VN: Cheers to Great and Terrible Football
by Bill Connelly
For much of the past few months, I set about bargaining with the football gods. After the hell of injuries and altercations in 2009; and the endless arrests, scandals, and realignment rumors that plagued the offseason, college football fans deserved a great 2010 season. Let's just say that, with one week in the books, we might be well on our way. Dramatic finishes, star turns, killer upsets, and a few baffling performances all played roles in a fun opening weekend. Now, we need just 13 more of them. No problem, right?
Box Score of the Week
Florida 34, Miami (Ohio) 12
As I mentioned yesterday, thanks to their early schedule, we will find out soon enough if Florida actually has problems, or if their near-debacle on opening weekend was just an odd, stressful glitch. That said, even more than Boise State-Virginia Tech, Florida's battle with The Other Miami produced just the most befuddling Varsity Numbers box score of the week. That's the one that we're going to look at because ... what the hell happened?
Because this is our first Box Score of the season, I am including the 2009 national averages for most categories. That should help you get your bearings and figure out which results are good and which are bad.
2009 Nat'l Avg
|Field Position %||37.9%||70.9%||44.2%|
|Close Success Rate||27.0%||32.7%||41.9%|
|Close Success Rate||22.2%||33.3%||42.7%|
|Close Success Rate||28.9%||32.0%||41.1%|
|SD/PD Sack Rate||0.0% / 8.7%||0.0% / 0.0%||4.8% / 7.4%|
|Turnover Pts Margin||-8.9||+8.9|
|1st Down S&P||0.420||0.504||0.766|
|2nd Down S&P||0.230||0.636||0.733|
|3rd Down S&P||0.244||0.459||0.701|
|Projected Pt. Margin||+22.0|
|Actual Pt. Margin||+22|
First things first: Whatever happened or almost happened to Florida last Saturday, it wasn't the defense's fault. Aside from a slight burst of near-competence in the third quarter, Miami's offense was nonexistent. To the extent that they actually had a chance to win (and they were driving to cut the lead to 21-16 before settling for a field goal after a personal foul penalty), it was because of Florida's own offensive miscues.
Thanks to a couple of great runs -- including a 72-yarder by Jeffrey Demps -- Florida's PPP (explosiveness) figures turned out OK. At least, they were consistent with last year's national averages. Plus, if you take away the "team" rushes (the fumbles and downed snaps), the Gators rushed for 148 yards on 29 carries (5.1 per rush). Their success rates, however, were abysmal, supporting the argument that just looking at yards or yards per play doesn't tell you the entire story. The Gators were inconsistent in generating yardage, and Miami (Ohio) was able to leverage them into passing downs.
This is important to mention because it shows that Florida's problems were not just limited to fumbles and bad snaps. The plays that weren't complete miscues were still iffy at best. Of Florida's 10 remaining FBS opponents, seven ranked among the top 50 in Defensive Success Rate+ last season. In other words, if Jeff Brantley and company can't execute at a higher level, a season full of second- and third-and-long awaits them.
South Florida comes to town this weekend, and while the odds are still in favor of our Projected F/+ No. 1 team getting their act together, they better not wait too long to start.
Cheers to Awful Football
Last Sunday, the esteemed Dr. Saturday said the following on Twitter: "Kansas-North Dakota State has eclipsed Oregon-UCLA in 2007 as the most depressing box score I've ever seen." Contrarians like me immediately threw a third candidate in the ring -- the epic 2008 Auburn-Mississippi State game, a 3-2 affair that set offensive football back 110 years. That Saturday's NDSU-Kansas game can even compete in terms of offensive ineptitude and general depressive tendencies tells you all you need to know about the game. (Those in attendance shared a similar reaction.) But since we're into thorough investigation here at Football Outsiders, let's give these three games the Tale of the Tape treatment.
|Category||UCLA 16, Oregon 0||Auburn 3, Miss. St. 2||N. Dakota St. 6, Kansas 3||EDGE|
|Date||Nov. 24, 2007||Sept. 13, 2008||Sept. 4, 2010|
Other games may have had as many or more disastrous plays, but for true foot-shooting and hopelessness, nothing compares.
|Combined Rushing||90 carries, 199 yards (2.2 per carry)||75 carries, 199 yards (2.7 per carry)||64 carries, 169 yards (2.6 per carry)||UCLA-Oregon.
Though KU and NDSU combined for fewer yards, it's hard to beat a combined 2.2 yards per carry.
|Combined Passing||15 completions, 56 attempts, 169 yards (26.8% comp., 3.0 yds/pass)||24 completions, 51 attempts, 232 yards (47.1% comp., 4.5 yds/pass)||31 completions, 55 attempts, 292 yards (56.4% comp., 5.3 yds/pass)||UCLA-Oregon.
Two major-conference teams, each of whom are given the opportunity to give out 85 football scholarships (and one of whom actually had a chance at the No. 1 ranking before Dennis Dixon got hurt), combined to complete 26.8 percent of their passes. For three yards per pass. That would be bad for a high school team running the Wing-T.
UCLA-Oregon was truly an amazing experience in terms of both offensive incompetence and disaster. These two hopeless offense not only combined to average fewer than three yards per play ... they also combined for six turnovers.
In their first nine games of 2008, Missouri punted 21 times. In 60 minutes of "action," in late November 2007, UCLA and Oregon combined for 22. That's one punt every 2:44. If for no other reason, this is amazing when you recall that they also combined for six turnovers. Sometime in the third quarter, this game passed from "The fans deserve their money back," to "The fans are all crying and need to be taken out for ice cream and an In-N-Out Burger."
|Total Penalties||7||16||21||Kansas-NDSU. Finally, a challenge from the newcomer. Kansas and North Dakota St. combined for almost as many penalties as the other two games combined. That brings a certain despair to the proceedings that is hard to measure.|
|Fun Note||In the nine games before Dennis Dixon's injury, Oregon averaged 445 yards per game. Twice, they gained more than 600 yards. In their final two games, against UCLA and Oregon State, the Ducks combined for 487 yards.||In the history of what now would constitute FCS, there have been 18 games that ended with a score of 3-2. Only two were played in the last 45 years. Hey, making history can't be a bad thing, right?||Hey, did we mention that North Dakota State is an FCS team? Did we also mention that they went 3-8 last season? And lost by 15 to South Dakota State?||Kansas-NDSU.|
|The Verdict:||While UCLA-Oregon does, somewhat surprisingly, come away with the edge in this ever so scientific breakdown, we cannot really call them the winners, can we? As is the case with Flavor of Love or presidential elections, did anybody actually win here?|
Random Golf Clap
To summer boredom. You have the most interesting effects on offensive coordinators. Those who didn't see any of Saturday's Oklahoma State-Washington State matchup (and as with most of the last two seasons, Wazzu fans wish they hadn't), missed an interesting new wrinkle. Oklahoma State unveiled what they called the Diamond formation -- a spread formation with a halfback and two fullbacks. It helped a now healthy Kendall Hunter pull off a rather credible Barry Sanders impression, as he ran for 257 yards and four touchdowns. The element of surprise is gone now, of course, but it does appear that offensive coordinators, particularly those working with the spread, are getting more and more creative in how they utilize their personnel and stray from what most would consider the 'typical' spread offense.
The element of surprise also helped Illinois get an early lead on Missouri. With a new offensive coordinator (Paul Petrino, last seen running the offense at Arkansas) and a new quarterback (mobile redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase), the Illini unveiled something resembling a Cocked Pistol formation -- a pistol with an offset fullback. With no way to scout this, Missouri's defense struggled early on. They figured things out after halftime, outscoring the Illini 20-0 in the second half on the way to a 23-13 win, but the Illini took advantage of the element of surprise (and summer boredom) to make it a game all the way to the end.
Once again, this column falls so late in the week that the topic for this week's rant is already well-covered territory for other, better wordsmiths. Here's the short version: A.J. Green's four-game suspension, for selling a game-worn jersey to somebody the NCAA defines as an "agent," is absurd.
Now, before I go further, let me first say this: A.J. Green and all other college football players are not working for free. They're getting a full-ride -- free education to play a sport they presumably love. A normal player who stays four to five years at a school is getting anywhere between about $60,000 and $150,000 in tuition waivers. There is value in that, and people who say star players "don't get a cut" of the money they generate for their school are somewhat missing the point. They are getting a hefty cut, in fact.
But make no mistake, Green's four-game suspension is still absurd. First of all, the "agent" to whom Green sold the game jersey in the first place is a memorabilia collector, not an agent agent. Second, Alabama's Marcel Dareus only got a two-game suspension for violations connected to taking gifts from a real agent. Yes, the NCAA was following their own guidelines on this one, which is fine ... if they always followed their own guidelines. The Random Punishment Generator ruled against Georgia and Green on this one, and it did not make itself look any better in the process.
Random Reasons to Love College Football
After witnessing the intense drama unleashed on Sunday (East Carolina defeated Tulsa on a Hail Mary, then Texas Tech held off a mad comeback -- one that included a 61-yard field goal -- to defeat SMU) and Monday (Maryland beat Navy on a last-second goal-line stand, then Boise State bolstered its BCS chances with a late score and hold against Virginia Tech), I have a proposal. College football will cede its Tuesday-Thursday prime-time games if the NFL will cede Sundays and Mondays. Do we have a deal?
Since we are reliving national title rematches from 1978 and 2002, here are five great albums from each year. You can probably pick out which are from which year. And if you can't, you need to be listening to more music. (Yes, there is also a 2000 national title rematch taking place this week. I felt no need to further enrage Miami fans by mentioning it and indirectly reminding them that Florida State was chosen over them that year. This week, they've already had to suffer through several replays of the controversial pass interference call from 2002.)
Adventure by Television. Okay, so this album was not actually any good. But in case I never get another chance, I wanted to list this one just to mention how amazing their first album, Marquee Moon was. Complicated and poppy. If only they didn't hate each other and break up constantly.
Radio Mali by Ali Farka Toure. There are approximately 6,000 miles that separate Mali from Mississippi, but this album is only a couple of miles away from a bluegrass jam. Damnedest thing.
Darkness on the Edge of Town by Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band. Deluxe set coming soon! And one can only hope it is as good as the Born to Run set was.
Electric Circus by Common.
Phrenology by The Roots. It was difficult not just choosing five hip hop albums from 2002, one of the most underrated years in hip hop history. Common, The Roots, Erykah Badu, and others holed up at Electric Lady studios in mid- to late-2002, making some of the best, most experimental, and least accessible hip hop music ever. It was weird, eclectic and fantastic.
(Speaking of eclectic, check out this list of the best albums recorded at Electric Lady.)
Kaya by Bob Marley & The Wailers. The loving alter ego to the militant Exodus (recorded around the same time), this album puts anger aside and focus on beauty. "Easy Skanking" (which probably doesn't mean what you think it means) and "Time Will Tell" are two of my favorites.
Riot Act by Pearl Jam. Aside from Yield, this is the most underrated album in the PJ catalog. It is emotional and vulnerable ("Thumbing My Way" is devastating); but with the further integration of drummer Matt Cameron, it also rocks.
Sea Change by Beck. I was going through a breakup when this album came out, and my roommate confiscated it from me. It's not the most uplifting set of songs in the world.
Son of a Son of a Sailor by Jimmy Buffett.
Stardust by Willie Nelson. This reveals my age, of course, but my mother gives Stardust credit for my obsession with music. She listened to it every day when she was pregnant for me. Being that I've seen Willie in concert more times than I can remember, I cannot completely dispute her point. Meanwhile, I can only assume that my father was as obsessed with Buffett then as he is now, so it's probably safe to assume that parts of the title track, "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and "Livingston Saturday Night" seeped in at the time as well.
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by The Flaming Lips. Not as dark as The Soft Bulletin, but just as affecting. They are such an odd, endearing band, and you haven't lived until you've seen them live.
Georgia over South Carolina. Spread: Georgia +3 | F/+ Projection: Georgia by 2.4.. Granted, Green's presence was assumed when the projections were made, but this one will be a bloodbath no matter who plays. This will be even more interesting when South Carolina is on offense, and both teams' more maligned units face off.
N.C. State over Central Florida. Spread: N.C. State +3.5 | F/+ Projection: N.C. State by 4.8.. The F/+ numbers apparently like Russell Wilson as much as I do.
BYU over Air Force. Spread: BYU +1 | F/+ Projection: BYU by 10.6.. A fun, early season battle of mid-majors. BYU's quarterback platoon will face a tricky, confusing Air Force defense.
UCLA over Stanford. Spread: UCLA +6 | F/+ Projection: Stanford by 4.4.. The projections still like Stanford in this one, but by less than what the spread suggests. UCLA didn't look particularly bad against Kansas State last weekend, though their defense was gashed by Daniel Thomas.
There really are some stupendous games on this weekend, aren't there? The last 12 months have not been the most fun in college football history ... but the next four could simply be a blast.