College Football Week 2: Two Questions

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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?

Quack Preview: Michigan State vs. Oregon

In easily the biggest matchup of the young college football season, Michigan State visits Oregon tonight. (6:30, FOX.) Both teams are very much in contention for a berth in the brand new College Football Playoff, and the outcome of this game figures to go a long way toward determining whether the Spartans or Ducks will find themselves in college football’s new final four.

Despite their dynamic style, Oregon essentially is a known quantity, at least in broad terms. That doesn’t mean they’re easy to handle, and their junior quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is a strong Heisman contender.

Due to some key graduations and departures (e.g., Darqueze Dennard), coupled with an added year of experience for the younger players, Michigan State figures to remain about as strong as last season, while trading a little defense for a little offense.

The question remains: can Michigan State’s defense stop Oregon’s offense? In what I thought was a neat video that included actually understandable game scheme film clips, ESPN’s Trevor Matich explains why the Spartan D might have a chance:

He doesn’t pick MSU to win, of course, and Vegas has the visitors as twelve-point underdogs. Michigan State is better than the Stanford team that ended Oregon’s undefeated run last year, though, and with Jacksonville State as their week-one opponent, Mark Dantonio, Pat Narduzzi, and everyone else in East Lansing has had all spring and summer to prepare for this one. You, on the other hand, have just a few hours to prepare for what should be a fun game.

In the meantime, join Michael Weinreb, now apparently of SB Nation, for a very nice look back at the last time these two teams played each other.

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Equal Justice Under College Football Playoff

A Statistical Appreciation of the Washington Generals And Harlem Globetrotters (via FiveThirtyEight)

gtRed Klotz, the founder and longtime coach of the Washington Generals, the Harlem Globetrotters’ perpetually feeble opponents, died at age 93 last week (I highly recommend Joe Posnanski’s remembrance). Klotz’s all-time record as a head coach of the Generals and their namesakes was something like six wins and 14,000 losses — they lost 99.96 percent of the time.

How exactly did the Generals lose so consistently? How much of it was their conceding games on purpose, as opposed to simply being really bad at basketball?

Let’s first get a sense for how good the Globetrotters were. … Read More

(via FiveThirtyEight)

Why the Michigan Wolverines have been unwatchable since at least 2008

When the University of Michigan’s athletic department swapped out its Nike gear in exchange for a lucrative contract with Adidas, the Maize ‘n’ Blue lost more than a swoosh: they lost their Maize. In fact, they sold it for something far worse:

The shift from Nike to Adidas was also a huge change. For fans, seeing a different symbol on a jersey isn’t anything special, but for athletes it’s a big adjustment. Sizes, fit, comfort, color and durability are all crucial to being able to play your sport well. With Nike, every team had figured out what they liked and disliked, and they could make small adjustments in their gear from year to year. But Adidas specializes in soccer and football gear, so things like volleyball shoes and jerseys presented new challenges.

Nike also copyrighted the color “Maize,” so Adidas actually had to make a new version of our school color, now known as “Sun” (which the volleyball team has affectionately dubbed the “highlighter” jerseys).

Terrible. I don’t love what the Spartans have done aesthetically over the last decade– it’s the overall fluctuations in approach, more than any one decision, that has become somewhat annoying– but Michigan State hasn’t done anything to make my eyeballs burn out of my face, and that recent rosy addition has been downright pleasing.

Old news, but new to me, and now you know it too.

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…

Michigan State wins the 100th Rose Bowl

Fourth-ranked Michigan State beat #5 Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl yesterday, 24-20, and finished the season with a 13-1 record, having gone undefeated in the Big Ten. The Spartans are Rose Bowl champions for the first time in twenty-six years. MSU was balanced in the victory, their top-in-the-nation defense leading the way and securing the win by allowing only one offensive touchdown, while unheralded quarterback Connor Cook and his receivers posted a career passing day by recording 332 yards through the air, including two touchdown passes. The Spartans’ defensive numbers are ridiculous, but this puts the win in perspective:

Following the game, Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis silenced rumors that head coach Mark Dantonio might be a candidate for the Texas job by extending Dantonio’s contract, making Dantonio and his assistants among the three highest-paid head coaches and coaching staffs in the conference. Here’s to a fantastic Rose Bowl win and many more for this great team.

College Football Fan Guide: Championship Week Edition

Last week was one of the best football weeks in recent memory, and although our Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker weekly feature has fallen by the wayside due to worldly obligations, this week and the week ahead deserve note.

The Lions started things off on Thanksgiving with a wonderful win over Green Bay. It was Detroit’s first win on Turkey Day in nine years, and it was the first time Matt Stafford beat the Pack. The Lions also avenged the career game Matt Flynn had the only previous time he quarterbacked Green Bay against Detroit.

Brendan and I were in the Big House for Michigan’s surprise one-point loss to Ohio State, and I made it out of Ann Arbor in time to see Georgia come back to defeat Georgia Tech in overtime, note Vandy’s comeback win over Wake Forest, and watch maybe the greatest one second of college football in Auburn’s regulation toppling of Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Records of note:

  • Auburn: 11-1 (35-21 loss at LSU)
  • Michigan State: 11-1 (17-13 loss at Notre Dame)
  • Ohio State: 12-0
  • Vanderbilt: 8-4 (poised for second consecutive nine-win season)
  • Missouri: 11-1 (27-24 2OT loss against South Carolina)

Bowl outlook:

  • Rose Bowl: Barring a very bad loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game Saturday night, Michigan State seems set to ring in the new year in Pasadena. Here are the details on that situation.
  • Bowl projections keep waffling Vandy between the Music City and Liberty Bowls. Despite having a national championship in women’s bowling, they can’t seem to roll outside the Volunteer State. The former Independence Bowl in Shreveport might be a good alternative.

The BCS national championship: Right now, Florida State is set to play Ohio State, but that could change after this weekend. Each team needs to beat its conference championship opponent, Duke and Michigan State (more on basketball later!) respectively, of course. Auburn’s also in the mix here. If the Eagles/Tigers/Plainsmen beat Missouri in the SEC championship game, one-loss/SEC champ Auburn could leap an undefeated Ohio State. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask Florida head coach Urban Meyer:

There are a lot of people making a lot of decisions out there, but this is a big one. We’re going to tell a group of young men, who just went 12-1 in a most difficult schedule against six ranked opponents, that they don’t have a chance to play for a national championship? I’m going to need help with that one.

That was back in 2006, though, and in 2013, Meyer finds himself singing a decidedly different tune as the head coach of Ohio State. 2006 Urban Meyer got his way, something 2013 Urban Meyer ought to keep in mind this week.

(HT: @DrunkAubie)

ALDLAND Podcast

After an extended break the ALDLAND podcast is back and better than ever. College basketball is finally on the menu, as is discussion of a big trade in the MLB. And as always, listen for ALDLAND’s college football picks of the week.

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Download the ALDLAND podcast at our Podcasts Page or stream it right here:

#2 Michigan State beats #1 Kentucky in the Champions Classic

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In their second game of the season, the Michigan State Spartans jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and never trailed the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats en route to a four-point win, 78-74. For the most part, MSU looked like a typical experienced Tom Izzo team. They were physical, they caused and capitalized on turnovers, they were as effective as ever on scoring on inbound plays, and the team’s designated leaders led. Point guard Keith Appling showed that, from a positional standpoint, this is his team. Adreian Payne showed that he can control a game from any position on the floor. Sophomore and former Big Ten Freshman of the Year Gary Harris showed that he can be an even more complete player than he was last year. (Marcus thinks he can be the National Player of the Year this season.) Branden Dawson is back as a reliable gap-filler.

In listening to and watching tonight’s game, I noticed two things that were slightly different, at least in comparison with last year’s team. One is these Spartans’ ability and willingness to push the ball. Izzo’s Michigan State teams never have been strictly half-court operations, but the frequency with which they ran tonight, and the speed at which they did so, were notable. The second thing is that, as good as Payne is, he’s not going to be able to run the gauntlet of this season alone. Basically no big man can, and the absence of Derrick Nix clearly hurts the Spartans’ depth in the paint. (Nix, for his part, made his presence known online shortly after the final buzzer with the most Michigan State tweet ever.)

On the other side, Kentucky is a good team that will get even better, perhaps much better, before too long, and games like this, whatever, the outcome only serve to benefit John Calipari’s current project. Julius Randle, in particular, seemed to be everywhere for the Wildcats, especially in the second half, when he scored twenty-three of his twenty-seven points. Randle led all players in scoring and in rebounds, with thirteen. One aspect that Kentucky must improve is its free-throw shooting. They managed to bring their average above 50% thanks in part to plenty of opportunities (thirty-six overall, versus seventeen for Michigan State) to shoot from the line in the second half.

Looking forward, the sky may be the limit for young Kentucky, while Michigan State fans have to hope their very good, veteran team hasn’t peaked.