Saturday, November 24, 2012

Coaching Blunders Make College Football So Entertaining

I enjoy college football. You enjoy college football most likely. It makes for fun and exciting entertainment on Fall Saturdays (or Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays). Part of what makes it so fun is its unpredictability. Every game could can be a coin flip, if a star player goes down that could spell disaster for the season. We love the mass hysteria it creates, we loath the frustration our respective teams create for us. After watching games all season a few things generally strike me as the bane of a fans existence.

1) Not capitalizing on turnovers (especially at home). You know this scenario, your team gets an early turnover deep in opposing territory (say the red zone or just outside). They go for the quick play to the endzone and miss. They hand it off for maybe 2 yards. Third down they get maybe 3 more. 4th and 5 less than five minutes into the game and the coach goes for the touchdown. It fails. This is terrible on every front. Their defense knows your team can be stopped. Your offense fails to score points. All positive momentum is stymied on four plays, at home this can suck the life out the fans making it easier for the opponent to really seize momentum. The better plan is to go for it all, but accept 3 points when they are there. Of course you want touchdowns, but it makes the opposition feel worse when they turn the ball over AND give up points less than a minute later.

2) Being down by multiple scores and mismanaging the clock. Team down by 4-11 points and 6 minutes or left remaining. The team gets to the red zone, but stagnates. Yes we all want them to push on and make it happen, if this were a video game we would save the game and reset the scene until we succeeded. Our team doesn't get that luxury. March in, go for the quick score. Go for the two or three plays that either work or end in a penalty on the other team to get that touchdown. But know that it is a two score game and running into a brick wall defense is only going to kill the clock. Take the first score presented to you and allow your fans to hope for the best.

USC v Notre Dame was a prime example of this going wrong. Around 5 minutes remained in the game and they were within the red zone. They tried the same fade route to Marquis Lee on back to back plays. Both were under thrown, both resulted in pass interference penalties. Lane Kitten Kiffin followed this up with 3 straight running plays that neither got them into the end zone nor managed the clock. Not the end of the world to lose some clock time, but they needed a score. Naturally, Kiffin went for it, the pass was again under thrown and Notre Dame took over. This is poor coaching more than fault on the players. They needed two scores so get the first one and at least give your team a chance. Fans tend to appreciate such efforts.

Truly these are the two "killer" scenarios that came to mind for me. Icing the kicker might be one, but given how terrible kickers have been this year overall I decided to give them a pass. Kickers can't win and their coaches shouldn't organize their play selection to make them out to be the goat. I know there are others and I am curious to know what irks you most as a fan. Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Upon closer inspection Ute fans should have seen this coming

Loyalty is a funny thing. It can cloud the judgment of those it infects into ignoring history, talent, and cold hard facts. No amount of logic will sway the loyal until after the fact and even then one is likely to get an apologists version of events. Utah Ute football fans fell victim to the siren song of loyalty and as we near the end of a second season in the 12 PAC their critics are pointing out flaws in their loyal proclamations of early success and the faithful are bemoaning injuries as the culprit. Both are right, both miss the point. Utah faced a tough road in its transition from the Mountain West to a power conference, but their fans looked more to recent history than to the distant past for guidance. It was a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. We can now look back and see not just what should have been obvious, but what to expect going forward as the Utes seek their first conference championship.

To be fair, the aughts were not just good for the Utes, they were great. Coaches changed, but still the Utes kept winning. Ron McBride (88-63) was fired and Urban Meyer (22-2) built upon that foundation and led the Utes to an undefeated 2004 season and bragging rights as the first non-BCS conference school to not only make a BCS bowl, but to win won. Urban left and Kyle Whittingham (70-31) took over. Four years later the Utes became the first non-BCS conference school to twice be invited to a BCS bowl and win. Utah went 2-0 against the mighty SEC in those bowl games even when they had to go down to Georgia the second time.

Shortly after that the Utes got the dream invitation of all mid-major programs, the chance to move up to a power conference. They left longtime rival BYU behind and looked to embrace new rivalries and a brighter spotlight. Ute fans were ecstatic not just for the move, but to thumb their noses at the team down South. Scandal and scheduling did nothing to dampen the joy. USC was hit hard with sanctions stemming from Reggie Bush that would impact USC during the first years of Ute membership. The conference was divided North and South and by great fortune rising powers Oregon and Standford were left off the Utes schedule their first two years. The only way they would possibly meet was in a conference championship. Utah was among the elite of the mid-major programs nationwide and other than USC the 12 PAC South did not look too intimidating. This was the short sighted history fans chose to accept and crow from the rooftops at just how high Utah might rise, refusing to recall the lessons of Icarus, refusing to accept just how difficult a challenge their team was facing.

Had Ute fans looked beyond the Crimson colored end zones of Rice Eccles stadium, they would have seen the graveyard that was mid-major programs upon making the jump to "real conferences". My focus here is on teams that jumped up to the PAC. As Arizona and Arizona State learned when they left the Western Athletic Conference back in 1978, it is not an easy transition. Arizona went 5-6 overall its first season (3-4 in conference) and finished tied for 6th. They would not make their first bowl game as a member of the PAC 10 until 1985 and did not win the conference until 1993 (their only PAC 10 championship). Arizona State has been a little better, finishing 9-3 overall (4-3) and tied for 4th their first year, when they also made their first bowl game. ASU has won the conference three separate times, the first coming in 1986. Now Utah was not terrible overall in its first year, finishing with an 8-5 record and a bowl victory. However, the Utes went just 4-5 in the conference and clearly struggled with the week-to-week grind.

This has been a respectable season, but not what Ute fans were used to and through solid play late last season, Ute fans came back with renewed optimism. Alas, Utah already has 5 in-conference losses this season and will be pressed just to match last seasons record. Moving up in competition comes with its bumps and bruises. Utah fans have every right to believe that it will not take 7.5 years to win the first 12 PAC championship, but in hindsight it was foreseeable that Utah would struggle and it might take a few years to match the personnel on the field necessary for their team to win. The first two seasons did not deliver the fairy tale endings Ute fans envisioned, but in two or three years when their recruits are on par with the rest of the 12 PAC don't be surprised if they capture that crown. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Loria Security Lies with Bud

Earlier today we learned about a blockbuster trade between the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays. While the trade has not been made official yet, it is likely just a matter of time. It took Jeff Loria, owner of the Marlins, less than 12 months to get rid of three All-Star caliber players signed to long term contracts and take the team payroll from $98 million to around $16 million dollars. The only most notable player left in Miami is Giancarlo Stanton. Don't be surprised if major news outlets attempt to spearhead a campaign to have Bud Selig force Loria to sell the team. Don't be surprised when that call falls on deaf ears.

Bud Selig after all is the man who supported his efforts as the then owner of the Montreal Expos to seek a city-funded new stadium. When Montreal (wisely) rejected the demand Loria, Selig, and then Florida Marlins owner John Henry came up with a plan to allow Henry to sell his team to Loria, Loria to sell his team to the Commissioners Office, and Bud to get approval from the rest of the league owners. Once sold, Loria moved on to become owner of Florida, Henry relocated to Boston and within 2 years each had a World Series ring. Nothing has smelled quite right on these people since.

Loria took over a new team, won the World Series in 2003 and immediately dumped most of the talent making more than the league minimum. When holdovers, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrel Willis, got too expensive he shipped them to Detroit. Loria then said he was going to try and build a winner, including signing then face-of-the-franchise Hanley Ramirez to a contract extension along with Josh Johnson. This helped convince the Miami City Officials to approve a taxpayer funded new stadium which was followed up with large contract free agents last winter. Once again Loria has dumped talent while keeping a young, affordable slugger behind only now he plays in a gaudy new stadium. Keep an eye on the batting prospects Toronto is giving up because odds are good Giancarlo's replacement is among them.

I spoke about John Henry in my first post and do not have much to add on him here.

Bud Selig has supported Loria every dirty step along the way. He not only let Loria change ownership, he helped Loria get a $38 million dollar interest free loan from MLB to buy the Marlins. He attempted to have Montreal contracted along with the Minnesota Twins after the sale went through. He refuses to bat an eye on the salary dumps. He supported Loria's efforts to get the new stadium funded, it helps support MLBs bottom line. More importantly to Bud, it is another new stadium that he can put on his list of "accomplishments" during his tenure as commissioner. Loria already ranks among the worst owners in professional sports, so hits to his credibility cannot possibly do much more damage to his reputation. 

Should Loria be forced out as owner of the Miami Marlins? Yes, preferably with a fine that diverts any profits from the sale going first to paying off the stadium before he gets anything. Will it happen? No, his actions have been endorsed by Bud Selig for over a decade and it is too much to hope that Selig did what was right for baseball fans everywhere. So what can be done? Boycott anything related to the Miami Marlins, even if they visit your team on the road. Empty stadiums will get the league interested. It is a decade late, but America can no longer ignore just how terrible Jeff Loria really is. Who said Canadians were slow?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Layman's Guide to the 12-PAC

The 12-PAC is in its second football season, but I understand some people are still trying to sort out who ended up where in all the conference realignment that has taken place recently. In order to help you out, I present my walk-through of the 12-PAC*.

(* if you insist on calling it the PAC-12 I assume you are under 21, or just no fun)

It is a veritable jungle out West and if you are a fan of the Utes
I don't get Swoop in the least and do not recognize it as a legitimate mascot

your best bet is to come hungry and be well prepared to tackle some Buffalo,

 stalk some Wildcats
Yeah there mascot isn't a female, but you probably didn't notice until you read this anyway
or go Duck hunting.
I prefer open water Duck Hunting

You even have a sporting chance to bag your choice of bear: Golden
That might be the ugliest mascot ever
 Or Bruin
Attempting to hide behind the scenery

But proceed with caution or you may be fall victim to the Sun Devils.
Consider me tempted by the Devils (Cheerleaders)

If you can survive the jungle you are halfway done. The nightlife is calling and what better way to being than by wrapping up the Trjoans
Judging by the beanie it must be December

before blitzing some Beavers.

Still up for more? Then head to the Northwest where you can try hold down the Huskies
Not the best spelling team out there

or sack energetic Cougars.
Not a bad scoreboard distraction
No matter your game plan you better be prepared because any opportunity for success may also leave you high and dry like a Cardinal in a Tree.
Um, yeah
So now you have a better understanding of what awaits you in the 12-PAC, happy hunting.