Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Realignment Grades, Raids, and Horse trades (power conference edition)

"Just for fun" - In my realignment articles I tend to write about changes that may or are likely to happen, things that appear to have relevance, or frankly movement that I think is very possible and SHOULD happen. 

This article is none of the above.  In this article I am writing about possible movement that in a vacuum might make sense but where there are hurdles that would prevent them from occurring...even if most of those hurdles are just conventional wisdom driving bad logic.  I think it is a good venue for discussing some under-reported, "hidden" internal pressures some conferences feel, but don't expect these to happen.  This is strictly looking at unlikely optimal scenarios for entertainment, education, and most of all --for fun.

I've had a couple realignment articles banging around in my head for the last two weeks.   I am going to start with this one, which is kind of a "just for fun" article.

Every once in a while it's fun to talk about which realignment moves haven't worked out and look like mistakes.  Or maybe looking at what moves might be really strong ones for a conference.

I am going to go a step farther in this article by invoking the "conference member trade" --- something that posters will sometimes longingly talk about from a somewhat ignorant and very overly optimistic standpoint---but something that never seems to intentionally happen.

(Now it does sometimes occur.  Denver, for example, bailed out on a very fragile seeming WAC to join the Summit League--- only to see Summit cellar dweller UMKC, fearful that they might eventually be kicked out of the Summit, join the WAC.)

With No further ado, let's start at the top of the Power conference pecking order:

The Big Ten

Today, adding Nebraska seems like a huge mistake for The Big Ten...And to some degree to Nebraska.

Nebraska used to pick up supplemental recruiting from all over the Big 8 footprint with occasional kids from California, Texas, and Florida.  All that is gone now --- and with it, so is Nebraska's role as a football heavy hitter.

Realignment associations for conferences like the Big Ten are about long-term academic prestige associations.  The Big Ten made an exception to their expansion philosophy to add another national brand in Nebraska football.

Nebraska got kicked out of the Association of American Universities (the AAU --- a fraternity of elite research schools) and is unlikely to ever be readmitted.  Now that the Big Ten has ties to 15 voting members of the AAU, it is a little more difficult to imagine other "at risk" Big Ten members (Indiana) getting kicked out.  Nebraska is now the only school in the Big Ten not in the AAU.  It may be that Nebraska will forever be the only non-AAU school in the Big Ten.

There is now a clear support to the contention that Nebraska is academically inferior to every other school in their conference.  Nebraska is the Boise State of the Big Ten.  As much as proud Nebraska alumns and faculty would love to point at their very admirable academic record, there is now damning support that Nebraska was just a "football add" designed to deliver B10 credibility ---and as that not the kind of homerun a conference would want at the cost of an undeserved membership slot.

Nebraska has not held up the western division of the Big Ten as the conference had hoped.  Games against Nebraska are just games on the schedule, not marquee matchups.

Nebraska football fans seem to have a general unease at the state of things.  They were happy to get away from Texas and the money is nice, but everything else seems to have come with unforeseen drawbacks.  It seems only the professors at Nebraska who now via the university's membership in the Big Ten have access to the assets of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation are really 100% thrilled with the new status quo.

Grade:  D

If the Big Ten knew that the other two schools they would add would be Rutgers and Maryland, and that Nebraska would be such a forgettable disappointment in the Big Ten, I wonder if they might have made a different decision.

Horse trades:  I wonder if the Big Ten might be amenable to letting Nebraska move to the PAC-12 in a few years?  That is a move that could have a lot of appeal to Nebraska in that it would open the door up for California recruiting and restore a cherished rivalry with Colorado.  Academically the PAC could still provide the same kind of benefits for Nebraska that the Big Ten does.  If all parties were agreeable to it,  Nebraska could still play schools like Wisconsin and Iowa out of conference.

The Big Ten could lose an academic "headache" and could fill that slot with a school they probably regret eliminating due to following today's expansion conventional wisdom which states you only add a single school from each state---Pitt. 

Pitt is a research powerhouse and their addition would do a lot to make the eastern division more cohesive.  While Nebraska might pull more advertising revenue, Pitt has more fans in the rich TV markets to the East and has some rivalries. 

Pitt is great in basketball (important to a conference TV network) and is good enough to compete in football at a high level every few years --- think a lesser Michigan State.  In fact, they could fill the same role Michigan State does for Michigan for both Ohio State and Penn State.  That is a powerful concept for their candidacy.

That trade would create a more appealing eastern division, not to mention a better divisional divide pushing Michigan into the West.

East Division
Penn State
Ohio State

West Division
Michigan State

Moving down the pecking order...

The PAC-12

Although I will argue to my dying breath the addition of Utah was a negative in their penultimate long term goal of adding the University of Texas, I think there is no question that so far Utah has more than pulled their own weight on the field. That is not horribly surprising given the level of play the Utes showed in their last few years in the MWC.

Grade: A-

To the surprise to many (including myself) is that Colorado has been a major disappointment.  It was always presumed that Colorado would flourish in the PAC as it's alumni move west into PAC territory in fairly large numbers.  They should have been able to harvest a lot more alumni support, media coverage, and recruiting...So far it just hasn't happened for Colorado.

Grade: D

Raids:  The no-brainer raid for the Pac-12 is to invite Oklahoma and Kansas to join at the completion of the Big 12 grant of rights deal.  While I feel the PAC made a huge mistake in passing on OU and OSU, if that pass opens the door for an OU/KU addition, it will have been the right move.  Adding OU with Kansas would permanently eliminate KSU and OSU from consideration. It would likely skunk the Big 12 for UT and have the Longhorns looking favorably westward at the PAC again.  The addition of the two former Big 8 schools would excite Colorado alumns and likely help turn that program around.  OU is a top 10 football brand at least and Kansas is a top 5 basketball brand at least.  Both are national programs.

Horse trades: Compounding that with Nebraska coming in would help the PAC into a position where they could add UT and call it a grandslam. 

Should UT make the very unlikely decision to move alone to the ACC, the PAC could add a school like TCU. This would plant a recruiting flag in DFW for OU and Nebraska and allow the PAC-12 to shed the "anti-religious school" rap by adding a pro-academic freedom religious school.  They could then call it a day.

Or the PAC could possibly look to add 2 out of 3 from the pool of UNM (great basketball), Rice (great academics, Houston DMA), and Colorado State (Good basketball, new stadium, solid academics and research).

Washington State
Oregon State

Arizona State


Today, it's very hard to argue with the SEC's two Big 12 additions.  Missouri has won some eastern division titles.  TAMU has beaten Alabama once and been pretty successful.  While recent events have that success looking pretty much done, today those adds grade favorably.

Grade: A

Raids: The SEC would love to pick off UNC, Duke, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma, but the reality is they just do not have the juice.

In addition to being rivals, UNC, NC State, and Duke are research powers which are deeply intertwined.  The area they are in is collectively referred to as "the research triangle".  The ACC allows them to continue their affiliation in the same conference.  They aren't likely going to be split against their will by an offer from a lesser conference academically (ie. an SEC offer).

Virginia Tech had to work their channels in-state to get into the ACC.  One wonders if the University of Virginia and the state would be accepting of them leaving. UVA does not seem all that keen on leaving the NC trio even if a Big Ten offer comes.

I am definitely no ACC expert, but all of the SEC's preferred targets in the ACC look like tough adds.

OU would probably join any power conference willing to take OSU, but they are not yet at a point where they will abandon OSU to be the SEC's single Oklahoma school.

A down the road addition of West Virginia & Florida State would be a smart pairing for the SEC, but there is every reason to believe lawyer turned part-time SEC realignment scribe Clay Travis of "Outkick the Coverage" that Florida would use it's alliance with Georgia and South Carolina to block an FSU admission.

WVU would be very dangerous with Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia recruiting.  WVU, with fans in Pennsylvania and Virginia and their ability to travel well, would bring surprising value to the SEC. 

FSU moving to the SEC could put the ACC in a tough spot as far as Florida recruiting goes.  The ACC might want to add another Florida school, but Miami would probably be able to successfully block USF or UCF  --- the next tier of Florida schools.

A less contentious sneaky big play for the SEC would be tendering future invites to West Virginia, Pitt, Baylor (or Oklahoma State), and Wake Forest (or East Carolina). 

West Virginia and Pitt add a quality rivalry and the states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  Pitt is a research power that would upgrade the perception of the SEC as a research conference.  West Virginia fits the profile of an SEC school.  Baylor and Wake Forest are quality academic privates who have played very good football over the last decade. 

All are schools their current conferences might be very content to lose to the SEC instead of other members.

After baiting the SEC to add Texas A&M and then trying to sue the SEC, Baylor would be a hated opponent for much of the SEC.  Baylor's scheme and coaching are good enough that they would win a lot of games in the SEC.  That is a great combo  for TV.  Plus most Southern Baptists live in SEC territory, so there is almost no question Baylor would recruit top 20 classes each year and could maintain their current level of play.  

While TAMU delivers Texas, having only one team in a state the size of Texas could be a real problem for the conference if TAMU underperforms --- as they often do.  Baylor would be the perfect Robin to TAMU's Batman. Baylor is the kind of school that TAMU leaders wouldn't feel threatened by athletically and try to block. Additionally an TAMU/BU alliance would be very troublesome for UT politically in Texas.  Would Baylor have the votes from SEC members though....?  Very questionable.

Wake Forest is an elite academic school which absolutely loves it's rivalries in the ACC, but has to realize they bring the least to the table in that conference and as such are the most vulnerable to be left behind should some shakeup occur.   Wake would offer the SEC the North Carolina markets the conference desires.  Wake has no illusions.  They know they are a have not member of the power conferences and a somewhat tenuous one at that. If they were offered a slot by one of the richest conferences out there, I think they might very well accept.

That certainly isn't the 4 schools an SEC fan might target if their preferred schools aren't available due to being blocked or being unwilling to come, so I listed OSU and ECU as alternates.  Neither school hits as many of the likely pre-requisites the SEC might want but they look better on the sports page to SEC fans.

OSU is really a peer to Arkansas, so if the SEC cannot land OU, I could see the SEC being OK with OSU. 

ECU is a tougher sell.  Academically they would be the worst school in the SEC and do not match the general profile of the SEC, but in football terms they are a fit, deliver statewide fan support, and could easily blossom as South Carolina did in the SEC into a 80,000+ per game school. 

Should the ACC successfully continue to block SEC access to their North Carolina and Virginia members and Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina continue to block FSU, Georgia Tech, and Clemson, that could create a scenario where the SEC might actually consider this longshot. 

After all, North Carolina is a very desirable collection of markets and none of the ACC North Carolina schools are truly dominant from year to year.  ECU could quickly surpass them all on the field.

Horse trades:  You want a fascinating idea....Vanderbilt for Wake Forest...  Everyone should be aware fo the fact the SEC is tradition heavy...and very proud of their history.  Vandy is the only school in the SEC that I think might consider leaving on strictly academic terms.  I think the Big Ten kicked the tires on Vandy, but if the ACC was not at risk, I think the ACC would have a very decent chance to actually steal Vandy.  Vandy has a lot in common with ACC schools. Whereas Wake Forest might approach realignment with some fear of becoming the Rice (abandoned by the SWC schools) of the ACC, Vandy might feel some camaraderie with and a desire to join the ACC schools.

Considering that, such a swap could be a salve for both schools and a financial winner for both conferences. The ACC is actually probably harmed by having 4 school from the same state in the same conference.  I think in theory the SEC leadership would have no problem with trading one academic power in a state they already own for an academic power in a state they have long coveted. The SEC TV financial pie would still be split 14 ways, just the pie would be bigger.  The ACC would also profit by adding Tennessee's markets and a perfect bridge from Notre Dame to the southeastern schools.  They would also see a similar financial gain.  AND most importantly, that would likely put an end to SEC targeting of the ACC's Research Triangle trio, stabilizing the ACC long-term.

East Division
Florida State
South Carolina
Wake Forest
West Virginia

West Division
Louisiana State
Mississippi State
Texas A&M


Boston College, Syracuse, and Pitt have all disappointed to some degree.  None are really tearing it up in football.   They provide good markets and academics and solid fan bases, but one wonders if the ACC had a do-over would they have added them?


The addition of Louisville at the insistence of FSU and Clemson likely annoyed the crap out of ACC presidents as well.  Still Louisville has very good athletics.

Grade: C

Raids: The ACC knows that any chip in their NC/VA/GA core could lead to the SEC gutting them, so they likely would not want to stir the pot with the SEC.  Flirting with Vandy without SEC approval is too risky.

Additionally, one gets the feeling having Notre Dame in the conference effectively immobilizes the conference. 

As with my suggestion of the Big Ten adding Pitt, in the ACC I feel that there is too much space between schools in the Northeast and it hurts their northern schools.   UConn and Temple would be a sensible pair to add should the conference decide to fix that.  Both are basketball powers who would fit well in the conference and add marketable rivalries.  (Probably too much arrogance and history based bad logic to support adding either school today).

Adding non-football school Georgetown would likewise be a very smart play for the ACC in several areas including cementing their relationship with Notre Dame.

That would create a  salty 16 football team (+ND scheduling alliance), 18 basketball team conference.

Horse trades:  Should the University of West Virginia ever raise their admission standards to an appropriate level (something I have read is dictated by the state --- foolish if there is any truth to that claim), WVU might become somewhat acceptable to the ACC.  Should that ever occur, trading Louisville for West Virginia might become quite appealing to the conference membership. Rick Pitino is going to retire one of these days and with him out of the picture, travel to West Virginia and association with a state flagship might be much more desirable for the ACC than continuing a relationship with Louisville.

Should UT ever commit to the Big 12 and allow the conversion of the Longhorn Network into the Big 12 Network, Louisville might actually agree to academically downgrade for a better regional home.

Boston College
West Virginia
Notre Dame (Olympic sports+ scheduling deal)
Georgetown (Olympic sports)/Virginia (football)
Virginia Tech

Virginia (Olympic Sports)
Wake Forest
North Carolina State
North Carolina
Georgia Tech
Florida State

The Big 12

Grades:  TCU has been exceptional on the field, media relevant, and has protected UT and OU's DFW recruiting.

Grade: A+

Adding West Virginia was a horrific decision for this conference in terms of identity, but athletically WVU has been a credit to the conference.

Grade: a grudging C+

Raids: I  covered this in depth in the 6 part series.  If you divide the Big 12 's footprint's population by the number of schools in the conference, you see the Big 12 is market starved compared to other power conferences.  That caps the conference's media value.  That will prevent any future significant raids of other power conferences and if left unchecked is likely lead to the collapse of the Big 12 eventually.  This conference needs to add a lot of TVs to be able to match the leveraging power of other power conferences.

This could probably best be corrected with just a western expansion (but admittedly that thinking does not appear popular today among the league's decision makers who follow CW in looking to the east.).

The better candidates today are out west. I would advocate the addition of  Colorado State,and potential football kings BYU & San Diego State,  with the new western expansion supported by Olympic members with great academic and media market locations UC Davis, UC Irvine,  & UC Riverside. 

Adding Olympic members St. Louis and Illinois-Chicago to a northern division would create 3 strong basketball divisions for convenient travel and rivalries.

The addition of only 3 football candidates would create a football only slot.  I had pushed Houston for that football-only but that choice looks too caustic for UT and Tech's leaderships and boosters. A sensible alternative option for the final football spot on a western expansion could easily go to Air Force. 

Air Force kicked the tires on pulling their Olympic sports into a less competitive conference a couple years ago when they were talking with The American about a football-only spot a few years ago.  Air Force as a football-only add would be a strong replacement play for UH.  The academies are all very strong academic brands, have large nation-wide fanbases, and Air Force is a marketable BYU rival.

(Anything that supports the maturation of BYU and SDSU into real kings is a smart play.)

That type of expansion and the formation of a Big 12 network out of the LHN could open the door for a raid on the SEC or ACC down the road.  If the money was same and UT grew into a good partner, would Missouri and Arkansas consider moving to the Big 12?  Possibly. 

Missouri left because the Big Ten passed on them and the Tigers' constant flirtation with that conference had the rest of the Big 12 prepared to abandon Missouri should the conference implode.  It was a defensive move.  Is there too much bad blood there for a reunion if the Big 12 finances made a major correction?

Arkansas has been an afterthought athletically since they left the SWC. Should Missouri move back (or Louisville move to the Big 12), the Big 12 could begin to look like an ideal home for Arkansas with DFW recruiting beckoning and several very large Big 12 fanbases within about a 3 hour drive of Fayetteville.  That could easily lead Arkansas to look at a stadium expansion to 100,000.  They could easily become one of the FBS's true kings, in the 100K club with top 12 recruiting classes.  That isn't happening for them in the SEC. Ever.

If the Big 12 got their act together, Arkansas could be leaving fat money on the table to stay in the SEC.

Additionally, Florida State, Miami, Clemson, and Georgia Tech combo could become available should the Big 12 have a better collection of markets to leverage.

Horse trades: Should the Big 12 ever get their act together and Arkansas want to move west or Missouri want to return, a sensible deal between two peer conferences would be to offer the SEC West Virginia in trade --- should West Virginia ever get their admission policies that downgrade their academic reputation corrected.

Or a deal to the ACC would work too.  WVU for Louisville would be great too.  Really WVU to either conference for no return would be OK.  The conference could backfill with Tulane and likely be about the same as they are today.  WVU is better by far athletically, but Tulane would bring a lot to the table academically and in recruiting terms and they would be less likely to be a spoiler vs. the league's elite teams.

Big WAC division
Air Force (FB only)

SWC division
Texas Tech

I was going to do the non-power conferences too, but I am tired.  Maybe tomorrow...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A tale of two transfers. Bob Stoops and OU show Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech what class looks like...

OK, the headline was a bit over the top.

Six days ago deposed OU QB Trevor Knight announced he would be leaving OU.  Knight had been an early sensation in college, but his career at OU had petered out.  OU gave him an unconditional release to transfer and play his senior season anywhere.

Two years and 4 days ago, Tech Freshman QB Baker Mayfield told Kliff Kingsbury he was leaving.  Mayfield had walked on at Texas Tech, won the starting job, and had become the Big 12 freshman of the year....but still felt like Kingsbury was oddly dragging his feet about giving him a scholarship.  Kingsbury had the option to not grant Mayfield his release and chose to do so in a moment that screams abuse of power.  This move cost Mayfield a year of eligibility.

Lets take a deeper look at both situations.

Trevor Knight

Now OU's coach Bob Stoops' actions here are IMO quite admirable.  Usually when a player transfers out of a big time program they have all these stipulations on who you can and can't play for that the school is allowed to lord over the player. 

A bunch of crap.

I will give OU some credit for not imposing those limitations. (I guess I did in the headline).  OU was about as nice, grateful,  and respectful to Knight as school could be to a transferring player.

The thing is, morally this should be the status quo, so I don't want to break my hand patting Bob Stoops on the back.  Plus, there are a lot of things that make his attention-getting position less earthshattering.

There is the reality that Trevor Knight was exposed on the field and is going through his "adversity moment".  In stock terms, Trevor Knight was a sell.  He was probably at the least effective point in his entire football career last season.

Knight looked great early in his OU career, then opponents got film on him and figured him out/he regressed for a number of reasons (mediocre coaching being one).  Then new OC Lincoln Riley came in and brought the exact same offense that transfer Baker Mayfield won Big 12 newcomer of the year playing in.  It would have been a total upset for Mayfield to not depose Knight for the starting job.

Knight did play a little last year, but looked absolutely horrible in the Air Raid.

Knight to his credit did what every college QB with NFL aspirations should do --- he worked hard in class in order to graduate early.  This opened a couple of options for him.

This was his backup plan and it paid off handsomely for him.  He could have transferred out as soon as Riley was hired and lost this season, but then he would have spent the rest of his life wondering, "Could I have won the job?"   He'd have teammates ---friends---who would have felt betrayed.   Plus then he would have had to sit out a year.

He was able to compete.  He lost out.  He played a little, but not well. Then he told Stoops he would be graduating early and requested his release.

Stoops probably looks at this and thinks, "Well he is graduating.  I really do not have any hold over him anymore.  He is abysmal in my offense so keeping him just burns a scholarship for a year so I am going to let him go...Do I put limits on where he can go?  If I am benevolent it helps me in recruiting.  If I am petty, it hurts OU's QB recruiting."

I'd like to think there was also some loyalty component for the games Knight won for OU, but there is probably just as much of a thought by Stoops that Knight is broken and will never be a threat should some conference team sign him.  Maybe he has some tells of which OU is very aware.

I want to detour a bit and write a little about Trevor Knight's pro prospects here as I may not come back to this in the future.

Just failing in one offense doesn't mean you are a bad player or that you don't have an NFL future.

Plenty of NFL pros had uneven collegiate careers.  Dan Marino had a very uninspiring senior year, but luck put him into a great spot for his talents in the NFL with two burners at WR in Mark Duper and Mark Clayton and he dominated the NFL starting early in his career.

Lots of successful pro QBs have had issues in the pros as well.  Take a look at Steve Young's numbers in Tampa Bay.  He was terrible. Then he moves to a system that fits him and becomes a hall of fame QB.

Steve DeBerg was a journeyman QB  replaced by like 5 pro bowl QBs.  He threw a lot of picks.   Then DeBerg landed with the right coach. They figured out how to maximize his game.  He learned to not bite on the dangerous throw.  With good footwork and his convincing ball fakes, he blossomed into a pro bowl QB at like 34!

A stumble doesn't mean you are done.

If Trevor Knight chooses wisely, he will get a fair shot at the NFL.  While a lot of team in the NFL use 4 and 5 WR sets here and there, no one runs the air raid. No one cares about last year.

If Knight choses a school that runs an offense in his comfort zone, are good teachers of mechanics, concepts and footwork, have worked with QBs who have gone to the NFL, and where the job is open and no dominant young talent is on hand, he can totally have a bounceback year and scouts will look at him very positively.

I have noticed that the QBs who fail in the NFL are usually the ones who didn't experience any adversity in college or high school and have no idea how to cope with the inevitable down moments.  I am sure I am not alone in noticing this.   To a lot of scouts, Knight going through this and bouncing back with a strong senior season would show them a lot.

Knight has already shown the talent to beat Alabama, the best talent on defense in the FBS ranks. If he can chose well, work hard, and have a pretty decent senior season --- proving his resiliency ---I think a lot of teams would look at him as Landry Jones-type --- a 3rd to 6th round pick chosen to be a potential long term NFL backup.  That is a great job. 5-15 years of $1 to $3M annual checks and the ability to play with very little pressure.

I think he'll be alright. 

Choose right kid. Ask around.

Baker Mayfield

Mayfield's decision to leave Tech may seem a bit immature but honestly none of us know what the dynamics were between Mayfield and Kingsbury. Was Kingsbury playing weird mind games?  The end of that relationship was a train wreck that resembled a hair pulling fight between two teenage girls.  Neither party came out looking very mature.

What we can say is that at the end of the day, it was a man's decision with serious implications for his career for Mayfield to leave Tech.  Mayfield rolled the dice on his career, transferred to OU, and then had some luck as Bob Stoops rebuilt the offense around Mayfield.  Like him or not, you have to respect the fact that he was willing to lie in the bed he made.

But none of that is really relevant to me.

I think there are basic questions of fairness here which are laid out well in this article. Tech didn't pay for any of Mayfield's college fees.  Should they have been allowed to affect his future?

The NCAA has rules in place which requires transferring FBS football players to sit out a year.   There are several exceptions to this, one of which is referred to as the "one-time transfer exception" which allows non-recruited athletes in all sports to transfer once without sitting out a year.

There is an exception to that which allows a school to deny the release of a player.  That is what Kingsbury did, in a move that screamed of spite and pettiness.

The Big 12 has a rule that then applied.  If a player transfers and is not immediately eligible, they have to sit out a year and surrender a year of eligibility.

That is a clusterfuck of unfairness.

So today, I'd have to say OU and Bob Stoops look somewhat upstanding in an often murky profession.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

For the love of God, Jerry Jones ---- Tank the Season!

I heard an interesting thought on the radio today about how some Dallas fans want either Philly or Washington to win the division.  It was an interesting thought I want to expand on.

The NFC East is cursed this year.   Anyone who wins it ---with the exception of the NY Giants --- will regret it for years.

If the Eagles win the division or tie for the division, The Eagles owner will have an angle to defend retaining Chip Kelly.  If they win the division, Kelly for his part might actually see if some of the decisions he made that didn't pay off this year might pay off next year.  It's an Eagle's fan's nightmare.  Now if they miss the playoffs, he is either fired and someone comes in who can use this talent better or he totally trades out his assets again on another crapshoot on improvement.

If the Redskins win the title and make the playoffs for the first time in forever, they kind of have to make a serious investment in the flawed but developing Kirk Cousins.  Unfortunately their owner is Dan Snyder --- an owner who has never met a player who he wouldn't overpay and a QB he wouldn't coddle.  Goodbye hard working Kirk Cousins, Redskins fans meet the next RG3!

If the Cowboys make the playoffs winning at least 2 of the next 3, does anyone think they are going to beat anyone else in the playoff field?  As grounded and sensible as the front office was in 2014, they were delusional risk takers in 2015.  This team entered a "contention year" with no depth at QB behind an injury-prone vet, with what appears to be a substantial downgrade at OL coach, and with no quality running backs.   What did you think was going to happen?   I said before the season this team had a 25% chance of winning the super bowl and a 75% chance of finishing with a top 10 pick.  Those decisions were entirely on Jerry and his son, who appear to have taken their accolades to heart after a very good 2014 and are not currently accepting any blame for this season when it is in fact all on them.  This is a solid team with some deep flaws. (Plus at this point I feel pretty darned vindicated in my Tim Tebow-for-backup-QB advocacy.  Does anyone really think he'd have gone 0-9 on this team?)  Heaven forbid Dallas makes the post-season and they rush Romo back for a second time and break his collar bone again!  Should Dallas make the playoffs, Jerry will think that with a healthy Romo, this will be a super bowl contender next year---even though a healthy Romo may not be possible in the coming years.

Only the Giants would profit by making the playoffs.  That would again be Tom Coughlin outrunning the coaching grim reaper again.  The Giants are really only one draft away ---two good defensive lineman --- from being a dangerous darkhorse again under Coughlin. And there is always a possibility that a healthy Victor Cruz could emerge.  Should that unlikely scenario occur, the Giants would again be a divisional power and super bowl threat.  If they fire Coughlin though, they will likely see rebuilding attrition gut their roster.

Dallas and Jerry Jones are in the driver's seat --- if Jerry can just be sensible

When you look at the "prize" for winning the division meaning falling from #6 or better to the 20's in the draft, it is insane for Dallas to keep trying to win.

One of these NFL owners is going to be a sucker who thinks the status quo plus a piece of gum equals the super bowl.  For once, can it not be Jerry?

Jones is the only one in the lot who's fans would be totally fine with him tanking the rest of the season.   He has the option to do so.

And if Dallas finishes 4-12?  What then?   Currently at 4-9, Dallas today would have the 6th pick in the draft.  It is entirely possible that everyone in front of them may still have a win in them this year.  It is entirely possible to see NFL teams winning 1/3 games at any time in the season.  

If we can just go 0-3, I could see Dallas with the second pick in the draft.

Jared Goff would be fantastic behind this offensive line for the next 10-15 years. Goff needs some refinement, but our offense is basic and structured in a very QB -friendly manner.  He is a game competitor with some skills who will be a hit if he lands on a team with a good offensive line ---or a David Carr-esque bust if he doesn't. 

And pick 1(35) could be say....OT Jason Spriggs out of Indiana (or the best OL available then)? ...Finish out your OL for the next 10 years. 

Then maybe 3(68 or whatever) you land a DT (Sheldon Rankins of Louisville?).

When you are picking that early in each round your second is like a late first and your third is like a late second. 

In fact I think there is a very good shot you might land a player who could start with your fourth round pick --- maybe a RB? (Jerry might be able to use his "Arkansas exception" to the new Jerry rules and overrule his scouts so he can pick between Arkansas RBs Alex Collins or Jonathan Williams in the fourth, push the pick into the starting lineup, and then watch him disappoint... eventually turning the job over to Robert Turbin.)  .

3/4  is not bad!

This Dallas front office has finally gotten to a good place drafting.  Let them draft in an optimal spot!

That is really what you are talking about.  If you just tank these next 3 games, Dallas is good for the next decade.

But should Dallas win one of the three, maybe Dallas is picking 8th and we miss on Goff and then everything is a lot less certain.

There's a very good chance Tony Romo's bones are now just slightly stronger than Jerry's.  (ie. he's freaking old, he was always undersized, and Jerry let him get beat to hell for about 8 years. Probably done. For once, lets play the odds rather than putting everything on a Jerry favorite.)

How to blow the next 3 games --- It is exactly NOT what the Dallas front office is thinking.

There is no guaranteed way to lose the next 3 games.  Matt Cassel usually plays well one out of 3 starts, so you are going to have to spike the road somehow...

The reason Dallas has lost all these games in a row is because they have a very inconsistent starting RB and they had the worst backup QB in the league in Brandon Weeden who they upgraded to the second worst backup QB in the league, Cassel.

(On the radio show they spoke to former Cowboys RB Tashard Choice who said something that filled in the missing piece of the puzzle for me on Jerry Jones.  We have all heard the comment that whoever has Jerry's ear last is who he is going to listen to and we have seen enough to know there is a lot of truth in that.  Choice pointed out that whenever Jones overpays a position, he next goes a complete 180 and doesn't pay the position crap until he gets burned and finally realizes it is a mistake.  Kyle Orton makes millions doing nothing so Jones goes 180 and gets a QB no one else wanted ---at the time --- on the cheap to back up Romo.  Why didn't the team pay a slightly lesser amount to keep DeMarco Murray?  Why didn't Dallas pay less for Mark Ingram?  Why didn't we draft a RB?  Because Jerry thought paying RBs at all was wasting money when he had a good OL..And it even extends to coaches.  Remember when Jerry thought 2 coordinators was a waste of money?.... Mind blown. It all makes so much sense now...)

This team knows Cassel won't actively win a game for them.  They knew that about Weeden too. Unlike the Dallas front office, the players have seen both of those guys play in the NFL.

Barring a big play on defense or special teams, this team knows it is beaten when either of those guys steps past the sideline

So for the love of God don't bench Cassel!

Dallas's front office may think playing Kellen Moore would be the way to tank games.  The trouble with this thinking is that Kellen Moore makes good decisions and players rally around backups who make good decisions.

Cassel is killing the spirit of the team.  Please...Let him do it for 3 more weeks.

Cut Kellen Moore.  Throw him back on the practice squad.  Sign JaMarcus Russell as your backup for the last 3 games as a tryout.

Shut Dez Bryant down for the year on injury concerns.  Perhaps shut down Sean Lee, if you can.

Instruct Garrett not to play Robert Turbin with the idea of locking him up at a nice price for 3 years.

And cut Greg Hardy.  He's a little more toxic than you thought when you took him on and he isn't making a difference on your team this year anyway.  Let him go and sign a free agent DT next year with his slot.

That's how you tank this team to win.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

UT's crazy route to landing Sterlin Gilbert as offensive coordinator and Strong's underreported big score.

Charlie Strong entered this offseason with a problem.  While the talent to win appears to be on hand (as evidenced by games vs. OSU, OU, Tech, and Baylor) for next season, none of the guys on his staff could deliver the offense Strong wants UT to run.

Strong was entering a make or break season, meaning he would have no access to any play calling offensive coordinators in relatively safe power conference jobs today.

He would have to overpay ---likely on a 3 year deal and to hire from the pool of the (reputation)damaged, at risk, or potentially not ready yet candidates.  (That actually isn't a bad pool to pick from...)

Nobis60 did a wonderful article detailing the many directions Charlie Strong could take.

Strong originally pursued TCU Co-coordinator Cumbie.  Cumbie would be looking at gaining play calling responsibilities and a fat raise.  It was a good play. 

They allegedly were offering him a million dollars a year for 3 years to join an at risk coach in a make or break year. After a few days, he turned the job down to stay at TCU. Those who know him say the delay was to be expected as he thinks things through before he makes any decisions.

There was some thought at the time that he might be waiting for his co-coordinator to leave or perhaps angling for the OU job in the near future.

Strong turned to Tulsa's Sterlin Gilbert. They met and it seemed likely Gilbert would take the job.

Why wouldn't you if you were Gilbert?  Gilbert is a Texan. UT is pretty much loaded with freshman and sophomore talent that lends itself to the scheme. Charlie Strong appears to want to offload the offense to someone, so you would likely have a ton of control.  And you are probably talking about a ridiculous raise...It was another good play.

Yet days passed.  The obvious first thought is that UT must have lowballed him.  THAT made sense of the delay, but no sense from UT's perspective.  If you are willing to write essentially a 3 million dollar check for Cumbie, why would you not write one for Gilbert?  They are the same guy.

News broke of Strong interviewing his third OC candidate, Tony Franklin. (Franklin by the way was another exceptional choice.  A lot of high school coaches use his system and have a ton of respect for Franklin.  Plus he is right about to put a QB into the NFL, likely as a first round pick.  Strong probably thought he could pick off Franklin due to a low salary.  Cal approved $3 Million for dispersal among Sonny Dykes' assistants when word of this interview got out.)

Gilbert likely saw a huge payday evaporating and took the job.  Well...More accurately Gilbert and Strong loosely agreed they could work together at a certain pay level.

But then things got weird.

The Austin sources were calling it a 2 year deal.  The Oklahoma papers consulted with Gilbert and corrected the Texas sources advising it was a 3 year deal.

Gilbert's camp claimed there were very specific about a 3 year minimum.  They would later say they left Austin with associate AD Arthur Johnson telling them it would be a 3 years deal in the $650,000 to $750,000 range.  They would go on to say that Strong, not knowing that Johnson had given a 3 year commitment offered a 2 year deal at $650,000 a year.

Now the obvious thought is that Strong would check with someone to confirm Gilbert's claim of a 3 year offer.  For whatever reason Strong stuck to two years...

Gilbert lost his cool and felt he had been mislead by Strong and UT.

In a hot minute, all three of Charlie Strong's offensive coordinator candidates were gone.  UT was left sitting high and dry.

The UT faithful's heads collectively exploded.  Those inclined to hate Charlie Strong screamed it was proof of his incompetence.  Those not, were angry at the athletic director for not getting the coach the tools he needs to succeed.  Those strongly in support of Strong saw this as just another effort made by powerful boosters working through the administration to discredit Strong.

NFL QB Shawn King began to point the finger at forces inside UT trying to hobble Strong.

UT administrators began to feel real heat.

Then word got out that the president of UT Gregory Fenves would be flying to OU with Strong and Athletic Director Mike Perrin to mend bridges and get Gilbert signed.

And they did.

The End, right?

SI's Thayer Evans did a nice write-up on the Gilbert signing. Wescott Ebbots, normally one to point out every perceived failing of Strong --- real or imagined ---actually did a very solid breakdown of what officially occurred up to Gilbert signing last night.

This hits me as a very much a sanitized version of the story.

This has been a crazy assed week for UT.

There is more to this story.

...And there likely has been since Strong started. 

If you think about it, coaches work from budgets worked out with the Athletic Director.  Charlie Strong gets a lot of shit about "just bringing his staff from Louisville instead of hiring a 'competent' staff' ".  Who was his boss?

Former UT Ad Steve Patterson, a notorious penny pincher at UT.  Maybe, for once, we should consider whether or not the money was allocated for Strong to consider hiring an all-star cast?

(I am reminded about how much crap Todd Dodge took at UNT for bringing his high school staff with him when UNT paid Dodge $200K, his coordinators $100K and everyone else on his staff in canned tuna.)

Today, with Patterson gone, one would guess that UT would be willing to spend what it took to be competitive, right?

Which makes the whole handling of the Gilbert situation a real head scratcher...

I am going to touch some ideas to be pondered and on a lot of reports here to try and look into to it, but really the there are a lot of ways to interpret this week's journey.

I think there is clearly a coverup here, but I don't say that as in "...someone should be fired."  The bottom line here is that the administration more that made up for the damage and has left Charlie Strong in a very good position moving forward.

This is a transitional moment for UT and these times are always bumpy.  The end destination is the important thing, and the end point is a good one.

Plus we are in recruiting season. Better to not blow this  this up into a huge story.

To me..."No harm, no foul."

But let's trace it out.

Now I can buy that Cumbie as a principle at TCU, a competing organization, would have amounted to a recruiting gain that isn't present in Gilbert.  Valuation for Cumbie may have legitimately been seen as a little higher, and most would expect that... including Gilbert... which is why Gilbert would accept 30% less initially.

Perrin might have authorized slightly more in the budget for Cumbie, but the idea of Strong on a limited budget at all after everything Steve Patterson put the University through, is somewhat damaging for Perrin specifically.   You could term it an oversight, but isn't that just another word for a mistake?  It does challenge the idea of Perrin being the aggressive supporter of Strong that he has maintained he is. 

Now I think perspective is needed.  If Perrin was an unthinking boob put in place to massage the hurt egos of rich boosters like Red McCombs who were angered that Strong was hired without their blessing, I think Perrin would have fired Strong last season and risked damaging the UT brand with allegations of racism.

Perrin is a smart guy and a UT true-believer.  He doesn't hit me as the kind of guy who would actively sabotage a coach.  My thinking is that he likely thought the budget was workable and largely left the details of closing the deal to Strong. 

Perrin's primary role appears to be repairing the booster relationships Patterson damaged.  I think logically Perrin and Fenves do not want to make decisions on Strong until forced to.  That is what "strong support for a coach" means at the FBS level.

(I'd think as an AD or school president, you never want to be seen as in bed with your coach, but you do want to be seen as providing all the pillows, blankets, and bedding your coach could need to make their own bed.)

That appears to have bounced back on both of them.  Johnson or even Perrin may have needed to be involved to make the 3 year deal happen easily.   I think "supportive of Strong to a very reasonable point" is probably fair in describing Perrin, but that is not how the situation was perceived yesterday.

If you look through the articles in between the time Gilbert passed and he was rehired you find this one.  Strong supposedly lowballed Gilbert to start initially offering $520,000 a year....far less than the $1.2 Million offered to Cumbie. If you show up to an interview and they start the pay negotiation at half of what you perceive as your optimal return, you are already a little on edge.

Now imagine you complete a difficult financial negotiation and your guaranteed 3 year deal arrives saying its a 2 year deal.

What do you do?  You call Strong and say, "What the hell?"

(Now given the fact that Gilbert ultimately signed the deal, it seems that his mistrust of Strong must have been satisfactorily resolved, so lets assume that Strong was being above board on this.)

Strong replies, "I didn't handle that part....Let me look into it."  He calls up the people who put together the paperwork and they tell him "We have no idea what he is talking about....You are only authorized to give 2 year deals."  Strong comes back explains it to Gilbert and asks, "Would you take 2 years?"

Gilbert says "no" and hangs up.

Now that is one reported story.  It really doesn't pass the sniff test.

There has to be more going on here.

I could not find a credible article laying out the alternate timeline, but the great googler reveals that UT fans are also realizing something is off here.   Here is a post that fills in the blanks.

"Jason Suchomel reporting today on OB that his source said Strong didn't lowball Gilbert, Strong offered the top amount he was authorized to offer in their informal discussions. However, when UT officials entered into negotiations with Gilbert's people to formalize the details, the UT group started-off with a lower amount than Strong had proposed, and it was this lower offer that stymied the negotiations for a while. Suchomel reports his source said the problem wasn't caused by Strong. He also reported that his source said Gilbert was consistently high on Strong throughout the negotiations.

This report might explain the question many have been asking, which is why some UT bureaucrat would rush to tell [UT beat reporter] Bobby [Burton] it was all Strong's fault that negotiations broke down."

Somebody in the administrative office may have actively fucked this deal up either due to a desire to see Strong gone ---or a petty desire to see the right paperwork filed.  Either way, they realized shit was about to hit the fan, so they set about creating their own narrative, likely to try to protect their job.  They call a reporter over at 247sports and throws Charlie Strong under the bus hard, setting off the pro-Strong crowd.  That report reads as a single source hatchet job. (Deserved or not.)

If this is just Arthur Johnson screwing up, would there be that kind of venomous leak saying Strong screwed up on both the offers to Cumbie AND Gilbert?  That is a smear job.  Something is not adding up there.

Is it possible Strong actually didn't follow the right procedure?  Yeah, absolutely. Universities have a lot of procedures and a lot of employees who love those procedures.  Could Charlie Strong have thought that Gilbert would and had accepted a two year deal?  It suggests an overly optimistic view by Strong, but yeah.  Chip Brown did.... Strong may be overly optimistic at times.  Plus, he was offering UT to a Texan coach and apparently handed off the negotiations...

Should that have prevented Gilbert from receiving the correct 3 year offer?  Nope.  There should have been one call from the department that writes the contracts to Perrin to clarify and the necessary levers should have been pulled. 

I would have thought everyone probably knew this may need to be a 3 year deal given the Cumbie offer setting the market on working for an at-risk coach.

Was this key players in the administration actively screwing Strong or someone lower in the food chain?  There is no way to know.

Around this time Anwar Richardson, a writer/tweeter in the mainstream Longhorn reporting circles tweets that Cumbie is alleged to have walked away from the job because no one in the administration would confirm Strong would be back after next year.

Now this may sound weird to you, but when you ask that question, what you are wanting to hear is, "Yeah.  Don't worry about it.  He is not fired yet.  Barring a catastrophic year next year, he will see at least year 4."  For their responses to be an issue for a candidate with a 3 year guaranteed offer in hand, suggests Cumbie couldn't even get that.

That would be lukewarm support.  Who was Cumbie drilling for info?  If he asked the question directly, Perrin and possibly even Fenves?  They are fairly new to their jobs. (Perhaps, if they are true Strong fans, when this got out they may have felt remorse for kinda blowing it with Cumbie, driving the need to fly to Oklahoma to patch things up with Gilbert?)

If not them, maybe it was wormed from the AD's office.  Now does it really mean the same thing as  "Win whatever... 8 games (?) and you keep your job?"  Yeah, pretty much but it certainly is a damning look for a candidate to see.

Anyway, Gilbert then tells the media he has declined the offer and doesn't trust Charlie Strong or UT, setting off the wider UT fanbase.

Now what shouldn't be lost here is that this does imply that Charlie Strong was on a limited budget to assemble his staff.  It rather clearly suggests that next year is his make or break year in the eyes of the adminstration.

This is a big part of what lit up UT fans.  UT was exposed in the national media for 1) being cheap and 2) for not giving their employee the tools to succeed.  There was also some suggestions that there was as racist component to this decision.

UT boosters plow money into this university.  Having UT seen as cheap lights those guys on fire.

This is where former NFL starting QB Sean King and other started talking openly about things only race shock jock Steven A Smith was saying a few months ago.

"UT's boosters never wanted Charlie Strong. They won't support a black coach.  They won't give strong the tools to make it while they would have no problem making those assets available to a White coach."  And the most damning... "Strong should have walked out on UT and taken the Miami job."

Austin is the most liberal city in Texas.  Patterson may have burned every bridge in town with his coarseness and penny pinching ways, but there are a lot of liberals who like the fact he hired two black men with deserving resumes to fill the two revenue coaching spot vacancies.

Whether Strong and Shakka Smart succeed on their own merits or not.

This is transformational moment at UT.  And a lot of UT's more liberal fans (like myself) are glad for it.

The idea that the university might be actively sabotaging Strong at the behest of influential boosters is a very toxic idea.

This is why the administration started getting scathing calls and posts from fans and boosters. And the media.

People were not kind to the Fenves and the administration yesterday.  At all.

Fenves have always presented himself as a fan of Charlie Strong.  There is little reason to suspect Fenves was actively sabotaging Strong. 

I have to think what happened in Missouri with black students deposing the president had to cross Fenves's mind as well.  One would think it would cross any university president's mind.

This is probably why UT's president (who allegedly is not a fan of "the sporting") packed up the AD and Strong ...and his checkbook ...and made the problem go away.  The problem wasn't in UT's best interest.  And making problems go away is what Presidents are paid to do.

No less than UT authority Chip Brown traced it out. "Fenves spokesman Gary Susswein told HD, 'Any suggestion that Greg Fenves and the UT administration are not supporting Strong fully in his search for an offensive coordinator is just fiction.' Those comments were followed by a chorus of criticism directed at Fenves, calling for him to back up his words with actions.

Next thing you knew, a plane was being chartered to Tulsa."

There is an interesting footnote in one of the last articles after Gilbert signed. "Strong will get 'whatever he needs to bring in the right coaching staff,' university spokesman Gary Susswein said without elaborating."

This makes a ton of sense in terms of "making the problem disappear" and rehabbing UT's image.

That is worth potentially an extra $1-4 Million.

The Big Takeaway

So it looks like Charlie Strong can hire whoever he can convince to join his staff.

And there are reports by Anwar Richardson that Gilbert was assured by Fenves and Perrin that Strong would be the coach in the 2017 season.

"From what I was told, Sterlin Gilbert wanted a face-to-face meeting to hear that pledge. After receiving it, he agreed to a 3-year deal"
"Texas administrators told Sterlin Gilbert that Charlie Strong would be retained after the 2016 season during their Tulsa meeting last night"
"The promise Greg Fenves and Mike Perrin made to new OC Sterlin Gilbert about Charlie Strong's future at Texas"

That would be surprising, but if that guarantee was made (and the Administration is sticking by it) that would be 1) a baller move by Gilbert to use his status as UT's last chance to land one of their top 3 OC candidates to not only get a nice raise over UT's original offer, score a nice raise & title for his buddy OL coach Matt Mattox, and an added guaranteed year for his boss (--- something Cumbie couldn't get!)*  and 2) a pretty cool move by the administration towards a head coach.

"We gave you a 5 year deal to change the culture here and we are actually going to take the unusual step of effectively guarantee 4 of them."

To reach this point has been a horribly bumpy path for UT.  But this is kind of where UT probably should have been from the start.   

If you want to attract the best candidates for future openings, it is probably good to be seen as supporting the coach you already have at an appropriate (or even generous) level.  Providing the means for today's coach to succeed only makes future candidates know they will also probably receive the support they need to succeed.

It's a good image for UT and obviously a great turn of events for Strong.

* final thought... Dude...I want to be friends with Sterlin Gilbert.  That guy not only has some balls, he is apparently quite a good friend...Move that dude up to rockstar status.

Friday, December 11, 2015

With the OC in place, will Charlie Strong go after a ready to play QB?

Tulsa OC Sterlin Gilbert is now on board as UT's new Offensive Coordinator.

OK so now we know what UT's offense will look like next year....Kinda like Baylor's.   Here is that Tulsa offense is putting up 38 on OU last year.  They spotted OU a 31-10 lead (following one of the funniest blocked extra points ever at the end of the 1st quarter.) then scored two TDs in the last minute of the first half to make it a game again.

You cannot help getting excited for the future of as you watch the game. Tulsa's WRs were skilled but not very fast.  There was not a lot of separation there.   Their OL was not great.  Their QB was very solid, not exceptional, as was their RB.  They misfired a bit in the first half, but they competed, they didn't quit,  and they put up 38 on OU, forcing OU to play them all game.

The vast majority of their running plays were right up the gut.  They spread their receivers to spread the defense but every throw was thrown 5 yards plus into positive territory...none of this screen nonsense.   They punched OU in the mouth on the ground and attacked them in the air all game long.

That really fits nicely at UT.

So now you have the OC....

Is it time to get a ready to play QB?

Now this is where things get quite interesting.  FCS power Montana State's QB Dakota Prukop graduated but still has a year of eligibility left.  He has gotten a release to try to transfer into an FBS school.  He is free to go to Oregon, UT, or TCU.  TCU had Kenny "Trill" from A&M, so the thought would be UT or Oregon.

UT just hired a coach who put a guy (Jimmy Garrapolo) into the NFL as a high draft pick, while Oregon's offense had everyone doubting Mariotta very obvious attributes. This guy is transferring to get NFL attention and in this regard UT is still very competitive.

You see he really doesn't improve his stock as much going to Oregon because it is essentially the same Chip Kelly scheme he was in at Montana State.  Oregon is high profile, but it is not quite the same player growth bump. 

At UT he would be playing for a guy who developed a player a LOT of pro teams thought very highly of. (Usually a handful of teams will like a QB prospect.  Garrapolo did not just have a few teams....He had a ton of advocates.  That was unusual and speaks highly to the coaching he received.)

Prukop is a pretty talented QB looking to play for a team where the QB takes snaps out of the shotgun.  That is both schools now. He is 6'2, 210 lbs. and scored an attention getting 39 TDs last year (28 passing  and 11 on the ground) with 10 interceptions.

He has a surprising arm, mobility, and good field vision.  He doesn't appear to have a big arm, but then you look and he just threw a 50 yard pass.  He is Romo-esque in that some times his play looks very much sandlot and the mechanics he employs at times make you cringe, but he is actually pretty well trained and there is no questioning his effectiveness.

PASSING              GP   Effic Cmp-Att-Int   Pct  Yds  TD Lng Avg/G
Dakota Prukop        11  157.70 216-344-10   62.8 3025  28  88 275.0

RUSHING              GP  Att Gain Loss  Net   Avg  TD Long Avg/G
Dakota Prukop        11  158  926  129  797   5.0  11   61  72.5

Montana State was held below 35 points once this year.  He was the show at Montana State.

UT appears to have a very good running game returning and very talented (maybe) WRs, allowing the QB to play within himself----exactly the scenario you want if you are this kind of candidate and trying to earn NFL attention.  You want to show that you have the mental game to manage victories.

And he is from Austin.

If you think the idea of coming home to lead UT out of the wilderness for one year isn't appealing.... well... There is probably a thought to be next year's Baker Mayfeild.

I think this is a guy who could step in and be the 3rd or 4th best QB in the Big 12 next year...maybe better.

I think landing him should be Gilbert's first and main job this off-season.

The situation is reminiscent of Russell Wilson's last collegiate season.

My thinking is why not give him a shot?  I have to think if that would cause Buchele or Heard to transfer rather than compete against a one year guy, they are too soft to handle the pressure at UT anyway. 

 It improves both of those player's chances if this kid comes in and takes charge of the offense for a year, helping all the other players naturally step into their jobs, then the two young QBs can have their moments with the much easier role of stepping in to be replacement cogs in a working system.

And this works out well for UT.  Heard may be the real deal, but even an advocate like myself sees how much work he still needs on footwork.  A year absorbing the system with no pressure could make a world of difference for the kid and frankly less mediocre tape vs. good tape only helps any kind of NFL future for him.

Buchele could be redshirted, creating an ideal situation of Prukop starting  in Strong's make or break year (2016), a more polished and comfortable Heard in 2017 and 2018, and then a mature Buchelle inheriting the earth in 2019,2020.  That is the kind of progression you hope for.

UT has two big holes right and QB.  This would fill one.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Texas head coach Charlie Strong on the verge of a huge 3 week turnaround.

Embattled Texas Football Coach Charlie Strong has had quite an uptick in his stock the last few weeks.

His team closed the season out beating Baylor in Baylor and he has reportedly offered TCU co-coordinator and QB coach Sonny Cumbie the UT offensive coordinator job.

If he lands Cumbie, it is huge.  The talk is that Cumbie was offered $1M per season on a 3 year guaranteed deal, play calling authority, and the ability to pick his staff.  That would reportedly be a $300,000 raise and a dramatic increase in profile.

I think Cumbie would be dumb not to take it.  TCU's star QB and star WR are gone this year.  TCU's play caller is back.  I look at that and I think TCU is not going to be nearly as good on offense next year and Cumbie will not be as hot of a name.  There are no better jobs presenting themselves.  It is not even close.

Take a look at what UT has coming back.   Zane Ellis wrote an excellent primer.

The reality is UT had a really, really, really good freshman class last year.  Probably top 5-10 in the nation.  And I am not talking about recruiting ranking.  I am talking about actual ability to play at the FBS level. 

Charlie Strong is good at finding players and making them work to get better.

Take a look at what is at UT.  


RB D'onta Foreman is a big glider with breakaway speed.   He has the high end potential to emerge as a Heisman-level RB next year in his Junior season.  Freshman Chris Warren would be a 1000 rusher at most FBS schools.   He is a very solid and skilled runner, but I think a strong argument can be made that he needs a lot of work in blitz pickup.  That is probably why he got as few carries as he did until injuries happened. Freshman Kirk Johnson has a burst and a very watchable and tough to defend herky-jerky running style.   He is very elusive.  He will be an awesome changeup.  I am very high on Johnson long-term.  I think he is kind of a late bloomer type. As he gets stronger he could develop into a guy with a future as an NFL feature back.  And things could easily get better...Texas High school star Devwah Whaley was a Georgia commit and is now rightly looking at UT.

Charlie Strong has a commitment to the running game.  UT will have 1000 yard rushers.

If they work hard (not so much of a problem at UT under Charlie Strong) UT's running backs are looking like they may have Alabama -type potential down the road, where every year their starter is a first, second, or third round pick.

UT started 2 freshman for most of the year on the offensive line.  Connor Williams and Patrick Vahe were the team's two best linemen this year.  They probably will hold down the left side of the line next year.  Williams was really, really good this year and Vahe had moments.  Junior to be Tristan Nickelson flashed a bit this year and appears to be next year's right tackle with senior to be Kent Perkins likely sliding in to a more appropriate home at right guard.   4/5ths of this line is set and are very likely to be significantly better than this year's line.  That is a great position to be in when implementing a new offense.  And the fifth spot doesn't look bad either.  Junior to be Jake Raulerson, UT's third highest ranked recruit in 2013 seems likely to earn the starting center job next year.

UT has also been pulling in highly recruited WRs for years now, but I think the schemes have all but invalidated that talent and the position coaching has been weak.  WR coach turned OC Jay Norvell didn't seem to develop any WRs this year and frankly I am not really surprised.  OU's WRs constantly failed to live up to the hype when he was up there.

I think this is where a shift to a more aggressive passing scheme would do wonders.  Under Norvell UT's WRs were blockers for the most part.  That is not why they were valued recruits.

UT's receiver talent earned those grades by having notably better than average speed and quickness and being able to rip away contested balls.  Cumbie has to see that the talent is there to implement what he wants to do.

People look at guys like Armanti Foreman and John Burt and see some talent at WR.  I think there is a lot more than that.  If Cumbie takes the job, I would not be at all surprised to see senior to be Jacore Warrick or Junior to be Jake Oliver start to show the talent that got them to UT in the first place.  Lorenzo Joe should not be overlooked either.  He competes.   Add in developing senior to be TE Caleb Bluiett and you can see UT has good talent.

(Their total catch numbers may be low, but talentwise Foreman 11-16.5-2 , Burt -24-18.2-2 , Joe 4-18.2-1, and Bluiett 7-15.7-1 would be a pretty good starting 4 for most teams.  It isn't difficult to imagine all of their volume numbers going up immensely in an Air Raid offense.)

Finally at QB, you have a pair of vets who have been misused at UT and some nice talents on the bench.  Senior to be Tyrone Swoopes appeared to mature a lot this year.  In the past there was some thought that the coaching staff was pushing him to be a QB who digs a team out of long yardage rather than more of a bus driver who throws occasionally.  His confidence appeared shattered at the end of last year, but the coaching staff loved him as a person and his potential. A big physical runner, Swoopes was useful in short yardage situations and is reported to have found his feet a little. His confidence was always seen as an issue, but his play in games like the Baylor game suggest he has learned not to internalize the pressure.  He looks like a very solid backup/spot player next year.

Junior to be Jerrod Heard is a player I like a lot.  (Full disclosure:  He is a Dentonite like me, but that isn't why I like him.)  If you watch videos of him you can see a good arm.  If you watched him play this year, you could see a guy who was very elusive and who gave the team a lot of confidence most games.  I think he is the real deal.

On the negative side, some of his passes were underthrown or just off.   He bust on the scene vs. Cal and seemed to get progressively worse.  Now some of that can be attributed to opponents getting film on him, but that is usually a sign of bad coaching when your QB consistently declines each week and your staff does little to fix the issue of eroding confidence.

To my thinking the biggest mistake this staff made was leaving the ball in Heard's hands too much.  It is far better to have Foreman or Warren or any of the RBs picking up 4 yards than Heard picking up 4 or even 5.  It would have been different if he was less raw.

The more you use your QB as a rusher, the more hits they take.  The more hits they take, the more their footwork and fundamentals fall off and the less accurate they will be.  Heard should have thrown about 15- 20 passes a game and ran about 6 times a game.  They got the pass total right, but he ran about 13 times a game.   That was too much.  Too much pressure on him.  6 runs or so would have been appropriate for a raw QB pushed to start too early behind a marginal offensive line supported by good rushing talents.

Former Tech coach Mike Leach believes that accuracy is either there or it isn't.   I think with stand and throw QBs that is generally the case. I disagree with running QBs. You can find a variety of NFL QB's who run who's accuracy fluctuated all over the place depending on what their offensive coordinator asked them to do.

Steve Young is a perfect example.  At BYU in a QB friendly system his completion percentage was about 10% higher than anyone else in college at the time.  He should have been a statistical star in the pros.  He went to the USFL and his completion percentage was one of the lowest in the league among starters.  He went to Tampa Bay and his completion percentage was again in the toilet.  He gets traded to the 49ers and suddenly he is again completing a very high percentage.  Why?  Because the offense suited him.

It is popular to question Heard's arm strength and accuracy.  I think his arm is fine, but he was throwing those dumb side screens Norvell loves too much.  Too much squaring to the sidelines. Those amount to a running QB running into a throw.  Too much of that tends to throw off a runner's passing mechanics which presents itself on other plays.

Everyone has an opinion. I think Norvell's preferred offensive concepts were not well suited for Heard.  I think Heard will blossom if he is lucky enough to play in Cumbie's system as it attacks more and the quarterbacks's hips are facing the goal line more.

And this brings up why I think Cumbie is a very strong move by Strong.  Cumbie was also the QB coach at TCU.  He turned Trevone Boykin into one of the best QBs in the country.  I don't see a huge difference in what he started with in Boykin and what Heard is today.

Freshman Kai Locksley looks like a similar talent to Heard, but not as developed. Shane Bucehele is a very highly ranked incoming freshman.  Some think he will take the starting job, but how much of that thought is fueled by a perception among UT fans that Heard does not pass well enough today, therefore he will never pass well enough, so Buchele HAS to inherit the starting job, not that Buchele is the kind of talent who can win the starting job as a true freshman? I have my doubts.

The potential of landing Cumbie brings up the last potential gain Strong might have helped in the last few weeks --- recruiting.


UT just beat Baylor at Baylor and may be signing 1/2 of TCU's offensive brain trust.  Think about what that could do to recruiting...

Baylor and TCU are not generally top recruiting schools, but are currently higher ranked than UT because they have larger classes committed and have a couple more early commit blue chippers.

There are probably guys who like TCU because they like Cumbie.  Could not or two recruits find that they would rather play at UT?  There are probably Baylor recruits who didn't expect to see UT beat Baylor at home.  Could that open the door for a top recruit to move from a Baylor commit to UT?

I'll come back to this in a second.

Now in recruiting terms, you really probably shouldn't expect all that much grade -wise in recruiting this year.  As Zane Ellis mentioned in his excellent piece quoted above, this year will be a smaller recruiting class than last year.

Ellis thinks it will be about 15 players.

Now with this in mind,  recruiting classes are scored by the total cumulative points of a class (a process I consider moderately misleading to very misleading).  So a class with 15 4 star recruits will be ranked significantly lower than a class with 25 4 star recruits.  This and the fact that when you are selling potential, many of your better recruits finally sign off late in the process --- something which totally explains UT's strong finish last year --- explains why UT's incoming class appears frighteningly low ranked at the moment at 46.

Even with a much larger class, it was low at this time last year too.

Let's take a look at the cumulative rankings for this year so far as compiled by

Rank Team Total 5 4 3  Avg Points
31  Houston 19 1 1 15 84.32 183.67
32  Utah 23 0 0 22 84.05 179.86
33  Oklahoma 13 0 3 9 87.07 178.43
34  Texas Tech 26 0 1 25 83.63 178.41
35  Maryland 17 0 3 12 84.14 176.52
36  West Virginia 23 0 1 19 83.18 176.44
37  Arizona 16 0 2 14 85.27 174.35
38  Oregon St 21 0 2 16 83.22 173.06
39 Washington 13 0 5 6 86.19 172.26
40  California 21 0 0 19 83.58 171.47
41 Iowa 24 0 0 24 83.46 170.96
42  Virginia 27 0 0 23 82.6 170.21
43  UAB 23 0 1 15 82.15 170.11
44  Wake Forest 20 0 0 18 83.73 169.9
45  Virginia Tech 15 0 1 14 85.42 169.32
46  Texas 12 0 3 9 87.24 169.02
47  Oklahoma St 19 0 0 19 84.06 168.78
48  Mississippi St 14 0 0 14 85.87 168.22

It should be a red flag to you that things are off that UT is ranked behind UAB. A recruiting season will NEVER finish that way.

If you sort the classes by the average grade of recruit --- IMO a much more telling stat --- Your recruiting board looks a lot more like what your would expect, with UT with an under-fire coach and coming off a weak season still being in the top 25.

Rank Team Total 5 4 3 Avg
1 Ohio State 18 2 12 4 91.72
2 LSU 17 1 11 5 91.53
3 Georgia 16 1 8 7 91.16
4 Florida State 16 1 10 5 91.14
5 Alabama 18 1 9 8 90.48
6 Clemson 12 1 6 5 90.36
7 USC 15 0 10 5 90.03
8 Auburn 17 2 4 11 89.88
9 Ole Miss 18 1 7 10 89.61
10 Penn State 18 0 10 8 89.53
11 Tennessee 16 0 7 9 88.72
12 Stanford 20 0 9 9 88.64
13 Texas A&M 18 0 6 12 88.64
14 Michigan 21 0 11 10 88.41
15 Michigan State 18 0 7 11 88.34
16 Baylor 19 1 5 13 88.33
17 Notre Dame 18 0 7 11 88.32
18 Miami 17 0 7 9 87.81
19 Oregon 17 0 7 10 87.81
20 Florida 25 0 7 18 87.48
21 Arizona State 17 0 5 11 87.43
22 Texas 12 0 3 9 87.24
23 TCU 16 0 6 10 87.18
24 UCLA 21 0 6 14 87.17
25 Arkansas 15 0 4 11 87.14
26 Oklahoma 13 0 3 9 87.07
27 Nebraska 15 0 3 12 86.71
28 Washington 13 0 5 6 86.19

If guys like Whaley and UT leaning OT Jean Delance chose UT, the recruiting class will probably surge up, ending a little low in the high teens to low 20's just due to it being a small class.

But things could get interesting.  UT appears to have a limited number of slots available.  It will be interesting to see if players like Whaley decommitting from other schools might unexpectedly fill the last of UT's slots.  There may be a real reason for UT recruits who would normally sign at the last moment to sign early this year.


Finally it will be interesting to see what happens to OL coach Joe Wickline. I recall hearing Nate Newton (or was it Dan Neil?) talk about how he felt UT had a bad scheme for offensive linemen under Mack Brown and that Wickline was doing a lot to fix what was wrong with UT's OL. He considered Wickline a quality coach.

I look at Wickline and I see the Hudson Houck of college football offensive line coaches.  Cowboys' fans may remember Houck.  Houck was a longtime highly regarded OL coach.   He came in and replaced Tony Wise--another elite OL coach.  My two cents is that Wise built better, more cohesive units maximizing even the play of less talented linemen, but that Houck was really, really good at getting a top player to play to his prime.  He developed plenty of pro bowlers, but his offensive lines were not as good....IMO.

I think in many ways UT is an excellent location for Wickline for this reason.  He can get the better talents.

As this recruiting article traces, UT has run off a LOT of offensive linemen under Strong and Wickline.   Now that may entirely come out of the fact they inherited many from Brown who didn't fit their philosophy.

UT appears to be just turning the corner with an OL recruited to fit this philosophy. 

Will Wickline be brought back if Cumbie is the OC?  It would seem sensible, but does Wickline's philosophy match Cumbie's? 

For that matter has Wickline done anything to burn bridges with his longtime friend Strong?

It sounds like Cumbie would own that choice.  It is going to be an interesting question for Cumbie.  You need look no further than this year's Dallas Cowboy's team to see what happens to an OL when you downgrade the line coach.  If Cumbie takes the job, is that a gamble he can afford?

PostScript:  So Cumbie turned down the job.  That's all fair. There was risk involved. It is understandable.  Cumbie may be eyeing the much safer OU job where he would inherit a Heisman-level QB or he may be hoping his co-coordinator gets tabbed for a better job and Cumbie inherits the TCU OC job.  There is a solid short term argument for staying.

Strong's attention has turned to Tulsa (a.k.a Baylor North) OC Sterlin Gilbert.  Gilbert is has come up through the Texas High school ranks (good for recruiting) and is an Art Bryles protégé.

While the Mike Leach branch of the Air Raid version of the spread is the more common one in the Big 12, I personally feel the Bryles offense is the better design.  The Bryles offense marries a power running scheme with a passing game that tries to stretch the field vertically on every play.  For a team with a very good running game and a host of fast raw receivers like UT, that is a good plan.

While Cumbie might have been an optimal choice to develop Heard specifically, Gilbert is another QB whisperer, playing a huge role in the development of Eastern Illinois's Jimmy Garapolo into a high NFL draft pick.

Here's a nice write up on what Gilbert brings to the table.

Should he be the choice, a surprising potential outcome might be Swoopes coming in for an injured Heard at some point and having 4-5 career games in a very surprising senior season.

There is some thought that Gilbert may want to bring Tulsa OL coach and long-time co-worker Matt Mattox with him to coach the OL at UT.