Tuesday, February 27, 2007

SportsPulse | by Jay

SportsPulse, an internet radio show out of LA, asked BGS to come on and talk about Brady Quinn, his NFL draft prospects and the like. I'll be on the air tomorrow around 2:15 eastern, and you can listen live via their site if you'd like. SportsPulse also put together a nifty banner ad for us:

With regards to Quinn and the draft, what should I be sure to mention?

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Coaching Class of 2004 | by Mike

With Year 2 of the Charlie Weis tenure officially in the books, the search is on for metrics by which to judge his performance. What numerical data can we use to check our biases and provide context? Over the long term, every Notre Dame coach will be judged by whether or not he delivered a national championship. However, while five different coaches have won national championships at Notre Dame, none of these championships was won in the coach's first two years. Thus it's too early to apply this standard to Weis.

One of the obvious measures by which to judge a coach in the first few years of his tenure is his performance relative to his predecessor. In his first two years, Charlie Weis guided Notre Dame to 19 wins. In the two preceding years, Tyrone Willingham guided Notre Dame to 11 wins. While Irish fans certainly appreciate those eight extra wins (and may appreciate the eight fewer soul-crushing losses even more), it's not clear how much this tells us about Weis at Notre Dame.

To provide context, we decided to look at the change in win totals for all the Division I coaches hired following the 2004 season. Twenty-two new head coaches were hired that offseason. Because there was such a large amount of turnover (changes at almost one-fifth of the D-I schools), we should have a decent-sized sample to examine. A Dennis Dodd article from early 2005 provided a comprehensive list of the new hires at that time, and that list is reproduced below. (Dodd's ranking of the hires is also included, for entertainment purposes only.)

Dodd's Rank Coach School
Dodd's Rank Coach School
1 Urban Meyer Florida
12 Frank Solich Ohio
2 Steve Spurrier South Carolina
13 Dave Wannstedt Pitt
3 Ed Orgeron Mississippi
14 Walt Harris Stanford
4 Mike Gundy Oklahoma State
15 Dick Tomey San Jose State
5 Les Miles LSU
16 Hal Mumme New Mexico State
6 Kyle Whittingham Utah
17 Terry Hoeppner Indiana
7 Tyrone Willingham Washington
18 Bronco Mendenhall BYU
8 Charlie Weis Notre Dame
19 Shane Montgomery Miami (OH)
9 Ron Zook Illinois
20 Skip Holtz ECU
10 Greg Robinson Syracuse
21 Brent Guy Utah State
11 Mike Sanford UNLV
22 Bill Cubit Western Michigan

Now let's compare the win totals at these programs in the two years preceding the new coach's arrival and in the two years following his arrival. The following list ranks the coaches by this change in win total:

Coach School Wins (03-04) Wins (05-06) Delta Dodd's Rank
Bill Cubit Western Michigan 6 15 +9 22
Skip Holtz ECU 3 12 +9 20
Bronco Mendenhall BYU 9 17 +8 18
Charlie Weis Notre Dame 11 19 +8 8
Dick Tomey San Jose State 5 12 +7 15
Frank Solich Ohio 6 13 +7 12
Urban Meyer Florida 15 22 +7 1
Terry Hoeppner Indiana 5 9 +4 17
Steve Spurrier South Carolina 11 15 +4 2
Ron Zook Illinois 4 4 0 9
Tyrone Willingham Washington 7 7 0 7
Les Miles LSU 22 22 0 5
Brent Guy Utah State 6 4 -2 21
Walt Harris Stanford 8 6 -2 14
Hal Mumme New Mexico State 8 4 -4 16
Mike Sanford UNLV 8 4 -4 11
Dave Wannstedt Pitt 16 11 -5 13
Mike Gundy Oklahoma State 16 11 -5 4
Greg Robinson Syracuse 12 5 -7 10
Kyle Whittingham Utah 22 15 -7 6
Ed Orgeron Mississippi 14 7 -7 3
Shane Montgomery Miami (OH) 21 9 -12 19

What do these numbers tell us, and how much significance should we attach to these deltas? Let's dispense with the low-hanging fruit. The first conclusion we can draw is that Dodd's prognostication abilities are lacking, and in this respect I think the numbers are fairly reliable. Dodd ranked just three of the nine coaches that improved on the prior two years' win total in the top half of new hires. Even worse, three of the six worst totals were produced by coaches Dodd ranked among the six best hires. While (for reasons that will be discussed below) one cannot look solely at the delta in evaluating coaching performance, the numbers are not flattering to Dodd.

Moving on to the more substantive analysis, the numbers suggest that one cannot look at the delta in isolation. The programs that had the highest win totals in 2003-2004 generally garnered fewer wins in 2005-2006 following the coaching change. Conversely, the teams with the fewest win totals in 2003-2004 generally improved their win total in 2005-2006 following the coaching change. I believe there are two phenomena at work here. First, the three programs in this group that had 20+ wins in '03-04 were left searching for new coaches in the winter of 2004 because their coach had left for greener pastures. Thus the new coaches at LSU, Utah, and Miami (OH) were all following coaches who had exceeded the historical performance standards at their program. One would expect matching such standards would be difficult.

Second, I believe it is harder to improve on a mediocre win total than an abysmal win total for three reasons: (1) when the win total is higher in the previous years, there are fewer opportunities to garner additional wins; (2) as the previous win total increases, the quality of teams against whom additional wins can be garnered will tend to increase; and (3) increases on truly bad performances may simply represent regression to the mean. This suggests that an individual coach's delta will be "inflated" relative to his peers where his absolute total of wins in 2005-2006 is middle-of-the-pack, and an individual coach's delta will be "undervalued" relative to his peers when his absolute total of wins in 2005-2006 is high.

A few examples illustrate this point. Les Miles, Tyrone Willingham, and Ron Zook all failed to improve on the preceding two years' win total. However, even if Miles had won every game the past two years, he would only have improved on Saban's record by four wins. Saban's record in his final two years at LSU was 22-4 and Miles matched this record in his first years. Yet if Miles had notched these four wins, he would have won back-to-back national titles, and would be regarded more highly than any other coach on this list. Conversely, Willingham matched Keith Gilbertson's 7-16 record and Ron Zook matched Ron Turner's 4-19 record. Willingham and Zook inherited bad situations, but there are many losses to bad teams in Willingham and Zook's tenures at Washington and Illinois. Would it have been too much to ask Willingham to beat, say, Air Force? The truth is that matching Nick Saban's performance is simply a greater achievement than matching Gilbertson or Turner's, even if the result is the same delta.

Urban Meyer's numbers tell a similar story. Four coaches improved their school's record by more wins than Meyer, but it is Meyer that has reached the mountaintop. That Florida's players were able to win 15 games in 2003-2004 despite Zook's mismanagement speaks volumes about just how much talent Meyer inherited. Yet to generate a +7 improvement in wins, Meyer had to defeat teams like Ohio State and LSU, teams that finished in the top five. Again we see that the difficulty of achieving marginal improvement increases with the previous success of a given program.

(I recognize that many attribute much of Miles' and Meyer's recent success to Bo Pelini, Jimbo Fisher, and Charlie Strong. While I can agree with this to an extent, a head coach deserves credit for hiring strong coordinators and must share the blame for hiring weak coordinators.)

In conclusion, while I think the change in a team's win total tells us something about coaching quality, such numbers must be viewed in light of the starting point. The raw delta is not as informative as it might initially appear. In this respect, I do see a positive sign for the Notre Dame faithful. As down as Irish fans are following the Sugar Bowl loss and the last-minute defection of a handful of recruits, the long-term trend for the program remains positive. Only three coaches in this sample were able to deliver improvement on a double-digit win total: former national champion coach Steve Spurrier (+4 on 11 wins), current national champion coach Urban Meyer (+7 on 15 wins), and our own Charlie Weis (+8 on 11 wins). Time will tell whether Weis can build the defense necessary to meet the real measuring stick of great coaches - a national championship.

Back in the Ring | by Pat

Looks like Zibby is resuming his boxing career, with a charity bout scheduled for March 6th against Kevin Murphy at the Century Center in South Bend.

'Man, I'm pumped up about this,'' Zbikowski said of fighting in South Bend. ''Most of my teammates will be there. And the Notre Dame fans will get a chance to see me fight. ''I'm not trying to go in there and just knock somebody out. I want to show off my actual skills.''
The fight will benefit Hannah & Friends and might not be his only boxing match of 2007.
There has been talk of him fighting in Chicago on the undercard of a David Diaz-Erik Morales lightweight championship battle in May.

''I couldn't really see that Chicago thing happening, but anything is possible,'' Zbikowski said. ''Once spring ball starts, I'm just going to be concentrated on football.''
After Zibby's somewhat inconsistent season on the gridiron, I'm sure some ND fans would love to see him concentrate solely on football -- "all bawl" as a certain head coach used to say. My guess is the shoulder injury he suffered against Purdue had far more to do with his uneven play last season than the few weeks he spent training for boxing. The wrinkles in the defense that Rick Minter introduced last year and where they had Zibby lining up at the snap also had an effect on his production (perhaps a topic worthy of a future post). It's going to be very interesting to see how Corwin Brown decides to use Zbikowski in the new Irish defense.

In the meantime, it should be fun for Irish fans to watch Zibby climb back into the ring, knock some poor guy around, and raise some money for charity. I wonder if this Kevin Murphy will give him a tougher fight than Robert "Tomato Can" Bell.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Candy is Dandy | by Jay

Michigan filled out its '07 schedule last week by adding the Washington Generals-- err, I mean, Division I-AA powerhosue Appalachian State -- as its opening home game. (You might remember Appalachian State from such college promotional videos as Hot! Hot! Hot!, sliced and diced by Orson in a classic EDSBS post).

The funny thing is, the Wolverine brass are clearly sensitive about scheduling such an obvious petit fours. They put together a fact sheet on Appalachian State that applies lipstick to a pig -- Defending 1-AA champs! Six victories versus D1 teams since 1982! Also good in basketball! -- but let's be honest: this was a win for Michigan the moment the ink dried on the contract. The fact sheet fails to mention that the Mountaineers played just one game last year against a BCS opponent, a 2-9 NC State team, and got thumped, 23-10. The opening line on the Michigan game will be north of four touchdowns.

Why is this game happening? Because the economics of college football encourage it. The expanded 12-game schedule necessitates finding additional opponents, and most teams are understandably reluctant to schedule an actual out-of-conference challenge. With the recent allowance of one Division I-AA game per year to count towards bowl eligibility, more and more big league teams are padding their schedules with cupcakes. Furthermore, unlike other competitive programs, smaller schools won't insist on a home-and-home series, thus resulting in more home games for big schools (and thus, more filthy lucre).

What's in it for the cupcakes? Cold, hard cash. Michigan, for example, is paying Appalachian State $400,000 for this game. The NYT had a good article last Fall on the phenomenon of small division schools offering themselves up to the big boys like tribal sacrifices to Kong in exchange for a ride on the gravy train.

The big money has trickled down to Division I-AA, where payouts that were between $100,000 and $150,000 five years ago are now as high as $650,000 a game. Northwestern State, a Division I-AA program in Natchitoches, La., is playing three Division I-A teams this year.

Greg Burke, Northwestern State's athletic director, said the team usually played two games against Division I-A opponents. But the combination of the high-dollar offers and the threat of less state financing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina were factors in making a change. The combined payout of $815,000 will account for nearly one-fifth of the athletic department's operating budget, Mr. Burke said.
And voilĂ , Behold, the creampuff parade: 47 games in '06 between BCS teams and Division I-AA sacrificial lambs, the vast majority blowouts. Texas Tech beat SE Louisiana, 62-0. Florida beat Western Carolina 62-0 (conveniently, a tuneup game right before FSU). Arkansas took on SE Missiouri State, and waxed them 63-7. And so on. The average margin of victory was 28 points. Sure, there's an occasional upset (Montana State beating Colorado, for instance), but the exception is so rare that it proves the rule.

These 47 games signal a surging upswing for the BCS vs I-AA slaughter:
  • '03: 23 games, BCS 23-0, average MOV 31.3
  • '04: 24 games, BCS 22-2, average MOV 23.4
  • '05: 32 games, BCS 31-1, average MOV 27.9
  • '06: 47 games, BCS 43-4, average MOV 27.6
(I haven't scoured the entire '07 slate yet, but I'm sure it will be at least as saccharine as last year's.)

Many Michigan fans, to their credit, are none too pleased (and somewhat embarrassed) with having to play Appalachian State. Michigan was one of the very few programs that hadn't busted its I-AA cherry yet (along with Notre Dame and UCLA and only two or three others), but now they're lined up at the dessert cart with everyone else.

We know why these games happen. But nobody seems to be asking the question, should they happen. The big school gets a win, and the little school gets some money, and the students and alums and fans are forced to sit though some glorified tackling drills (at regular ticket prices). These games aren't even marginally competitive. They're filler. They're exploitative. They're craven. There's no drama. It's not football, exactly; it's more like prostitution.

Every team is always going to have some easy pickins' on its schedule (tune in next year for my rant on the Irish playing San Diego State and Nevada), but you have to draw the line somewhere, and there's a clear, obvious line, right there, at Division I-AA.

Audience with the Coach | by Jay

Just after signing day, Charlie granted Irish Illustrated's Tim Prister a comprehensive sit-down, and this week Yahoo Sports published the three-part interview. Part I, part II, part III. It's quite a long read, but I think it's good insight into Weis's mindset as he transitions from a second season letdown and into a new beginning, with so many fresh faces among the roster and the coaching staff.

Blowback | by Jay

Mike Coffey had a provocative post on his Notes from the Geetar blog, speculating on why an Irish basketball team on the bubble of NCAA tournament selection might not get the benefit of the doubt from the powers-that-be. Take a gander.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

All-Access with UND.com | by Pat

One of the big changes surrounding the football program last year was the sudden rise in available media for ND fans at the official Notre Dame athletics website. From video practice reports, to press conferences, to live streaming coverage of various on-campus games, the dramatic increase in content made for interesting viewing and helped fans follow the Fighting Irish closer than ever before. With that in mind, BGS conducted a little Q&A with Alan Wasielewski, a member of Notre Dame Sports Properties and one of the driving forces behind the multimedia options available on UND.com.

To keep this post a bit shorter, we'll reproduce some highlight excerpts here. The entire interview can be read here.

On Alan and his job...

"My official title is 'Director of Digital Media' which is just another way to say that I take care of all the multimedia offerings on und.com. If it is audio or video, it crossed my desk before it showed up on the web site. My day-to-day schedule fluctuates greatly because of the weekend hours, late-night hours and different seasons. During football, it seemed I was in the office 24-7. The office in the Stadium is very nice, I have by far the best parking (since I get to drive into the concourse during the week), but since our office is immediately adjacent to the visitors locker room, I have to move operations out of my office on football Fridays and Saturdays, which you can imagine is a pain considering everything we produce on those two days."

On charging for UND.com All-Access...

"There are absolutely no plans to charge for our product at this time. The fans will eventually decide where we go in that capacity. If they continue to watch our videos and the numbers continue to increase, then there is no need to even think about a subscription service. We view this as a service to our fans - and no one wants to pay a subscription fee."

On the future of All-Access...

"The ultimate goal of Fighting Irish All-Access is to offer every available home game/event live on-line (video and audio) to our fans. What the time frame is for that goal has not been set yet, but we want to develop a broadband channel that turns into the ESPN for Irish Athletics."

On coverage of the Blue and Gold Game...

"As of this moment, there are no plans to stream the game live, or have it as a video archive (we will produce a highlight package). But, if access to the game changed, we could quickly turn around and make the game available. Of course we will be there will full coverage of the post-game, pre-game, etc. We also have practice coverage scheduled this spring as well."

For more questions and answers about recruiting, national awards promotional pushes, and Alan's take on the spring QB derby, make sure to check out the rest of the interview. And many thanks again to Alan Wasielewski for taking time out of his busy day to answer a few questions. Thanks, Alan.

Long-distance Dedication | by Pat

Barely two weeks after the Class of 2007 was officially wrapped up, the Class of 2008 welcomed its first recruit with the commitment of Mike Golic, Jr. The son of former Irish star Mike Golic, Junior might have set the record for long-distance recruiting calls when he called Coach Weis while on a class trip in Italy and committed to ND from the shadow of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Golic, a 6'4, 260-lb lineman from Connecticut is projected as either a center or possibly defensive tackle for the Irish and joins incoming freshman Brian Smith as another legacy son of a former Irish player. The Irish team usually has a few sons of former collegiate players on the roster -- Maurice Crum, Jr. and Dwight Stephenson, Jr. come to mind -- but it's great to get kids with such direct ties to previous Irish squads. And while Connecticut isn't exactly a hotbed of high school football, ND's last two recruits from the Constitution state, John Sullivan and Asaph Schwapp, have turned out to be very productive players. Golics high school coach, Mark Tyler, is very high on his 1st Team All-State junior and expects him to have plenty of success in college.

"He's very tough and very athletic for a kid his size," Tyler told me. "He's got great feet, everything they look for in a center."

Tyler said Golic will have no problem filling out to as much as 300 pounds in the next couple of years. He wants to come into Northwest's camp in August at 280. Golic was a captain as a junior, which Tyler said is very rare at Northwest. Tyler described him as a great leader and hard worker in the weight room and on the field. "Everything he does is first class, really, top-notch."

"Offensive linemen nowadays, they want these guys to be able to bend at the hips and at the knees and at the ankles, and he's very flexible," Tyler said. "He does all that very, very well. He's got real quick feet and he knows how to get position. He's very smart. He helps make all our calls on all our line plays and actually our plays in general. He and the quarterback, they switch plays right at the line of scrimmage."
Golic Jr's only other college offer was from Connecticut, but he had recently traveled to Florida's Junior Day and according to his coach was receiving interest from schools like Michigan, Virginia, Boston College, and Penn State. But just like his father, who was the first commitment in the recruiting Class of 1981, Golic, Jr. decided to end the recruiting process early and become ND's first public commitment.
"He's done," Golic Sr. said. "I told him, if you're going to commit somewhere, you make sure you're ready. Your word has to be your word.

"He said, 'This is it for me.'"
As the co-host of the Mike and Mike in the Morning show on ESPN Radio, Golic Sr. had his son phone into the show and talk about his commitment, which you can listen to here if you have ESPN Insider capabilities.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Big Tenvy | by Jeff

Jay's post below regarding Jim Delany's recent statements about the Big 10 versus the SEC got me thinking. Admittedly, I don't know much about Delany. I have read that he is a very influential conference commissioner, and perhaps the most powerful person in NCAA athletics. However, his writing struck me as quite defensive, and some of what he claimed seemed specious. So, I figured it was time to break out the spreadsheet and take a fact-based look at Delany's statements, two of which especially jumped out at me:

1) It seems premature for us to lower our admission standards or give up on the tremendous talent pool in the Midwest.
Delany's implication is that the midwest is strong enough in football talent that the Big 10 doesn't have to look elsewhere (nor, God forbid, "lower its standards" in doing so). On this point, Delany is simply wrong. While there certainly is talent in the Midwest, it would have been virtually impossible for a team to put together a top recruiting class without pulling in players from other areas of the country. As Rival’s Top 100 showes, the best talent in the country is in Texas, California, Florida, and the Southeastern states. (SEC states in blue, B10 states in red).

State Top 100 Players
Texas 13
Florida 12
California 11
Georgia 6
Alabama 5
Louisiana 5
South Carolina 5
North Carolina 4
IL, MI, MO, NJ, OH, OK, PA 3 each

No Midwestern state produced more than three players among the Rival’s Top 100, while five of the top eight states are from SEC country (and a 6th, North Carolina, is very close by). Of the top 100, 36 players came from states with an SEC team, while only 16 came from states with a Big Ten team. While this might be a bit of a down year for the Midwest at producing high school football talent, trying to formulate a top recruiting class out of 16% of the available talent does not seem like a wise strategy. If you want to put together a top flight team, you have to recruit in Texas, California, Florida, and the southeastern US. Gone are the days when a team made up exclusively of players from Ohio or Pennsylvania can dominate college football.

The second Delany point I have a quarrel with:
2) I love speed and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics.
Delany is saying that the SEC's academic standards are inferior to the Big Ten's, and this is why the Big Ten doesn't have access to the same caliber of players. However, when looking at who was recruited, and where they ended up, that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, Big Ten schools offered many scholarships to players who were also offered by SEC schools -- and most of those players simply chose SEC schools. These players did not suddenly become poor academic performers or academically ineligible to attend a Big Ten school, they simply choose another program.

There were a total of 19 situations where a player was offered a scholarship from at least one Big Ten school and one SEC school (including five defensive linemen). In those head-to-head matchups, the players opted for the SEC at a 15-4 margin (almost 80% of the time).

Player Position Home State School Selected Competing Offers
Joseph Barksdale DT MI LSU Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State
Eric Berry DB GA Tennessee Ohio State
Eugene Clifford S OH Ohio State Florida
Sidell Corley DE AL LSU Illinois
Jeremy Finch S IN Florida Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan
Joe Haden Athlete MD Florida Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State
Aaron Hernandez TE CT Florida Iowa, Michigan
Gerald Jones Athlete OK Tennessee Michigan
Ryan Mallett QB TX Michigan Alabama, Arkansas
Ben Martin DE OH Tennessee Ohio State
Michael McNeil S AL Auburn Ohio State
Chaz Powell S PA Penn State Georgia
Chris Strong DE MS Mississippi Michigan, Ohio State
Deonte Thompson WR FL Florida Ohio State
Aron White TE MO Georgia Iowa
James Wilson OG FL Florida Ohio State
Martez Wilson DE IL Illinois Florida
Major Wright S FL Florida Ohio State
Lee Ziemba OT AR Auburn Michigan

Even adjusting for "home state advantage" doesn't explain the discrepancy. Of the nineteen players:
  • Eight were from SEC states. All eight chose to play for an SEC team.
  • Six were from Big Ten states. Four of these chose a Big Ten school, while two chose an SEC program.
  • Five were from "neutral" states (TX, MO, MD, CT, OK). Only one of these players chose a Big Ten school, while the other four opted for the SEC.
Most notable in the data is the number of times that Florida beat out Ohio State for recruits. This could be ascribed to the results of the BCS Championship game, but I'm sure there was a strong draw to Florida's weather, charismatic coaching staff, and of course, coeds. (This brings to mind a JUCO recruiting story from last year: Larry Grant. Originally from Georgia, Grant selected Florida but could not qualify academically. After completing some make-up work he then enrolled at, you guessed it, Ohio State. Tell me again which conference had the higher standards?)

Other programs were able to pull in athletes from outside of their traditional recruiting grounds. The Irish snagged Top 100 players from California, New Jersey, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Illinois. Southern Cal was able to bring in talent from Louisiana and Michigan in addition to their natural California and Arizona pools. Recruiting outside of your "home territory" can be done, but the Big Ten just did a poor job of it this year.

Despite recruiting and the BCS bowls, the Big Ten had a very good football season in 2006. Why Delany chose to spout off on the conference's failure to recruit is beyond me, but the numbers don't lie. The SEC, with its recent national championship and high-profile coaches simply out-performed the Big Ten in recruiting. If Delany wants to advertise the academic superiority of Big Ten schools, he's free to do so. In fact a quick check of the top undergraduate programs shows a clear edge for the Big Ten over the SEC. But pretending that academic restrictions handcuffed Big Ten recruiting is simply foolish.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Ice, Ice, Baby | by Jeff

The number one ranked Notre Dame men's hockey team clinched their first league championship on Saturday with a 1-0 win at Alaska-Faribanks. The Irish completed the sweep on Sunday with a 3-2 win in overtime. The Irish face Ferris State this weekend to close out the regular season, with the CCHA tournament starting on March 2nd and the NCCA championships on the 23rd. A few of the regular season games have been on TV here in Chicago, so keep an eye out for the Irish if you want to check them out this season.

Congrats to coach Jackson and the entire ND hockey team.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

the Big Boss Man | by Jay

A minor development in the Zook story. Yahoo Sports' Dan Wetzel had a piece about Big 10 commish Jim Delany's comments that "that when it comes to procuring football players his league is more ethical and academically minded than the Southeastern Conference". (The original letter from Delany is a hoot.)

But buried in Wetzel's article was this interesting item:

Meanwhile, Big Ten coaches (not Notre Dame) spent the last six months whispering about the recruiting practices of Illinois' Ron Zook.
This directly refutes what Zook & Guenther said last week to reporters. This also refutes Delany's contention to the NYT (in an unsolicited phone call) that it was "blogosphere smoke" that fueled the rumors. Furthermore, it comports with what we mentioned in the Zook rundown below, that UM had sent letters of complaint to Delany about Zook & Illinois.

Meanwhile, Guenther hasn't released the results of his investigation, the one that IL beat writer Mark Tupper breathlessly exclaimed would exonerate Zook and "point a harsh finger at the real culprit", namely Notre Dame. (We're waiting, Ron.)

If Wetzel is correct, then all the ND-bashing by Zook and Guenther of late is nothing more than a smokescreen meant to divert attention from Illinois. And if Delany is sitting on letters from Big 10 schools complaining of Illinois, then he's complicit in the anti-ND campaign as well. Perhaps he's orchestrating it, circling the Big 10 wagons while pointing the finger at a convenient, common enemy.

Some other timely reading on Boss Delany from Yahoo Sports: "Rose Roadblock", by Dan Wetzel; "Playoff Plunderer", by Josh Peter.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Time is on Our Side | by Pat

Hurrah! The NCAA has decided to scrap Rule 3-2-5e. For those not up to speed on their NCAA regulations (shame on you!), Rule 3-2-5e is the one-year-old collection of regulations that were designed to shorten the length of games. Studies showed that while the games were in fact shorter last year (dropping nearly 14 minutes on average), the time saved came at the expense of actual football rather than from the interminable commerical airtime. Football games were, on average, 12 plays lighter last season.

With fans and coaches up in arms over the new rules, the NCAA Rules Football Committee decided to repeal the new regulations at their yearly meeting, currently underway in Albuquerque.

“The changes we made last year, overall, did not have a positive effect on college football at all levels,” said Michael Clark, chair of the committee and head coach at Bridgewater (Virginia) College. “Our charge is to protect the game and do what is best for college football. Last year’s game lost too many plays, but it accomplished the need to shorten the overall time it takes to play a game. The changes we have made for 2007 balance both of these issues.”

In Rule 3-2-5-e, the committee altered its rule to have the clock start on the snap after a change in possession, as opposed to the 2006 rule which started the clock when the referee signaled the ball ready for play. Also, the committee returned its rules on free kicks to 2005 standards, starting the clock on kickoffs only when the ball is legally touched in the field of play.
The proposed changes still need to be approved by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel on March 12th before becoming the new law of the land.

The committee did propose new rules to keep the games shorter without reducing the number of plays; the full list of tweaks can be checked out at the above link.

The only one that really jumps out at me is the proposal to move kickoffs back from the 35 yard line to the 30 yard line. With ND's troubles with deep kickoffs, an extra 5 yards will make it even more imperative that Ryan Burkhart, Brandon Walker, or whoever handles the kickoffs get enough leg into it so that the balls aren't regularly landing in someone's arms at the 15 yard line. And with a likely reduction in touchbacks, ND's special teams tackling will need to really be on point.

Getting back to the length of the games for a second...for Irish fans, the NBC broadcasts have been a running source of criticism ever since the contract was signed. But credit where credit is due: the home of Dwight Schrute does a much better job of cutting down on the dead air than its peers.

In a superb collaborative effort, Marty of the excellent cfbstats.com, Matt of College Sports Schedules, and Gary of Steriod Nation analyzed the length of college broadcasts of all TV networks and found that NBC is the only network that actually improved the plays per minute ratio of their broadcast this past season, so much so that NBC games had more plays/minute than games on ABC, CBS, or ESPN. For a more in-depth breakdown, check out the Wizard of Odds, who rightly should be credited for staying on top of this topic and making sure it got plenty of exposure.

The NBC games are slightly still longer than those on other networks, but NBC managed to bring the overall broadcast length down from an average of 3 hours and 40 minutes in 2005 to 3 hours and 18 minutes in 2006, the biggest drop of any network. The Wiz details the full breakdown here. (It is worth noting that ND played only one overtime game in 2005, and none in 2006, and that's something that likely kept NBC's averages low.)

This is great news, and all the more surprising that the NCAA recognized a mistake and moved quickly to rectify it. And it's nice to know that the home of ND football, NBC, is doing better than the others in delivering a quality product to the fans: a better ratio of football to ads, a superb online pre-game show and webcast of the halftime band performance, the revamped intro, and of course, the retirement of the Halls Fruit Breezer Fan of the Game. Hurrah.

Tight Fit | by Jay

Reading the PT post below, it struck me how young our group of returning wide receivers are. You've got Grimes, a junior, and then three sophomores (we've got it on good authority that Chase Anastasio, contrary to what was previously reported, isn't going to return for a fifth year). While we're replacing more overall production at other positions (notably quarterback), no other position group of returners on the team is as young.

This got me thinking about the role of John Carlson in the offense next season. In the Sugar Bowl, Carlson was sparsely used in the passing game, and he caught just one lone pass all game long. Most of the time he was lined up next to Sam Young as an extra blocker on that side of the line. But next year, we can ill afford to keep him in to block.

In fact, it's Carlson, not David Grimes, who returns as the team's leading receiver. Despite missing most of three games with an injury, Carlson had nearly as many catches as Darius Walker, and finished third on the team in reception yardage. Since we're breaking in a new quarterback and a (mostly) new running game, Carlson is one of the few returning stalwarts Charlie can count on. It's quite possible that when Charlie draws up the offensive blueprints for '07, it will be Carlson, not one of the unproven receivers, who becomes the first or second option in the passing game.

There is some precedent for this. You probably remember a tight end for the Patriots by the name of Ben Coates. (If you played fantasy football in the mid-90s, you definitely remember Coates). Ben Coates was an unheralded fifth-round draft pick out of tiny Livingstone College, and in his first couple of years in the pros he was an afterthought in the Patriots offense. In 1993, the known TE-loving coach Bill Parcells took over the Pats and installed a young tight end coach by the name of Charlie Weis. The Pats' receiving corps wasn't much to speak of (Vincent Brisby? Michael Timpson?), and Coates vaulted from afterthought to the center of attention. Charlie explains (from "No Excuses"):

[In 1993] I had the opportunity to work with two very good tight ends -- Marv Cook, a fifth-year veteran and Pro Bowler, and a talented third-year guy named Ben Coates. Marv started twelve games for us in '93 and ended up catching twenty-two passes. Ben made only four starts, but led the team with fifty-three receptions and had our second-longest catch that year on a fifty-four-yard touchdown. The difference between them was that Marv was a short-to-intermediate receiver, whereas Ben was more of a three-level receiver -- short, intermediate, and deep. We threw a number of deep balls to Ben.

Standing six feet five inches, Coates was a long strider. Long striders usually aren't very fast, but when Ben got going, he'd run faster. Long striders also tend to have problems with the short-to-intermediate routes because it's harder for them to get in and out of breaks than it is for someone with shorter legs, but Ben learned how to use his body to get open. He would push off and rarely get penalized by the officials for doing it. He also had very dependable hands. He clicked with Bledsoe, and Drew would always look to him.

After Ben took over as the starting tight end in 1994, his catches skyrocketd to ninety-six, which at the time was the most by any tight end in NFL history. He made the first of many Pro Bowls.
When the Pats drafted Terry Glenn and acquired Shawn Jefferson the passing game started becoming a little more egalitarian, but even so, Coates was the primary or secondary option for Bledsoe for a long time.

As it pertains to John Carlson, the Coates antecedent could be instructive. We know Carlson fits the mold of a three-level receiver; we know he's got some wheels; and we know he's got exceptional hands. (For a quick refresher, take a look at this highlight reel). As with the '93 Pats, we've got a situation where our best receiver happens to be our tight end, and knowing Charlie's penchant for playing to his team's strengths, John Carlson might be an even bigger target this coming season.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Only The Young | by Pat

I've been curious about writing this post for about a year now because I wanted to find out just how much experience and playing time we'd be losing when Brady Quinn's class finally left South Bend. No surprise, it's a lot. We're going to be young this coming season.

I changed things up a bit this year from the 2005 and 2006 versions. Rather than just show the total playing time of each player, I broke down the numbers into playing time on special teams (ST Minutes) and playing time at an actual position (PT Minutes). That way you can see which guys were out on the field gaining experience at their position and which were relegated mainly to special teams roles. All playing time numbers came from Lou Somogyi's recent list of 2006 playing times. To help illustrate the youth of the team next season, I added the class year (note: not eligibility year, but year at ND) to each player's name. As always with this post, these numbers are just rough guidelines and "for entertainment purposes only"...

The overall numbers wind up showing that 36% of the offense and 50% of the defense will be back to don the gold helmets. Needless to say, it's going to be an adventure next year with all the new faces out on the field for the Irish.

Quarterback - 6%
If you think only 6% of returning playing time is bad, consider that Evan Sharpley only attempted 2 of ND's 471 pass attempts last year. (For those keeping track, that's 0.4%.) Sharpley's been organizing the off-season 7-on-7 drills this winter and is working hard for the starting job, but the trio of underclassmen (Zach Frazer, Demetrius Jones, and Jimmy Clausen) are likely going to keep this the most intriguing question going into the season. Whoever wins out, he'll be ND's least-experienced opening-day quarterback since Ron Powlus thirteen years ago.

Quarterback ST Minutes
PT Minutes
1 321
Sharpley (JR)
0 21
Return Pct.

Running Back - 14%
Again, no surprise here as Darius Walker took the bulk of the playing time with him when he left for the NFL. One thing that isn't accounted for here is Travis Thomas. I listed him and his 300 minutes of playing time under linebacker since that was his primary position last season. But I expect him to move back to running back full-time next year so that will bump up the percentage of returning experience. Really, a better way to measure RB experience would be in carries. Last year ND running backs rushed the ball 327 times, and 69 of those carries return (21%). It should also be pointed out that Asaph Schwapp's numbers would have been much higher had he not been knocked out for the year. Next year ND will have a lot of talent on hand -- perhaps its deepest running back corp in years -- with Thomas, Schwapp, James Aldridge, Munir Prince, Junior Jabbie, Luke Schmidt, and freshmen Robert Hughes and Armando Allen -- but it's also very green.

Running Back ST Minutes
PT Minutes
Walker 2 279
McConnell 33 60
Aldridge (SO)
Schwapp (JR)
2 21
Prince (SO)
Jabbie (SR)
23 0
Return Pct.

Offensive Line - 42%
In terms of career starts, the 2005 and 2006 offensive lines were the two most experienced lines in Notre Dame history. Now the rebuilding process is underway and the lack of upperclassmen depth at OL really will test the Irish offense. Two starters return in center John Sullivan and right tackle Sam Young, and both are safe bets to start again. The other three starting spots are up for grabs. Paul Duncan swapped time with Young last year and would appear to be in line to take the tackle spot opposite Young. The two guard spots are going to be an open competition between a group of very talented, but very inexperienced sophomores and freshman. There are going to be some growing pains early in the year as the new starting five learn to play together, but with enough bodies to finally offer competition for playing time, it will be fun to watch the young players battle and scrap to keep those starting spots.

Offensive Line ST Minutes PT Minutes
Sullivan (5th)
Young (SO)
Duncan (JR)
32 52
Mattes 34 36
Turkovich (JR)
Olsen (SO)
Carufel (SO)
Return Pct.

Wide Receiver - 29%
All ND has to do at receiver is replace the #1 and #2 career reception leaders in ND history. Samardzija and McKnight snagged 145 of ND's 176 wide receiver catches last season. The default go-to-guy right now is junior David Grimes who is responsible for 26 of those returning 31 receptions. Chase Anastasio was recently added to the list of potential returning 5th year players, but the veteran special teams ace had only two receptions last year. Among the freshman, George West and Robby Parris caught two and one passes respectively while Richard Jackson spent nearly all of his time on special teams and didn't see a pass thrown his way. As with the running backs and offensive line, there are a number of intriguing sophomores and freshman who have a shot to make an instant impact, but nearly all of them are extremely inexperienced.

Receiver ST Minutes PT Minutes
Samardzija 40 321
McKnight 2 298
Grimes (JR)
Anastasio (5th)
West (SO)
Parris (SO)
Jackson (SO)
Return Pct.

Tight End - 71%
The return of John Carlson was great news for the Irish offense; he had more receptions than the rest of the returning receivers combined. Carlson will start the year as a pre-season All-American due to his spectacular production in the passing game, and another year in the weight room should improve his blocking. Replacing Marcus Freeman as the #2 will be either Konrad Reuland or Will Yeatman, two very talented and athletic sophomores. Yeatman was the better blocker of the two last season, and is a good bet to win that #2 slot. When you add in freshman speedster Mike Ragone, ND really will have the best collection of athletic tight ends in the country. How the younger guys develop as blockers will determine just how often ND runs multiple TE sets.

Tight End ST Minutes PT Minutes
Carlson (5th)
49 288
Freeman 86 131
Yeatman (SO)
Reuland (SO)
Return Pct.

Defensive Line - 32%
Three of the four DL starters have moved on, with only Trevor Laws returning. With the likelihood that ND will be running a variety of the 3-4 defense, technically we'll only have to replace two starters on the DL instead of three. What it really means is that a lot of different players will be tried out at different spots, including possible position switches from offense. In other words, besides Trevor Laws lining up somewhere, we likely won't know how the starting DL will look until spring practice is well underway. While it's possible career backups Justin Brown and Dwight Stephenson, Jr. might find new life in the revamped defense, many Irish fans are already looking to sophomores John Ryan and Morrice Richardson. Incoming freshman Kerry Neal also has a great chance to see early playing time.

Defensive Line ST Minutes PT Minutes
Abiamiri 30 288
Laws (5th)
27 277
Frome 17 232
Kuntz (JR)
68 44
15 43
Ryan (SO)
Brown (SR)
4 25
Richardson (SO)
Stephenson (5th)
Return Pct.

Linebacker - 65%
The most veteran unit on the team, the linebacking corp will still undergo plenty of revision and alteration. First, as mentioned earlier, Travis Thomas played 300 minutes last season, most of it at linebacker. If you add his non-running back PT into the equation, the 81% bumps up to 86%. However, it's sounding more and more likely that TT will return to the offense full-time next year so I left him off this list. With the Irish moving to the 3-4, that means two additional starting linebacker spots open up and it will certainly be interesting to see how they are filled up. Players like Toryan Smith and Anthony Vernaglia have great opportunities to nail down a starting role, but it's also possible that some of the names in the defensive line group might find themselves sliding back to this list. Look for plenty of lineup experimentation this spring as Weis and Corwin Brown look for the right mixture of size, speed, and ability in the front seven.

Linebacker ST Minutes PT Minutes
Crum (SR)
T. Thomas (5th)
Brockington (5th)
M. Thomas
T. Smith (SO)
Vernaglia (SR)
Quinn (JR)
Return Pct.

Defensive Backs - 59%
Which Irish player, offense or defense, saw the most combined playing time last year? It's Terrail Lambert. Would you have guessed that? If I had to describe my feelings for next year's secondary I'd go with "cautious optimism" as ND trades experience at corner and safety for more athleticism and depth. The fight for the open free safety spot will be a popular spring battle and we might even see a position switch or two in order to find that ball-hawking speedster ND fans craze. Zibby's role as an off-and-on again pseudo-linebacker wasn't exactly successful last year so hopefully his role will be more clearly defined next season. At corner, Lambert and Wooden will get plenty of competition from the sudden influx of talented young corners like Darrin Walls, Raeshon McNeil, and Gary Gray.

Defensive Back ST Minutes
PT Minutes
57 294
Zbikowski (5th)
78 286
Lambert (SR) 108 278
Wooden (5th)
11 100
Herring (JR)
89 50
Walls (SO)
12 49
Bruton (JR)
28 40
Ferrine (SR)
56 29
McNeil (SO)
McCarthy (JR)
Brown (SO)
Gaines (SO)
Return Pct.