Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Third Annual Pick Six Game

I heard a rumor earlier in the week: the preseason AP poll would be released on Saturday. So Saturday morning I woke up, went to my computer, waited til the 9am release time, checked the teams, and announced:

"The Pick Six is officially ON!" (Oh yeah, there are Viking Kittens.)

For those who played before, welcome back. For newcomers, welcome to the game. Read on:

The rules: The preseason AP poll of teams 1 through 25 is broken up into five quintiles:

A: Southern Cal, Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Oregon
B: Georgia, Florida State, Michigan, South Carolina, Arkansas
C: West Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Clemson, Texas
D: Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, TCU
E: Stanford, Kansas State, Florida, Boise State, Louisville

Pick one team from each grouping. Then pick one unranked team (Group F) ... it can be any team not listed above. That's your six. The goal is to have the highest ranked teams at the end of the season (after all bowls are played). 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.)

My favorite aspect of the game is that it's so easy, your cat or dog can play. Or baby. Hell, last year we had a fetus (who has since turned into an awesome little dude). Feel free to enter a pickset for any member of your household. If you do, please share how your cat/dog/parakeet/infant made his/her picks. It is usually such fun to read the creativity of our contestants.

Is this a MAC-tastic hint for an "F" pick? 

 How easy is it? Here's last year's winner:

and the runner-up:

So even if you are a casual fan, or you are a child having this read to you by your mom or dad, You Can Do This!

The prize: As you can see, last year's theme was kitsch from a prominent football program, in the spirit of the original game hosted by Notre Dame blog The Blue-Gray Sky. I'm hoping to keep that theme going this year. Exact item will be revealed later in the season.

Note: DO NOT WRITE "OSU" for your Group D team! I don't care if you live in Ohio and you think I know which OSU you're talking about (or if you live in the south and you think I know which OSU you're talking about). Anybody who submits "OSU" will be assigned the Oregon State Beavers and get any points they earn (that particular "OSU" went 3-9 last year, the way). Similarly, but less likely, don't write "OU" for Oklahoma or Oregon. I will assume you mean the Ottawa Braves of Ottawa, Kansas. Please be clear.

The field: We had 22 entries in 2010 and 52 in 2011. The goal this year, in the spirit of that Olympics thing we dominated this summer, is to grow international. If you have a friend or relative outside the US borders, who likes college football and/or can select one of five items at random, send along the info! I'd love to make this the "World Famous" Pick Six Game. Can we break 80 in 2012? Can we get world famous?

A subtle reminder that Notre Dame finished just outside the poll as the 26th team, highest among the "others receiving votes."

The deadline: Email your picks and your pickset name (for returning players, you can keep last year's or pick a new one) to at gmail dot com (to ensure your picks aren't seen early). The deadline is Thursday, August 30, at 5:55 pm Central (five minutes before the first game).

The comment field is open for bragging and taunting. Good luck, and have fun!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

How Are You Going to Get Better?

In a somewhat summer tradition, I take a look at Iowa and Notre Dame and try to figure out how they can possibly improve upon last year's record. Because every fan wants their team to get better, but it boils down to beating someone you lost to last year (and not losing a game you won last year).

This year, I'm looking back to see if my predictions were even close. Let's start with Iowa.

Last summer I wrote:
How does Iowa get better? It takes a fair amount of optimism. ... I don't see an improvement on 7-5 with a real chance for a backslide.
Now we know that was unfortunately true.

Iowa: 2010 vs. 2011
2010 Opp.Result2011 Opp.Result
E. IllinoisWinTenn. TechWin
Ia. StateWin@Ia. StateLoss (-1)
@ArizonaLossPittWin (even)
Ball St.WinULMWin
Penn St.Win@Penn St.Loss (-1)
WisconsinLossIndianaWin (even) 
Mich. St.Win@MinnesotaLoss (-1)
@N'westernLossMich. St.Loss (-2)
Ohio St.Loss@PurdueWin (-1)

Iowa did not get better, and not surprisingly so. They lost their All-Star uberpatriot QB Ricky Stanzi and All-Everything DL Adrian Clayborn. You don't get better by losing that kind of talent. A 7-5 regular season led to Iowa again being overmatched against a better Big 12 squad in the Insight Bowl, but this time Oklahoma crushed Iowa 31-14.  That bowl loss dropped them to 7-6.  

Going into the final year of the Mandenberg, James Vandenberg, how will Iowa get better?

Iowa: 2011 vs. 2012
2011 Opp.Result2012 Opp.Result
Tenn. Tech Winvs. No. Illinois?
@Ia. StateLossIa. State?
PittWinNorthern Iowa?
ULM WinCentral Mich.?
@Penn St.LossMinnesota?
N'western Win@Mich. St. ?
Indiana WinPenn State ?
@Minnesota Loss@N'western?
Michigan Win@Indiana?
Mich. St. LossPurdue?
@Purdue Win@Michigan?
@Nebraska LossNebraska ?

Improving on 7-6: it's possible. For starters, BEAT IOWA FUCKING STATE. Losing to a guy named Steele Jantz in triple overtime, a guy who couldn't even keep his job midway through the season, leaves a bitter taste. Losing to 3-9 Minnesota, even if it was a home game for them, was pretty awful. They both come to Iowa City, so those two rivalry losses should become wins. You can put Penn State in the same category: home game for Iowa, and who knows where they will be mentally or physically come midseason. Those are three strong candidates to flip.

Michigan State is probably still a loss. Despite their exodus of offensive talent, it will be Iowa's first true road game on Oct. 13, and that almost never goes well when the first road test is that late in the season. And even though Nebraska is a home game this year, I don't see that flipping. So I see two automatic losses here, but only two. I figure that Iowa's luck against Michigan can't hold, and something else (probably Northwestern) will go horribly wrong. So call it 8-4, with a ceiling of 9-3. Given the problems at running back, I would definitely take that.

As for Notre Dame, last summer I wrote:
How does Notre Dame get better? First off, Navy damn well better become a win. No more of this losing to Navy shit; Kelly and Diaco should have learned that.  ... As for retaining wins: Purdue, BC, Wake Forest (replacing Western Michigan if only for the "W" in their name), Maryland (replacing Utah), and Air Force (replacing Army) are all winnable. Pitt SHOULD be winnable but it is a home game for them. ... That's still a net gain of two for a regular season of 9-3, which I would take as solid improvement over 7-5 and 6-6 the year before.
An the results?

Notre Dame: 2010 vs. 2011
2010 Opp.Result2011 Opp.Result
PurdueWinSo. FlaLoss (-1)
@Michigan St. LossMichigan St.Win (even)
StanfordLoss@PittWin (+1)
@BCWin@PurdueWin (+2)
PittWinAir ForceWin
W. MichiganWinSouthern CalLoss (+1)
NavyLossNavyWin (+2)
TulsaLoss@Wake Forest Win (+3)
UtahWinvs. MarylandWin 
Southern CalWin@StanfordLoss (+2)

8-4 in the regular season isn't shabby. They only played two teams ranked at gametime, but that excludes Michigan, who finished with an inexplicable, luckiest bullshittiest BCS victory in the history of ever, and Southern Cal, who got as high as #10 and finished their season 10-2 by trouncing rival UCLA 50-0. At one point they were three games better than the same point in the previous year (7-3 vs. 4-5 after the Tulsa debacle). And not screwing the pooch against either South Florida or Michigan would have delivered that 9-3 I predicted.

Even with the bowl loss to Florida State, ND has a positive trajectory, winning 6 in Charlie Weis' last year, 7 in Brian Kelly's first year, and 8 in 2011.

So can they win 9 in 2012?

No. Too many factors prevent the improvement from continuing. Since this a post about schedule, let's take a look:

Notre Dame: 2011 vs. 2012
2011 Opp.Result2012 Opp.Result
So. Fla Lossvs. Navy?
Michigan St. Win@Michigan St.?
@Pitt WinMichigan?
@Purdue Winvs. Miami?
Air Force WinStanford?
Southern Cal LossBYU?
@Wake Forest Win Pitt?
vs. Maryland WinBC
BC WinWake?
@Stanford Loss@Southern Cal?

That is Phil Steele's #1 hardest schedule for 2012. Yes, his preseason (meaning where he thinks they will finish the season) poll's #2 (@Oklahoma), #4 (@Southern Cal), #18 (Stanford), #19 (@Michigan State) and #22 (Michigan). It also includes a trip to Ireland to face the triple-option offense, an offsite home game against erratic but talented Miami, and two less talented but pain-in-the-ass quasi-rivals (BC and Purdue). Replacing South Florida with Miami and Maryland with Oklahoma are severe challenges. (Air Force for BYU doesn't concern me.)

I see no way Notre Dame gets better in 2012. If they finish 9-3, put them in a top-tier bowl, because it means they won two or three games they shouldn't have while losing none they should have won.