Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sports Treatise has a new home!

I've built out a newer, better site to serve as the new home for Sports Treatise!

You can check it out by following this link. If you go there you'll continue to find the same sort of content you've always enjoyed here and will also find over the coming months:

-My breakdown of every Big 12 recruiting class!

-Analysis of where every returning Big 12 QB is at in terms of basic spread competency and value-add.

-An article discussing market inefficiencies in Big 12 recruiting.

-A breakdown of the 2015 AAC championship game between Temple (coached by Matt Rhule) and Houston (coached by Tom Herman).

-And much more! Go check it out now, I've started things up with a survey of the cultural struggles that have long existed within college football and now play out in a friendly, safe environment on college football Saturdays!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Nick Fitzgerald and a new spread QB archetype

Over at Football Study Hall I broke down the art of evaluating spread QBs based on the "value-add" they bring to an offense after hitting a base level of competency as a distributor. In particular, I focused on a new type of archetype that Dan Mullen has been making hay with at Mississippi State.

If I were a little more clever with graphics I'd make a spider chart for Fitzgerald or other spread QBs that demonstrated how much of the "base level, distribution skills" they had along with the additional value-add skills and how those can incorporate different kinds of teammates.

What I'll probably actually do is break down every returning B12 QB from this perspective over the offseason, along with the incoming QB recruits, so look forward to that!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes' formula for winning close games

When push comes to shove, it's hard to stop the Buckeyes from sustaining successful drives in crunch time because it's hard to stop Barrett in their QB run game.

Stopping the QB run game is the number one thing on Brent Venables to-do list if Clemson wants to come through and win the title this year. It won't get any easier in the second round when they'd most likely face Jalen Hurt and Alabama.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What to watch for in the Las Vegas Bowl (Houston vs SD St)

Herman's coordinators at Houston, Major Applewhite and Todd Orlando, are going to join forces one more time to try and lead the Cougars over the Aztecs in the Las Vegas Bowl. If you're curious about the kinds of tactics and play that are typical to a Tom Herman team, this is a nice opportunity to take a look.

I've detailed what to watch for over at Inside Texas (For FREE!).

Friday, December 9, 2016

My 2016 All-Big 12 team

Another season, another Big 12 title for the Oklahoma Sooners. Bob Stoops now has more Big 12 titles (or shares at least) with 10 then he has home losses in Norman (nine). That's a stunning stat that speaks to 17 years of scarcely interrupted dominance over this league.

Naturally, the Sooners are going to be well represented on my All-Big 12 list here after a brilliant season in which they didn't lose a single conference game. That's the first time that's happened since the Big 12 went to round robin scheduling in 2012. Well done, Oklahoma.

I tried to keep players in their real positions here and used my own positional designations to describe the various roles that you tend to find filled on Big 12 teams. Without further ado...

All Big 12 Offense

QB: Pat Mahomes II, Texas Tech
        Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

This was a tough one. Mason Rudolph is the main reason that OSU might be about to have their second consecutive 10-win season (probably not though, Colorado is pretty tough) but a great passing QB usually gets bested by a mobile guy in college and that's exactly what happened in Bedlam. Mayfield locked up his place over Rudolph with that victory.

Mahomes vs Mayfield is a much tougher argument to parse out. The fact is that Mahomes had to carry the weight for his entire team while Mayfield was playing with another Heisman finalist in Dede Westbrook (which is actually absurd, for the record, but no doubt he's good) and other fantastic skill weapons. Not to say that Mahomes had no help but throwing for 5k yards and scoring 50 TDs while playing hurt half the year is a pretty incredible accomplishment.

As much as OU's defense struggled this year, they were still several times better than the defense Mahomes had working on his behalf. Baker Mayfield is a fantastic QB and it's horrifying that he has another year of eligibility left, but if you had these guys switch places the Raiders are just as terrible and Oklahoma is at least as good.

RB: D'Onta Foreman, Texas
       Joe Mixon, Oklahoma

Samaje Perine had a good year but missed a lot of games to injury while Mixon was more of a constant within the Sooners' offense. I'll be curious to see if either return to Norman next season.

Foreman ran for 2k yards on defenses that did all they could to get extra numbers to the box to stop him. While Mixon is the more dynamic player in terms of all he can do on offense, and my OPOY, Foreman was the better pure running back this year.

Here's a shot of Mixon running a dig route:

That's one versatile dude. I also think Foreman was robbed of his place in New York for the Heisman ceremony. What a joke.

Ancillary: Winston Dimel, Kansas State
                  Blake Jarwin, Oklahoma State

I kept these the same as last year with Dimel maintaining an edge thanks to his 12 rushing touchdowns accumulated in goal line carries. The Wildcats kept Dimel on the field a great deal this year and he showed really well both as a lead blocker (particularly on outside zone, their specialty this year) and in that new role as a short-yardage rusher. Dude only had 30 carries on the year so almost half of them were worth six points.

Jarwin continued to be a very valuable piece of the OSU puzzle that allowed them to mix in a lot of double TE sets thanks to his solid blocking and very effective receiving. Only 17 receptions on the year but he was pretty heavily involved this year and a big part of the OSU offensive identity.

ISO WR: James Washington, Oklahoma State
                 Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma

The stats say this is a no-brainer, as does the (brainless) Heisman voting, but I'm going to buck consensus and roll with James Washington here as my "ISO" WR, which I give to the WR who the offense is looking to use as a primary outlet for punishing teams that load up elsewhere.

Washington is every bit the deep threat that Westbrook was and also had to work against press coverage more often, double teams, and with less surrounding help overall. Westbrook was phenomenal but he was also a guy that defenses could never zero in on due to the myriad of other threats that the Sooners were putting on the field.

Possession WR: Allen Lazard, Iowa State
                           Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia

I'm using this slot for the possession targets who often had the job of being chain-movers for their offense and to move around and convert first downs. Honorable mention to Mark Andrews here but he just didn't get enough action in that loaded Sooner skill group. Shorts was money in this role for the Mountaineers while Lazard split time between doing this and trying to be a deep threat for the Cyclones.

Slot: Jalen McCleskey, Oklahoma State
         Jonathan Giles, Texas Tech

Hang on, we have to pause and make an important announcement...

The winner of the Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person is Jalen McCleskey!!!!!!

Ahem...roll music*

Isn't he tiiiiiinyyyyyyy? Isn't he wooooonderfuuuulllll!

Runner-up goes to his teammate, OSU RB Justice Hill.

It really seemed like Kavontae Turpin was going to win this trophy but his unfortunate injury diminished his impact this season. Better luck next year, Kavontae. Read up on the illustrious history of the award here.

Giles was fortunate enough to be the slot receiver for Texas Tech, which makes it easy to be recognized here.

LT: Connor Williams, Texas
       Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

I'm not on a personal mission to knock every great Sooner player down to 2nd team, at least as far as you know, I just think they had one of the best players at multiple positions and it had a multiplier effect for the whole team. Orlando Brown was one of their best players overall and could be part of a mass exodus from Norman this coming offseason. He was good in pass protection but also lethal in their counter-trey run game and leading out on tunnel screens.

Connor Williams was completely dominant this last year and I'd venture to guess that at least 1/3 of D'Onta Foreman's yardage came running behind him.

LG: Ben Powers, Oklahoma
        Jake McMillon, Texas

The best left guards in the conference this year didn't play very complete seasons. Adam Pankey was good here for WVU but had to move out to left tackle due to injuries. Abdul Beecham was playing very well for K-State and then got injured, leading to Tyler Mitchell taking back over.

Jake McMillon was one of the more dominant run blockers in the conference in the games he played, although the guy he replaced (and who replaced him again when he was injured) Patrick Vahe was also quite good. Ben Powers locked down that left side for the Sooners so he'll get the nod, McMillon was the best but just didn't have enough chances to show it.

OC: Kyle Fuller, Baylor
        Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia

Fuller was one of the bright spots for Baylor this year and a crucial component to their run game, which they relied on heavily all year. Orlosky has been good for a while now at West Virginia but rarely really stands out to me. Hat tip to Erik Wren who was solid for OU and Reid Navjar who was really good and returns next season at K-State.

RG: Kyle Bosch, West Virginia
        Terrale Johnson, Kansas State

Hat tip to Dru Samia who moved inside later in the year and played well for Oklahoma, he'll probably be on a first or second team wherever he lines up next season. I'm giving this one to WVU guard Kyle Bosch, a Michigan transfer who was a focal point for a very solid Mountaineer run game.

Terrale Johnson was one of my favorite players to watch all season. He's maybe 6-1, is carrying some extra weight around the midsection, and just doesn't look the part at all. However, he regularly executed excellent reach blocks, worked well in tandem with their RT, and was one of the biggest scrappers in the whole conference. He was an absolute joy to watch.

Here was one of many good outside zone runs to the right involving Risner, Johnson, and Dimel:

RT: Dalton Risner, Kansas State
       Aviante Collins, TCU

Right tackle is often a very poor spot in the Big 12, go watch some games and you'll see DCs regularly target the right side with blitzes. K-State is probably the only team in the conference who put their best OL at RT so naturally Risner is a shoo-in for first team if you're actually going by position. Collins is a guy who's been pretty solid for a few years now though so I'll give him the nod.

All Big 12 Defense

End: Jordan Willis, Kansas State
         Josh Carraway, TCU

Willis led the league in sacks with 11.5 and was THIS close to being my DPOY. Carraway was another who made a living rushing off the edge but also played some pretty good run defense.

Nose: Darrien Howard, West Virginia
          Will Geary, Kansas State

Howard shocked me with his athleticism and he was pretty disruptive playing nose for the Mountaineers this year. Geary is a mainstay here, never one of the more dominant players in the league but always one of the good ones.

Texas' Chris Nelson had a case here but he fell off down the stretch.

Tackle: Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State
              Aaron Curry, TCU

Taylor was the foundation of Oklahoma State's defense and sixth in the league in sacks with six on the year. For a defensive tackle that's very good. Curry was also very disruptive and is just hard to reach or get hands on in TCU's scheme up front.

Props to Poona Ford who had a solid year at Texas and to Neville Gallimore at Oklahoma who's probably the next big thing at their DE spot.

Edge-Rusher: Dorance Armstrong, Kansas
                        Obo Okoronkwo, Oklahoma

Obo was a breakthrough player for the Sooners this year and they used him all over the field, but he slowed down at the end of the year (probably due to injuries) and finished just behind Armstrong. The young Kansas DE was a terror on the edge all year and was second in the league in sacks.

Texas' pair of Breckyn Hager and Malcolm Roach could be the future here.

Inside-backer: Jordan Evans, Oklahoma
                         Ty Summers, TCU

Travin Howard was good for TCU this year but Summers emergence was a key factor to TCU's steady rise in the defensive rankings over the course of the year. Jordan Evans was brilliant this season in run defense but also in coverage with four INTs and seven other break-ups to go along with his steady play between the tackles.

Earlier in the year I undersold Evan's importance in allowing Oklahoma a chance to make enough stops on defense to just blow everyone away. Hat tip to Texas' Malik Jefferson who had a tough season but was starting to finally show flashes of playing absolutely dominant football down the stretch, particularly when used as a spy on passing downs.

Outside-backer: Taylor Young, Baylor
                             Elijah Lee, Kansas State

Elijah Lee just barely missed first team here because Taylor Young moved all over the place for Baylor and was great in a variety of roles. Technically Lee is more of the outside-backer who played some in coverage but we have to give Taylor Young some attention here for his disruptive play on the outside.

+1 run supporter: Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State
                               Pat Levels, Baylor

Jordan Sterns just completed a third consecutive year as the Cowboys leading tackler and an enforced in the middle of the field and against the run. He was really strong all three years, comparing favorably to predecessor Daytawion Lowe, and his younger brother Cade Sterns is a hot target in recruiting currently committed to LSU.

Pat Levels was a stud on the edge for Baylor that allowed them to mix in some 3-2-6 packages this year without getting gashed by the run thanks to his 12 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks playing on the edge. Levels goes down with Terrale Johnson as some of the "scrappers of the year."

Hat tip to Jordan Burton for Oklahoma State, who played a lot of roles for them over the last year and was quite good. Also to Denzel Johnson of TCU and Kyzir White of WVU.

Cover safety: Steven Parker, Oklahoma
                       Travon Blanchard, Baylor

Parker had to play all over the place for Oklahoma this year and he got targeted some but he also made a lot of tackles and showed range all over the field. I think it's likely they'll get him back one more year and he could benefit tremendously from being surrounded by a more experienced secondary that could set him up to make plays rather than scrambling to cover for everyone.

Blanchard was one of the best DBs in the league this year, despite missing some time to injury. If he returns next year (and he probably will), Matt Rhule will have a valuable and versatile piece on the back end.

Hat tip to Tre Flowers for Oklahoma State, who had a nice year and showed some nice erasing ability making physical tackles from deep alignments. Texas' P.J. Locke has a chance to win this award next season with increased snaps and the opportunities that will come from (likely) playing in Todd Orlando's scheme. Dante Barnett just missed the cut this year, he didn't seem quite as strong coming off injury.

Support safety: Nick Orr, TCU
                           Orion Stewart, Baylor

Nick Orr was brilliant for TCU this season and helped them to play this hybrid cover 6/cover 1 scheme that is pretty tough to beat:

He was also active in run support and had 84 tackles to go along with four INTs and five break-ups.

Orion "the hunter" Stewart completes a very solid career for Baylor in which he played a ton of run support but also moved around to help them cover for injuries/suspensions and totaled five INTs and four break-ups on the year. I'll never forget our brief Twitter spat when I expressed doubt that this kid could replace the physical Ahmad Dixon in run support and he took umbrage.

For the record, he wasn't as good as Dixon in run support but he was still quite good there and he brought quite a lot in coverage for the Bears over the last three years.

Lockdown corner: Rasul Douglas, West Virginia
                                Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma

Rasul Douglas led the league with eight interceptions, added seven break-ups, and is my DPOY. Here he is picking off TCU on one of West Virginia's zero-rat blitzes. His coverage ability on the outside was essential to their scheme and their near finish as one of the league's best defenses.

Jordan Thomas had 16 pass break-ups on the year and is one of the better deep coverage defenders in the entire league, perhaps the best. Oklahoma better hope he comes back next year.

Cornerback: D.J. Reed, Kansas State
                       Ryan Reid, Baylor

Here I'm acknowledging some versatile CBs here who may or may not have been asked to lockdown guys but were good all-around DBs for their teams.

Reed was mostly just a secondary corner for K-State but he was pretty aggressive about jumping routes and broke up 15 passes while picking off three more as a result. He also got beat deep some but he'll probably get even better here with time. Reid was largely avoided this year and made teams pay when they did go after him with three INTs and seven break-ups.

Texas' failure to get a CB on this list was a primary reason for their unexpected struggles on defense this year. That and the terrible LB play.

That's all for this year. As always, make note of your vehement condemnations of my choices in the comments!

Sam Ehlinger official to Texas

I broke down the significance of this signing in a (FREE!) post over at Inside Texas that includes some nice quotes from Ehlinger himself.

He's a very unique player who plays with a chip on his shoulder like so many young, scrappy little QBs the Big 12 has seen such as Colt McCoy or Baker Mayfield. But unlike those guys, Ehlinger is already 6-2, 220 coming out of high school.

Sam runs like a fullback between the tackles like Tim Tebow, but he's a much better passer than Tebow was at this stage in his career and perhaps a better passer than Tebow was coming out of college. Should be a fun fit for Tom Herman's offense.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Parsing the first presser for the new #RhuleofLaw

New Baylor head coach Matt Rhule was introduced last night in Waco in the midst of what appeared to be a pep rally and it went very well. You can check out the video here or the transcript here.

Rhule clearly either understood or was assisted with the right language and tone to take in speaking with Baylor folks and made repeated reference to his faith and feeling "called" to Baylor while emphasizing the influence he took from working with NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin for a few years while only briefly touching on the influence he took from Joe Paterno or Jerry Sandusky.

I'm not criticizing the man, just noting that he and new AD Mack Rhoades seem to understand how to message and brand this hire and the future of the football program better than has been done over the course of this last season with Briles' retained staff and Jim Grobe. The Bears have frequently been tone deaf and divided over the last year and it's made their situation more difficult then it needed to be. I'm betting that Big 12 media days in 2017 will feature Rhule emphasizing the future and largely ignoring Baylor's past scandals.

From the beginning it was clear that the Baylor program was desperately maneuvering to absorb as little pain as possible so that all of the recent investment into the football team wouldn't be sunk costs and the program wouldn't crash back into the Brazos river. It truly seems like they've managed to balance the necessary hits fairly well and while Rhule is a strange fit in Waco, he's a much better and more proven coach than I was starting to expect they'd end up landing.

I was delighted to hear the president make reference to the "Rhule of Law" pun, personally I think that's the brand and slogan that we should all give the Rhule era whether he wants it or not. It's just too fitting for a coach hired to rebuild a program mired in scandal with a physical, demanding, and martial practice culture.

I've learned that parsing coach speak is a difficult and subtle art and wanted to offer my takeaways from the press conference and what I expect will be the path and plan for Baylor football under Rhule. I base this in part off my understanding of where Baylor is at, my understanding of Rhule's methods gleaned from observing Temple at various points over the last year or so, and my years of parsing coach speak. I'll probably be wrong on a few points but here's my best guess on where things are going.

Rhule #1: Baylor is going to become a defensive-oriented football program. 

"We're going to bring the No. 3 ranked defense in the country here. We're going to play great defense, and we're going to have a dynamic offense." 
I love that Rhule delineated between results on one side of the ball and descriptor on the other. A "no. 3 ranked defense" that "plays great" refers to results that occur from his process. A "dynamic offense" just means one that has different dimensions to it, that word only describes how it will look, not how it will work.

You could describe his last few offenses at Temple as "dynamic" but you definitely wouldn't describe them as great.

However there's no question that Rhule knows how to build good defenses and he did so with scraps that were developed within his program, not with the top rated players in the region. I did a breakdown of his 2015 defense at SB Nation and what stood out to me was that his system is built to take advantage of recruiting on the margins and thereby getting players that could be broken down and then rebuilt through a process of redshirting and coaching.

I also wrote up a guide to how Baylor could, might, and should go about replacing Art Briles last summer. I pretty much nailed their process and they followed my suggestion for hiring a defensive coach. Here was my rationale:

"Suggestion 1: Hire a defensive coach
It'd need to be someone with a proven track record of defensing spread offenses and ideally either someone who was a defensive head coach who hired spread OCs or a DC who worked alongside spread O coaches. 

Why? Because for the reasons I mention above it's not rocket science to build an effective spread offense at a Texas program with the resources of Baylor. Any half-decent spread O college coach should be able to field a solid offense with what Briles would theoretically be leaving behind and what the Bears could expect to bring aboard in the future. 

With Art at the helm Baylor could count on running the best spread offense in the conference, if he's gone they should try to find another angle where they can be at advantage because that one is gone. For instance, being the team that has as good an offense as most anyone else but can also play defense. That's a nice niche to try and fill and Baylor's most successful teams under Briles have been the ones that could play a little defense. 

Defensive coaches are also often known for building a tough, disciplined culture and Baylor could sure benefit from a bunch of spring narratives (I'd assume they'd go interim in 2016 and make a hire for 2017) about increased accountability, toughness, and "now we play defense" quotes."

You're welcome, Rhoades.

Rhule #2: There's going to be a learning curve on offense.

Actually there's one angle mentioned above that I'm not sure Rhoades has totally grokked and that's the need for going to the spread offense in the Big 12.

To begin with, while Baylor is well stocked with the components needed to run the ball (a pair of big, German TEs, a deep stable of RBs, most of the OL returning, etc) many of their best players on offense are used to lining up outside of the hash marks.

There's also the fact that a smashmouth spread offense with RPOs is not only going to be easier to coach with Texas HS kids, but it'll also make it easier to score the amount of points you need to be able to score to win in the Big 12.

Like I noted in the Football Study Hall column, you can ask Gary Patterson, Charlie Strong, or Bill Snyder how things go in this conference trying to win games 24-13. It doesn't work, you can hold down your opponent for three quarters and then give up 21 points in seven minutes.

One of the more potentially concerning comments that Rhule made in his presser was this one:
And then the third thing is we'll have some guys on the staff with Texas ties, we had some guys on my staff at Temple had Texas ties, so we'll make sure that we have that tie. 
Temple didn't recruit Texas and the coach on that staff that had "Texas ties" was his OC Glenn Thomas, who grew up in Texas and graduated from Texas Tech but did much of his coaching at Midwestern State, the Atlanta Falcons, and Temple. His background is pro-style and if he's coming with Rhule from Temple he's going to have to learn how to do things a little differently to unlock the potential of Baylor running a spread offense with Texas kids.

He may well prove to be good at it, God knows he'll find that Texas kids are more developed then what he was working with at Temple, but what he did at Temple won't score enough points in the Big 12.

Rhule #3: The new process is still an underdog process.

"Number one, we developed the players because of the way we practiced and competed. I'm proud to say this. I've had NFL coaches, I've had NFL GM's say to me, Matt, just don't change the way you practice if you go there and you'll be really successful...
...In terms of the one- and two-star piece, we're going to trust our own evaluations."
Matt Rhule isn't building on what Briles did in terms of program development, instilling new processes that will take Baylor from "unique scrapper with an edge from their unique offense and practice format" to "blue blood program that's harnessing the best of the best."

Instead, Rhule is going to be looking to find advantages from his practice format and development plan that allows Baylor to get more out of their 2/3 star players then other schools around the conference get from their own recruits. Rhule never recruited at the top of the AAC and while you can make a great argument that his recruiting will improve as a result of working with Baylor's facilities and incentives, his program is not about winning over the best recruits and then just getting them on the field.

When Art Briles first arrived in Waco he gave the program its edge by fitting 2/3 star offensive players to his system and then just doing some "plug and play" every year with new burners out wide, new behemoths up front, and QBs that he'd been programming over multiple years to run his offense. Towards the end, Baylor had built up enough credibility and garnered enough alumni investment to start to recruit some of the top talents in the state but even then they weren't drawing in as many "blue chip" talents as Texas or Oklahoma.

Rhule clearly intends to do the exact same thing. Only instead of fitting 2/3 star offensive players that he knows will fit his system, he'll be picking out 2/3 star defensive players that he knows he can mold. Instead of programming his players to operate a revolutionary spread-option offense on auto-pilot with practice formats that provide hundreds and thousands of reps, he'll be programming his players to be physical intimidators with practice formats that force the dogs to come out in every player.

Perhaps Baylor earn credibility and start landing 4/5 star defensive (or offensive) talents towards the end of Rhule's current seven-year contract but in the interim you can expect this to look more like how Briles built up the Bears to where they are today.

I'm guessing (and hearing) that Rhule is going to hire some offensive coaches from around the state of Texas to fill out his offensive staff. Who he hires as OC is going to tell us everything about how quickly he can get this program on track.

If Rhule creates a hodge podge staff of guys from different spread backgrounds and then puts them under Glenn Thomas and expects a coherent, effective spread offense to come out as a result then I don't think this think is going to get fast tracked. If they develop a cohesive vision for a new Baylor offense and the staff suit that vision, then #RhuleofLaw will be trending before too long.