Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ouch, the Las Vegas Bowl was a huge black eye for Colorado State's Big 12 hopes.

Colorado State had a huge task ahead of them.  They had lost their head coach and faced a very good Utah team in the Las Vegas Bowl.

A victory over the Pac-12 Utes would have given CSU an 11-2 season record and would have proven their record was not a product of an incredibly weak Mountain West Conference.  From there, CSU could have rolled into basketball and to quite possibly another NCAA tournament bid.

Such a scenario could have put CSU athletics in the cat bird's seat for Big 12 admission.

45-10 later, all one can say is "Ouch."  So much for that.

The loss of their coach and their poor bowl game showing does a lot to erase what football credibility they built this year.

CSU will continue to have to hope for someone in the Big 12 to show some long term vision in looking at the Rams as a candidate.

Michigan needs to sign Mrs. Harbaugh.

Michigan is reportedly out to sign Michigan alum and current San Francisco 49ers head football Coach Jim Harbaugh to be their next head football coach. Reportedly they are waiving $8 Million a year at the former Michigan QB but still Harbaugh has not committed.

I'll be as blunt as I can be.  I do not believe Jim's wife wants to live in Michigan. I don't blame her.  The state is in a state of collapse.

Michigan needs Harbaugh. To get him, I think they need to land his wife.

Whatever she needs to hear, they need to say.

The reality is that Michigan has signed throw it around, space coaches for years.  It has failed miserably.  Michigan is soft.  They need someone who will bring back toughness and the Michigan way and no one is a better candidate than Harbaugh for that.

Harbaugh's Stanford teams played a lot more like classic Michigan teams than any Wolverine team in the last decade.  Ohio State and Michigan State are good enough teams that if Michigan beats them both, Harbaugh's Wolverines would be in the college playoffs, where his physical style has a great chance of success.

There is nothing preventing a Michigan resurgence.  The Offensive linemen that go to Wisconsin these days could easily be brought in by Harbaugh.  Harbaugh's enough of a national brand and proven commodity to recruit any position that the region cannot produce.

I don't know what it would take to land Mrs. Harbaugh.  Whatever it is, Michigan needs to figure it out and tell it to her.

If they need to give her guest homes in New York and Chicago to win her over than it needs to be done.

If it takes a frank conversation where they tell Mrs. Harbaugh that a lack of toughness is the problem at Michigan and the only coach skilled enough and manly enough to restore the program is her husband, it needs to be said.  If they need to show a connection between top level FBS football and university donations that can help a brain drain in a struggling state, Michigan's admins needs to do that research.  Maybe they need to show her how football generated donations to a university can go to academic scholarships, cooperative educational programs, and can even generate university created businesses.  Maybe they need to show her how her husband's brand can correct a lot of what is wrong in that state.

Jim Harbaugh can be football Jesus to the state of Michigan and Mrs. Harbaugh can play a huge and public role in making that happen.

This is a state that needs someone to believe in and the Harbaughs would have little trouble being those people.

Who makes the NFL playoffs? Week 17 predictions.

Let's start with the AFC

1 New England ---  I would not be surprised to see the Pats take this game off and the Bills win this game.

2 Denver --- Oakland has a chance to pull another upset, but I think the Broncos are not playing quite as badly as people think and will put this one away early.

3- Pittsburgh --- Pittsburgh has been about as flaky as you can get this year and their defense is pretty mediocre, but it doesn't change the fact they are 7-2 in their last nine games and beat the Bengals a few weeks back.  They are playing well at the right time.

4- Indianapolis --- The Colts can use some time to get healthy.  The playoffs are unfolding right for them with a week essentially off and then a matchup against a Cinci team that doesn't show up in big games who the Colts torched earlier this season.

5- Cincinnati -  More of the same for Cinci.  Expect an Andy Dalton mediocre game.

6- San Diego - San Diego will be without Ryan Matthews and likely without Keenan Allen and will be playing a solid KC team with a gamer at QB in backup Chase Daniels.  So why am I picking the Chargers?  I believe in Phillip Rivers. One of these days he will drag the bolts to the superbowl ala Aaron Rodgers a few years back.

Now the NFC

1- Seattle - The Seahawks will take the #1 spot this week with a win over the Rams but I think the game will be fairly close.

2- Green Bay - I am not in love with Green Bay, but they have played fairly good ball for most of the season and should kill the Lions in the cold.

3- Dallas - Disclaimer: I am a lifelong Cowboys fan, but ...I also picked them to win 4 games this year.  The development of Zack Martin into a rookie season pro bowler surprised me a bit --- I thought it would take him 2-3 years to get there.  The team taking on the attitude of the line was a lot more surprising. Murray playing all 16 games and Romo playing almost all of them was shocking to me.  Dallas and Washington usually split games and the Cowboys seem to get they are playing over their talent level.  They seem focused to win this game as a playoff tune-up.  I wonder if losing this game would give us a shot at Atlanta or Arizona... I do not like Dallas's chances against either NFC North team, but do against the rest of the field.

4- Atlanta - I have no faith in Cam Newton, but I have only slightly more faith in Atlanta.  I think they played last week to save their coach and will do so again this week.

5- Arizona - Man, the Cards are paying the price for having crap at QB.  SF will kill them.  Good luck in the playoffs....

6- Detroit - Just the team I did not want Dallas to play.  Detroit is a beast up the middle and they know our OC's tendencies.

Friday, December 12, 2014

If Texas wants to have their cake and eat it too, they need to champion upgrading Texas Tech.

As I wrote last time, the leadership of the University of Texas is torn four ways when it comes to conference affiliation and best of those scenarios would appear to require Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma to come along

This means it is in the best interest of UT to rally it's political capital behind changing and upgrading the mission of Texas Tech University.

Tech has strong support in West Texas and in the major cities of Texas.  Media wise, they are a good compliment to UT in delivering the state.  It is in UT's best interest to make this alliance more understandable academically.

I am going to get pretty far into this.  A lot of these recommendations won't happen. I get that.  In a lot of ways this list will lean heavily into the realm of "not gonna happen".  I am only pointing out what would make sense for UT.

It is in the interest of UT to have the state fast track Tech's evolution into more of a research university and use the legislature to raise the admission standards at Tech. 

It is in the interest of UT to bend over backwards to push cooperative research efforts with Tech when ever possible.

It is in the interest of UT to help push for legislation that would push more students in the top 10% of their Texas senior classes to Texas Tech via state scholarships.

It is in UT's interest as well as the state's to see Tech move closer in quality to Texas A&M, so in a decade or so when the Big 12 Grant of Rights deals end, Tech is not a somewhat embarrassing anchor to drag with UT, but more of an academically respectable partner which will not skunk any deals that could bring money into the state.

Today, Tech is ranked #156 among National Universities by US News.  These kinds of changes would dramatically impact the US News scoring system and would push Tech higher.

A higher ranked Tech means a more powerful Tech.  It means an increase in value of a Tech degree.  That means more money in Tech alumni hands.  And all of that means more power backing UT alumni in state.

The State of Texas wants more "tier 1 research universities".  UT has already chosen an alliance with Tech over one with Houston, UNT, UTEP, and all the other schools vying to get more into research.  So why let Tech struggle?  It is counter-productive. 

It is in the best interest of UT to leverage their alumni's political clout into pushing down on that scale in favor of Tech.

It is in the best interest of UT to push legislation that reassigns small west Texas public universities into the Texas Tech System as it increases Tech's clout by reducing A&M's.

It is in the best interest of UT to try to rally political support from all Big 12 alumni to bring that enlarged Texas Tech system into the Texas Permanent University Fund over A&M resistance.  It doesn't make UT sense to have Tech, a long term ally,  fighting with the other lower tier large public universities over a share of the much smaller Higher Education Assistance Fund. 

Tech's association with UT in the Big 12 brings a lot more value to UT than say UT-Permian Basin brings to UT by their membership in the UT system.  Why should UTPB get access to the PUF funds over Tech?  It make no sense from a Longhorn perspective.  If UTPB (or for that matter UTEP, UTSA, or UTA) was pushed to the Tech system, it could create a little legal tension and political support to admit the Tech system in order to protect UTPB's small PUF share.

(In my opinion, shifting UTEP, UTPB, UTRGV, and UTA out of the UT system and into the pool of schools pulling from the HEAF would make a lot more organizational sense as they are similar tier universities... but I also believe that fund should be dramatically expanded with the express intent to transition the larger schools in that lot into "tier 1 research universities".  That would still leave sensible candidates like UTPB and West Texas A&M as candidates for the Texas Tech System.

If UT lets manay of them members schools be reassigned but keeps the higher ranked UT-Dallas as well as UT- Southwestern and all the science and medical universities in the UT system, I would think it would actually enhance the UT brand.  Let the lesser schools that chip away from the UT brand follow a similar rebranding path as the University of Memphis.

Pulling Prairie View and Tarleton out of the A&M system to match the changes made on the UT side would make sense as well.

Simply redirecting some funds that would normally trickle down to UT and A&M associate schools towards Tech as a new PUF member would be a great start to ramping up Tech.

Neither UT or A&M are as reliant on that fund as they used to be, but those monies could quickly help upgrade Texas Tech to slow the brain drain of top Texas seniors going to college out of state.

UT and A&M can't take all the qualified applicants they get.  Why not start the process of transforming Tech into a lesser A&M to soak up candidates who just miss the UT and A&M cut?  I envision a Texas Tech ranked in the top 100 National Universities with an enrollment of 45,000 by the year 2030 that pumps out a better graduates to power the economy in West Texas.

That would be a great ally for UT and would be great for the state.

Similarly the State of Oklahoma raising academic standards at Oklahoma State and pushing oil revenue into research at both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would be smart moves to cement the relationship with UT long term.

The four paths ahead of the University of Texas.

The leadership of the University of Texas is torn four ways when it somes to conference affiliation.

On Academic Lines

On one hand their academics would love to be in the best conference currently available to UT for academics --- The Big 10.  With it's academic and research consortium, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the Big Ten represents the kind of conference UT academics would love to call home.

Luckily the athletic department swings a big stick.  The Big 10 firmly favors schools that are members of the 62 member Association of American Universities (AAU) - an exclusive fraternity of elite "National" (ie. doctorate granting) Universities.  UT's strongest allies, the University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State are nowhere near that.  For UT to join the Big 10, they would likely have to leave most and possibly all of those allies behind, becoming regionally isolated.

UT pulls a large amount of their ability to market themselves from playing regional rivals. A schedule filled with Midwestern teams would be soul deadening for UT's often fair weathered fan base.

Additionally UT would lose all influence over the direction of the conference --- something that the leadership in the athletic department and at the university appear to rightfully consider an unnecessary poison pill.

On Academic and Athletic Lines

The more tolerable academic move concept is to build a UT ark and carry UT's allies (Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and maybe Kansas) into the Pac-12.  The Pac-12's conference admission standards are frankly, a notch lower. 

Academic knuckle draggers Tech and OSU are on a similar tier to Arizona State and Washington State.  The PAC may not love the idea of admitting those two, but to land UT (for the Texas Media Markets, political clout, and UT's research dollars) the PAC-12 would make the deal happen.

UT would go from being the undisputed ruler of the Big 12 conference to being a somewhat influential minority party member of a PAC-16 or Pac-18 ruling senate, capable of rallying votes on some issues.

Athletically, UT and their ark members should be able to maintain their success in an enlarged PAC-12.

UT fans and donors look on this move somewhat unfavorably as they balk at the loss of influence and feel that they would be propping up "someone else's conference".

Financially this is one of the better moves from the perspective of the State of Texas.  This would do much to ally the states of Texas and California.  California has a lot of angel investors.  This kind of expansion of their academic circles could easily lead to new emerging industries and the high paying jobs that come with that coming to Texas.

Additionally, the Pac-12 is a heavy research conference.  Such a move would likely ramp up research at Texas Tech and Oklahoma, yielding an improved national view on those universities and the degrees they grant.

On Athletic and Jingoistic Lines

Texas is a conservative state.  Conservatives fear change and will fearfully cling to the old ways, even if they aren't the most lucrative or optimal options.

There are plenty of people in Texas who do not want anything to do with a "foreign" conference.  They proudly beat the drum about how good it is to get "unloyal programs" like Nebraska out. 

That inbred mindset combined with the ability to actively steer the direction of the Big 12 has kept UT in a conference that is a combination of the least impressive academically, the least attractive to new members, and the most limited market-wise of the 5 power conferences.

UT can tread water here, but that would amount not leveraging UT into a lot more money for the state and it's residents and ignoring a dramatic improvement on the hiring power of a UT degree in other states.

It is short sighted, but that is the nature of conservative policy ("trust what you know").

On Fantasy Lines

Then there are those who think UT should just take the Notre Dame route and become an independent.  I think their strategy recklessly ignores the needs of UT athletically and academically and would not yield any positive results.

The Longhorn Network was an effort to test those waters of independence.  It drove a huge wedge between UT and Texas A&M and almost drove off all of the members UT's fans like to see UT playing.

It was in no way worth a couple million dollars a year to lose having Texas A&M tied at the hip with UT long term.

UT independence would piss off OU. OU has proven they can replace the UT game with another random power (BYU) and still do quite well financially in Dallas/Fort Worth.

For UT, the OU game is  the key piece in their annual fund raising effort.   The loss of that game would hobble UT athletics financially.

UT is reliant on appealing matchups to keep their fans engaged. There is just too much to lose there for UT.

Other options?

UT has tangoed with the ACC.  I would classify that as a lesser version of the Big 10 option above.  The ACC is quite a strong conference academically and is in a lot of nice markets, but it has many of the same issues as a move to the Big 10.

UT's leadership concluded long ago that the SEC was not up to the academic standards of Longhorn scholars.  Having to follow Texas A&M there makes it a poison pill for UT's powerful athletic boosters.  Much like Notre Dame to the Big 10, UT won't be broken.  It won't happen.

Realignment of the Big 12 could potentially ramp up the perception of that conference, but most Big 12 scenarios have an easily viewable ceiling.

The obvious conclusions

There are two (and a half) workable scenarios for UT.   Take a UT ark to the PAC-12 or expand and enhance the Big 12 (...or build a new conference off the bones of the Big 12).

What do those scenarios have in common?  These scenarios would appear to require Texas Tech and Oklahoma to come along.  Oklahoma appears tied at the hip to Oklahoma State by Oklahoma politics.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why the Lakers absolutely NEED to dump Kobe on the Knicks

Kobe isn't good enough to carry a team on his own.  No one is or ever was (even Jordan).

This Laker team is lousy and is rebuilding.  They have Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer, and a very young roster with little talent.  They need more young talent.

The Knicks are equally bad.  Phil Jackson has ripped up what little was there that worked last year (Tyson Chandler) to rebuild the team in his image, but the team is abysmal and Carmelo is far too immature to patiently wait for the picks to come in.   In-fighting abounds.

Both teams are on a path to a crappy draft pick, which might be conceptually OK to the team leaderships, but represent the wrong moves.

If you are going to rebuild you need mentally stable people especially your stars.  Dirk Nowitzki for example.  You cannot rebuild with a win at all cost hothead like Kobe Bryant or an immature crybaby like Carmelo.

But none of that is required.  The Knicks have the pieces the Lakers to radically speed up the Laker's improvement and the Lakers have the pieces to save Phil Jackson's New York effort from crumbling under Carmelo's immaturity.

The forces behind a deal

In business Win-Win deals often get done.  This is exactly that kind of situation.

Phil Jackson is floundering badly in NY.  Phil Jackson's girlfriend is Jeanie Buss, President of the Lakers.
Carmelo wants to play in New York, he both wants to win without doing much heavy lifting or working on his game, while dominating the ball due to a disdain for his teammates' talent level.  He can be a top 5-10 player when his head is right, but he is more a cancer than anything else today.  More than any other big time player in the NBA, Carmelo can use Kobe's constant badgering.

Kobe wouldn't mind playing in New York, but he wants talent around him.  Kobe realizes how important Phil Jackson was to his career.

Most NBA teams are not desperate enough to trade for a caustic Kobe Bryant with 18 seasons on his legs and a $30M contract.  Nobody is trading lottery picks for Kobe and the market for him is probably surprisingly sparse as teams wrest with the question of whether Kobe is locker room Kryptonite at this point in his career.

Laker fans are ready to rebuild.  Most, if they were honest, are a little tired of Kobe.  New York fans, as always, want to win now.

Kobe has lead the Lakers to a 5-7 record in the last 12 games.  They team is not talented enough to make the playoffs in a stacked west, but if they play at this level for the rest of they year, the Lakers would finish 27-55.  If the Lakers end up with a pick higher than 5th in the 2015 draft, the pick goes to Phoenix.  Kobe is literally playing the Lakers out of a much needed lottery pick.

Based on his moves, Lakers Executive VP Jim Buss seems to want to build his own legacy.  He has been in the center of most of the moves to rid the team of old Phil Jackson pieces.

Moving Kobe to New York satisfies almost every criteria.

What assets are on the Lakers

Kobe is still an all-star caliber shooting guard.  Carlos Boozer is a decent starting power forward on a good team.  Ronnie Price is a useful, underrated backup PG, but is in his eighth season.  His Laker career probably needs to be sacrificed to the god of rebuilding.  All three of them are too old for LA.

Everyone else is young.  Jordan Hill has been dumped by two teams, but looks like he is developing into a very solid minute eating 4/5.  Nick Young is a decent young 3, but more what you would have pulling 25 minutes on a bad NBA team.  Jeremy Lin is a guy whose game would be much, much better in a more up tempo system with a green light to score instead of deferring.  He showed leadership early in his career but has deferred to others lately.  He is probably worth holding on to in the post-Kobe world.

Wayne Ellington has a shot to be a solid pro in the right situation and might do well without minute eater Kobe.  Ellington is too physically limited to be great in the NBA.  He is an average athlete with a poor handle.  He is a good shooter and passer and plays within himself though, so he has a real shot to eventually make a niche for himself.  He could help space the floor next to Lin.

Ed Davis is a nice young prospect worth holding on to.  He can rebound and block shots, but his offense is very limited and his defense is a work in progress.  Robert Sacre is a physical big at the center spot, but is more of a good "banger" third center than anything else.   The rest look like NBDL guys.

What assets are on the Knicks

Carmelo can play like an elite player, but IMO is and always has been an immature little punk.  Although he has flashed shut down ability on defense, it isn't something he wants to do.  He dominates the ball despite being capable of being a strong passer.  He likes living in New York.  He knew the situation in NY was bad but still took the best financial deal.  He isn't a Kobe-type. IMO, he may actually tap out at some point if he feels that will get Phil Jackson and the triangle gone.

If Carmelo isn't heading to LA, that means no old guys are likely to be desired back by the Lakers. Lets start with the Knicks who would not interest a rebuilding team.  Sam Dalembert and JR Smith are too old with too many warts to interest LA.  Both are useful cogs on a playoff-caliber team as is heady vet Jose Calderon.

Andrea Bargnani the former #1 overall pick has always been a bad fit for the Knicks (and really every NBA team he has played for).  He was a Dirk Nowitzki starter kit who has been horribly coached and utilized.  This is a guy who's main value is being a #1 scorer on a team that has somewhat limited offensive talent.  This is a guy who can close, but unless you are arguably better than Carmelo, you can't have that role with Carmelo on the floor.  The lack of opportunity to fill that role has messed him up a bit.  Andrea can play at the 3,4, or 5 spots, but lack of plus strength or lateral quickness  makes him a liability defensively wherever he plays.   Probably, given his lack of an internal desire to rebound, his best role is as a 3 on offense and trying to match him on the least threatening opposing front court player on defense.   He has had a series of injuries over the last few years.  He is probably ready to move on and truth be told his teammates are probably ready to see him move on.  He isn't playing right now due to lingering injuries.  He is almost as old as the others, but salary-wise he would have to be included to get Kobe moved.

Jason Smith is kind of a backup 5/4 type. He is useful. SG Imam Shumpert is an athlete with an unrefined game. He excels when the pace picks up.  Tim Hardaway Jr. is a solid backup SG at least.  He is a winner with a solid shot, but the rest of his game is pretty average.  Still he could be a starter and a leader on a young team. Shane Larkin looks like a guy who will have a long and productive career as a solid NBA backup point. He also exudes some leadership.  Cole Aldrich is the kind of center who eventually becomes an NBA starter and teams realize he isn't half bad.

Mechanics of the deal

I used Real GM's NBA trade checker to confirm the viability of the deal.  It is Trade ID #6534478.

Kobe would need to sign off and the inclusion of a couple guys dictates it would need to occur after Christmas.

Kobe, Boozer, Sacre, and Price go to New York and a flood of middling young players come back. Los Angeles gets Bargnani, Jason Smith, Shumphert, Hardaway, Larkin, Aldrich and PG Pablo Prigioni (for cap reasons), who is cut on arrival.

The lineups

New York can roll out:

5- Stoudemire, Dalembert, Sacre
4- Boozer, Acy
3- Anthony, Wear, Early
2- Bryant, JR Smith
1- Calederon, Price, and Prigioni (if resigned)

That's a strong starting lineup with some bench issues that could be solved by some NBDL scoring help.  It should be a playoff caliber lineup in the east (to appease fans) and more importantly should keep Carmelo in line and working to fit into the triangle.

New York is 4-20.  At this rate, by Christmas they would be 5-26.  if they finished the season 31-20 they would probably be in the race for a playoff spot in the east.  I have to think that roster could do that.

Los Angeles can roll out:

5- Smith, Aldrich,
4- Hill, Davis,
3- Bargnani (injured), Hardaway, Young
2- Ellington,  Shumpert
1- Lin, Larkin

Certainly that is not a roster to write home about, but it is a serious-minded young roster with a lot of mid-to late first round types.  There would be a lot of good roster players --- guys who would be 3rd to 9th off the bench in a good rotation --- but few potential stars.  In the brutal west, wins would be hard come by for this group this year, but that is exactly what LA needs.  LA needs a top 5 lottery pick to give this roster a feature player.

How would this roster look with a star center in the middle next year? Pretty decent actually...

LA is 6-16 now, going 5-7 after a 1-9 start. By Christmas they might be 9-20 at this rate. If no trade happens 22-31 over the last 53 games may be possible for a season record of 31-51.  That is mid to late lottery range.  That would have been the 9th worst record in the NBA last year.  Kobe might very well cost the Lakers their lottery pick. 

With this kind of trade LA would lack the top closer to win in the west.  It wouldn't be hard to see them going say 10-43 the rest of the way out.  19-63 is a much better position to be in if you want a top 5 pick. That would have tied you for 2nd worst in the league.

It would be easy to imagine the team learning to play together even if they have to wait a year for Bargnani.  Although Young and Hardaway can both score a little, Bargnani is a lot more talented scorer at the 3 spot than anyone else on the roster.

The team would be athletic enough to run more.  Lin and Hill could take on a lot more of the scoring load with Ellington and Hardaway providing space creating shooting and leadership. Aldrich and Smith are good backup center types, with Smith able to help create space in the middle for Lin's drives and Hill in the paint.  Their depth would be quite solid and could help dig the Lakers out of holes their outclassed starting lineup would face.

It wouldn't be difficult to see Lin, Ellington, Hardaway, and Bargnani evolve into pretty clutch crunch time shooters complimenting a lottery talent at center.

Isn't that much better than letting Kobe play the team out of next year's lottery pick?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Alabama finally kills UAB football...Creating the question "Who replaces UAB in CUSA?"

I have a lot of angry thoughts about the treatment of UAB over the years and their ultimate demise, but for now I am not going to deal with those and I will instead ask the follow-up question so skillfully covered by Adam Rosenfeild, "Who takes UAB's slot in CUSA?"

Rosenfeild accurately points out that CUSA membership requires a school to field a football team.

UAB was likely to be part of the western division when Charlotte starts playing football.  That would have been a headache for everyone.

(from Wikipedia)

The current western division consists of Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Rice, UTSA, North Texas, and UTEP.

If CUSA adds only one team, the sensible addition (IMO) is Texas State. That would reduce everyone's travel footprint vs. other options and provide a good market (Austin).  Plus, Texas State has a healthy future.  Now that may not happen.  If it doesn't happen it will likely be because UNT and UTSA block Texas State in a vote. 

Mechanics of a block

In a one team expansion, the prevailing logic in CUSA may favor a decision between Texas State, Arkansas State, and Troy, but it is almost certain that the vote will be effectively left up to the CUSA western schools with the CUSA eastern schools just voting for whoever the western schools rubberstamp.  There are 6 schools that matter in this vote: UTEP, UNT, UTSA, Rice, La Tech, and So. Miss.

I think Southern Miss and La Tech may prefer Troy or Arkansas State for shorter travel, but they know the score.  If the Texas schools decide they want someone, there just are not the votes for either of those schools.  But if UNT and UTSA try to block Texas State, the votes for an Arkansas State suddenly appear.  The new Conference USA appears to think a lot about getting a school in each state.  That kind of movement could get eastern division schools like Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee voting for the Red Wolves.

Why the Bobcat hate?

UNT fans/alumni feel their school is on a higher tier than Texas State.  The long and short of it from a fan perspective is that UNT has been trying to gain traction at the FBS level for decades.  They idea that UTSA and Texas State can catch them (effectively overnight) is a bitter wakeup call.  Additionally usually a fan/alumni opinion is shaped by the prevailing logic in the athletic department.  UNT fans felt the same thing about UTSA and if the Roadrunners' attendance was not as impressive as it was UNT might have been able to keep them out.  UTSA likely also feels being in a better conference gives them a competitive edge over Texas State and that is a reason to keep the Bobcats out.

This is wrong thinking.

The bottom line is that a regionally sensible division that is in all the big markets in Texas cuts travel costs and builds TV revenue.  FBS life is about to become very tough.  Adding Texas State will make it easier, not tougher.

Texas State has a winning coach.  They are going to win 6-10 games every year.  They will recruit well regardless of the conference, so keeping them out of the conference isn't going to help a CUSA team. However keeping them out of the conference does open the door to Sunbelt recruiting in Texas.  Bottom-line?  It may a net recruiting positive for CUSA schools to add the Bobcats.

Texas State has a large alumni base scattered throughout the state.  They are good road draws.  They will bring 5 thousand or more fans to every away game in Texas.

If you add UNT's, Texas State's, UTSA's, and UTEP's alumni bases together, you have the politicial leverage to force state supplied educational revenue towards these schools.  This kind of alliance makes financial sense.

Texas's State's easy allies

I am not convinced that Texas State has the AD and the President to press flesh and rally the vote.  That is what Texas State should be doing today.

UTEP would be a natural ally.  A Texas State addition would not only cut UTEP's travel vs. other candidates, it would also help UTEP recruit south Texas, an area close enough to be a very strong source of recruits.  UTEP also has issues with funding that having more allies with large alumni bases (ie. voting clout) could help to ease.

Rice would be another good ally. A Texas State addition would help Rice's attendance by creating another solid home game for the Owls --- something vital to that program's long term survival.

These programs both have a vested interest in seeing Texas State invited and could have some sway with UNT and UTSA.  UTEP is a good opponent for UNT and UTSA.  Both schools are excited about being seen as a peer of UTEP.  UTEP has been recruited by the MWC so they do have some leverage they can bring if needed.

Rice is an academic school that UNT loves being affiliated with.  Some candid talk from Rice leadership may help sway UNT.  If UNT wants to keep the affiliation with Rice, they need to make as many good home games for Rice as possible.  It is not difficult to see a day when Rice drops football.  Good visiting crowds help reduce the chance of such an occurrence.

UTSA and Texas State were outsiders in the southland due to their desire to play FBS ball.  It seems like UTSA could take that position again if there were no other objections.

La Tech and Southern Miss could actually profit from another game in south Texas due to the recruiting potential.  There are still a lot of unmined FBS caliber recruits down there.  Getting the two non-Texas schools tolerant to the idea would be a worthwhile goal.

Selling the eastern division on the idea that this would give CUSA strong support in the DFW (UNT), Houston (Rice), Austin (Texas State), San Antonio (UTSA), and El Paso (UTEP) markets --- effectively most of Texas --- with large alumni bases would also be a strong sales point for the Bobcats to try and make to eastern schools.  The sooner CUSA becomes the second most relevant conference in Texas, the better.

This is the right move for CUSA today.

In a few years CUSA can look at adding Georgia State to bridge the Florida schools and a western school like Arkansas State to round out their footprint, but the sensible in-conference battle to fight today is to convince the Texas schools that working together is in their best interest.

Today, does the Big 12 feel a need to expand to 12? And who would be those picks if that discussion happened today?

In my last post I officially claimed and explained my one law of college football realignment.

"When the powers in a conference feel that realignment needs to occur --- at that exact moment --- the schools that fit the immediate and often transitory needs of the conference gets in."

I also loosely posed the questions, "Did TCU getting jumped due to other conferences' championship games reveal an annual problem for the Big 12 in the college playoff era?" and "Did this create a burr under the saddle that will drive OU's and UT's leadership to quickly push to expand the Big 12 back to 12?"

Frank the Tank wrote an exceptional piece on a very logical criteria for expansion of the Big 12.  He weighed out the relative merits of each school in sensible categories that he pulled from his very admirable sports brain.

My only issue with it all is that it totally ignores the one law in realignment.  It doesn't consider the perceived needs held by the decision makers at that moment.  To me, that is a huge oversight.

I look at this moment and I think if UT and OU's leadership reads this as I do --- as a chronic flaw that will eliminate Big 12 schools from the 4 team playoff every year --- then their immediate needs would shuffle the candidate order quite a bit.

(Now I want to be clear.  If they feel the 4 team playoff will quickly be replaced with an 8 team playoff there is absolutely no reason to take action. Two Big 12 teams would have made the field in an 8 team playoff and a third was very close.)

Frank the Tank and I agree on one thing. Finding team 11 isn't hard.  Any way you slice it, BYU brings the most value to this conference.  BYU is relevant and well supported throughout the Mountain timezone and into California and Texas.  Most of that is new territory for this Big 12. Their game day support levels and alumni size would place them in a ballpark around the 25-30th most valuable FBS programs, and their religious nature and outsider status makes their fans more fanatical (ie. valueable) than most programs.

The trouble is finding a 12th team that brings enough value that the Big 12 would not have to face a potential per team TV pay cut.

Frank's criteria points at Cincinnati being the likely 12th team.  He argues that their years of success in the late BCS era and the chance to recruit Ohio puts them at the top of the list.

I think if the vote were to happen today, Colorado State would be a smarter team 12.  Why you ask?  For several reasons.

First the obvious ones. 

No schools in the Big 12 outside of West Virginia or Kansas is going to make much headway recruiting Ohio.  Therefore the powers in the conference don't care about that.

CSU went 10-2 this year, Cinci went 9-3.  As the ACC passing UConn for a much lesser academic option in Louisville proves, there is a lot of "what have you done lately" thinking in looking at records.  This may in fact be a wash.

CSU is building a $195 to $220 Million dollar stadium and campus renovation. That kind of money pumped into facilities means that CSU would be competitive in the Big 12.  Facilities help recruiting a lot.  CSU is going to be competitive in any conference they are in.

CSU basketball is pretty good lately.  Larry Eustachy may have a bad rap for partying with co-eds in the past, but he is a hell of a good coach.  CSU has made the tourney the last two years.  He is building a national program.  Good basketball fills network hours and the more of it you have in conference, the more NCAA tournament shares a conference capture.  Good basketball is a fungible asset.

The University of Colorado is oddly horrible right now.  In very real terms, there is a chance for CSU to become the dominant program in Colorado.

Now the less obvious ones.

UT and OU would likely want two more top 20 to top 30 programs.   Ideally they would like them in a northern division where they can park travel headache West Virginia.  Ideally UT and OU don't want to travel that far for in conference play and if they have to play those schools in a championship game, they want the short travel to the Jerry Dome.

It doesn't even matter if CSU is just mediocre in football if they are in the northern division as OU and UT won't play them every year.  BYU will be an annual top 25 team.  That is good enough to keep the north respectable.  UT and OU will still play Baylor, OSU, and TCU every year.  And Tech is usually bowl caliber.  There are enough good wins in a potential southern division to put UT and OU in a position to win a "nearly home field" championship game and get into a four team playoff.  Remember UT and OU just want a quality opponent which one of West Virginia, BYU, CSU, or Kansas State will provide each year.

CSU hasn't built anything.  The Big 12 today can say to CSU, "We will let you in and give you a $20-25 Million dollar annual TV check, but we want your new stadium to sit 40K as of 2016 and 50K as of 2020".  CSU will OK that as they still don't know where 100M+ of revenue is going to come from.  Big 12 TV checks could pay off the stadium in 5-6 years.

CSU and BYU are strong undergraduate schools.  CSU also does a significant amount of research.  While the academic elites at UT would likely prefer a Big 10 or Pac 10 affiliation, these are solid academic brands in the central footprint that UT's leadership would probably sign off on inviting into the Big 12.

Finally CSU and BYU's fan bases in Colorado combine to be very significant.  One may think BYU just brings Utah TV relevance, but that is untrue.  BYU and CSU would bring the very large and lucrative Denver market.  Now it is true that Cincinnati is a great market too, but that is Big 10 country.  Due to the University of Colorado's struggles, it is not an equivalency with the PAC-12.  Colorado could again be Big 12 territory and that would likely make up the value needed for a 12th member.

If the expansion happened today, I think the schools would be BYU and CSU. 

(Now I would recommend a larger expansion if I were consulting the Big 12, but that is another article.)

The one law of college football realignment

I have followed realignment for a number of years.   There are general principles about conference realignment that are often true (ex. FBS conferences do not like adding FCS programs as it tends to make a conference appear to be at the bottom tier of FBS conferences or FBS schools tend to only move up by choice in the FBS pecking order or schools tend to chase better paydays.)

That I have found there is only one real law of conference football realignment.  I am naming it after me as I discovered it several years ago and want the credit, lol!

With no further ado...Tobi's "One law of college football realignment":

"When the powers in a conference feel that realignment needs to occur --- at that exact moment --- the schools that fit the immediate and often transitory needs of the conference gets in."

Why did Utah get into the PAC-12 instead of several better supported programs?  The PAC-10 had a rule where realignment had to be unanimously approved by all member schools.  In 2010, they brought in new conference leadership who accurately assessed that having to wait on votes would put the conference in a weak position to expand.  Their leadership proposed a few options to their schools ahead of time that were unanimously approved. Their first approved option was to add Colorado, Texas, Tech, A&M, Oklahoma, and OSU.  Their second was Colorado and Utah.  Baylor, with no understanding of why the PAC passed them over,  tried to use politics to force their way onto the list instead of Colorado.  The PAC killed this effort by inviting Colorado on their own.  After all,  the PAC knew they could get Utah.  UT and A&M strung out the process.  Eventually the leadership in the PAC decided action was needed and the pre-approved addition was Utah. One wonders if the PAC had a little more patience with their big goal of adding Texas's TVs if the pick would have been a school who could destabilize that incarnation of the Big 12 --- like Kansas or Missouri.

Why did the Big 12 add West Virginia instead of BYU or Louisville? Well, the surprise loss of Missouri (given Chancellor Brady Deaton role in the Big 12 at that time) had everyone in the Big 12 questioning the conference's ability to survive.  They needed a solid name immediately.  They approached Louisville, but Cardinal leadership felt the Big East's bylaws were too thorny for the next season escape the Big 12 desired.  West Virginia's lawyers wrote that thorny decree.  West Virginia had no issue breaking their contract.  BYU was a far better candidate than either, but may have been seen as a school that would take too long to commit to the Big 12.

Why did TCU get into the Big 12 instead of BYU?  TCU draws ~44K; BYU draws over 70K.  TCU had an enrollment in the teens; BYU has an enrollment around 30K. BYU's alumnibase dwarfs TCU's.  But TCU got the invite?  Well at that moment the Big 12 had lost Texas A&M. UT, Tech, A&M, Baylor, OU, and OSU had given the Big 12 a huge share of the Texas audience.  Losing A&M football was immensely survivable. Losing Aggie fans who are annually willing to watch any conference game that might affect the Aggies' chances of making a bowl game was the huge loss.  TCU didn't come close to replacing that, but (based on attendance) they were the largest Texas fan base available at the time.  Additionally, if the SEC did something non-standard and invited TCU too (something not entirely out of the realm of possibility), the SEC could cut in on DFW media exposure and recruiting. Adding TCU protected the recruiting pipelines that make UT and OU national powers.  After A&M left, OU was all for adding TCU and UT only required an afternoon drinking session with DeLoss Dodds to give support.  I take that to mean the reality had already hit Dodds that he may have to agree to this, not that the man was a soft minded drunk.

Why did "academically questionable" (at least in power conference measures) Louisville get into the academically exceptional ACC?  Because at the moment expansion was deemed necessary to replace Maryland, the ACC had a lot of parts in flux.  They were working on a TV deal with ESPN and were worried about a potential defection of their lone football power FSU.  FSU and Clemson wanted a football power added as Maryland's replacement.  Louisville had just completed a dominant season while UConn had just tumbled from a bowl team into mediocrity. If the moment of truth had come right after UConn had won men and women's basketball championships would the decision have been the same?

Why did Maryland and Rutgers get into the Big 10?  Both schools fit a lot of Big 10 value criterias, but had sat uninvited for years.  Several sources say that Maryland and Rutgers were added when they were to eliminate a potential future where a resurgent ACC might look very tempting to Penn State.  It is a conceivable thing.  With most conferences writing very toothy exit agreements, the ACC could put together a stable conference and when Miami and the Virginias finally return to power the ACC would in theory have much greater markets to leverage against that football success into very large payouts.  The Big 10 felt they had to get the invites out before the ACC got squared away long term and before they recognized the value of Rutgers.

The question for today is does the results of the initial college football playoff announcement lead to one of these moments of truth for the Big 12?

It will be interesting to see if the Big 12 leadership (ie. UT's and OU's presidents and ADs) feel that seeing 2 of the top 6 football programs, playing in what may be the second best conference in America, missing the playoffs may be the required stimulus for another round of realignment.

Consider this. TCU was #3 entering this weekend.  Because they didn't play a conference championship game, every team they were competing with outside of the Big 12 earned a quality win this week due to having a title game.  That is a huge portion of why TCU is out.

And more importantly, that kind of math is very capable of eliminating a similarly strong OU or UT team in the future.

We have just seen the lack of a title game eliminate a Big 12 team from contention.

So who would the Big 12 add today? Read my next post for my thoughts on that.

A confession to make --- I do also HOPE the Big 12 gets bypassed in the initial playoff selection.

I mean, I'll be content either way, but the whole "We'll roll with 10 schools" thing is partially based on DeLoss Dodd's thoughts that a 10 school roster and the elimination of a championship game would give the Big 12 an edge on the other power conferences.

I really resent Dodds for the shape the Big 12 is in today. Although I really like TCU and Baylor and would love to see them make the playoffs, anything that refutes a smarmy Dodd's theory and gets UT and OU's leadership to look at expansion to 12, I am all for.

If the Big 12 produces 2 of the top 6 teams in the country but their champion gets passed over because they fall one "quality win" short, I have to think that would open some eyes at UT and OU and then expansion would happen.

No offense Baylor and TCU fans.

To me... whatever happens will be a win.

Hindsight will lie when it comes to the initial NCAA Football playoff predictions...

Hindsight will almost certainly lie when it comes to the initial NCAA Football playoff predictions.

I fully expect the playoff field to be:

1) Alabama
2) Oregon
3) Ohio State
4) FSU

with TCU and Baylor on the outside looking in.  Why?  Because Ohio State's third string QB leading them to a 59-0 demolition of a surging #13 Wisconsin team that SHOULD have been the exact kind of team to give Ohio State fits answers the right questions for the committee.

That game shows that Ohio State belongs in the elite 4 and when push comes to shove is the committee likely to add a private with no football history that didn't have to play a championship game over an historic national power in a more lucrative conference that did?

Honestly, I think it is the right choice.  I don't know how good TCU and Baylor truly are. I don't know if their talent level is up to snuff.  They look good enough but my eyes may be lying to me. I think they have great schemes that people haven't figured out yet and would compete well, but they may be no better than Arizona --- a really good team --- and it may be that they have benefited from OU's inability to capitalize on last season's leverage and UT running off a load of talent to look much better than they actually are this season.

I know Ohio State has the talent and the coach to compete.  Their only loss came right after they lost their starting QB. To me that is a very forgivable loss.  Additionally it appears OSU has gotten better every week and is now playing their best ball of the year.  They looked better with their third stringer than they have all year.

Forget all you know about how rankings have historically worked.  This committee is tasked with picking the schools playing the best ball right now.

That is the only criteria they have to follow.

I can't say OSU's demolition of Wisconsin puts them any lower than fourth.

Now you may say FSU shouldn't be in.  I agree that they do not deserve to be in, but they are undefeated and the defending champs.  I cannot see the committee with several coaches ignoring that.  It is one thing to casually point out that the ACC is piss poor while off the record.  It is another thing to say going undefeated in the ACC is equivalent to doing it in the MWC or CUSA --- not worthy of inclusion.  I don't think they will go there. It would make too many of the power conferences nervous.

Now I fully expect TCU and Baylor to take the rage at being passed up and turn it into fuel for bowl game wins against lesser opponents.  Now should either team win their playoff game in dominating fashion, those fans will complain about getting jobbed, but the reality is that the committee is supposed to look for the 4 teams playing their best ball of the season.  They are going to take 3 and they probably feel they have to take FSU.

If it happens this way, it will be the right call --- regardless of the bowl results.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

So who are the best QB's available in the pro game?

I never finished this one either. I started writing this around mid-season.   I meant to evaluate about 45 QBs ---basically the guys who I think can play a little --- but I lost steam after 32 and the list has been mothballed ever since.  I am tired of looking at it, so it's publication day...

"I decided to take a mid-season snapshot of NFL quarterbacks.  I am weighing the evaluation heavily based on who these guys are today rather than slaving the list to what these guys have done in their careers.  I want to look at the best quartebacks today.

Lets start at the top. 

I think in looking at QBs you have to start with the elites.  The Hall of fame caliber guys. The QBs who can consistently get you into a game with their play and have shown the skills to move you vs. the best defenses.

1. Andrew Luck - I know that stats do not bear it out, but to me he is the most dangerous QB in the NFL.  He took a pathetic team and got them into the playoffs and followed that up by becoming the NFL's most feared 4th quarter QB.  He delivers in the playoffs too.  His team is never out of a game.  If his surrounding offensive talent was a little better, no one would question him being #1 on this list.  Give him a slight line improvement another quality receiver and look out.
2. Aaron Rodgers - The NFL's highest rated QB, Rodgers willed a mediocre Packers team to a title a few years ago.  One has to wonder what Rodgers could have done if his team shopped for groceries and churned the roster like New England.  I just cannot escape the feeling that as good as Rodgers has been since winning the superbowl, he just hasn't hit that zone since. I don't think GB can win a title without him playing at that level.
3. Ben Roethlisberger - Big Ben has been lighting it up lately and has the resume to belong in the elite group.  His size and skillset can erase a lot of problems in his supporting cast.  I have thought for years that Pittsburgh's offensive talent has held him back.  It looks like they finally have enough raw skill position talent around him to allow him to show what he can do.
4. Tom Brady - Remember, this is not a "career accomplishment" list. New England does a great job of churning the roster, but their receiving corps has been garbage for a while now.  Brady makes them appear much better than they are.  Brady is one of the toughest outs you will find come playoff time, but his teams have been flawed lately and it has hurt the perception of him.
5. Phillip Rivers -  I love this guy.  The coaching change in San Diego has him and the Chargers back on track.  I think it is even money or better that he will carry his team to a title Aaron Rodgers-like before his career is over.  He makes players around him better.
6. Peyton Manning - The old man cranks up the stats  with his loaded Denver offense.  Personnel is making him look better than he really is, but in spite of that, he is damned good.  A couple years ago they had a stat on Manning throwing under duress and his season rating in that scenario was insane --- If I recall his rating was like 104 or higher in that situation.  I think it outpaced his normal stats!  He is a gamer, but at the end of the day, Brady has owned him for most of their careers.  When it comes to making plays in the brightest of spotlights, Brady is better.
7.  Drew Brees -  I have always thought Drew Brees was helped a lot by his system and his coach's playcalling.  To me, he has always been a hair below the QBs above him on this list, and this year personnel changes have his stats reflecting it.  Still Brees is an easy Hall of Famer.
8. Tony Romo - To me, Tony Romo has always been in the top 5 in the NFL in making the tough play on third down to move the ball.  That he has done this with an often suspect running game is telling. The trouble for Romo has been at the end of games, when is only quality running back was either injured or being protected by the coaching staff and when his weak offensive line routinely collapsed up the middle, wreaking Romo's footwork, shaking his confidence, and creating interceptions.  Jerry Jones screwed Romo for years and frankly may have burned the tail end of Romo's career. The OL was finally addressed this year.   Imagine if Dallas had gone ahead and stayed where they were a few years back and drafted G David DeCastro out of Stanford  rather that trading up for the sexy pick in CB Mo Clayborne....Would Romo have the back issues he has today? Did Jerry cost Romo 2-3 years?  The chance to get to a Super Bowl?

The good QBs

Next you have the guys who are not the elite game makers but are very good in almost all games.  To me, for the most part this group is the Troy Aikman wannabes --- For the most part, the guys who are game managers but have the kind of talent that they can be almost impossible to to knock off their game if they have a solid running game, sound blocking, and a money receiver.

9.  Joe Flacco - Baltimore really did a disservice to Flacco in letting Anquan Boldin go.  I understand the finances, but it was still the wrong move.  Boldin was uncoverable and pushed Flacco into the top tier. Adding Steve Smith to fill that role has helped, but Flacco needs a true, big, physical money reciever.
10. Russell Wilson - Superbowl aside, Wilson's stats in the first few years of his career are really unbeleivable and put him in rarified company.  His ability to move around and make the right decisions puts him near the elite level.  Ultimately he isn't quite there, but he could get there.
11. Ryan Tannehill - I am loathe to give credit to an A&M QB and I thought that drafting him was a mistake, but there is no questioning the decision at this point.  Tannehill is already in the top half of NFL QBs and when his offensive line gets to a similar level it seems safe to predict he could move into the top tier in the league.  He makes plays for his team when they need them.
12. Cam Newton - The guy is having a very, very poor year, but his talent suggests it is just as much a fluke as teams figuring him out.
13. Collin Kaepernick -  It will be intersting to see how he fares under the next 49ers coach.  I think Kaepernick could re-write the record books if SF would pair a couple of deep threats at the WR spot for Kaepernick to play off his mobility.  I think the SF receiving talent doesn't match his game currently.
14. Matt Ryan -  One gets the feeling that the moment has passed for Matt Ryan, but he is still quite a fine and capable QB.  There seems to be a piece or two missing from this offense.
15. Johnny Manziel - Admittedly a total projection on a guy who hasn't started a game in the NFL, but I think Manziel would project out about here. To me, I see a spoiled and less disciplined Tony Romo.  He ate up Nick Saban's good Alabama defensive teams in college and the previous star QB from the Kevin Sumlin system, the modestly talented Case Keenum, played pretty well in the NFL last season. I think Jerry Jones would look pretty brilliant offering a third to Cleveland for Manziel at season's end.
16. Robert Griffin - RG3's on the feild play has him about here.  He would get better as he gets healthier. The trouble is he has a slight frame and takes a ton of unneccessary shots.  His unwillingness to play smarter may cause him to get placed on NFL team's "not a starter" lists (as happened to Tebow due to his limited passing ability). I would not be surprised to see Washington cut him after the season.  Heaven forbid if a coach like Chip Kelly gets a hold of him.  I would love to see Dallas be pre-emptive and fish for a deal for this guy.
17. Mark Sanchez - I am going out on a major limb here, but this is where I would put Sanchez.  He won playoff games in schemes which were not ideal for him before he had a clue how to play in the NFL.  I firmly beleive that Chip Kelly is not sold on Nick Foles and never was and that Sanchez was brought in to take Foles' job.  Now that Foles is out, I think Sanchez will.  Philly's scheme will score points.  Sanchez is just better under pressure than Foles. It is sad for me as a Cowboy fan as I don't fear Foles at all. I think a lot of teams are going to regret not picking up Sanchez.

The best of the straight game managers

Below here you have the guys who manage a game well but lack the top end talent.

18. Brian Hoyer - This is a money game manager.  Will he hang around in Cleveland?  Word is Johnny Football has to go for Hoyer to re-sign.
19. Austin Davis - Davis is a more than competent starter. He is a real suprise and should hold on to that job.
20. Alex Smith - Smith's small hands hurt him. Take away his fumbles and he may be 13th or so on this list.  He has become an accomplished game manager, but he really isn't a guy who can make you the big play when you need it.  Still, he rarely loses his teams any games.
21. Colt McCoy - Does he have the build to consistently weather a season as an NFL starter?  The real secret about McCoy is that he is freakishly accurate on short and mid-range passing and is a great leader.  You can build around that and you can win around that.  Given a shot, he could move up this list.
22. Andy Dalton - I hear the moans now.  "Dalton spits the bit in big games!" Well, yeah, he does, but lets be clear, that only started happening when he reached the NFL.  The guy was money in college.  I look at Dalton and am fairly certain he just happens to be a poor fit there.  He is a Hoyer-esque game manager on a team that offensively is similar to what the Cowboys have thrown out the last few years.  Put him on a team with a dominant running game and a solid offensive line and I think you would see the kind of play Dalton had in college, but Cinci is built for a Tony Romo/Drew Brees type --- a guy who can buy time and has a knack for throwing.  Cinci wants too much out of him.  But I think it is too early to give up on him as an NFL starter.  Sink a few high picks into offensive linemen next year and make your decision on him after next year's playoffs.  Career-wise I am reminded of the NFL career of Jake Plummer.  Like Dalton, Plummer never had the right offense to allow him to blossom in the NFL.  That may be Dalton's lot in life.  One wonders what he could do on a team with a culture more up his alley --- say Chicago.

The flawed talents & the up and comers

Here are the guys who play well enough to hold down a starting job, but IMO are unlikely to be difference makers in the rest of their careers and the noobs who do have a shot.

23. Eli Manning - It pains me to put Eli Manning on this list.  Like a lot of the QB's on this list, Manning is hurt by his team's personnel choices.  The Giants see the problem. They have brought in a few 1st round OLs in the last few years, but more help is needed.  Manning is getting the competitiveness beaten out of him and interceptions are habit making.  Manning had a good shot to be a HOF QB after his second title win, but you can't get there throwing 20 INTs a season, year after year. It isn't out of the realm of possibility that he could move back into the tail end of the top tier of NFL QBs, but I think it is unlikely. I think he is becoming David Carr. You can't unlearn that kind of damage.
24. Derek Carr - I think the Raiders have their first truly good QB in several year in Carr.  I think this is a kid with top tier potential.
25.  Nick Foles - I have felt that Chip Kelly was never sold on Foles.  Foles's game has come back to earth hard now that teams have figured him  and that offense out.  Putting up those numbers in Kelly's offense is criminal. The question is how much will Foles improve now to compensate?  I am not sold that the answer is a lot. 
26. EJ Manuel -  This guy was a surprise first round pick last year.  Most teams had him as a 4th rounder or lower.  He really looked exceptional out of the gate, then he got injured.  It seems like Buffalo has decided he isn't the right move for them and has opted to go with a veteran backup.  I think that move will likely get their coach fired ---probably by next season.
27. Matt Stafford - He really hasn't learned how to play QB in the NFL at a high level.  He puts the ball up for grabs all the time, which is OK with a healthy Calvin Johnson, and not without.  I think Megatron will slow down and Stafford will be undressed in the near future.
28.  Jay Cutler - To me, he is a poor man's Jeff George.  He has talent.  He can play at an elite level for a game, but likely won't ever do it for 3 playoff games.  I think he just isn't a professional.

Backup Caliber

These are guys who are backup types.

29. Kirk Cousins - Cousins had more up and down play in this year's run of games starting for RG3.  He could be a solid mid-level starter in the NFL with some development.
30. Carson Palmer - I think Arizona is nursing a guy who mentally retired years ago to a solid year.  I think he is still the weak link in Pheonix.
31. Kyle Orton - Orton plays at a slightly higher level, but there is no way to coat the fact that he walked out on his last team and looks like a guy who likes collecting a paycheck instead of playing.  This move will come back to haunt Buffalo.
32. Ryan Mallet - I am unconvinced he will last long enough to really take hold in Houston, but he could.  He is what Houston needs, but he needs a good OL, which Houston doesn't have.  Will the Texans "David Carr" him out of the league?

Guys out of the league who shouldn't be.

Tim Tebow - I'd rank him about 20th.  I know he is not in the league, but he absolutely should be. I know he would be in the bottom third of starting QBs evaluated strictly on his passing, but passing IS NOT the bottom line with quarterbacks.  The bottom line in the NFL is winning or at least should be.  Tebow has proven his skillset is a winning one in this league.  His tough running turned a decent running game into an elite running game.  He is difficult for most teams to defend, he picks up third downs and short yardage easily, and he protects the ball. If you can move the chains, score in the red zone, and don't wilt in the 4th quarter, you are a winning NFL QB.   That is Tebow.  He is a hard worker and a student of the game.  Plus he is flat out dangerous in the fourth quarter.  Why he is not the backup in Dallas (or anywhere else), I can't say.  He's hard to prepare for, he's a damnsight better than our current backup, and you can't find anyone more the "right kind of guy" than Tebow.  "

The hindsight 20/20 redo of the Cowboys's draft.

I wrote this back after the NFL draft in May, but never posted it.

"The days after the draft offer a unique ability to understand the motivations of the coaching staff and get a sense of how the scouting department valued players.

Sadly it looks like the cowboys' 2014 draft board will not be leaked this year...

Given what I know know about how both sides feel about the players they landed and their thought processes on a strategy for the draft, what would I have done differently?

First round.

I entered the draft wanting Johnny Manziel, but I have been swayed by the implications of the Cowboys' argument that if you drafted Manziel he is "too good to sit".  To me, this is code that if you drafted Manziel, as soon as Romo had a bad game, the fans and half of the team would turn on Romo.  QB controversies have a widely unrecognized additional fallout.  Usually a small handful of guys overcommit to the losing QB and in short order the team has to replace a few extra players.  Dallas just can't afford any unnecessary player attrition.

I considered Aaron Donald option 1A.  I understand that Dallas had talks about moving up to take Donald but the cost of their first and third was deemed too costly. (Which really makes me scratch my head that they gave the third for Lawrence.)  I would have been open to trade up if Minnesota would take that offer.  Donald hit me as the only "safe-sounding" trade up option.

Although I liked the idea of picking OT Taylor Lewan, but I would not give up a third to move up for him in a year where a third is a likely immediate long term starter.

I am not an Anthony Barr fan and would not have traded up to pick him.

Likewise I don't think 4-3 OLB is a high priority position and Shazier was a guy pundits had going 8-16 picks later. Combine those two factors and trading up for him would have been a non-starter with me. Plus picking Shazier would have forced Dallas Shawn Lee to stay at MLB.  To me this was a horrible idea even though Shazier is a good player.  Luckily he went at 15.

Which left us at 16 with the same options Dallas was considering.

Jones has said Martin had the same grade as Aaron Donald, Anthony Barr, and Ryan Shazier, but based on Dallas's actions was not the team's preference vs. Shazier.  Martin is a durable, consistent player.  Martin was considered the 9th to 13th best prospect in the draft by draft day and he can probably play RT which is a Dallas trouble spot.  Value combined with the need made Martin a sound pick.

16: Zack Martin RT Notre Dame

Second Round

Defensive line is a huge need at this point as is MLB.  Several WRs in this round looked like late first round prospects to me, but that is a spot where we don't need a ton of help.

I would have vetoed a trade up for Lawrence who likely would have gone to Atlanta at 2 (37).

Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde would have been a great change of pace/ backup at RB, but Ultimately I would have passed on him because there were other RBs at lower costs.

Chris Borland was a guy I liked at MLB as much as anyone in this draft, but Borland has had some injury moments and Dallas's coaching staff and scouting department was apparently very high on Anthony Hitchens as a MLB prospect.  I could be convinced to pass with that in mind (as well as Dallas's chronic injury problems) in favor of Arizona State's Will Sutton  (who Dallas's front office was not gaga over.)

As a Junior, Sutton was just as dominant as Aaron Donald.  Sutton did his damage in the PAC-12 though.  As a senior Sutton was advised to gain weight,  he put on 20 extra pounds and was a shadow of his former self.  The reports are he has lost most of that weight.  While Donald is clearly a 3 technique, Sutton hits me as Donald with some of Timmy Jernigan's skillset.  I especially like the fact that despite being a strong pass rusher, Sutton can hold his position.  Given Dallas's run issues last year, that is a great asset.

Sutton fell because he was still overweight. While in shape players like Martin, Donald, and Barr rose, overweight guys dropped in the extended pre-draft period.

Sutton had more of a late second grade.  I might have tried looking for a partner to work a trade down.  The Dolphins ended up trading to 2 (50).  I'd have given them 2 (47) for their 2 (57) and 4 (125) offer.

57: Will Sutton, 1 technique DT.

Third round

OSU DE Scott Crichton would have been a steal in the third, but he was gone before the Cowboy's pick. He is a bit limited, but a very good player.

I would have gone along with the Cowboys' desire to draft LSU G Trai Turner. Turner is young, strong, and aggressive.  I am not arguing with Bill Callahan on OLs.

78: Trai Turner, RG 

Fourth round

Dallas' front office graded Anthony Hitchens as a MLB.   They were all over him in the fourth.  I would have forced them to look at him later in the draft.

David Yankey would have been high on my list. He looks like a 10 year NFL starter. Getting that in the fourth round is gold.

I would have also tried hard to convince the scouting department to take Ben Gardner here, but Dallas's scouting department would talk me out of it due to his much lower grade. Likewise, FSU's  MLB Christian Jones appears to have taken a  pot related slide out of the draft.  Given that no one drafted him, I would think that my scouting department would have steered me to safer waters.

I'd have taken a long look at Oregon DE/DT Taylor Hart with the second fourth round pick.  Hart is a guy who can contribute as a rotation DL, but he has a had a couple injuries in college and I cannot be assured he is not injury-prone. That is the last thing Dallas needs.

Devin Street looks like a fit in a 5 receiver Dallas rotation, but I think there are better players at other spots.

Stanford S Ed Reynolds would be my pick at 125.  He plays instinctively and has a shot to fix the FS weakness.

119:  David Yankey LG
125:  Ed Reynolds FS

fifth round

Caraun Reid would be a sensible pick in the fifth round.  He has some pass rushing ability from the middle.

158: Caraun Reid DT


229 Jackson Jeffcoat DE
231 Ben Gardner DE
238 Micheal Sam DE
248 Ahmad Dixon S
251 Ken Bishop DT
254 Christian Jones MLB/OLB

To me all of these guys had a real shot to contribute.  Jeffcoat is a Shante Carver type who most teams seem to feel didn't work hard enough.  Playing for Dallas would likely get his motor going.  He has edge speed. Gardner is a guy I liked who Dallas drafted, probably due to "position flex". Sam is a better than seventh round pick who appears to have slid because NFL teams do not want to add openly gay players.  Dixon is a nice gamble. I am Ok with Bishop and I would totally roll the dice on Jones at this point.

I'd sign Josh Mauro DE/DT and  as a free agent and try to trade a 6th next year to carolina for RB Tyler Gaffney."

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Dallas Cowboys 2014 NFL Draft Review

1 (16) - Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
2 (34) - Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
4 (119) - Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Iowa
5 (146) - Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
7 (231) - Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
7 (238) - Will Smith, OLB, Texas Tech
7 (248) - Ahmad Dixon, SS, Baylor
7 (251) - Ken Bishop, DT, Northern Illinois
7 (254) - Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon

Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: While casual fans might have looked at Dallas's failings last year and thought that improving the team's run defense would be chore #1.  True Cowboys fans would take it a step further and suggest that with the losses of Demarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, that defensive line would be the priority in the first two rounds.  They might have argued that Dallas absolutely had to land two starting DLs in the first two rounds.

Dallas' leadership sees it differently.  New defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli apparently played a big role in Dallas's draft strategy.  Marinelli says one of the biggest problems last year was that Dallas needed a DL who demands a double team.  Dallas was dead set on landing that player.  Ultimately it looks like it proved to be at any cost..  Dallas entered the draft with their eyes on Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald, UCLA DE/OLB Anthony Barr, OLB Ryan Shazier in the first round (with the idea that Shazier would be a threat as a pass rusher) and Demarcus Lawrence in the second round.

"The starter picks" (top 3 rounds) Analysis: Dallas entered the draft with the 1(16), 2(47), and 3(78) picks. In most drafts, teams that draft sensibly should be able to draft starters with their first and second round picks at minimum. This draft has been categorized as having ridiculous depth vs. most drafts. There appeared to be quite a high talent level available in the third in particular. With those three picks, Dallas should have been able to pull a guy with a 1st round grade, and two guys who would normally have second round grades.

Martin is a dominant college left tackle who the majority of Draft pundits say scouts project at guard in the NFL, (even though Martin never played there in college). With the extended lead up to the draft, players who did well in the pre-draft interviews and workouts rose a little higher than they would in most years.  By draft day, Martin was widely considered to have risen to between the 9th and 13th best player in this draft.

Dallas management says they intend to play him at guard this year and possibly move him to right tackle the following year.  (Based on recent reports, I think the idea of playing a year at guard might be a weird bluff to try to get Brian Waters in to have surgery now so the veteran might be able ready in time to attend camp.  Waters and the Cowboys appear to be playing chicken. It's convoluted. The short story is that the Cowboys like Waters, but Waters doesn't like training camp.)  Dallas also tried hard to get back into the third round to draft a guard, LSU's Trai Turner --- only to see him go to the Redskins with the pick Dallas traded away.  To make the situation worse, it occurred two picks before Dallas's potential trade partner. So Dallas  may not be all that married to the idea of Martin in particular at guard next season.

It would seem to make a lot more sense to plug Martin in at right tackle immediately, pushing the inconsistent Doug Free into a backup role.  Picking up right tackle would likely be an easier transition for Waters.  Additionally Martin is considered a good technician and an aggressive player.  He is not considered an exceptional talent.  In Salary Cap terms, it makes sense to have a player like Martin competently holding down the right tackle spot long term to offset the costs Dallas will be paying at LT.

Surprises to watch: Dallas picked a lot of guys who look like surprising contributors. Hitchens was ranked fairly low by scouting services as a Will OLB due to his 4.7 speed, but he is a hitter who diagnoses plays well.  Dallas had him rated as highly as they did because they evaluated him as a MLB.  4.7 is very good speed for a MLB --- especially in this rookie class. Do not be shocked if Hitchens emerges as the team's starting Mike and Lee is the starting Will.

Street is a polished route runner with some size.  He could be a pretty productive situational backup replacing what Miles Austin provided last season --- before Austin's hamstrings ended his Cowboys career.

Gardner and Bishop are guys who I think will end up having long careers as rotation guys on the D-line.  I feel pretty certain about Gardner due to my familiarity with him as a player.   Bishop is more a guy where the talent fits here.   The Cowboys feel like you can pick up effective 1-techniques late and this looks like a nice player/team fit. Dixon is a special teams guy who will light someone up, but has a slim shot to be a decent starting safety.

Best Value Pick: It's hard to attribute "value" to seventh round picks because anyone who goes that late usually have some big flaws in their game that make a long NFL career a long shot, but Ben Gardner is a guy I thought might go in the third or fourth round.  No one picking him until the seventh suggests that NFL scouts clearly felt he was a guy who maxxed out his talent in college.  I think that is a mistaken conclusion. I believe he slid because there were an abnormally large number of "hit or miss" types with higher upsides in this draft. I think he might have been a 4th or 5th rounder in a more normal draft.  I believe he will prove to be a solid rotation level player on the Dallas defensive line. 

Questionable Calls: Clearly Dallas felt their most most impactful strategy entering this draft was to secure a pass rusher who could demand a double team. (Dallas tried unsuccessfully to trade up for DT Aaron Donald and saw Anthony Barr go early in the draft.)

Dallas's third option to make this work was to execute a two step plan taking Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier at 16 and Lawrence in the second round when they found they could not trade up for Donald.  Dallas had planned to use a combination of  Shazier's speed (utilized on blitzes) and Lawrence's skill to pull a double team and provide a strong outside pass rush.
On paper this plan looks questionable.  Shazier would play the Will spot, keeping Shawn Lee at the MLB spot where he has proven to be too brittle. 

Additionally, Dallas Plays a 4-3.  Picking a LB to provide a serious pass rush has almost never worked for teams that run the 4-3.  Luckily Pittsburgh took Shazier at 15, making the merits of such a move irrelevant.

After the first round, Dallas's personnel department reached a consensus to do whatever was required to at least get the second half of their outside pass rushing plan.

Lawrence looks like a questionable pick to me.  He was a productive collegiate player in a very mediocre MWC. His stats consistently reflect a pass rusher (an important indicator IMO). He did play hard on the field and flashed every skill one would want to see from a pass rusher.  He has big hands and good short area explosion and quickness, but his combine was not eye-opening and his pursuit speed is pretty uninspiring (although his effort seems to be there in chasing down players from behind).

There is some sentiment that as a pass rusher Lawrence falls slightly short.  It may turn out that like Anthony Spencer, Lawrence will have a lot of "close but no cigar" moments in the NFL.

Lawrence played at 244 in college last year and has now "bulked up" to 251. His strength is frequently mentioned as subpar. While he has the frame to add a lot of good weight in the next few years, he is not exactly fast now. Given his height he will need another 10-15 lbs at minimum to stay healthy playing in a 4-3 scheme.  How will added weight affect his game?

Dallas considered this draft to have only 3 top level pass rushers who could demand double teams. Is this really a player who will demand a double team in the NFL next season?  Because if not, it would have made more sense to wait a year to get the team's next star DE.

While he is a high effort player, his game lacks some discipline. I am not sure that is a priority for Dallas coaches who seem much more focused on getting a pass rush from the kid, so I am not expecting much improvement there in the near future.

Lawrence was sidelined by his coaches a couple times in college for breaking team rules. During the draft, Dallas's management was talking about how they were going to help Lawrence grow into a man and how Lawrence was immature in College.  To me, those two items with his weight suggest this not a guy ready to start, and if he isn't, he isn't a guy deserving the first round grade Dallas affixed to him in the media.

I think in a normal draft, Lawrence is still an early second round kind of player.  With a team with a number of holes, do you trade away two fairly certain long-term starters for a guy who may just be a situational pass rusher and only has an early second round grade? Its a tough sale for a lot of Dallas fans...

To put it in perspective, the Ravens picked right Dallas's assigned draft slots and landed a pair of FSU Seminoles in DT Timmy Jernigan and FS Terrence Brooks.  How many Cowboys' fans would trade that duo for Lawrence?

At 47, OLB/DE Trent Murphy, DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Will Sutton, RB Carlos Hyde, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, DE Kony Elay, WR Allen Robinson, T Moses Morgan, T/G Billy Turner, DE Scott Crichton, NT Louis Nix, DE Kareem Martin, G Gabe Jackson, MLB Chris Borland, and RB Tre Mason were all still available.

At 78, Brooks, Jackson, Sutton, Nix, & Martin were still available as was Spencer Long (a guard out of Nebraska that Dallas tried to trade back into the third round to pick), RB Terrance West, WR Donte Moncreif, DT Caraun Reid, DE Chris Smith, OLB Telvin Smith, G/T David Yankey, QB AJ MCCarron, & T Cameron Fleming.

It seems pretty likely that Dallas could land two long term starters/heavy contributors out of that block.  (I would have been pretty excited with just about any combination off that list --- my preference was a Borland/Sutton combo --- instead of reaching for a need. A pairing like Hyde and Nix might not have been what the Dallas plan called for, but could have provided two low risk, high level starter caliber prospects who could function in the Dallas offensive and defensive schemes. Both players would help Dallas with the teams' short yardage situations.)

Dallas management argued that Lawrence was the last of the pure edge rushers in this draft and that Atlanta was looking to take him early in the second.  For Atlanta, it would have been a slight reach --- for Dallas it looks like a big one.  There is nothing that suggests the need to move up in order to have a shot to pick Lawrence was not legitimate, but was picking Lawrence the right move?

Several players with legitimate first round grades fell into the second round.  This draft was loaded with players. 

Lawrence looks like a player who grades out somewhere between Ebenezer Ekuban and Shante Carver. If Lawrence  turns into another Carver -- a 2 to 4 year situational pass rusher who never develops into anything more -- this pick will be one of the Cowboys' worst under Jones due to the depth of this draft and the abundance of team needs.

Summary: Ultimately this draft will not be as good as the optimistic view suggests. One can have a lot of optimism about the players Dallas took in the 7th round, but in general players go in the 7th round for a reason --- 32 teams pass on these guys for 6 rounds.

Dallas is hoping several of those guys come through for them. That is what Dallas has been doing for years. Dallas has used the second fewest number of picks in the top 100 for the last 7 years. A roster filled with later round guys and free agents is a recipe for a lack of quality depth.

If you build your roster with late round picks, almost by definition your team will be less talented than the teams you play. Dallas has 5-10 less top 100 players on their rosters than the teams they play.  Dallas again turned 3 picks in the top 100 into 2 players.

The national and local media say that the quality of their draft entirely depends on Lawrence emerging as a quality starter.  I think that is asking too much.  The cowboys' coaching staff and draft department drafted Lawrence to be a situational rusher in a 8-9 player DL rotation this year.

Martin looks like a 10 year starter at RT.  Lawrence should fit the role of a situational edge pass rusher for the next 3 years at least. Hitchens could emerge as the starter at MLB (pushing the fragile Lee to the Will spot) and may prove a solid and durable in that role. Street looks like a quality 4th or 5th receiver who can provide a big target when needed. Gardner and Bishop could prove to be solid rotation players on the DL for the next 5-7 years.  Dixon looks like a good special teams player and a capable backup at SS.

In a possibly relevant side note, Martin, Hitchens, Street, Gardner, and Dixon were all college team captains. Team captains are usually heady players with a good work ethic.

The Mitchell pick is curious as he does not look like a fit at all for the Tampa-2.  That, along with the team's myopia on securing pass rushers, suggest the team will employ less cover 2 and a lot more man coverage this year, which will help our veteran CBs.

Ultimately if Dallas didn't trade, this draft was tailor-made for Dallas to bring in 7-8 play-eating rotation players, if not starters.  If they traded down in the second round a bit, that number might have gotten up to 10.  Dallas probably got 3-6 guys who fit that bill.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Dallas trades a 2nd and 3rd for Demarcus Lawrence

I am pretty disgusted.  Dallas was on track for a good draft this year.  That is very much in question now.

I don't have a huge problem with Lawrence as a 2nd round prospect, but I do have a problem with the spot he was picked. Lawrence is a guy who had to put on weight to get to 251 and is consistently described as lacking strength.

He is a very skilled/developed pass rusher, but I don't see top athleticism here.

I think this is a situational pass rusher for the next 2-3 years.  Maybe he can match Ware's sack total from last year, but will get destroyed vs. the run.

He will develop, but for now I am reminded of Shante Carver.

I am very sad as a Cowboy fan as this draft is considered ridiculously deep. The guy you get in the 2nd round this year might have a first round grade in most drafts.  The guy you get in the third would have a second round grade most years.  So basically 2 starters was the cost.

What Cowboys fan would trade two starters for Shante Carver?

Dallas has had the second fewest number of picks in the top 100 in the last 7 years.  They have not drafted well late in the draft.  This is why talent is so scarce in Dallas and depth is non-existent.

This is why Dallas always feels compelled to overpay to keep their good players.

I find myself immensely jealous of Browns fans today.

Update:  Dallas could have landed MLB Chris Borland and DT Will Sutton with the picks they traded away. Neither guy is "all that" but both look like starters as positions of major need.  I am a little bummed out.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Draft Update --- Jerry passes on Manziel

Johnny Manziel was exactly the kind of player Jerry Jones swore to never pass on again after the Randy Moss draft.  And yet he did.

Critics need to acknowledge that this was clearly a collective decision, something critics will never admit.

Clearly the coaching staff didn't want a QB controversy in a make-or-break year.  And Jones went along.

Jones makes one of the safer looking picks.  Martin is a collegiate left tackle who is projected to play guard, but I think he could also play right tackle allowing the team to use Doug Free as a backup.

The assumption is that this means the Cowboys will not draft another OL in the third round.  that may be a wrong assumption.  It will be interesting to see if the cowboys draft an offensive tackle in the third round....

Update:  Jerry Jones has admitted Johnny Manziel was the highest rated player on the Cowboys's board at 16.  The Cowboys decided not to draft Manziel  because the situation was too awkward.

Draft update ---manziel still on the board at 12

Taylor Lewan was just drafted at #11.  The boards are being cleared.  Donald is likely to go 12th (NYG) or 14th (Chicago).

This leaves Dallas with very few options vs. Johnny Football/ trading down.  The Giants could save jerry's butt by drafting Martin out of Notre Dame, allowing Jerry to trade with the rams to get Donald ahead of Chicago.

Other than that, it is Manziel ball.