Tuesday, August 2, 2011

NFL Musings: NFC North

Green Bay Packers

So the Eagles are the new favorites to win the Super Bowl, eh? Even though they have new guys with unproven chemistry, and guys who are holding out? Even though the Packers are returning basically the same team that won the Super Bowl last year, with the addition of all those guys they lost to injury last season? If you say so.

I still think, especially with the advantage the lockout will give to veteran teams, that the Packers have as good a chance to repeat as a fan could ask for.

Minnesota Vikings

Well, I think the Donovan McNabb trade was a good idea for them. It still doesn't make them scary at all, but they won't be the utter, utter shambles of a team I was expecting back in March. Not that McNabb 2011 is going to be anything like Favre 2009.

2009 isn't coming back, Vikes. I think it's time you made your peace with that.

Detroit Lions

Man, I wish the Lions were in a different division from the Packers (or better yet, different conference) so I could root for them harder. I just love a scrappy underdog! I hate Nick Fairley, because he's a dirty cheater, but what a great draft choice that was for them. I love the idea of drafting to your strengths instead of your weaknesses. I'm not looking forward to Aaron Rodgers going against that D-line twice. On the other hand . . .

Chicago Bears

Jay Cutler also has to face the Lions twice, and with much crappier protection. The Bears are now my pick for Biggest Mess in the division. Their offensive line was already pretty terrible, and they only seem to have made it worse in the offseason. And filling their depth chart with Cowboys cast-offs probably isn't going to help distract their fan base. I know they made the conference championship game last year, but let's just say I'll be real surprised if they make it back there.

Monday, January 10, 2011

"National" "Championship" Roundup!

It's that time again! Time for two teams chosen by subjective criteria by biased voters and flawed computer scores to play against each other in a game held so long after the regular season that all the momentum they had built up may well be gone! It's time for the "National" "Championship"!

Fortunately, this game actually should be pretty good. You'd have to be made of stone, or perhaps just indifferent to the sport of football (same difference?) not to be excited about the Auburn-Oregon matchup. These are two exciting teams with pants-crappingly dynamic offenses. If they score fewer than eighty combined points, we'll all be disappointed.

Auburn is the favorite and rightfully so. They've put up almost as many points as Oregon against tougher overall competition, and they will have the single best player on the field. However, no one should count Oregon out. Oregon's strongest single opponent, Stanford, finished the season better than any of Auburn's opponents; Oregon had fewer close victories; and the Ducks will have the second best player on the field.

I'm picking Oregon to win, because I believe they certainly can, and because I want them to. I really don't want to have to listen to Gary Danielson if the SEC makes it to five "championships" in a row. (Not that I want to listen to him anyway, but you know what I mean.)

My predicted first half score: Auburn 10, Oregon 7. Final score: Oregon 38, Auburn 37.

And now for a "National" "Championship" carnival of links:

See who professional football opinion-havers are picking in Dr. Saturday's BCS Prediction Thread!

Marvel at Pat Forde's comparison of the teams! (Ex: "Campus vibe: Crunchy/Preppy")

Be amazed by statistical analysis from Football Outsiders! (I admit, I couldn't make it through the whole thing, but I did pick up good nuggets like "The good news for the Ducks is, after tonight, they still won't have faced a truly elite defense" and "Of all the mind-blowing numbers to come out of Newton's Heisman-winning season, this might be the most likely to spread gray matter all over the wallpaper -- he's 19 for 19 through the air on game-opening drives.")

And finally, nod solemnly in agreement with Stewart Mandel's argument that the game needs to be pretty good, considering that it's been kind of an ugly season.

Monday, January 3, 2011

LeachWatch 2011: Will No One Hire Mike Leach?!?

The news broke yesterday that no, Maryland will not be hiring Mike Leach after all. And who could blame them, when a coach that just lost 48-20 in a BCS bowl was available? (Plus, he had a 1-16 record against ranked opponents! How can you say no to that?)

Seriously, nobody is impressed with Maryland that they got rid of Ralph Friedgen only to replace him with Connecticut's Randy Edsall, who is--in a joke already stolen by several people around the internet--a younger, thinner Ralph Friedgen. The story is that Maryland "got cold feet" about the Mike Leach hire and decided to play it safe.

This makes no sense. The only reason they fired ACC Coach of the Year Friedgen was to build excitement in their fanbase. The only reason! You don't make a move to create excitement and then back off the most exciting part. There are other reasons to avoid hiring Mike Leach--his ongoing legal battles with Texas Tech and ESPN, the unattractiveness of his "system" offense for kids who want to go into the NFL--but those reasons existed two weeks ago.

The conclusion I've come to is the one I've made all the other times Leach seemed to get close to a new job, only to get turned down at the last minute. The man must give the world's worst job interview. We all know that he comes across really awkwardly on TV and as a weirdo in print interviews. Maybe when an AD faces down Leach's whole weird deal across the desk, he can no longer focus on the man's resume.

C'mon, ADs of the world. I know the whole "pirate fetish" thing might not appeal to you, but your student body will love it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

LeachWatch 2010: Terp-tacular?

Mike Leach's name has been connected to almost every coaching opening this year. Minnesota fired their coach? Get Mike Leach! Colorado fired their coach? Mike Leach is available! Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator left? Mike Leach might be up for that! Florida's coach stepped down? Mike Leach is interested!

(Money quote from that last link: "Really, I'm interested in all of them." Aww, of course you are.)

I was starting to worry Leach wasn't going to get hired anywhere this year, because of his ongoing litigation against Texas Tech and, recently, ESPN. (That link is super interesting, by the way.) Aside from the risks a school would already take by hiring Mike Leach (relating to how, you know, he crazy), hiring a person still embroiled in a lawsuit against his former employer has got to make most ADs wary. But now it's starting to look like there's a very good chance college football will get Leach back in 2011 after all.

The University of Maryland said just last month that they intended to keep their coach, Ralph Friedgen--but that was before his offensive coordinator and "coach in waiting" left to take the head coaching job at Vanderbilt (another job Mike Leach would have been great for, by the way).

Tangent: has the "coach in waiting" thing worked out for anybody? It's all the rage nowadays, apparently, but I think it's stupid. If the "coach in waiting" doesn't bail for a different job (see: Will Muschamp to Florida), then the current coach gets forced out before he intended to leave when he agreed to have a "coach in waiting" (see: Bobby Bowden getting canned at Florida State in favor of Jimbo Fisher). I can't wait (pun?) until this fad dies.

So, as this article explains, Maryland don't want no Friedgen no more. (He was named ACC coach of the year this season, but that doesn't put butts in seats.) What Maryland does have loyalty to is the company Under Armor, which not only provides their uniforms but whose founder (Maryland alum Kevin Plank) is on the school's board of trustees. Kevin is also--and here's the important part--good buddies with one Mike Leach.

It sounds like the forced "retirement" of Ralph Friedgen/hiring of Mike Leach is pretty certain to go down at Maryland. So friends, if you like your football pass-happy and your coaches insane, get ready to start watching ACC games.

Worth it?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Book Report: Death to the BCS

I just finished Death to the BCS by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Pasan and--spoiler alert!--it was awesome.

I thought that I hated the BCS and had a lot of reasons to back it up; then I read this book and discovered I needed to hate the BCS waaayyyy more than I already did.

The way this book is written can be a little unpolished and repetitive at times, but that doesn't really matter in light of the fact that it does exactly what it sets out to do. It presents an argument (the BCS is a terrible way to run college football; a playoff would be better in every conceivable aspect). Then it devotes each chapter to a different pillar of the argument and backs up each point with clear evidence. The authors don't just say "a playoff would make more money." They interviewed television executives and scholars of sports broadcasting/marketing so they could come up with an educated estimate of how much more money a playoff would make.

Here's an excerpt from what I think is the book's strongest section, about how the BCS and the bowl system actually drain money from the teams they are supposed to support:

The University of Florida's appearance in the 2009 BCS title game came with an advertised payout of $17.5 million. That may have sounded good. It's actually a case study in how the Cartel [the group conference commissioners and other semi-shadowy figures that run the BCS] plays financial three-card monte to make the bowls look better. The SEC took the money, along with the payouts from seven other bowls in which conference teams participated. It then divided that money up thirteen ways (one for each of the league's twelve teams and one for the conference office). It also provided extra to Florida since it reached the title game, giving the Gators a total payout of $2.467 million.
Between coaches' bonuses ($960,000), travel costs ($681,000), tickets ($320,000), band and cheerleaders ($190,000), and other expense, the total to travel across the state to Miami Gardens was $2.42 million, according to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel report. For winning the BCS championship game, Florida made $47,000.

. . . No college football team, let alone one the stature of FLorida, would ever play a regular-season game for $47,000. Gators home games gross an estimated $5 million. In 2009, Florida paid lowly Charleston Southern $450,000--or nearly ten times what it made on the BCS title game--to play in Gainesville. . . . When your team deserves at least $2.3 million and winds up with about $47,000, you lost money. Like $2.253 million of it.

Part of the reason that a national championship team effectively brings in so little money is that most bowls cost more to participate in than they pay out. Even though almost all bowls are organized as not-for-profit organizations, lower-level bowls in particular squeeze as much money from the teams that play in them as they can, making them pay for tickets that may go unsold and in some cases, inviting the team that agrees to take the smallest payout.

As the authors point out, the difference between the amount of money that college football brings in is no joke. A football program can fund an athletic program, which can help fund a university. If the football program instead drains money from an athletic program, then the athletic department may have to lean on funds from the university, and when a public university doesn't have enough money, it has to increase tuition and, in all likelihood, get more from taxpayers. What's good for college football is good for education and for America. I'm not joking, not even a little.

I've only touched on one prong of the multi-faceted argument against the BCS. The other fronts on which the authors attack the system are just as well-researched and -argued. (They of course address my biggest anti-playoff propanganda pet peeve: a playoff would devalue the regular season. No, the BCS devalues the regular season by discouraging major-conference teams from playing any other major-conference teams outside of conference play.) The only major question the authors leave unanswered is how the BCS can be killed. They unfortunately offer only a very vague "maybe politicians can do it, or maybe fans will get angry enough that it will go away or something?" However, the rest of their arguments are great enough that this is still a five-star book. I kind of want to buy one to send to Bill Byrne.

Finally, the authors point out that the BCS cartel exploits the fact that, while everybody thinks the current system stinks, nobody can agree on an alternative. To combat this, the authors argue specifically for a sixteen-game playoff that involves all eleven FBS/I-A conference champions and five at-large teams (chosen by a selection committee like that which sets the NCAA basketball tournament). Before reading this book, I would have settled for an eight-team playoff or even a plus-one, but they really brought me around on the sixteen-team idea. It sounds awesome. For funsies, here's roughly how this year's bracket would look:

*I don't really know how the WAC championship works, but I used a Big Ten model and broke the three-way tie with BCS standings.

Sure, I'm looking forward to watching Oregon play Auburn, but how much more satisfying would it be if they had to battle through other powerhouses first? What if UCF knocked off Stanford and then got a crack at Wisconsin? What if the regular season ended and we didn't have to wait through five weeks of nothing to get to only one game that decides the championship? It would be great, that's what.

Death to the BCS, indeed.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Me + Waiver Wire = BFF

As I tweeted today, "Finally, in Week 14, my fantasy roster in my all-girl league looks like a real lineup, not like it's held together with spit and scotch tape". I wanted to elaborate on this, because I'm just so dang proud. Indulge me for a moment and take a look at my Week 1 starting lineup:

QB: Kevin Kolb
WR: DeSean Jackson
WR: Michael Crabtree
WR: Devin Aromashodu
RB: Frank Gore
RB: C.J. Spiller
TE: Antonio Gates
BN: Ryan Grant
BN: Heath Miller
BN: Demaryius Thomas
BN: Chad Henne
BN: Dexter McCluster

K: Ryan Longwell
BN: Nick Folk

DEF: Tennessee

Did you find yourself playing a round of "Count the concussions"? "Count the busts"? "Count the running backs placed on IR"? Also keep in mind, this was the league where I got hosed by the auto-draft. Admittedly, I also made some panicky decisions, especially early on. (Before Week 1 happened, I had already gotten rid of Jay Cutler* and Roy Williams, both of whom appear again shortly.)

I began the season on a five-game losing streak, but through tireless waiver and free agent shopping, then began a seven-game winning streak. It ended last week, when I lost to the same team that I'm going to face this weekend in the first round of the playoffs. So in order not to lose to her again, I made (what may be) my final tweaks. Here's how it looks now:

QB: Jay Cutler
WR: DeSean Jackson
WR: Sidney Rice
WR: Roy Williams
RB: LaGarrette Blount
RB: Chris Ivory
TE: Antonio Gates
BN: Mike Goodson
BN: Michael Crabtree
BN: Jacob Tamme
BN: James Jones
BN: Danny Amendola
BN: Brian Westbrook

K: Nate Kaeding

DEF: Cleveland

See? I'm not saying that's a fantastic team, but it's finally not-laughable, right? (For a little more context, if I haven't bored you to death already, here are the other wide receivers I started this season: Legedu Naanee, Mike Sims-Walker, Dexter McCluster, Lee Evans, and Patrick Crayton. Not studly.)

This is the first week of Girl League Playoffs, and I have the sixth seed out of eight teams. With the way the season started, I should be happy just to get into the playoffs, or just to win the first round (I'm projected to, barely). But dangit! I want to win this whole thing! Worst to first, baby! Worst to first.

*Am I going to take back all the disparaging remarks I've made about Jay Cutler? No, ma'am! But I will admit that he's been good to me these past several weeks, so I've eased up on saying new mean things about him.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Roger Goodell Wants Me

It's a well-acknowledged fact that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to take over the world.

Professional football is the most popular, profitable sport in the country, but ol' Rog wants to make it more popular. And profitable. That's what playing a game a year in London is about--he wants to build up a trans-Atlantic fanbase. Someday, despite the wild impracticality of it, he wants a franchise over there. The fact that the Bills play some of their home games in Toronto helps build up Canadian enthusiasm for American football. Goodell wants the NFL in Europe; he wants in Mexico; he wants to turn people of all nations and creeds into NFL fans and to turn small percentages of their money into his money.

Again, this is all openly acknowledged and much-discussed in the sports media. What puzzles me is that I don't see mentions of how the NFL is even more aggressively trying to win over a particular segment of Americans: women.

It makes sense to try to turn more women into football fans. We have eyeballs for watching and money for spending. Plus, we're already here--no need to move an entire team across an ocean for us!

This is why NFL.com keeps running those commercials for lady-style football jerseys. This is why he punished Ben Roethlisberger for sexual assault even when the legal system didn't. Most of all, this is why the NFL devotes a month to breast cancer awareness. Pure altruism? Of course not. While money and awareness gets raised for a good cause (and I'm not trying to malign that), women get drawn in by the NFL's dedication to a cause that's important to them, and little girls get drawn in by the pretty pink shoes and gloves (might as well start working on new fans early, right?).

I've been asked if I think the new emphasis on concussion safety is another appeal to women, and I think the answer is yes and no. The new concussion policies are about a lot of things, the first and foremost of which is probably heading off a class-action lawsuit. Someday ex-players who suffer from head-trauma-induced health problems are going to want to sue the NFL, and the league needs to start proving they're being as responsible as possible, in line with recent medical findings. There are other reasons, too: they want to mitigate hostility to the 18-game season. They want to keep people from feeling guilty about watching a sport that can permanently handicap its players. I think the reason that most applies to women is that the league does not want parents to keep their children from playing football. If young athletes get steered away from football (and towards basketball, baseball, or God forbid, soccer) because their mothers fear for their long-term health, that will eventually damage the sport.

I'm not criticizing Roger Goodell and the NFL for trying to win over women. It's smart. I just don't know why it doesn't get more attention when it's so obvious.