Friday, July 30, 2010

Thoughts On: the Vanderbilt Commodores

Something unlikely happened this month-- Commodore football attracted some attention. I know, right? Weird!

Here's what happened: it was a week before SEC media days, three weeks before practice started, and seven weeks until the season opener, and Vandy's head coach, Bobby Johnson was all, "Welp! Guess it's time to retire!" But, Coach, why? Is it your health? Your wife's health? "Nope! Just time to retire!" But, Coach, why didn't you retire at the end of the season? "Shouldn't coach a whole season if your heart's not in it!" No, Coach, the end of last season. "Oops, look at the time, gotta go!" (You can read the actual words he said here, but trust me, I gave you the gist.)

This struck me as kind of dumb/weird until I read this ESPN article. The author argues that what Johnson was really doing was saving his coaching staff's jobs--if Johnson had retired at the tradtional/sense-making time (at the end of last season), there would have been a coaching search, and odds are that Vandy would have found a brand-new guy who would have brought in his own people. This explanation makes as much sense if any. If it's true, then it makes Johnson's decision crafty/weird, but also pretty high-handed, purposely taking the job of choosing a new coach away from Vanderbilt leadership. Then again, it's Vanderbilt, which doesn't even bother to have an athletic department (or, therefore, an athletic director), so . . . maybe that's fine?

Whatever the reason, Vandy has a new coach, and he is Robbie Caldwell. Robbie Caldwell, as it turns out, is a Big Hilarious Fat Guy.

There are many kinds of football coach. There's the Cold Humorless Strategist
You are required to hate these guys unless they coach your team. I think it's in the Constitution.

The Intolerable Supposed Wunderkind

The Super Nice Wonderful Human Being
OK, to be fair, this is less a "kind" and more "just Tony Dungy."

The Probably a Crazy Person
My favorite part of this Jim Mora rant is, of course, the use of the phrase "diddly poo."

And there's the old favorite, which we should all hope is starting to have a resurgence in popularity, the Big Hilarious Fat Guy.
Oh, Rex Ryan. Never change. Also, never coach a team I'm actually invested in.

Vanderbilt's particular Big Hilarious Fat Guy was a big, big hit at SEC Media Days. I recommend you read this article, but if you don't want to, I'll just go ahead and quote the best parts.
Caldwell doesn't look or sound like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or Mark Richt. He's got a deep Southern accent, a corpulent build, and appears as comfortable in a suit as a sinner does in church. Five minutes into his talk Caldwell addressed his relative anonymity, "I can still walk in places and nobody knows me," Caldwell said. "Last night I was opening the door for people and they gave me a tip. I thought, hey, that's great. How can you get it any better than that?"
Yes, he's a down-home good ol' boy, so he even knows about agriculture and stuff! (I dare you to find an article about Nick Saban that contains the phrase "turkey insemination." Betcha can't. [Mack Brown, though . . . maybe.]) Of course, this also means he has manners:
After his 40-minute discourse ended, Caldwell turned to the man pointing out the media members asking questions and thanked him for his help. Then he climbed down off the dais and thanked the stenographer. He was the only coach to thank these individuals in two days of media interviews thus far.
Awww. That really does make me want to root for him. Rooting for Vandy: Now Not Totally Thankless! (You can have that one for free, Vanderbilt marketing people.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

That's Why Their Matching Bracelets Say Chad and T.O.!

Yesterday's big football news was undoubtedly Terrell Owens' getting out of the unemployment line and signing with the Bengals. That's right! Chad "Ochocinco" Ochocinco and Terrell "Locker Room Cancer" Owens will be teammates! According to Chad's tweets (yes, I follow "Ochocinco" on Twitter; it's a guilty pleasure), this development is very much in this vein:

I'm setting the over/under at five months before it turns into your standard-issue soap opera, amnesia optional.

(I don't know who's going to catch more passes, but I do know that Chad is funnier.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thoughts On: the Denver Broncos

I still can't wrap my head around a team having a quarterbacking corps of Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, and Brady Quinn. Yes, that's right; Josh McDaniels, purported offensive genius, has at his disposal:

1. A guy most notable for his neckbeard/comb-forward combo

I know I shouldn't rag on the guy for his looks, but . . . dang.

2. A guy who's just there to run the Wildcat and sell jerseys to people who confuse him with Jesus

I bet Gary Danielson already has four of these.

3. A guy who lost his starting position on to Derek "Two Completions" Anderson.

Although things could be worse . . .

Those guys, Josh McDaniels? I mean, really? Really?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Season Preview: Tennessee Volunteers

Today I take a gander at Mr. Football Gal's alma mater, the University of Tennessee. And it does not look good.

Who's going to throw the ball? Who's going to catch the ball? Who's going to run the ball? Who's going to coach the team?

Seriously, who is this guy?

Most pressingly--who are they possibly going to beat?

Let's review the makings of what may turn out to be the worst season Tennessee has ever had.

The Kiffin Debacle
There was this guy, see. His daddy is a real good defensive coordinator, he worked with Pete Carroll at USC, and he was supposed to be a young coaching phenom. At the tender age of 31, he was hired as head coach by the Oakland Raiders. He had no previous head coaching or NFL experience (unless he worked some weird lackey job for the Jaguars, but Wikipedia says a citation is needed for that one), but he got the job anyway because Al Davis is a crazy old man. After a season and a bit, Davis fired Kiffin and announced it in a notoriously bizarre press conference. It was easy to assumed that Kiffin was in the right, because Al Davis is a crazy old man. And that he is, but maybe he also had Kiffin pretty well sized-up.

Meanwhile! After some mediocre seasons, the powers-that-be at Tennessee decided that Phil Fulmer, for all the good he had done them over the years (including the 1998 National Championship), was not going to take the program back to the top of the SEC. This wasn't a mistake. It was a similar situation to the one A&M faced in '02 with R. C. Slocum--they had a well-respected but past-his-prime coach, and the mistake was not in replacing him, but in who they replaced him with.

UT decided on Kiffin. He immediately began racking up NCAA rules violations and generally annoying everyone. (There were more links I could have put in, but it just got tiring after awhile, you know?) He proved to be nothing special as a coach, going 7-6 in his first and, as it turned out, only season. Though he wasn't much to write home about as a coaching talent, and though he made UT the subject of too much NCAA scrutiny, the worst thing he did was to quit to take the USC job--not immediately after the season, but just a month before national signing day. (Also, he tried to lure UT's best recruits away with him: "The night Kiffin took the USC job, [assistant coach Ed] Orgeron made calls attempting to poach Tennessee recruits who were set to attend their first classes in Knoxville the next day.") The most (and only?) charitable thing I heard about Kiffin's departure from Tennessee was from my sister-in-law, who theorized that he left because his "cute little wife" wanted to move back to California.
Dudes on the internet get pretty creepy about Mrs. Kiffin.

Most people were . . . less positive.

But let's not put all of this on Kiffin. (Most, yes. Not quite all.) Don't forget the role that cowardly Pete Carroll played, in abandoning USC because he knew the consequqnces of his delinquency were finally going to come around. He knew USC would be punished this year, thanks to his overworked blind eye, and he ran away.

Since UT got into the coaching search game so late, they couldn't find anybody they really wanted. Lots of guys didn't want to do to their schools what Kiffin had just done to Tennessee. Now, I'm not saying that . . . Dennis? . . . no, Derek! Derek Dooley is a bad guy; he jumped at the chance because how could he turn down a job that far out of his league? He was coaching Louisiana Tech, and he went 17-20. That's not very good, even for LA Tech (presumably). It would be nice to think that as the son of an SEC coaching legend, he's some as-yet-undiscovered talent, a real up-and-comer who just needs his first big shot! But that seems unlikely.

I still think Tennessee could have gotten Mike Leach. (I have floated this idea past Mr. Football Gal, and he'd much rather take his chances with David Dooley. Wait, no--Derek Dooley.) Whatever you want to say about the guy (he's nuts, he has chronic verbal diarrhea, he doesn't care about defense, what's up with the whole pirate thing?, etc.), he can turn nothing into something. And that's kind of what the Vols need right now.

Doolen--oops, Dooley--did a better job of keeping Kiffin's recruiting class together than one might have expected. That said, he still lost some guys, including the promising Bryce Brown (who was one of the few fun people to watch in last year's offense, I tell you what).

It's hard to say who will start at QB. Last year's backup, Nick Stephens, left; the latest of Phil Simms' progeny, Matt, is showing some alarming incompletion and interception tendencies; and freshman Tyler Bray is 6' 6", 195 lbs, so before he gets snapped in half by a DB, at least he'll be able to see the guy coming.

And this is as bulky as he looks with pads on.

The offensive line is painfully inexperienced. The running backs are young; the receivers are OK. TE Luke Stocker gets some hype, but it's a bit overblown.

The defense may be in a little better shape, but even it lost its crown jewel Eric Berry to the NFL.

And it's not just individual player losses that hurt, it's total numbers. As my SEC Lindy's magazine told me, they only have 78 scholarship players (or they did at Lindy's' publication date, anyway) out of the possible 85; they've lost 33 players since Phil Fulmer was fired (and that was before Darren Myles got arrested and kicked off the team a couple weeks ago); and during the spring game, they couldn't even fill both sides' offensive lines with scholarship guys. Decent players are thin on the ground at Tennessee, let alone good ones.

The schedule
To add insult to multiple injuries, even for an SEC team, UT has a very difficult schedule this year. So where might wins come from?
  • 9/4, Tennessee-Martin: Hey, there's one! (1-0)
  • 9/11, Oregon: Even with their problems, they should be able to handle this Tennessee team. (1-1)
  • 9/18, Florida: No. (1-2)
  • 9/25, UAB: Barring something kind of crazy, yes. (2-2)
  • 10/2, at LSU: Even Les Miles won't be able to mess this up. (2-3)
  • 10/9, at Georgia: And Mark Richt should do even better. (2-4)
  • 10/23, Alabama: I don't think 'Bama will need to depend on blocked field goals this year. (2-5)
  • 10/30, at South Carolina: I think very little of latter-day Steve Spurrier's abilities to get his team to win, so I think there will be a chance of a UT upset here, but I'm going to play it safe and call this a loss. (2-6)
  • 11/6, at Memphis: Memphis has a football team? (3-6)
  • 11/13, Ole Miss: Doesn't look so good. (3-7)
  • 11/20, at Vanderbilt: I think Tennessee handles Vandy for, gulp, their first conference win. (4-7)
  • 11/27, Kentucky: This is the single hardest game on the schedule for me to call. Did you know that Tennessee over Kentucky is the nation's longest active series winning streak? UK hasn't beaten UT in football since 1984. I can't imagine the Vols letting that go without a fight, and the game is in Knoxville. Kentucky has a brand-new coach (the awesomely named Joker Phillips)--will that cause growing pains or reinvigoration? Basically, this is what it comes down to for me: this feels like a four-win team (and I know from four-win teams). I know it sounds stupid to say that I'd be more confident that the Vols would beat the Wildcats if they first lost to the less-good UAB Dragons or the Commodores, but that's how I feel. But things being as they are, I guess I'm predicting a loss here. (4-8)
Tennessee has never in their history had an eight-loss team. Therefore, if I'm right, UT fans should prepare for not just a bad season, but perhaps their Worst Season Ever.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Win at Conference Branding!

As we know, the Big Ten will soon have twelve teams (while the Big 12 will have 10). Currently, they have eleven, and their way of getting around how dumb that is is with their logo:

Look! A it has a negative-space eleven it in! Neato!

But where does that leave them once Nebraska joins the party (and in the case of the notoriously dull Big Ten yes, I'm using the word "party" loosely)? Well, no need to worry any longer, because I have created the Big Ten's new logo.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Season Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

As a UW alumna (grad school) and current resident of Madison, I really ought to cheer harder for the Badgers. But for whatever reason, I'm definitely less a "fan" and more a "well-wisher." (In my defense, I'm not sure I've met any Huge Badger Fans [insert your own joke about Wisconsin residents' love of beer and cheese here]. My theory is that Sconnies just love the Packers too much to make room in their hearts for their college team.) However, if I'm ever going to move up to the really nice seats on the Badger bandwagon, this may be the year to do it.

There are a lot of returning offensive starters from what was the most productive offense in the Big Ten last season. (Most impressive statistic: UW led the nation in time of possession, averaging over 39 minutes a game. I'm surprised it's even possible to average over 39 minutes of possession a game.) It's the first time in Bret Bielma's tenure that the starting QB will be the same guy two years in a row. Sure, Scott Tolzien isn't showing up on any Heisman watch lists, but he's solid.

He can dig it.

Even though it's a Wisconsin offense, which usually runs its starting RB into the ground, they were surprisingly balanced last year. There won't be any excuse (barring catastrophic and widespread injuries) if they fail to be very, very good this year.

The defense is more questionable. Many important starters and a couple of the position coaches are gone, but the replacements should be at least decent.

The biggest cause for concern is that Bielma's teams seem to have an inverse relationship between expectations and results. The better they're predicted to do (and on paper, they ought to do pretty dang well), the worse they usually perform.

Nonconference schedule
UW starts its season by playing two teams with brand-new coaches. Also, both of them--UNLV and San Jose State--should be atrocious. (OK, UNLV maybe won't be atrocious, and the game will be at their place, but still, they're nothing much to be afraid of.) The biggest ticket non-con game is against actual BCS conference member Arizona State, which might have a new coach next year if he keeps doing as poorly as he has so far. UW's fourth opponent will be Austin Peay State University. Here's the most important fact about them: it's pronounced "Austin P." In conclusion, if Wisconsin doesn't start 4-0, something has gone terribly wrong.

Conference schedule
The obvious worries are October 16th's game against Ohio State (although that's in Madison, which is nice) and the next week, Iowa at Iowa. But you can't write off Michgan State (in Wisconsin's first conference matchup of the season, October 2nd); UW hasn't won in Lansing since 2002.

Best player name
Louis Nzegwu

My prediction
I can't see Wisconsin going unbeaten through the Big Ten, but maybe if Iowa and Ohio State drop a few games between them, the Badgers can share the conference title? At the very least, I won't be surprised if they come in second. They're projected to be a top-ten or -fifteen team, and I don't see any reason why they can't achieve the latter (and maybe the former, if and only if they do better than Iowa) . . . unless, of course, they fall victim to their chronic underachiev-itis. But I'll be optimistic and declare that this will be the big year! (That is, the year Wisconsin can come in a healthy second place to Ohio State.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Thoughts On: the Minnesota Golden Gophers

OK, I really just have one thought, and that is this: why, WHY are you opening your season at Middle Tennessee State, Gophers? Why would you do this?

Here's the thing. Middle Tennessee State (do they abbreviate MTS? Let's assume they do) had a 10-3 record last year, apparently. They're a crummy lower-tier school, but they're a good crummy lower-tier school. This may be a worse idea than when Michigan opened against then-reigning Div II champions Appalachian State. Worse because MTS is bigger and you're inexplicably going to their place, but probably better because that Appalachian State thing was really, really hilarious.

(A better parallel would be, I realize, last year's Colorado loss at Toledo, but I like to mention that Appalachian State thing whenever possible.)

You've had some hard times recently, Gophers, and this dumb scheduling is not going to help things. This season isn't likely to be very good anyway, but your all-too-likely loss to MTS is going to get it started not with a bang, but with a fart sound effect.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Season Outlook: Ohio State Buckeyes

It feels like a confession to admit this, but I like Ohio State. There are two reasons: first, I have an Ohio State fan friend, and we have a fanship exchange whereby she roots for Texas A&M. Anytime I can create a new Aggie fan, I have to take the opportunity. Secondly, I think Jim Tressel is adorable.

O. M. G. So cute.

So for the sake of my Ohioan friend and Jim Tressel's sweater vest, I am interested to see how tOSU's (that is, the Ohio State University's) season goes.


This is a team up against some exacting expectations. Now, take for instance Alabama. It is generally agreed that they are the favorite to win the national title again. However, if they drop a game here or there, they will (again, generally) be forgiven. They play in the nation's toughest conference, and they have a very difficult schedule. (Fascinating tidbit from Yahoo's college football preview magazine: six of Alabama's conference opponents will have had their open week right before playing Alabama. Six! South Carolina, Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn get two weeks of preparation before playing Bama. All six.) If Alabama doesn't live up to the preseason projections of winning the national championship or even the SEC championship, people will understand.

On the other hand, it is practically unimaginable that Ohio State won't win the Big Ten. They are Expected to win yet another conference championship (to make it six, yes six, in a row). If they don't, it will be head-turning. Gasp-inducing. Monocle-dropping. If they are dominant enough in the Big Ten to go undefeated and win their one challenging nonconference game (see below), they should be a lock for the national title game. They are not, at this point, expected to win that game, but according to almost everyone, they're supposed to get there. And for the most part, the expectations seem justified.


Ohio State returns lots of starters on both sides of the ball. (Although admittedly not on the third side of the ball, where there will be a new kicker, new punter, and new returners.) It's not just the staff but also the players who are accustomed to winning, who know how to win.

There's a lot of hype for QB Terrelle Pryor in particular. This is where I start to get skeptical. Pryor (who my friend and I call '"Everybody Kills People" Guy') has always gotten a lot of hype and until last year's Rose Bowl, failed to live up to it. Yes, he had a great game in that bowl. On the other hand, he had a great game. Either he turned a corner and finally figured out how to use all his talent/potential, or he had one freakishly good performance just like he's had some freakishly bad performances. I think it's possible that it's the former, but I'm wary that it's the latter.

Ohio State doesn't need EKPG to be his Rose Bowl self every game to be extremely successful, but they're not going to live up to the expectations if he's only as good as he was (or only a little better than he was) in last year's regular season.

Nonconference games

tOSU only has one nonconference game of note. After all, they're not losing to Marshall, Ohio, or Eastern Michigan, so why worry about it? No, all we need to look at is their Week 2 matchup with Miami (the good one). Miami is expected to be a top twenty (but not top ten) team this year. Their schedule is murderous, but tOSU is the first of their challenging games, so they won't be worn out yet. It's in Columbus and tOSU should be the better team (although Miami's defense might be up to the task of exposing EKPG), so they should be able to start their season on a high note.

Conference games

Barring a bizarre loss like last year's flop at Purdue, Ohio State's biggest Big Ten challenges should be at Iowa on November 20 and at Wisconsin on October 16. Iowa's preseason projections are slightly better, but tOSU apparently has a track record of tough games in night games at Camp Randall. Either game (or both) may give them fits, if not losses.

Best player name

Jake Stoneburner

My prediction

I think Ohio State will succeed in winning the Big Ten and reaching the BCS championship game this year. They may be a little weaker than some sportswriters are expecting, and they may drop a conference game, but I'm predicting some weakness at the top of the polls this year. Even slightly less than tOSU's best might be better than most everybody else.

And hey, if they do that and then if EKPG is able to pull off another amazing bowl performance, maybe they'd even win the national championship. Wouldn't that be weird?!?