The Ocho

A home away from home for the college football fan who's tired of the talking heads not knowing what they're talking about.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Auburn vs. The World

In 2006, in order to reach the Promised Land of Glendale, AZ, Auburn must battle 13 opponents (and the biased national media, of course). To aide Auburn on its quest for college football's holy grail this year, howeve,r, Auburn has added Will Muschamp, football's top defensive mind. Muschamp understands zone blitzes - and the fact that in Latin, Jehovah starts with an I.

Auburn vs. The Spread

College football's most trendy offense is appropriately named, b/c it is spreading through Division I-A (and I-AA with App State using it) like HIV, and ESPN is its bathhouse. It leads to lots of highlights in other conferences, but not a lot of points in the SEC. This year, Auburn will face as many as 3 teams that feature the spread as its base offensive alignment for the first time in modern history, and the first time probably ever.

The spread is a formation featuring 3-4 WRs, usually one back, and usually with the QB in the Shotgun. Auburn's opponents running the spread, or a version of it, will be Washington State, Florida, and probably Arkansas.

The theory behind the spread is to live up to its name by spreading out the defense. The positioning of the WRs causes the defense to expand itself, thereby creating wider running and passing lines. Additionally, so the theory goes, the defense will have to basically "declare" what it's going to do, b/c as the WRs come set, they will have to be accounted for by defenders. Many WRs increases the likelihood of man coverage, and the wider gaps give the WRs more room in space to work with, and make the defenders cover larger areas. All of this helps the running game by creating naturally occurring seams and gaps for the RBs to do their thing.

Like communism, this stuff sounds great in theory, but collapses in the face of a strong defense. The strategic defense initiative for bringing down the evil empire of the spread is to 1) be able to man cover multiple receivers and tackle in space, 2) have speed on defense to be able to close the widened gaps in a hurry, and 3) disguise coverages to "trick" the QB into making bad decisions. Auburn should be able to do all 3 this year.

Wilhite and Irons provide the best tandem of CBs in the nation. Aairon Savage is a natural corner who provides solid coverage skills, though he will likely be inconsistent early. As noted earlier, two of the starting LBs, Herring and Dede, are DB converts, and so they'll have better coverage skills than your average LB. Auburn has put together the most physical August practices since the Dye era, and that will translate

The speed on defense is there in droves. Tuberville is of the old school Miami way of thinking in which you recruit speed, speed, and more speed and sacrfiice size if you have to. Defenses that are able to recognize the play and move laterally can cause the theoretical "natural seams" to close. This is particularly important vs. Florida and Urban Meyer's spread option attack. We saw what happened to Meyer vs. Alabama's fast LB corps a year ago.

Disguising coverages is particularly effective vs. the spread b/c the spread relies on quick decision making by the QB (which is one of the fundamental flaws of the spread in that it 1) leads to mistakes, and 2) leads to dependency on short and horizontal passes, so in essence it "spreads" the field horizontally, but tends to shrink it vertically). Texas fans have seen this in action. Recall the play against Texas Tech in '04 in which Texas ran a zone blitz, and Tech QB Sonny Cumbie threw the ball directly into the hands of Texas DE Aurmon Satchell.

Why did he make that throw? Because Satchell wasn't supposed to be there, accoring to Cumbie's read. What a zone blitz does is bring at least one non-lineman (often a DB) to rush, while a DE drops back into coverage. The more complicated zone blitzes will involve a great deal of shifting among the defenders. What this does is cause the QB to misdiagnose the play. Usually, when a LB or a DB blitzes, he leaves the space or man he would normally cover unaccounted for. It is thus the job of the QB to find that space and deliver the ball there. In a zone blitz, howev er, the rotation of the defenders fills that space. So, the zone that was to be unaccounted for by the blitzing Texas defender was filled by the DE Satchell. Cumbie couldn't figure that out, b/c in the spread, he had only 2.5 seconds from snap to release to make the appropriate sight adjustment. He could not, and Tech paid the consequences. The quick decision making process makes pre-snap reads all the more important, so being able to ensure rhat the presnap alignment of the defense is misleading is incredibly advantageous in defending the spread.

To counter this, some spread offenses (think Texas last year) will run a no huddle offense. New Arkansas OC Gus Malzahn wrote the book on the hurry up, ho huddle offense (literally; the book is available on Amazon. It is not as good as Al Borges' book, also available on Amazon, about coaching the West Coast QB). What the no huddle does is diminish the time and opportunity for the defense to make its adjustments and disguise its coverage. Wazzu will likely do this as well, as they've had 9 months to prepare. This will be a challenge for Auburn, and will likely lead to some big plays since it will be the first game in Muschamp's system.

Ultimately, however, we can look to history. Against the 4 Big 6 SEC defenses Florida faced last year, the Urban Myth averaged a whopping 12.5 ppg. Elite SEC defenses can handle the spread, and Auburn will do just that.

Auburn vs. its rivals

Florida has been covered. Auburn is fortunate to have Georgia and LSU visiting the Plains this year, and Alabama at Jordan Hare West in Tuscaloosa (Auburn has never lost to the Tide in T'town). LSU will present a big early season test, regardless of venue. The two sets of Tigers have played each other dead even in each of the last two seasons, and had both road teams not suffered kicking meltdowns, the outcome could've been different in each case. LSU is the most talented team on Auburn's schedule, featuring a boatload of talented WRs and RBs, a stout defense, and a big, well coached offensive line. LSU has question marks at QB , where JaMarcus Russell is incredibly talented, but has been inconsistent. Matt FLynn replaced an injured Russell in the bowl game, and was spectacular. And then there's much ballyhooed phenom Ryan Perilloux, another name that the Texas fans that read the Ocho will remember.

Auburn's run stuffing ability should be top notch, which will force the QB to beat them. And, while the WRs are big, they've been inconsistent at catching the ball. Auburn's CBs will be good enough to force the QB to make perfect throws to make the big plays, and I don't think any of them can do that. Fisher coached in the past with Terry Bowden and Rick Trickett, so he may try to run some spread formations, particularly depending on what kind of success Wazzu has it. Refer to the above about the likelihood of success.

Where Auburn will win the game is that Al Borges' offense will outplay Bo Pellini's LSU defense by a significant margin. Last year, AU ran wild on LSU, with Kenny Irons putting up a 200 yard effort. Auburn was unable to seal the deal, leading to 6 field goal attempts, 5 of which were missed. This year, Irons has had more time as the starter (it was his first game winning back the job last year), and has had more time to gel with the line. Combine that with a supportive home crowd, and AU should do better at finishing off drives vs. the Bayou Bengals. Pellini's pass defense has also been suspect in each of the last two years (recall what Matt Leinart did to OU in '04, and what Sam Keller did to LSU a year ago), so Brandon Cox should look to have a big day. Alternatively, since Les Miles coaches LSU, Auburn could don its orange jerseys and spot LSU a 20+ point lead (people who watched the Texas -OSU game in '04 or LSU-Tenn in '05 will know where that one is coming from).

Georgia must travel to the Plains late in the season. In a year in which the SEC can legitimately claim to have 8 of the nation's elite RBs, 3 of them play for Georgia. Kregg Lumpkin, Danny Ware, and Thomas Brown could form one of the more potent rushing attacks in the country. Unfortunately for Bulldog fans, their coach is Mark Richt,a nd so he won't let them. He is still yet to heed Tommy Tuberville's advice from '01 that he needs to learn to run the ball effectively. The Dawgs are breaking in a new QB, and will start the year with 5th year Joe Tereshinki III under center. That won't last, Likely, by the time the Auburn game comes around, the Bulldogs will be starting Matt Stafford, the super talent from Highland Park, Texas. Stafford has a cannon, but is too fat to be mobile and is a freshman. As much as Richt relies on the QB, and relies on the pass to set up the run, Stafford will be relied upon to win this game. True freshman QBs will not beat a Will Muschamp defense.

Alabama's offense continues to get worse in each successive year of the Mike Shula era. Without Prothro (he'll be lucky to walk normally again after the disaster that was his surgery) and Croyle, the trend should continue. The offensive line was abysmal a year ago, and is fundamentally unsound (they block flat footed, which means ultimately, they end up on their heels, rather than on the balls of their feet). While I'm not ready to predict a replay of last year's 11 sack masterpiece, not even stud RB Ken Darby will be able to produce under the circumstances he's in, at least against the elite defenses.

Joe Kines has been brilliant as Alabama's DC in each of the last two years, fielding a top two unit both times. Kines is the only reason Shula still has a job in Tuscaloosa (and Kines was a Mike Price hire!). However, the Tide was thin last year, as evidenced by its inability to handle two top flight teams in a row late in the season (they were spent after LSU, and couldn't match it in week 11 vs. Auburn). They lose 7 starters off that defense, and though Kines will have this unit playing respectably, you don't lose names like Anderson, Ryans, Roach, Peprah, etc. and simply reload, at least not with Alabama having to depend on some probation thinned classes from a few years ago. Auburn will get the Tide's best effort, and Alabama will likely make things interesting for a half, but eventually, superior talent, depth, and coaching (at least Muschamp vs. Shula) will win out.

Auburn vs. the other teams

Aside from the spread teams and the rivals, the only troubling game for Auburn is the Thursday night road trip to face Steve Spurrier and the S. Carolina Gamecocks. Auburn humiliated Spurrier a year ago in Auburn, winning 48-7. It was the second worst loss for Spurrier in his collegiate coaching career, and only Tommy Tuberville's friendship - and the gift TD it created in the closing minutes - saved the ball coach from a shutout. This year, the Gocks will be stronger at the offensive skill positions, as its RB situation came together late in the year, plus the addition of Boyd will make them stronger. The WRs should be stronger as well, and Blake Mitchell, who didn't play vs. Auburn, has another year in the offensive system. S. Car must replace three starting OLs, but those losses are offset by the fact the new ones now have two years in Spurrier's zone blocking, pass protection type schemes, while last year's crew had to immediately switch to that from a power oriented, run blocking scheme of Granny Clampett (aka Lou Holtz).

While the offense will be improved, Tuberville has solved Spurrier. The 2001 Florida offense was the second best Spurrier ever had, and it was held to 20 points by Auburn, despite the fact that the battered AU D was a ragtag unit of young players replacing a bunch of injured starters. In some ways, defending Spurrier is like defending the spread teams, except his offense is more fundamentally sound in that it's better at creating its own running lanes and better at stretching the defense vertically. Still, look for Muschamp's aggressive defense to force multiple turnovers, and put the Gamecock D on its heels. The defense will be no better than average by SEC standards, and AU should have no trouble with it. Plus, Kenny Itons, a S. Car transfer, will have something to prove when he goes back to his old stomping ground. He will stomp all over S. Carolina, and so will Auburn.

So, my prediction is 13-0 and an appearance in the nameless NC Game.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Breaking down Auburn

In the spirit of JamalRunGood's post below, I'm going to break down another preseason pick to compete for conference and national titles: the Auburn Tigers (not the Auburn War Eagles, BTW).

Defense

All analysis of a championship contender begins on the defensive side of the football. As Patrick Fain Dye famously said, "Auburn football is running the ball, playing defense, and knocking the hell out of folks." This team certainly has the ability to do all of those things. Moving from the ball and working out and back:

Tackles: DT is a legit question mark for Auburn, and though that sounds cataclysmic (not to people that work at ESPN, b/c they only watch offensive skill players, but to people that know about football), it doesn't yet rise to the level of serious concern. Auburn must replace long time veterans TJ Jackson at Noseguard (the position that lines up opposite the Center) and Wayne Dickens at the other tackle spot. However, D-line coach Don Dunn likes to work from a rotation of ideally 8 players. This year he probably has more like 6 that are ready to go in SEC play, but he ought to be able to replace the first unit without much of a dropoff, just like last year when Auburn replaced Jay Ratliff at tackle.

Josh Thompson will replace Jackson as the #1 NG, and Thompson has long been a fan favorite (as was Jackson) b/c he is, in the weightroom, the strongest Auburn Tiger. Backing him is likely to be Jackson's former Opelika High School teammate Tez Doolittle. Doolittle has been a bit of a headcase in his time on the Plains, but as Tommy Tuberville said some time ago, "If he ever realizes what God gave him, he'll be a millionaire." He has apparently had such a divine revelation and appears ready to be a major player in the rotation. A similar ubertalent, Pat Sims, has finally had the light bulb come on as well and has become the frontrunner to take over the #1 spot at the other tackle spot, though he's battling young sensation Sen'Derrick Marks. The bottom line is this is a talented unit on the interior, and Dunn has a track record of producing quality players and having smooth transitions.

At End, the Tigers are loaded again. Though Stanley McClover, probably foolishly, opted for the NFL early, Quentin Groves returns to start at Weak Defensive End (weak refers to the side of the field with fewer blockers; not to Groves' phyiscal strength) while Marquies Gunn returns on the Strong Side. After briefly flirting with a move to the interior line, Christopher Browder returned to end. He can probably be the top back up at either end position, and often was the most consistent DE last year. Groves needs to work on his recognition and discipline against the run, but this unit looks to be a strength, looking to build upon the 11 sack performance against Alabama a year ago.

Linebacker: The losses again appear to be heavy for the Tigers, as Travis and Antarrious Williams are gone. However, Karibi Dede, a secondary convert, will be the starter at the Mike (Middle) Linebacker position. Dede has found a home in the LB corps, and made one of the plays of the year for Auburn, returning a Brannan Southerland fumble for a TD against Georgia last year in Auburn's 1 point victory. Will Herring, another secondary convert, will move to the Sam, or Strong, linebacker position. An excellent safety against the run, with great athletic ability and size (6'3" 225, 4.54 40, 38" vertical, fromer running QB in HS), Herring is a natural fit at this position. The move has been speculated for years, as Herring seemed a bit out of his element at safety, but showed the skills of an OLB. NFL scouts have already remarked that he has potentioal at the next level at this position, and Herring was named pre-season All SEC. On the Will, or Weak Side Linbacker position, Auburn will start Merrill Johnson, a practice superstar, who has been resasonably impressive in limited real time action. He appears ready to step into the limelight. Auburn's unit will, as Tuberville LBs usually do, rely on its speed to make up for its lack of zize (Dede is about 215; Johnson 200). This unit is thin for now, as Steve Gandy (another secondary convert) is injured, and Kevin Sears and Tray Blackmon (the #1 LB prospect in 2005) serve indefinite suspensions for alcohol related arrests. Another loss was Coach Joe Whitt, who moved into administration after a 25 year career that saw Coach Whitt help Auburn to 5 SEC Championships, 2 undefeated seasons, 2 separate 4 game win streaks over Alabama, and put many people in the NFL at LB, including Takeo Spikes of the Buffalo Bills, and James Willis - a former Green Bay Packers LB, who will replace Whitt this fall as LB coach.

Secondary: Auburn's starting corners, David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite, will be the top unit in the country. Both are legit lockdown corners with exceptional speed, quickenss, and coverage skills. Safety will be a question mark, as there will be no one returning who has been a consistent starter. One safety spot will go to Aairon Savage, a super talent who has dazzled at practice more than any other young Tiger. Savage is a corner by trade, but is so good, the coaches want him on the field. If he develops as he should, he could be a de facto third corner who can be a tremendous asset in man coverage against the teams that will test Auburn via the pass (more on that later). The other safety spot is up for grabs, though it's likely to eventually, by season's end, be won by Tristan Davis, the fastest Tiger (who has multiple 70 plus yard TD runs in some brief stints at RB). The ability of the corners to play man coverage will allow freedom for the coaches to do a lot of different things with the defense, which is the trademark of . . .

Defensive Coordinator Will Muschamp: Muschamp is the 5th defensive coordinator to serve under Tommy Tuberville in his tenure as a head coach, the 4th at Auburn. Tuberville, a former DC at Miami and Texas A&M, is notoriously demanding of his DCs, firing John Lovett a year after Lovett led the SEC in total defense, and contributing to David Gibbs' leaving after last year's unit finished an "unacceptable" 19th in the nation. While even Tuberville castoffs tend to land on their feet (Lovett went to Clemson; Gibbs to the Kansas City Chiefs), and the successful go on to other things (Gene Chizik followed up his undefeated, Broyles Award winning year at Auburn with an undefeated, NC season at Texas), Muschamp is the cream of the crop. Muschamp was the defensive coordinator of LSU's 2003 NC team, and ihe Crown Prince of the Parcells-Bellichick-Saban coaching dynasty that has dominated pro football for two decades, and now has begun to dominate college football as well. Muschamp is privately regarded by Saban, Mark Richt, and others as the top defensive mind in football, and is best known for his zone blitzing scheme. His zone blitzes, ability to disguise coverage, and ability to utilize multiple looks and players in multiple positions (more later) will be effective, especially against the rash of spread offenses AU is likely to face this year (Again, more later). The zone blitz, of which Muschamp is one of the top designers, is what no less of an authority than Homer Smith calls, "the problem that has not been solved" by offenses.

Offense:

Offensive Line: The interior of the line is no doubt solid with returning starters Joe Cope at Center, and Ben Grubbs and Tim Duckworth at Guard (the position that lines up immediately on either side of the Center). Grubbs and Duckworth both project as NFL prospects. The tackles will both be new as regulat starters, but both new LT King Dunlap and RT Jonathan Palmer have seen significant playing time. Palmer has seen a good bit as a backup at multiple positions and part time starter, and while LT is typically a more important position, Brandon Cox is a left handed QB, so the RT will be the one responsible for protecting his blind side. The line will likely be spotty early, b/c Auburn will employ a slide protection heavy zone blocking scheme (meaning that the linemen will have assigned areas, or "zones" to block as opposed to having a particular individual to block). This requires a lot more chemistry and "gelling" among linemen to make sure that they adequately cover all the appropriate areas. AU usually begins to dominate as a line around week 4 or 5, so early contests against Washington State and LSU may test the line.

Quarterback: Brandon Cox, a top 10 prospect from 2002, returns for his second year as Auburn's starter. Cox was abysmal in his first and last starts of last year, but outstanding in between. He's a deadly accurate passer, and, though somewhat slight physically (at least by the standards of his predecessor Jason Campbell), Cox is tough as nails, as demonstrated by his amazing 4th and 11 conversion to Devin Aromashadu to set up the winning FG against Georgia a year ago. Cox completed 58% of his passes a year ago with a 15-8 TD/int ratio (4 of those INTs coming in his first ever start vs. GT), and should build on those #s this year.

Runningback: This is a team coached by Tommy Tuberville and Eddie Gran. Enough said. If you want more, consider theit track record. Tommy Tuberville and Eddie Gran at Ole Miss put together John Avery (1st rounder), Deuce McCallister (1st rounder and OM career rushing leader), and threw in Joe Gunn (4th all time in OM rushing) for good measure. At Auburn, they have already produced Rudi Johnson (pro Bowler for the Cincinatti Bengals), Carnell Williams (1st rounder) and Ronnie Brown (1st rounder). This year, the RBs will be led by Kenny Irons, who led the SEC in rushing with 1,293 yards, despite not emergine as the starter until midway through the season, and getting just 1 carry vs. Georgia Tech (ah, what might have been!). Irons is an explosive runner who, while not quite as talented as either Brown or Williams, features a little of both: the shiftiness of Williams, and the power of Brown. Behind him, Auburn has Brad Lester (a Carnell Williams style runner who, in high school, videotaped all Auburn games, and watched Cadillac's runs in slow motion so he could mimic his style), Tre Smith (star of the 2002 Iron Bowl), Carl Stewart (Mr. Football in Tennesee in 2003), Benjamin Tate (one of America's top HS RB prospects a year ago, and an early HS grad), and Mario Fannin (compared by some to Reggie Bush). This unit will be fine, and running behind AU's solid line will open things up for Cox and Auburn's young . . .

Wide Receivers: There's bad news and good news for Auburn fans concerning the WRs. The bad news is most of the big names from the past few years are gone. The good news is that these new names will be much easier to pronounce. Gone are Obomanu and Aromashodu; replacing them are Guess, Dunn, Billings, Hawthorne, Zachery, and Smith. Courtney Taylor, who's made the play of the year for Auburn in each of the last two years, is back to lead the unit, and as a potential first rounder has the ability to "be the man." JUCO transfer Prechae Rodriguez saw some playing time last year, and was moderately impressive, though his fumble in the first half of the Iron Bowl kept that game from being the true massacre it deserved to be. This unit will struggle early, but there is plenty of talent and speed, and they will be helped out by a strong unit of . . .

Tight Ends: Cole Bennett returns for his senior year. Bennett is a solid blocker, and an underrated receiver who will have to step up to lead the Tigers this year. Fans may recall his amazing TD reception vs. Tennessee in 2003 on the bootleg from Campbell. There will need to be more of that this year. Redshirt Freshmen Tommy Trott and and Gabe McKenzie will battle for playing time behind Bennett (and with him,as Auburn will run lots of 2 TE sets in both running and passing situations). Trott wowed the AU crowd at the Spring game with his hands and ability to run after the catch. McKenzie has been a better blocker in practice, but has improved as a reciever, and is a tremendous athlete. The Tight Ends will be used effectively as blockers, receivers, and decoys, and be very useful.

Offensive Coordinator Al Borges: Borges has re-emerged as one of college football's premiere offensive coordinators. Borges has led the SEC in offense in each of the past two seasons, despite not having worked with the QB or the backfield in consecutive years either time. This time, he has his QB and RBs returning. Borges has gotten amazing production out of Qbs such as Tony Graziani at Oregon, Cade McNown at UCLA, and Jason Campbell at Auburn. His second year with Cox should produce similar results. Borges' shredding of Alabama's defense a year ago - the top unit in the nation - was a foreshadowing of the shock and awe he will rain down on AU's opponents this year.

Special Teams: This unit provides serious concerns. Punter Kody Bliss in his senior season ought to be All SEC, and perhaps all America, quality. PK John Vaughn has been inconsistent at best as a FG kicker, most notoriously missing 5 FGs in Auburn's overtime loss vs. LSU a year ago. Matt Clark, the kickoff specialist, has been inconsistent as well, and there is no clear frontrunner at the return game. The SEC is a defense first conference, so the ability to play the field position game will be crucial. Additionally, Jim Tressel likes to say that, "The most important play in football is the punt," and is a master at flipping the field, so AU will need to find answers on special teams to beat Tressel's team on January 8 in Glendale, Arizona.

More on AU's matchups and how the season will play out in the coming days.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Breaking down Texas

Well, as promised, here is my evaluation of the Texas Longhorns and the upcoming season.

Just like last year, I'll start with the strength of the team, the defense. The defensive line looks to be improved this year. Tim Crowder and Brian Robison return at the DE position for the third year in a row. This position was thin last season after the loss of Michael Williams to academics. This year Brian Orakpo and Chris Brown will fit in the rotation, while true freshman Lamar Houston may get some playing time.

The interior will feature Frank Okam, who NFL scouts are already drooling over. Derek Lokey will finally get the chance to start. Despite the loss of Rod Wright and Larry Dibbles, the DL should also improve this year. Okam had replaced Dibbles as starter last year, and despite his talent, Wright had a habit of taking plays off during the game. Roy Miller will press Lokey for playing time, and Tulley Janzen fills out the rotation. Freshman Ben Alexander may also get some PT.

The linebacking core was the weakness in the defense last year, but figures to be better this year. Rashad Bobino will move to MLB, which is his natural position. Robert Killebrew starts at SLB, but will need to cut down on the late hits. Drew Kelson is a speed guy, as he is a converted safety. Kelson will play the weak-side. Rod Muckelroy can spell Bobino in the middle. Sergio Kindle is being hailed as the next great Texas linebacker, and will be hard to keep off the field.

The secondary is good, but relatively thin. Michael Griffin gives Texas a chance to have back-to-back Thorpe award winners. Griffin made that great interception in the end zone during the Rose Bowl. Michael will be joined at the other safety spot by his twin brother, Marcus. Tarrell Brown and Aaron Ross spilt time at corner last year, but will need to start at both positions and will have to contribute. After that, the secondary gets iffy. Eric Jackson and Ryan Palmer can fill in when needed. But the secondary cannot afford an injury to any of the starters.

On offense, the real question mark is, of course, QB. Has VY returned for another season, Texas would be a hands down preseason #1. And that perhaps is the good news. That means a lot of pieces are in place on the offense, and the young QBs will just need to be serviceable, rather than god-like. But that means this team cannot afford to get down by 28 points to Oklahoma St., or any team for that matter. Gone are the days VY can bail the team out on 4th and 18. Gone are the days when the pocket collapses and VY wiggles his way out for a 20 yards gain. After attending the scrimmage last week, it seems clear Colt McCoy is the better QB right now, and he should be the starter. Jevan Sneed is the better athlete, but just doesn't look as comfortable running the offense. Another freshman, Sherrod Harris is third-string QB. The good news is, McCoy and Sneed have an arm and can make certain passes.

The better news is, Texas should dominate the line in every game they play this year. The O-line is going to be great again this year. Justin Blalock returns and may be the best O-lineman in the country. Kasey Studdard and Center Lyle Sendlein also return. Tony Hills, Jr. is a converted tight end that played a lot of minutes last year, and will be a starter this year. Adam Ulatoski and Cedric Dockery will step up into the other O-line positions. Texas also has some talented recruits coming in. Buck Burnette and J'marcus Webb are the best of the incoming fish, but hopefully will not need to be called upon to contribute.

Texas also has a deep stable of running backs, which is good considering they may be injury prone. Whereas Adrian Peterson will be called upon to run the ball 30 to 35 times a game, Selvin Young, Jamaal Charles, Henry Melton will split carries. Charles has been receiving some early Heisman buzz, but he is still a year away. Freshman Vondrell McGee is a speedster. Fullback, when used, will be spilt between Marcus Meyers and Chris Ogbonnaya. Although Ogbonnaya will probably be in a running back during garbage time. The running backs will need to take up the slack for the 1,000 yards VY gained on the ground last year.

Even better news is, Texas is solid at WR. Limas Sweed, Billy Pittman, and Quan Cosby can all stretch the field. The reserves are good too. Jordan Shipley was the most prolific WR in Texas high school history, but has been saddled with injuries the last two seasons. Nate Jones is a former starter, and Myron Hardy has been performing well in practice. Provided the QBs can get the ball to them, the receiving core should be take care of the rest. I hope to see a lot of defenses stack the box, b/c I like our odds with Sweed and Pittman in one-on-one coverage.

David Thomas will be impossible to replace, but Neale Tweedie brings the experience of a senior to the tight end position. Peter Ullman played some minutes last year. And Britt Mitchell and Greg Smith were highly recruited last year. Most folks are excited about Jermichael Finley. He needs to improve his blocking, but is a great receiver. Finley will be able to beat most LBs down the field. Tweedie and Finley will both play significant minutes and will be important safety valves for the young QBs.

On special teams, Aaron Ross will return punts again this year after a fine season of return duty last year. Tarrell Brown and Quan Cosby will be the kick returners. Greg Johnson will punt and probably handle kick-offs. The Vandy transfer has been inconsistent at times and will need to improve. Trevor Gerland will compete for place kicker, but a lot of folks are excited about Hunter Lawrence. Mack Brown thought enough of him to offer a scholarship. Lawrence also runs track, and could figure into some fake kicks. Kicking will be very important this year, as games against tOSU and Oklahoma may come down to a FG.

Texas schedule isn't as easy as last year. Admittedly, the Big 12 is not a conference full of monsters. However, I feel the North division has improved. Texas benefits from playing the Buckeyes at home, and early in the season. Oklahoma is a neutral site game. That leaves trips to Lubbock and Lincoln in consecutive weeks as Texas' road challenges.

The Ohio St. game will be difficult. The Texas D will have to shut down Troy Smith. The defense performed well last year in Columbus. But Texas probably benefited from Tressel's juggling of the QB in last year's game. Texas will lose a shoot-out to Ohio St. Texas will need to establish the ground game and keep the Buckeye offense off the field.

The Oklahoma game is a toss-up. Okies would have you believe Bomar's dismissal was a good thing. Don't buy it. The loss of Quinn may have been more significant. Many view Oklahoma's O-line as the team's weakness. Peterson will carry the load, and may take a lot of punishment. Peterson only rushed three times for ten yards in last year's shootout (that's right, it is the Red River Shootout, you PC pussies - sorry). We'll know a lot about both of these teams by the time Oct. 7 rolls around. OU makes a trip to Autzen early in the season for a rematch of the Holiday Bowl. They also have UAB and Washington at home. Texas and OU may meet for the first time in a while with both teams having a blemish on their record.

Trips to Lubbock have been an adventure of late for Texas. The drunken lawyer is a master of offense, and wacky o-line arrangements. Tech replaces their QB - big deal. The real chore will be replacing Taurean Henderson at RB. Tech will be good, but not great. Provided the QB doesn't fall flat on his face, Texas should win this one. Nebraska may be improved, but Texas should out-talent the Cornhuskers in a potential Big 12 championship game match-up.

Best case scenario, obviously 12-0, and playing in the Fiesta. But can Texas do it? Yes, but will need mistake-free play from the QB position, and the defense will need to hold every opponent to less than 21. Worst case, probably 8-4. But then again, I thought worse case last year was 8-3. So we'll see. The OSU game will go a long way to setting the tone for this season. The players seem motivated, they are tired of hearing last year was all Vince. The other 23 players on the field want to prove they have what it takes to compete for that crystal football.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why NPR Doesn't Cover College Football

Today, on National Public Radio's afternoon news show All Things Considered, they once again revisited the "directed study" at Auburn, and interviewed the "whistle-blower". Couple of things pop into my head when hearing this story (keep in mind that, unlike Jimbo, I'm not a rabid Auburn fan, but a very mild one, and more interested in truth and fairness).

1. This is so old news - the only thing that possibly makes this relevant is it being 7 days til the season starts again.

2. While they mentioned that Auburn was under academic probation, not NCAA probation, and that this situation of easy grades for little work falls squarely under some of the things that could possibly cost Auburn its academic standing, they give the last word to the sociology professor who first made a stink.

3. What NPR totally missed, and shame on them, as I used to consider them the most unbiased news source, is that our hero, the whistle-blower, was passed over for a promotion, and blew the whistle on the guy who got it. This guy isn't even really out to get Auburn - he just wants to get the guy who got his job, and is willing to take the Plainsmen down with him, and is willing to say it's a football problem.

So shame on you NPR, for not telling the whole, and for telling an old story that has already been resolved without an NCAA investigation.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Texas' national title was fraudulent

The biased media were at it again. Caught up in the glitz and glamor of Sixth Street, the Princeton Review named Texas the nation's #1 party school.

http://www.topix.net/content/ap/0770069709150176614907454465610632582187

Having lived among undergrads most of my time in Austin, and all of my time at Auburn, I once again give the edge to the rough and tumble Southeastern partiers over the effete, spread party offense crazy Big XIIers. Plus, the defense (cops) is tougher in SEC country.

I will give the Longhorn students credit for one thing: their tequila tolerance is unmatched in any conference I've seen.

Monday, August 21, 2006

my picks for the season

i need to hurry and get these done. the following are my picks in the bcs conferences, and then my picks for the bcs bowls and nat'l championship game. i will pick a division winner, the runner up will be the second place team, but not necessarily the loser of the conference championship game, and then i'll pick a dark-horse.

big 12

1st place: Texas (thanks rhett)
2nd place: Oklahoma
dark horse: Texas Tech (if Tech had their schedule from last year, i might be inclined to pick them for 1st.)

big 10:

1st place: Ohio State
2nd place: Iowa
dark horse: Penn St. (fortunately, the ND game is not a conference game. and Penn St. is DUE against Michigan)

big least:

1st place: West Va.
2nd place: Louisville
dark horse: there is no dark horse

acc:

1st: Florida St.
2nd: Miami
dark horse: Clemson

sec:

1st: Florida
2nd: Auburn (sorry, jimbo)
dark horse: LSU (ridiculous schedule)

pac 10:

1st: USC
2nd: Cal.
dark horse: Oregan (again, sorry jimbo, i can't jump on the Wazzu bandwagon)

National Championship game: Texas vs. W. Va. (i hate this. i'm picking Texas with my heart, and W. Va. b/c i have to.)

Rose: Ohio St. vs. USC

Orange: Florida St. vs. Notre Dame (ND could lose three games and still end up in the BCS.)

Sugar: Iowa vs. Florida

Fiesta: California v. LSU (Auburn's loss in the SEC championship game knocks them out of BCS. Cal finally gets its chance to be embarrassed in a BCS bowl.)

there you go. saved for posterity. tear it apart boys.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Seventeen Days in August

In seventeen oh so short days, college football kicks off (and Jimbo gets another year older) with UTEP at San Diego State, BC at Central Michigan, Northwestern at Miami of Ohio, and So. Carolina at Miss. State. Not a bad opening slate, and that means it's time for a brief analysis of these games. That, and, as each day creeps closer and closer, I'll be following Venu's lead, and giving my conference previews, followed by my preseason top 25 (look for changes from the pre-pre season top 8).

So, a quick glance at the first four games of 2006 -

1. UTEP at San Diego State - Ah, poor Aztecs, trying so hard. This one should be a no-brainer, with Mike Price having revved up Miner football, and UTEP having been bowl bound, and Palmer the Younger (aka Jordan Palmer) still running things in the huddle. Chuck Long is looking to make a statement in his first game, but let's be serious - UTEP has the potential to upset Texas Tech when they come to the Sun Bowl. This game goes to the Miners, and El Paso will continue to love Mike Price.
My pick: UTEP

2. BC at Central Michigan - Another no brainer. While Central Michigan has been making some improvements within the MAC, even breaking the .500 mark last year, they're not ready to compete with Tom O'Brien's soaring Eagles. The talent isn't there for the Chippewas, and this home opener will be a loss. Meanwhile, the Eagles will cruise, unless they're looking forward to the ACC opener against Clemson the next week.
My pick: BC

3. Northwestern at Miami (OH) - Okay, this is a tough one. Randy Walker's untimely death may effect this game, and all of the Wildcats' season this year, far more than one might hope. The Redhawks are trying to figure out their QB situation, but have been among the best of the MAC for the past few years. With the pall hanging over Evanston, and the game being in Oxford, I've got to call this a toss-up. If the Wildcats don't walk away with a win, expect a dismal year for Northwestern.
My pick: Toss up

4. South Carolina at Mississippi State - The Ole Ball Coach travels to Starkville. And how stark does it look for the Bulldogs. Miss. State has just been downright awful of late, and this season, if the trend continues, Sylvester Croom may start feeling his seat getting warmer and warmer. After two years at Miss. State, Croom will be playing this year with some of his recruits, and we'll see what he can do. Meanwhile, Spurrier isn't happy with what he has at South Carolina, especially with the attitudes of some of his upper classman. Still, even if Crooms has Miss. State poised for a big year, I think the Gamecocks will walk awsy with this one, in what will probably be a barn-burning defensive battle.
My pick: South Carolina

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The problem with the 12th game

This season, the NCAA has allowed the scheduling of a 12th game for I-A football. In theory, that was supposed to lead to better intersectional, interconference matchups. Mark Schlabach on espn.com is criticizing various programs - predictably, he names only top SEC programs and some top ACC programs - for the supposedly "weak" OOC scheduling.

In his effort to curry favor with the anti-SEC higher ups at the Mickey Mouse Club, Schlabach conveniently forgot the flaw in the current schedule: the NCAA added an extra game to the schedule, but did not add another week in which to play it. Thus, to play the 12th game, schools (at least in years like this one where only 13 Saturdays fall between Labor Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend) must surrender an open date. The result is that many programs - including those that Schlabach smeared - are playing as many as 12 weeks in a row.

Further, weeks 11 and 12 for Auburn will be Georgia and Alabama. Weeks 11 and 12 for Alabama will be LSU and Auburn. Given that top programs in BCS conferences all have to plan for a national championship run, how in the world are they supposed to add top competition onto already tough schedules and at the same time REDUCE their time to prepare (not to mention recuperate)? Auburn anticipates playing 12 games in a row, 8 againsgt SEC foes and one against Washington State. Who cares if the other three are Buffalo, Tulane, and Ark State (the last of which, BTW, was in a bowl game a year ago). Same with Alabama, which must play 8 SEC games and a perennial mid major bowl team in Hawaii. They need teams like Duke and LaMo, or they'd be dead by the time the brutal final stretch came around.

The bottom line is the NCAA needs to be blamed for not adding the extra week b/c they made it harder, not easier, for top programs to schedule top competition. Don't blame the institutions; they're just playing the hand they were dealt.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

hell in a handbasket

wow. today's espn college football main page reads like a rouge's gallery. serious trouble at major programs across the country (and yes, texas has its share). i don't buy the "college players should get paid" argument, and i certainly don't think it excuses bomar and others from their transgressions. another argument: this has been going on for years, we just hear more about it due to 24 hours sports networks, internet sites, etc.

thoughts?