Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Handicapping the Heisman Race: Is It Manti's to Lose?

The Heisman Trophy race has reached it's apex as the audition season is essentially over.

All of the major players in this race have played their final regular season games and are either, ineligible or didn't qualify for their conference championship games. Of course, one school doesn't play in a conference.

It's been a strange season of college football with no one team dominating and very few players rising above the pack to be considered exceptional.

You don't have to believe me, but I arrived at this list of three Heisman finalists before reading some of the analysis that's out there. We'll look at each players season and then I'll give you my pick.

Manti Te'o

Manti Te'o is considered by many—especially if you read this blog with any regularity—to be the frontrunner for this years Heisman. 

To be sure, Te'o is the best player on an outstanding Notre Dame defense and has been a captain on a team that has defied logic and reason to end up in the BCS national championship game.

Te'o finished the season with 103 total tackles, seven interceptions and one sack. 

Shockingly, the total tackles number ranks him only 58th in the nation—Toledo's Dan Molls leads the country with a mind-boggling 166 total tackles—but Manti's interceptions put him at No. 3. 

Te'o plays smart and fast as few can. If I were to compare him to a professional it would be Ray Lewis, not in size or aggressiveness, but they share an uncanny knack to always be around the ball and to finish plays.

Also, you always have to be aware of where these guys line up on the field. 

Johnny Manziel

Johnny Football has a great nickname and a stat line that belies his true freshman status. A quick Google search however will point out that he got into a little trouble prior to the season. He also was Scooby Doo for Halloween and is a big fan of blonde girls...in other words a true freshman. 

Manziel has completed 68% of his passes for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. 

On the ground he's rushed 184 times for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. That's 4,600 total yards and 114 points in the toughest conference in the nation. 

Sure he missed his one really sad extra point attempt, but he also beat then No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. 

Braxton Miller

Ohio State is the only undefeated team aside from Notre Dame and they're delightfully ineligible for any postseason play. That doesn't mean Buckeyes can't win awards however, and Braxton Miller has had a fine season.

Urban Meyer's spread offense was designed for a player like Miller. 

Braxton has spearheaded a 12-0 season by passing for 2,039 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.

He's also added 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Oh and he's only a sophomore. 

Needless to say, the Buckeyes have one of the most versatile offenses in the country and will be a major factor in future national championship pictures once they finish up probation.     


These are the top three guys on my board, and likely you'll see them invited to New York City for the Heisman presentation. 

I included the note about Johnny Manziel's little altercation because Brian and others pulling for Mr. Te'o have been quick to point out that the Heisman, "recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity". 

That's important to remember, but I think it's unfair to rule out the best freshman in the country based on a relatively minor mistake made before the season even started. 

Braxton Miller and Manti Te'o are both terrific players who deserve to be recognized, but I think it extremely unlikely that anyone other than Johnny Manziel wins the Heisman Trophy this season. 

What he's done on the field is unprecedented and won't soon be repeated by a frosh. 

Don't agree? Tell us why and don't forget to vote over at Nissan's Heisman house to let your voice be heard. 

Because nothing says integrity like fan voting and a sponsor tie-in!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Irish Eyes Are Smiling at a Possible National Championship

Notre Dame's 22-13 victory over rival USC Saturday gave the Irish the jeweled shillelagh trophy as well as a berth in the BCS national championship game in Miami on January 7.

Despite not having starting quarterback Matt Barkley, the Trojans gave a decent effort behind a solid first career start from redshirt freshman Max Wittek.

The Irish were led by Theo Riddick who rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown to pace an Irish offense otherwise consisting of five Kyle Brindza field goals.

It was a big test passed for a Notre Dame team that has been tested primarily by its own shortcomings.

The much vaunted schedule strength has been simply good with the only real highlights being impressive road wins against USC and Oklahoma and a nice home win against Stanford.

The good thing for Irish fans is they don't have to worry about any of that now.

Now, they simply wait for the SEC to sort itself out to find an opponent for the biggest ND game in two decades.

My gut tells me that it will be Alabama facing the Irish. Despite tripping up against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, Alabama is still the most ruthlessly efficient team in the country.

Of course that's all simply conjecture.

I'll wait until things officially unfold next weekend to start analyzing a match up, which will give me plenty to fill the outrageous time left until the national championship is formally settled.

It will be 43 days since the Irish have played football when they tee it up in Miami and 36 days for their SEC opponent [I originally had these numbers wrong because apparently I can't count].

Lots and lots of dead air in other words.

I'll begin filling it by adding that sometime in the second quarter Saturday, I decided that Everett Golson is probably my favorite college football player currently.

People love to talk about Manti Te'o—and rightfully so—but the Notre Dame defense is good enough that without him, they would still be a top ten unit.

Without Golson, the Irish might have only won seven or eight games.

Aside from the fact his athleticism brings an element of unpredictability that defenses can't do much about, Everett has grown as a passer. He throws a nice, accurate, catchable ball and he rarely panics in the pocket.

I also love the way he whips his passes. In other words, his throwing motion is delightful and generates great power.

I'm not sure how he'll fare against a defense like Alabama's or Georgia's, but it sure will be exciting.

So once again, enjoy yourselves Irish fans. Toast the victories and now you can start imagining what it will be like to redecorate in South Bend.

For once though don't use gold, go for crystal.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Maryland is Leaving the ACC, but How's Their Math?

It's been a rough week if you're a fan of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

As everyone knows by now, the University of Maryland voted Monday morning to leave the ACC to join the B1G (that means Big Ten plus three).

The Terrapins are of course a charter member of the ACC—founded in 1953—but their athletic programs are hemorrhaging money to the tune of losing $26.8 million last year.

That apparently means that they had to jump at the chance for slightly more television revenue.

The B1G hands out approximately $24 million a year per school versus $17 million for the ACC.

Interestingly, taking a look at the Nielsen numbers from 2011 tells us that the B1G number is about right while the ACC badly botched their most recent negotiations.

For football, the SEC is clearly No. 1 with 4,447,000 viewers. No. 2 is the B1G with 3,276,000 and the ACC is in third with 2,650,000.

The B1G is first in hoops with the ACC close behind. The biggest difference between the two television deals is the B1G deal expires in 2017 while the ACC locked themselves in until 2027.

According to Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel, the B1G projects to be able to distribute roughly $43 million per school when the conference negotiates its next deal, but that number strikes me as unlikely and based on a lot of assumptions.

The B1G is assuming that the new television markets brought in by adding Maryland and Rutgers—Washington, D.C. and New York City/New Jersey—will give them far more households with the B1G Network on their standard tier 1 sports package.

That would give them tremendous bargaining power when the time to talk turkey comes up again.

However, the way people watch television is changing rapidly and the industry will have to change too if it wants to keep its subscribers.

A recent study suggests that the average monthly cable bill could be $200 by 2020. That's absolutely insane.

Prices are already far above what the shoddy product we receive is worth which has been driving people online for entertainment.

It's not surprising when services like HuluPlus, Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Prime and others are all vastly superior to wildly inconsistent cable connections filled with dozens of channels that go unwatched.

Thus, the thinking is that in the future cable companies will offer broadband connections with more options for à la carte programming and less of the stuff you don't want in an attempt to keep people from going online. 

This is an intriguing issue in and of itself, but my point is simply these revenue projections by the B1G are likely overly optimistic. 

That's especially true when you consider that the league is simply diluting its product by adding two middling football programs and hoping that market share somehow overrides the product on the field. 

It's somewhat sad to see Maryland leave I guess, but they're a mediocre athletic department that brings very little to the table in the sport driving all this conference realignment nonsense, football. 

I'm hoping that ACC commissioner John Swofford holds the Terps to the $50 million exit fee (one they didn't agree to) and finally shows he has some cajones when it comes to negotiating. 

Stick it to the deserters I say, and take your time finding the new member to fill their shoes. Everyone's assuming a school like UConn or Cincinnati is the logical choice, but are both unappealing options. 

I say take that $50 million and pay a better candidate's exit fee from some other conference. 

Or, umm...Notre Dame, are you sure you don't want to play football with us for real? Pleeeeeeeease?  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

College Football Just Imploded and Notre Dame is the New No. 1

There's little doubt that college football's final weeks of the regular season tend to be chaotic, but this weekend was absolutely nuts.

For the first time since December 2007, the top two teams in the BCS standings lost Saturday vaulting the Irish to the top spot and opening the floodgates for challengers—so long as they're from the SEC.

This scenario seemed unthinkable just a week ago when Kansas State moved atop the rankings with the vaunted Oregon offense nipping at the Wildcats' heels.

Now, the national championship dreams of those teams are shattered and the Golden Dome is shining a little brighter with the Irish once again ranked No. 1.

You can debate the merits of this team all you like. Notre Dame might not be the best team in the country, but thus far, they've earned the opportunity to prove it in the BCS title game.

Undeniable is the fact that ND is 11-0 and every other eligible team (how's that taste Buckeyes?) has lost at least once now.

Brian and I briefly discussed this kind of experience a couple weeks ago. We weren't really sure what would happen down the stretch, but we agreed that if you can finish the undefeated it's a special season regardless of what the stupid polls tell us.

I liken the Irish experience this year to my youthful days in Blacksburg during the Hokies' magical run to the national championship game in 1999.

No one really expected that to happen.

Tech was relying on a mobile redshirt-freshman quarterback, a stout defense filled with NFL talent and a whole lot of luck. Frank Beamer just hoped things would come together.

Along the road there were some close calls and furious comebacks and despite preseason predictions, Tech found itself in the BCS national championship game.

Sound familiar?

Now, as I told Brian during his late night post game call Saturday, don't go getting drunk and excited and order tickets to Miami just yet.

There's nothing more worrisome than a wounded team as talented the USC Trojans, especially in a big rivalry game.

USC has had plenty of troubles recently, and the biggest may be the potentially separated throwing shoulder of quarterback Matt Barkley.

Despite that and the fact that I—along with most people—don't think too highly of Lane Kiffen's coaching abilities, this will be a very difficult game.

USC coach Lane Kiffen practices his ND post game press conference responses. 

Even worrying about USC is looking too far into the future. Enjoy the moment Irish fans. Realize what this season has been so far and don't focus too much on the possibilities.

As the Hokie nation is painfully aware, seasons like these don't happen too often. They are special things to be savored and remembered for years to come.

The game next week will be just like the season. Tense moments with potential heartbreak that  can quickly turn to jubilation.

Just remember, you're No. 1 and no one can take that away.

Well, except maybe the Trojans.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Oh That Irish Luck; Notre Dame Still Undefeated

For three and a half quarters Saturday Notre Dame was beaten by the Pittsburgh Panthers.

The trouble for Pitt came in those final minutes and subsequent overtimes when the Irish defense stiffened and the offense suddenly remembered what they were doing.

The results were a 29-26 3OT thriller in South Bend ending with a Notre Dame comeback sparked by a phantom pass interference call.

The comeback was very impressive, no doubt, but the unsuccessful 4th down play that might have otherwise ended ND's chances should never have seen a flag.

My apologies for a lack of angles, but this is clearly the best one. Even the reverse view looked questionable but this one is just brutal. 

Everett Golson struggled much of the game until after head coach Brian Kelly briefly inserted Tommy Rees into the game.

Following an awful interception thrown by Rees, Golson returned with renewed vigor eventually scoring the winning touchdown on a QB sneak. I don't like playing musical chairs with your quarterbacks, but in this case Brian Kelly played that game quite well.

Golson took a step back from his coming out party against Oklahoma, but he's clearly still the only thing that makes the Irish offense go.

Rees is a wonderful safety blanket, but he shouldn't really see the field. This is Golson's team and even when he struggles he gives ND the best chance to win.

The Irish defense is a treat to watch when they're playing well, and even when Pitt was controlling the game, the defense never gave them much.

The Panthers' Ray Graham is a special back, so his 172 rushing yards are nothing to be overly concerned with. He does that to just about everyone.

The passing game for Pitt was pedestrian as well accounting for just 164 yards and a touchdown. When the game was on the line late, the Irish D put heavy pressure on Panther QB Tino Sunseri and he was rendered ineffective both in regulation and overtime.

Next up for Notre Dame is a rivalry clash with the miserable Boston College Eagles.

I get that it's a rival and emotions will be running high, but there are zero excuses for struggling in this game.

BC has a solid quarterback in Chase Rettig accounting for their No. 27 passing offense, but their rushing offense is No. 122, scoring is 98th and scoring defense is 87th.

Head coach Frank Spaziani has exactly three games before he is unceremoniously fired.

Unless the Irish hasten that process come Saturday, which is entirely possible.

Logan Thomas and the Hokies Need a New Mindset

Quarterback Logan Thomas was visibly upset in the waning moments of Virginia Tech's disheartening 30-12 loss to the Miami Hurricanes Thursday in Miami Gardens.

The frustration was understandable given how Logan played and the number of blown opportunities by the Tech offense.

For his part, Thomas threw for 199 yards and added 124 yards on the ground that included a lumbering 73-yard touchdown straight up the middle on a busted play. 

The problem for Thomas were his two interceptions and a fumble on the Miami goal line. He also overthrew a wide open fullback on a 4th and 1 play that was an excellent call that simply lacked execution from the QB.

Something has been off for Thomas all season, and I've come to think that a big part of it is he's putting too much pressure on himself. 

Granted, the entire weight of the Hokie offense is on his shoulders because there simply aren't enough playmakers out there, but LT needs to relax a bit.

Logan Thomas can still change games and the season with plays like this one.

It's never fun when you're losing, but it's hard to win when you aren't having some fun.

Smiling doesn't  have to mean you're happy, but it does speak to a better overall mindset.

Sometimes, there's not much you can do but laugh and move on when things aren't going your way. It's a heckuva lot better than sulking and getting down on yourself.

While I generally dislike cross-sport comparisons, a golf contrast works here as does baseball. Great golfers and pitchers have short memories and quickly get over mistakes. You can let a bad performance stick with you and motivate you after the fact, but in the moment there's no room for dwelling on mistakes.

Logan is a very young QB and just as his mechanics and ability to read defenses will likely improve, so too will his maturity and leadership abilities.

It may not be an enormous deal that Thomas declined to talk to the media after the Miami loss, but just think of the uproar had former Tech quarterback Sean Glennon done that a few years ago.

Glennon was one of the most criticized athletes in Hokie history, but time and time again he went out under the glare of the media lights and addressed those critics regardless of his performance.

Logan will learn from this experience both on and off the field.

This is Frank Beamer's most trying season in 20 years so it's no surprise that his players have struggled at times with processing what's happening.

Despite Tech's 4-5 overall record and a 2-3 ACC mark, there are still things to play for.

This group will go down either as a underachieving bunch that completely collapsed during a lost season, or as a team that struggled a great deal but finally made a push toward respectability in the final stretch.

It will be a tall order, but it's possible with better execution and a little more energy.

Who knows, they might even have fun doing it.   

Editor's Note: I'll have some stuff about Notre Dame's big win tomorrow since I assume Brian's media blackout is still in effect. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Notre Dame and Virginia Tech Heading in Opposite Directions

As you may or may not have noticed, Brian and I have entered a period of extreme silence during what is one of the great times of the year—college football season.

We haven't kept in proper contact recently, in fact our first verbal communication came after Notre Dame's surprising victory last Saturday over the mighty Oklahoma Sooners.

I had been anticipating a great deal of Irish coverage as the team somehow continued winning, but there was silence.

Brian explained this weekend that he had stopped writing because he had convinced himself if he published, ND would finally lose.

In a strange ironic twist, I had stopped writing because the Hokies are flat out terrible and frankly, I'd largely run out of helpful suggestions.

So there's the update. One blogger overcome by failure, the other success.

Miami coach Al Golden has plenty to sweat about. 

The Hokies face the Miami Hurricanes Thursday in south Florida. Brian claimed he would be shocked if Tech didn't rush for 300 yards against the 'Canes and I can see his point.

Miami ranks No. 119 out of 120 teams in rushing defense. That's great news to a Hokie rushing attack just 70th best in the nation.

Despite that, the 2012 Techmen are incapable of giving a beating like the one Notre Dame gave "da U" back in Chicago.

Expect a floundering Hokie performance and a narrow victory that could easily go the other direction with one or two wayward bounces.

As for the Irish, what can I add that hasn't already been said?

They should win every game left on the schedule. But clearly, that isn't how college football works.

Pittsburgh may well roll right on over for the freshly awakened echoes, or they might muster the all-world effort they showed against the Hokies—not that they needed that kind of effort.

I expect another close one with ND pulling it out late because, well, that's just how they do it.

It's nice to have something reliable like that isn't it?

At least, until the next game...and the week after that...


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