he finished with 105 yards rushing, 62 yards receiving, and two touchdowns. He's a big play waiting to happen.

How should the Buckeyes defend that attack?
The biggest thing they need to do is be disciplined. It's an option attack, complete with reverses and end-arounds, so the defense can't just chase after the ball, lest they be caught out of position. They will also want to be careful with blitzes, for the same reason. However, blitzes can be successful, as Florida has had some trouble with allowing sacks.

I expect a bit of a bend-don't-break defense, focused on keeping Baker and Harvin under wraps. If I were coaching, I would probably blitz selectively, focusing more on either forcing Leak into mistakes, or waiting for Florida to beat themselves (they're the second most-penalized team in the country). But then, I've been hilariously wrong on stuff like this before.

What about the Gator defense?
They've certainly put up some impressive numbers. But then, name a good SEC offense.

Well, there's LSU. . .
I'll give you them, sure.

And there's Arkansas and Tennessee.
The two teams that exploded for a combined 24 points in their bowl games? Riiiight.

I get your point. You're saying that Florida's defense is good because they've faced bad offenses?
I've made the argument before. But I'm not entirely serious. This Florida defense is very good, regardless of what you think of SEC offenses. Reggie Nelson is the big star, the safety that just destroys hapless receivers. Brandon Siler, a linebacker, is another guy to look out for.

So how do the Bucks attack these guys? Rushing? Passing? With giant battle axes? Please say we get to use axes.
Nope, sorry.

Nobody ever uses axes anymore.
I know. Anyway, running doesn't appear to be much of an option; they're sixth in the country against the run. And that number isn't even inflated much by sacks; they're just 50th in the country in sacks. Passing appears to be a better option, as they are 48th against the pass. That may be a byproduct of their rush defense, though. The Gators are 5th in pass efficiency defense, suggesting that they're actually pretty good against the pass. But I'm not sure; I haven't seen that many Florida games.

You didn't answer the question. How do we attack the Florida defense?
I'm not sure, honestly. There don't appear to be many weaknesses. True, they don't get that many sacks, but when you're sixth in the country in interceptions, getting sacks isn't such a big deal. I'm counting on Troy Smith to make plays where others couldn't. He'll have time (that sack number, again), and with him, that's translated into positive plays all season. I don't expect the run game to be a major factor, but I didn't expect that against Michigan, and Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells both broke off big touchdown runs. But yeah, basically, I'm just counting on Troy to do the things he's done all season.

Care to make a score prediction?
Nope. I did that for the basketball game against Florida, and it didn't work out so well. So I'm just keeping my fool mouth shut and not tempting the football gods. All I'll say is that I don't anticipate the blowout that many of the Buckeye faithful are predicting. Though I'd certainly be happy with it.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Another Battle of the Blogs

Like they did with the OSU-Michigan game, CSTV.com is running a Battle of the Blogs for the national championship game. We're on day three of the battle. To bring you up to speed, on Tuesday Pfef drew the unenviable task of debating Orson from EDSBS on each school's fans, while yesterday, Annapolisbuckeye went up against We Are the Boys, debating which school has the better bowl tradition. Pfef did well, I think. I'd argue that he won the debate, as much as one can win these things. He presented an excellent argument, while Orson mostly cracked jokes (good jokes, though; this is EDSBS we're talking about here). I thought Annapolisbuckeye also took care of business, though he had a few more decades of bowl tradition to work with. We Are the Boys did about as good a job as one could hope to do with what they had to work with.

I drew Swamp Ball as an opponent for today's battle, the Florida offense versus the Ohio State defense. As a savvy veteran of Battles of the Blogs (Battle of the Blogses?), I went for every dirty debate trick I could apply at midnight, when I was writing my side of the debate. Balance, reasonableness, and honesty went out the window (not all the way out, maybe, but I at least dangled them out the window, as though they were Vanilla Ice to my Suge Knight). I cherry picked statistics that helped my argument. I ignored everything that might weaken my argument. I even set up a bit of a straw man, just to get a shot in at the SEC:

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect my colleague and opponent across the page is arguing that Ohio State’s numbers came against inferior competition, while Florida’s stats came against tough SEC defenses; it’s the argument I would make were our situations reversed. However, let me present a counter-argument: SEC defenses are no better than any others. In fact, an offense approaching competent is all it takes to win the SEC.

Look at the SEC championship game: it pitted a team (Arkansas) whose best quarterback was a running back (Darren McFadden) against a team (Florida) whose best running back was a backup quarterback (Tim Tebow). That isn’t innovation; that’s desperation. It’s the sort of thing you do when you’ve exhausted all other options. It’s the sort of thing that went out of style decades ago. It’s the sort of thing that’s good enough to win the SEC.

Meanwhile, how does Swamp Ball attack? With a calm, reasoned essay outlining the sort of gameplan that might be successful against the Buckeyes, based on results of previous games. It was well-thought out and well-written. Who does that in online debates?

As it turns out, there's a lot less trash-talking in an OSU-Florida debate than an OSU-Michigan debate, which I probably should have expected. Regardless, I feel like I come off a little message board-y, when I could have afforded to be more evenhanded in my site of the debate. But I'm not going to get too concerned about it. After all, if you don't get a little fiery in a college football debate, when will you?

Anyway, there's been a lot of good work done in this Battle of the Blogs, by both sides. So go check it out.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

OSU-Indiana Postgame

I'm abandoning my look at the BCS bowls, at least temporarily, because I realized that I don't really care about the Orange Bowl. Louisville won, but who cares? It confirms what we already suspected: Wake Forest is not that good.

Instead, let's talk about basketball. Specifically, the 74-67 win over Indiana. There were good and bad things going on there. First, the good:
  • Greg Oden had a career-high 21 points. He was greatly helped by going 9 of 10 on his free throws, despite still shooting left-handed. If I'm him, I think long and hard about not switching back. And if I'm Pat Riley, I send video of Oden shooting to Shaq.
  • Mike Conley had his best game yet, ending with nine points, ten assists (to zero turnovers!) and three steals. He drives to the basket better than anyone on the team, and he passes better than anyone on the team. Oden may be the best player on the team, but he has some real competition from Conley.
  • Speaking of best games yet, Othello Hunter also played very well for perhaps the first time this year. The numbers aren't terribly gaudy - 14 points, six rebounds, three blocks - but for the first time, he was a real presence on both ends of the court. He missed an easy layup on a great pass from Conley early in the game, but that was his only miss, as he went five of six on his shots and four for four on the line. He got much more aggressive on offense, going for dunks instead of settling for layups or jumpers. There were times, both offensively and defensively, when I mistook him for Oden.
  • Daequan Cook continues to shoot well. He had twelve points on four of six shooting, making two of his three attempts behind the arc. He can score from anywhere. It's fun to watch.
  • Late in the game, Oden blocked a shot clear to the other half of the court. It effectively ended any chance the Hoosiers had at a comeback, and it looked really cool.
Now, the bad:
  • The team is still in a shooting slump. They hit just four of 15 threes. Jamar Butler and Ron Lewis each made one of four. At least the team appears to recognize the problem: they shot well below their average of 22.8 3-pt. attempts per game. On the other hand, maybe the problem is that they aren't getting into a shooting rhythm like earlier in the season. I don't know what the problem is; all I know is that I miss the Buckeye team that was making 40+% of its threes, annoying basketball purists, and turning six-point deficits into nine-point leads in the span of five possessions.
  • Indiana, by contrast, shot absurdly well from behind the arc, hitting twelve of 22 (54.5%). Some of this was just luck, but seeing as Florida also shot well against the Buckeyes, perhaps there's something beyond luck at work here. If the good teams continue to shoot well against the Buckeyes, Florida won't be the last loss of the season.
  • Those damnable pick-and-rolls continue to be a problem. As Keith has already mentioned, the Buckeyes (Oden in particular) have been defending it by hedging (briefly guarding the man with the ball so his defender can recover, yay basketball lingo). The problem is that Oden pretty regularly picks up a foul defending the play, and when he doesn't, he hasn't been quick enough getting back to his man. Florida and Indiana would run some of those screens well outside the three-point line, presumably to draw Oden and his Shot-Blocking Hands of Justice(!) away from the basket. If that continues to be the case, might it be better to have him back off and let the other defender go under the pick? Sure, it might leave the ballhandler with an open shot, but if that shot's a 25- or 30-footer, is that a bad thing? And who knows; Oden might be able to block that shot anyway. Regardless, what they're doing now doesn't work very well.
And overall, the game itself was good and bad. A win is a good thing, and the play of Conley and Hunter in particular was very good. But I think Indiana helped to develop a blueprint for beating Ohio State, and that's a bad thing. Defensively, teams should focus on denying passes to Oden, whether with a zone or some other strategy, since they don't have to worry about Ohio State making them pay from outside. Offensively, lots of pick-and-rolls. Lots and lots. Of course, if the pick-and-roll defense improves and the long-range shots start falling, that blueprint and just about any other for beating the Buckeyes go right out the window, and that would be a good thing.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Fiesta Bowl: A Taste of Things to Come, and Bob Stoops' What-The-Hell Face

I resigned myself to watching the Fiesta Bowl, more out of a sense of duty than any eagerness to see the actual game. Since this was essentially the warm-up game for the national championship, I wanted to see whether the broadcast team was any good, whether Fox would do anything annoying with the cameras, and whether the field was any good. Basically, I was scouting Fox and the field for the OSU-Florida game; watching Boise State get crushed by a far superior, yet still boring Oklahoma team was something I was resigned to as a result, not something I was excited about. But then the game actually turned out to be pretty good, and when Boise State put on a trick play clinic at the end of the game, it became straight-up awesome.

The Broadcasters
But first, the broadcast team. I, and everyone I know, was worried that Joe Buck would be calling this game. The last thing I wanted was that smug jackass ruining the bastion of purity and essential goodness that is college football. The football gods took pity upon us, though, and gave us Thom Brennaman instead. He's a baseball guy, and kind of a jackass himself, but he is better than Joe Buck because he is not Joe Buck.

But the football gods giveth with one hand, and taketh away with the other. While I associate Brennaman's voice more with calling double plays and complaining about Manny Ramirez than football, he's at least good at his job. The same can't be said for the combo Fox picked to do color: Charles Davis and Barry Alvarez.

Davis is just annoying. It's one thing to point out the obvious from time to time; it's standard broadcast procedure. It's another thing to point out the obvious, stalk it, learn its daily routine, videotape its every movement, and watch the video over and over in a dark room. Davis is a stalker of the obvious. When Boise State, contrary to what Davis expected, continued to occasionally pass the ball and try to pick up first downs and score touchdowns (basically what had been working for them all game), rather than just say, "Well, Boise State isn't content with this lead," or maybe "Wow, Boise State is taking some risks late in the game. I guess you gotta stick with what's been working," Davis launched into a lengthy explanation about how he doesn't know everything about football, about how the Broncos had done this all year, and about how he's a big believer in Team DNA (which was definitely not covered in any of my biology classes). He was pretty consistently wrong, he only pointed out the obvious, and he would not shut up. He's my worst sports broadcasting nightmare.

Barry Alvarez, ex-Wisconsin coach and current Wisconsin A.D., is the third man in the booth. I'm under the assumption that when there are three people in the booth, one is supposed to do play by play, one is supposed to provide basic commentary for casual viewers, and one is supposed to provide more in-depth insight for the more hardcore fans (that's you and me, amigo). Alvarez is our voice in the booth. He's okay, but he's pretty clearly new at this. He offered some decent observations, but he'd stutter, he'd spend time looking for the right word, he'd just act like a guy who's still new to this broadcast stuff. Even worse for Alvarez, with Davis going into repeated thirty second discussions about the differences in clock rules between college and the NFL, among other inane ramblings, Alvarez had trouble getting a word in edgewise. There would be long stretches where you could forget he was even there. And maybe he wasn't; he might have gone searching for duct tape to shut up Davis.

So, in conclusion, if you're willing and able to make jokes about the broadcast team, these guys will be acceptable. But if bad commentators can ruin the game for you, you're better off listening to the game on the radio and muting the TV.

Oh, and a memo to Brennaman, re: your late-game comments - the whole BCS-versus-playoff debate has been done do death. We all know the BCS sucks, we're sick of talking about it. The new clock rules are the talking point we expect you to beat to death. Please adjust your commentary accordingly.

The Field
It was alright. They had apparently replaced the middle section of the field (between the hash marks, plus a little more) at some point, and judging by the remains of the old field, it was a good call. I guess that between the Cardinals and high school playoffs, the field had received some heavy use. What they ended up with wasn't very photogenic, but it seemed to work well enough. It wasn't pristine, but it wasn't Horseshoe in '06 bad.

The Game
If you missed it, Boise State beat Oklahoma in overtime, 43-42. But the game was so much more awesome than that. Boise State surprised me (and just about everyone else) by leading for much of the game, achieving it not through tricks or fluke plays, but by going toe to toe with the Sooners and winning. Then they blew the lead, Oklahoma took the lead on a pick-six, and Boise State had to stage a comeback. They ran into a little trouble with that, and faced 4th and 18. No problem, they just ran a hook-and-ladder to perfection to tie the game up. Fox cut to a shot of Bob Stoops, whose look said very clearly: "What the hell?"

The game went into overtime, and on the first play, Adrian Peterson cruised through the Boise State defense for a touchdown. Order was restored, and it was maintained up until 4th and 2 for the Broncos. That's when they ran a WR pass that resulted in another touchdown, and another "What the hell?" shot of Stoops. Boise State then lined up to go for two, and Oklahoma called a time out, presumably to allow Stoops to explain to BSU coach Chris Petersen that that's just not how things are done in big time football. Petersen evidently ignored him, reached into the jar of trick plays, and pulled out a Statue of Liberty play, which also worked to perfection. One last "What the hell?" shot of Stoops, and game over. Bob's press conference didn't consist entirely of profanity and confused looks, but regardless of what he said, we know what he was thinking: What the hell?

Back With Rose Bowl Thoughts

I have returned. In the past nine days, I have traveled the world, searching for enlightenment, helping the less fortunate, and solving ancient mysteries (like "how does Lou Holtz keep getting work?").

Or, I was doing the Christmas thing, then doing the New Year's thing, and spending all the time in between playing Guitar Hero. And really, isn't playing Guitar Hero a lot like a search for enlightenment? I sure hope so, because otherwise, I've wasted an awful lot of time.

But I also watched quite a bit of football, and I have a few thoughts and crackpot ideas to share. Since discussion of all the games would be boring and a lot of work, I've decided to focus on the BCS games. First up is the Rose Bowl, which, as you are likely already aware, was won by USC, 32-18. Every year, I tell myself that I'm going to cheer for Michigan in their bowl game, that I'm going to support the Big Ten. And every year, I end up cheering the other team's touchdowns and cackling madly at everything the Wolverines do wrong and every call that goes against them. I just can't help cheering against them. We're like Pavlov's dog and a bell, me and the Wolverines.

Now, as far as the actual game, a buddy of mine suggested that this was a bad matchup for the Wolverines. In particular, he thought a big receiver like Dwayne Jarrett would be trouble for Michigan. I figured Michigan was just so much better than those pansy Pac-10'ers that individual matchups like that wouldn't matter. 205 yards and two touchdowns later, it's looking like I may have been mistaken. Jarrett kinda sorta totally dominated the Michigan secondary. In particular, he went out of his way to own safety Willis Barringer, taunting him into a personal foul penalty on one touchdown, then flipping the ball to him after a big catch on another play, just to name two examples. It was entertaining, though how Jarrett didn't get flagged on any of that, I'll never know.

Of course, this outcome provides a pretty good rebuttal to any argument about Michigan deserving to be in the national championship game. We have evidence now that Michigan is not as good as Ohio State or USC, so they have a little trouble claiming to be one of the two best teams in the country. But that doesn't mean that the decision-making process that kept them out of the game wasn't flawed. If you open up a bear cub-kidnapping business, and on Day One some mother bear doesn't rip your arms off, that doesn't mean that you have a good business plan; it means that you got lucky. Similarly, the BCS got lucky. Michigan could have blown out USC, then we'd be halfway to yet another championship controversy.

But they didn't, and we aren't. For now, we can sit back and bask in a third-straight Michigan bowl loss. Even if it's bad for the Big Ten's reputation, even if you were actually cheering for the Wolverines, you can still take some pleasure in their misfortune. Schadenfreude, the kids call it.