Monday, December 31, 2007

A Very Quick Chick-fil-A Bowl Preview

CLEMSON (9-3) vs. AUBURN (8-4) - Dec. 31, 2007, 7:30pm ET (ESPN)
Clemson's three losses this season were - probably not coincidentally - to the three best defenses they faced...Virginia Tech (#5 nationally), Georgia Tech (#12), and Boston College (#23). Auburn's defense is rated #8. What you probably didn't know is that Clemson's defense is rated 6th nationally, and going up against Auburn's 96th rated offensive unit...and one that is breaking in new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who just one month ago was Troy's OC.

Given all of that, on paper, this looks to be a solid Clemson win. But for whatever reason, I have an uneasy feeling about this one. Stats be damned...

Auburn 20, Clemson 19

A Very Quick Music City Bowl Preview

FLORIDA STATE (7-5) vs. KENTUCKY (7-5) - Dec. 31, 2007, 4:30pm ET (ESPN)
In short, it will be a moral victory if the Seminoles can keep Kentucky under 40 and keep the margin of victory within 20. After two dozen suspensions stemming from a cheating scandal in an online course, on top of another dozen players lost to injury, the Seminoles enter this afternoon's matchup perilously thin...but with no pressure. No one expects them to be very competitive, much less win. Kentucky is shouldered with all the pressure to not just win, but to do so with decided ease.

The Seminoles' two-deep depth chart for the game is comical. Of the 47 spots listed, only 40 different players fill them. I'm a Seminole alum and follow the team closely, and I don't recognize several names on the chart. Thankfully for the Noles, their top four offensive playmakers will be present as well as most of their top defensive talent. Even without the legion of missing players, the offensive lines and the secondary were weak points for FSU. Now, they are impending disasters.

Look for the Noles to play out of their minds for most of the first half. Then watch for fatigue to settle in just before halftime, and for the inevitable unravelling in the second half. The 'Cats will put on the brakes midway through the 4th quarter in a show of mercy.

Kentucky 41, Florida State 17

A Very Quick Humanitarian Bowl Preview

GEORGIA TECH (7-5) vs. FRESNO STATE (8-4) - Dec. 31, 2007, 2pm ET (ESPN2)
Out of all eight ACC bowl games, this is the one I have the least handle on. I really have no idea how Tech will come out playing for interim coach Jon Tenuta, and I really don't know much about Fresno this season. Nonetheless, the corps of Yellow Jacket RBs should have a field day against a poor Bulldog rush defense.

It's the mindset of the Ramblin' Wreck that makes this one such a mystery. I don't think any result this afternoon would surprise me. Which then brings me back to simple matchups...Georgia Tech is better in basically every significant one, except in the passing game. An inept Taylor Bennett vs. an unimpressive Fresno secondary could mean some big plays either way, cringe-inducing exhibits of incompetence, or a smattering of both.

Georgia Tech 23, Fresno State 17

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Very Quick Meineke Bowl Preview

WAKE FOREST (8-4) vs. CONNECTICUT (9-3) - Dec. 29, 2007, 1pm ET (ESPN)
With a win this afternoon, the Demon Deacons will become one of just 12 1-A teams to win 20 games over the last two seasons. The "Weak Forest" moniker can now officially be tossed aside. While this afternoon's matchup in Charlotte certainly doesn't have the pizzazz of last year's Orange Bowl appearance, a victory over the Huskies would likely mean two straight Top 25 finishes for the Deacs.

Look for UConn to take a quick and early lead on a special teams or defensive score, but fail to get into a groove offensively all game. Further, expect Wake to slowly warm up and then explode in the half, as the long layoff and Jim Grobe's flirtation with the Arkansas job a few weeks is bound to have knocked them off kilter a bit. Riley Skinner should be able to pick apart the Huskies' thin secondary.

Wake Forest 24, Connecticut 10

For more alarmingly accurate predictions, check in tomorrow for tonight's winning lotto numbers. I'm that good.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Very Quick Emerald Bowl Preview

MARYLAND (6-6) vs. OREGON STATE (8-4) - Dec. 28, 2007, 8:30pm ET (ESPN)
Lost in all the commotion of Oregon State's mid-to-late season surge is that their six victories in their last seven contests were all against teams with .500 or worse records, except for the season finale at Oregon, against a flailing, Dennis Dixon-less Duck squad that still piled on the points against the Beavers. They were also blasted earlier in the year by Cincinnati and UCLA and were lifeless in a November clash with USC.

That's not to say that the Terps are world-beaters. 6-6 is 6-6 no matter how you slice it. Still, Maryland has been more competitive in their losses, and their wins against the likes of Boston College, Rutgers (on the road) and Georgia Tech are better than any win the Beavers have notched this year, save for their season opening win over Utah. The key matchup tonight will be Oregon State's stout defense (12th nationally) against the surging Terrapin offense (95 points in their final three regular season games against BC, FSU and NC State).

Maryland 27, Oregon State 25

A Very Quick Champs Sports Bowl Preview

BOSTON COLLEGE (10-3) vs. MICHIGAN STATE (7-5) - Dec. 28, 2007, 5pm ET (ESPN)
Simply put, this is a must-win game for both BC and the ACC. Despite rising to #2 in the polls entering November, the Eagles were largely considered a very good team that had fattened up on a soft non-conference slate. Subsequent losses to average Florida State and Maryland teams seemed to justify that perception, although the Eagles gained a huge measure of respect with a gut check win at Clemson in their penultimate game of the regular season, a win that clinched a spot in the ACC Championship Game.

A respectable loss to Virgina Tech in said title game invariably sent BC hurtling down to fourth in the ACC bowl selection sweepstakes. Their reward for another ten-win season is a date with the Michigan State Spartans, who managed to finish 7th in a terribly weak Big 10 this year and are now without a half-dozen players due to those cumbersome academics. I've railed on the Big 10 quite a bit this year, so for the ACC to gain any sense of respect heading into the offseason, the Eagles must win this afternoon. That said, the Spartans' five defeats this season all came by a touchdown or less, so don't look for a runaway BC victory.

Boston College 31, Michigan State 21

Monday, December 24, 2007

Well Hello There

Sorry about the dearth of posting activity this past week. Life, work, Christmas shopping and travel, and other shenanigans have occupied basically all of my time lately. I'm presently at the in-laws in Memphis for the holidays, and I shall return to regular blogging on the 27th.

In the meantime, Feliz Navidad and all that stuff.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Duke Hires David Cutcliffe

So sayeth the Knoxville News-Sentinel and the Raleigh News & Observer. Official announcements and festivities are to take place later today.

I have a mixed reaction on this one...the soon-to-be former Tennessee offensive coordinator - part deux - obviously did quite well during his 1999-2004 head coaching gig at Ole Miss (44-29 overall, 25-23 SEC), and his inexplicable firing after his one poor season in '04 has blown up horrifically in the Rebels' collective face. Nonetheless, just how much of the Rebs' success under Cutcliffe had to do with the likes of Eli Manning and Deuce McAllister is a matter of debate. There are certainly no Manning or McAllister types in Durham, and it will be quite a chore to get that level of talent to consider the Blue Devils. Still, Cutcliffe is regarded as a supreme groomer of quarterback talent, having tutored both Mannings and most recently turning Erik Ainge into a likely high-round NFL draft pick. How Cutcliffe tinkers with current Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis will be something to watch throughout the 2008 season.

I also have to wonder if Cutcliffe has a dynamic enough personality for the task at hand. But perhaps that's overrated...Ted Roof had personality and enthusiasm out the wazoo.

Regardless, for the Blue Devils to snag a highly respected coordinator from an SEC power - and one who had a solid head coaching record at another SEC program prior to that - is impressive. It's not a home run hire, but I'd say it's a solid, stand-up triple.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ACC Title Game Heads to Tampa...and Charlotte Too

Tampa in 2008 & 2009 and Charlotte in 2010 & 2011, to be precise.

As I was getting ready to sit down and write about the future of the ACC Championship Game (post-failed Jacksonville experiment), the league comes along today and drops the hammer on my line of thinking (I say play the game on campus, but more on that later).

That said, these are the two best options on the table as far as neutral sites go. Tampa Bay is a great area with tons to do (I should know, I live here), and Raymond James Stadium is regarded by many as the best football stadium in the United States. Charlotte, while not as sizzling a destination, is by far the best choice in terms of location to the vast majority of schools. It's a great city in it's own right, and Bank of America stadium is a choice venue as well.

I never understood the choice of Jacksonville from the start. It has historically been a: 1) Florida Gators town, 2) Georgia Bulldogs town, and 3) Florida State Seminoles town, with the Noles only really coming on in the last 15 years or so. Nothing about it screams "ACC!" (well, except for the specious Gator Bowl tie-in). It's a decent city in and of itself, but it's simply not a "major league" city by any stretch of the imagination (pipe down, Jag fans). The Super Bowl hosted there a few years ago was a total mess, the Jaguars have been on the relocation search due to lackadaisical fan support, and it's not a city that's easy to get to from other ACC schools, either by car or plane. It's like a slightly bigger version of Mobile, AL...pleasant enough, but you just don't hold your showcase game there.

While Tampa is certainly not an easy trip by car for anyone but Miami or FSU fans, it's much easier to get flights in and out of the Bay area and it's a much more attractive vacation spot as well. The Tampa Bay metro population is also twice that of Jacksonville, and it's closer to other large Florida population centers (such as the Orlando, Sarasota, and Fort Myers areas). And if it's properly promoted, you'll get upwards of 25,000-30,000 locals in the stands in addition to the participants' fans, unless it's an inexplicable Duke-Wake Forest matchup (sweet Baby Jesus, no).

Charlotte has the advantage of fine tuning their events calendar and festivities schedule over the next few years and I think they'll put on a great show as well.

Before today's announcement, I was going to post my thoughts on how best to host the game. In the long run, I think playing it on campus will turn out to be the best for everyone. The division winner with the best overall record should get to host the title game, which will not only spark additional interest in the final regular season games (especially if a team has locked up their division by the beginning of November) but having the game on campus will provide an added element of excitement surrounding the game, and most certainly in the stadium. Neutral site games such as bowl games and most conference championship games are always kind of sterile, even when the stadium is full. And having the game on campus will most certainly prevent this type of scene from ever happening again:

Thank you Jacksonville!

The ACC has a steep enough hill to climb already in terms of voluminous fan bases. Four of the twelve league schools are private institutions and have enrollments of 10,000 or less. Georgia Tech and Virginia only have 12,000 and 13,000 undergrads respectively. That means that six of the twelve ACC schools have smaller enrollments than nine of the ten Pac 10 programs, ten of the eleven Big Ten programs, eleven of the twelve Big 12 schools, and ten of the twelve SEC schools. When you expound enrollments to alumni, then you see just how far behind most ACC programs are in terms of sheer numbers of viable fans and boosters willing and able to make it to an event like the ACC-CG. Taking all of that into account, placing the game in an apathetic and not-very-easy-to-get-to place like Jacksonville was just a dumb idea.

Still, neither Tampa nor Charlotte can guarantee success. Only in the last ten to fifteen years has the ACC cranked up the football machine, and the already outlined smaller overall fanbase still turns it's attention a tad more toward basketball. One thing is clear - if the game doesn't gain a foothold in either Tampa or Charlotte, holding the game on campus will be the only option left. And that would be just fine.

Friday, December 7, 2007

UPDATE: Officially Official - Paul Johnson to Georgia Tech

So sayeth Mr. College Football at the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

Great hire, assuming Admiral Johnson doesn't pull a Grobe and "sleep on it". The guy has a killer offensive mind and wins everywhere he goes. Being able to clear the academic hurdles at Navy and still make it to five straight bowl games makes his move to Georgia Tech a steal for the Yellow Jackets. Sure, he's not a smooth, polished, plaster-his-mug-everywhere Urban Meyer/Nick Saban/Pete Carroll prototype. He's more of the Mark Mangino/Ralph Friedgen variety - a bit surly, and not exactly a physical specimen that you want prominently portrayed on billboards all over town (although he's Chippendale material compared to Mangino and Fridge). But a winner he most certainly is.

Congrats Jackets. Officially.

Bringing sexy back to Georgia Tech

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Grobe to Stay at Wake

And there was much rejoicing in Winston-Salem.

Honestly, I don't what Grobe was thinking in even considering the Razorbacks. Hefty raise notwithstanding, the Hawgs have a Nutty (pun intended) fanbase and it's asking too much to expect them to keep pace in the SEC against the likes of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU, Alabama and Auburn.

Glad you came to your senses, coach.

Get Me Off This Crazy Thing

The coaching carousel as it relates to the ACC is starting to careen out of control. To wit...

---From seemingly out of nowhere, Jim Grobe appears headed for Arkansas. His name popped up in Razorback circles on Tuesday and the rest is supposedly history. Big loss for the ACC, huge get for the SEC if this plays out. Still...Arkansas?

---Speaking of Arkansas, Tommy Bowden deftly used them in order to secure yet another contract extension at Clemson. This might have been the least appealing result for Tiger faithful.

---Bobby Bowden has reportedly agreed to a one-year extension on his contract that ends next month. FSU OC Jimbo Fisher, who's name has popped up for various head coaching vacancies, will reportedly get a raise into the upper six-figures and will be named as Bobby's successor, whenever the Old Man decides to hang it up...which looks to be sooner rather than later.

---Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson need to poop or get off the pot. It appears that the job is Johnson's if he wants it, if he turns down a bigger payday at SMU of all places. Interim coach and DC Jon Tenuta appears to be the backup choice for the Jackets, with Georgia Southern's Chris Hatcher possibly still in the mix.

---Chan Gailey (ugh), Paul Johnson, Steve Logan, Skip Holtz, and David Cutcliffe are the prominent names involved with the Duke job. Whether Logan, Holtz and Cutcliffe are just parlaying the Devils' interest into a raise at their current gigs is anyone's guess. Grambling's Rod Broadway is being mentioned as a candidate as well.

---And if Grobe does in fact leave the Demon Deacons, Paul Johnson probably has yet another decision to make.

Michigan or Nebraska, I'd understand. But Arkansas? That's Nutty.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Out of Conference Report - At Regular Season's End

This is mostly a re-post of last week's compilation, but with updated numbers and some new commentary when warranted.

Updated non-conference records among the BCS leagues at the end of the regular season...

Big 1035-9.795
Big 1236-12.750
Big East29-11.725
Pac 1021-10.677
Washington's loss to Hawaii last Saturday knocked the Pac 10 down a notch into last place in these standings. Of course, there's much more to non-conference competition than just the above table. For instance, below is the total combined record of all the teams each league has played in out of conference competition (1-AA/FCS opponents not included):
Pac 10185-166.527
Big East201-211.488
Big 12233-251.481
Big 10162-274.372
The Big 10....blech. I know which BCS conference I'm betting on to get drilled come bowl season. As for the remaining five leagues, since we're dealing with numbers in the hundreds now, it's a statistical wash in my estimation, with .046 percentage points separating first from fifth. And, in case you're looking at these numbers and thinking something is a bit off (such as the ACC and SEC both having played 48 non-conference games yet there's 37-game disparity in the record of their competition), keep in mind that some conferences played more 1-AA competition than others.

Below illustrates the percentage of games each league played away from home in non-conference action...
Conf.Road Games/OOC GamesPct.
Big East16/4040.0%
Big 1216/4833.3%
Pac 1010/3132.3%
Big 1011/4425.0%

FYI- out-of-conference neutral site games (i.e. Missouri-Illinois, Florida State-Alabama) were calculated as road games for both leagues.

Compare and contrast the number of road games to total losses for each league. There's a fairly strong correlation - for instance, the SEC went 40-8 overall and played 8 road games; the Pac 10 went 21-10 overall, and played 10 road games. Impressively, the ACC bucked that trend, having played a whopping 20 games on the road, but only had 15 total non-conference losses. The Big East and Big 12 also similarly bucked the trend. No conference had more losses than road games.

The following indicates the percentage of non-conference competition played against fellow BCS-league opponents...
Conf.BCS Foes/OOC GamesPct.
Big East15/4037.5%
Pac 1011/3135.5%
Big 1013/4429.5%
Big 1211/4822.9%
And each conference's record against other power-league competition:
Big 109-4.692
Pac 106-5.545
Big East7-8.467
Big 125-6.455

From these numbers alone, the Big 12 clearly fares the worst. They played the least amount of BCS non-conference opposition (exactly half in number and percentage of what the ACC played), and they have the worst record against that competition by a slim margin. But, there's more to the story. Below lists the actual BCS teams played by each league in non-conference play, against whom, and the result (win/loss only; scores not included for simplicity's sake).

Big 10
WINS- Washington State (@Wisconsin), Pittsburgh (@Michigan State), @Washington (Ohio State), Notre Dame (@Penn State), Notre Dame (@Michigan State), Notre Dame (@Purdue), @Notre Dame (Michigan), Syracuse (@Iowa), @Syracuse (Illinois)
LOSSES- vs.Missouri (Illinois), Oregon (@Michigan), @Iowa State (Iowa), Duke (@Northwestern)

Pac 10
WINS- Tennessee (California), @Michigan (Oregon), Colorado (@Arizona State), @Nebraska (USC), @Notre Dame (USC), @Syracuse (Washington)
Ohio State (@Washington), @Cincinnati (Oregon State), @Wisconsin (Washington State), Notre Dame (@Stanford), Notre Dame (@UCLA)

WINS- Connecticut (@Virginia), @Rutgers (Maryland), Texas A&M (@Miami), @Colorado (Florida State), vs.Alabama (Florida State), @South Carolina (Clemson), @Vanderbilt (Wake Forest), @Northwestern (Duke), Pittsburgh (@Virginia), @Notre Dame (Boston College), @Notre Dame (Georgia Tech)
West Virginia (@Maryland), Georgia (@Georgia Tech), @LSU (Virginia Tech), @Oklahoma (Miami), @Florida (Florida State), @USF (North Carolina), Connecticut (@Duke), South Carolina (@North Carolina), Nebraska (@Wake Forest), Louisville (@NC State), @Notre Dame (Duke)

WINS- Virginia Tech (@LSU), Florida State (@Florida), @Georgia Tech (Georgia), Oklahoma State (@Georgia), Kansas State (@Auburn), Louisville (@Kentucky), @North Carolina (South Carolina)
Missouri (@Mississippi), @West Virginia (Mississippi State), Clemson (@South Carolina), USF (@Auburn), Wake Forest (@Vanderbilt), vs.Florida State (Alabama), @California (Tennessee)

Big East
WINS- @Auburn (USF), Mississippi State (@West Virginia), @Maryland (West Virginia), Oregon State (@Cincinnati), @NC State (Louisville), North Carolina (@USF), @Duke (Connecticut)
LOSSES- Illinois (@Syracuse), @Virginia (Connecticut), @Virginia (Pittsburgh), @Kentucky (Louisville), Maryland (@Rutgers), @Michigan State (Pittsburgh), @Iowa (Syracuse), Washington (@Syracuse)

Big 12
WINS- vs.Illinois (Missouri), @Wake Forest (Nebraska), Iowa (@Iowa State), Miami (@Oklahoma), @Mississippi (Missouri)
@Georgia (Oklahoma State), USC (@Nebraska), @Arizona State (Colorado), @Auburn (Kansas State), Florida State (@Colorado), @Miami (Texas A&M)

And to delve a little further, the following is the combined record of each league's BCS opposition:
Big 1281-51.614
Big East96-85.530
Pac 1068-65.511
Big 1053-104.338
So, taking into account the percentage of total non-conference games played against fellow BCS competition, the quality of that competition, and each league's results against that competition, the SEC and ACC appear to be clear winners in this category. The Big 10, despite the gaudy 9-4 record against BCS opposition, is the clear loser here upon close inspection (seriously - count how many times you see "Notre Dame" and "Syracuse" among their BCS opponents).

The percentage of non-conference games against 1-AA competition...
Conf.1-AA Foes/OOC GamesPct.
Big 108/4418.2%
Big 128/4816.7%
Big East6/4015.0%
Pac 102/316.5%
The Big 10 - and this appears to be a theme - clearly fares the worst in this category...not only has just over one-fifth of all their non-conference competition involved 1-AA opponents, they've lost two of those games (Appalachian State-Michigan and North Dakota State-Minnesota). Honestly, only the Pac 10 really comes off well in this category.

Each league's record against other 1-A/FBS foes...that is, the non-conference results against the poor schleps from the Sun Belt, Conference USA, MAC, etc.:
Big 1020-3.870
Big East16-3.842
Big 1224-5.828
Pac 1013-5.722
And, just for kicks, the combined record of the "other 1-A" opponents for each BCS league:
Pac 10117-101.537
Big East105-126.455
Big 12152-200.432
Big 10109-170.391
Again, the Big 10 is lagging behind the pack. The Big 12 doesn't look so hot here either, having played the most games against "other 1-A" opponents, having just the fourth highest win percentage, and the quality of their opposition isn't too good. The SEC is the only one that really comes out of this category looking decent.

So, what does all of this mean? A few things stand out to me: 1) The ACC deserves major props for hitting the road and playing a brutal non-conference schedule (45.8% of all games against fellow BCS leagues!), and doing fairly well against it; 2) The Big East deserves some kudos as well; 3) The SEC did quite well, but their refusal to hit the road in any meaningful way is a giant black mark; 4) The Pac 10 looks fairly impressive, but is a bit of an anomaly since they played much fewer non-conference games due to their round-robin league slate; 5) The Big 10 + non conference play = crime against nature; 6) The Big 12 couldn't appear more middle-of-the-pack if it tried.

All that said, this is how I'd rank the conferences as we head into the bowl season:
1) SEC
2) ACC
3) Pac 10
4) Big 12
5) Big East
6) Big 10...a very distant 6th

The SEC is the best conference so far this season, but it's not as dominant as the media and blog horde would have you believe. The Big 10 is clearly the worst. The other four BCS leagues aren't separated by all that much, but the ACC gets the nod at #2 based on the above stats and from general subjective viewing. Still, bowl season could really shake things up.

Finally, let me say that I believe non-conference competition is by far the best way to compare the BCS leagues side-by-side-by-side, but this compilation is certainly not a complete analysis. Margin of victory, the placement of games on the schedule, the equality of matchups, and countless other factors aren't really taken into account here. These reports try to make the comparisons as objective and concise as possible, but in reality there will likely never be a thorough enough and definitive enough analysis to determine how the leagues truly stack up to one another.

But for me, this will do.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

ACC Bowl Menu

Fresh out of the kitchen...

ORANGE BOWL (1/3/08 - Miami)
Virginia Tech vs. Kansas

CHICK-FIL-A BOWL (12/31/07 - Atlanta)
Clemson vs. Auburn

GATOR BOWL (1/1/08 - Jacksonville)
Virginia vs. Texas Tech

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL (12/28/07 - Orlando)
Boston College vs. Michigan State

MUSIC CITY BOWL (12/31/07 - Nashville)
Florida State vs. Kentucky

MEINEKE BOWL (12/29/07 - Charlotte)
Wake Forest vs. Connecticut

EMERALD BOWL (12/28/07 - San Francisco)
Maryland vs. Oregon State

HUMANITARIAN BOWL (12/31/07 - Boise)
Georgia Tech vs. Fresno State

Not a whole lot of sizzle (although Clemson-Auburn may be the best matchup of any bowl, while Virginia Tech-Kansas and Virginia-Texas Tech are weirdly intriguing), but it's certainly a manageable slate for the conference.

The Champs

Virginia Tech 30, Boston College 16

This was a trying season for the Hokie faithful, and for fully half of it, Virginia Tech looked nothing like a championship football team. But after going through the lowest of football lows, a different Hokie team emerged...your 2007 ACC champions. After a most difficult year for everyone in Blacksburg, the Virginia Tech Hokies gave their school and their city a big reason to smile on Saturday. Well done, gentlemen.