Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back on Track | by Pat

It was a drought that lasted nearly four months, but Notre Dame finally received another public commitment. Cincinnati tight end Alex Welch called up Charlie on Sunday and put an end to 109 straight commit-free days. Welch didn't waste much time, becoming the 4th public commit of the 2010 recruiting class only 10 days after getting his official offer.

"I called coach (Charlie) Weis and told him," Welch said. "He was excited. He said I made his Memorial Day weekend."
The 6'5" 225 pound Welch picked up his offer two weeks ago and despite a last minute offer by the home state Buckeyes, went through with his decision to commit after a weekend unofficial visit to South Bend.

In addition to the Ohio State offer, Welch had a pretty impressive offer list including Oklahoma, Florida State, Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Boston College, and many others. Rivals lists Welch as a 4-star recruit and the #10 tight end in the 2010 recruiting class. Scout gives Welch a 3-star ranking, but tabs him as the #7 tight end in the class. ESPN assigns Welch a ranking of 79, which is the same ranking they gave to previous tight ends Tyler Eifert and Joseph Fauria. If you want a refresher on what ESPN thinks a "79" constitutes, here you go.

Welch is another recruit with solid football bloodlines, and legacy ones at that, as his uncle is former ND star linebacker Steve Heimkreiter. Welch also hails from the same high school as current sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph.
"Him being there is a plus," Welch said. "I can learn from him. But I made the decision on my own. I just thought personally Notre Dame is the best place for me. It's a place I can succeed."
Here are some youtube highlights of Welch. It's worth noting that there are plenty of highlights of him blocking in addition to catching passes, something that isn't always the case in tight end highlight films.

ND is probably done recruiting tight ends in this class as there are other needs and the tight end depth chart is finally getting back to being filled up top to bottom. Then again, if a top tight end recruit is interested and Kyle Rudolph keeps playing like he'll be a top NFL Draft pick after his junior year, ND might consider another one in this class. In all likelihood though it will just be Welch in this class. Here's what the depth chart will look like in 2010 when he shows up on campus.
Senior - Mike Ragone
Junior - Kyle Rudolph, Joseph Fauria
Sophomore - Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic
Freshman - Alex Welch
With a lineup like that, ND isn't going to stop throwing to the tight end anytime soon. Even better, ND won't be forced to sub in backup offensive linemen as pseudo-tight ends in multiple tight end formations.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Congrads | by Jay

Here's something that Pat noticed that I'd like to pass along. From what we can gather, Chris Stewart, George West, and James Aldridge all graduated this weekend.

They were the first three recruits to enroll early under the new policy at Notre Dame, and all three earned their degree before their senior year. We think that is pretty cool. Stewart even has two years of eligibility left, so he can get his Master's degree before he leaves.

As far as I know, no media outlet has reported this, so we really can't verify it* -- other than the fact I saw Chris Stewart on CNN in cap and gown, and some folks on Irish Illustrated mentioned that West and Aldridge had graduated too. Apparently James didn't walk because he's studying in England now.

Here's our original article on them when they enrolled early, in January of '06.

News like this certainly can't hurt recruiting.

* Update: Thanks to reader Patrick for the link to the University Registrar which lists the three as receiving degrees (pages 1, 105, and 115). Gradulations to Chris, James, and George, and all the graduates of Notre Dame this year.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

the Secret Coach's Other Poll | by Jay

(Please note the addendum to this post by Jeff, below. --ed)

Among other proposed changes, including tinkering with the number of teams and potentially dropping the preseason poll, the USA Today/Coaches Poll is considering going back to a secret ballot.

"Historically, we have never released the votes," AFCA executive director Grant Teaff said. "When it came up that, OK, it would be better if you did, I think there was acquiescing by the coaches. As to whether it's helped the poll or not, I don't think I can really say. Whether it's hurt it or not, I don't know. The only thing that we can base a decision on, as AFCA, is what the experts say about it.

"We've obviously proven our loyalty to both the BCS and USA Today by releasing those," Teaff said. "But the question is whether that's the correct thing to do or not. Does that give us the way to have the best possible poll we can have?

"There's also a question of, should all voters be anonymous or not?" Teaff said.
Here's the line that really caught me.
The coaches' poll, which began in 1950, has often been the center of controversy. Critics have noted that voters have a financial stake in the outcome because their conferences benefit from drawing lucrative BCS berths. There are also questions of favoritism toward friends and bias against rivals.

"The perception is that there's a huge bias, and we've never really found that," Teaff said.
Consider it "found", Coach Teaff. Readers of BGS will recall that Jeff has broken down the Coaches' final tally the last couple of years and has found clear evidence of bias in the polls, towards the individual coach's conference, his opponents, and especially his own team.

You can find the BGS examinations of the bias in the Coaches Poll here: 2005, 2006, 2007. As Jeff noted in his first conclusion:
It comes as no surprise that the Coaches Poll is fraught with bias. However, since this is the first year we actually get to see the results, it's still somewhat shocking to see such blatant gamesmanship laid bare. The supposed advantage of the BCS polls, and the Coaches poll in particular, is that you have a body of "football experts" who are ranking the teams; their vast experience and acumen is supposed to lend the poll unquestioned authenticity.

Unfortunately, with so much money at stake, with careers hanging in the balance, and with so much rampant conflict of interest, the Coaches Poll is anything but authentic and honestly considered. Perhaps by revealing the votes this year, egregious voters will check themselves a bit next year, but considering what's at stake (and the absence of censure), I tend to doubt it. As long as it's included in the calculus, the Coaches Poll will remain the most problematic component of the BCS.
That's pretty much what happened. By the 2007 study, we noted that transparency wasn't thinning the biases at all; in fact, several of the bias metrics actually worsened.

I don't know what to think about the coaches going back to radio silence, other than they are simply afraid of transparency. The coaches' idea of "the best possible poll", as Teaff put it, apparently includes the right to vote for themselves and their friends with impunity, and without the annoyance of that pesky public scrutiny. Long live bias!

Addendum (by Jeff)

For the 2008 season, I never got around to publishing my bias analysis, but the story was exactly the same as the prior three years. Instead, what I intended to post was an analysis of the "accuracy" of the coaches poll. The bias in the poll is obvious to anyone who looks at the numbers (excluding Grant Teaff, of course). But, what surprised me is how inaccurate the poll actually is, particularly in the most important game of the season. Excerpts from the post I never finished are below.

...This year, I thought it would be interesting to see how accurate the coaches are, and I think I have a fairly reasonable way to evaluate this. Each coach has provided us a list of his top 25 teams (and by default, teams that he feels are 26th or worse). The current array of bowl games provides us with a host of neutral-site matchups, most of which were arranged somewhat indifferently through contracts and tie-ins with the conferences. So, with a little number crunching, it is pretty easy to evaluate how well the coaches did in their annual Pick-'em contest over the last four years: a better ranked team should beat a lesser one, and a ranked team should beat an unranked one. I omitted games between unranked teams.

Results. As it turns out, the coaches aren't all that good at picking games. There were 3,773 "predictions" which could be drawn over the last four years' bowl games. Of those, coaches accurately ranked the winner higher than the loser 1,955 times (less than 52% of the time). Bear in mind, the coaches are simply picking the winner, not picking against the spread.

Bowl Games
Correct Picks

BC(mes)S. I then considered the myriad of bowl games and the variety of teams out there and decided it may be more fair to look only at the BCS games. After all, those are the most important games involving the most well know teams. However, as it turned out, the coaches are actually worse in BCS games, with correct rankings less than half of the time (566-583, or 49.3%). You would be better off flipping a coin to figure out who is going to win a BCS game than looking at how coaches ranked the teams.

BCS Only
Correct Pick134146

#1 vs #2. In all fairness to the coaches (or whoever does their voting), they aren't really that bad in all of the BCS games. Their average for non-championship games is actually a more respectable 57%, but their overall average is brought down by their horrible ability to pick the most important game in the country. Over the last four seasons, there were 46 instances where a coach accurately predicted the number one team in the county prior to the NC game, and 197 instances where they failed. That is less than 20% for those of you keeping track at home.

#1 versus #2
Correct Pick70

Looking at the individual seasons:
  • In the 2005 season, 7 coaches placed Texas/Southern Cal correctly at #1/#2, while 55 reversed the order. Texas won a close battle in the Rose bowl 41-38.
  • In 2006, all 61 coaches picked Ohio State number one, while 48 coaches picked Florida #2 and 18 picked them as #3. The result? a 41-14 drubbing of the unanimous #1 in the Fiesta Bowl.
  • In 2007, 12 coaches correctly ranked LSU over Ohio State (and 48 did not), although only 3 of those 12 believed that Ohio State should have been ranked #2, the other coaches had them ranked between 3rd and 6th).
  • In 2008, 27 coaches correctly picked Florda to win the NC, vs 33 that picked Oklahoma. Nine coaches felt that Florida didn't even belong in the game and ranked them 3rd. Not surprisingly six of those nine coaches were from Big XII schools, and all six picked Oklahoma vs another Big XII school instead of Florida (five coaches picked Texas, and Mike Leach put his own Texas Tech team #2, well above the consensus #8 ranking).
I don't have a good source of data for prior seasons; the coaches votes were not made public until 2005 and I haven't looked around too hard for past coaches polls. I do know that in 2004, USC was number one in the coaches poll prior to winning the NC, so these is at least one feather in the cap of the coaches. But I am also fairly certain that Miami and LSU were near-unanimous #1s in 2002 and 2003 respectively, and both lost to lower ranked teams.

In any event, the coaches poll is both biased and inaccurate, and should be scrapped altogther. Although nothing is 100% accurate, other options are better and should be considered. Computer polls are much better than 50%, as is the algorithm used by the oddsmakers in Vegas. Even some "softer" approaches, like the NCAA basketball selection committee, are much more accurate. However, instead of fixing the problem, the NCAA is instead opting to sweep it under the rug, sending a fine message to students everywhere: do whatever you want as long as it is in your self interest; if your mistake becomes public, lie about it and cover up the evidence.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Lives of Others | by Pat

Recent upgrades to the BGS Lab have allowed us to keep better tabs on ND's upcoming opponents. Here's the quick takeaway on the major spring storylines from each '09 foe. Feel free to add your own observations and see if you can identify the recurring theme.


Major Storylines - Even with starting QB and team leader Colin Kapernick sitting out the spring to heal an injured ankle, the Wolfpack offense, led by a veteran running back corp, still prepped for what is expected to be a stellar 2009 campaign. Much is expected of the improving defensive line who helped Nevada to a #6 rush defense ranking last season and returns 1st Team All-WAC DE Kevin Basped. The next step will be to generate a better pass rush to help out a secondary that was last in the nation last season in pass defense.

Quick Notes - Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance: 1,000


Major Storylines - The main attraction for Wolverine fans was the quarterback battle between returning part-time starter Nick Sheridan and early enrollee Tate Forcier. Sheridan broke his leg early in spring ball, leading to the skinny Forcier (right) assuming the de facto starter role. A strong spring game helped build fan confidence in the likely fall starter. The OL returned some veteran players, but will need solid production out of some promising redshirt freshmen in order to avoid a repeat of last year's dismal performance. On the defensive side of things, new defensive coordinator and former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson worked with a defense light on experience as he implemented a hybrid 3-4 defensive system.

Quick Notes -
Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance - 50,000

Michigan State

Major Storylines - The main attraction for Spartan fans was the quarterback battle between last season's backup Kirk Cousins and Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol. Each split snaps and had strong spring game showings in a QB battle that will stretch into fall camp. Replacing star back Javon Ringer was also a point of emphasis but so far none of the running back by committee members distinguished themselves. Look for another fall camp battle. The installation of a few option offense plays to the playbook is another new feature of the rebuilt running game. Led by All-American candidate Greg Jones, the MSU defense will have to break in a number of new starters but overall should be a fast and athletic defense.

Quick Notes - Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance: 26,000


Major Storylines - The main attraction for Boilermaker fans was the quarterback battle between Justin Siller and Joey Elliot to replace the graduated Curtis Painter. The race was cut short though when Siller was kicked out of Purdue. Elliot held onto the #1 spot over redshirt freshmen Caleb TerBush as new head coach Danny Hope works to avoid any letdown in the post-Tiller era. In addition to a new QB, Purdue will need to find a way to replace the production of Kory Sheets, the Boilermakers all-time leader in rushing touchdowns.

Quick Notes - Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance: 5,000


Major Storylines - Jake Locker returned from the thumb injury that forced him to miss most of last season and quickly adapted to new head coach Steve Sarkisian's pro-style offense. Getting the other 21 starters to shake off last season's 0-12 campaign will be the big challenge. Running back Chris Polk, coming off an injury related redshirt freshman season, was a source of praise from Sarkisian and is in line to be the primary ballcarrier for the Huskies. The defense, ranked 112th in the nation last season, should be improved, but there is a long way to go.

Quick Notes -
Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance:10,000

Southern Cal

Major Storylines - The main attraction for Trojan fans was the quarterback battle between Aaron Corp, Mitch Mustain, and early enrollee Matt Barkley. In the end, Corp (right) nailed down the starting spot by playing safe and largely mistake free football while Barkley jumped ahead of Mustain. The defense had to break in a number of new starters, particularly at linebacker, but athletically won't have much of a dropoff thanks to years of top tier recruiting. The Trojans just might be faster than last year's version, but will have to find a way to replace all of the lost experience and leadership.

Quick Notes - Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance: 22,565

Boston College

Major Storylines - The main attraction for Eagle fans was the quarterback battle between Dominque Davis, Justin Tuggle, and Codi Boek. Davis had the slight upper hand coming into the spring after starting three games last season and neither backup did enough to unseat him. Under new head coach Frank Spazini, the offense began work to move to a more power running game to compliment their lack of experience at quarterback. The defense, led by All-American candidate Mark Herzlich, will need to find a way to fill the shoes of NFL draftees B.J. Raji and Ron Brace at defensive tackle.

Quick Notes - Spring Game Recap, Spring Game Attendance: 5,000

Washington State

Major Storylines - The main attraction for Cougar fans was supposed to be the quarterback battle between Marshall Lobbestael, Kevin Lopina, and J.T. Levenseller. But Lobbestael is still recovering from the knee injury that knocked him out last season and Levenseller broke his leg at the start of April. That left Lopina to take the first team snaps as the Cougars began work on installing a no-huddle offense. Lobbestael should push for the starting job once he returns in the fall. Injuries, a major theme last year, hit again as multiple likely starters missed time this spring. Finally, the team worked to find five new starters for a defense that let up more points last season than any team in D-1 (FBS) history.

Quick Notes -
Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance:400


Major Storylines - One of rare 2009 ND opponents who were sure of their starting QB (junior Ricky Dobbs), Navy worried more about how to replace Eric Kettani at the all-important fullback position. Sophomore Alex Teich is one of the younger, and lighter, fullbacks to earn the starting spot in recent memory after holding off the challengers. On defense, the story is experience as the entire front seven is comprised of seniors.

Quick Notes -
Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance:700


Major Storylines -
The main attraction for Panther fans was the quarterback battle between Bill Stull and Pat Bostick. Stull ended the 2008 season as the team starter and didn't play bad enough to lose his job in the spring, but Bostick was named the team's most improved offensive player. With a strong start to fall camp, he might beat out Stull. Replacing All-Big East LeSean McCoy will be a tough task for the returning running backs, but sophomore wideout Jonathan Baldwin is quickly establishing himself as the go-to threat in the Panther offense. One trouble area that will continue to hamper Pitt is the slow development of a shaky offensive line.

Quick Notes -
Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance:6,160


Major Storylines -
The main attraction for Husky fans was the quarterback battle between ND transfer Zach Frazer and Cody Endres. Frazer emerged at the top following spring practice. A similar position battle of interest was at running back where UConn looks to replace Donald Brown, the nation's leading rusher in 2008 and a 1st round NFL draft pick. All told, UConn lost four players in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft meaning the Huskies will have a replace a fair amount of talent in the 2009 season.

Quick Notes -
Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance: 7,000


Major Storylines - The main attraction for Cardinal fans was the quarterback battle between returning starter Tavita Pritchard and redshirt freshman Andrew Luck. As it stands now, Luck appears to have the edge for the starting gig heading into the fall. Either desperate to generate some team depth or a ploy to attract more recruits, Coach Harbaugh practiced certain players on both offense and defense during the spring and claimed as many as 10 would continue the two-way practice in the fall.

Quick Notes -
Spring Game Recap, Latest Depth Chart, Spring Game Attendance:1,500