Sunday, September 27, 2015

Checking in on my Big 12 guesswork

Last week I made a number of prognostications about the Big 12 that I think it'd be interesting to follow up on and take note of where assertions where confirmed and where we learned new information that should alter how we view the league.

I'm going to check list these various guesses here and make notes where I nailed it, missed something, or we just learned something new.

Point #1: The Big 12 doesn't have a playoff team in 2015

This was a point I made over at Football Study Hall and it was largely about the fatal flaws evident in both Oklahoma schools and TCU, which were all pretty obvious over the weekend or in previous games.

TCU surrendered over 600 yards of offense to Texas Tech and are looking much shakier on defense than we are accustomed to seeing from them. Oklahoma St should have lost to Texas and Oklahoma has already shown plenty of warts.

The chances of a team from this conference coming out with only 1 loss seems low, particularly when you consider that the league is stacked in the middle with K-State, Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Texas all demonstrating that they could all beat just about anyone on the right Saturday.

The Big 12's great hope for a playoff team is probably Baylor, whom I suspect will be held back by some combination of the following 3 factors:

1) The selection committee has a ready-made excuse to disqualify them in their abysmal strength of schedule. I'm pretty sure that the reason the committee keeps talking about SOS is that it's the qualifier that gives them abundant political cover for restricting access to the top dogs.

2) Seth Russell's decision making on the road. Petty needed a second year in the system to have answers for opponents that could disguise coverages and match-up reasonably well with Baylor's athletes and even in year two struggled against Texas and West Virginia. Russell seems to be a poorer decision maker than Russell and will face a few real challenges that could trip him up and ruin Baylor's attempt at a perfect season.

3) That defense, they still look vulnerable but we'll see what happens when Groot, Rocket, and Stewart are all healthy and eligible. Perhaps they'll be stronger than they've appeared so far.

Point #2: Those week 4 picks

Rutgers covering +13.5 vs Kansas

Blah blah, who cares?

Baylor covering -34.5 vs Rice

When I saw that Rice couldn't keep up with Texas' WR tandem of Armanti Foreman and John Burt I was reasonably sure that they would get ripped to pieces by Baylor's offense. Their attempts to slow the game down and grind it out were doomed to failure against the Bear DL...too easy.

Maryland to cover -17 against West Virginia

I don't know anything at all about Maryland, but clearly the Mountaineer offense isn't struggling to get going and Shelton Gibson and Wendell Smallwood are amongst the class of the league at the offensive skill positions.

West Virginia's 3-deep/5-under, Tampa-2 style coverage is going to be a challenge for offenses this year, but the big question is regarding their pass rush. They got three sacks against the Terrapins, this will be something to watch closely when they face Oklahoma next week in what will be a huge weekend for the Big 12.

STAY AWAY from OSU -3 at Texas


Tech to win outright +7 against TCU

WRONG! Close though. You had to know TCU's defense was going to be eviscerated by Tech, the Raiders are absolutely rolling on offense right now. However, Boykin had himself a game and so did Josh Doctson.

TCU will drop some games this year, you can't win 50-50 shootouts every week in the Big 12, and they aren't likely to be able to fix their defense in time. That offense is playing very well though, it'll be interesting to see how far they drop in the polls after that close call.

New conclusions

1. There probably aren't any great defenses in the Big 12 this year

The closest may be Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor, and West Virginia and each seem likely to fall short of having a top 10 or even top 15 unit by the end of the year.

Oklahoma State was soft up the middle against Texas' young OL, they have a solid unit overall but they can be pushed around in the trenches and that always makes greatness harder to come by unless you have a couple of NFL guys roaming around in the backfield. They don't.

Baylor, we've already mentioned. Let's see what they make of Tech next Saturday.

West Virginia we've also discussed, again we need to see them face a real test.

Kansas State might be the closest as they have a great secondary, a LB corps with a solid role player and a weapon (Elijah Lee), and a very strong DL with multiple guys that may prove to be impact performers and good depth behind them.

Even still, it seems doubtful that they'll be better than top 20 or top 15 in the nation.

Should be some more exciting shootouts this year.

2. The Big 12's future is one of even more great offenses

Seth Russell, Jerrod Heard, Mason Rudolph, Skyler Howard, Pat Mahomes, and Baker Mayfield are all returning to their respective schools next season.

When a college offense can build around an established starter at QB it has a multiplier effect on the entire roster. Role players can find roles where their talents shine, coaches can hone schemes that they know have potential, and the entire team has extra confidence and benefits from player leadership.

Also worth noting, Kansas State may see one of their athletic QBs take over next year and TCU has transfer Kenny Hill waiting in the wings to take over for Boykin. 2016 is going to feature more exciting offenses and shootouts, with so many returning starters at QB the smart money will be on the teams that can play defense winning the league next season.

Keep a careful eye on whether traditional defensive schools like TCU, Texas, OU, etc have young players that show some real promise in 2015 in the midst of getting pummeled on a weekly basis by these loaded offensive units.

Friday, September 25, 2015

If I were a betting man...picking week 4 in the Big 12

Gambling is a dangerous practice, if you look around the table and can't find the sucker that means you are him. If you're not the sucker, that means you're the guy exploiting a fool and taking his money, which is arguably worse.

I don't gamble and I don't want anyone else to do so either, but picking games against the spread is a fun challenge and so I'm going to willingly participate in that practice while looking ahead at the next week's games in the Big 12.

Kansas +13.5 at Rutgers

I don't know much of anything about either of these teams to be honest as I refuse to watch Kansas play football until they've at least won a game. Rutgers couldn't move the ball against the Nittany Lions...who are approximately 10x better on defense than Kansas is. They also held down Christian Hackenberg pretty well, and while Penn St is still struggling to retool their offense they are still better there than the Jayhawks are.

As bad as Rutgers seems to be I'd never forgive myself for picking the Jayhawks against the spread.

Pick: Rutgers covers.

Baylor -34.5 hosting Rice

This game will be a nice test to see how Russell is coming along as a decision maker after facing his mistakes in the film room with the Briles boys. The Owls have a smart defense if not a particularly athletic one and they'll do all they can to confuse and turn over the Bears.

Meanwhile on offense they're going to try and keep the score down, run the ball (and clock), and try to hammer away at the Bears in the hopes of winning in the 4th quarter.

Two relevant points here:
1) Rice's left tackle Calvin Anderson is 6-5, 260.
2) Baylor's right end Shawn Oakman is 6-9, 280.


I suspect that the Owls ability to run behind double teams will struggle with Andrew Billings squatting in the middle of the trenches while their defense should be fairly helpless at trying to stay in front of Corey Coleman and KD Cannon.

Pick: Baylor covers.

West Virginia -17 hosting Maryland

West Virginia "ain't played nobody!" and usually struggles in these old Big East grudge matches they schedule every year. In lieu of better information I'm going to assume that Maryland gives them a fight before succumbing.

Pick: Maryland to cover.

Texas +3 hosting Oklahoma State

I'm staying away from this one. The 'Pokes have a solid looking defense and are throwing the ball around well but they haven't done it against a team with Texas' talent, diminished as it is this year.

This game will be a useful barometer for how Oklahoma State's D looks and whether they can run the ball. I expect them to bring a lot of eight man fronts to control the Texas ground game, in which case we'll find out if their corners are up to holding up against top athletes at WR, and we should also see if their DL can control Heard in the pocket.

Positive answers to these questions will suggest a very formidable Oklahoma State in 2015.

Pick: I dunno.

TCU -7 at Texas Tech


The TCU defense needed to be able to play effective cover 2 to the boundary against Tech, but they've lost boundary safety Kenny Iloka for the year. They also love to play their corners in man coverage, particularly to the field, but field corner Ranthony Texada is now done for the year as well.

I noted that TCU had some speed at LB now that could allow them to bring some interesting blitzes but impressive young Mike Freeze is out as well as is fellow LB Sammy Douglas.

This defense is in total disarray right now and it's come at the worst possible time because Tech's offense looks fantastic. All four WRs are dangerous when they go Lauderdale-Sadler-Grant-Davis and this OL is pretty good blocking outside zone.

Pat Mahomes is the real deal and he's got a ton of weapons around him. TCU is basically going to have to rely on Trevone Boykin outscoring him in his own house in Lubbock.

Speaking of when TCU is on offense, the Tech D has been much better with Gibbs at the helm and the secondary is finding some players. This game might very well come down to whether Tech can get a pass-rush with Pete Robertson and seven defenders dropping back into coverage. If so, I don't see TCU keeping up.

Pick: Tech wins outright.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Exposing some flaws in popular college football narratives

Over at Football Study Hall I took aim at some of the popular perceptions of how this college football season is going.

Included in my expectations is that the Big 12 will fail to get a team into the playoffs for the 2nd straight year. After that proves to be true you can also expect there to be much gnashing of teeth over what's wrong with the league with everyone pointing fingers at each other. Should be fun.

Here's the link.

My annual "Notre Dame might actually be a legit contender" piece

Over at SB Nation if you follow this link.

Notre Dame might have the best OL in the country and it's at least in the top 5. Also fascinating, they're using Will Fuller a lot out wide as the outside receiver to the field. College defenses aren't designed to bracket that receiver so he ends up getting a lot of 1-on-1 match-ups out there and he's nearly impossible to cover because he's so fast and is so good at winning jump balls.

His battle with Mackensie Alexander when Notre Dame faces Clemson is going to be a big one that NFL scouts will pay very careful attention to.

State of the Texas team heading into Big 12 play

Texas has found an identity on offense, now they need to find one on defense. Read about it for free over at Inside Texas.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Scouting the Sooners

Thus far in the 2015 season, I've had a chance to really scout and examine one particular Big 12 team (besides Texas, of course, whom I cover with great zeal over at Inside Texas), and that'd be Bob Stoops' Oklahoma Sooners.

Unlike much of this declining league, the Sooners have actually faced a serious opponent in the Tennessee Volunteers, and in Knoxville no less. It's no minor deal to travel into Neyland Stadium, which seats just over 100k people, as it's a larger hostile atmosphere than any in the Big 12.

The Big 12 has some really tough places to play, don't get me wrong, but the most hostile crowds are more in the 60k range (Lubbock, Morgantown, Stillwater, Waco) and what's probably the biggest atmosphere in the league (the Red River Shootout) features a 50-50 split between fans of either team.

For the Sooners to go into SEC country and get that win was an impressive feat, no doubt about it. Through the legitimate testing their team has experienced thus far in the season, I've gleaned the following about the 2015 Oklahoma football team:

The Lincoln Riley Oklahoma offense

The Sooners have become a very interesting team since Lincoln Riley took over the direction of the offense. The first thing that has to be noted is the make-up of their personnel, which is very different from the 2014 team.

Last year, the Sooners' best personnel grouping was this 21 personnel unit:

There was a ton of experienced beef on the field with this group and they specialized in running zone and power down people's throats before having Trevor Knight drop back to lob deep bombs to Sterling Shephard. Almost every play was a run to Perine, who had 1713 yards, or a pass to Shephard who had 970 receiving yards in an injury shortened season.

Here's what might be 2015's best Sooner group, a 20 personnel unit with a new face at almost every position:

I had to make up Baker Mayfield's height and weight because his listed size of 6-1, 209 is obviously total garbage. Overall, this is a much smaller and much less experienced group that is also learning a new offense. They've dropped 200 pounds from 2014 as a unit (from 2948 lbs to 2748), 18 pounds per position on average, and this has had a big impact on how they are now approaching the game.

The new Sooner offense is built around the quick passing game from the shotgun with the ball being spread around to Neal, Westbrook, and Shephard at different parts of the field.

Interestingly, this 20 personnel grouping may not even be the best one for Oklahoma because Joe Mixon is now the best back on the roster for what Lincoln Riley is trying to do.

The Riley run game is built primarily around this spread counter-trey concept:

The play is built around being able to control, reach, or trap bock the opposing front six with single blocks, which the Sooners have struggled to accomplish. Not only has their personnel changed but their entire approach to run-blocking has become much more finesse oriented and less physical than it was in 2014 when Daryl Williams was driving opposing DL off the line of scrimmage.

You can run counter-trey as a physical scheme, but the Riley Sooners do not do so. They are not physical at the point of attack on this scheme or any of their other fold or zone concepts.

However, their run game could become dangerous over the course of 2015 if they would diminish Perine's role and make Joe Mixon the feature of their backfield, paired with whoever is their best blocking back (Dimitri Flowers perhaps) or another slot receiver out in the field.

Perine struggles to make something happen when he's having to start and stop repeatedly in the midst of the Sooners' finesse blocks but Mixon has unreal quickness to make something happen and either find a crease or bounce outside.

What's more, the Sooners have a lot of effective motions and concepts where they flex Mixon out wide and use him to abuse linebackers and safeties or force the defense to cover someone like Shephard with a linebacker or safety so that he can abuse them. The Sooners would be best served by pairing Mixon with a good pass/run blocker in the backfield to protect Mayfield and help open running lanes for Mixon.

This is going to sound crazy because Perine is one of the best running talents in the nation, but he just isn't a great fit in the 2015 Sooner offense. Especially when compared to Mixon, who also happens to be one of the best talents in the Big 12.

This Sooner OL has some clear upside in pass protection, where I suspect they are spending a greater percentage of their practice reps, and that's to be expected given that this roster calls for a strategy of winning games by throwing the ball to a very strong WR corps rather than trying to dominate the line of scrimmage with a green OL.

Baker Mayfield showed a lot in the Tennessee game. He wasn't always accurate when trying to beat the Volunteers coverage, but he showed a ton of grit and ability in evading their pass rush all night, making big throws when it mattered, and doing all he could with his feet to allow the Sooners to run the ball as needed.

I suspect OU may have trouble against teams that press Westbrook at the line of scrimmage (on one play against Tennessee he couldn't even get off the line when he was jammed), but overall this is a very dangerous WR corps and Mayfield was a very decisive and capable distributor.

You can see all of these points on display in one instance here:

The Westbrook is jammed outside and can't get into his route, Mayfield is flushed due to poor protection but gets free and a flexed out Mixon is open downfield.

If the Sooners can get something explosive on the ground going with Joe Mixon this becomes a very dangerous offense, especially as the young OL grow up over the season. If they don't, then there are some B12 defenses that can hold OU to 17 points in regulation but who won't only score 17 themselves.

Is this a classic Stoops brother defense?

Back in the day you could generally be very confident that Oklahoma was going to have one of the best, and most aggressive, defenses in the conference. This hasn't really been true since Venables left for Clemson with OU still posting solid defenses but often seeing them get ripped in big games against top offenses, even in Norman.

In the offseason I wrote that while the staff was right to note that Eric Striker's best position is as a space-backer, this deployment of their star defender hadn't allowed them to build the best possible defense in 2014.

The main problems were these: the Sooners lacked a pass-rush when they didn't blitz Striker off the edge but doing so left them in predictable cover 3 alignments and their cornerbacks weren't good enough to hold up in when opponents were targeting them.

The solution seemed to be Oklahoma giving up the 3-4 defense and playing a 4-2-5 hybrid system where Striker would be a de-facto defensive end and the Sooners would be able to mix coverages and get more DBs on the field.

But then Devante Bond emerged at the Jack linebacker position opposite Striker, and that changed everything. The Sooners stayed in their 3-4 against the Vols and absolutely destroyed the Tennessee passing game through a variety of really good pressures that they could bring from either side of the formation.

What's more, the Sooners have upgraded their middle of the field coverage by plugging in Steven Parker as the cover safety and also returning their starters at both inside linebacker positions and free safety. They are still vulnerable at right cornerback, where sophomore Jordan Thomas is still learning the ropes, but their coverage in the new 3-4 personnel grouping is much stronger than a year ago.

Now the Sooners have a major question to answer, which is what to do against the spread passing teams of the Big 12 who are going to throw the ball more often and much more effectively than did Tennessee.

If the Sooners could play this 2-4-5 lineup it could be devastating against the more passing oriented teams in the conference:

But this group is not likely to provide adequate run defense. Another possibility is to play a 3-3-5 alignment with Striker OR Bond as the rush-end and Charles Tapper in there at DE instead of playing both Sooner outside linebackers, but then OU will have removed one of their best players from the field.

Ideally a defense would prefer to always have their best players on the field and form different personnel packages by rotating role players in and out but that may not be possible for this defense.

I suspect that the strength of their defense will be applying pressure as Bond and Striker are both great blitzers, Charles Walker could eventually become a dominant 3-tech DT, and Charles Tapper is also solid at collapsing the pocket.

What's more, with Parker at strong safety they can adhere to the "rule of 3" and get decent coverage on opponents' top receiving targets. That would leave us to conclude that the 3-4 may be OU's best bet this can they cover well enough from that set to take down passing teams like Texas Tech or Baylor?

The big question is whether Bob and Mike still have their old mojo that allows them to understand how to attack protections and then how to leverage their solid secondary into eliminating opponents' favorite targets when put under pressure.

We'll find out when they play West Virginia on October 3rd.

If the Sooners can recover their aggressive and dominating nature on defense while leveraging Mixon and their WR talent on offense they might be able to compete for a Big 12 crown. If not, I think they'll finish in the 3rd-to-5th range depending on what we see from some of these other fringe competitors in the league.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Explaining what happened to the Zone Read

The zone read is still a very popular play, but it's not as popular as it once was. Building an offense around a single option play like that is becoming less attractive to teams that don't make the option a major feature of their entire offense.

Over at Football Study Hall I broke down how teams are defending the zone read and making it a more difficult play to rely on for spread teams around the country. Read all about it here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Herman's strategy at Houston

Houston is jockeying for position to be included in the Big 12 if they decide to expand and add a conference championship game, meanwhile Tom Herman was looking to find a stepping stone into a bigger gig. Together they are forming a beautiful partnership.

I wrote about Herman's strategy at Houston for SB Nation, read about it here.

What really stands out is that he has a philosophy and strategy for every phase of the game, which makes him a great head man for a program, but he also has the ability to oversee the implementation on offense and in recruiting, which means he can provide strong oversight and involvement in those phases.

I don't think this guy is going to stay in Houston for long.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Picking week 1 games

I'll be doing a few guest spots at Football Outsiders in place of Chad Peltier while he attends to a few personal obligations.

I previewed six week two games in the college football world including:

Michigan vs Oregon State

Notre Dame vs Virginia

Tennessee vs Oklahoma

Michigan State vs Oregon

Mississippi State vs LSU

Boise State vs BYU

Check it out here.

Michigan State re-takes the spread test

I previewed how Michigan State will attempt to stop the Oregon offense at Football Study Hall, read all about it here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Previewing how Jerrod Heard can help Texas beat Rice

Free! Over at Inside Texas.

How Kiffin is assembling his 2015 Bama offense

I broke down the Tide's performance against Wisconsin over at SB Nation and talked about how they are designing the offense to make Derrick Henry an unfathomably dangerous weapon.

Check it out here.

Someone in the SEC is going to load the box and make Alabama beat them by executing throws down the field against man coverage and I'm not sure Coker and these young WRs are up for it. If they are...well then Alabama's going to be freaking awesome again.

Bummer that the Badgers ended up with a starting safety tandem of Musso and that other guy instead of McEvoy and Caputo. It definitely hurt them in this game. Joel Stave looks like a different player from last year though, Wisconsin is going to make noise in the Big 10 West this year and will probably win that division.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reviewing week 1 in the Big 12

Week 1 in the Big 12 was an interesting one but it more or less confirmed most of my suspicions about the league and how it was going to shake out. Let's take a tour around the league and I'll talk about what I saw or have observed:

Let's start with my league favorite, Baylor.

The story in their contest with SMU was much more about how vastly improved the Mustang offense was after a year of Chad Morris coaching than it was about anything Baylor did. The Bear defense definitely looked vulnerable, but the Mustangs were aggressive early in attacking the replacements for Shawn Oakman and Orion Stewart, who both sat out for "team rules violations."

Russell had more or less exactly the kind of game you'd have expected. He misfired some, only connecting on 50% of his passes, but he averaged 12 yards per attempt and threw five touchdowns. It's not that hard to throw lob passes downfield to KD Cannon and Corey Coleman, he's only going to get better as the season goes on.

Russell also proved he can add something to the run game, and the Bear run game easily mauled the Mustangs all night. This game basically just confirmed much of what we all suspected.

Gary Patterson's TCU team showed many of the strengths and flaws you would have expected and a few that were more surprising.

The Frog run game looks very strong, but they can't afford to give Boykin 18 carries every week and Frog fans should be at least mildly concerned that they felt they needed to do that in order to beat the Gophers. Their passing game really struggled and Boykin only threw for 5.85 yards per pass attempt. I know he missed some open throws down the field but that is definitely concerning.

TCU needs their offense to play at a top 10 level to win the Big 12 and go to the playoffs.

Their defense was very solid but Minnesota could definitely push them around some. This was only to be expected given that TCU replaced their nose tackle, every linebacker, and 2/3 of the safety corps and then had to train up the replacements to be able to play Big 12 offenses AND Minnesota's power run scheme. Given those considerations, they did pretty well. Curious to see if playing a 255 pound nose tackle works against teams like Baylor in season though.

Oklahoma State is on schedule to be a dark horse contender for the league crown. Rudolph was sharp, the OL was competent in blocking zone slice and power down the field for Chris Carson, and the defense looked about as solid as expected. Freshman DT Darrion Daniels is going to be a player and Texas may rue failing to sign him.

We'll learn much more about this team when they play the Longhorns in Austin, if they can run the ball in that game then look out Big 12.

Oklahoma was not impressive against Akron, which is not surprising if you think that the Stoops era is failing.

I wrote in this space that Perine would not be a 1st team All-B12 RB in 2015 because of the scheme shift and departure of all his best blockers. Sure enough, he ran the ball 11 times for only 33 yards as the OU OL struggled to block the Zip front.

Here they are trying to block counter against the Zips...

Probably this OL will get better as the season goes along...but they suck currently so I don't know how much of a difference that will make.

Actually, they looked much better in pass protection and the Sooners are clearly built to win games in 2015 by chucking the ball around to a very good WR corps. Mayfield looked sharp vs Akron and his arm strength looks good, but he's still turnover prone and they'll get ripped by someone that can play cover 2 and get after him without getting gashed by the run. I think there will be a fair few teams that can do that.

Big question is the D and whether they are back on form. Hard to tell until they play Butch Jones' Volunteers but I was amused to see them playing a lot of cover 6 with Sanchez as the force corner. Good luck doing that against the Vols, Mike.

Kansas State lost Jesse Ertz almost immediately and had to roll with Joe Hubener...I think Delton takes over there before the season is over if he can get ready in time. The Wildcats need to have a running game to reach bowl eligibility and Delton is much more explosive than Hubes. Their D looks predictably solid.

That's all I got for this week, folks.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Surveying the wreckage of Texas vs Notre Dame

Over at Inside Texas I wrote up some conclusions after re-watching Texas vs Notre Dame, many of those conclusions are rather serious. Read it here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The problem with how college football teams hire head coaches

If you watched Montana vs North Dakota St last weekend you were treated to a display of excellent football.

I actually skipped the game in my foolishness and failed to tape it but fortunately some considerate soul put it up on YouTube for us all to enjoy.

Bob Stitt's offense is fantastic and I broke down some of how it works here.

After breaking down the tape, particularly the chess match sequences between Bob Stitt and Chris Klieman when the Grizz were on offense against the Bison D, one thing really stood out.

These are two of the best coached teams I've watched in the last few years.

Montana's offense is a detailed spread passing attack with all kinds of hot reads and adjustments available to the QB with which to burn defenses while the Bison defense is at the same time both versatile as well as very fundamentally sound.

The best defense the Bison were able to bring against the Grizz ultimately proved to be a concoction including three different types of Cover 4, plenty of Tampa-2, several fire zone blitzes, and a line stunt that almost doomed the Grizz running game.

The number of AQ college defenses that you see execute all of those styles of defense as well as the Bison did in this game, a week 1 match-up no less, is not terribly long. Indeed, it's remarkably short.

Perhaps the athletes one finds at the FCS levels are smarter, and there is definitely an emphasis on development at that level with many of the starters comprising of redshirted upperclassmen, but the fact remains that these kids are very well coached and execute at a higher level than most college football teams.

It's hard to avoid the inevitable conclusion that this is because they are better coached unless we determine that it's entirely because of a lack of character or intelligence amongst D1 recruits.

So why aren't these coaches getting opportunities at D1 programs? Why can't Montana DC Ty Gregorak, who did an excellent job scheming ways to slow down a Bison offense with a diverse and highly effective power run game captained by an NFL prospect, get a DC gig in the Big 12?

Why did Stitt's breakthrough come at Montana rather than somewhere in the Sun Belt or AAC?

Because football hires at major universities work like stock trading with perception driving decision-making rather than wisdom.

You want to hire who from where? That's a typical response universities often hear even when considering well qualified candidates with impressive resumes.

College football is a big money business and its a booming cash cow for universities because it serves as a vanity project, or source of communal pride, for a school's alumni, boosters, and surrounding community. The more inflated their egos get about the school they are affiliated with (and the schools are eager to inflate their egos to absurd levels) the more that this beast needs to be fed with big time hires and big time results on the football field.

Only the biggest and grandest will do. When Mack Brown went down Texas fans clamored for Saban. Who else would be worthy of coaching at Texas other than the most successful coach on the market?

With Bob Stoops struggling to maintain support in Norman there is already a contingent quietly pushing for Chip Kelly to be brought aboard from the Philadelphia Eagles as a solution. If Michigan got Harbaugh we should get big name X!!!

If Texas had landed Saban or if the Sooners end up with Kelly those are undoubtedly big, splashy hires that will help those season ticket sales, lead to more donations, and help in the perception driven world of recruiting as well. It sure helped Michigan with Harbaugh.

But there's a trap here that claims as many victims as it does exalt programs. When you insist on boosting up your stock price with a big, public move that will have fantastic optics you really limit your pool of candidates.

What if the best man for the next Big 12 defensive coordinator vacancy is Montana's Ty Gregorak? Is he going to get that opportunity or is it going to go to the next up and coming young DC who was just on TV shutting down that explosive offense from the Pac 12 in that bowl game?

How many social media hashtags and nationally televised games will it take before Bob Stitt gets a chance at a major university? The man has been a brain trust for Air Raid coaches at big time programs yet his teams are on TV maybe once a year.

And it's not just the FCS coaches that are left out but also:

-Coaches that aren't coming off a successful year (because God knows that if a coach has had a bad year he sucks forever and can't be good in any context)

-Coaches that haven't been in the right context for their set of skills to translate to big success

-Coaches that have done a lot with a little at smaller AQ schools or FBS programs

What every program should do is take a careful look in the mirror, figure out what competencies are needed to produce results in their own context, and then scour the scene for candidates that possess those competencies.

The insistence on making hires based on what drives up the stock price is why big schools like Alabama or Florida languish in obscurity for periods in between successful hires. "Is Michigan still Michigan?" was a question people asked of Brady Hoke when he was hired.

Well maybe not with Hoke in charge but perhaps with a better fit it could be.

With college football only increasing in popularity and the TV money and booster donations going up with every passing season this isn't likely to change. But if nothing else, there's a market inefficiency here to be exploited if there's a university out there with strong enough leadership to take a long view of the program rather than trying to win the battle for headlines.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Schwerpunkt and a how Texas matches up with Notre Dame

Read it over at Inside Texas by following this link.

We'll be talking about schwerpunkt quite a bit this season.

A primer on post-Mariota Oregon

Find it here. They have an absurd collection of skill talent coming back, a solid looking OL, and some players on defense that should be pretty solid.

They're probably a good bet to win the Pac 12 North but anything more than that I'm not buying until we see them doing something impressive on the field.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Georgia and my playoff favorites

New post at Football Study Hall where I explain why I think Georgia might be a favorite to win the 2015 college football playoffs.

Here are my picks for the playoffs:

Big 10 Champion: Michigan State

I've written about their adaptations on defense and their fantastic offense this offseason. I think this is going to be a balanced and highly effective team that upsets Ohio State, gets past Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game, and then heads to the playoffs.

SEC Champion: Georgia

All explained in the first link above. TL;DR version: Loaded run game, good balanced offensive system, lots of young talent back on defense, one of the best DCs in the nation in year two.

Pac 12 Champion: UCLA

I'm selling on Oregon's defense and UCLA is really loaded, their only problem is that their QB is a freshman but he's surrounded by tons of talent and he's a particularly bright freshman. I'd feel better if he was a redshirt frosh but whatever. The defense also has a lot of talent and bring aboard Tom "scrap" Bradley fresh off helping West Virginia figure out how to play defense.

I'm also shorting USC and their coaching...situation. The main challenges I see in the Pac 12 are the Arizona schools and Oregon, who will still be great on offense regardless of whether they are playoff material as a team.

At large team/MWC Champion: Boise State

There's a good chance that Boise State goes undefeated in 2015, and if that happens...can they be left out? An undefeated season would include victories over BYU, Virginia, and that's it amongst power conference teams.

But Boise has a reputation that would make them a major storyline as an undefeated team and if those victories over BYU and Virginia were blowout wins then that storyline would really have a lot of force.

You'd expect the selection committee to avoid placing Boise State in the playoffs if they could at all get away with doing so but if they're undefeated, what else can you do?

I guess pick a 2nd SEC team...we'll see. This will be something to watch.

I'm excluding Ohio State not because I don't think they're the best team, but because I just don't trust 20 year olds to handle "the disease of more" well and repeat as champions. Tebow couldn't get his 2009 team to do it and he was as strong a leader as they come. They are the best team and leaving them out is more about having fun and trying to see interesting possible outcomes than it is a claim that they aren't great.

Not like when I boldly stated that Alabama would absolutely not three-peat in 2013.

I fully expect a 1-loss Big 12 champion to get screwed because I expect that champion will be Baylor, or possibly TCU or Oklahoma State. I also fully expect the Big 12 champ to have at least one loss.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

BYU vs Nebraska preview

I previewed Mike Riley's first game, a home date against the BYU Cougars, check out the preview here.

As a Texas fan I've fairly familiar with BYU, although much in the way that a dog is familiar with the shock fence that defines his boundaries.

While fully admitting that my experience screams out that I have a bias that would lead me to overrate the Cougars, I suspect they are much better than people assume. Fact of the matter is, they were 4-0 last year before Taysom Hill went down and he's actually one of the better dual-threat QBs in the entire nation.

Their defense is consistently pretty good as well as they are always stocked with a supply of 22-24 year olds that have been developed for years in the system as well as much more than their fair share of Islanders who make for particularly squatty and troublesome DL and LBs in the middle of the field.

Given that Nebraska's best offensive player, Pierson-El, is out I don't understand why they should be favored. However, I am optimistic about Nebraska's long-term potential under Riley. They seem to understand who they are now and hired a coach that knows how to pursue a national recruiting strategy in which his program isn't the first dog to the bowl.

2016 commitments like Elite 11 QB Pat O'Brien, a pro-style "tree" that fits their system, and promising TE Jack Stoll indicate that the Cornhuskers are going to load up on the right kind of 3-star prospects to really take off in the future. The biggest challenge will just be retooling the OL to blow holes up the middle on inside zone, as I detail in the article.

Be patient, Husker fan, be willing to endure an upset loss to BYU now in exchange for a stronger program later.