Archive for the ‘NCAA’ Category

Unless Bowling Green has a much better football team than I think it does, this will be another dreary season for the Gators. The current forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of rain – as in tears falling from the eyes of Gator fans.

Other than the fact the Gators won their season opener, 27-14, and showed a solid running game, there wasn’t much to cheer about for Florida fans.

The passing game was lousy even though Bowling Green dared the Gators to pass by playing an 8-man front. Quarterback Jeff Driskel missed open receivers, who had trouble getting open. The defense had tackling problems, particularly in the secondary.

The team looked unprepared, confused and nervous. The Gators were flagged for 14 penalties, and that reflects badly on Coach Will Muschamp and his staff.

If Bowling Green had a competent placekicker and hadn’t had several dropped passes . . . well, you get the picture.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the Gators’ problems more than the quarterback situation. While I’m not one who argues that the two-quarterback system is doomed to fail, it seems obvious that Muschamp’s dilemma is a lack of confidence in both quarterbacks, Driskel and Jacoby Brissett. Even against what should be an outmanned opponent and against a defense geared to stop the run, Muschamp chose to pass the ball only 21 times.

Unless Driskel shows considerable improvement you have to expect Muschamp to give him the hook and go with Brissett. It isn’t a pretty situation.

To add to the Gators’ woes is the fact there were thousands of empty seats. You can argue Bowling Green isn’t a big draw, but it was the season opener. There was a time in the recent past when all the Gators had to do was suit up and The Swamp would be packed with 90,000-plus fans. Until the Gators start playing a lot better, you can expect less than sellout crowds except for Florida’s biggest games. And there aren’t many of those on this year’s home schedule, which consists of Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette and Jacksonville State. For the record, the Gators’ ticket office is open and looking for business.

Up next: a trip to Texas A&M, which I’m betting is a better team than Bowling Green.  The forecast could get worse before it gets better.

One of the biggest question marks for me entering the 2012 college football season is when will the fans of the state’s Big Three schools start hollering for their coaches’ jobs. Sadly, that’s the era we live in.

That’s even the case at Florida State where the expectations of a great season have many Seminole fans thinking national championship. Will 10-2, the ACC title and a BCS bowl bid be enough for Coach Jimbo Fisher to escape the wrath of FSU fans?

Probably not.

Will fans of Florida and Miami be understanding of another six- loss season for their second-year head coaches, Will Muschamp and Al Golden?

No.

I don’t expect any to lose his job, but it won’t be pretty.

Strangely, Golden may hear the fewest boo birds because not much is expected of the Hurricanes and their fair weather fans don’t move the needle very high when it comes to passion and numbers.

Muschamp is in the biggest danger of having his ears blasted by unhappy fans. Even the youngest Gator fans still remember national championships in ’06 and ’08. They also remember Florida losing six of its last eight regular season games last fall. Thus far, the young first-time head coach has been given a pass. Former coach Urban Meyer caught most of the fans’ ire for last season.

Gators fans won’t be as forgiving this season. Rebuilding is a dirty word for fans of elite programs. They pay their coaches millions and give them every resource imaginable and they expect quick dividends.

I don’t expect much improvement from the Gators. I see a 7-5 record, and I think things go bad early. A loss in Game 2 at Texas A&M will set the tone for another year of mediocrity. The real bummer will come the week after a home loss to LSU when the despondent Gators lose at Vanderbilt. To make things worse, I see losses to Florida’s two biggest rivals, Georgia and FSU.

The Seminoles are talented enough to win the national title but quarterback E.J. Manuel has to, one, stay healthy and, two, play better than he ever has. After a 5-0 start, FSU’s national hopes will disappear with a loss at N.C. State. Then there’s that Thursday night trip to Blacksburg, Va., in early November. Why would FSU play another Thursday night road game? Past experiences haven’t been pleasant and this one won’t be either.

As for the ‘Canes, I think the road continues to be bumpy. They simply lack talent, particularly at the line of scrimmage. How about three straight home losses to UNC, FSU and Virginia Tech? Miami finishes 5-7.

In summary, 2012 will not be a year to remember for state’s Big Three.

With the college football season only hours away and the NFL only 10 days away, there are two storylines I’d like to share with you.

First . . .

I understand how excitable and passionate Gator and Seminole fans are. I know you’ve been chomping and chopping at the proverbial bit for a new season. I get it. But understand you will learn nothing about the upcoming season this Saturday.

The Gators quarterbacks will look much improved. The Gator receivers will get open. The Gators will gain yards running between the tackles. Your defense will be dominant.

Remember, you’re playing Bowling Green. This game is a freebie and is a resume builder you’re your coach.

The Seminoles think they’ll be in the national championship. They may be. It really is up to senior quarterback E.J. Manuel. If he finally plays anything like what FSU expected when he became Coach Jimbo Fisher’s first super blue chip recruit, the Noles have a real shot. Their defense may be great. There are a bunch of future NFL players among the receivers and defensive backs.

Manuel will sparkle this week. Remember, you’re playing Murray State.

Second . . .

Maurice, will you please hurry up and end this silly holdout. I’m tired of talking about it but that’s all anybody asks me about these days.

You tried to make a point that the Jaguars couldn’t live without you. Well, you’re wrong. They are, indeed, moving on and, like your new owner said, you’d better jump on ‘cause the train is leaving.

Yeah, you’ve taken a major PR hit, but it isn’t a fatal blow. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. Report now, act humble and get to work. If you play well, the fans will forgive you. If the team wins, the fans will forgive you. If you play well and the team wins, you’ll be a bigger star and celebrity than ever.

If not . . . well, let’s not go there right now.

For the record, I’m calling you Maurice until this absurd holdout ends. MJD and MoJo were nicknames of endearment and, frankly, there’s nothing endearing about someone who acts like a spoiled – not to mention misinformed – brat.

Now that we’re on the verge of having some kind mini-playoff in college football, it’s time for the sport’s powers-that-be to get their heads out of their backsides and drop-kick political correctness to the curb.

Everyone involved in the decision-making process – school presidents being at the top of the list – knows how stupid and unfair the major college football landscape is. The top division in major college football consists of 120 schools. It is a joke to think they compete on a level playing field. The financial disparity is ridiculous. Imagine Wal-Mart and Bubba’s Retail store being talked about as equals.

According to recent research, the top half of major college football schools generate $81.5 million in revenue annually; the bottom half $28. The upper half averages spending $76 million, the bottom half $28 million.

There has been talk of a super division for decades. Now that college presidents have agreed to some kind of playoff, it’s time to take a full step and separate the “haves” from the “have-nots” and have a real playoff.

Divide the super division teams into four or eight football-only conferences using good old geography. (All other sports would remain in their current conferences and continue doing business as usual.) The super conference champions would then compete for the national championship. There would be no polls and selection committees involved. There’d be no at-large invitations. Teams would get an opportunity to play for the national title the old-fashioned way: They’d earn it. By the way, super division teams would only play other super division teams in non-conference games. The days of Florida playing Florida Atlantic would be over. Hallelujah!

This certainly isn’t a new idea. The disparity has been talked about behind closed doors for years. Now it is being discussed openly, and that’s a major step.

USA Today quoted Texas President William Powers this week on the subject. Powers, naturally, hedged calling for a super division, but he did say such things as “We may get to the point . . . where many schools are really not in a position to compete” against the elite teams. Really? He added that while he wasn’t for a “national League” that the day might be coming when “we may end up with 50 schools” in some kind of super division.

The time for talking about it is past. Now it is time to do it. Certainly some schools – think Vanderbilt of the SEC, Duke of the ACC, Northwestern of the Big Ten, etc. – will squawk. I feel their pain, but if they can’t compete year-in and year-out, they need to step aside.

Right or wrong, big-time college football has evolved into a major sports entertainment business. Now it needs to act like one.

 

Kentucky deserved to win the NCAA basketball championship. The Wildcats were clearly the best team in the country, especially after injuries hit North Carolina.

Coach John Calipari deserves a lot credit for the championship. He not only recruited the best group of players, but he managed to convince them to play unselfishly. That’s not easy to do in this age of look-at-me athletes – especially athletes who obviously are using college as a one-year stopover on their way to the riches of the NBA.

For the record, I have no problem with Calipari for his one-and-done philosophy. The rules allow it and he takes advantage of those rules. I don’t have a problem with the one-and-done athletes. In fact, I don’t understand why they aren’t allowed to go straight from high school to the pro game.

I do have a problem with the University of Kentucky, which makes an even bigger mockery of the term student-athlete than already exists. And shame on the NCAA for making such a rule.

Overall, March Madness once again lived up to the hype. The early rounds were highlighted by mega upsets. Norfolk State beating Missouri? Lehigh beating Duke? That’s the stuff dreams are made of. There were plenty of close games. There were several unbelievable comebacks.

In the end, the two winningest programs in major college basketball history played for the title and the best team won.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

 

March Madness is wonderful. So many people, many of whom don’t know the difference between and basketball and a pumpkin, get involved because they fill out pool sheets.

Is there a workplace that doesn’t have a bracket? Very few, that’s for sure.

And, it seems, every workplace has that obnoxious know-it-all who thinks he’s clearly the smartest guy. He’s the nerd who has studied every team. He can tell you right down to who’s the fifth guy ff the bench. He can rattle off the statistics of every team and every player. He knows the postseason record of every coach.

He scoffs at you when you turn in your bracket. You want to slap the smug look off his face.

Well, I’m here to tell you no one has much of a clue as to what’s going to happen in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It is the most unpredictable of all postseason sports tournaments. There are 334 Division 1 teams. 68 made the tournament field. Few people, if any, have seen them all play. Most of us haven’t seen more than half of them, in fact.

My guess is 98 percent of winning the pool in your office is luck.

Having filled out brackets for more than 50 years I can offer you a few do’s and don’t.

Do’s include:

• Pick all No. 1 seeds to beat No. 16 seeds because no No. 16 has ever beaten a No. 1.

• Pay no attention to the size (enrollment) of a school. In football, the big schools nearly always beat the small schools. That is not the case in basketball. Enrollment is a non-factor.

• Take more into account how teams played the second half of the season instead of the entire season. Because so many of the better players leave school early for the NBA, many of the better teams are loaded with freshmen and sophomores and it takes those teams a half of season to start playing close to their potential.

• In the early rounds take into consideration if a team is loaded with upperclassmen. Experience may not be a factor late in the tournament but it is early.

Don’t include:

• Eliminate a school because you’ve never heard of it.

• Eliminate a school because you’ve heard of the conference it plays in.

• Laugh at anyone else’s picks.

• Take anyone else’s advice including mine.

 

The push for NCAA athletic scholarships to be four-year commitments will be successful. Some schools already have said they’re going to do it and others will follow.

What choice do they really have?

Imagine a rival school making a four-year commitment and your school not. Who do you think will have the advantage in recruiting?

It is, of course, the right thing to do, but you can be certain the coaches don’t like it even though you’ll seldom, if ever, hear them complain publicly.

Coaches like the current one-year scholarship for obvious if not honorable reasons. As it stands now it is a one-way street that favors the coaches. If an athlete is unhappy, he or she can transfer, but they must sit out one year. The coaches can correct their “mistakes” after one year by simply not renewing the scholarship. It is one of college athletics’ dirty little secrets about how many scholarship athletes are run off for not being as talented as they were evaluated or because of a change in coaches.

Major college football coaches will whine publicly about how four-year commitments can impact their 85-scholarship limit. They’ll tell you it puts them at a disadvantage if that number includes a handful of athletes who simply don’t measure up. Indeed, the coaches like a system where they aren’t punished for their mistakes. My advice is the coaches should be held accountable if they recruit athletes who prove to lack the talent, the motivation or the discipline to be all they can be. And schools should be accountable even if they change coaches.

It always has amazed me how coaches are convinced they need 85 players to be able to have a successful program. Think about it: 85 players means being four deep at nearly every position. Teams are more than four deep when you include “preferred walk-ons”.

Yes, I know injuries take a toll, but 85 is still a big number.

The best argument for 85 scholarships is it provides for young people with a free education, but we all know far too many of the football scholarships go to young men who have little interest in reading, writing and arithmetic.

 

This will be a week of great joy or anguish for college football fans. Wednesday is national signing day, the day when most of the nation’s top high school prospects make binding commitments to schools.

Numerous recruiting experts will offer rankings, telling you if your coach was successful or if his sales pitch fell on deaf ears. No debate about it: recruiting is the life blood of college football.

Of course recruiting is not a science. It is guess work, plain and simple. You know this. You’ve been told this a thousand times. You believe it. Still, you’ll beat your chest and taunt your buddies who cheer for other schools if your school outranks their schools.

We used to say you needed at least three years before you could accurately judge a recruiting class. Now no more than two years is needed. Chances are good many of your 5-star recruits will turn out to be duds. Recruits who are considered afterthoughts this week will turn into tomorrow’s all-Americans.

How players are ranked by recruiting experts is immaterial. What is important in recruiting is getting players who fill positions of need, who fit into your coach’s system and then using the players properly. And players who WANT to be at your school and look forward to the college experience.

Truth is, with few exceptions, every player who signs with schools such as Florida and Florida State think they’ll be in the NFL in three years. Most see themselves as future first-round draft selections. You just have to hope players don’t pick your school ONLY because they see it has the best route to the NFL.

Coaches don’t like to admit it but they get caught up in the recruiting hype almost as much as the fans. I’ve been told numerous stories by coaches who admit this. Even if their eyes tell them differently, they recruit some players because of how they’re ranked and because of the expectations of their fans.

It’s always fun to look back at recruiting classes and re-evaluate them after a couple of years. Well, at least it’s fun for fans whose schools are successful. Recruiting, like NFL drafting, has taken on a life of its own.

Enjoy the process.

 

A Word for JoePa

Posted: January 24, 2012 in NCAA
Tags: , , ,

We’ll never see the likes of Joe Paterno again. He spent 61 years coaching at the same school, the last 46 as head coach. In a profession where 10 years is a good run and 20 years is a career, 61 years – or 46 – is so far off the charts that we truly can’t comprehend it.

That he won 409 games – more than 9 a season —  is remarkable but not as remarkable as his influence on the 1,000 young men he mentored and the millions of lives he impact.

All of his accomplishments, of course, make the end of his career all the sadder. I’m in no way excusing him for his horrible lack of judgment during his last 10 years when he did little or nothing about the possibility of boys being sexually abused. His failure is a mistake that cannot – should not – be erased, but it doesn’t mean his accomplishments were in vain.

In the end, the world was a better place because of Joe Paterno.

A great college football season ended with an ear-splitting thud in the BCS Championship Game. Alabama 21, LSU 0. It was never close. Alabama dominated. It was boring.

How can this happen in the Year of Offense? I know both Alabama and LSU have outstanding defenses, but come on man! It took these two teams 115 minutes and 24 seconds to score a touchdown. And that didn’t happen until LSU had quit.

This was a rematch that never should have happened. In my opinion there are only the rarest of situations when a rematch should even be considered and this wasn’t one of them. Maybe the best thing that will come out of Monday’s game in the New Orleans Superdome is that we won’t have another rematch.

If you looking for other positives you might consider the case of LSU quarterback Jordon Jefferson. Jefferson was horrible. For whatever reason, LSU Coach Les Miles stayed with Jordan instead of going to backup Jarrett Lee, a senior who has had a handful of outstanding performances in his unusual career. In fact, Lee was the Tigers’ MVP for the first third of the season while Jordan was on suspension for being in a barroom fight. Video caught Jordan stomping on a man’s face in that fight.

So what’s my point? As far as I’m concerned, Jordan should never have been re-instated to the team. I celebrate when bad guys lose.

No one knows if Lee would have made a difference. What we do know is LSU’s offense could do nothing with Jordan at quarterback. The Tigers finished with 92 yards in total offense and five first downs. Perhaps Lee, known as a pocket passer, could have had some success throwing down field.

For the record, Alabama might well be the best team in the nation. The Tide’s defense ranks among the best ever and Trent Richardson is a stud running back. In the title game, quarterback A.J. McCarron proved he could throw the ball. But Alabama lost at home to LSU. The Tide didn’t win its own SEC division much less the conference title. Alabama didn’t deserve a second chance.

If I was in charge of naming a national champion I’d send the trophy to Oklahoma State. The Big 12 champion Cowboys lost one game under unusual circumstances. They lost in two overtimes at Iowa State in a rare Friday night game. The game was played within hours after two OSU women’s basketball coaches were killed in a plane crash. The Cowboys appeared to have won the game in regulation, but a field goal was ruled no good at the buzzer. Replays indicated the official blew the call.

Will all of this prompt the people who run the BCS to go to some kind of playoff for major college football? A plus-one model? A final four format? Certainly not in the immediate future. The BCS folks will tinker with the postseason, but fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.