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23 Oct 2006

Confessions of a Football Junkie: Old Enough to Know

by Russell Levine

Walter Seward is 110 years old, having celebrated the milestone near his West Orange, N.J. home yesterday. Surrounded by family and friends, Mr. Seward greeted party attendees at a table that held two items: his birthday cake and a Rutgers hat.

Mr. Seward, a 1917 graduate of Rutgers and the school's oldest living alumnus, has seen a lot of Rutgers football -- a full 90 seasons having passed since he earned his degree. It's also quite possible that he has never seen a Rutgers team better than the 2006 edition.

That's not an entirely bold statement given Rutgers' checkered history in the sport it helped pioneer. Though Rutgers played Princeton in the first college football game in 1869, it is better known for futility. From 1999-2002, for example, the Scarlet Knights went 1-27 in Big East conference play.

Rutgers did enjoy a brief period of success in the mid-1970s, compiling nine straight winning seasons from 1972-1980, including a perfect 11-0 mark in 1976. But that team, which finished 17th in the AP poll, beat only four programs that currently compete in Division IA, and the Scarlet Knights were not invited to did not play in a bowl.

Thirty years later, Rutgers stands 7-0 following its best win of the season, a 20-10 pounding of Pitt on the Panthers' home field. The win, along with a 34-0 rout at Navy last week, served notice that Rutgers intends to be more than an afterthought in the Big East, previously believed to be a two-team conference with Louisville and West Virginia both ranked in the top 10.

The win over Pitt moved Rutgers to no. 16 in both the AP and coaches polls, helping to shiny up the Knights' resume as they prepare to spend the next few weeks in the national spotlight. Rutgers gets one more tune-up for the key Big East battles ahead when it takes on Connecticut on Sunday night in a game televised on ESPN, which will also air the Knights' next contest: a home-date against Louisville on Thursday, November 9.

In another sign that things are changing in New Brunswick, both the Louisville contest and the November 25 game against Syracuse are already sold out at Rutgers Stadium.

It appears that the significant investment the school has made in its football program is finally paying dividends on the field. Rutgers joined the Big East as a charter member in football for the 1991 season and found some immediate success, going 7-4 and 4-2 in conference play in 1992. But Rutgers wouldn't win more than two conference games in a season again until last year, when coach Greg Schiano led the Knights to a 7-5 mark and an Insight Bowl bid in his fifth season.

Many teams struggle following a breakthrough campaign, but Rutgers has only built on the success of last year. It is led by an outstanding power-running game and a run-stuffing defense. Against Pittsburgh, sophomore Ray Rice carried 39 times for 225 punishing yards, and the defense limited a powerful Pitt offense to just 236 yards while piling up five sacks of Tyler Palko.

What's more, this Rutgers team has shown the ability to withstand adversity and win close games. Case in point: It appeared Pitt had seized the momentum by scoring a touchdown to pull within 13-10 early in the fourth quarter and then bottling Rutgers up at its own 10-yard line on the subsequent kickoff. But Rice immediately got the Knights out of trouble, ripping off a 63-yard carry on the first play of a drive he would eventually cap with a two-yard touchdown to salt the game away.

Rutgers has now won three close games on the road this season after earlier beating North Carolina and South Florida. In each of those contests, Rutgers looked like it might surrender a late lead before coming up with a big play to ultimately decide the matter.

Schiano's success at Rutgers, which is beginning to rival the work of Bill Snyder at Kansas State in terms of an all-time reclamation project, has not gone unnoticed. Miami, where Schiano served as the defensive coordinator before getting the Rutgers job, is having a down year and is likely to be looking for a new coach in the off-season. Schiano's name has already surfaced in the rumor mill, and he's very likely to be a target if the Hurricanes do indeed fire Larry Coker.

Still, just because Miami comes calling, there is no guarantee Schiano would bite. Rutgers was patient with him during his early struggles -- a 3-20 mark his first two years -- while it worked to improve facilities and increase the football budget. Schiano rewarded that patience by producing five, four, and seven wins the next three seasons.

Schiano's biggest coup has been in recruiting. New Jersey has long been a top producer of college-bound talent, but most of it went to Penn State, Notre Dame, or other far-flung institutions. Many a Rutgers coach arrived promising to keep the New Jersey kids home, but Schiano opted for a different approach. With his recruiting ties to Florida, he began raiding the Sunshine State for some of its leftovers. The plan was to use outsiders to build up the program, then come for the New Jersey kids once the team turned the corner.

So far, so good. The roster is still dotted with Floridians, but quarterback Mike Teel is a New Jersey product, as is impact defensive linemen Ramel Meekins. Rice and backfield mate Brian Leonard are both from nearby New York and were kept away from Syracuse by Schiano.

Rutgers has already equaled its win total from a season ago and will go to another bowl. Rutgers will be a significant underdog against both Louisville and West Virginia in the coming weeks, but Louisville has appeared vulnerable against lesser Big East teams of late, and West Virginia's run-based offense would appear to be a good matchup for Rutgers' stout run defense.

Merely a split in those two games might stamp this as the greatest season in program history.

Even Mr. Seward might agree.

John L. Smith Trophy

Before we get to this week's JLS Trophy, we offer sincere congratulations to the man himself for Michigan State's remarkable 41-38 win over Northwestern Saturday. It was right around the time that Northwestern made the score 38-3 in the third quarter that yours truly proclaimed that "nobody quits quite as spectacularly as Michigan State" -- or words to that effect -- on the Seventh Day Adventure discussion thread. Umm, guess not. As bad as Michigan State has been since its collapse against Notre Dame, and then to fall behind Northwestern by five touchdowns on the road, it's incredibly impressive that the Spartans were able to muster the effort come back. Good for JLS. He can put that one on his resume when he's looking for a job this winter.

Now to this week's winner, Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. His Cornhuskers played a terrific game against Texas, taking the lead late on a brilliant halfback option pass that completely fooled the Longhorns. Nebraska appeared to be about to run out the clock when Terrence Nunn fumbled to give Texas the ball back, down 20-19, with just under two minutes to play.

That is always a tough spot for a coach. Nebraska had all three of its timeouts remaining, but Callahan was caught between wanting to preserve time for his offense if Texas took the lead, and not wanting to give the Longhorns (who were out of timeouts) additional time to score. I don't disagree with Callahan waiting until the final 30 seconds to take his first timeout. It's what he did with the next two that earned him the JLS Trophy.

Facing a likely field goal and a two-point deficit, Callahan burned a timeout with the clock stopped to ice walk-on kicker Ryan Bailey, who was about to attempt his first collegiate kick. The mind games are great, but you cannot take a timeout with the clock stopped in the final 30 seconds of a game you're going to have a chance to win with a field goal yourselves.

Callahan then compounded the error by not having his offense ready to take the field after the ensuing kickoff. Yes, college football's silly timing rules call for the clock to start following the ball being marked ready for play, but there was no reason Callahan couldn't have had his unit standing over the ball, ready to snap it the second the clock wound. Instead, the Huskers burned their final timeout before the first down play, leaving them with nothing but hopes of a Hail Mary.

It was clock management worthy of Herm Edwards, and certainly worthy of the JLS Trophy for this week.

One last note on clock management and the new rules. Reader Chris Heinonen points out that teams trying to conserve time should have figured out by this point in the season that timeouts should not be called immediately following a change of possession, but rather after the first-down play to save the maximum amount of time.

As Chris points out, if you take a timeout before the first down play, the maximum amount of time saved is 25 seconds -- the length of the play clock. But by waiting until after first down, you can save closer to 40 seconds -- the play clock plus the time it takes the officials to spot the ball.

In addition to earning the JLS Trophy last week for his fraidy-cat punt against USC, Arizona State's Dirk Koetter also blew this strategy on USC's final possession.

BlogPoll Ballot

This season, I'll again be voting in the BlogPoll, hosted by MGoBlog. I'll post my ballot in Junkie each week. Feel free to comment -- my rankings may change based upon your suggestions.

Rankings which may require further explanation include:

  • Louisville's string of unimpressive wins drops the Cardinals behind Texas (road win at Nebraska) and Clemson (utter destruction of Georgia Tech).
  • Still hanging on to my Arkansas-Auburn-Florida-Tennessee ordering of the SEC. Not sure I believe it though.
  • Boston College surges not because a win over Florida State is that impressive, but because I feel I had the Eagles underrated. Plus, they get pulled up by virtue of their win over Clemson. And yes, I realize logic suggests they should be ahead of Clemson, but it was a fluke-ish win and Clemson is on fire right now.
  • Oregon should drop further but you get into the two-loss teams and it's kind of dicey. Plus, there is that *victory* over Oklahoma to consider.
Rank Team Delta
1 Ohio State --
2 Michigan --
3 Southern Cal --
4 West Virginia --
5 Texas 1
6 Clemson 1
7 Louisville 2
8 Arkansas --
9 Auburn --
10 Florida --
11 Tennessee --
12 Boston College 7
13 California 1
14 Notre Dame 1
15 LSU --
16 Rutgers 5
17 Boise State --
18 Wisconsin 4
19 Nebraska 3
20 Texas A&M 4
21 Oregon 3
22 Oklahoma 2
23 Wake Forest 2
24 Georgia Tech 10
25 Missouri 1

Dropped Out: Pittsburgh (#23).

Portions of this article appeared in Monday's New York Sun

Posted by: Russell Levine on 23 Oct 2006

34 comments, Last at 25 Oct 2006, 5:11pm by zlionsfan

Comments

1
by Travis (not verified) :: Mon, 10/23/2006 - 9:10pm

Rutgers did enjoy a brief period of success in the mid-1970s, compiling nine straight winning seasons from 1972-1980, including a perfect 11-0 mark in 1976. But that team, which finished 17th in the AP poll, beat only four programs that currently compete in Division IA, and the Scarlet Knights were not invited to a bowl.

It's a real nitpick, but Rutgers was invited to the then-new Independence Bowl in 1976. (To give some hint of its significance, it was scheduled for December 13, and Rutgers' potential opponent would have been McNeese State.) However, the team was upset about being spurned by the more major Peach and Tangerine Bowls, and unanimously voted to decline the invitation. Tulsa went instead.

2
by BB (not verified) :: Mon, 10/23/2006 - 9:12pm

According to the ESPN broadcast of the Rutgers/Pitt game, the '76 Rutgers team was actually invited to the Independence Bowl but turned down the invitation. So it's accurate that they didn't play in a bowl, but if ESPN is to be believed, not accurate to say they weren't invited (though it's kind of a dubious invite, as that was the inaugural Independence Bowl that ended up featuring Tulsa vs. McNeese State)

3
by Jesse (not verified) :: Mon, 10/23/2006 - 9:23pm

How does Oklahoma drop 2 on a 21 point victory, and Oregon drop only 3 losing to an unranked team?

4
by Russell Levine :: Mon, 10/23/2006 - 9:41pm

Re: 1, 2

Thanks for the catch. I have made the correction.

Re: 3

That's the difference between the BlogPoll and the AP poll. What I try to do each week is give a rolling snapshot of what I feel are the 25 best teams. I try not to be swayed by "poll momentum" so if I feel I under- or over-rated a team in the previous week, I'll make changes like the one you pointed out.

5
by Hector (not verified) :: Mon, 10/23/2006 - 9:54pm

I was in Vegas watching the Texas-Nebraska game, so I'm not completely sure that this is accurate, but I believe Texas was out of timeouts during its final drive. Given that, and given how quickly Texas made it into field goal range, Callahan should have used his timeouts far earlier than he did. If Texas scores, the Huskers would have a full minute to attempt a winning drive rather than 30 seconds. If Texas doesn't score, no harm -- the Huskers could have run out a full two minutes given Texas' lack of timeouts.

6
by Chris Heinonen (not verified) :: Mon, 10/23/2006 - 10:02pm

Alas, I sent the more detailed email from work and not my laptop, so I can't post the details tonight, but to expand on the timeout strategy, I also went back to the Miami-FSU game to open the season, where Miami called all 3 timeouts, though I didn't think of the fact they were wrong until the USC game, I just thought the new rules were stupid.

Miami called a timeout after they punted, and two more after 1st and 3rd down. 1st and 3rd down took 6 and 7 seconds to run, respectively. 2nd down, with no timeout, wound up taking 52 seconds according to the gamelog at SI I believe. So, calling the timeout after the punt stopped the clock for 24 seconds max (if they snapped before the playclock hit 0). Calling it after 2nd would have saved 45 seconds (52 - 7), so they cost themselves around 21 seconds there.

Long enough for ASU to get the ball back against USC for at least one play, and long enough for Miami to not have to rush as much against FSU and throw the INT to seal the game possibly. Hopefully the clock rules change in the last 5 minutes after this off-season, but hopefully some coach figures this out as well.

7
by Lotherian (not verified) :: Mon, 10/23/2006 - 11:12pm

Russell: Great column this week. Loved the 110-year-old Rutgers alum angle. On the poll ... Arkansas's resume seems better, to me, than Clemson's. Their loss was to a Top 3 team (one of the big boys) and they have an exception win on their resume.

8
by Becephalus (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 12:02am

Thats good Russel, poll momentum is generally bad.

9
by Dan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 6:38am

I was at the Husker-Texas game and every single person around me was asking why in the world he was calling timeout there.

10
by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 10:13am

It's equally amazing that the very day after Callahan botched his timeout use against Texas, we then saw it happen in the NFL, with Cowher botching timeout use against Atlanta, using them all to ice the kicker, then losing out on the chance of a field goal due to the lack of a timeout.

Guess it just goes to show, it doesn't really matter whether it's high school, college, or the NFL. For some reason, the clock, and timeout use, is one of those things that some teams just don't seem to master :)

11
by Domer (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 10:49am

Chris is certainly right regarding the math, but Charlie Weis (Robot Genius) added a nuance to that analysis that was evident in the ND UCLA game.

By taking the timeout before the first UCLA play, and then after 1st and 2nd down, Weis reasoned that it would provide an incentive for UCLA to run on all three downs to kill the clock, making them more predictable. If ND still had its third timeout saved for after UCLA's 3rd down play, UCLA would have had more of an incentive to pass, as the clock would stop either way (following an incompletion or by ND using its final timeout).

So Weis traded the 15 seconds for the added predictability of 3 running plays by UCLA, and it was worth it.

12
by Russell Levine :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 10:57am

Re: 11

I tend to doubt the timeout factored into UCLA's play-calling. If you pass, the fear is an incomplete both stops the clock and leaves ND a timeout to work with.

Robot Genius may be a bit of a stretch for a guy who can't seem to figure out how to keep his QB from getting killed by even not-so-awesome defensive fronts.

13
by Dennis (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 11:02am

Re: #11: I don't think that changes things much. If ND still had a tiemout for third down, UCLA would still want to run to force ND to use it's last timeout. They wouldn't want to risk the incompletion any more than if ND didn't have a TO left.

14
by Chris Heinonen (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 11:04am

#11: I had considered that aspect as well, that using the timeout might cause them to just run on 3rd down to keep the clock moving and not stop it, but I don't think that the late game strategy by the team with the ball has really changed since last year, but the strategy on when to call the timeouts has changed. If UCLA was in the same position last year, and ND had 3 timeouts (so we'll say the clock doesn't run after the punt), more likely than not UCLA was going to run all three downs.

Of course, there are games that would be exceptions to this (Miami-FSU, where they combined for 3 yards rushing, and Cardinals-Bears on MNF last week where the Cardinals couldn't run at all are good examples) where you know you have a 0% chance to run for the first down, then you might consider throwing it on 3rd down more likely than not, but I seem to recall most coaches being of the belief that they would rather the other team lack a timeout for their final drive then take the risk of throwing it and what can happen (incomplete, sack, INT, etc...).

I'm sure some coaches will view it this way, and there is also the idea that "They might fumble the ball on a running play, so if we take the timeout early, we'll save time when we recover the fumble", but generally I don't agree with that. I think if you believe you can stop them on 3 running plays, you're better off to take the timeouts after the downs than after the punt, but I also think the new clock rules are stupid in the last 5 minutes. That said, Nebraska's poor use of timeouts (they waited at least 15-20 seconds at one point to call one after the play was dead, like he finally realized it might be smart to do) makes you realize that when most college coaches are calling the timeout after the punt and not the down, it's probably not strategy, but a poor coaching choice.

15
by CA (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 11:27am

I am a Big Ten football fan, so I can't believe that I'm about to write this, and I'm betting I'm going to get bashed by fellow Big Ten fans, but here it goes anyway: I would pick both Florida and Auburn over either Ohio State or Michigan on a neutral field. I would probably also pick Tennessee and Arkansas over Michigan on a neutral field as well. That's how much better I think the top of the SEC is than the top of the Big Ten this year (and only this year; no, SEC fans, your conference is not always better, but it is in 2006).

I don't think that there is any team in the Big Ten this year as good as last year's Ohio State team, let alone last year's Penn State team, and yet the Big Ten has the two highest-ranked teams in the country, which speaks to the general lack of truly dominant teams in college football this year. It's not that the Big Ten lacks talent, but a lot of Big Ten teams (most notably Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan State, but also Minnesota and Northwestern) are playing well below what their talent levels would indicate. Really only Michigan, Wisconsin, and possibly Indiana and Illinois seem to be playing better than one would suspect based on their talent, and I think that even that has more to do with the poor quality of their opposition than the quality of play of those teams themselves. Wisconsin, for instance, appears to me to be a pretty mediocre team, one that might have gone, say, 8-4 last year, that just may well sneak into a New Year's Day or even BCS bowl game with one loss.

I think if you forced Ohio State and Michigan to play SEC schedules, both teams would probably end the season with at least two losses. I'm not saying that those one loss SEC teams that Russell has ranked 8 through 11 should be ranked above the undefeated Big Ten teams, but I would say that 2006 Ohio State and Michigan are a lot closer to 2006 West Virginia and Louisville than 2005 Texas and USC. Just my humble opinion as a guy who has watched a lot of Big Ten football over the years.

16
by Domer (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 11:40am

Chris:

I firmly agree with your last sentence. I can't figure out how coaches can get to that level and not have a strategy in place, but it often seems that they don't. As Bill Simmons suggests, they need a "common sense" assistant on the sidelines.

17
by C (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 11:58am

People who play football video games have far more experience with clock management than people who play actual football games. Video games allow you to play numerous football games, you can only play 10-16 real games a year (depending on your level). So I'd actually expect that the players (who play Madden and NCAA a lot, certainly) would be better at clock management than the coaches.

18
by Chris Heinonen (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 12:05pm

#17: Yes, except when we discover those fun clock glitches, like in most older football games (and actually the whole NFL 2K series) you could jump offsides on defense to stop the clock. This worked great since the computer would always just kneel down and lose yardage, so you could still force them to punt and get the ball with time left on the clock. Does that work in real life, of course not, but clock management seems to be one thing most coaches are just poor at and it costs many teams the game every year (The Steelers were just stupid with their use of timeouts on Sunday and should have never had to worry about the false start that cost them the chance to kick for the win).

19
by dryheat (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 12:17pm

I've always been puzzled why Rutgers could never put together a dominant team. You would figure they would be able to get enough elite athletes from New York, New Jersey, and Metro Philly to be a consistently good team.

20
by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 12:46pm

dryheat:

Here's a few reasons, from someone who grew up in the Northeast, where the same could be said for Syracuse, Maryland, BC and Pitt, all of which have had more troughs than success, though none as bad as Rutgers.

1) Only Penn State, for most of the 1970's and 1980's, even bothered to keep pace with the Midwestern and Southern schools in terms of facilities and commitment to the program. Most of the other Eastern schools did not think of upgrading their programs until it became obvious how far they were behind.

2) The demographics of the country shifted -- more people having more kids started showing up in the South and West. The major population centers of the Northeast stayed static or actually lost population.

3) Cities in the Northeast are more compact -- less open space for football fields. Additionally, shrinking tax bases meant recreation departments shifted to cheaper athletic options -- like basketball.

4) So, as Eastern football declined (except for one school), those players looking to play at the top level went South and West -- even to Nebraska, where players like Irving Fryar and I.M. Hipp preferred Lincoln to staying in Jersey.

5) Many of best athletic programs in Northeast high schools, for a long time, were parochial schools. If you're a Catholic school football player, you're not hearing "Nobody ever died for dear old Rutgers" in your dreams. South Bend isn't too far away, right? And Michigan and Ohio are closer than that, if you're willing to consider Notre Dame. Not to mention State College, PA.

6) University climates in the Northeast were not as accomodating to the political aspects of big-time college football -- both sides felt they were too good for the other, which led to blah football programs where the Sherrills left rather than butt heads at Pitt, or the Claibornes just eventually ran out of steam at Maryland and got fired. (West Virginia has always had a more Southern attitude toward the game; Don Nehlen's tenure there compares favorably with a Mississippi or South Carolina.)

JoePa may have been at Penn State too long, but part of the reason for his hagiography is that he stepped his way through all the minefields and built his program so that it ran the way the ivory tower boys wanted, and produced the way all the rule-benders envied. Nice trick, but it can't be done everywhere. A lot of New Jersey kids on his teams made it even tougher for Rutgers to break through, so thank the NCAA for its tweaking of scholarship limits. He finally couldn't take them all.

21
by BB (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 12:48pm

but I would say that 2006 Ohio State and Michigan are a lot closer to 2006 West Virginia and Louisville than 2005 Texas and USC. Just my humble opinion as a guy who has watched a lot of Big Ten football over the years.

That's more because the 2005 Texas and USC were way better than ANY team in college football this year. Michigan's D would eat Chris Leak and Brandon Cox for lunch, and the RB's of those teams wouldn't be going anywhere. I could MAYBE see Tennessee, but Ainge is prone to some rotten games too. Michigan wouldn't need more than 14 points to beat those teams, and I have no doubts they could get that much. Seeing as I agree with OSU being ranked ahead of Michigan for now, I'm pretty sure they'd beat those teams too.

I think the SEC teams this year were overhyped, I don't think they'd beat USC or either of the Big 10 teams on a neutral field. Their schedules are tough because there are 4 or 5 fairly evenly matched good teams at the top, but no great teams. UM might be a great team with Manningham on the field -- their defense is dominant. OSU gets closer and closer every week to being a great team with their defense looking stronger as the season goes on and an unquestioned offense. I haven't seen greatness from any of the SEC teams I've watched.

22
by dp (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 12:59pm

RE: #19.
I'll try to answer without writing a novel, but there really is no short answer to your question/statement.
Here a few of the reasons why Rutgers couldn't sustain a high level of success prior to Greg Schiano taking over.

1.) New Jersey pro sports - South Jersey is an extension of Philly, North Jersey is New York. Within a 2 hour drive of a centrally located Rutgers you have 3 NFL teams with huge fan bases, plus several other pro sport franchises. With that, RU never got the media attention (until now) that the star kids craved from playing at at school that is the main attraction in a specific area, like a Nebraska.

2.) Academic Support - RU doesn't have a General Studies major and before Schiano became head coach, they had little to no academic support. So the star recruits that went to RU academically, had no easy way to adjust to college life. Now RU has one of the best graduations rates in D1.

3.) Facilities - Before Schiano, RU had nothing, now they have one of the best weight rooms in the country.

4.) Negative perception and lack of trust amoung NJ high school coaches. Recruiting is a lot about building relationships, and NJ coaches didn't like the fact that the previous RU head coach (Terry Shea) was a "West Coast" guy. Schiano, a Jersey guy came in an rebuilt relationships with the NJ coaches, he or his staff visit every one of the NJ high schools every year.

5.) Turning around negative perception. The fact is that NJ/NY recruits had a negative perception of RU. When he got here Schiano leveraged his good standing with South Florida recruits, who really had no preconceived notion of Rutgers to build a foundation. When the NJ/NY recruits saw that some good South Florida guys were aboard, they started committing also.

How's that for keeping it short.

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

23
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 1:21pm

I agree with C. While there are definitely situations aside from bugs that are significantly different in video games (players who always go for it on fourth down, try onside kicks, go for two, although you could argue that that is also better, because the players are making decisions based on trying to win, not trying to hold the score down), video games do give you the opportunity to gain a lot of experience in a short time.

In general, this might not be particularly helpful, but with respect to rule changes (assuming they're implemented by the games - I'm not sure, but I don't think NCAA 07 runs the clock after a change of possession), it seems like playing a number of games would help to familiarize you with situations you might face in real life. However, you'd have to have the time to play ... but I think the common-sense assistant could handle that, because he presumably wouldn't be doing too much between NCAA's release date and the start of the regular season.

Then again, it would have to be an assistant. I can't see a head coach admitting that he called a time out in a non-book situation because of a situation that occurred in NCAA ...

24
by Rob S. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 1:53pm

Regarding clock management, let's not let Charlie Weis (the genius) off the hook. With UCLA ball and 2:20 left, ND with all their timeouts, he took their first timeout pre first down, then UCLA ran 1st-3rd downs, running down the clock to about 1:00 (the right strategy).

Then Dorrell took over (this UCLA fan couldn't look). 4th and 8 clock running, and he... takes a delay of game penalty? Whaaa? Why not snap with 1 second, is that 1 second really worth 5 yards? To make it worse, UCLA punts and ND is flagged for holding... pre-kick! Without the delay of game, 1st down UCLA, kneel down, game over. With the penalty, 4th and 3. Dorrell rightly decided to re-punt, if for no other reason than to take 10 seconds off the clock. Interesting, though, ND waited 4 seconds to snap after the ref wound the clock on the change of possession... of course the clock operator didn't wind the clock as he should have, but Weis didn't have them ready either.

Of course, after shutting down the ND offense all day, Dorrell goes to the prevent, Szamardjia TD with 17 seconds left. To make it worse, Bruins let 7 seconds tick off the clock when they got possession and they wound the clock.

25
by Rob S. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 1:56pm

Oops... sorry I didn't see comment 11. I think I still added something though.

26
by Chris Heinonen (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 2:18pm

#23: It's somewhat similar to online poker in that regard. Yes, the pros are out there in the live games (much like pro coaches aren't playing many games of Madden I bet), but you can play 5-10 times as many hands in online poker as you can in live poker, no question. The rate at which you gain experience is so much greater. It's not the same, not by any means, but I imagine in the future when we get coaches that are used to playing games like that and doing different strategies, we might see less Martyball-style games (much like poker tournaments are now much, much more aggressive than they used to be, thanks to the online players).

#24: I actually sent this initial email to Russell about the clock while watching that UCLA game, since I could believe that Weis can make $3 million more than me but can't call a timeout correctly to save himself, and I have never understood taking the delay of game penalty on that punt. It gives the clock operator a chance to possibly start the clock 2-3 seconds later on the snap than when it keeps running, and in this case, it makes it harder to angle a deep kick out of bounds to prevent any return (I'll ignore the holding, as it happened after the delay). I also hated to see ND win (though I'm a long suffering Oregon State fan, not UCLA).

27
by dp (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 3:27pm

these columns and comments are disappointing given the idea behind the site. hopefully i'm just dead wrong, and i can at least live with the peace of mind that i'm not in a twilite zone episode. given that the intro to the weekend's games were of the mindset that the huskers would get beat soundly - at least a touchdown i think was the prediction - and that callahan should be fired, the obvious comment to that game would be to say 'hey, nebraska is actually pretty good.' solich was an awful coach and an awful coordinator, so much that he took the nation's best team and slowly worked it below every reasonable level of competition to a point where every team in the conference was capable of beating them. the fact that it took solich several years to find another coaching job with one of the unimpressive non-state ohio teams, with a lengthy list of players who have been arrested and continue to get arrested with no reaction from the school, coach or team, and solich's own drunk driving arrest would obviously suggest his getting fired in nebraska was not eve close to a bad thing. or, to put it bluntly, if it was such a bad move by nebraska to fire such a great coach why is it nobody else wanted to hire him? meanwhile callahan has had to work with a very non-top 25 team with no real personnel capable of running his system forcing him to build literally from the ground up while getting pounded with idiotic rhetoric at any slight misstep. he just doesn't have enough players right now and the majority of that near win vrs a top five texas team, a team that mite even be the true #2 in the nation, was all callahan. to give him yer smart alecky award for botching some of the timeclock when he was pinned to the wall and probably couldn't change the outcome anyways is really misguided. the motto of the nfl is any given sunday, but in college football everything so reactionary and mapped out that nobody knows what they are really talking about. the fact that you can't find anybody on michigan's schedule to beat them should make you question their competition instead of automatically annointing them #2. and with florida, or the sec in general, if you feel like the schedule eventually brings a loss, then that should mean they are good and their competition is good. it should be obvious the pac-10 is very strong this year, but for some reason usc is downgraded for being predicted to lose a game in the future. news flash. notre dame is not a good team, and i hope that whatever the outcome from this upcoming notre dame-usc contest that people use it to seriously analyze the teams instead of looking for the next good excuse for pushing some silly storyline. if you really want to give a lame coaching move award why don't you take a critical look at the choke job ucla managed to come up with by letting notre dame go 80 yards for a winning touchdown in a matter of seconds by throwing to their only good receiver who was inexplicably left uncovered.

28
by Chris Heinonen (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 4:23pm

#27, no one is saying that Callahan didn't take over a program that had been run into the ground from how it used to be, or that he hasn't done a great job recruiting (I hate Nebraska, but I'd love their recruiting classes), or that they won't be a good team. What everyone is saying is that Nebraska had a chance to win the game on Saturday. They had a very good chance (and would have won if they hadn't fumbled that 3rd down conversion). Then, with a great chance to win, and still only going to be trailing by 2 points if Texas scores a FG, Callahan manages to completely botch the management of the clock in the last minute of the game which puts his team in a far, far worse position to win the game.

Yes, they were expected to lose, but they could have won, and his poor decision making at the end cost them 13 seconds and a timeout. Instead of getting the ball with 40 seconds and a timeout to use and needing to go around 50 yards for a chance to kick the FG to win, they had 27 seconds, no timeouts to do that. If their QB had the middle of the field to work with, they would have had a much better chance to gain that extra yardage, and they had time for 2 more pass plays as well. Nebraska might be OK this year, but if they're in the same position in a couple years, where they need to drive at the end of the game to keep their national title hopes alive, don't you hope your coach has an idea how to manage the clock? Even if he brings in the best players, he still can cost them the games if he makes decisions like that.

29
by Kevin11 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 7:54pm

Just for kicks, my Top 25:

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. Southern Cal
4. Texas
5. Arkansas
6. West Virginia
7. Auburn
8. Louisville
9. Florida
10. Notre Dame
11. Tennessee
12. Boston College
13. California
14. Clemson
15. Rutgers
16. Wisconsin
17. LSU
18. Nebraska
19. Boise State
20. Texas A & M
21. Wake Forest
22. Missouri
23. Oklahoma
24. Georgia Tech
25. Washington State

30
by Kevin11 (not verified) :: Tue, 10/24/2006 - 8:08pm

solich was an awful coach and an awful coordinator so much that he took the nation’s best team and slowly worked it below every reasonable level of competition to a point where every team in the conference was capable of beating them.

Solich at Nebraska:

1998: 8 - 4
1999: 12 - 1, won the Fiesta Bowl.
2000: 10 - 2
2001: 11 - 2, played in National Championship Game.
2002: 7 - 7
2003: 9 - 3, fired before the Alamo Bowl.

That doesn't look too bad to me.

the fact that it took solich several years to find another coaching job

Solich sat out 2004, altough he was offered the HC job at Army soon after getting fired at Nebraska. He took over at Ohio before the 2005 season.

The fact is it took him one year to find a job, not several.

Nebraska's firing of Solich was shameful, and the university got it's just desserts when they were embarrassingly turned down several times by big name coaches before settling on Callahan.

31
by dp (not verified) :: Wed, 10/25/2006 - 12:16am

>#27, no one is saying that Callahan didn’t take over a program that had been run into the ground from how it used to be, or that he hasn’t done a great job recruiting (I hate Nebraska, but I’d love their recruiting classes), or that they won’t be a good team.

this is incorrect. from the start the standard media line was that the coaching change was a horrible mistake, and it continues locally, after the usc game, and on message boards like these. the #30 post proves this point. people don't even credit them for their bowl victory last year over michigan choosing instead to blame the refs. espn on abc brings it up every week. so there's that. as for solich's record, fine. what one person sees as a favorable winning percentage another sees as taking a dominant team (3 titles in 4 years was it?) and turning it into a .500 ball club in four years, the same amount of time it takes a high school recruit to graduate. if he wasn't such a bad coach and it would follow then that he deserved to be the head guy at a major program at nebraska, then he would have landed a better coaching gig than ohio.

32
by Vinny (not verified) :: Wed, 10/25/2006 - 4:03am

No question Solich is the proponent of an offensive system that most football types consider outdated. So that obviously didn't help bring in job offers. But remember Solich turned 59 right about the time he got booted from Nebraska. I can't think of a major program that is going to hand the keys to an outsider whom they're afraid might be a couple years from retirement.

33
by Kevin11 (not verified) :: Wed, 10/25/2006 - 4:07pm

what one person sees as a favorable winning percentage another sees as taking a dominant team (3 titles in 4 years was it?) and turning it into a .500 ball club in four years

9 - 3 = .750, and Nebraska is about as good right now under Callahan as they were under Solich in 2003.

if he wasn’t such a bad coach and it would follow then that he deserved to be the head guy at a major program at nebraska, then he would have landed a better coaching gig than ohio.

Um...no. That provides no evidence of whether or not Solich did a good job at Nebraska.

34
by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Wed, 10/25/2006 - 5:11pm

dp, for future reference, capital letters and paragraph breaks make it much easier to read what you are trying to say.

I don't see why not finding anyone on Michigan's schedule who can beat them makes them a worse team. Sagarin rates their schedule about the same as Florida's and a bit stronger than Ohio State's. Yes, they have beaten some teams from the suck that is the bottom half of the Big Ten this year, but they have also worked their way through the top half of the conference, with the exception of Ohio State.

It's all very well to say that Notre Dame isn't a very good team, and perhaps they aren't, but if they play a reasonably difficult schedule and beat almost everyone on it, then it's kind of difficult to justify that opinion (as much as I would like to).

In addition to Kevin's point, I don't see how you can suggest that Solich made Nebraska into a .500 team. His record in his first four seasons was 41-9, and it wasn't like he was hiding his own recruits in a barrel, waiting until Osborne's players all left and then whipping them out for the 7-7 record, and even if he did that, it wouldn't explain where the 9-3 record came from. It's not like he went back and used Osborne's players for another season.

Besides, the 7-7 record included losses to Texas, Kansas State, and Penn State, all top-20-caliber teams, and Colorado, probably just a notch below. By Nebraska standards, it may have been an off year, but it could be argued that it was just as much from other teams improving as it was from the Cornhuskers declining.

In general, college head coach hiring practices are by the book: you can only hire someone from a lesser or equal program if they are coming off a great season. The fact that Solich looked at Conference USA and landed in the MAC simply means that the few big-name positions that became available were filled according to the book.