Monday, January 12, 2009

Why a Coaches Poll?

Best question of the collegiate post season: "Why do the coaches have a post-bowl poll?"

Or maybe even, "Why do the coaches have a poll?" Period.

It's the proverbial screen door in a submarine.

Nonetheless, it ain't right that a coach declare an intention, then fail to follow through. If you say you're gonna vote your kids #1, then do it. When Grant Teaff calls and reads you the fine print from the American Football Coaches Association BCS-poll contract, tell him to kiss off--politely. Words on paper written by a phalanx of lawyers overrides your judgement on the best team?

Yes, you were raised right, to respect that a deal is a deal. To fulfill your commitments, even if someone else negotiated your commitments. But what happened to the courage of your convictions? Isn't that an equally important life lesson imparted by your folks and your grandad. No different than eschewing style points, i.e. not running up points on a beaten foe, even if it might improve your poll position.

Utah's Kyle Whittingham exhibited that courage and did what he said he would do, voting his kids #1. His vote appears to have been included in the final poll results. Two other coaches were swayed to renege in the days between bowl win and poll vote. Before his Gators won the Beauty Contest Series, Urban Meyer said he had no problem with a coach "voting for his kids."

Wimpy. It's wimpy to waffle, to be talked out of your position. To say one thing and do something different. Don't be Coach Wimpy. And it's about the kids, the ones in your house, not some else's house.

As the BCS evolved, AP pulled out with concerns that the machinations of a flawed system may compromise poll voters in their day jobs. With each passing year the AP concerns appear more valid. Coaches are now essentially told--by attorneys--they can no longer vote as they see fit, raising serious questions about the independence and, ultimately, the integrity, of the AFCA.

The Harris poll, a patchwork substitute hurriedly thrown together to replace AP, has a few--or perhaps more than a few--absurdly uninformed, disinterested, and unqualified voters, to the point of raising questions about its validity.

Is it possible the BCS eats its own? Originally an evolutionary idea conceived by university presidents, television, and bowl committees to thwart or defuse playoff pressures, is it now inevitable that the BCS compromises any institution recruited to help verify the veracity of a moving target--crowning a champion without actually playing off to a championship?

Unhappy coaches, once they take stock of the situation, will add their voices to that of the AP. The Harris poll, lacking credibility and with no independent standing, is merely a lackey, a creation of the BCS. The computer rankings have already proven subject to whim after being ordered to eliminate margin of victory from formulas. More BCS direction on how to "think" may be forthcoming this off-season, further compromising the original goals and intents of the computer-model mathematicians.

BCS supporters, fewer with each passing year, must feel increasingly like the circling wagons of the old west. Perhaps the BCS hierarchy should compare notes with Republicans left in D.C.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The 12-1 Texas Longhorns should get a few votes for #1 and a lot of votes for #2. Nothing original here but let's review reality, without coach speak, regarding this team's season.


Not much of a running game. We saw glimpses of good from Chris Ogbonnaya, Fozzy Whitaker, Vondrell McGee, and Cody Johnson, but not championship caliber. Beanie Wells, we know now, is a running back. Texas' running game probably does not even rise to 'workmanlike.' When your QB is not Vince Young and leads the team in rushing, not good.

A short passing game. Two of the best possession receivers ever in Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, but no ability to stretch the field. The better defenses did not worry about the deep pass. The young receivers developed well but this was offset by season-long injuries to the only two pass-catching tight ends, a key position in this offense that became a non-factor.

Offensive line, good but a year away. A line with one senior in the two-deep exceeded expectations, but curiously dropped off somewhat after an exceptional OU game. Minor injuries and a Buck Buchanan brain hemorrhage damaged continuity and depth.

Quarterback. Thank goodness for Colt McCoy and no injury to Colt McCoy, in that order.

Summary: When the smoke clears and numbers are crunched, nickel-and-dime sustained drives in game after game are the story of the season. Go back to OU, Missouri, and Oklahoma State discs and study the 60+ yard drives with few game-breaking plays and an extraordinary number of third down conversions. Incredible passing accuracy and clutch possession receivers; call it the third coast offense.

When D coordinators figured out how one-dimensional the Longhorns truly are, it made a difference. A veteran Oklahoma State team exploited the advantage for 60 minutes; ditto for Texas Tech in the first half a week later.


Too many ends. The D line held its own despite guys playing out of position, Roy Miller the only true tackle. Brian Orakpo and Miller superb; Sergio Kindle, Lamarr Houston, unsung Aaron Lewis, and Henry Melton darn good. QB pressure was critical in the OU and Tech second halves and for 60 minutes versus everyone else. Linebacking improved, particularly against the run, but short of the expected rave reviews.

Kiddie corps secondary. Another spot with one senior in the two deep, you knew these young guys would be tested. Considering, they held up well, though it got dicey with Chykie Brown and Ryan Palmer dinged. By midseason Texas sometimes fielded a secondary with essentially no coverage experience from previous years, i.e. all freshmen or special-team sophs. Solid as freshmen, safeties Earl Thomas and Blake Gideon will make those plays in the future.

Summary: The D gave up a lot of yards in the air again but good coaching showed in the red zone, where the field tightens up. By ground or air, this unit tended to foil offenses near the goalline. Texas Tech's winning score was its only offensive touchdown of the second half.

Special Teams:

Still not special enough. Punting and placekicking were solid, but too often Texas lost field position in this key phase--coverage and return-side both. Better than 2007, but still outperformed by too many foes.


Fiesta Bowl announcers marveled in the third quarter about the "return" of the exceptional Texas offense and its many weapons. The Buckeye coaches knew the truth--foil the Horns' ball-control passing game and you win. They failed that simple task despite the nation's seventh ranked defense on a battle-tested team with 28 seniors.

McCoy, Cosby, Shipley, a superb underneath passing game, and a pretty good line carried a one-dimensional offense way beyond expectation, without question the most amazing truth of the 2008 season. With few weapons, Texas came within one second of playing for a national championship.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Heisman Redux

Sam Bradford did not win one of those 'cheap' Heismans, and there have been a few. Sam Bradford is a superb player leading a superb team. But he has something in common with Reggie Bush. They both finished close Heisman races one spot ahead of University of Texas quarterbacks who deserve better.

In Reggie's case, Vince Young proved on the playing field who was the better athlete, for all the world to see. Vince had the good fortune of meeting Reggie Bush head-to-head after the Heisman vote. Colt McCoy has the misfortune of proving on the playing field who was the better athlete before the Heisman vote, in October (sorry, too early son) and in the debut season of college football's enhanced BCS style points.

Style points, i.e. running up the score, has been around forever. In 1968, Bill Yeoman and his Houston Cougars beat Tulsa 100-7, mainly because they could. Even Larry Gatlin, a bench warmer, scored. But from now on cranking up style points will be the name of the game for BCS contenders and marginal wannabes until the powers-that-be of college football develop the backbone to say enough.

Creating a playoff would undercut the importance of the regular season? Professors, you can't damage the regular season any more than to allow the escalation of style points.

Oklahoma this year became the first team to score 60 points in five consecutive games. Brent and Kirk tried to maintain drama and forestall channel surfing late in the recent OU-Mizzou mismatch by pimping the promise of an unprecedented milestone in college football. Any intelligent fan of college football understands 20 teams since WWII could have accomplished this feat. This is NOT a proud accomplishment.

Hell, Bud Wilkinson's OU teams could have topped 60 at will when playing the Seven Dwarfs in the 1950s. He chose not to. Ditto for Tom Osborne's Cornhuskers. Decent men, when it was time they called off the dogs. Many coaches today still choose sportsmanship over style points, but from this point forward they risk undermining the ultimate success of their teams and programs, not to mention long term employment. Run it up...or else.

Texas fans have had a burr under the saddle these three years regarding Reggie Bush's Heisman. He was and is an exceptional athlete who did amazing things on the football field versus good teams. But in November 2005, he clinched the Heisman in a hyped, showy nationally televised night game against #16 8-1 Fresno State. The Bulldogs' fragile ranking, with too many Weber States, Idahos, and San Joses, proved illusory, and the program lost 10 of its next 11 games. The Trojans' narrow, eight-point escape vs. fraudulent Fresno was a feature of ESPN's breathless late fall homage to USC and Bush, 'arguably the greatest college football team of all time.' We just thought we knew hype before the nightly Sports Center run in 2005.

Then, the following spring, tidbits of news began to emerge about Bush and his family being on the take from the day he walked on campus at Southern Cal.

Sam Bradford's Heisman margin, like Oklahoma's BCS margin, is largely based on five straight 60-point blowouts to end the season. Those 48 touchdowns and yardage totals are somewhat inflated by a hefty dose of fourth quarter style points, a publicly acknowledged effort to offset a critical October loss against an important adversary. Bradford seems like a fine young man and his coach, Bob Stoops, says and does admirable things. But Bob Stoops mentored under Steve Spurrier and the old ball coach never apologized for running up scores at Florida when it served his purpose.

When Stoops was running up the score on Texas Tech and Mike Leach, his former offensive coordinator at OU, it was impossible to feel sorry for Leach, who has been consistently unapologetic about leaving his starters in for extra, late game target practice versus easy prey. Call it trickle down coaching.

Voters of all stripes—coaches poll, Harris poll, and Heisman—please stop, take a deep breath, and do the necessary homework in future seasons. You can discourage the scourge of style points by penalizing coaches who leave starters in the game beyond the point of outcome.

Give the game back to the good guys.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

About the BBCS—Bowl Beauty Contest Series

Joe Barton is a little behind the times but I like his idea anyway. Yesterday Texas Congressman Barton, ranking member of the U.S. House Commerce Committee, filed a bill that will make it illegal for the NCAA or BCS to call its post-season system a “championship.” His is the correct perspective on what is actually a beauty contest.

President-elect Obama, please endorse this bill forthwith and vow to sign it next year. Shoot, rush this bill through a lame duck Congress now; the sitting Prez is enough of a fan to endorse the measure, sending a message to a set of 117 buried heads.

Barton, a graduate of Texas A&M University, rival of the University of Texas (my alma mater), is behind the curve only because the NCAA cleverly anticipated his attack. Last year the imperial management of collegiate athletics renamed Division 1A the Football Bowl Subdivision at the same time renaming Division 1AA, the next tier of lesser teams, the Football Championship Subdivision. By lesser schools, I mean the ones that never make the serious polls, that only get on TV as a cursory and leveraged nod, and that are never mentioned on ESPN unless one beats Michigan or too many show up on the schedule of, say, a Texas Tech.

The NCAA itself recognizes that small colleges play to a championship and the big boys don’t. Sure, the NCAA website links to the Bowl Championship Series site, but officially the BCS is not the NCAA. The BCS is the organization created by university presidents, bowl committee loud-blazer guys, and the television networks to maintain lipstick on the pig (blanket apologies to politicians and pundits). And it’s important to note the name of that organization is the Bowl Championship Series, not the College Football Championship. There is no big time college football championship, just a beauty pageant.

Prove this is a beauty pageant? OK, how about Coach Stoops, up by 40 or so in the fourth quarter versus the comically hapless but incredibly dangerous Missouri Tigers, with Sam Bradford still in the game and desperately throwing 40-yard bombs into the end zone. That’s the definition of a beauty contest. The media has even created spin for the phenomenon—style points.

Determining the best of big-time college football now comes down to style points.

At age 60 I’m a lifelong fan and supporter of the bowls. But it’s time for the college presidents, regents and powerful alums to wake up and recognize that the current system is a monster. You can instruct the six computer ranking services to eliminate style points from their mathematical calculations, but how do you instruct the voters in the Coaches or Harris Polls? How do you instruct the coach on the sideline in November or December, looking for another one-hundredth of a point in the BCS beauty contest?

And how does that make you feel about the kid on the other end, the scholar-athlete who has his guts wrenched and his teeth kicked in by a Stoops piling on style points in the fourth quarter because your brain child forces him to?

Ahhh, sportsmanship. The founding principle of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

“We’d be trading one flawed system for another.” I’ve made that argument myself for years but I’ve also supported a playoff for years. The problem: how do you select the eight teams without recreating the BCS beauty contest? You don’t. If Coach Stoops is sitting at #9 the week before, he’ll still have Sam Bradford throwing deep late.

But this can be defused by a 16-team playoff. Not nullified, defused. Number 17 will still be irritated and maybe incented to run it up, but the further down the pecking order you go the less important and/or obvious. Truth is #17 is more likely to be a second or third place team in a major conference or a Ball State (sorry, Dave!), a marginal candidate. A serious percentage of the poll voters have no idea who is #17. It’s hard for #17 to be heard whining.

The dad of Heisman candidate and stellar Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell made an eloquent argument for the status quo this week, a respectable perspective. But Graham Harrell’s coach, Mike Leach, laid out a superior playoff argument a couple of weeks earlier. Each NCAA division below 1A plays off to a championship, regardless of the negative academic implications or the number of games some teams will play. In Texas, TWELVE levels of high school football, grouped by size of school, play off to championships. At most of those 12 levels, the final two teams will play a 16-game season. Leach also cited the NFL, with a 16-game season plus playoffs for 12 teams. Yes, those are grown men, full-time professionals, but his point was ‘if both younger guys and older guys can play that long, why can’t we?’

So maybe it’s not about academics or wear and tear on young athletes. Maybe it’s about the money. The cognoscenti of college football worry they may screw up the bowl gravy train, a hand—in combo with TV—that has fed them for many years. Hey, the law says we have to fund our Title IX obligations.

Get over it.

A seeded, 16-team playoff offers TV and football fans 15 terrific games over a four- or five-week span. Disney-ABC-ESPN just bid $125 million per year to televise FIVE games! What might they pay for a 15-game playoff that would actually settle something? Do the math, professors. Your final game will preempt the fricking Super Bowl!

Pick seven or even 15 of your favorite bowls and incorporate them into the playoff, rotating the top seven much as you do today with the top four (Jerry Jones’ Dallas palace comes online next fall). Allow teams not in the 16 to match up in the traditional sense via the lesser bowls, then charge each of those bowls a licensing fee. How many we got now? Thirty four? Massive overkill, led by chambers of commerce. It’s those loud blazers, again.

Allow the next tier of bowls to displace a bowl in the playoff rota using cold, hard cash—your current and longtime standard. That will encourage surviving bowls (some need to expire) to skillfully solicit and manage sponsors and local funding. If TV ratings hold up, perhaps the number of bowls will remain constant. If not, great. Most fans sleep through the Weed-eater, anyway.

Do the right thing. Stiff the blazers.

And Congressman Barton, where do I sign up as a co-sponsor?

Vaughn Aldredge, former professional sportswriter, is a rabid and lifelong fan of college football.