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24 Oct 2005

Confessions of a Football Junkie: Big-Game Brown

by Russell Levine

How quickly reputations change.

At the start of the college football season, Texas coach Mack Brown was known as a great recruiter who couldn't win the big game, thanks mostly to an 0–5 record against arch rival Oklahoma since 2000.

The best comparison for Brown's career at Texas seemed to be John Cooper's tenure at Ohio State, during which he compiled a 111–43–4 record from 1988–2000. Cooper routinely churned out 10-win seasons and first-round NFL draft picks, but an inability to beat the school's chief rival eventually spelled doom for him in Columbus. Cooper was a maddening 2–10–1 against Michigan, often losing with better teams when the Wolverines were having down years. It's not clear whether his replacement, Jim Tressel, is more loved by the Buckeye faithful for winning the 2002 national championship or for his 3–1 record against the Wolverines; such is the nature of college football, where a 10–1 season can be a considered a failure if the "1" comes against the wrong team.

Brown's big-game reputation has been put to the test three times already this season, and he has passed each exam with flying colors. There was the Week 2 encounter with, oddly enough, Ohio State, when Texas came from behind to beat the Buckeyes 25–22 on the road before a stunned sellout crowd. Then, on October 8 in Dallas, Brown and the Longhorns exorcised five years of demons in a 45–12 thrashing of the unusually weak Sooners.

Texas's third test came Saturday against the undefeated Texas Tech Red Raiders, who arrived in Austin with a supposedly unstoppable aerial attack, but with shaky credentials as a national power thanks to a pathetic non-conference schedule. Still, when Tech moved the ball early and took a 7–3 lead thanks in part to two interceptions of passes by Texas quarterback Vince Young, there was no panic from Brown or his team.

The coach had Young continue throwing and he stuck with his defensive game plan, one that pressured Tech quarterback Cody Hodges, allowing plenty of yardage between the 20s on screens and check-downs, but which locked down in the red zone. The result was Longhorn touchdowns on six straight possessions that turned a 7–3 deficit into a 45–17 laugher; the final was 52–17.

The handling of adversity is a reflection of the maturity of Brown's team, and of Brown as a coach. Cooper frequently came undone against Michigan because he couldn't manage to treat it as just another game, and when things began to go wrong, his team adopted his own nervous character and fell apart.

That was certainly the case for Brown in past years against Oklahoma. But he and the Longhorns didn't fall apart facing a late deficit at Ohio State, and they shook off early turnovers that could have kept this year's Oklahoma game close going into the second half.

With Texas firmly entrenched at no.2 in the BCS standings, and with no ranked teams remaining on the regular-season schedule and no dominant team awaiting in the Big 12 championship game, it appears that Brown won't have to go to the same lengths as last year to secure a spot in Pasadena. He was heavily criticized last season for publicly lobbying voters to move his team up into position to receive a BCS bid. At the time, it appeared to be the desperate pleadings of a desperate coach, one who was destined to see another 10-win season culminate in a second-tier bowl game. But a funny thing happened on the way to Cooper-dom. Enough voters listened that Texas was able to claim what had been assumed to be Cal's spot in the Rose Bowl. The criticism was largely forgotten (except in Berkeley) when Texas staged a late comeback to beat Michigan, 38–37, giving Brown what most would consider the first "big" win of his Texas tenure.

It doesn't appear that Brown will need to resort to pleading this season -- although no. 3 Virginia Tech may have something to say about that -- but just in case, he's warming up the stump speech. After dusting off Texas Tech, Brown said of his team, "I thought at the first of the year, nobody deservers to be no. 2. I thought USC deserved to be no.1 and nobody else had done enough to deserve anything past that. Now, I think this team definitely deserves to be no. 2 in the country."

Brown may not be lobbying for the top spot, but he doesn't have to. The computers will still have their say, but Texas has the ability to post lopsided wins the rest of the way, and with human elements accounting for two-thirds of the BCS standings, that should be enough to keep them ahead of even an undefeated Virginia Tech, and possibly even to challenge USC for the top spot.

The calm demeanor Texas has displayed since last year's Rose Bowl will surely come in handy if the Longhorns do indeed end up in Pasadena against USC. Texas certainly appears to have the best combination of offense and defense to challenge the Trojans. Young gets most of the credit for Texas's success, and deservedly so (he's completing 65% of his passes and rushing for 65 yards a game), but he is complemented by dominant offensive and defensive lines, and speed at every position.

If Brown is able to take his team to a national championship this year, he may not have to hear the name John Cooper anymore. Instead, the comparisons may be to another coach who was knocked for years as unable to win the big one -- former Nebraska legend Tom Osborne.

In the second act of his career, Osborne won three national titles in four years before retiring to a position in the U.S. House of Representatives. Brown has already shown political skills; all he needs now is a championship ring.

John L. Smith Trophy

We're still taking it easy on Mike Martz as he recovers from a serious heart ailment, and if John L.'s teams posts any more stinkers like Saturday's home shellacking by Northwestern, the trophy for the sketchiest coaching call of the week may take up permanent residence in East Lansing.

But just to show I'm not biased against Sparty, Michigan's Lloyd Carr is candidate for the Trophy this week after resorting to the exact same, ultra-conservative strategy trying to protect a three-point lead against Iowa as he had against Penn State the week before. Once again, putting the game in the hands of his defense nearly cost him the win, but this time the Wolverines were bailed out in overtime.

Other candidates include Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, who went against his own tendencies in decided to kick what TMQ would label a "fraidy-cat" punt against Texas. The snap was mishandled, Texas scored a quick touchdown, and the rest was history.

But the award goes to Washington State coach Bill Doba, who called for a fake punt with a 10-point lead at Cal midway through the fourth quarter. It was 4th-and-2, and the ball was at the Cal 38, so a fake probably wasn't a huge shock to the Bears, especially after UCLA had pulled one off in a similar situation against them two weeks ago. The run was stuffed, Cal took over and scored two plays later and the comeback was on as Cal went on to win 42-38. If you're going to go for it in that situation, just line up and go for it! Most of the time, you're not going to beat a team by tricking them, especially when the trick comes in an obvious situation.

BlogPoll Ballot

Here's my latest ballot in MGoBlog's BlogPoll. Last week's ranking in parentheses.

1.Southern Cal (1): Margin between USC and Texas is getting closer.
2. Texas (2): Mack Brown, big-game coach?
3. Virginia Tech (3): All the ingredients for an upset were there vs. Maryland, but Hokies' D wouldn't let it happen.
4. Notre Dame (7): Yes, they've lost twice. Would you pick Georgia or Alabama against them straight up?
5. Georgia (4): The drop-off from the top three starts here.
6. Alabama (5): Two weeks without Prothro and no offense. Uh oh.
7. Miami (Florida) (6): Revenge date on tap vs. North Carolina.
8. UCLA (8): At home they can beat anybody. Not so sure about the road.
9. LSU (10): Could still have a big say in the SEC race.
10. Penn State (12): So maybe they won't miss Williams that much.
11. Boston College (9): Chance to move up vs. Virginia Tech Thursday.
12. Florida State (11): Duke fills role as get-well medicine.
13. Ohio State (13): Still may be most complete team in Big 10.
14. Oregon (14): Now at QB, Ryan Leaf's little brother.
15. Auburn (16): Moving up after OT loss at LSU.
16. Northwestern (NR): This may be too high, but we'll find out Saturday night.
17. Wisconsin (20): Northwestern loss looks better this week.
18. TCU (22): Rolling right along after bombing Air Force.
19. Florida (19): Catching Georgia without Shockley is a break.
20. West Virginia (23): Big East officials praying they win out.
21. Minnesota (24): On bye week, worked on knowing when to take a safety.
22. Fresno State (25): Will the USC game be interesting? Nah.
23. Michigan (NR): Team is gaining character if nothing else.
24. Cal (NR): Offense could still cause some problems for USC.
25. Texas Tech (15): That's why you need to play somebody in the non-conference season, Mr. Leach.

Dropped out: Michigan State (17), Tennessee (18), Virginia (21).

Games I watched: Virginia Tech-Maryland, Michigan-Iowa, Texas Tech-Texas, Auburn-LSU, parts of Penn State-Illinois, Oregon State-UCLA, Washington State-Cal.

Ed. Note: Portions of this article appeared in Monday's New York Sun (um, including the portion about Texas firmly at No. 2 in the BCS, which was written before the new rankings came out).

Posted by: Russell Levine on 24 Oct 2005

47 comments, Last at 09 Nov 2005, 4:25pm by Hookem


by Tarrant (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 7:01pm

Of course, Texas did take over the top spot in the BCS standings, although likely temporarily as the schedules adjust as we close out the year (barring a USC loss). One computer had 'SC at #5, another at #4, while Texas was #1 across the board (ignoring the dropped rankings).

The real loser is Virginia Tech, as USC could win by 3 for the rest of its games and I don't see it moving down from #1 in the polls (although the gap would close). It's like old-style boxing, where the ringside judges were reluctant to have a champion lose via decision - a challenge couldn't just "Box better for 12 rounds", they had to pummel the champ, and preferably knock them down a few times, before judges would give them the nod.

Likewise, Texas has done everything it's been asked to do, and still isn't coming close (in votes) to 'SC in the polls, and that is why - even though each season (boxing match) is supposedly independent, the pollsters (judges) are reluctant to give up the championship even if it seems that the opposition was the better boxer. To quote TMQ, "You can't dance with the champ, you've got to knock them down."

But Va. Tech? They aren't going anywhere. People are questioning whether USC should be #1, and Texas has gained some 1st-place votes over the past few weeks, but no one is questioning whether Va. Tech should be #2 or #3 (likewise Georgia and Alabama, and even UCLA).


by Domer (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 7:01pm

Texas is now #1 in the BCS poll, thanks to those new-fangled computation machines.

by Will Allen (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 7:03pm

If one enjoys seeing a great run-blocking offensive line against a great front seven, it doesn't get any better than Minnesota vs. Ohio State this Saturday.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 7:05pm

The other side is Notre Dame. Notre Dame is stuck at #16 in the BCS, and is unranked in some of the computer indexes, resulting in a nosedive of their BCS number. Pretty much every 2-loss BCS team is ranked in the computers...except Notre Dame.

Unfortunately for ND, right now, the best team they've beaten is Michigan, a team that also is pretty much ignored by the computers.

However, if they win out, they will certainly reach the top-12 status required for BCS eligibility - especially due to a win over Tennessee (if they don't win out, they won't reach 9 wins, which is another criteria required for eligibility, rendering the ranking moot).


by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 7:16pm

Michigan is ranked in the 20s, and Notre Dame is ranked about there in the few computer rankings I've seen. They're not being ignored - that's just the reality of a 2 loss team that simply hasn't beaten that many strong teams. I don't really see why Notre Dame fans should be screaming for the computer's heads. They shouldn't've lost to Michigan State. Just that simple.

by Domer (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 7:23pm

Tarrant - If Va Tech, SC and UT win out, I believe SC would slide back into #1 but VT may jump UT for the #2 spot in the BCS poll. I need to do some checking on the likelihood, given the SOS arguments for each team. And of course many games remain to be played.

I'm not aying it SHOULD happen, but that it may.

Anybody have any insights on the UGA/Fla game? I saw UGA early in the year and they impressed me, but I'd like to hear some info on their backup QB (Tershisnsksinissi(SP?))now that Shockley is likely out.

Also - I've been hearing/reading about grumblings by gator fans about the new Bawl Coach - what is the consensus among the UF cognoscenti?

by Domer (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 7:26pm

Re: ND

IF we beat Tennessee, and go 9-2, we'll be in a BCS bowl. Note that I said IF.

Worried about winning the games. Not worried about the BCS working it out. Too much money at stake to leave out the most popular team in the...universe.

by Fourth (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 7:56pm

On Meyer (#6)...most of the grumbling here in Gainesville has been directed at Chris Leak (for having a great deal of trouble mastering the spread, they say) and the O-line (for not blocking anyone, especially vs LSU). If UF loses to Shockley-less UGA this weekend, the grumbling is going to get louder and possibly more directed at the coach. Personally, I give him three years to get the players and the system in place before passing judgement on the offense (as will the boosters and the AD). Some less patient people (most students and the media), however, will only give him three games: Tennessee, Georgia, and FSU.

by Vinny (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 8:21pm

Russ - Did you jump ND over UGa and Alabama as a result of what happened this weekend (including Shockley's injury), or was this just a re-thinking of your previous rankings (which a voter is entitled to do in my opinion)?

by peachy (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 8:30pm

re #8 ; I'm not plugged into the fanbase much, but that's essentially the impression I have - criticism so far has focused on Leak, who has had real trouble picking up the spread-option, and the O-line, which has just plain sucked. But it was known when Meyer was hired that his system was complex and would take time to be fully effective - neither Bowling Green nor Utah was a powerhouse offensively until his second season. And of course Meyer has the advantage of following the Zooker...

by MDS (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 9:01pm

Interestingly, Tarrant, in the past voters haven't deferred to the champ. Alabama won the national championship in '64 and '65, then went 10-0 and crushed No. 6 Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl, only to finish No. 3 in the final poll that year behind both No. 2 Michigan State and No. 1 Notre Dame, who went 9-0-1 and tied each other.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 9:10pm


Yes, they’ve lost twice. Would you pick Georgia or Alabama against them straight up?

Just to point out, you've got Notre Dame eight spots above the nearest team who lost to an unranked competitor. You've also got them 9 spots above a team that also has two (close) losses, but instead of losses to a team ranked #1 and an unranked team, losses to teams ranked #2 and #10.

I know they looked good during the USC game, but isn't that what a top 25 team is supposed to look like? I don't see why the Michigan State loss isn't knocking them down. I think Notre Dame is a top 25 team, but I don't understand the top 10 fever. They simply haven't earned it.

by Russell Levine :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 9:47pm

Re: 9, Yes moving ND up over 'Bama and Georgia has something to do with injuries (Prothro and Shockley) and just a feeling that Notre Dame would beat either team.

by James Gibson (not verified) :: Mon, 10/24/2005 - 9:53pm

Re: Penn State and Derrick Williams

I think they will miss him. Illinois is just an awful, awful team. The one thing that they have done to help alleviate the missing Derrick Williams is move their other top freshman recruit - Justin King - exclusively to offense. For the defense, they are going to insert Devin Fentress in King's spot, and he hasn't played yet this year. So that maybe more where the absence of Williams is felt.

Robinson is looking pretty good on offense these days. Better than that 5-28 performance against Minnesota either last year or the year before. I feel bad for Zack Mills, who finished up his career with bad receivers, and never seemed to develop after a pretty good freshman year. If it weren't for these freshman receivers, I think Robinson would be struggling as well.

As for Mack Brown, we might still have to wait. I remember in one those 2 years that Cooper beat Michigan, he had a bizarre loss to Michigan State in the middle of the season.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 1:15am

The gap between Va. Tech and the Texas/USC twosome in the BCS is likely too much to overcome. Va. Tech would have to be a solid 3rd in the polls, and something like 3 spots above Texas in the computers (due to the averaging process done to calculate the BCS Standings).

While it's true that Texas' remaining schedule is a bit lighter than USC's and a lot lighter than Va. Tech's, that's probably not enough to make up for the differential in the human polls.

I was actually thinking about that Alabama team this afternoon, because when the commentators talk about USC going for 3 straight titles, one sometimes forgets that the Alabama team in question quite possibly should have won three straight.


by Xian (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 2:45am

Another interesting point. When Texas "took Cal's place" in the Rose Bowl, Cal went on to play who else but Texas Tech. And Cal got it's ass handed to it by Tech. It wasn't even close, Texas Tech could have scored 100. Maybe the substitution of Cal was better for everyone (except Cal, but I always thought they were a complete illusion last year, and TT proved it). Sometimes the person making a case for himself has the right of it.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 8:35am

...or maybe Cal's players knew they should have been playing Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and couldn't have cared any less about playing a crap Texas Tech team in a crap bowl game, and gave a less-than-stellar effort. About all that 'proved' was that if you think you're going on a cruise with Jessica Alba and instead it turns out that you're going to McDonalds with Bea Arthur, you're not going to be overly into your date.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 9:10am

I lean towards Trogdor's reasoning. Note that the same thing happened to Texas the year before, when they had all but locked up a BCS at-large berth...until, oops, Kansas State took down Oklahoma in the Big XII title game, knocking Texas to the Holiday Bowl.

Despite being in the top-5, Texas lethargically walked into the Holiday Bowl and lost. It looked like they were sleepwalking the whole game, and it was obvious why. Not because they were the worse team, but because they had been assured a BCS berth, and had it snatched away.


by Mac Thomason (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 11:35am

You watched Auburn play Tennessee? That must have taken some doing.

by Russell Levine :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 11:42am

Mac, good catch. Fixed that one.

by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 12:06pm

4. Notre Dame (7): Yes, they’ve lost twice. Would you pick Georgia or Alabama against them straight up?

I would if you were picking Notre Dame.

NOTE: I first made this comment in an e-mail to Russ. Good sport that he is, he encouraged me to post it.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 12:13pm

I laughed out loud when I read that comment.

I think (I hope) Russ (and Vinny, but Junkie is a Russ column) knows that our making fun of his record is just that, all in good fun, between regular posters and visitors, and not meant to be insulting or mean. I'm guessing if the regular posters in the college threads starting picking the same games (before SDA came out) they wouldn't do great either (although they'd probably do better, but then, that's not saying much).


by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 12:15pm

... and Kansas State has had its own sour-grapes moment, being relegated to the Alamo Bowl instead of a BCS bowl and losing to Purdue.

I tend to agree with Trogdor as well, especially with that Alamo Bowl experience in my mind. I was watching the game with some other Purdue alumni, and while we did like the fact that we hung on to win, there was that question about how much the Wildcats actually cared.

It's not just the snubbed team, either. I'm sure Tiller was more than happy to post every K-State comment he could find about not wanting to play in that game, and it wouldn't surprise me if Texas Tech used Cal's disappointment as more fuel for their fire.

by Russell Levine :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 12:17pm

I laughed out loud when MDS sent me that comment, that's why I told him to post it. I have to make fun of the record, I mean it is hilarious. Trust me, Vinny and I aren't taking any of this personally, I'm just happy that there's been so much college discussion this year.

by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 12:50pm

A few years ago I actually kept track of my own predictions. What I found was that I was pretty good at picking straight up (and by pretty good I mean better than you'd be if you just picked the favorite in every game) but I still wasn't any good at picking against the spread. The reason is that I was terrible at figuring out how much a favorite would win by. So I'd get some underdogs right, but then when I saw a favored team that I thought would win, I was usually right that they'd win but wrong against the spread. I'd see Dallas -6 or whatever and if I thought Dallas was going to win a close one, they'd win by 20. If I thought Dallas was going to cover easily, they'd win by a field goal. Anyway, my point is, picking games against the spread is really hard, and a lot of it is just dumb luck. If I had to guess, I'd say Russ will go about .500 the rest of the way. And if Russ goes 20 games over .500 the rest of the season, it's not like he'll suddenly know more about football, it'll just be that he's getting good luck where before he got bad luck. If Russ had gone against his instinct in every game this year, and he was way over .500, there would probably be people betting serious money on his picks. And that would be dumb.

by GatorGriff (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 1:04pm

Re #s 6 & 8: Meyer seems to be escaping the blame right now b/c he doesn't have his players in to run his system, and I partially agree with this. But what no one talks about, and I believe this is Urban's fault, is, to borrow Rumsfeld's line, "you play with the team you have, not the team you want." Right now, Urban does not have a running/option QB, and the O-line is suspect at best. What he does have is one of the best drop-back passers in college with talented receivers, yet he refuses to take advantage of this. Florida was not going to beat Alabama, it was just their day. However, Florida should have beaten LSU. Had Urban scraped his game plan and let Leak air it out, they would have won that game. The Florida offense played about as poorly as any Florida offense I can remember (and I've been watching the Gators every weekend since about 1985), and they still barely lost (21-17).

I am reserving judgment on Urban until he brings in his players, but I am very skeptical that this offense will win in the SEC. I am willing to give him three years for two reasons: (1) It generally takes until the 3rd year for a coach to bring in his guys and have at least a good portion of them starting. (2) Next year's schedule is brutal (@Tenn, @Auburn, @Florida St, home against Alabama, LSU, and then Georgia in Jax).

That being said, the early returns on Urban are not living up to the hype (and I feared this from day one).

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 1:20pm

Is this not also the problem with Mr. Callahan in Nebraska?

Despite lacking a "West Coast Offense" quarterback or offensive line, he threw everything out the window and attempted an immediate conversion to his preferred style of play, rather than a gradual transition, taking advantage of the players there while he recruited players that fit his eventual vision for the team. It's Year 2 of the Callahan Era in Nebraska, and one can't really say it's a resounding success.

That's always a question, though. Do you switch immediately, and go through some potentially horrid growing pains, or go gradually, but perhaps take longer to get your full system installed? Urbah has always gone for the former, and his first year anywhere he's been has always been a bit wonky. The question is what happens in Year Two...


by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 1:27pm

Minnesota is great at chop blocks, crackbacks, and leg whips. If folks consider that great "blocking" then they certainly qualify.

Michael Robinson does a heckuva job for a running back playing quarterback.

Big Ten defense this year is non-existent except in Happy Valley and to some extent in Columbus.

The matchup worth seeing is Northwestern/Ohio State. Very few folks in the Big Ten have kind thoughts toward Randy Walker, coach of Northwestern. So if OSU gets the chance don't be surprised to see the normally restrained Tressel pile it on.

WI/PSU? Well, UW can certainly move the ball. Calhoun is a great all-around back. Stocco has made strides. And their special teams are very good. But the Wisconsin defense is dreadful. Playing at home with that defense I think the Lions blitz the Badgers nonstop and win it in the second half.

Still, Alvarez has done some of his best coaching in his final season. I doubt too many folks have noticed but Wisconsin graduated four seniors from its defensive line, and by the fourth game had lost all the starters from THIS season on the d-line. So pretty much the third-stringers from last year are starting Big Ten football games.

Michigan is just ridiculously unlucky this year coupled with Carr's curious decision-making. They can still beat Ohio State if the U of M coaching staff gets its head out of is collective rectum.

Michigan State? Mercurial like their coach. It's great to be UP for games but it's impossible to do week in and week out. John L needs to try a different approach. They look burned out.

by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 1:39pm

Chop blocks and leg whips may be part of the Minnesota offensive line's game. They're also right there for the officials to see. If it's as egregious as you're making it out to be, why are they getting away with it? (I don't know why you brought up crackbacks, since the comment was about the offensive line, and crackbacks are, by definition, done by eligible receivers.) I've watched the Minnesota offensive line, and I think Eslinger is really, really good. I've yet to see him do anything that I would describe as dirty.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 1:49pm

One question that UF fans should have is this: How often has Meyer built a program?

How long was he at BGSU? Utah?

Exactly. Who REALLY knows what kind of recruiter he is? Heck, look at the talent that is currently at Utah. This would have been his third year there, and most of the players would have been his recruits by now...

by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 2:11pm


Minnesota's approach is predicated on blocking schemes that other coaches shy away from. Yes, cut blocks are legal. Absolutely. (I am compelled to write that to avoid having this discourse be reduced to me proving my ability to discuss the game of football.)

But Minnesota steps over that line. The officiating certainly exists but is not enforced with sufficient regularity to force Minnesota to alter its approach. Mason's staff is "playing the odds".

The University of Minnesota, like Northwestern, can't get the number of quality players to go head to head with the major powers in the conference. So they have to look for alternatives. NW uses the spread offense. Minnesota has taken the Denver Bronco approach to line blocking.

What I find ineresting is that you highlight the play of Eslinger, a legitimately fine center, who only happens to be the most publicized lineman on the team. Setterstrom is more representative of MN's style.

And I am also referencing the play beyond just this season. I have watched multiple players from teams across the conference limp off the field due to Minnesota's "hard-nosed" style.

I have no dog in this fight not being a proper alum of any school. But I think it's disgraceful that this practice isn't addressed. And I get even more incensed when someone suggests that it should be watched in admiration.

by Michael David Smith :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 2:21pm

Thanks, NFCCF. I'll watch Minnesota's o-line more closely the rest of the season and post here if I see anything interesting to add to the discussion.

by Erasmus (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 2:24pm

Alabama has gone up against teams ranked 10th and 13th in scoring defense the past 2 Saturdays. Now come the same time next week and Alabama only scored 13 points against Utah State then I will be worried. Alabama did not have a USC/Texas scoring offense to begin with (see 24 points WITH Protho against Arkansas vs. 70 points by USC against Arkansas). They are going to win by defense, not turning the ball over, and clock management. Tennessee has not allowed a 100 yard-rusher all season and predictably enough-they did not let go of a 100 yard rusher. Alabama's weakness coming into the season was its offensive line and that is still the weakness. Its a young OL though and it has its moments...

by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 2:28pm


Understood. The tackle engage/TE chop is a particular specialty. I'm thinking Mason and Joe Tiller exchange trade secrets.

by Xian (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 4:33pm

RE: Trogdor

So Cal is supposed get a pass for completely and utterly laying an egg (or from another perspective - getting their ass comprehensively kicked)? How can a petulant loss make anyone think you deserved better? I don't get that. That loss made more people think Cal was rightfully demoted, rather than robbed, I believe.

As for Texas Tech being a crap team last year or this year, think again. Tech isn't bad at all, and last year being 3rd in the Big 12 to Texas and OU in 2004 wasn't a cause for shame. Cal dismissed them, apparently using your faulty reasoning, and found out that 3rd in the Big 12 that year was better than 2nd in the Pac 10, by a pretty wide margin. (Though USC proved their own point pretty convincingly too...)

And when Texas did the same in the Holiday bowl - I can assure you that Texas was flayed down here. Why? Because taking a bowl game off in protest isn't a sign of strength, no matter how you spin it.

Winning the game you're bitter about playing by a wide margin might make people think you got the shaft. Getting your ass handed to you in that same game never will, and never should.

by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 8:09pm

Michael Robinson does a heckuva job for a running back playing quarterback.

Big Ten defense this year is non-existent except in Happy Valley and to some extent in Columbus.

Ohio State is about as good a defense as Penn State's. Ohio State has slightly better linebackers, but Penn State has a better D-line. As a note, I've watched every single game by both teams. And wanted desparately to go to Ohio State-Penn State, but could not make self shell out a thousand bucks for a ticket.

Robinson is developing. At the beginning of the year, he was a running back playing QB. That was obvious from the South Florida game. They virtually never passed. But in the past three weeks, he's had good completion percentages and only a few inaccurate throws. He's said this year that it's getting easier, because he only has to be a quarterback, and week after week it's looking like he wasn't kidding.

Robinson looked better in the Ohio State game than he did in the Minnesota game, and better in the Minnesota game than he did versus Northwestern. He looked better versus Michigan than he did versus Ohio State, and better versus Illinois again (yes, it's just Illinois). Every week the number of mistakes is going down, which honestly, is really surprising.

I agree that Michigan is one of the best teams in the Big Ten - if not the best - when they're having an "on" day. Unfortunately for them they've had three "off" days. Still, I'm glad Penn State's game is over with them, because I think the Nittany Lions have favorable matchups for the entire remainder of their schedule, and that means that they'll win the Big Ten.

by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Tue, 10/25/2005 - 10:28pm


Michael Robinson has been playing QB for some time. The reason he looks to have improved is because the defenses he has faced have been mediocre to awful with one exception. Against OSU he was 11 of 20 for 78 yards for heaven's sake.

You are correct in that playing Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan State favors the Lions over others in the conference vying for the title. Purdue, while not as awful as their record, is incapable of playing a complete game. (I personally believe that a fair amount of Tiller's players have tuned him out.) Michigan State's defense is now posted on milk cartons throughout Big Ten country. Wisconsin can score and has solid special teams. But the D-line is in tatters and the secondary permanently confused.

So yes, Robinson should be fine against this level of competition. But please don't waste time trying to convince yourself or others he's a legit QB. He's doing the best he can with his skill set which is laudable. However, it does not rise to the level of what I term a "quarterback".

Oh, and you want numbers?

He's last in the Big Ten in completion percentage at 53.8%.

He's second in the conference in interceptions thrown, 7, with fewer attempts than any other regular except Stocco.

He's at the bottom in yards per attempt.

But wait, he's 10th in the league in rushing and has outgained Illinois' and Purdue's leadering rushers.

Now I wait for the "He's asked to manage the game" or "Penn State is a rushing-oriented team" retorts.

Right. How about Joe Pa coaching around his available talent being the better explanation?

Again, he's a RUNNING BACK playing quarterback. Period.

by IzzionSona (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 1:02am

NFFCF: Pat's point was that until this season Robinson played a hodgepodge of offensive positions. Wideout, running back, QB, etc. This year, he is only playing QB. Thus, Robinson should (theoretically) improve dramatically at QB, if he has the talent necessary to play college QB.

That said, running QBs in college are far more valuable than in the pros. So, I don't see anything wrong with it, if he's winning games and doing what Coach Paterno asks him to do. Life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, no?

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 11:29am

Michael Robinson has been playing QB for some time.

Yah. About seven weeks. Before that he was a starting wide receiver. That's what he took the majority of his practice snaps at. It's not surprising that he never improved at quarterback considering he was barely ever practicing for it.

Against OSU he was 11 of 20 for 78 yards for heaven’s sake.

Yah. With no interceptions. He had one iffy throw the entire game that could've been intercepted, though it wouldn't've been returned for a touchdown.

After the first quarter in that game, I turned and said to some of the other OSU fans who were watching with me - "Penn State is putting this on their defense. Their offensive game plan is 'don't make a mistake, please don't make a mistake'." Not a bad strategy given the teams.

Oh, and you want numbers?

Hey, you've been around here enough to know that numbers need context! First off, I said he's been getting better every week. That means that any season stats for him are going to be middling, because going from "awful" to "good" averages to "middling".

For instance:

He’s second in the conference in interceptions thrown, 7

With one in the past four weeks, and that one was a result of a jumped route, not a poor throw (like the other six were). But still - one in the past four weeks.

I don't know how you can't say he's been constantly improving. Against Michigan he looked fantastic, and keep in mind he looked like crap aganst Northwestern's defense, which is worse than Michigan's by far.

by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 1:30pm


I must have had a dream about Michael Robinson playing quarterback last in 2004 including getting dumped on his head by Erasmus James. And dreamed about his mother complaining to the press about James hitting her son too hard.

Bit of undigested beef I suppose.

You are better than this. I don't know why you are presenting this guy as a competent quarterback. If the Big Ten had a defense worth a hoot he would be undressed quicker than Paris Hilton at a rave party.

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 3:26pm

I must have had a dream about Michael Robinson playing quarterback last in 2004

I'm gonna guess you had a dream about a backup quarterback, who started at wide receiver. Because that's what he did. He only started three games, but that's only because the starting QB was injured.

He was a WR in 2004. He had almost as many catches as pass attempts.

I don’t know why you are presenting this guy as a competent quarterback.

Go back and read what I said. I said he's becoming a competent quarterback. Actually, I think he's becoming a darn good quarterback. This is the only time in his entire college career that he's actually practiced at being a quarterback for a length of time, and it's showing.

He's actually reading defenses, and making good decisions, and playing to his strengths and avoiding his weaknesses.

If the Big Ten had a defense worth a hoot

So what? A bad defense doesn't suddenly make Robinson's passes more accurate. But against Michigan, and against Illinois, they were.

I honestly have no idea how you can possibly defend the statement that he's not getting better as a quarterback.

he would be undressed quicker than Paris Hilton at a rave party.

Well, you'll find out at a bowl game, now won't you?

by Daniel Warehall (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 5:36pm

Michigan's defense is not horrible... It's not great, but it isn't horrible... They did hold the Fighting Irish to 17...

by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 10/26/2005 - 6:35pm

As mgoblog points out many times regarding Michigan's defense, the main skill problems are that the linebackers usually lose containment a few times a game (poof, 60 yard run!) and some of the players are poor tacklers. But both of those things are problems of execution, not of innate athletic ability, which means Michigan easily has the capability of being a good defense. Which they were, versus Notre Dame and Penn State.

Of course, it also means they'll occasionally completely give the game away (see Minnesota, Michigan State).

by NFC Central Freak (not verified) :: Thu, 10/27/2005 - 6:29pm

I considered letting this slide but this obvious misinformation needs to be addressed.

Michael Robinsin started three straight games in 2003 as QB, with less than flattering results.

He then started two games in 2004 due to an injury (supposedly) to Zack Mills who got pulled from the WI game after one series where he three a bad interception. So Robinson relieved in that game, got dumped on his head, and left due to injury. Upon his return he started two games. But after all of 69 passing yards versus the Buckeyes was pulled from the QB position. Though kinder souls would describe it in different terms.

Look, the guy is doing the best he can with the skills he has at his disposal. With a better supporting cast and playing against marshmellow defenses he looks O.K.

But put him against a real defense which will shut down PSU's running making it a night where completing forward passes in tight coverage is required and expect bad things. Barring his receivers growing four foot arms the poor guy will be turnover central.

Should make for interesting viewing come bowl season.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 10/28/2005 - 1:09pm

Misinformation?? Silly me, I thought I watched those games.

Michael Robinsin started three straight games in 2003 as QB, with less than flattering results.

I didn't mention 2003. Neither did you. I would've agreed that Robinson started in 2003, but it's not like he practiced solely as a quarterback. 2003 was worse than 2004, where Robinson practiced as a quarterback, wide receiver, and running back. It was a mess.

The entire argument that I've been trying to explain is that Robinson has never really practiced for any significant period of time as a quarterback at Penn State. I know this. That's an easy one. It was constantly, constantly discussed. And I saw some of those practices in 2003. They're right.

He then started two games in 2004 due to an injury (supposedly) to Zack Mills

Jeez, can we drop the conspiracy theory? Unless you're suggesting Mills walked around campus the rest of the week with ice on his shoulder simply to maintain an appearance of an injury.

Regardless, you're just confirming exactly what I said before. He was a wide receiver who backed up a quarterback who got injured. Heck, in the Wisconsin game he had a 49 yard reception before Mills went down.

But after all of 69 passing yards versus the Buckeyes was pulled from the QB position.

Because Mills came back. Big shock, backup QB pulled for starting QB returning.

But put him against a real defense which will shut down PSU’s running making it a night where completing forward passes in tight coverage

What is this, the NFL? This is college football - if you have a defense that can stop a running game and cover all of your opposing wide receivers tightly at the same time, you've got the best defense in Division I.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 10/28/2005 - 1:26pm

Just to clear a few things up, Mills was injured multiple times in 2004. He had a separated shoulder in the Wisconsin game, and suffered a concussion in the Iowa game.

While Robinson technically "started" at QB versus Iowa (and Central Florida, as well) he wasn't really the main QB in either of those games. It's just that Penn State often lined up with Mills at WR and Robinson as QB... for fun, I guess, as Robinson virtually never threw from that formation.

He only *started* the Ohio State game. That's it. On the second play of the Iowa game, Mills was at QB. Robinson entered the game as starting QB late when Mills got a concussion.

by Hookem (not verified) :: Wed, 11/09/2005 - 4:25pm

OK, so I'm a first time blogger & have no idea what this is all about but here goes:

I have the solution to the BCS/Playoff nightmare for College Football. The solution is mathmatical & actually quite simple.Step one is to reduce the number of teams in Div. 1 to 108 (I have a cut list if anyone is interested). Step 2 is to re-allign some of the existing conferances so that there are nine 12-team conferances with 2 divisions. This will produce 9 champions. An "if/then" scenario can then be created to ensure that ultimately there are only 2 undefeated teams playing in what I would call the "Collegiate Super Bowl". I have all the details available if anyone's still reading this...