Category Archives: NCAA Football

2013 Big XII Quarterback Rankings

By: Jeff Seiler

The Big XII has been a hot bed of quality starting quarterbacks for years now. The open, high-powered offenses have led to prolific quarterback play, All-Americans, Heisman winners, and first-round draft picks. Kliff Kingsbury, BJ Symons, Graham Harrell, Sam Bradford, and Landry Jones have all won the Sammy Baugh Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best passer. Michael Bishop, Eric Crouch, Jason White (twice), Vince Young, Bradford, Colt McCoy, and Robert Griffin III have all won the Davey O’Brien award as a top Quarterback. Crouch, White, Bradford, and Griffin also all won the Heisman. Finally, Young, Josh Freeman, Bradford, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill, and Brandon Weeden were all first-round draft picks in the last 10 years. This year’s draft should see Geno Smith, Collin Klein, and Landry Jones all drafted high. Quarterbacks have ruled this league and led their respective teams to BCS games and National Championships.

But 2013 could be a different year for the Big XII starting quarterbacks. Many quarterbacks are beginning the season as their first time starting, and the experienced guys aren’t exactly a who’s who list of big time names. Texas Tech’s Seth Doege, Baylor’s Nick Florence, Iowa State’s Steele Jantz, and Kansas’ Dayne Crist join Landry, Klein, and Smith as alumni of their respective school’s now. Texas QB David Ash is the most experienced starter and he’s split time the last two years with Case McCoy. Oklahoma State ran a three quarterback rotation much of last year and TCU will have to decide between recovering QB Casey Paschall and last’s year’s starter Trevone Boykin. Paschall should be back as a member of the football program after entering drug rehab this fall.

Here is how I would rank Big XII quarterback’s based on how I think they will perform in 2013:

  1. Oklahoma State: Wes Lunt/JW Walsh/Clint Shelf – All have experience, each having thrown for more than 1,000 yards and starting three or more games in 2012. Mike Gundy’s offense suggests that it doesn’t matter who is back there, they are going to pile up big stats. Shelf has the most experience, Walsh is higher rated, and Lunt was named the starter going into last season. Look for Lunt to reclaim the position, but be on a short leash.
  2. Oklahoma: Blake Bell – The 6’5” 250lb junior-to-be saw lots of action last season, although it was in the role of “Belldozer,” ala Tim Tebow circa 2006. He’ll take over the reins and try to duplicate Tebow’s starting success. Bell has 24 rushing touchdowns in two seasons, but in 2013 we’ll see if he throw the ball, too. He was listed as one of the top pro style QB’s coming out of high school.
  3. Baylor: Bryce Petty – Petty saw spot duty under Florence last year. Coach Art Briles is betting on Petty to break records just like his predecessors, Griffin III and Florence.
  4. TCU: Casey Paschall/Trevone Boykin – This will be one of the big storylines to watch this summer. Both players have experience and success. Look for Paschall to complete his comeback and lead this team to a possible conference championship.
  5. Texas Tech: Michael Brewer – Brewer came out of Austin Lake Travis HS where he posted big numbers and beat Johnny Manziel twice. He has similar style, rankings, and stats as Manziel did. He not only has the Tech pedigree passing arm, but also adds the dimension of being able to take off and run with it.
  6. Texas: David Ash – Mack Brown has stated that he is the clear-cut starter, stop me if you’ve heard that one before. He was hit and miss in 2012, but a strong showing in the bowl game could help relieve tension in Austin.
  7. Kansas: Jake Heaps – Highly recruited player, sat out last season after transferring from BYU where he started for a season and a half.
  8. West Virginia: Paul Milliard – The junior out of Dallas should be the starter opening weekend. He’s seen spot duty behind the aforementioned Geno Smith the past two seasons.
  9. Iowa State: Sam Richardson – Jared Barnett is transferring, which opens the way for Richardson, who started the last three games of 2012.
  10. Kansas State: Daniel Sams – An athletic QB who sat behind Heisman finalist Klein last year, completing six passes, but should provide the athleticism we’ve seen from KState QBs in the past.

The Most Disliked Teams in America

By Kevin York

Two weeks ago I started a series on the Most Disliked entities in sports. I began this little series of posts questioning Forbes original article listing the ten most disliked athletes in America. Since I didn’t agree with all the athletes on their list, I revised it and published my own. I followed that up with a post on the most disliked coaches in America, which I decided on by crowdsourcing answers from my Facebook friends and input from the other Couchletes.

I considered doing a post on the most disliked owners in America, but decided there aren’t really enough that are universally disliked right now. There’s Jerry Jones and….Jerry Jones. You could make an argument for a few others, but I realized most of the owners that we as a general public don’t like aren’t with us anymore. Guys like Al Davis and George Steinbrenner. So instead of going the owner route, I’m just going straight to the final installment, the most disliked teams in America.

In deciding the teams that belong on this list, I decided not to ask for other opinions. Not because I think I’m that smart, but because these disliked teams all really stood out. I think most would agree with the ones on this list – except maybe the fans of these teams.

In reviewing this list, I noticed that the teams on it are all popular with large, dedicated fan bases. That’s part of what makes them so disliked. You’re not going to find a team like the Kansas City Royals or the Milwaukee Bucks on this list. To be disliked as a team, there a few things you need to have:

  • Success: At some point in the team’s history, they have to have seen success. It doesn’t even have to have been recent success, just prolonged.
  • Personalities: There are very few examples of teams that become disliked for reasons other than the people on the field and sidelines. We as the audience connect with people – the players, the coaches, sometimes the owners. By the same token, we develop a dislike for people, not logos or colors or cities.
  • Good fan base: It’s not always the personalities on the field that irritate us. Sometimes it’s the obnoxious people in the stands that we grow to hate.

All ten teams that I list below have all three of these characteristics. So without further ado, here they are. The ten most disliked teams in America, at least from my perspective.

Alabama Crimson Tide

Boston Red Sox

Dallas Cowboys

Duke Blue Devils

Los Angeles Lakers

Miami Heat

New England Patriots

New York Yankees

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Ohio State Buckeyes

So what teams did I miss?

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at

Quick Slant: The NCAA and its Lack of Institutional Control

By Kevin York

Slant: Reports surface that the NCAA’s investigation into actions by the University of Miami will result in sanctions


If you find the fact that the NCAA is imposing sanctions surprising, you’re not alone. Earlier this year the NCAA admitted to misconduct during its investigation into Miami. It screwed up so bad that some of its evidence had to be thrown out and external investigation was done in the NCAA. Despite these wrongdoings, NCAA commissioner Mark Emmert decided to push forward with the case against Miami. Doesn’t this misconduct, resulting in “tainted evidence” call into question Emmert and his group’s credibility?

I have no problem with the actual allegations against Miami, but I think it’s time for administrative reform within the NCAA. How can you pin a “lack of institutional control” charge on a school when you yourself suffer from that same charge? And on that note, how can lack of institutional control still be used as a charge? Everything falls under that. Wouldn’t “failure to comply to an atmosphere of compliance” (another separate charge used by the NCAA) be the same exact thing? Lack of institutional control is how the NCAA found it appropriate to take action against Penn State for the Jerry Sandusky situation, a decision that is now coming under heavy scrutiny and one lawsuit, potentially more.

After its sanctions against Penn State were announced, Mark Emmert and the NCAA made it clear that a school’s head coaches are in ultimate control of their sporting programs. As ESPN’s Dana O’Neil points out, “Yet on Monday, when the NCAA announced the findings of an external review of its enforcement staff and its actions involving the University of Miami case, NCAA president Mark Emmert made it clear that the buck stopped well short of his office door.”

She goes on to say:

“So far on Emmert’s watch, the NCAA has bungled and fumbled multiple investigations (Cam Newton, Shabazz Muhammad and now Miami); fired two NCAA investigators; saw the exits of two enforcement administrators (director of enforcement Bill Benjamin resigned in June, just eight months after taking the job); and gone well outside of its own rulebook and sidestepped due process to punish Penn State, which generated a lawsuit from none other than the state of Pennsylvania.”

Time for the NCAA to look in the mirror. Time to reform yourself so you actually possess the authority and credibility to judge others.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york
You can contact Kevin at

The BCS National Championship: Who to Cheer for – The SEC or The Hypocrites?

By Kevin York

I face a real dilemma tonight of who to cheer for in the BCS National Championship game. Alabama or Notre Dame?

I hate the SEC. I have for as long as I can remember. I’ve grown tired of the conference’s arrogant, better than you attitude with which they approach football. I also despise what they’ve done to push us further and further toward a college football system where student athletes are paid. The SEC has a win at all costs attitude. There are a ton of examples over the past few years about situations where programs, and players, have acted in some not so ethical ways. The easiest, and probably most popular, to point to is Cam Newton, both at Florida where he was kicked out of school for stealing computers, and at Auburn, where reports were rampant that his father put out a pay for play call for any schools recruiting him. Those close to me know well my hatred for the SEC.

I grew up about 20 minutes from the University of Notre Dame. For 22 years of my life I lived in the media bubble that is Notre Dame football. I witnessed the local sportscasters and their perspective that the school, and more specifically, the football team, could do no wrong. No matter how bad the team was, even during the dark days of Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham, those guys were always talking national title. I grew weary of this extreme case of homerism.

The other thing that was prevalent around the area was an “holier than thou” attitude in regards to the football program. Academic standards, graduation rates, model citizenship were, and still are, all tossed around in regards to the Catholic institution’s football team. They may have had their struggles, but, as supporters would say, by god, they ran a cleaner football program than all those parolee SEC schools that sat at the top of AP rankings. For the most part, this was true. Sure, every now and then a rumor would surface (that would, of course, never be touched by the local sportscasters – that would be blasphemy against this great university!) that the school may have been a little lax with the grades of certain players so they could stay eligible, but on most counts it seemed to live up to its squeaky clean appearance.

When I was in college, a funny thing started to happen though. More rumors about the football program came out. I’m not talking about special academic treatment of players, I’m talking about deeper issues. Some include bar fights and alleged police assault, but others go even further and darker. When Brian Kelly took over the reigns of the program, these rumors reached all time highs, not only in number, but in darkness. These ‘issues’ never reached mainstream media though. The university’s PR program, the machine that it is, found ways to bury them. And for all the blind Irish supporters out there that want to say those rumors were unfounded and that’s the reason they never saw the light of day, I’ll reply with this: I’m in PR. I know that world and yes, what I just stated about the burial is exactly what happened.

This hypocritical nature that I sensed from the University was very bothersome. People around the country seemed to think this program and university were leading collegiate authorities on morality. I was pretty disgusted. Then in December, I finally saw it. A blog post in a leading national media outlet discussing some of Notre Dame’s dark issues. Even better, it was written by Melissa Henneberger, a Notre Dame alumni, writing for The Washington Post. Her post includes a link to an earlier story, written by her in March 2012, about some of the incidents I referred to earlier. Those incidents are sexual assault and rape, both reportedly tied to the football program and Irish players. Investigations into the incidents were conducted, but one of the victims is now deceased after committing suicide following the act and the other, as Henneberger put it, “decided to keep her mouth shut at least in part because she’d seen what happened to the first victim.” So the men thought to be responsible, and reported to be tied to the football team, were never charged with crimes. I’d love to say who one of the rumored players was, but don’t want to face a libel charge, so I can’t do that. I’ll simply say this, he’s gone on to bigger and better things than Notre Dame football.

One incident involving Notre Dame football that did receive a good deal of national attention was the 2010 death of Declan Sullivan, the team’s videographer. Sullivan was recording practice on a day in October 2010 from the top of a hydraulic lift tower, which was reported to be around 50 feet in the air. It’s common practice for football teams to record practice like this from a perspective this high. What’s not so common is to do so during a windstorm. Winds that day reached over 50 miles per hour. The tower Sullivan was recording from fell over, resulting in his death. What business did Coach Kelly have 1. having his team out in those conditions and 2. having Sullivan atop the tower?…

So back to the BCS title game. I’m left to choosing between Alabama, a team from a conference which I despise, and Notre Dame, an hypocritical program, one which I’ve grown to despise everything about. The answer to the question is actually not as difficult as I initially made it out to be earlier in this post.

Every college football program has its shadows, that’s for sure, but Notre Dame’s are of a different nature, dare I say a Penn State type nature? I mean, sexual assault, rape, suicide, wouldn’t you put those things on the same level as child molestation? I’m a Penn State fan and was disgusted by what went on there. I’m just as disgusted by Notre Dame. Sure, it’s very possible that there are bad stories about ‘Bama’s football team that could be told by someone who grew up 20 minutes outside Tuscaloosa. I don’t know those stories. I do know Notre Dame’s. Tonight’s decision is easy for me.


By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york

The Couchletes Endorsement: Johnny Manziel, Heisman Trophy

Tomorrow night, the Heisman Trophy will be awarded to the nation’s top college football player at a presentation ceremony in New York city. Three men are up for the award: Kansas State quarterback, Colin Klein; Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel; and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. All three are more than deserving of the prestigious award, but only one can receive it. We Couchletes have made our decision on who to endorse for the award, and that person is Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Johnny Manziel, or Johnny Football, as he’s come to be known, stuck out to us as the very best player in the game this year. He broke Cam Newton’s SEC record for total yards in a single season, a record some thought was unbreakable. He broke that record playing in two fewer games than it took Newton to set it. Manziel also became the first freshman to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a single season.

While some will hold his athletic eligibility standing as a freshman (redshirt freshman) against him (no freshman has ever won the award), we at The Couchletes think it just furthers his accomplishments. It’s astonishing that any player could put up these numbers, let alone a freshman, playing in the SEC, a conference that many say is the toughest in the nation. The numbers speak for themselves, it’s hard to make an argument that Manziel is not the most deserving of the award. That said, people are. So now that we’ve given our support to Manziel, we’ll deconstruct the rationale for giving the award to anyone else.

Arguments have been made that Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is the most valuable player to his team. That’s not the name of this game though. The Heisman is awarded to the most outstanding player in the country. Even if we were using the ‘valuable’ definition, Manziel accounts for over 69% of his team’s offense. That screams value. Te’o is an extremely good football player, but his position hurts him. He’s certainly deserving of all the post-season defensive awards that have come his way (Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lombardi Award), but it’s hard to justify a defensive player being the most outstanding player in all of the land (Charles Woodson is the only primarily defensive player to win the award. Even there, note that I said ‘primarily defensive.’ Woodson contributed to the Michigan offense as a receiver). Manziel, as quarterback, touches the ball on roughly half of all of a game’s plays. That’s impact. While Te’o tied for third in interceptions among FBS players, he was not among the top 50 in total tackles, nor was he in the top 50 in tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles or fumble recoveries. Sure, the decision in how ‘good’ a player is goes beyond stats, and you can argue that a good Notre Dame defensive unit around him limits some of Te’o’s numbers, but a defensive player needs to show up more in these statistical areas to warrant the Heisman nod.

As for Klein, he’s a great player, but his stats pale in comparison to Manziel’s. Competition should be factored in some as well. Klein played in the Big 12, a conference that doesn’t come close to the loaded SEC in terms of talent and overall competition. Manziel beat Alabama (ranked #1 at the time), Mississippi State (#15) and Louisiana Tech (#23). His two losses were by a combined total of seven points against LSU and Florida, two ranked teams. Klein beat Oklahoma (#6 at the time), West Virginia (#13), Texas Tech (#14) and Oklahoma State (#24). Unfortunately, he also lost to unranked Baylor in a very poor showing. With many of both quarterback’s wins over ranked teams becoming devalued as the season wore on, that Baylor loss by Klein was key to this decision because Manziel played well all season, even in losses.

Congratulations to Johnny Manziel for earning our endorsement for Heisman Trophy winner of the year. If we had money to send you a trophy for The Couchletes player of the year, Johnny, we would. But alas, we have no money for things like that, so you’ll have to be satisfied with the fact that five wannabe sportswriters chose you as the best college football player in the nation this year. Hopefully tomorrow night the Heisman Trust will agree with us and recognize you.

College Football Reform

When news surfaced earlier this year that the powers that be in college football decided to move away from the current BCS format to a four game playoff for its postseason, fans rejoiced. Finally, everyone said, a system will be in place where the national title will be decided on the field. Finally, the game’s postseason wouldn’t revolve around the mysterious BCS rankings.

Then reality set in.

Are four teams enough? What if there are two one loss teams and four two loss teams in a season? What if there are three undefeateds and four one loss teams? What about the mid major teams?

People realized that even this new playoff system would not be ideal. It has its flaws and we’ve yet to even put it into practice. How would the committee choosing the four teams make its decisions? Last week Sports Illustrated published an article giving an inside look at how that process will likely work. They put together a mock selection committee to go through the process of selecting four teams for a playoff. Give the article a read for yourself, but to sum things up, they found the process extremely difficult. Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith was part of the mock committee and is a former chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee. His feedback? He found the selection of the four teams to participate in the football playoff more difficult than selecting the entire field of basketball’s March Madness tournament.

This made me start thinking, why not move to an ultimate playoff? Why not change the entire college football system? Change things up radically. I mean, why not? The landscape of the sport has already shifted so much over the past five years. We now have Nebraska and Michigan in the same conference. Colorado and USC. Missouri and Alabama. And then there’s the bi-coastal new Big East. Can you imagine UConn playing San Diego State?

I started thinking of my own idea for a system that would work better than both the current BCS system and the future four team playoff we have coming. A complete reform of college football. Some of the considerations that came to mind were:

1. Let’s eliminate the full month that some teams now have off between their last regular season game and their bowl game.

2. Let’s actually keep the players in mind. College administrators always flinch at adding more games to the schedule, citing difficulties for the student athlete. C’mon guys. Is UConn playing at San Diego State on a Thursday night really looking out for the student athlete?

3. Let’s expand the season just slightly. There’s a 12 game regular season, a conference championship (for some teams) and then a bowl game. So a good team will play up to 14 games. Let’s play just one more.

4. Let’s completely reform the conferences. I consider myself somewhat of a traditionalist, but these new super conferences aren’t what any of us grew up with. The sense of nostalgia that comes with some of these yearly matchups will soon be gone. So why not take it a step further and really shake things up?

5. With this reform, there needs to be a certain degree of competitive balance in each new conference. There also needs to be a geographic approach in mind. We don’t need to see Boise State and South Florida in the same conference.

So here’s my idea. Eight super conferences. Nine regular season games, with seven of those in conference and two out of conference. After the nine regular season games, the top eight teams in each conference enter a conference playoff. That playoff would last three weeks and be in a bracket format (team with the best record plays the team with the 8th best record and so on).

Then the eight conference champions are all entered into a national playoff lasting eight weeks. The placements in that bracket are decided by a committee with representation from each conference. The goal in the seeding placements of the eight teams is to weight the matchups.

So with a nine game regular season, a three game conference playoff and then a three game national playoff, we’re looking at the possibility of the two best teams in the nation playing 15 games.

I know that the teams that miss making their conference playoff are losing three games from their normal schedule. College football is all about money. I have no way of proving this with data, but I think in the end, my reform will end up providing a better payout to those schools through the conference distribution of revenue. I see the conference playoffs drawing more tv viewers and thus, higher ratings, than most of the regular season games we see currently. The entire season becomes that much more important. The national playoffs would be a big money maker.

I’ve even gone so far as to create the eight super conferences that will contain all the NCAA FBS schools in the nation. I also included teams that will be moving to FBS status in the next few years (such as Charlotte and Georgia State). In creating these conferences, I tried to keep geography in mind, as well as competitive balance. In naming them, I chose names that aren’t currently in use by any conferences because this change is only for football. So current conferences would remain in other sports.

The North Atlantic Conference (NAC):
Army, Boston College, Buffalo, Maryland, Navy, Old Dominion, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, UConn, UMass, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia

The Great Lakes Conference (GLC):
Akron, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Marshall, Miami (OH), Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio, Ohio State, Western Michigan

Midwest Conference (Midwest):
Ball State, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Louisville, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin

Mid-Continent Conference (Mid-Con):
Arkansas, Arkansas State, Charlotte, Clemson, Duke, East Carolina, Kentucky, Memphis, Middle Tennessee, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest

Gulf Coast Conference (GCC):
Central Florida, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU, Miami (FL), South Alabama, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, Troy, Tulane

Big South Conference (Big South):
Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Houston, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, North Texas, Rice, SMU, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas State, UAB, University Texas-San Antonio

Southwestern Conference (SWC):
Air Force, Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Colorado, Colorado State, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, Utah, Utah State, UTEP, Wyoming

Pacific Coast Conference (PCC):
Boise State, Cal, Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon Oregon State, San Diego State, San Jose State, Stanford, UCLA, UNLV, USC, Washington, Washington State

I think these conference alignments are fairly balanced. Some appear stronger than others, but I don’t see any that stand out as being really, really weak (like the current Big East). Sure, you could say the North Atlantic Conference was weaker this year, but it’s not full of teams that are traditionally bad. Virginia Tech had a down year. West Virginia started hot and faded at the end of the season. Penn State had a real shot at going 10-2 this year instead of 8-4. Rutgers and Pitt have been competitive over the past few years. UConn and Temple are programs that are on the rise. You could also look at the GLC and say it’s dominated by former MAC teams because of the high number of teams located in Ohio and Michigan. However, I look at that conference and say it’s also loaded with high power programs with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame.

Overall, it feels fairly even to me, but let’s actually play it out (or theorize it out is probably more accurate):

If this system would have been in place this year, I think we would’ve seen conference championships along the lines of below (let’s assume that all schools were playoff eligible and not on probation for this exercise).

NAC Championship: Penn State vs. West Virginia

GLC Championship: Ohio State vs. Notre Dame

Midwest Championship: Kansas State vs. Nebraska

Mid-Con Championship: South Carolina vs. Clemson

GCC Championship: Georgia vs. Florida

Big South Championship: Alabama vs. Texas A&M

SWC Championship: Oklahoma vs. Texas

PCC Championship: Stanford vs. Oregon

So the national playoff?
#1 Notre Dame vs. #8 Penn State
#4 Kansas State vs. #5 Stanford
#3 Georgia vs. #6 Oklahoma
#2 Alabama vs. #7 South Carolina

Seems like a pretty entertaining conference and national playoff scenario.

What Happened to the Big Ten?

This was supposed to be the Big Ten’s year. Or the B1G as some are now referring to it. The conference was supposed to have a number of teams fighting not only for the conference crown, but also a birth in the BCS title game. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska were all supposed to be viable contenders for the national championship. Ohio State was also thought to be very good, but ineligible for the conference championship and national title due to penalties stemming from Tattoo-gate.

Fast forward to today…

Wisconsin: 3-1
The Badgers suffered a loss to at-the-time unranked Oregon State in the season opener. Of course, after Oregon State also beat ranked UCLA, the Beavers might be better than we all expected, but I suspect we won’t see them ranked at the end of the year. What may be worse than the Oregon State loss are the three close wins over the likes of Northern Iowa, Utah State and UTEP.

Michigan State: 3-1
Sparty lost to Notre Dame. No shame in that since the Golden Domers look pretty good this year. The boys from East Lansing also struggled against Eastern Michigan though, winning a closer than it appears 23-7 contest.

Michigan: 2-2
The Wolverines got their ass handed to them in the season opener against Alabama, a game many were expecting to be a marquee match-up. Three weeks later, Michigan lost to Notre Dame and QB Denard Robinson, a Heisman candidate in week one, now looks like he doesn’t belong on a FBS field. In between the two losses were a close win over Air Force and a blowout of UMass. Are the Minutemen even a FBS program? Seriously, I think they’re FCS…

Nebraska: 3-1
The ‘Huskers lost to at-the-time #22 UCLA in week two. They also blew out Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Idaho State. Apparently Nebraska AD Tom Osborne decided this would be the year to really test his football team by building a killer out-of-conference schedule consisting of a middle of the pack Pac 12 team, teams from such powerful conferences as Conference USA and the Sun Belt, and a FCS team.

Let’s also not forget that Iowa lost to Central Michigan and struggled to beat Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa, while Ohio State struggled with winless UAB this past weekend and Cal the weekend prior.

Over the last few years many have viewed the Big Ten as one of the best conferences. The SEC trumped all, of course, followed by the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12, in some order. They were definitely viewed more positively than the ACC, Big East and yes, MAC. This year, however, I would put all of those conferences (minus the Big East….they’re still a complete mess) above the Big Ten. Ok, not the MAC either, but they’ve made that call somewhat difficult to make.

Looking back, I’d put the Big Ten as one of the two strongest over the past 15 years or so. Want proof? Since 1999, when the BCS format was rolled out, only twice has the Big Ten not had two teams playing in BCS bowls (2002 and 2005). That’s 12 of 14 years, including the last seven straight. Pretty impressive. No other conference has that kind of track record.

Looking at the other major conferences (minus the Big East), I don’t see that streak continuing this year. I see at least two teams from each of the other power conferences that seem better than all the Big Ten teams. The SEC has Bama, LSU, Georgia and South Carolina. The ACC has Florida State and Clemson. The Big 12 has Kansas State, West Virginia and Texas (and maybe Oklahoma). The Pac 12 has Oregon, Stanford and USC. You also have to factor in Notre Dame, who looks like it could be on its way to a BCS bowl birth.

So what’s different with the Big Ten this year?

Initially I thought lack of speed was finally catching up with the Big Ten. People have talked about this issue quite a bit the past few years – really since 2002 when the Big Ten last won a national title. Big Ten players just haven’t had the speed of SEC or Pac 12 teams. People have speculated that Big Ten programs don’t know how to recruit speed. I tend to agree. They’re still looking in the midwest for speed, where, for the most part, it doesn’t exist. Certainly not to the degree it does in the south or west where high school kids can play football year round. Teams in the SEC, Pac 12, even Big 12 and ACC, have total team speed. They know how and where to find it. It’s not just receivers, it’s all over the field.

As I thought about it more though, I realized it’s not total team speed that’s giving the Big Ten problems this year. MAC teams, who they’ve struggled with, are recruiting in the same areas where Big Ten teams are, and they’re taking players that generally are leftovers the Big Ten didn’t want. But here’s how some of those MAC teams can compete. A team wouldn’t necessarily need to have total team speed to give a Big Ten team problems. They’d just need it at certain positions. For example, while the Big Ten turns out a number of top tier NFL-ready offensive line talents year after year (look at the past few years: Joe Thomas, Jake Long, Bryan Bulaga, Nick Mangold, etc.), teams also utilize a number of plodders along the O-line that struggle with speed. Many midwestern high schools still utilize a run heavy offense, meaning a lot of the guys being recruited by the Big Ten schools to play O-line are only used to run blocking. They aren’t used to facing a quick upfield rush. Quick defense ends and outside linebackers could especially give many of these plodding lineman problems. On the other side of the ball, quick receivers and tight ends could do the same because Big Ten defenses typically haven’t been built to stop that kind of offensive attack – quick, short passes OR strong downfield passing. They’re more of a stout front seven type that can withstand a power running game.

Slowly, but surely, the Big Ten has become vulnerable to speed. We’ve seen it when they play the SEC and now I think we’re starting to see it when they play others. Sure, other factors are contributing to the conference’s struggles this season, but I think speed is common across the board.

So how does the Big Ten overcome this speed problem?

They need to evolve. Adjust to the times. It’s not 1965 anymore. It’s time to update your offenses AND defenses. Some have tried to implement new offensive schemes. Most recently, Michigan went to a spread offense with a running QB. I don’t think they’ve had the other personnel to match that though. Penn State used a modified version when they had Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark at QB. They too, didn’t really have the other personnel needed. Quickness is needed all over the offense, perhaps most importantly, on the offensive line.

Odd as it may sound, the team best positioned for the future may be Penn State (yes, I am a Penn State fan, trying to stay unbiased here). While they’re going to be slammed with depth issues, they’re now running the New England Patriots offense. The offensive shift was clearly visible in the first game of the season. It’s the exact offense new head coach Bill O’Brien was running in New England as offensive coordinator. They’re actually throwing the ball…downfield. They’re using their tight ends…as receivers. They’re creating match-up advantages. They’re running a balanced offense. These things sound crazy to Big Ten teams. Big Ten teams rarely are balanced on offense. They’re heavy run or heavy pass (Purdue under Joe Tiller), not a combination. O’Brien is actually utilizing the strengths of the team he walked into. Sure, he brought his own ideas of what the offense would be, but he’s utilizing people where they’ll make the most impact – not forcing people into positions. That means he’s changing the positions some people play. The offense is one that could be difficult for Big Ten teams to prepare for. Actually, it could be difficult for many teams to prepare for. How many teams that the SEC plays have an offense that includes a decent running game, quick short passes and the potential for a downfield home run? Not too many.

Innovation is needed – and not ‘innovating’ by following what others are doing with a spread or a triple option or lining up some RB at QB, but real innovation. Do something other teams aren’t really doing. That’s where you get your advantages.

Here’s hoping more Big Ten coaches look at what O’Brien’s doing and learn from it.

By Kevin York
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kevin_york

A Good Move: Notre Dame to the ACC

I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, which is about 15 minutes from the campus of Notre Dame. While I’m not a Notre Dame fan (the homer media in the area and their overly optimistic pandering to the university turned me off as did the “real” view you get of Notre Dame and its athletics program from living that close to campus), I do hold a special place in my heart for the school having been so inundated with it throughout my childhood and early adult years.

When I heard that Notre Dame will be moving all non-football sports, and what amounts to nearly half of its football program, to the ACC, I actually liked the move. And this is coming from someone that’s been critical of that football program for year. Yet, for all my criticism of Notre Dame (which I won’t get into here), I do have to say, I respect the way they schedule. Year in and year out they have a tough schedule and aren’t putting cupcakes on it like many other D1 schools (looking at you, SEC and Big 12, as your schools complement conference schedules with the School of the Blind, the School of the Death and Community College of Northwest Ohio at Lima). This move is consistent with their tough scheduling.

Notre Dame appreciates the history of their football program. For years they’ve played the likes of Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue, Stanford, USC, Army, Navy and Air Force pretty consistently. People are worried that by joining the ACC they’ll lose these yearly matchups. They won’t. They still have 7 games per year to play against those schools. Now they also have 5 games against ACC schools – schools like Florida State, Miami, Boston College as well as Syracuse and Pitt when those schools join the conference in the next couple years. Historically speaking, I recall Notre Dame playing some good games against those teams when I was younger. Now also add potential games against Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina State? I like it as a fan of college football. I’ll watch those games.

I think the move is good for Notre Dame, the ACC and college football.

The Hypocrisy of the NCAA and a Missed Opportunity for Change

Yesterday I wrote about my feelings on the NCAA’s position to lay sanctions on Penn State stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse. I’m following up with that post today now that the NCAA penalties have been announced.

The Hypocrisy of the NCAA

I’m not going to spend a lot of words detailing my feelings on the actual sanctions. This post isn’t about that. It’s about the hypocritical manner in which the NCAA operated with its decision. A group of men at Penn State abused their positions of power. One of those men did so directly with children, luring them into trusting him and them using their trust against them to sexually assault them and rape them. The others abused their power by turning their heads and allowing the actions of the man first mentioned to continue. Ironically, a group in the NCAA, president Mark Emmert and the executive committee, abused their powers in an attempt to punish those responsible for these heinous crimes.

Emmert and the executive committee doled out punishments without going through the procedures and processes that are set for them to handle disciplinary actions. As Emmert stated, this scenario was far beyond anything the NCAA has seen, warranting special circumstances for him and the executive committee to act out of normal process. But keep in mind, the NCAA cannot address criminal or civil violations, they are responsible for addressing athletic violations. What they were essentially addressing was a cover up to protect a sports program. They actually have dealt with that before. A few times actually. The action being covered up has never approached this disgusting scenario. Covering up a tattoo in exchange for football merchandise ring in no way nears allowing a pedophile to run around campus freely. I’m not saying they weren’t warranted in bringing some kind of penalties. I’m saying follow your own processes so you can’t receive this type of criticism. You can’t look to past instances for how to handle the disciplinary action, but you can look to it for following the procedures. Don’t give people any opportunity to criticize your actions.

Furthermore, Emmert made comments about the NCAA no longer allowing sports programs to be above the education of young people and the protection of their well being. The tone has to be set that football is not the most important thing. His exact statement was, “Football will never be put ahead of educating, protecting and nurturing young people.” Um, ironically I think you just put football ahead of everything else with these sanctions. The sanctions were aimed nearly entirely at football. If you wanted to set the tone that football isn’t everything, I think you missed. You punished a bunch of kids and their fans by killing their football program. A bunch of 18-22 year olds will now have their college experience extremely altered. Some will play out their athletic careers playing for nothing. Others will transfer, affecting their educational, athletic and social lives. Yes, Sandusky’s actions altered the lives of a number of victims. But is the proper response to go after innocent students? This went beyond football and the punishment shouldn’t have focused just on football if a statement truly wanted to be made.

A Missed Opportunity for Change

Mark Emmert made several comments when announcing the sanctions against Penn State about not allowing something like this to happen again. I hope that the sanctions against Penn State actually have that affect, but I don’t think they will. I heard someone, either Colin Cowherd or Jay Bilas, mention this morning that punishing Tom doesn’t make Bob change. And I think that’s completely true in this Penn State instance. I think what will actually happen is that Bob (other schools) will exploit Tom’s (Penn State) punishment by pilfering Tom’s recruits and current players. Tom will learn from it, Bob will not.

Alabama. Auburn. Texas. Oklahoma. Notre Dame. Oregon. Ohio State. Michigan. Georgia. Florida State. Texas A&M. Florida. Tennessee. Texas Tech. West Virginia. All of these schools have a football first mentality. The football program rules all. Do the sanctions against Penn State do anything to change the athletic cultures at these schools and others like them? What actions are being taken against these schools? No, there wasn’t a child rapist running amuck at the previously mentioned education institutions, and I’m not insinuating anything along those lines is happening at any of them, but the atmosphere is ripe for cover ups to protect the football program. I grew up less than twenty miles from Notre Dame and I know of special circumstances that were afforded to that program and the players within it. This football first mentality exists far beyond State College, PA.

Mark Emmert and the NCAA had the opportunity to make sweeping changes that would affect the broad college football landscape. Instead, they acted in a rushed, short sighted manner in order to gain some short term PR benefits. Will these sanctions prevent future abuse of power? I think not. These sanctions against Penn State won’t result in true change. They issued deep and harsh punishment. The only aspect of the sanctions that is proactive in nature and can make a positive impact is the $60 million dollar fine. Everything else was reactionary.

Another aspect of the sanctions is an “Athletics Integrity Monitor” that will be placed in the Penn State athletic program. (Side note – I’m not against this, but it doesn’t make sense. Every NCAA school currently has a compliance officer, designed to ensure all NCAA rules are followed. By Emmert’s logic, since it was in his authority to address Penn State’s ethics issues, shouldn’t the compliance officer already be handling the job of this Athletics Integrity Monitor? Why wasn’t Penn State’s compliance officer just fired and replaced?) Aside from my tactical questions about the position, I actually think it’s a good move, but why wasn’t it decided that every school have one of these Athletics Integrity Monitors? Bleacher Report’s Daniel Krem posed this same question.

There were many options for addressing Penn State in a way that could spur positive change. To truly make change, far reaching and progressive change is required. To do that, the NCAA would’ve had to admit some fault in its administration of all schools though. I don’t believe Emmert or the executive committee was willing to do that.

I have a few ideas for some of these changes and sanctions against Penn State. I wonder, were any of these considered?

  • A higher monetary fine. I think I would’ve slapped a higher fine on the school without taking scholarships from the football team. Utilize the team as an advantage for something positive. Keep the $60 million dollar fine and add to that all ticket sales revenue from the football program for the next three years and 50% of all football team merchandise revenue.
  • Athletics Integrity Monitors at all NCAA schools. I covered the rationale for that earlier.
  • Limits on annual alumni donations to athletic departments. Large alumni donations lead to football programs becoming powerful. Look at Oregon as an example. That program struggled through much of the 80s and 90s. Then Nike’s Phil Knight decided he wanted to invest in his alma mater’s football program. He made large, large donations. Where do you think the money comes from for the 37 new jersey designs they unveil every year? Now Oregon has a good football team and a powerful one. I’m not saying Oregon has had any improprieties near the extent Penn State has, but the point is the atmosphere is ripe for the abuse of power.
  • Annual volunteer hours. The Penn State football team could’ve had a minimum number of annual volunteer hours they must serve for the next five years. These hours could’ve been mandated to go toward groups that benefit the victims of child abuse.

There are many more ideas like this that could’ve been considered, but were sanctions like this considered? Sanctions that actually result in changed behavior and positive steps toward changing the culture of college athletics? Probably not, but maybe I’m wrong…

Is the NCAA Abusing its Power with Penn State Sanctions?

I’ll start this post off by saying I have been a fan of the Penn State football program for years. I’m disgusted at what has come out about what went on at that school involving Jerry Sandusky and the sexual abuse of children. The leaders of the school betrayed their students, alumni and fans. However, this post is not written as a fan of the football team. My personal feelings about the school or its football team did not play into my opinions included in this blog post.

Reports started coming out today that on Monday the NCAA will announce penalties against Penn State resulting from the Jerry Sandusky crimes. It’s expected that these penalties will be unprecedented and include a large number of lost scholarships and a loss of multiple bowl games. Rumors were flying over the past week that the NCAA may impose the crippling death penalty against the university’s football program. The death penalty has only been used five times previously by the NCAA and only once against a football program. The most publicized of those previous instances, of course, was the SMU football program in 1987 and 1988.

Based on sources from inside the NCAA, some are saying this morning that the death penalty may be preferable than the penalties coming to Penn State, which is pretty shocking. These penalties must include an enormous amount of scholarships lost.

The question I have is, should the NCAA be bringing penalties against Penn State at all?

This isn’t a question of if those responsible at Penn State should be punished. They should. No question about it. However, they should be punished by legal officials, not the NCAA. Jerry Sandusky was already convicted. The others directly involved in the child sexual abuse and cover-up stand to face the legal system as well, with the exception of former head coach Joe Paterno who passed away in January of lung cancer.

But should others be punished? Should the student athletes who were recruited to play at Penn State and had no involvement in this tragedy be punished? Should the general student population lose part of their college experience, a college experience that led many of them to choose to attend Penn State? Should new coach Bill O’Brien, who was no where near the situation, be punished? What good does punishing those people do? These are questions many are asking. Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this week that addressing the problem should be done in a positive manner rather than a negative one. He said that instead of laying negative penalties on the school, the school should use proceeds from its athletic tickets sales to go toward victims of child abuse. Some criticized the idea (and Saban immediately said he probably shouldn’t have thrown out the idea), and it could potentially use some tweaks, but I think his take is along the right lines. Get some kind of positive out of this horror instead of just negativity.

So back to the question I initially asked – should the NCAA bring penalties against Penn State? The answer is, no. It sets a bad, dangerous precedent for the NCAA.

The purpose of the NCAA is to make sure all schools are participating in sports from an even, level playing field. They address issues around recruiting and scholarships to make sure everything is fair and equal. The NCAA has NEVER punished a school for criminal violations. Look back. Ohio State’s tattoo issue was based around improper financial benefits going to players. Even looking back at the sanctions issued against Baylor basketball in the early 2000s, those sanctions were brought because of illegal payments to players and recruiting violations. There was a murder involved, but that was addressed in criminal courts, not by the NCAA.

The NCAA has to be using its ‘lack of institutional control’ rule in this instance (no other violations applies), but the NCAA is going against its own process to bring these penalties. There is no Infractions Committee hearing planned, which is standard operating procedure in cases involving lack of institutional control. (By the way, is this really a lack of control? I heard ESPN’s Colin Cowherd once make a comment along the lines of, ‘this actually seems like too much institutional control.’ I think he’s right. There was definitely no lack here…) NCAA president Mark Emmert and its executive board are using the report by former FBI Director Louis Freeh as its basis of bringing a charge instead of commissioning an Infractions Committee investigation and hearing. That Freeh report, by the way, was sanctioned by Penn State’s Board of Trustees. Something like this has never been done.

Emmert, it seems, wants to be Roger Goodell. While past NCAA presidents and executive board members have stated they are not supposed to, and have no desire to, act unanimously, similar in fashion to a professional sports league commissioner, it appears this is exactly what Emmert wants to do. Roger Goodell took some flack for his heavy handed handling of the New Orleans Saints bounty situation, but he was well within his rights as the NFL commissioner. Emmert is no Roger Goodell. He doesn’t have the authority to bring sanctions and penalties against Penn State, and he certainly doesn’t have the authority to do so outside the normal lines of processes that universities are supposed to receive.

The actions here by Emmert and the NCAA executive board set a terrible precedent. This new power would allow them to make decisions and take actions far beyond their past responsibilities. Will university presidents stand up and object to this? Or will they sit back and let it happen? If they sit back, I think they will regret their passive silence at some point in the future.

The NCAA should not be involved in punishing a school for criminal behavior. Let the legal system address that. The Jerry Sandusky situation went far outside the football program. And based on the Freeh report, involved two people inside the football program – Joe Paterno and witness and assistant coach Mike McQueary. The others involved were in administration. Penn State is a public university, funded by the state of Pennsylvania. In my mind, because of that, it actually makes more sense for the state of Pennsylvania to look into penalties rather than the NCAA. This is more than a subject of an equal playing level on the football field. In fact, it has nothing to do with that. The string of actions that have come out did not  in any way give Penn State advantages over Ohio State, Michigan or Illinois on Saturday afternoons. Those in administration (former President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley) have already been removed from their positions and face criminal charges. The state of Pennsylvania should also look at forcing each and every person on the Board of Trustees to vacate their roles. Completely new leadership is needed everywhere. Those at the top of the organizational structure at the school deserve punishment. The entire school does not. Let this be sorted out in a legal courtroom. Punish the individuals at fault, not an entire group of people. And, Emmert, if you do want to try and play the ‘lack of institutional control’ card against the school, make sure you follow correct procedures.