December 29, 2005

2005 Michigan Wolverines - Best 7-5 team EVER?

I heard this idea on my way to work today, put forth by none other than the great mind of Mel Kiper Jr. on ESPN Radio. He made some compelling points, but I thought I would dig a bit deeper, then also follow up with a review of this theory after bowl season - you know, after three more BCS Bowl teams that Michigan lost to in 2005 play for the final time?

Here are the scores:

9/3 Northern Illinois W 33-17 (NR on Harris Poll 12/29)
9/10 Notre Dame L 17-10 (7th)
9/17 Eastern Mich W 55-0 (NR)
9/24 at Wisconsin L 23-20 (20)
10/1 at Mich St W 34-31 OT (NR)
10/8 Minnesota L 23-20 (NR)
10/15 Penn State W 27-25 (3rd)
10/22 at Iowa W 23-20 OT (25)
10/29 at Nwestern W 33-17 (NR)
11/12 Indiana W 41-14 (NR)
11/19 Ohio State L 25-21 (6th)
12/28 Nebraska L 32-28 (Alamo Bowl) (NR)

Two losses to unranked teams truly maimed their rep, although Minnesota was ranked 22nd on October 9 on the heels of that Maroney-Russell running extravaganza. You could argue that Lloyd Carr should have had a shot to win the Alamo Bowl last night if not for the poor Sun Belt officiating throughout the contest.

Let us examine how Michigan could compete with the nation’s elite, but inexpicably managed to just be better than average.

  • The average margin of loss was only 4.2 points and consumed only 49 seconds - Notre Dame controlled their low scoring contest, Wisconsin won on a TD with :24 left on the clock, Minnesota kicked a FG with :01 on the clock, and the killer was the late Antonio Pittman rushing TD by Ohio State with :24 on the clock in the Rivalry. Are you feeling me now, that this Wolverine team could have easily been undefeated?
  • The wins set an equally dramatic tone - a last second TD pass to freshman WR Mario Manningham beat Penn State, and RB Jerome Jackson scored in the bottom of the OT to beat Iowa. It is truly amazing how close the guys with the crazy helmets came to being 5-7!
  • Lack of a killer instinct could be another reason, but that is a hard variable to quantify - except by the win-loss record.
What went wrong? Mike Hart injuries and the inability to stop the run come to mind immediately. When Mike Hart plays, the Wolverines offense operates much more smoothly - without him and his healthy hamstring, the offense looked lost despite all that Chad Henne’s best efforts. Wolverines allowed 136.1 yards per game rushing, almost twice what the top-ranked Buckeyes allowed (74.5) and that inability to control the clock made all the difference in the losses.

I am going to email this article to Lloyd Carr - he could use it during his year end meeting with the Board of Regents, arguing that he should keep his job. I imagine the Regents will decide to keep him employed by a margin as close as this season was to being special.

December 26, 2005

How good is Marshawn Lynch?

Everyone saw Marshawn Lynch coming in 2005, a sophomore running back at the University of California-Berkeley who showed not only the talent but also a nice balance of humility and bravado in 2004 that often portends stardom.

Last year, senior JJ Arrington racked up 2000 yards, and Lynch ably spelled the star, averaging nine yards a carry and scoring ten TDs - perfect recipe for a hype machine, no?

So where were Lynch’s big numbers this year?

I ask because Lynch tore up BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl with 194 yards and three touchdowns, giving viewers a glimpse of all that promise that truly wasn’t delivered in 2005. Sure, Lynch broke 1000 yards in the regular season, but Lynch missed two games with a broken figure and parts of others due to fumbling issues.

My point is do not be so hard on Lynch - if not for the injuries, his season could have been special. Should we really be disappointed in a 196 carry, 1246 yard and ten TD season? This is easily a case of outrageous expectations.

Stay tuned, especially you fantasy gamers…Cal’s 2005 team was super young, and learned a lot this year on the fly. Remember, Joseph Ayoob’s OJT hampered the offensive maturity - he was billed as the white Mike Vick, and in my mind that is no compliment and Ayoob lived up to it. Imagine Lynch (and his mate Justin Forsett) with a steady QB and the continued emergence of now soph WR DeSean Jackson - this Cal team should be a top ten team in 2006.

December 25, 2005

Snatching Defeat from the jaws of victory

UCF snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, missing an extra point in OT to lose 49-48 to the Nevada Wolfpack. UCF doinked an OT extra point versus Ohio last year also, showing a disturbing trend for a program that only seems to get in its own way.

Just wanted to draw attention to a couple very good young running backs in the Christmas Eve Hawaii Bowl for all you football freaks out there, fantasy or other wise.

UCF freshman Kevin Smith celebrated his first visit to the islands with 29 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Most of the year the Knights shared carries among three backs, but Smith had his breakout game in the bowl and has to be considered the number one option in 2006.

Nevada had the WAC Player of the Year in RB BJ Mitchell, but next year the Wolfpack can rely on freshman Robert Hubbard who broke off 126 yards on just 15 carries, three of which went to paydirt. Hubbard spelled Mitchel throughout the year, and Hubbard was the one making similar numbers in the upset win over Fresno State.

File that away somewhere…

December 16, 2005

The Next Great College Football Head Coach

I want to categorize this story as one of life’s gimme-gotchas…you know, every good thing has its bad thing to keep the universe in parallel, to maintain that Newtonian balance…

Boise State’s Dan Hawkins discusses the Colorado head coaching job today, perhaps ending one of the finest non-major conference coaching regimes in recent memory. I find it difficult to envision the Blue Turf without Hawkins on the sideline.

Long rumored to be on many big college program’s short lists of coaching candidates, Hawkins has turned in some amazing results over the last five years in Boise;

  • Four consecutive WAC championships
  • 26 straight WAC wins until the Fresno loss this year.
  • #1 in the nation 2003-2005 in margin of victory, according to
  • Top ten national ranking in 2004, peaking at #7 in the BCS rankings.

Hawkins had often said that he had every thing he wanted in Boise, including Associate Athletic Director titles and complete autonomy. But as with many coaches, the allure of proving their talents at a higher level of competition presents itself as a great temptress, and the ability to take over a talented Buffaloes roster in a weak Big 12 North division makes this look like the perfect venue for Hawkins to display his talents for the nation to appreciate.

Let’s remember that not all coaches with success at smaller schools have translated well to the big time. Dennis Franchione (TCU to Alabama and Texas A&M), Gerry DiNardo (Vandy to LSU), John L. Smith (Louisville to Michigan State) come to mind as leaders who may have been better off staying in place.

But success stories like Jim Tressel (Youngstown St. to Ohio State), Joe Tiller (Wyoming to Purdue) and to a lesser degree Dirk Koetter (Boise to Arizona State) provide a more likely set to compare Hawkins expected results. (Grades are incomplete on Urban Meyer - I know you were looking for his name.)

The gimme is a great hire for Colorado if the deal is done. The gotcha is that the Boise program must restart again. Stay Tuned.

November 23, 2005

Jeremy Bloom's aim is true

This is an excerpt from The Sporting News from August 30, 2004, where the oldest sports magazine in the US allowed Bloom to gently extend his middle finger through words right at the NCAA. - vm

Educating Jeremy: Jeremy Bloom tells his side of a losing battle to regain his eligibility with the NCAA, which has decided to make him a one-sport star

Last week, the NCAA rejected Colorado’s request to restore wide receiver Jeremy Bloom’s eligibility. Bloom, who also is a standout freestyle skier, has battled the NCAA for the past two years to allow him to play for the Buffaloes while also accepting endorsements to fund his ski training. Bloom left Colorado’s camp earlier this month and currently is training with the U.S. Ski Team near Santiago, Chile, in hopes of making the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. Colorado, which hoped to have Bloom aboard to add speed and needed experience at receiver, has appealed the decision.

I think I’ve been wrong about the caring folks at the NCAA all along. They have received way too much negative attention about their unwillingness to have an open mind concerning my unique athletic situation. As it turns out, their reasoning behind this decision has taught me some of the greatest lessons in my life.

I owe them an apology, and I hope that after reading this, you, too, will understand this was just a case of an immature and over-ambitious 20-year-old asking an organization to allow unacceptable and selfish circumstances.

Two years ago, I became a proud member of the 2002 Winter Olympics team and then won the World Cup overall title as a freestyle skier. Then, a few weeks later, the NCAA informed me that if it were to allow me to continue my financial means of paying for my trainer, nutritionist, physical therapist and agent for skiing, I would be endangering the core principle of amateurism as a college football player. Although at the time it seemed silly, looking back I believe they made the right call. It is true my relationship with those people would have been more damaging to the spirit of amateurism than, say, the University of Miami’s relationship with star football recruit Willie Williams, who has been arrested 11 times since 1999.

So I took their advice and dropped all my legitimate ski-related sponsors and enrolled at the University of Colorado, where I became a proud member of the football program and the social science department.

Even though the NCAA denied multiple waivers to let me play football, at least it provided me with a lengthy and adequate response to why it felt the request was off-base. It read something like this: No.

That response helped me to understand the value of a simplistic and concise answer to a question. If my coach, Gary Barnett, would have taken this approach when asked if Katie Hnida was a good football player, he never would have put himself in a position of conflict and would likely not have been placed on administrative leave by university president Elizabeth Hoffman.

But that wasn’t the end of my education by the NCAA. Before the first road trip of my collegiate career, Coach Barnett made it mandatory to wear a sport coat to the game. At the time I didn’t own a sport coat, so I borrowed one from one of our trainers.

The following week, during my weekly phone call from our compliance office, someone informed me that, due to NCAA rules, I would be fined $35 for a “rental fee.”

This is when I learned the NCAA holds a tight monopoly on the “rental business.” In fact, it rents out college athletes every year. While I was in college, the NCAA rented me out to many different corporations and allowed me to play in endorsement-filled stadiums every week. The NCAA even allowed the university to sell a jersey with my school and my number on it in stores all over Colorado.

I didn’t get any of the money that was generated by this service, but at least the NCAA paid for my schooling, right? Well, no. Actually, the NCAA didn’t pay a penny of my scholarship, and the university only paid half. The other half came from my “personal scholarship donor,” a private citizen who donates money to Colorado to fund student-athlete scholarships. Now that the NCAA is finished with me, it simply will dismiss me, just like it does with thousands of student-athletes every year. And why wouldn’t it, when it has thousands of fresh-faced, new student-athletes every year who are eager to join the cycle?

While I was in college, the NCAA made more intelligent decisions than not. However, there was one decision that impacted someone else’s life that is hard to forgive. Aaron Adair was a young man who battled brain cancer for a long portion of his life. He not only had enough heart to become part of the select few in the country to overcome the unthinkable disease, but he also possessed enough to make the University of Oklahoma’s varsity baseball team.

Aaron wrote his own book while he was in college, intending to give other cancer patients hope they too could win their battles with the disease. After his book was published, the compassionate and understanding folks at the NCAA ended Aaron’s dream of playing baseball because his name was attached to a “corporate product.”

But life rolls on in the wonderful world of amateur athletics because the NCAA doesn’t have to justify its decisions to anyone. They are the all-powerful people who make decisions that will have a positive impact on the “student-athlete.”

All of the lessons I learned from this organization will make me a rich man. Eventually, I think I’ll start my own amateur business. I not only will provide housing and a positive working environment, I also will teach my employees the benefits of working as a team. And though I’ll be making millions running this business, I will sympathetically tell my employees that paying them would corrupt the purity of my business and their learning experience. If they try to support themselves in other ways I find inappropriate, I’ll dismiss them.

And I’ll laugh as I pull away in my Mercedes, because they’re at my mercy, and I won’t have to answer to anyone.

-Jeremy Bloom

COPYRIGHT 2004 Sporting News Publishing Co.