Monday, August 22, 2011

The Second Annual Pick Six Game

My eyes are watching the Bears preseason game tonight, but my head and heart are 10 days in the future when the college football season kicks off. And two days in the past, because the Associated Press on Saturday released their first poll of the year. And the AP Top 25 means it's time for Pick Six!

For an audio-visual representation of my excitement level, click right here. (Turn it up loud. It opens in a new window so you can keep reading here.)

Last year I organized the Pick Six game, modeled on the original by Notre Dame blog The Blue-Gray Sky. It was such fun we're doing it again, and we want you to play.

The rules: so simple. Here's the preseason Top 25:

A: Oklahoma, Alabama, Oregon, LSU, Boise
B: Florida State, Stanford, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Nebraska
C: Wisconsin, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, TCU, Arkansas
D: Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgia, Mississippi State
E: Missouri, Florida, Auburn, West Virginia, Southern Cal

Pick one team from each grouping. Then pick one unranked team. That's your six. The goal is to have the highest ranked teams at the end of the season. The No. 1 team gets 25 points, No. 2 gets 24, down to No. 25 gets one point. The standings will be posted online so you can follow along. (I will update the standings each week, but only the final poll matters.)

How easy is it? Last year a cat won. That's part of the joy (and frustration) of the game. Not only are your cats, dogs and children invited to play, they have a good chance of winning! So get your newspaper...

...or your magazine...

...or just run to a bowl of food symbolizing one of the five teams in a grouping.

One request: let us know how your non-adult participant made his/her/its picks. Based on last year, it will be tremendously fun to read.

Send your picks and your pickset name (if you do not choose a name, a name will be appointed to you by me...keep that in mind) to at gmail dot com (to ensure your picks aren't seen early). The deadline is Thursday, September 1, at 4:55 pm Central (five minutes before the first game).

The Prize: last year I acquired a prize in keeping with Blue-Gray Sky's theme of football-themed kitsch. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of it, and the cat won it anyway. So this year, if we can meet or exceed last year's number of entries, I will award this official, government-issued and previously driven State of Tennessee license plate.

Here is last year's winner with the prize he has no use for:

Think you can beat that cat? Get your picks in, and good luck!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Talkin' Ohio Football With Matt From Hustle Belt

Welcome to a record third-straight MAC-related post on To mark the occasion, I brought in someone who actually knows what he's talking about when it comes to MAC football: Matt Sussman from the pre-eminent MAC-centric blog, Hustle Belt. Matt was gracious enough to answer a few questions about Ohio's season and be the first non-fake guest for a Q-and-A.

MPF004: Every conference opponent has a first- or second-year coach (exception being Dave Clawson, 3rd year at Bowling Green). How much of an advantage does that give a veteran coach like Solich?

Matt Sussman: Yeah, the conference has been beleaguered by bigger schools with fatter paychecks. Having continuity at the head coach position is an advantage when recruiting. I don't think Solich will be hired away any time soon, but the other coaches will likely be fired or climbing the coaching ladder in two years. In terms of an edge during the season, I don't know how much of a difference it makes.

MPF: Although, I'd like to think there are in-game advantages. Solich knows his players better, and he's seen the other team's players before. He shouldn't get flustered by late-game situations (a la Les Miles) and he in theory knows the officials. Those are the things I think would make a difference on gameday.

MS: There may be some advantage, but even these new coaches have been around college football before, and big games too. Consider that Steve Addazio [former Florida offensive coordinator] and Dave Clawson [former OC at Tennessee and now the most-tenured sweatervest wearer in the Buckeye State] have been in the SEC. Darrell Hazell [Kent] and Dave Doeren [Northern] coached at OSU. Don Treadwell [Not Cheating Miami] called plays at Michigan State. They've all seen a lot and been in close games. Solich as well has Big XII and even BCS experience. You're right that he's recruited all his players, and maybe there's something to the fact that he can coach to that. But that seems more like an off-the-field advantage, where the difference is made in recruiting, practice and conditioning. Is Solich a great in-game tactician? I don't know about that; maybe that's the real question here.

MPF: Phil Bates. I've seen the man throw in person and on TV. Even at home I wasn't sure if the ball was going to hit me. Given his speed (good) and arm (not good), he seemed perfect for a position change to slot receiver, but early reports from camp have him still at QB. If he's going to stay at QB he has to throw a lot better or no defense will respect the pass. Do you like Bates, or the kid Tettleton, or Door #3 (aka reshirt freshman Snyder) for the QB position?

MS: If I were a coach, I'd always put in Mickey Tettleton's son. But that's why I'm not coaching. I have the same concerns about Bates being a full-time starter. I think he's still going to be a direct snap guy, but with another year of experience he may take on a bigger load. I'd bet they split the time between him and Tettleton.

(Note: since this conversation, Tettleton was announced as the starter. I followed up for Matt's thoughts on this quasi-breaking news....)

MS: I think that Tettleton might be their greatest weakness on offense ... obviously he's a third-year player so maybe he has enough experience. I haven't seen him play so he could be great, but first-year starters tend to make a few mental mistakes when the game speeds up. Then again, Austin Boucher [The Other Miami] won a MAC Championship last year.

Phil Bates' 2010 stat line. "This is our concern, Dude."

MPF: Phil Steele likes Ohio to win the division, but almost more for reasons of schedule than talent. In my experience, when the best thing you can say about a team is who they DON'T play, it's not a good sign. How do you see this year's Bobcats handling this schedule? Is it tailor-made, or are they going to stub their toe against the bottom feeders?

MS: It's a trendy pick because we know very little about these teams, and all we have is their skill set on paper and the skill sets/rankings of all the other teams, and yes, in theory, Ohio has a schedule where they can run the table. But if you look at the MAC media poll, another byproduct of soft science ... we really don't know what kind of team they're going to be. They could be great, or they could be average. But we know they have what looks to be an easy schedule. Perhaps Buffalo or Akron or CMU is actually going to be formidable, and suddenly the schedule isn't such a string of cupcakes.

MPF: Sticking with the schedule for the moment, what is your game of the year? Bonus points for picking something besides Temple on ESPN2.

MS: Ha. Well, last year they got their revenge on Temple by knocking them out of the MAC East race, but the following week they had a devastating loss to Kent State. So you might see the Bobcats try to come out and cream them. And the Miami game, always.

MPF: What do you see as the greatest strength and greatest weakness of this year's squad? Feel free to answer in terms of a player (RT Flading or MLB Keller) or position group (linebackers) or intangible (coaching, schedule, Rufus's badass-ness).

MS: The offensive line is definitely their advantage, and even if that's all they had going for them, it's a hell of a starting point. Especially since one of their drawbacks is being the only team to have lost their starting quarterback. So likely the learning curve for the new QB will be mitigated by an experienced blocking line.

I'm from Iowa. Templeton Rye is from Iowa. I like Templeton. I am going to accidentally call this kid 'Templeton' at least as often as I call him Tettleton.

MPF: Ohio's special teams are beyond good and dare I say, BCS-conference caliber, with Keller and Hershey and I assume Lavon Brazill returning kicks. Given Ohio's propensity for close games, especially in 2009, do you see special teams as a difference-maker in Ws and Ls this year?

MS: That all does depend on if Brazill can return to his 2009 form. We know Hershey and Keller should be solid, but they'll also need smart play from their blockers.

MPF: Frank Solich's Ohio teams have a history of getting to, but not winning, the big game. See: 2006 conference championship and bowl, 2009 conference championship and bowl, 2010 vs. Kent with the East title on the line. Is this the year they finally win a meaningful game, ie a conference championship or bowl? (The Pitt upset was cool, but not meaningful in a postseason sense.)

MS: It's very possible. I think they can reach the MAC Championship, but to go as far to say they'd beat Toledo or NIU or even WMU is going to be tough. Looking on the other side, people say Cubit is due at WMU, and that's actually a championship game I'd love to see, because then something absolutely would have to give.

MPF: If you could ask Frank Solich one question, what would it be? If you
were both at a Court Street bar, would it be a different question?

MS: If it were Courtside, it would be "what are you doing here?" And given the fact that I rarely get out, if I did happen to run into him, I'm pretty much stupefied that he was at the same place I was.

I miss Boo Jackson's senior leadership at the quarterback position. And I miss his hair.

MPF: Now that Boo Jackson has moved on, who has your favorite nickname and hairdo in the MAC?

MS: If one Boo is good, then two is better. BG's cornerback/kick returner Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates takes the title. As for the hair, always look for the Pacific Islanders. And Akron has one with an amazing mane, and the name couldn't be any more perfect than defensive tackle Phil Tonga.

He's got good hair, but he's no Franshaw.

MPF: Have you ever used the word "Mac-tastic" in a sentence?

MS: I prefer MAC-ceptional.

Thanks, Matt. Be sure to check out his blog at Ohio opens the season on Sept. 3 at New Mexico State on something called AggieVision. Good luck Bobcats!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What To Make Of These Bobcats?

I've been watching Ohio football pretty much since TM entered the picture in a serious way. I remember sitting in Finley Dunne's one sunny September in 2005 because it was the only place the Ohio game (vs. Northwestern) was on TV. Later we were present for the re-match.

In all that time, the Bobcats have occasionally surprised but generally been a disappointment. Numerous winnable games have gone by the books. I'm 0-3 seeing them in person, and each time they had a lead or were in a winnable position late.

Last year was no exception: with the East title and a return trip to the conference championship on the line, all they had to do was beat 4-7 Kent State. So on the Friday after Thanksgiving they turned in an awful performance, losing 28-6 and setting up a lethargic performance in the Whatever Bowl I Don't Even Remember Or Care Sponsored By Company You've Never Heard Of.

But this year, I am filled with excitement and optimism, and not just cause right now is football's spring training. This might be the year Ohio gets over the hump and wins a meaningful postseason game.

As Phil Steele points out, a lot of the reason is the schedule. Now, I've always been cautious when the best thing you can say about a team is "look at who they DON'T play." But look at this:

Steele Rankings
N. Mexico St.109
Gard.-Webb I-AA
Marshall 97
@Rutgers 66
Kent St.105
Ball St.113
@BG 115
Fake Miami100

Ohio is 90. Using the Steele ranking, only Rutgers is a sure loss, Marshall and Temple (maybe CMU) are tossups, and the rest ought to be wins. On paper, that's 9 wins and probably the East title. And who they miss is key: Toledo (77), W. Michigan (73) and Northern Illinois (78).

But the Steele method is based on predicted strength. It doesn't tell us anything about the teams that actually played last year. That's why I started How Are You Going To Get Better, which posits that to improve you must beat someone this year who you lost to last year.

In the non-conference, Ohio's HAYGTGB shows wins over I-AA Wofford and Sun Belt Louisiana-Lafeyette. Losses were to Marshall and Ohio State. This year, the "easy" win can be retained by beating I-AA Gardner-Webb. But the marquee game is at Rutgers, and while Rutgers is down, they are still a Big East team. Marshall stays on the schedule, which means they have to either flip Marshall or win at New Mexico State. Winning on the road in week 1, especially so far from home, generally is not easy. (Although on the other hand, the Aggies were near the bottom of all defensive categories last year, so maybe it's not that hard.)

In the MAC, there's isn't much room for improvement. Ohio went 6-2 in conference as part of a 7-game winning streak midseason. The losses were to Kent (inexplicable) and Toledo (also not very reasonable).

Ohio: 2010 vs. 2011
2010 Opp.Result2011 Opp.Result
WoffordWinN. Mexico St. ?
Toledo LossGard.-Webb ?
@tOSULoss* Marshall ?
@Marshall Loss@Rutgers ?
@E.Mich. WinKent St.?
BGWin@Buff ?
AkronWinBall St.?
@Fake MiamiWin @Akron ?
La.Lafeyette Win Temple ?
@TempleWin@BG ?
@Kent Loss Fake Miami?

* -- victory vacated by The Ohio State

I hope the Bobcats can find some revenge against Kent State. Toledo falls off, replaced by Central Michigan which does not have Dan LeFever or Brian Kelly so this is looking good. EMU also drops off, replaced by Ball State, which should be a win. All that means Ohio will need to keep last season's wins against their East foes to improve on last year.

And how does that improvement happen? To be honest, even against weak competition, I'm not sure. There's a new QB, either a guy who can't hit the broadside of a barn (do they have barns in southeast Ohio?) or a guy who didn't play a down last year. The top returning rusher is said wild-armed quarterback. The D-line has zero starters returning.

I'm hopeful, but cautious. Stop by later this week to see what a real expert thinks.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Most Respectful Football Conference

TM is quite proud of the degree she got at Ohio University and points out how the journalism school cranks out notable alumni.

The league office, however, might want to take a look at one of those MAC graduates who can put together a sentence:
Detroit, Mich. – The Miami RedHawks and the Toledo Rockets have been selected to win the East and West divisions respectfully in the 2011 Mid-American Conference Football Preseason Poll.
Here's the screengrab:

When I read that, I immediately thought of Dennis Hope from Almost Famous, in one of the small but crucial scenes of that fantastic movie.


In conclusion:
  1. The writer meant "respectively," identifying sequenced items that retain their order later in the sentence;
  2. It makes it so much harder to not make fun of the MAC when they do stuff like this;
  3. If you thought I was going to write about the MAC this week without mentioning this you are nuts (note Iowa is #4);
  4. Here is Jimmy Fallon in bed with Chewbacca.