Tuesday, February 24, 2009


For those of you who don't already know, I'm going to be running the new Ohio State blog over on SportsBlogsNation, meaning I'll be getting paid just as much as the guys at BHGP and BSD to churn out content that is half the quality of theirs on my best day and their absolute worst. Still, WOO. I'll drop a link here once it all gets sorted out, which should be in the next week or so.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Notice of potentially important things

This blog is on temporary hiatus, as I've received an offer to blog elsewhere. For like, money or something. Heard of it? Me neither. Anyway, I'm awaiting a response from the offeree (who shall remain nameless unless you've read my ravings on WLA) to my own response of "Hell yes I'd like to get paid to rub out a story or two a day". If it falls through, I'll keep posting here (and finish this recruiting talk once and for all), but if not, I'll drop a link here to the new digs.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Stalking Reviewing the Ohio State recruiting class of 2009: Runningbacks, receivers, tight end

Duron "the Deathless" Carter: all he may or may not do is catch touchdowns

The most surprising part of this particular recruiting class, for me and for others perturbed by the struggles of the offense, is the amount of skill position players signing up to play for an offense that has totaled 75 points in its last five games of national consequence. Were I a high school recruit (who isn't necessarily a lifelong Ohio State fan), I would see absolutely nothing inviting about the Ohio State offense if I were not a bruising power back like Chris Wells (or, more appropriately for this class, the wonderfully-monikered Carlos Hyde). But clearly I am not, nor was I ever a sought-after high school recruit, because no one recruits 5'9" tight ends. James Jackson, Duron Carter, Jaamal Berry, and a host of other guys who probably should have picked an offensive juggernaut that better suits their talents, chose the Buckeyes, probably hoping for something a little more impressive than, say three points in yet another game of the century. Alright, awesome. I'll be amped when we show we can actually get them the ball in anything other than a five-yard out or an off-tackle left.

Running back gets a major boost in this class, arguably the biggest out of any offensive position. Daniel Faraday Herron has next year's starting job essentially locked up; his 2nd-half performance against Texas was nothing short of remarkable given the strength of Texas' run D and sudden way in which it happened. Behind "Boom", however, it's Brandon Saine and the freshmen. If those freshmen were not phenomenally talented, I'd say this might represent a problem area for the Buckeyes.

However, Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde, and Jordan Hall all bring different skill sets into a backfield that's already the envy of quite a few teams. Given how Jim Tressel has managed his talent lately - rotationally - I would not find it particularly surprising to see a steady rotation behind Herron, with Saine getting most of the early looks to see if he has progressed at all. If he has, he'll probably earn a spot as the spell back. If he has not, then I expect to see a lot more Carlos Hyde than Jaamal Berry in his stead. Hyde is another Florida product who looks and runs like Beanie Wells, at 240 pounds with (reported) 4.5 speed. He is the prototypical feature back of the Ohio State offense, and it's all but certain he'll make an instant impact in short yardage situation, not unlike McTankly himself in his freshman year.

The predicted lack of playing time is not a knock on Jaamal Berry; he's exorbitantly talented, but he isn't a Jim Tressel running back. Jim Tressel running backs have to be able to consistently execute the disgustingly cro-mag dive, draw, and occasional tricksy off-tackle grunt work, or they won't see the field much at all. Berry, like Maurice Wells, is simply not that type of back. He'll get some reps in the latter stages of blowouts his first year, but unless he bulks up considerably and shows an ability to break an awful lot of tackles - something he'll probably have to do a lot behind another mediocre Jim Bollman offensive line - he'll probably be relegated to a Maurice Wells-like role for his entire career. This is largely due to an archaic offensive philosophy that does not recognize the values and completely different skill set offered by supposed "scatbacks" like Wells and Berry. Jordan Hall, depending on the development of the other RBs, is a probable redshirt, unless of course he burns it on worthless late-game reps like Keith Wells did last year. I for one hope he only burns the redshirt in case of another catastrophic injury at the tailback position.

The 2009 class also boasted three talented wideouts, icing on the cake of an already deep set of WRs. I hesitate to believe any of these guys will make an early impact, partly because Ohio State is already deep at wide receivers, but mostly because Ohio State still lacks a truly consistent passing game. Outside of Troy Smith's senior year, this has consistently been the case, even with three first-round wideouts lining up in the Scarlet and Gray in 2005. Anyway, I digress. Duron Carter seems to be the focus of the hype for two reasons: he's rather large (anywhere from 6-3 to 6-5 according to various scouting sites), and he's the son of former Buckeye great Cris Carter, who only caught touchdowns in four years (technically three *tugging at collar Dave Letterman-style*) at Ohio State. The main knock on Carter is his perceived lack of ESS EEE SEEEE speed (despite an Auburn offer), something the Ohio State receiving corps certainly does not lack with Lamaar Thomas , Ray Small, Taurian Washington, and a host of other young burners waiting in the wings. Carter, along with Jake Stoneburner, brings size to a receiving corps that has everything but that particular attribute going for them. While I don't expect an immediate impact from him, it will be exciting to watch him progress.

James Jackson is the burner of the group; both he and Jaamal Berry boasted 4.3 (reported, I cannot stress that enough) 40 times, and he sported offers from Michigan, Bama, Iowa and a host of other smaller schools. The Ohio State receiving corps, contrary to popular opinion, is quick, speedy, athletic, however you want to put it. Jackson adds to this. Whatever the criticism on the field is next year, chances are good none of the Scout and Rivals retards will be complaining about "not enough speed on the field", whatever the fuck that means, if Jackson, Thomas et al. see significant playing time in the wake of Robiskie and Hartline's departures.

Chris Fields is the lesser known prospect of the three; but the general theme of his recruitment was his "big-play ability", which I assume means his ability to catch the ball well downfield. How important this ability is will be seen, because it is entirely dependent on Ohio State developing that downfield passing game we've been hearing about so much. Good chance of a redshirt.

And not that I expect him to ever do anything other than block, but Ohio State did pick up a tight end, the could-you-be-any-more-whitely-named Reid Fragel, who'll get to the whole football thing after he wraps up the LAX tournament and downs a few Natties with his boys, brah. Okay, I have no idea if Reid is a bromosexual, but his name practically demands it, doesn';t it? Scout lauds his blocking ability among other things, which will, of course, be key in a Jim Tressel offense. Reid follows in a long line of big, awkward white dudes playing the TE position at OSU, and is probably going to be Ballard's successor as another glorified tackle. Interesting note: they actually say he has "deceptive speed" on his Scout profile, which is easily the most common keyword for "boy, this guy is white". And he is. Oh yes, he is. I don't expect him to redshirt, but it all really depends on what the Ohio State coaching staff wants out of Jake Stoneburner. Stoneburner was quoted as saying he expects to play wide receiver during his recruitment, but rumbling out of preseason camp last year had him playing TE and redshirting to gain muscle mass and possibly, gosh, add a nice weapon at the TE position that Ohio State might actually use (!). If Stoneburner and Ballard are your starting TEs, the chances Fragel takes a redshirt go up exponentially, but knowing Jim Tressel's love of three TE-sets, I'm sure Andrew Miller and Fragel will rotate as the third guy for most of next season.

Next up: the linebackers, the secondary, and the curious case of Kenny Guiton.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Stalking Reviewing the Ohio State recruiting class of 2009: the lines

Melvin Fellows has interspecies friends, why don't you?

So the recruiting season is in the books and Ohio State has either the 3rd or 1st best recruiting class in the country according to Rivals and Scout respectively. Recruiting has been said to be hit-or-miss and in a way it has been under Jim Tressel; he struck gold with previous 3-stars Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis, but he struck out (largely through no fault of his own) with Jamario O' Neal, Alex Boone, and others who fell prey to laziness, greed, wacky tobacky or some fun-filled combination of the three. I've always been iffy about blaming coaches for recruiting failures, and there are many good reasons why, most of them stereotypical: kids are young, dumb, arrogant, so on and so forth. If there is any group of human beings that lends itself well to stereotyping, it's teenagers of both genders and all colors. We just suck at disproving stereotypes, don't ask me for a deeper reasoning behind it.

Anyway, the way in which Ohio State has littered recent drafts with prospects has clearly had an effect on its recruiting lately, and also should continue to limit claims of the Buckeyes having "no athletes" or whatever Mark May is bloviating about these days. As a Rob Oller column recently pointed out, the class is heavy on linebackers, defensive backs, and skill position guys, but relatively thin on both lines; the defensive line will benefit from the addition of Simon and Fellows almost immediately, but the offensive line nabbed only Mewhort, Hall and Linsley. Linsley is seen as a tweener who can play and contribute on both lines, so technically it's a tie if you only count him as half-one, half-the other.

It's no secret, however, that many of Ohio State's problems the last few years or so are related in some way to the play of both lines. An influx of young talent on the offensive line is going to make or break Jim Bollman's career; that much is certain. While he's probably headed for retirement anyway, Ohio State got top line prospects from Ohio, Texas and Florida that will all now be sophomores, and who all stand a good chance of starting if they play their cards right. If they, like Steve Rehring and Alex Boone, do not pan out, it has to be hung at least in part on Jim Bollman's antiquated coaching and blocking schemes. I personally had hoped the guy would be let go at the end of last season but it did not end up being so. Jim Tressel is awfully forgiving having just watched easily the worst Ohio State offensive line in the last twenty years, outside (maybe) of the leaner years under Cooper. It's quite rare for freshman to start at Ohio State on the offensive line without massive attrition this team probably couldn't handle, so I wouldn't look for Mewhort, Linsley or Hall to see the field much aside from mop-up duty. However, if the line is as subpar as I think it will be, it's very possible they could work themselves into one of those useless rotations Tressel likes doing.

On the other side of the ball, Jim Heacock, former defensive line coach, achieved marginally better results with his specialty, but again, Ohio State could not find a consistent defensive tackle out of a rotation of Cameron Heyward (who took on more of a starting role near the end of the season) Nader Abdallah, Todd Denlinger, Dex "the Lawman" Larimore, and Dough Worthington, an end playing wildly out of position on passing downs who actually holds up rather well. Technically, it's possible Johnny Simon could be phenomenally talented, and that he could come in and provide some consistency on the interior, but I would not count on it. He may even redshirt; the line is deep, just not particularly good. Simon could also probably use a year to get up to linemen size; he only checks in at a depressingly light 273 pounds according to his Rivals profile, making Doug Worthington look like a lardass in comparison. Here I would expect continued rotation, but these guys are eventually gonna get better right? Two years running we've rotated the tackles heavily and they've improved slightly, but not enough to stop determined running games - that are good, you do not count, Michigan State- nor can they rush the passer with consistency. I tend to think Ohio State's defensive ends are very, very good - Thaddeus Gibson, for instance, showed flashes of being the next Gun Show against Penn State - but they are limited by having average defensive tackles working alongside them. Lawrence Wilson has been plagued with injury, but if he can stay healthy, he and Gibson will be a very dangerous set of bookends. It's hard seeing Melvin Fellows crack the starting line-up, which is no knock on him; Ohio State has defensive ends out the ass. Safari Planet joins Keith Wells, Nathan Williams (who may miss games for robbing a Kwik-E Mart or something), Thad Gibson, Solomon Thomas, and Willie Mobley, and Rob Rose too, who also works as a tackle-end tweener.

As it stands, this recruiting class will probably not have a huge impact on the lines immediately. The Buckeyes are already quite deep on the lines; however, if both lines continue to underperform, I could easily see Simon or Hall replacing a benched senior or two. I do not believe Ohio State suffers from a lack of talent as Oller hints above, mostly because it doesn't jive with the recruiting stars on various sites. I honestly think it has more to do with development, and most of that falls on coaching. Unfortunately, we will not be getting the changes on the staff we had hoped for until at least next season (sigh), so the prognosis for these young players is not good. For now. I'm still holding out hope that Bollman and Heacock will get axed next season regardless of record and we hire, I don't know, Oklahoma's offensive line coach to replace Bollman or something. I know it won't happen, but a guy can dream, can't he?

Monday, February 2, 2009

What's Wrong with the Big Ten: Cratered Expectations

(ed. note: something resembling real life has caused me to put this off for an extended period of time - this blog will be updated more consistently when it isn't the offseason, obviously)

...and moonlights as head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team

The third and final category of afflictions currently facing the eleven illustrious proud existing Big Ten programs is one that is difficult to alleviate and for which blame, if there is any, cannot be easily laid at any one individual's feet. Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota, and Purdue - one prestigious world-class institution and three kinda-good state schools not unlike Ohio State- haven't been football factories since at least the '60s and will have difficult times becoming one in the near future. This I understand. Indiana is a basketball school, and thus, realistically, the football team will never take up much more than 20-30% of the average Indiana fan's attention, provided their roundball program stays good. Purdue is similar, and Minnesota may be heading that direction as well. Northwestern, on the other hand, has a knack for fielding annoying, scrappy teams in both revenue sports that will upset your sorry ass if you aren't paying attention. The problem with the programs I'm outlining is a general malaise within the programs; the fanbases are settling for less and getting it more often than not, but as we'll see, these programs are showing signs of being on the up-and-up already.

Minnesota is particular is interesting. I considered leaving them off this category after seeing them schedule a game against USC. Now, Minnesota is going to get drawn and quartered and then have their arms and legs individually drawn and quartered individually by USC in both games, but it showed me that the football program is looking to get exposure, and actually, shocker of shockers, get better with the ensuing recruiting buzz. Tim Brewster is probably not the greatest gameday coach. His teams exhibit extraordinary amounts of boneheadedness on both sides of the ball and, for all his excitement (and consumption of otherworldly amounts of cocaine and cocaine-related products), his antics have not produced the enthusiasm he probably wants from the fanbase (hence the lack of expectations). However, he's recruiting relatively well: Minnesota had the 59th ranked class in 2007, but shot up to 28th in 2008 according to Scout.com. 2009 is iffy at 45th, but if his teams start producing on the field, I have the slightest bit of confidence he can turn it around and field relatively competitive teams at some point in the near future. Right now, I can't advocate for his firing because his body of work is so relatively limited, and Glen Mason had gutted the program talent-wise at the end of his tenure. I recommend a new defensive coordinator, but they have one after Ted Roof bolted for Auburn.

Indiana is one of the schools I simply cannot fault for not fielding a competitive football team. It is the definition of a basketball school. Provided Tom Crean gets them back on track, this should not change unless the football team enters an era of sudden, shocking dominance. So what can they do to at least make bowl games consistently and give the Big Ten the impression of depth at even the basement level? It's safe to say Indiana talent is not anything anyone will be building a program on any time soon. They've already "gone spread", but they've basically been that way since the days of Antwaan Randle El. If Indiana really wants football to blow up for whatever reason, it has to get a more exciting head coach. Prior to writing this piece, I had to sit and think hard for nearly 45 seconds before I could name Terry Hoeppner's successor Bill Lynch. There is simply nothing remarkable about him. It's an odd criticism to have, but when you're Indiana, the guy selling "no bowl wins since the Gulf War in something called the Copper Bowl" is awfully important. The Googles tell me he's a nice guy. One particularly dark, lifeless, scary armpit of the internet emphatically believes he may be, but he's also a jackass who can't coach. Yeah, you read that guy right: he expects Indiana to win Big Ten championships. In like, football. While I don't think anyone outside of that guy sets their expectations above 8-4 and the Insight Bowl or some other bowl in a horrid southern backwater, I do think they'd like to see their team stay competitive on occasion with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State et al. To me, the best way to build a struggling program is around a younger coach who can relate to his players. Bill Lynch, that is not.

Purdue next year will be the second Big Ten team this decade to go the "hand-picked successor" route. Danny Hope, cloned from one of Joe Tiller's tusks served as offensive line coach this past season after being brought up from Eastern Kentucky. Hope had a winning season all five years at Eastern Kentucky, setting up a good precedent for the program. Not a good sign, however: his first recruiting class: 64th,
worse than such college football luminaries as Washington State, Duke and Baylor. This, of course, cannot all be laid at his feet and his first few years should see him being granted leniency over Tiller's turrible recruiting of late. I think it's safe to say that Purdue's offensive system has at the very least gone stale; if Hope wants to give defenses fits with a spread attack, he needs to recruit mobile quarterbacks and lightning dwarf skill position players, and he needs to go after the state of Florida like a pack of dogs on a one-legged cat. Literally every quick shifty little bastard not picked up by an SEC team, Ohio State, Michigan or USC, needs to be getting his ear talked off by Danny Hope.

Northwestern is a team and a program that really only needs a defensive identity. The offense has routinely been one of the hardest to stop in the Big Ten; even Ohio State and Michigan have had their troubles with the Purple Patricians, and this year's Alamo bowl appearance and promising shifty little bastard Mike Kafka probably starting next year, it's safe to say that this is a program mostly on the up-and-up, four straight dick-kickings by Ohio State aside. It's also safe to say that they probably will never be among the elite, lacking the prestige, the tradition, and the academic flexibility of most other big name programs. Nonetheless, Northwestern was a thorn in the side of Missouri and has a good chance of being more than that if it can just find some defense.

In sum, the Big Ten is not in good shape; this we all know. But amongst the true dregs of the conference - Minnesota, Northwestern, and even Purdue, there are small modica of hope, even if it's entirely in the future. At the top, the Big Ten needs tweaking. In the middle, it seems to be needing overhaul. At the bottom, it may be improving more than anyone realizes if the new coaching hires actually pan out the way the schools want them to do. This is, of course, conjecture; the Big Ten's future may exceed my wildest dreams and it may slip into (remain in?) the dregs of the BCS system with the Big Easts and ACCs of the college football world. But it doesn't have to be that way. Each of these programs can improve in some way. If you're a conference strength goomba, this is how the Big Ten gets better.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What's Wrong With the Big Ten: Dead Weight

Single-handedly destroying once-proud programs, one loss to a MAC team at a time

To some, this section may seem a little harsh. After all, the gentlemen pictured above are in the early stages of their coaching careers at their respective schools, one took his team to a Rose Bowl, and the other took his team to 12-win season in 2006. Both of them seem like relatively nice guys, in the same way everyone seems like a "nice person" when you hardly know them beyond a shared conversation or two. In all honesty, one is arguably a cokefiend and the other is arguably a meathead, possibly a hellspawn. I have no problem criticizing either of these two.

We begin first with Ron Zook of Illinois, more popularly known as [NAME REDACTED] to Blogfrica. His first season can be forgiven; he took over a team with really no talent to speak of left over from the Ron Turner era, and lead them to a 2-9 season. His second season is when Illinois boosters and the athletic department should have gotten a little wary of exactly what was going on in the wonderful little world that must exist in Ron Zook's head. He named Juice Williams his starter shortly into the season. This starter completed 39.6% of his passes on the season, looking like a freshman in every single game but being bailed out by yet another hapless Michigan State team under John L. Smith. There did not appear to be much hope for the future as the coach clung desperately to the promising-but-still-very-raw scrambler with a howitzer arm. Illinois actually improved on its loss total under the new scheduling rules, losing 10 games out of 12 and signaling what was thought to be an early doom for the Ron Zook era. To be honest, calls for his job at this point would have been very Ohio State - ridiculous and way too damn early. Yeah, it sucks, but you can muddle through. I tend to subscribe to the "three years and you're out" school of thought; if a coach takes over a failing program and doesn't lead them to at least a .500 season by his third year - and this "time limit", if you will, is negotiable, depending on circumstances such as the overall talent level when he arrives, expectations, etc. - he should probably be let go.

It can be said Zook responded quite well; the next season the Illini won 9 games, including a surprising win over top-ranked Ohio State. Well, I say this with tongue in cheek, because if you followed that team over the season, you knew it didn't look like a number one team and was only there because literally every team ahead of them at the start of the season had lost at one point or another. Ohio State was not that good, but it was still a respectable, potentially-program-building win for Zook, who rode his star quarterback all season long. Illinois went to a Rose Bowl and found itself in well over its head, but considering Williams was only a sophomore, things were looking bright.

It was not until his fourth year that the Zooker aura fully set in. Given the loss of some senior leadership on D (and undoubtedly the greatest patriot this country has ever known), a step down was expected, partially offset by the gains the offense - especially the passing game - was expected to make. Really, Illinois delivered on offensive expectations in terms of an improved passing game, but the running game was surprisingly lackluster; surprising because the talent was there, and so, arguably, was the offensive line. The passing game did improve drastically, but key elements of what made the Illini competitive in the Big Ten again - the rushing game and the defense - were simply gone. Illinois lost a defensive tackle, two linebackers, and both safeties, and utterly fell apart. That's a little more than half the defense returning; it should have taken a step back, but it should not have collapsed as it did in 2008. Were I an Illini fan, I would be extremely wary of this guy in 2008; if the team does not improve drastically with the influx of young talent, it has to be time to let Zook go. Florida fans would probably be the first tell you that this was not a good hire; the man has turned in one good season off the backs of unbelievable amounts of talent given Illinois' recent history. A younger, more - uh - rational coach - and some defense, jeez - would be a Godsend to the Big Ten and Illinois.

Wisconsin. Hoo boy. I have to say that I liked Barry Alvarez. A lot. Something about him made him more likable than your average coach. No idea why. When he left for Wisconsin's AD job, I was fully confident the guy would only approve a genius of a successor, one who wouldn't change what Barry left behind but also build on it. When he chose Bret Bielema, I figured the Bielema would do a heckuva job (Brownie) so and so forth and what not. I really didn't think much of it until he went 12-1 in his first season - on, admittedly, a schedule featuring various schools for the Blind and Infirm plus Michigan as the only vaguely good team - and Bielema looked like the Wisconsin Cheese Warrior God-King. I'll admit, this was my Scout/Rivals period, and I bought into the hype.

Then 2007 happened, and then 2008 happened. In both years, Wisconsin was expected to at least compete for the Big Ten title, and possibly find itself in a nice little BCS spot - probably the Rose Bowl - if it does just that. 2008 was a down year for Michigan, and 2007 was down for both Michigan and Penn State. This should not have been hard. In 2007, after a 5-0 start, Bielema met with his brother-in-failures Ron Zook, and lost. Wisconsin then lost four of the next eight, including a 31-point curbstomping at the hands of Penn State. Anthony Morelli was the starting QB for Penn State. ANTHONY "2-INTS A GAME" MORELLI. This is not that hard, Bielema.

I, and perhaps many Wisconsin fans, forgave Bielema for 2007. He's not perfect; while the conference may be down, this is a "young team" and all that. But 2008 was just bad. You goons lost to Michigan. Ten dickless paraplegics with an emu playing quarterback could have beaten Michigan this year. Actually, they did: Notre Dame beat Michigan 35-17; though to be blunt, Michigan would probably have won that game had the return team not been dipping their hands in butter and bacon grease on the sidelines. The heartbreaker to Ohio State is forgivable - by the end of the season it was obvious Ohio State was better than its 35-3 shitkicking at the hands of USC, and that it could, in fact, hang with 'elite programs'. A 20-17 loss to that team is entirely forgivable.

But, 48-7 to Penn State? At home, night game? That's fail with a capital "FUCKING HELL YOU INGRATE". Purdue held Penn State to 20 points, Ohio State held them to 13. Wisconsin's talent on defense is not that far removed from either of those two schools. Penn State, as I said before, during, and after the season, was not that good. Upon being smacked in the mouth, as pointed out in the post prior to this one, Penn State Big Tens itself into an oblivion of off tackle runs for three yards and wobbly underthrown desperation bombs. Wisconsin supplied all the butt Penn State wanted it to in that game, and it didn't have to be that way. This is Bielema at his worst; losing games Wisconsin, on talent alone, has every reason to be quite competitive in, and possibly win. Barry Alvarez would have won that game, I say this with no proof whatsoever but goddamn it, it violates laws of nature to lose that big at home if you aren't Just Northwestern, or Indiana. That's a loss the dregs of the conference look at and say, "damn, they just got their shit pushed up". Is it all Bielema's fault? It's never "all" anyone's fault (except when talking about Jim Bollman and the Ohio State "offense"); there are a number of factors including Wisconsin's terrible luck of the draw at quarterback, namely: they all suck some serious dong. Allan Evridge was unspeakably awful against almost everyone, and Dustin Sherer, while respectable until has late collapse in the Champs Sports Bowl, didn't really add anything to the offense.

I am not arguing that the aforementioned goons be fired because they aren't winning enough. If I were Barry Alvarez and whatever old white dude Illinois calls its AD, they'd be out the door based on a lack of results and the fact that they are not bringing anything new to the program, anything for recruits or the fanbases to get excited about. I call them dead weight because that's what they are; you don't have to get rid of dead weight. You can let it slow you down, and eventually drag you down. But you don't have to do anything about it if it violates your principles as an academic institution or whatever lamebrained excuse apologists trot out when it comes torch-and-pitchfork time.

The third and final section of this prolonged, needless rant deals with the cratered expectations of various teams - and of course, their fanbases - around the conferece.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's Wrong With The Big Ten: The Bitch Mentality

You won't be needing these kidneys anymore.

The Bitch Mentality, you ask? If you aren't a college football blogosphere illiterate you read EDSBS, you should have a general idea of what I'm talking about. I'm not freely ripping from the inimitable Orson, I have my reasons. The Bitch Mentality, the state of bitchness personified by Tommy Bowden's tenure at Clemson, sorely affects the Big Ten's upper tier . In my estimate, the bitch mentality refers to Bowden's inability to utilize his talent being a genuine bitch and crawling into a hole when the going got tough.

This may seem a little generic at first; most coaches will tell you that being down fourteen or more is not the time to panic, it's the time to make sure your "execution" is perfect on both sides of the ball, that you're "winning your battles", so on and so forth. You'd get coach-speak, something Big Ten coaches seem to have down to a science. Across the board, Paterno, Tressel, Ferentz, and Dantonio all suffer from a similar problem. They're guys who project a quiet, contemplative, conservative persona in public and, for the most part, on the sidelines, while likely being fiery, angry leaders within the walls of the locker room. This is all well and good, for the most part, but I can't help but get the image that their players are not buying into the fiery exterior exhibited by the ol' softies once the camera is off. They think it's an act, to be blunt. This may seem like pure conjecture, but when these teams play games against teams with a pulse OOC, I think it shines through.

It is often observed that a team's demeanor reflects that of their head coach. The aforementioned coaches pride themselves on running "business trips" during big away games and bowl games. They wind their teams tight, telling them not to make any mistakes on and off the field. More often than not, it spills onto the field with negative effects - personal fouls, turnovers, etc. The apogee of Tressel's "business trip" mentality came one year after he ran a relatively loose ship in the desert in '06. After that debacle, the adjustment was understandable. He fired them up with a highlight tape of Mark May doing what Mark May does, and they came out tightly wound and angry, so angry they committed multiple game and drive-killing penalties, including personal fouls. This must be frustrating for Tressel, I'm sure, because it didn't seem like there was a right way to run things. Texas, USC, and LSU were all loose and carefree prior to their big games and bowl games against OSU, the Buckeyes and the Gators were the tightly wound ones. Urban Meyer channeled that anger into a largely penalty-free ferocious effort in which Buckeye dreams of glory died and hope ultimately failed. Jim Tressel could not. This makes him no less of a coach; 115 other teams probably would have lost to that LSU team, especially at the level of health it had reached prior to the bowl game.

Jim Tressel's struggles in the postseason were largely laid at his feet and his feet alone; while the Big Ten struggled overall in postseason play, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan all could point to victories over reasonably good SEC teams. As usual, the truth lay somewhere in the middle of "It's all Ohio State's fault" and "the Big 10 is irredeemably bad and will be so forever and ever anon". The reality was, the Big Ten's stubborn defiance of this newfangled "21st century" and its commie faggot football was killing it from within.

Ohio State under John Cooper, for all its failures, rolled up into joints like gangbusters more often than not (and probably rolled plain old joints with gleeful aplomb, too). While conservative at heart, John Cooper fielded arguably some of the best offenses in the history of Ohio State football, with talent unheard of in the Bruce years: George, Boston, Glenn, Hoying, Pace. Cooper was a recruitin' demon, recruitin' demons who ran an offense that was genuinely difficult to stop more often than not during the mid-to-late 90's. With the hiring of Jim Tressel, Ohio State knew what it was getting; in the Big Ten, Tressel's formula for success sounded like a winner: ball control, little-to-no-mistakes, play defense, and punt. With the possible exception of 2006, this is Jim Tressel football. If the defense can hold the opponent under 17 points - not a particularly tall task given the state of offenses in the Big Ten - "Tresselball" usually gets the job done. The problem is that against solid opponents, this has proven to be stupid, stupid gameplanning. I say this with no coaching experience whatsoever, but the results speak for themselves. As much as it may make me seem like the average Scout board denizen, the offense needs to put points on the board, many of them, in any way possible. Offenses powered by Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, even Chris "Spotless Jersey" Leak are difficult to hold under 24 points with any consistency. Playing it tight - running the ball twice before a desperate, hopeless lob to a streaking WR, lining the corners up 10 yards off the LOS - simply doesn't work against teams who have been preparing for you for a month.

Iowa, not exactly a talent haven, has its issues with the Bitch Mentality. This past year, it had good reason; it had Shonn Greene, a force of nature, in the backfield. It had no need of a "passing game". But as we saw in 2007 and 2006, when Greene was either benched, ineligible, or wandering the Tibetan wilderness, searching for the meaning of life and the secret to pwning any and every foe you'll ever face, Drew Tate and Jake Christiansen lobbing up desperation bombs to Iowa's shockingly fast white dude (they always have one, ONE I TELL YOU) does not work with any consistency either. In case you were sleeping through the early part of this decade, Iowa has always been tagged as an up-and-coming team, and more often than not, when it plays good competition, it plays relatively well, but is ultimately done in by the inadequacies of its offense. Its defense is traditionally stellar; and it should be with guys named Humpal, Klinkenborg, and Angerer routinely suiting up in the admittedly badass black and gold. But outside of its miracle, come-from-behind, pulled-straight-out-of-the-ass victory against LSU in the Capital One bowl a few years back, the Hawkeyes have precisely one "elite" win in the last six years: a 33-7 dick-kicking of Ohio State in 2004. The Bitch Mentality is strong with this one, but when it works, it's shaming Ohio State in one specific category: the Hawks have three wins over SEC teams in bowl games in the 2000's alone. That being said, Iowa on its present course is due for bowl game shitkickings, many of them, if it can get over the hump, beat Ohio State, Penn State, and make the BCS using its offensive system. I don't think it will, and thus will have to settle for beating meh SEC squads (again, nothing I can criticize as an Ohio State fan) for the time being.

Penn State actually deserves a lot of credit for breaking away, for the most part, from tired old Woody-and-Bo-and-probably-Joe-too mentalities. In debuting its magooly (second definition)-named "Spread HD" offense, the Nittanies actually seemed to be attempting to bring the Big Ten, kicking and screaming of course, into the 21st century well before RichRod got the chance to. Instead, in pressure-packed situations, the call from the zombie booth seemed to override the need for a diverse, creative offense, and Penn State folded up and reverted to the good, Christian 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality. See the Ohio State game for future reference. If Penn State placed a premium on moving the ball through the air, and if Darryl Clark was a little more accurate, the Nittanies could have had the same success through the air that Colt McCoy and Texas had with arguably less talented receivers than PSU. Nonetheless, the game ended 13-6 and offensive football in the Big Ten was set back another forty years. Another game like that and Paterno will be debuting the dazzling new "Swinging Gate" formation come September. It was ugly. In what could have been a showcase for Big Ten talent and innovation on Saturday Night on ABC, in front of Musberger and Herbie, both teams laid an offensive egg and it ended 13-6. The final touchdown was, in true Woody-and-Bo fashion, a QB sneak. It was also by a back-up who most assumed would eventually transfer, making the game even less compelling than it had been. Against USC, Penn State maintained a rather efficient blend of Paternoball and the Spread HD, but again, in clutch moments, seemed to revert to bitch status, doing the Big Ten proud in that regard. Penn State needs badly to pick and offensive gameplan - ideally the one that has the most success, the Spread SOMETHIN' OR OTHER I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU DIRTY SPANIARDS, and stick with it, through good and bad times. In the second half against USC, I'm not entirely convinced Penn State's relative success was entirely due to USC letting up on the pedal, given that USC almost never lets up on the pedal once it's up by 20 or more.

Michigan dealt a potentially fatal blow to the perception of the Big Ten as a collection of old hat programs bitterly clinging to 60's mentalities by hiring the spread-option guru Rich Rodriguez. While 3-9 is not how he or anyone else (outside of Michigan's rivals) wanted the first season to go, an unmistakable seed for success was planted. In my mind and the minds of these furries, at least. It will not be easy taking Michigan to the heights I still feel it is capable of achieving after the 2007 nadir of the Lloyd Carr era. If Woody Hayes was the God of the Big Ten's backward ways, Bo was the Holy Ghost and Lloyd was the Son. Great guy, with an excellent taste in literature and whatnot, and for the most part a good coach, but not someone who was moving the program forward. Sounds horribly cynical, I'm sure, but it's true. You saw Michigan's offensive line, it's utter lack of safeties, it's terribly thin situation at quarterback, and its utter inability to make up for the talent deficit on the field - due to transfers, early departures and a truly shocking amount of guys who simply quit football. Lloyd Carr was an old man, tired, and beaten down from years of providing consistent excellency on the field. Unlike his relatively young counterparts at Ohio State and Iowa, he had reasons for his staunch football conservatism. Michigan has done all it can to allay its bitch mentality. Now we must merely wait and see.

Next, I discuss the conference's dead weight; coaches who probably aren't taking their teams anywhere of importance.