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At What Price 06/18/2010

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The new Longhorn League, er, Big 12 logo

The Big XII survived. After Colorado left for the Pac 10 and Nebraska joined the Big Ten, it seemed that the conference was history. Reports had Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State negotiating with the Pac 10, and Texas A&M talking to the Pac 10 and the SEC. That would have left the futures of ‘the little 5’ in doubt. At the last minute, Fox Sports and ESPN sweetened the TV money, and the little five ponied up promises of cash to keep the conference together.

The little five (Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor) apparently offered to cede any penalty monies collected from the Buffs and Huskers to Texas, TAM and Oklahoma. In addition, there are reports that the little five would make up for any potential revenue loss suffered by those schools for staying in the Big XII instead of going to the Pac 10. Additionally, Texas gets to form its own network, a dream they would have been made to forgo in a move to the Pac 10. And people thought that Texas had too much power in the old arrangement!?! The little five made these concessions for two reasons. They were afraid of becoming irrelevant, of being left out of the BCS picture. (Good luck beating Texas with the advantages they now have!) They also argued that with 10 teams, their cut of the pie would be bigger, even with the extortion, er, good will payments. That may have been true, but it is only one week past the agreement and there are already storm clouds on the horizon. The Knight commission looking into college sports recommended earlier this week to lessen payouts to conferences for BCS participation and NCAA hoops participation. If these were to come to pass, the potential financial loss to the schools would be significant. Perhaps an even more ominous threat is the one coming from the Texas state legislature. It seems that they want to force this Texas-centric league to add Houston and perhaps even TCU. So much for the bigger slices of the pie.

The little five were afraid of joining the Mountain West, or another smaller conference, so they sold their souls to Texas. The reports were wrong. The Big XII is dead. Welcome to the Longhorn Conference! Long live Texas!

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Kelly Green (and GOLDEN?) 12/11/2009

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Notre Dame got its man. 

The Irish introduced their new football head coach today.  Brian Kelly is leaving Cincinnati to come to Notre Dame.  Kelly, an Irish Catholic, is leaving a team that he 

Brian Kelly is introduced as the new ND football head coach

 built into the 5th ranked team in the nation.  The Bearcats were 12-0 this season and earned a BCS berth with a Sugar Bowl bid.  His 3 year record at Cincinnati was 34-6.  Notre Dame finished 6-6 under Charlie Weis this season. 

When Weis was hired 5 years ago, he was the 3 time Super Bowl champion offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.  He came to Notre Dame with no head coaching experience.  Kelly arrives in South Bend with a career 171-57-2 record as a head coach, including stops at Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati.  That experience as a head coach should give him an advantage over his predecessor.  Kelly is a high energy coach who appears to be able to recruit.  He seems to be a good fit for Notre Dame.  He is an offensive coach, and Nore Dame had a good offense this season.  Quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate have declared that they will be moving on to the NFL, but there is talent here and Kelly had no problem getting offensive talent to Cincinnati and should be able to get talent to South Bend.  The first thing he needs to do, however, is to find a quality defensive coordinator.  I do not know what assistant coaches he plans to bring from his Bearcat staff, but the defense that gave up 45 points to UCONN, 36 to Illinois and 44 to Pitt in their last 4 games will not get it done in South Bend.  As Weis found out, the Irish need a stout defense.  The Irish ranked 64th in the NCAA’s FBS subdivision, surrendering almost 26 points a game.  Cincinnati was 24th in the nation, allowing just under 21 points per game.  Kelly will need to find a way to surrender fewer points than either of those squads gave up this season. 

There is also pressure on Kelly to produce for another reason.  While Notre Dame has a contract with NBC to televise all their 

Will the peacock continue to be the home of the Golden Dome after 2015?

home games through 2015, the TV situation and the ratings Notre Dame receives may make another extension difficult.  The Irish will receive a reported $15 million a year for the TV rights.  That money, and the windfall of $4 million plus for a BCS Bowl appearance is what has allowed ND to remain independent.  While the school has joined the Big East for basketball, etc., the football team is a member of no conference.  The trouble is that there has not been a BCS bowl for Notre Dame since the 2006 season, and only 3 total appearances since the BCS began in 1998.  Couple that with sagging ratings for ND games on NBC, and the combination  may make another re-up with NBC difficult.  The Irish drew an average of 3.7 million viewers per game this season.  While that was up from 3.2 million last season, it is down from the 5.2 million viewers the Irish commanded just 5 years ago.  The viewership out drew cable giant ESPN’s  (2.87 million) per game coverage average this season but was far less than games televised by broadcast networks ABC (6.1 million) and CBS (7 million).  

Notre Dame considers their independent status to be helpful because it allows for national recruiting.  Some think that joining a conference will limit Notre Dame’s ability to recruit outside of that conferences ‘footprint.’  But that is bunk.  There are players from California and Texas and New Jersey, for example, playing in the Big Ten.  Notre Dame will still be able to compete for recruits across the nation.  If Kelly does not turn the Irish around quickly, their TV revenue may dry up after 2015.  While it is true that ND would have to split bowl money with conference members, they will also receive a split from other league teams that attend bowls.  If the Irish were in the Big Ten this season, for example, they would be receiving splits from 7 bowl games, including 2 BCS games,  instead of no bowl income because the Irish are not going to a bowl this season.  The financial landscape of college football will soon force Notre Dame to join a conference.  Only a quick turnaround by Kelly, and multiple BCS appearances will stop this from happening.  Even that may not be enough.  

Kelly will be the next Notre Dame football coach.  He will probably also be the coach that ushers in the end of independence for Irish football.

Wake Up The Echoes 11/25/2009

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Speculation is rampant that Weis is out as Irish head coach

Speculation is rampant that Weis is out as Irish head coach

Word came out of South Bend, Indiana yesterday that Irish head coach Charlie Weis would return with the Notre Dame football team following the game at Stanford instead of staying in California to do some recruiting.  The speculation is that this is just the latest sign that Stanford will be the last game for Weis as Notre Dame head coach.  If this is the case, Notre Dame will take the field with its fourth coach since Lou Holtz was released after the 1996 season.  That number does not include either the O’Leary hire or the Baer bowl game.  (George O’Leary was hired in 2001 but never coached a game because of some issues with his resume, Kent Baer was the interim coach for the 2004 Insight Bowl after Tyrone Willingham was fires as Irish coach.)  That’s a lot of turnover for a ‘name’ program in 14 years. 

Notre Dame is still a ‘name’ program.  That can not be argued.  After all, how many teams have their own network? 

No Irish National Championships since Holtz's 1988 squad

None.  Notre Dame has enough clout, enough following to be the only NCAA football team televised on NBC.  But the question is, will that continue?  The Irish have won 11 national championships in their history.  However, they have won only one  since 1977  (in 1988).  Notre Dame currently has 33 alums on NFL rosters.  That is a lot, but not the highest.  By comparison, LSU has 50, USC has 43, and Florida has 35.  Even Iowa has 32.  So, there is still talent at Notre Dame.  But they have not been consistent big winners for a while.  Lou Holtz had teams that won 12 games in 1988 and 1989, ten wins in 1991, and 1992 and 11 in 1993.  Since then, Notre Dame has cracked double diget wins only twice, with 10 victories in 2002 and 2006. So with only 2 ten win seasons in the last 16, what is lacking in South Bend?  Could it be continuity?  Since Holtz finished at Notre Dame after 11 seasons, Bob Davie was given 5 seasons in South Bend, followed by 3 for Willingham and 4, so far, for Weis.

If Weis is let go after the Stanford game, where does Notre Dame go from here?  The last 3 coaches have been on short leashes.  The way Notre Dame has fired Davie, Willingham and, perhaps, Weis, what ‘name’ coach will want to leave an established job to take up the standard in South Bend?  Why would Bob Stoops leave Oklahoma for the pressure cooker in Indiana?  Would Urban Meyer leave the program he built in Florida?  I doubt it.  If  Notre Dame decides to go after the newest ‘up and coming coach’  in, say, Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly, will they give him the time he needs?  Would he even be interested?  The job in South Bend would be a definite step up, but they tried to get Urban Meyer out of Utah four years ago and he chose Florida instead.  The question is, would Notre Dame make a commitment to a coach and a direction?  Would any potential coach believe that commitment?

Notre Dame finds itself at a crossroads.  The Irish demand a winner.  There was a time when all Notre Dame had to do was choose what players it wants.  Almost everyone

The Golden Dome seems to have lost some of its luster

 wanted to go to Notre Dame.  It was a top five program.  Not so any more.  The players currently in high school have never known a winner in South Bend.  They know USC and Pete Caroll, or Meyer in Florida.  Why would they want to go to a small town in the upper Midwest?  Notre Dame has an active, vocal and loyal alumni base.  But are football players even BMOC on campus anymore?  I was in South Bend for the Syracuse game last year when the Irish student body mercilessly pelted their own team with snowballs throughout the entire game.  Apparently quarterback Jimmy Clausen was punched in the nose at a restaurant following their latest loss. 

If Notre Dame wishes to regain their footing, I am not sure firing Weis is the answer.  What is needed in South Bend is some continuity.  If Weis goes, the next hire must remain in place long enough to allow his system to take hold.  Notre Dame can be a power again.  Look at Florida and USC.  Both schools had their down times but are riding atop the wave recently.  In order for the revival to take hold in South Bend, the coaching revolving door must end.

Surviving Youth 10/18/2009

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Iowa spotted Wisconsin 10 points, then defeated the Badgers by a score of  20-10 in Wisconsin Saturday.  Iowa also received a gift in the form of Purdue’s upset of Ohio State to place

Defense leads the way for this Iowa squad, as exemplified here by this blocked pass

Defense leads the way for this Iowa squad, as exemplified here by this blocked pass

 the Hawkeyes solidly in the driver’s seat in the Big 10 race.  Iowa, at 7-0 and 3-0, is the only undefeated Big 10 team.

The Hawkeyes came into the contest ranked 11th in the nation in the AP poll.  Surely, they will find themselves in the top 8 this week.  They won this game in the same way they have won every game so far.  This team relies on its defense.  It relies on dominating the line of scrimmage, both offensively and defensively.  If an opponent is going to get to this team, they better do it early.  Wisconsin learned that Saturday.  The Badgers were able to move the ball early.  Their first 3 drives resulted in a punt, field goal and touchdown.  They amassed 164 yards of offense and a 10 point lead.  Midway through the second quarter, however, Iowa’s defensive line began to get consistent penetration, and the Badgers managed only 68 yards the rest of the way.  The pressure also resulted in 3 Hawkeye interceptions.  That ability of Iowa to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, usually with only a 4 man rush, has helped Iowa to lead the nation in interceptions with 15.  The Hawkeyes are also the 16th best scoring defense, allowing only 15 points per contest.   Offensively, the opposite happens.  Iowa’s first 3 possessions against the Badgers netted only 35 yards.  Then, as the o-line gained control of the line of scrimmage, Iowa went on to gain 250 yards and score 20 points.

The amazing thing about Iowa’s defense is not that they are good.  It is that they are young.  The 2 deep depth chart for this weeks game at Wisconsin included only 4 seniors, linebackers Pat Angerer and A. J. Edds, lineman Travis Meade and safety Joe Conklin.  Amazingly, there are 8 sophomores listed among the 22 players.  Defensive

Iowa's D celebrates one of 3 interceptions against Wisconsin Saturday

Iowa's D celebrates one of 3 interceptions against Wisconsin Saturday

mainstays Tyler Sash (tied for the national lead with 5 interceptions) and end Broderick Binns ( a mainstay on the line with 31 tackles and 3.5 sacks) are included in that group.  Binns also is credited with one of the two blocked kicks that saved the UNI game. There are also 9 freshmen or sophomores listed in the offensive 2 deep this week.  This is a good young team.  I point to the youth of this team because there are some heady things being bandied about in Iowa City.  There is a lot of talk about a Rose Bowl or even a National Championship Game birth for the Hawkeyes.  It is important that this young team remain focused, because there is a lot of work ahead for the Hawkeyes.  Road games at Michigan State Saturday, and at Ohio State in November will not be easy.  In addition, the Hawkeyes still must host Indiana, Northwestern and Minnesota in Iowa City.  Iowa must remain undefeated to have a shot at the Championship game.  They can probably survive a loss and still be the Big Ten champion.  It is hard enough for a veteran team to remain focused on the task at hand.  It is that much more difficult to keep a youthful team from looking ahead.  The margin for error is miniscule.  You want this team to play in the championship game or Rose Bowl Hawkeye fans?  Then do them a favor and quit talking about it.  Allow them to focus on the Spartans.  Then on the Hoosiers, Wildcats, Buckeyes and Gophers in turn.  It is way too early to be looking to Bowl season. 

If this team remains focused and takes care of business each week, the rewards will be there at the end.

Monday mish mash 08/03/2009

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A little bit about a lot of things.  Today is update day, revisiting several topics we have discussed in the past few weeks.

The Denver Broncos have begun training camp, and the saga continues with disgruntled wide out Brandon Marshall.  Marshall left practice during the morning session on Sunday.  He missed the afternoon session, and the morning

Josh McDaniels and Kyle Orton (8), the Broncos new head coach and quarterback.

Josh McDaniels and Kyle Orton (8), the Broncos new head coach and quarterback.

 session today.  As I write this, there has been no definitive word from Denver as to the nature or severity of the injury.  Marshall limped off of the practice field, and some speculate it is either a hamstring or hip issue.  Marshall, who has demanded to be traded,  is recovering from off season hip surgery, and had, from all reports, looked good during the early camp sessions.  As you will recall, it was a tumultuous off season for the Broncos and new head coach Josh McDaniels.  He was the subject of a segment of ESPNs Outside the lines.  It is an interesting piece.  Watch it here: http://sports.espn.go.com/videohub/video/video?id=4369078

University of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz stated last week that running back Jewel Hampton is expected to be fine and at 100%

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi returns to lead the Hawkeyes in 2009

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi returns to lead the Hawkeyes in 2009

for the Hawkeyes training camp.  That is good news for Iowa, but still watch for significant contributions from red shirt freshman Jeff Brinson and perhaps even true freshman Brandon Wegher at the position.  During the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, the Hawkeyes were picked to finish forth in the Big Ten this season.  The Hawkeyes face a brutal away schedule within the conference.  The Hawkeyes face Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State, all on the road.  My thoughts are that the Hawks will be better than the Media experts predict.  On defense,  they have a solid linebacking corps, lead by seniors A. J. Edds and Pat Angerer, solid defensive backs including returning starters Tyler Sash and Amari Spivey, and there is experience up front.  Offensively, the Hawks have a returning starter at quarterback in Ricki Stanzi.  Besides the before mentioned running backs, Stanzi has experienced wide outs led by Darrell Johnson-Koulianos and Trey Stross, and tight end Tony Moeaki.  Place kicker Daniel Murray, who hit the last second, game winning field goal against Penn State last season, also returns.  Look for a 9-3 or 10-2 regular season, and another January bowl for the Hawkeyes this season.

In Baseball, the Cubs remain within 1/2 game of the Cardinals in the NL Central, and the Rockies have pulled within 7 games of the Dodgers in the NL West  and are tied with San Francisco for the wild card lead.  Chicago visits Colorado for a 4 game set beginning Friday.  Look for both the Cubs and Rockies to be in the post season.

The Rockies and Cubs meet again this weekend for 4 games in Denver

The Rockies and Cubs meet again this weekend for 4 games in Denver

History Lesson 07/06/2009

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It seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same…..

Summer 2008, Iowa City, Iowa.  There is concern among U of Iowa fans about the running game.  The most

Jewel Hampton was the clear choice to be the Hawkeyes starting running back

Jewel Hampton was the clear choice to be the Hawkeyes starting running back

experienced player vying for the position is Paki O’Meara.  The main competition will come from a junior named Shonne Greene who spent last year working for a moving company while attending junior college attempting to become academically eligible and two freshmen, Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson.  Not much experience there.   Fast forward through the season, and the rest is history.  Apparently this former mover was pretty good.  He was the only rusher in the nation to top the 100 yard rushing mark in all 13 games his team played (including the Outback Bowl victory over South Carolina).  Greene set the single season Hawkeye rushing record, won the Doak Walker award as the nations best running back, and will be playing in the green and white of the New York Jets this season.  That worked out well for all concerned.   Jewel Hampton emerged as a capable back up, rushing for almost 500 yards and seven touchdowns himself during the season.

Why rehash this now?  Because Hawkeye fans are beside themselves with worry.  Word out of Iowa City (though not official as of yet) is that Jewel Hampton has suffered a knee injury and speculation is that he may miss most or all of the upcoming season.  Rumor has it that Hampton is having a MRI today.  There has been no word from Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. 

 Assuming the rumors are true, the most experienced player at the position is Paki O’Meara.  The main competition

Hawkeye redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson

Hawkeye redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson

will be from redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher.  Not much experience there.  While I am not suggesting that anyone will have the same type of year that Greene had last season, I would think that Hawkeye fans would know that there is no reason for despair.  First and foremost, there is plenty experience returning along the offensive line, experience at all 5 positions.  Next, there is a returning quarterback,  Ricky Stanzi, who won the job early last season and improved as the season progressed.  O’Meara rushed the ball for 62 yards and 2 touchdowns last season.  Just as in 2008, he will not be the starter when the season begins.  The probable starter will be redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson.  Brinson was redshirted last season after suffering an off season leg injury, but is healthy now and already had many speculating that he would split time with Hampton.  While he has no collegiate experience, remember that he rushed for 4,925 yards and 67 touchdowns while a prep star in St Petersburg, Florida.  He received scholarship offers from Florida, Kansas and Michigan State before deciding on Iowa. I doubt he forgot how to run the ball during his redshirt year.  Pushing Brinson for playing time will be true Freshman Weiger.

Weiger last season led  Sioux City, Iowa,  Bishop Heelan High School to a class 3a state championship.  He had crazy numbers as a senior,

Incoming freshman Brandon Wegher

Incoming freshman Brandon Wegher

 carrying the ball 362 times for 3,238 yards, a whopping 8.3 yards per carry average, and 51 touchdowns.  His career rushing total at Heelan was 6614 yards! Granted, he did not play in the top division of schools in Iowa, but those numbers are wicked good for any level of play.  With an experienced line and experienced leadership at quarterback, these two runners provide as good a chance, if not a better chance, than the Hawkeyes had  for a quality running game going into last season.    If the worst happens, and Hampton is out for the season, do not jump off the nearest tall building or grain silo Hawakeye fans!  Search your memory all the way back to last year, and remember how that turned out.  Yes, Virginia, the Hawkeyes will have a running game.

Paki O'Meara carries the ball against Mane last season

Paki O'Meara carries the ball against Mane last season

Climbing the Mountain. 02/20/2009

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The Mountain West Conference wants in.  The audacity!  They think that just because they have won 2 BCS games since 2004 that they deserve equal standing in the BCS.  And I agree.  This forward thinking conference is ready for the big time.  Heck, it even has it’s own network, The Mountain (channel 616 on DirectTV), pushing the envelope with the Big Ten Network.  But how can it work? 

The current BCS rules allow for 6 Automatic bowl births (champions of the Big Ten, Big Twelve, Big East, ACC, SEC and Pac-10) and 4 at large births.  A team from a non-power conference (CUSA, MAC, WAC, Sun Belt and Mountain West) can receive an automatic bid if it ranked in the top 12 in the BCS poll, or in the top 16 and ahead of an automatic qualifier. 

There are several proposals out there.  One is to give an automatic birth to the MWC Champion.  Another is to give an automatic birth to the highest team ranked in the  BCS from the Non power conferences.  But why add another automatic birth?   Why should the Big East champion, for example, be in a BCS bowl if it is ranked 16th or lower? 

 Since the BCS is unlikely to want to  increase the number of automatic bids, here is my proposal. Give the six power conference champions 5 bids, in order of  BCS ranking.  The sixth automatic bid will go to the highest ranked conference champion remaining, regardless of what conference that team comes from, power or non power.  The at large bids will still be chosen the same way.  This will assure access to teams that deserve it and allows the BCS to pass on a power conference on a down year.  Short of a playoff, this system will grant access to any team that deserves it, and keeps the integrity of the bowl system, such as it is.