College Football Week 2: Two Questions

msvu

College football’s second week didn’t go so well for some of the teams on which we keep a closer eye here at ALDLAND. No controversy or arguments, really. Just poor performances and bad outcomes. Two days later, I’m left with two main questions:

1. Can Michigan State fix its leaky secondary?

Saturday night’s Michigan State-Oregon game lived up to the hype, through the end of the first half, anyway. During the intermission, the Ducks figured out that the one, very real weakness of the Spartan defense was its secondary. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was having no luck creating much of anything on his own, but if he could get the ball out of his hands, his receivers often were very open and had an easy time tacking on extra yards. Everything else seemed pretty good for Michigan State, and I’m not worried about how they’ll handle their conference schedule. At least against Oregon, though, the secondary looked like a real and easily exploitable problem. My question is whether this is a quick fix or a season-long problem.

2. How soon is too soon to fire Derek Mason?

I have an extremely selective (read: poor) memory, but I don’t think Vanderbilt has had two games as bad as the two they’ve played this season in three or four years. A 37-7 loss to Temple and a 41-3 loss to Ole Miss pretty much says it all. USA Today called the latter “just total destruction.” Yes, the team lost its starting quarterback and a pretty good receiver named Jordan Matthews, but these guys look like the caught World Cup fever in the offseason and thought they were out for the soccer team. I don’t think David Williams should take the kneejerk reaction of firing head coach Derek Mason in Mason’s first year on the job, but Commodawg raised the question while we were watching the game, and the regression VU fans are seeing really is shocking. I think it’s okay to ask: If Vanderbilt continues to follow its current trajectory, would you consider firing Coach Mason in the 2014 calendar year?

ALDLAND Archives: Equal Justice Under College Football Playoff

ALDLAND’s 2014 college football preview, belated as it is, rolls on with AD’s close look at the new playoff system, in place for the first time this season. – Ed.

_________________________________________________________________

Equal Justice Under College Football Playoff

December 11, 2013

With college football’s 2013 regular season complete, the die has been cast for the final bowl pairings under the BCS system. Next year, the College Football Playoff © will be in place. With the death of the BCS effectively accomplished, this is a good time to consider how the college football world will be different…. Read the rest… 

_________________________________________________________________

Related
Quack Preview: Michigan State vs. Oregon
Football: America’s Sport
Book Review: Paul Finebaum’s Conference has Beaten Your Conference (Probably)
Think you understand the new college football playoff system?

Football: America’s Sport

Everyone knows that football, even college football, is all about the money. The SEC finally figured it out with their own TV network. Heck, even the Northwestern football players themselves figured it out.

What makes any sport America’s sport? Football often requires the word “American” in front of it to differentiate it from the football that the rest of the world knows. What about an option for enterprise? In major league sports, players, coaches, and the media all make buckets of money, but not the players in college football. Until recently.

Let’s take a step back. Imagine needing a source of cash flow and having some experience with the collegiate football process, but not enough skills (or motivation) to necessarily get hired anywhere as a coach or athletic director. Where is there an open source of money to be made? Well, there are those games where one team plays another of a vastly inferior caliber and division and pays that team for the right to lay the smack down. The lower tier conferences and divisions don’t rake in the cash like the top tier leagues do, so they are happy to take a loss for the money before going back to playing teams their own size (North Dakota State aside). Who is to stop me from making my own football “team” made up of eleven dropouts and getting paid to get smashed to bits every single week? Everyone else is raking in the dough in this industry, why not me?

What sentiment could be more American than that?

Of course, no legitimate team would schedule such a disreputable opponent, and there must be rules against that sort of thing, right?

The frontline journalists at reddit‘s college football discussion group, /r/cfb, uncovered just such an enterprise. User Honestly_ posted his/her findings yesterday. The post and many of the top comments are worth reading, but I will summarize a few of the highlights here.   Continue reading

Book Review: Paul Finebaum’s Conference has Beaten Your Conference (Probably)

IMG-20140814-00138For someone who spends twenty hours a week on national airwaves as the host of an eponymous radio show, now simulcast on cable television, and makes regular television appearances on a major network, Paul Finebaum sure does manage to keep himself hidden.

I am not a longtime listener of Finebaum’s show by any means. I first remember hearing about him when I moved back to SEC country during the 2012 football season and he was still broadcasting on Birmingham’s WJOX. Due largely to my own preconceived misconceptions, I was surprised when I first heard the show following its move to ESPN Radio in 2013 to find that it was an extremely caller-driven show, to the point where Finebaum rarely asserted his own voice for purposes other than briefly sparring with or otherwise egging on his admittedly bombastic callers. At that time, the majority of those callers remained Alabama-based, and the Alabama-Auburn football rivalry served as nearly every item on the host’s go-to menu.

While a lot of this struck me as fairly standard cheap talk radio tactics, I remained intrigued by this person, who had risen to such prominence and reported influence, despite, I thought, hardly taking active steps to exert much in the way of influence. I therefore read the then-recent and still-surprising long feature on Finebaum in The New Yorker with great interest and anticipation. I found the piece to be more an introduction for Manhattanites to the other SEC and its attendant culture than a deep dive on Finebaum himself. Finebaum as access point, rather than Finebaum as subject. (A long Deadspin feature from the same year had a similar effect.) It’s a worthwhile read if you like college football. Still, I did not feel like I knew or understood this man, though, or why he was so widely regarded.

Fast forward (the lazy blogger wrote) to August 14, 2014. The SEC Network, an ESPN entity, launches (on Tim Tebow’s birthday, naturally), and Finebaum’s book, My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football, arrived in my mailbox.

Continue reading

Football scores

Football has kind of weird scores. Even though it is common to most readers of this blog, a sport where scoring 3 or 7 is common while 2 is rare is kind of weird in the scheme of sports (most other sports are strictly one point at a time other than basketball where 1, 2, 3 are each fairly common).

I was always interested as a kid in figuring out what possible scores can happen in a football game. Certainly multiples of seven are common: 7, 14, 21, 28, etc. along with one or two field goals thrown in for good measure. I wanted to know exactly which scores are possible and which are absolutely forbidden.

Each team’s score is independent of the other: how many points I can score doesn’t depend on how many the other team scores, so we need only look at a single team’s possible scores. For numbers less than seven, zero is clearly possible. Next, a safety gives two and a field goal three. Four, five, and six are made up of combinations of safeties and field goals. Then anything seven or greater can be scored by following simples rules (along with many other possible combinations): keep subtracting seven point touchdowns as long as possible. If the remaining score is zero, you are done. If it is one, switch one of the extra points to a two point conversion. Otherwise, if it is two through six, add safeties and field goals as necessary. For example, if a team had its heart set on scoring 43 points in a game, we would see that six touchdowns takes us to 42, one point short, so five regular touchdowns plus one with a two point conversion gets us there. (For the adventurous reader, this sort of math is known as modular arithmetic.)

This leaves us with any score accessible except for one. This was always a bit disappointing because that is infinitely many possible inaccessible scores. But so it goes.

Except, not. Actually this is not true at all. Continue reading

SEC Disclosure: An Intellectual Separation as Manziel Moves North?

kylefield

No-longer-suspended-from-Twitter ESPN “Sports Business Reporter” Darren Rovell buried the lede in a story published yesterday related to the news that some leaders at Texas A&M are considering renaming the schools’ football stadium “Kyle Field: The House That Johnny Built.” Rather than a foolhardy, if historically accurate, branding exercise, the real story here is the apparent rift between former Aggie quarterback Johnny Manziel and “Uncle” Nate Fitch, Manziel’s longtime friend and manager of sorts.

The details of Fitch’s relationship with the former Heisman Trophy winner are sketchy, but the story seems to be that Fitch saw a star in his high-school friend and went all-in:

[Fitch is] a college dropout, in the entrepreneurial sense of the word, more dreamer than slacker. He’s Manziel’s assistant, media coordinator, business manager, designated driver. He goes by Uncle Nate, which is a nickname Manziel says Fitch gave himself. Fitch, 20, allegedly works for free, betting on the come, looking into the future when Manziel is an NFL star. He wears a gold rope bracelet, acting like an agent on a television show, talking with confidence about tit-for-tat horse trading and his deep knowledge of the NCAA rulebook. . . . As publicists go, he handled himself like a pro.

Now, however, the news of the possible renaming of Kyle Field has shed new light on the relationship between Fitch and Manziel, and it looks like the two aren’t on the same page. According to the Rovell story, Fitch’s family attempted to register “The House That Johnny Built” as a trademark, but the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office refused the requested registration. Manziel himself already applied for the same trademark back in January.

What’s going on between these two? I obviously don’t know, and my sources in the Houston area aren’t talking, but it sure looks like Manziel and Fitch have gone from collaborators to competitors.

About an hour after the Cleveland Browns drafted Manziel late in the first round of the NFL draft last week, Fitch posted a tweet:

fitchtweet

There are plenty of obvious potential narratives here, but the fact that no one seems to be investigating the apparent discord between Manziel and Fitch may simply be a testament to the overwhelming scope of the NFL stage. Over the past two years, reporters couldn’t get enough of Johnny Manziel, SEC quarterback. As of last Thursday, though, he’s just another NFL rookie.

A tale of four quarters: Vanderbilt wins the Compass Bowl, 41-24

IMG-20140104-00049As reported, we went to watch Vanderbilt and Houston play in the Compass Bowl on Saturday, and from the start, my first trip to Birmingham did not disappoint. Arriving into town, I had my first new experience of the day: a traffic jam of cars decked out in Commodore regalia trying to get into the game. Some people complained about logistical failures surrounding the game, but I saw none, and this traffic jam was a good sign of the growing support of the program.

Once inside, we quickly found our seats, or some seats anyway, which happened to be on the Houston side of Legion Field, the site of soccer matches during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I didn’t know if anyone from Houston would come for this game, and while the crowd (reported attendance 42,717) was probably two-thirds Vanderbilt fans, Houston’s band, cheer squad, and Texas rangers were there in full force. (I’m using the term “Texas rangers” to describe the male students shown in the picture above in the light brown longcoats and matching hats. Click the photo to enlarge it, or see a closeup here.)

The festivities really got underway when something called “Black Jack Billy” sang the national anthem as two men using American/POW-MIA flags as parachutes and emitting thick clouds of USA-colored smoke circled and landed on the field. (Video.)

After all of that, some football started happening, for one team, anyway. While Houston netted twelve yards of offense and no first downs in the first half thanks to an ineffective passing strategy, Vanderbilt moved the ball relatively easily, particularly on the ground, and went into the locker room at halftime with a 24-0 lead. Continue reading

Is James Franklin leaving Vanderbilt for Penn State? [UPDATE: Yes.]

This is the most reliable news in days on a story ALDLAND has been tracking closely. We will update this post as more information becomes available.   Click for all updates on this story…

2014 BCS National Championship Preview

The final BCS National Championship Game is tonight at 8:30 pm on ESPN between Auburn and Florida State. The Seminoles, behind Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a robust defense, are heavily favored, but that’s no reason to think the Eagles/Tigers/Plainsmen can’t win. When I previewed all the bowl games last month, I wrote of this one:

Florida State and Auburn round things out in the final BCS National Championship Game before the implementation of the College Football Playoff next season. If this game was being played this weekend, I’d have an easier time picking Auburn to win. Although the Eagles/Tigers/Plainsmen have beaten Alabama, Missouri, Texas A&M, and everyone else on their schedule with the exception of LSU on the road, I think all of the time off will allow Florida State to better prepare for Auburn’s packaged offensive scheme. I can’t help being reminded of Auburn’s last national championship, in a game in which I also thought they were severely overmatched. Auburn’s giving up forty-two points to Missouri in the SEC championship game worries me, but they’re still my tentative pick to win it all on January 6.

I don’t know that anything has happened since then to make me feel more confident that Auburn can win, so I’m going to leave my prediction as it is. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

(Sidebar: Picking bowl games is a little bit difficult. This year, my picks were pretty scattered, none worse than picking Rice to beat Mississippi State in the Liberty Bowl, which ended up being one of the few bad games this postseason. Still, I would like to note that ESPN the Magazine went 0-fer in its BCS bowl predictions. They had Alabama by 14 in the Sugar (Oklahoma by 14), Baylor by 20 in the Fiesta (UCF by 10), Ohio State by 6 in the Orange (Clemson by 5), and Stanford by 15 in the Rose Bowl (Michigan State by 4).)

For your pregame reading, I offer the following selections:

  • The Making of a Modern-Day Guru: How Gus Malzahn went from high school defensive coordinator to college offensive mastermind, and took Auburn to the brink of championship glory in the process Grantland
  • Florida State: Unbeaten and Untested. In contrast to Tigers, Seminoles Took the Path of Least Resistance - Wall Street Journal
  • Equal Justice Under College Football Playoff: College football will take a big step forward when it adds a two-round, four-team playoff, but it will take a step backward when it replaces the BCS ranking system with the College Football Playoff Selection Committee - ALDLAND

Enjoy the game tonight.

ALDLAND goes live to the Compass Bowl

cbFor the third consecutive year, Vanderbilt is playing in a college football bowl game, and, I am fortunate to be able to say, for the third consecutive year, I will be in attendance. (My usual bowling companion is unavailable this time, but ALDLAND’s own Physguy will be joining me.) After two games– the Liberty and Music City Bowls– inside the state of Tennessee, Vanderbilt achieved their goal of playing a bowl game outside their home state when they accepted an invitation to play in the Compass Bowl in Birmingham.

My preview post of all of this year’s bowl games has been called “Pulitzer-worthy,” and while my prediction record has proved middling at best, I stand by my prediction for the Compass Bowl:

Vanderbilt will make it three bowl appearances in a row when they play Houston in the Compass Bowl on January 4 in Birmingham. Considering they’ve only played in six bowl games ever before this season, that’s a pretty remarkable achievement. This is their fourth bowl game since 2008, and they bring a 2-1 postseason record from those games into this one. Mobile backup quarterback Patton Robinette will start the game for Vandy on account of starter Austyn Carta-Samuels’ season-ending injury. Carta-Samuels played his last three games this season– all VU wins– with a torn ACL. Another Vandy note: Commodore players donated their bowl per-diem stipends to a children’s charity. Houston has had a resurgence in recent years, but they aren’t the same without Kevin Sumlin, Case Keenum, Clyde, and Olajuwon. The Commodores should register another nine-win season.

The Compass Bowl has been known as the Birmingham Bowl and the PapaJohns.com Bowl, and it has been played annually in Birmingham since 2006. (Birmingham’s bowl history long predates the Compass Bowl, though, as it has been the host of the Dixie Bowl (1947-8), the Hall of Fame Classic (1977-85, now the Outback Bowl in Tampa), and the All-American Bowl (1986-90).) Pittsburgh has appeared in the Compass Bowl three times; no other team has appeared more than once.

Vanderbilt’s opponent, Houston, also finished the year with an 8-4 record, posting wins over Rutgers and South Florida, as well as a shutout win against SMU. The Cougars struggled in the second half of the season, however, while the Commodores finished strong. Tomorrow marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams. It also will be the last-ever game for SEC-leading receiver Jordan Matthews in a Vanderbilt uniform.

As always, keep track of our coverage here and on Twitter. The game starts at 1:00 Eastern on ESPN.