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.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Herman's plan at Texas

Over at Inside Texas I wrote about how Tom Herman is going to look to make the schwerpunkt of every Big 12 game for Texas what happens in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

Texas and Oklahoma have advantages over the rest of the league in the kinds of big athletes they can recruit to dominate the middle of the chessboard and how well they leverage that advantage is crucial to winning football games. Oklahoma has done pretty well at it over the years, Herman is about to try and make it the key ingredient at Texas.

Read up here.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Establishing the Rhule of Law in Waco

I wrote up my thoughts on who Matt Rhule is and how his program might translate at Baylor.

His hire at OC will be the biggest thing to watch. Read up at Football Study Hall!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Or, an alternative plan

It's been pointed out to me that the difficult Penn State vs Ohio State debate could be avoided if the committee were to punish Washington for having the 127th ranked OOC schedule.

Washington's schedule looks like this in sum:

Rutgers: 48-13
Idaho: 59-14
Portland State: 41-3
@Arizona: 35-28
Stanford: 44-6
@Oregon: 70-21
Oregon State: 41-17
@Utah: 31-24
@Cal: 66-27
USC: 13-26
Arizona State: 44-18
@Wazzu: 45-17
Colorado: 41-10

Not that terribly impressive, no? Seven home games, zero OOC challenges, and the road tests were Utah and Wazzu. Those are solid teams, but nothing to write home about.

Penn State played Pitt on the road and AAC champion Temple in their OOC, Ohio State traveled to Norman to give us an Oklahoma vs Ohio State showdown that enriched our early season football viewing. Washington can talk about how they went on to play a Pac-12 schedule but the only team they played on the level of a Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, or Penn State beat them soundly on their own field.

I think the committee should bump Penn State over Washington by virtue of winning the toughest league in 2016 and then the Huskies can howl if Alabama beats the tar out of the Nittany Lions and shout to anyone who will listen that they would have done better.

That way they reward good OOC scheduling, which is good for the fans and makes decisions like this easier in the future, and also honor the team that won the best division and league in college football.

Who's judgment matters? The committee's or the process?

The balance of power tends to swing pretty heavily in college football, even from year to year, as coaches switch jobs and key players graduate or are injured. Generally the SEC is by and far the most loaded conference but this season the league was pretty down.

LSU had a great team but their QB was Danny Etling. Texas A&M ended up putting together a pretty interesting team but then QB Trevor Knight went down and that was that for the Aggies' season. Florida consistently ranked in the top 15 of S&P but this was due to a fantastic defense, their offense was stagnant and their QB position a revolving door.

Across the south this was a consistent them. Chad Kelly couldn't carry Ole Miss through a brutal schedule without hiccups and ultimately went down with injury, Florida State had growing pains with a new signal caller in Deondre Francois, Mississippi State started to move towards the future with Nick Fitzgerald and move past the Dak Prescott era. Alabama plugged in Jalen Hurts and ran over everyone, we all know they are the no. 1 seed and a scratch favorite to win it all again.

The only nationally competitive southern team in either the SEC or ACC who had a strong, veteran QB was Clemson with Deshaun Watson. The Tigers have to be in after winning the ACC title against Virginia Tech, who's starting to make noise in that league again thanks to Justin Fuente revitalizing their offense by infusing his spread teachings and JUCO QB Jerod Evans.

The Big 12 is largely an irrelevant mess. The Oklahoma Sooners have a dominant offense that no team in the Big 12 was able to solve, but they also have a porous defense that would inevitably get them into big trouble against the elite teams of the nation. No one else here would even remotely intrigue the committee.

The Pac-12 has been in a similar boat as the Big 12 with USC, the only truly blue blood program in that league, languishing and underachieving over the last few years and thus hurting the perception of the greater conference. But by the end of the year, USC had finally started to realize its potential thanks to plugging in freshman QB Sam Darnold and tearing every one else apart down the stretch. This year also saw Washington officially edge Oregon out as the THE program in the Northwest.

Here's one of the big problems for the committee, Washington was excellent this season and just finished dismantling Colorado in the Pac-12 championship. It's not like Colorado is a nationally elite team, particularly with Sefo Liufau playing hurt, but that win was still fairly impressive. One of the more intriguing parts of that game was how Washington was able to control the game and run the ball between the tackles with RB Lavon Coleman. Myles Gaskin has been their main back this season but he's a slasher who likes to dart through creases and win the edge, but if you can tend the edges with speed like Colorado did in their 3-4 defense then he's less effective. That they can now turn to Coleman in those times to power the ball down main street is a big deal.

Their defense was never really in question and their destruction of the Buff offense without LB Akeem Victor was enough for me, I think you have to include the Pac-12 champion. It's one of the deeper leagues in the country even if the top isn't as dominant as the cream of the 2016 Big 10 crop.

That leaves one spot for a host of Big 10 teams that all seem like they could be competitive in the playoff. I honestly think Michigan might be the best team of the bunch but their two league losses to Iowa and Ohio State (barely) disqualified them from the Big 10 championship.

Ohio State seems the favorite to be chosen (always) but their loss at Penn State cost them the tiebreaker to go to the Big 10 championship game where they may or may not have beaten a Wisconsin team that they barely took down in overtime earlier in the year in Madison. The main argument for Ohio State vs Penn State is that the Buckeyes beat Oklahoma in Norman in their non-conference slate and weren't blown out by anyone in the Big 10 while the Nittany Lions lost to Pitt in Pittsburgh in a close loss and were blown out early in the year by Michigan.

The main argument for Penn State is that they beat Ohio State, won the Big 10 East, and then won the Big 10 title in a comeback win over Wisconsin.

Some people are going to anoint Ohio State essentially due to the eye test that tells them Ohio State is one of the best teams in the nation. But, if we're truly going by the eye test to determine which Big 10 team is the best and would be most competitive in the playoffs, we should choose Michigan.

Others will argue for Ohio State because they have one loss this season while Penn State has two, but the Buckeyes have two OT wins and have played in five one-score games on the year (winning four). In terms of wins and losses, they have a minor advantage over the Nittany Lions, but when you look closer their resume is not clearly better than that of Penn State. Since the Lions took down Ohio State and got rolling with young QB Trace McSorley they've been blowing people off the field.

There's even an eye test argument to be made that Penn State is peaking at the right time to provide a compelling playoff product for the game to sell.

This kind of argument is hard to suss out, which is why we have divisions, conferences, title games, and tiebreakers that are supposed to do that work for us. When that process was applied, Penn State was declared the champion.

So now the committee can either substitute their own judgment for that of the game and choose Ohio State, or they can defer to the process and roll with Penn State. Should be very revelatory to see how this goes, I'm guessing they protect the bluer blood by picking the scarlet and grey.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

What does Tom Herman need to win early at Texas!

Over at Inside Texas I have an article available for free on what personnel Herman needs to find, add, or develop to get Texas going in year one.

Sounds like replacing D'Onta Foreman will be a major priority. I've been identifying three components as being crucial to Texas' run game dominance in 2016. The RB D'Onta Foreman, TE Caleb Bluiett, and the left side of the OL who were anchored by LT Connor Williams and then quite good with either Jake McMillon or Patrick Vahe with him at LG.

Two of those three components are gone, but the one returning (the left side of the OL) is probably the most valuable and essential. Now Herman just has to fill in the other two spots.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Harbaugh vs Meyer: To the scorecard!

Jim Harbaugh has has suffered two of the worst losses I've ever seen in just two short seasons as the head coach at Michigan. In 2015 the "go blue" faithful were devastated by the blocked punt incident at home against the Michigan State Spartans, who then went on to claim the Big 10 championship and a bid in the playoffs.

This year it was the narrow defeat to the hated Buckeyes that included a fourth and one play where JT Barrett picked up the first down by the narrowest of margins and then Ohio State won the game on the next play.

There was a lot of fury over that fourth down spot, as well as Ohio State's avoidance of penalties throughout the game. Personally I thought the Buckeyes did enjoy a little bit of home cooking overall but I also thought it looked fairly conclusive (or at the least too inconclusive to overturn) that Barrett did indeed pick up the first down.

In my "Harbaugh vs Meyer: Round II" preview at Football Study Hall I scored their first round in 2015 a 10-8 win for Meyer.

I'm calling this one a 10-10 tie. Yes, technically the Buckeyes won but Michigan controlled the game up until the fourth quarter, took things into double overtime, and were playing on the road. I think the Wolverines are the better team this year, but the Buckeyes won where it matters and they'll probably gain the reward that comes with it in the form of a playoff berth.

In the playoffs, I think Ohio State will be a worthy entry and have a good a chance as most of beating Alabama.

Now, the popular sentiment in Columbus right now seems to be that the Buckeyes just staved off the Wolverines and that now they'll be in position to reign supreme in the Big 10 East for a year or so while Michigan licks their wounds and rebuilds a roster that is about to lose a ton of players to graduation and the NFL. This is, of course, totally wishful thinking and completely detached from reality.

Harbaugh vs Meyer will continue on and next year the Wolverines will also have a veteran QB and will be the team playing at home. Don Brown has built elite defenses at Boston College utilizing less talent then what he'll have on the Michigan roster next season and the Wolverine offense will likely be one step closer to realizing Harbaugh's vision for a power-coast team with balance from the passing game and overpowering muscle at the point of attack.

When you have a system and program fully installed, losing starters doesn't have to kill you so long as you have players waiting in the wings that have been developed in the system for two-to-three years waiting to step in. Ohio State fans should know this as it's the reason they are consistently good every year regardless of whether they have returning starters at multiple positions or not.

The Buckeyes just survived the opening salvo from Harbaugh that came with Hoke's players. They aren't going to come away as the kings of this rivalry and the Harbaugh vs Meyer war until they fend off a Michigan team stocked with Harbaugh players.

Round III should be another good one.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Harbaugh vs Meyer: Round II

Over at Football Study Hall I broke down the biggest game of the weekend, Michigan vs Ohio State.

I'm scoring round I as 10-8 for Urban Meyer but I think Harbaugh has a fair shot at either drawing closer or even stealing a round if they can find a way to get some points against Ohio State's defense. Everyone's sleeping on Michigan this year and they shouldn't, if I'm right you're all about to find out why.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How Houston DC Todd Orlando shut down Lamar Jackson

The Gary Anderson/Dave Aranda school of defensive wizardry had another nice win against Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals last Thursday night. Over at SB Nation I detailed how Orlando went about the task of attacking the Cardinals and Lamar Jackson.

This school is very similar to zone-blitz methodologies of the past but it involves greater usage of quarters coverage (as well as Tampa-2) and it relies on the 3-4 base defensive structure. This style is becoming pretty common for a lot of teams as a sort of third down defense but these coaches have built it out into the foundation of an entire defense.

Perhaps we'll get to see how it handles Big 12 offenses next year...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Big 12 moves towards silly season

When the two Oklahoma schools smashed TCU and West Virginia respectively it established Bedlam as the de-facto Big 12 championship game in 2016.

Good thing they scheduled a new championship game starting in 2017, which in 2016 would mean that OU and OSU met on the field in Norman for a meaningless game before replaying the match-up the following Saturday in Dallas for all the marbles. Granted this probably wouldn't be a particularly common occurrence, but it is troubling to say the least.

I wonder what those schools would even do? I think you can assume that they'd rest anyone injured and quite frankly if I'm Oklahoma State I'm probably going to either start the back-up QB or bring him in after a quarter or so spent probing the Oklahoma defense with Mason Rudolph. As I reflect on the possibilities I realize this would actually be pretty interesting from an analyst's perspective but for the common fan it'd be hot garbage and for Oklahoma season ticket holders it'd be downright scandalous.

I'll break down Bedlam either here, SB Nation, or Football Study Hall next week. It should be an interesting game now that the OSU running game is really humming. I think that improving dimension to their offense pulls them pretty close to even with Oklahoma's own offense which when combined with Oklahoma's iffy pass defense make this a pretty competitive looking matchup.

The rest of the conference is now heading either towards silly season or towards recruiting bonanza, as the case may be. I'll be breaking down every class in the league again, although I'm not sure where I'll make that available yet so stay tuned.

I want to talk briefly about a few of the teams that are heading towards silly season right now.

The Texas Longhorns!

The state's flagship program and the biggest (resource-wise) program in the Big 12 seems very likely to make a move in the coming weeks to oust Charlie Strong and then replace him.

Over at Inside Texas Eric Nahlin detailed where things stand right now ($) while I broke down how a certain leading contender for the job might fit withTexas' offensive roster.

For all the drama, largely created by how easy it is to play the Texas media and various factions against each other, I think this will probably play out pretty predictably.

The Kansas State Wildcats

Things are always pretty quiet in Manhattan as Bill Snyder keeps a tight lid on things in that program. I've been suspicious for over a year now about Jerry Kill's hire and very active participation in the football program but whether he's going to be there to hold Sean Snyder's hand upon Bill's retirement or to bring over his man Tracy Claeys is less clear to me.

There's also the question of when Bill Snyder's retirement could come. However, K-State is poised to finish about 4th in the Big 12 this year in a year in which the Big 12 is quite frankly not very good at all.

The Wildcats were done in this year by a need to resort to a youth movement to get an acceptable level of talent on the field. They lacked expertise and developed skill at the QB position, the mainstay of Snyder teams, and they also lacked a defense with enough veterans to hold up their "bend don't break" schemes without regularly breaking due to assignment errors.

The question is now whether Snyder sees the youth on this team as a reason to stick around or whether he sees the slipping quality of the Wildcat football product as a sign that this job is passing him by at long last. I've heard in the past that he might be interested in hanging around to make a final run at a big postseason but there's no chance of this team reaching the playoffs with this roster or any roster they're likely to have over the next several years so at the most he'd be waiting around to potentially have a shot at going out as Big 12 champs.

The 2017 Big 12 season is probably going to feature another front-running OU team (Mayfield is probably back, much of his best supporting cast mates might go pro, D should improve), an improving TCU team, depleted Tech and OSU squads, a potentially improved West Virginia (Will Grier replaces Skyler Howard), and possibly a well-coached Texas team with a ton of talent entering their 2nd or 3rd year in the program.

If Snyder really likes his team and wants to go out on top of the league, he could probably convince himself that he could win this league next season.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders

Since I wrote that "what's next for Kingsbury and Texas Tech" column, the Red Raiders got beat at home by Texas (not especially shameful) but were then lambasted by Iowa State. I think Kingsbury will probably be retained, but before that game I assumed he'd at least have to make some staff changes.

What's next for Tech is going to depend on his ability to convince a good DC to come, to change his own program management to give that DC a chance at success, and then to see major improvements from their returning DL and LBs so that they don't get run over every week in 2017 like they have been for the last several years.

Maybe Phil Bennett will be available.

The Baylor Bears!

Baylor has been in the headlines recently for seeing their associate AD, hired to help improve the image of the program, charged with assaulting a reporter (choking) for trying to interview a student-athlete and for being likely to hire Chad Morris from SMU.

That program continues to be an amazingly awful mess, yet they might be about to hire the best possible man for the job of replacing Art Briles.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...well actually it was a HS in West Texas called Stephenville in the year 2004, Chad Morris set about the task of replacing Art Briles as the head coach. He initially struggled to match Briles' prodigious offensive output until he went to seek the help of a jedi spread master named Yoda Gus Malzahn.

It was there that he learned the ways of the force Wing-T and how to deploy it in a spread offense. From there he went to Lake Travis, which he transformed into a powerhouse that won two state titles under his direction and three more immediately after he left. Then on to Tulsa to be OC, then to Clemson where he built the infrastructure for the Deshaun Watson offense, then to SMU to get back to Texas and be a collegiate head coach.

He's a practitioner of the smashmouth spread and, like Briles, he tends to emphasize passing QBs that can deal death on RPOs rather than running QBs like Malzahn has tended to find more success with. At SMU he hired Van Malone as his DC, a guy who was responsible for coaching up some very good Oklahoma State secondaries, and they've had some solid success there rebuilding that unit. Presumably he would bring him with to Baylor.

Morris is very well respected across the state as a good, friendly guy in addition to being a favorite son of the Texas HS coaching ranks. He was a huge part of the spread revolution that took the state by storm and can probably be counted on to recruit pretty well at Baylor.

Quite frankly, the program doesn't deserve someone of this caliber given all the crap they've pulled over the years. Baylor fans, you'd better treat this guy well when he inevitably struggles to get things back on track with the mess of a roster he's going to inherit from the wake of the Briles scandals.

I'd say there's a good chance that Baylor can avoid going back to the gutter for more than a short visit with Morris in charge. I suppose that's ultimately for the good for the conference and it should make for some fun football in future seasons.

Any thoughts or questions?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

What's PJ Fleck all about?

I profiled what PJ Fleck has done to turn (initially) 1-11 Western Michigan into an undefeated squad this season over at SB Nation.

His offensive approach reminds me some of what Herman has tried to do at Houston or what Jim McElwain tends to do. It's a "bellcow" spread system, meaning that the goal is to get the ball to the best playmakers as often as possible.

Consequently, he puts a major emphasis on recruiting so as to get bellcows to campus that he can emphasize in his offense. With that strategy, the success he's had in it, and his emphasis on energy and branding he seems like a really good fit for a major program.

If I'm Oregon I think about giving him as long of a look as I'm planning on giving to Scott Frost.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Scouting Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State

Over at Football Study Hall I scouted the best attributes of the Big 12's three contenders for the conference title.

In the future I'll try and break down the results of OU-WV and OSU-TCU and then perhaps provide a big breakdown of the Bedlam game if it proves to be the conference title game.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A big picture perspective on the Big 12

I've not blogged enough about the Big 12 this season given how fascinating the conference has been this year and I wanted to touch, however briefly, on the main programs in the league and where they are right now from a big picture perspective.

If that perspective includes competing for the Big 12 title great, but some of these other teams have a lot else going on as well. Let's start with....

The Texas Longhorns

You can find tons of content on Texas at Inside Texas, either by me or by some truly great and knowledgeable writers like Justin Wells, Scipio Tex, and Eric Nahlin. I recently broke down where Texas is in terms of firming up some major weaknesses after the West Virginia game.

The picture at Texas right now is fairly murky. The best possible outcome for this season (from a wins and losses perspective) is 8-5 with a nice bowl victory (if you care about that kind of thing) while my own money is on a 6-6 outcome that concludes with Gary Patterson thumping Charlie for the third consecutive year.

Scipio Tex recently went on the radio in Austin and provided some great perspective on where Texas is right now and what should come next. Check it out here.

The Oklahoma Sooners

The Sooners are still rolling towards a likely 10th Big 12 championship for head coach Robert Anthony Stoops. Big game Bob has that program to a point where they are a full notch below the elite programs that Sooner fans would like to use as a measuring stick but also a full notch above the rest of the Big 12. That's not a terrible place to be, even if it means a frustrating postseason in Norman every year.

Baker Mayfield has done a predictably good job of managing the offense and distributing the ball to the tremendous talent around him. Dede Westbrook at full speed has been terrorizing the league, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are both phenomenal backs, the OL is always good, Mark Andrews is a matchup problem...

It's a great offense and Lincoln Riley has done a good job of balancing all of the threats at his disposal, save for that Ohio State gameplan which I thought was a little stubborn. The defense has struggled, but they have some playmakers on that side of the ball that usually do enough to allow their own offense to win shootouts.

I'm planning on previewing their game against West Virginia later this week, which could very well determine the Big 12 title or else set up Bedlam as the de-facto championship game.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys

Mike Gundy has once again maneuvered his program into "no. 1 contender" status within the league after temporarily yielding that ground to the private Texan school upstarts in Ft. Worth and Waco. The Cowboys are back up in Texas recruiting as well right now. Gundy always gets the most out of his roster, developing a few legit stars to build around and then casting everyone else into roles that serve the identity.

I wrote all offseason on how this team would have a devastating passing attack and a fundamentally solid defense that was strong up the middle but that their ceiling would be determined by whether they finally built a functioning run game again and if they could find some athletes on the perimeter of their defense.

Well they predictably focused on zone blocking this offseason and developed a Pistol-I formation to help supplement their run game and now freshman back Justice Hill is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and is on track to reach 1k yards before the year is done. On defense, they haven't quite found the athleticism they need at DE or CB to build a truly good unit but they've done well enough and they've gotten a lot out of star DT Vincent Taylor. Bedlam will be a fun game.

Long term you really have to wonder if they'll be able to hang on to Mike Gundy as he's getting mention to replace Les Miles at LSU (whom he replaced at Oklahoma State) and he could be in line for other jobs this offseason as a reward for about a decade's worth of making the most of Oklahoma State's resources.

The West Virginia Mountaineers

Before the year it seemed likely that Dana Holgorsen was going to seek or be pushed to new pastures at the end of the year with the Houston job a leading contender if Tom Herman left town. Now it looks like Holgorsen will come back for another round with new QB Will Grier, a ton of returning skill talent on offense, and a really strong supporting staff including OL guru Joe Wickline and star DC Tony Gibson.

In the meantime, the Mountaineers are in nice position to win the Big 12 after surviving against Texas in Austin last Saturday. They get Oklahoma at home, then get a sort of break traveling to Ames to take on Iowa State, then they finish at home against a Baylor team that's in a free fall right now and no longer looks like a contender. For fans of the Big 12 this would be sort of a letdown save for the fact that many fans of the Big 12 are as delighted to see Baylor implode as they would have been to see a compelling end of the year game. Personally I'm torn, I prefer having compelling football to watch but I'm not crying any tears for the Bears save for Seth Russell.

The Baylor Bears

When it became clear that the misdeeds of the Briles era were as egregious as they were the right answer was to burn things down, reset the foundation, and get started on rebuilding as quickly as possible. Instead Baylor tried to tease things out and prevent the dip from going to low in order to protect the massive investments into the football program that had helped to put Waco on the map in a major way.

They brought in Jim Grobe to put a pleasant face on the situation, kept as much of the Briles infrastructure in place as possible to keep the gravy train rolling, and then hoped that purging the goose that lays the golden eggs and the AD would be enough and buy time to find a HC that could keep the Bears competitive.

Of course it wasn't, Art Briles didn't take too well to receiving so much blame for something that was systemic to the entire institution and in his battle to clear up his image and find a new job he dragged the B.O.R. into a fight that has exposed cracks in the foundation that the program wished could have remained hidden. His assistants publicly took his side while appearing to mail in the football season, leading to a collapse down the stretch that is playing out before our eyes.

The blowout defeat at home against TCU that featured both fans and boosters taking a public stand for Art Briles was probably the worst thing that could have happened. Now the program is looking at having to make a hire this offseason who will be willing to replace a coach who achieved legendary things in Waco, left a bare cupboard in terms of the roster, and still has support from some of the key supporters of the program.

Now they have a skeleton roster filled with players that are going to be checking out their options in the transfer market next offseason, a scant freshman class that was pillaged by the rest of the league when things went down last offseason, and two commits thus far in the 2017 season. They also have an alumni base and B.O.R. that is close to being at war with each other over the direction of the University.

Who is going to want to step in to replace Briles in the midst of this political madness and horrible football situation? Not P.J. Fleck, the dream hire of Baylor faithful. Not top candidates that could be interested in coming to Texas, like Sonny Dykes, Larry Fedora, or Chad Morris. They may end up having to stick with Jim Grobe for a period at this rate while turning over most all of the assistants.

They should have owned everything from the beginning and started to clean house before the season started, now they're already a year behind and in a protracted political battle over control of the process.

This is all fairly good news for...

The Kansas Jayhawks

I think Kansas is one of the main beneficiaries of Baylor's total collapse as they now have a chance to climb out of the cellar simply by stepping on the Bears' rotting corpse. Coach David Beatty may or may not be a good long-term answer at Kansas but he's slowly but surely improving their talent level and play.

They're still horrible though.

The Kansas State Wildcats

Let's be honest, even just a few years ago Bill Snyder would have had his program in position to take advantage of a down year in the Big 12 and they'd be competing for the conference championship to the dismay of pundits everywhere. But things are slipping in Manhattan and it seems that they are always a little too preoccupied with plugging leaks resulting from a thin roster that prevent them from fielding the kind of veteran-laden team that Oklahoma State or West Virginia are currently riding to the top.

Meanwhile, Jerry Kill is basically taking over the Kansas State football program as associate athletic director or whatever made-up title they gave him to oversee the Wildcats' transition to the post-Snyder era. It truly sounds like he's thriving and he's essentially setting himself up as the Barry Alvarez of K-State football, there to make sure they always have staff and process in place to make the most of their program. This is what I predicted last offseason when he was brought aboard.

I'm betting Snyder sees the writing on the wall, retires but with some assurance of a spot for his son Sean, and then perhaps Kill brings his pal Tracy Claeys over from Minnesota to lead things in Manhattan. Whoever coaches at K-State next is clearly going to have to be okay with Jerry Kill looking over their shoulder all the time which I think helps make the Brent Venables option all the more unlikely.

If I'm a K-State fan though, this is probably all a good thing. Kill is a great mind and overseer to have and many of the likely HC candidates for the Wildcats (Sean Snyder, Dana Dimel, Tracy Claeys, Brent Venables) are guys that would probably benefit from Kill's oversight.

The Iowa State Cyclones

Matt Campbell has this team playing some fairly solid football in terms of fundamentals but he just didn't inherit a roster with the kind of OL or DL he needs to make his style work, nor did he inherit QBs that could help him make up for it.

However, the Cyclones are currently ranked third by 247 in Big 12 recruiting with 20 commits. Y'all probably know I don't put a ton of stock in recruiting rankings but there's no doubt that Campbell is elevating the process in Ames. He's already signed 11 OL/DL and all of them are at listed as being at least 6-3. Naturally two of the DTs are JUCOs intended to instantly elevate the quality of their trench play for 2017.

Kansas should continue to trend up but they're not going to be very good for a long time. K-State's ability to stay competitive will depend on how well Jerry Kill orchestrates the transfer of power from Bill Snyder. Oklahoma State could potentially lose their head, Baylor is starting to look like Chernobyl, and Texas is still wandering around in the wilderness waiting for Joshua to emerge.

The opportunity is there for Campbell to elevate Iowa State into the power vacuum.

The TCU Horned Frogs

The Horned Frogs have quietly and predictably rebounded on defense, now ranking 43rd nationally in S&P, and have a chance at finishing 8-4 and looking good for the future if they can overcome Oklahoma State, Texas, and Kansas State down the stretch.

Their problem has been in the turnover department, they're -2 on the year and while Kenny Hill has made a habit of giving it away a few times per game (10 INTs on the year) the TCU secondary has only picked off seven passes (four by weak safety Nick Orr). The best TCU defenses regularly confuse and turn over offenses and they just aren't there yet. Hill's shoddy impersonations of Johnny Manziel have been getting him in trouble for his entire collegiate career and have exacerbated the issue.

Still, they could finish 2016 reasonably strong and then head into 2017 with nearly all of the key pieces returning and the chance to revisit the QB situation with a more experienced Foster Sawyer pushing Kenny Hill to cut down on his errors. There's been a lot of talk that TCU is in decline on defense because of their Air Raid offense but I'm not buying it, this squad is going to be much healthier, deeper, and more experienced next season and we'll see what happens.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders

I recently wrote up a "what's next for Texas Tech" piece at Football Study Hall asking what Kingsbury was going to do to save his job in 2017 whilst losing star QB Pat Mahomes. The Raiders have a really young defensive front this year that has been totally porous against the run but I'm guessing that rather than stay the course that Kingsbury will be pushed to make staff changes and start over again on defense.

I don't know who he's going to be able to hire that will get things fixed in a single year, especially with Nic Shimonek the likely starter rather than Mahomes and consequently a decreased margin for error when the D gives up points.

The smart money probably has to be on Kingsbury failing to save his job next season and then taking an OC job somewhere and hopefully (for his sake) learning something about how to oversee a program that can be great on both sides of the ball. Maybe the OC job at Oklahoma or TCU will be open and he can learn from Bob Stoops or Gary Patterson.

The big picture perspective on the Big 12

The Big 12 is trending down as a conference. The big question after Texas A&M, Nebraska, Colorado, and Missouri left was whether some of the remaining programs in the league could pick up the slack and grow into nationally competitive programs or whether new additions TCU and West Virginia could help carry that mantle.

TCU and West Virginia have done credible jobs of growing into worthy programs but the leftover Big 12 schools have lacked the infrastructure to achieve the monumental tasks of replacing programs like Colorado or Nebraska (while those programs in turn have struggled when drawn away from the Texas recruiting base).

Baylor made the strongest push to be a new, major player but they sold their soul as part of the process and now may end up back where they were before, at least for a time.

Rather than continuing to carry the league, Texas and Oklahoma have really allowed the diminished status of the Big 12 to drag them down as well. As iron sharpens iron...

The Sooners haven't been maximizing their potential as a program for most of this decade but there's little impetus for change or overhaul so long as they can continue to win conference championships.

Texas almost retained a flailing Mack Brown because he went 8-4 in a dinky league back in 2013 and are now wrestling with whether or not to keep Charlie Strong whom hasn't managed to do even that. If the Longhorns were still regularly playing Texas A&M it would be clear that things aren't where they need to be but instead they're playing the Big 12, and while Gary Patterson is doing all he can to help the UT Admin make a call the rest of the league isn't really doing their part.

This is a fun league to watch but I don't think you'll see it rise up in the national estimation or in overall quality until Texas rights their ship, builds the kind of elite team they have the resources to build, and makes clear where the league needs to improve by stampeding over everyone else (including Oklahoma) in epic fashion. When that will happen is anyone's guess.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Pistol-I formation and future of K-State football

In this article over at Football Study Hall I talk about the Pistol-I formation and how it allows an offense to make the most of both the classic I-formation and modern spread-option run game concepts.

Some Big 12 team should think about utilizing the idea of modern, Tom Osborne-esque offense oriented around classic power football and option and then utilize the Pistol-I to help accomplish that goal. After all, the Big 12 can barely stop Texas running the ball from this set with D'Onta Foreman and they barely do anything else from the package but run zone slice.

Just watch, there's about a 50% chance that Kansas State hires Tracy Claeys this offseason to replace a retiring Bill Snyder and they take that path to remain relevant.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

My big miss on West Virginia

Skyler Howard looked pretty solid down the stretch last year and then really came through in the Mountaineers bowl win over Arizona State when he finally found the range of his talented but young WR corps.

Going into 2016 it was already established that West Virginia would probably be at least solid on offense by virtue of returning their experienced interior OL, QB, and their more promising WRs. They were losing RB Wendell Smallwood, who was legitimately good, but Dana Holgorsen knows how to build a running game and he brought in OL/Zone blocking guru Joe Wickline in the offseason to bolster this existing strength. They also returned power back Rushel Shell and Holgorsen always has a stockpile of solid backs on campus.

Despite all of this, I figured Skyler Howard just wasn't a great enough QB for them to field an elite offense even if they did field a solid one.

I was right.

The Mountaineers are ranked 30th in offensive S&P this year and while they are a tough bunch to shut down, they aren't really blowing anyone away either. Their season on offense has played out in a fashion that I've found to be totally predictable and in line with how I perceived their program.

Where I was very wrong was about the defense. I already liked Tony Gibson's program on defense, his strategy for dealing with spread offenses, but I didn't like the fact that his team was replacing its starting nose tackle, starting three linebackers, and four/fifths of the secondary.

To me that kind of attrition suggested massive decreases in the effectiveness of their strategy, which had always depended on having a very strong secondary and disruptive linebackers. Could they really replace all those figures and still get positive results? Apparently so.

Here in their depth chart you can find the key to their success:

DE: Redshirt senior, returning starter.
NT: Senior.
DE: Redshirt senior, returning starter.
SLB: Redshirt senior.
MLB: Redshirt junior.
WLB: Redshirt freshman.
CB: Redshirt senior.
SS: Junior. JUCO transfer.
FS: Senior.
BS: Redshirt senior. Returning starter.
CB: Redshirt senior. Iowa transfer.
N: Redshirt senior.

The defenders for West Virginia are all veterans who've been in the program for several years, seen what it takes to win in college football, and have honed their techniques over years of practice while facing an offense that gives them a good representation both of the better run games and the better passing games in the league.

Look elsewhere around the league and you won't find this same degree of depth and experience across the two-deep. Even if the team isn't loaded with playmakers there's a lot to be gained simply from being competent and sound at every position on defense.

In the Big 12, lining up in sound alignments and playing your assignment is half the battle.

Now let's take a look at the Mountaineer offense.

QB: Senior. Returning starter. JUCO transfer.
RB: Redshirt senior. Returning starter.
FB: Redshirt senior. Returning starter.
XWR: Redshirt junior. Returning starter.
YWR: Senior. Returning starter.
ZWR: Redshirt junior. Returning starter.
LT: Redshirt senior. Returning starter (played LG previously).
LG: Redshirt senior.
OC: Redshirt senior. Returning starter.
RG: Redshirt junior. Returning starter.
RT: Redshirt freshman.

Lots of redshirts in that mix and guys that have in the program for a while absorbing the system and the techniques, just like on defense. There's also a strong mix of returning starters on this side of the ball, unlike on defense.

The upshot of all this is that West Virginia is poised to create marginal advantages from week to week that come from experience and knowhow in winning Big 12 games. Talent still matters of course, but West Virginia has comparable talent to most of the rest of the league save for Texas and Oklahoma.

In 2017 I'll have to watch more carefully for which teams have players on the roster that have been around and know the drill. Having a starting lineup filled with kids that have been in the program for 3-5 years, whether they've been playing much or not, is a massive advantage.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Life after Mahomes

While Texas Tech is eviscerating defenses and struggling to win enough shootouts to reach bowl eligibility, you have to wonder what Kingsbury will do after his ace signal-caller moves on to the NFL.

I took an early look at this sub-narrative to the Tech season at Football Study Hall, check it out.

The Boise system takes root in Washington

I did a write-up on the Washington Huskies offense and how it works. Could be pretty relevant if and when they're in the playoffs. Check it out at Football Study Hall.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Who's going to win the Big 12?

The popular narrative from week nine in the Big 12 is that the league's playoff hopes are dead with West Virginia and Baylor no longer undefeated. I find that narrative a bit off for a few reasons. One is that the Big 12 never really had any great playoff hopes in my estimation.

It was clear that Oklahoma was going to need to find several impact players to even match last year's success (which they've actually done reasonably well) and that last year's Oklahoma success was as much due to a remarkably fortuitous schedule as it was their own brilliance. Clemson dominated that team and did so without having to resort to their calling card on offense, the 4/5-wide sets with Watson firing off quick passes or buying time with the scramble. No, Clemson just lined up and ran the Sooners over.

The rest of the league was clearly a notch below (except TCU, whom I thought might match Oklahoma only to be proven completely wrong) and there just isn't enough talent on any of these teams to emerge from the league without some losses. Texas has that ability somewhere within their players' bones but it has yet to be drawn out by Charlie and his staff.

Once the Sooners went down against Houston that was pretty much all she wrote for the Big 12 and the 2017 playoffs. Indeed, even before week nine the most likely scenario in which the Big 12 entered a team into the playoff was one in which the Sooners went undefeated in league play. That's still technically in play, but the needed combination of defeats from powers outside of the Big 12 and the Sooners avoiding any slips against Baylor, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State is pretty unlikely.

Meanwhile, the Big 12 race is now basically between Oklahoma and West Virginia.

Why do I say that? Take a look at the schedules of the top competitors for the league crown.


TCU, @Oklahoma, K-State, Tech, @West Virginia

Texas repeated Oklahoma State's strategy of using double TE sets to run the ball down Baylor's throat while taking advantage of having far superior cornerback play to the Cowboys. You can read my breakdown of the events for free at Inside Texas.

Baylor's D is better suited to play the smaller, less physical offenses at the other Big 12 schools but they are vulnerable to enduring some ground and pound. Meanwhile their own offense is very susceptible to anyone with solid DBs to cheat the run game and bring man blitzes or down safeties.

They're about to face some of the better defenses in the Big 12 and Seth Russell's accuracy problems are going to be exposed for all the world to see. That kid is a great athlete but he's a WR at the next level and probably the worst passing QB Baylor has seen since...2009 Nick Florence? Maybe even further back than that.

Oklahoma State

@K-State, Tech, @TCU, @Oklahoma

The Cowboys are combining a competent run game, brilliant Mason Rudolph-led passing attack, and hard-working, sound defense to milk the most out of their roster. Their victory over West Virginia was emblematic of the fact that Mike Gundy and his staff always have a good plan and have an edge in matchups with teams featuring comparable overall talent.

Their problem is that the Sooners have much superior talent and will be playing at home, probably with the league title on the line. What's more, that remaining schedule is a very tough slate for a team without a major talent advantage to navigate. The Kansas State Wildcats aren't going to compete for the league crown but they can play with anyone at home, Tech is always a nightmare because Pat Mahomes cannot be controlled, and the Frogs may not truly be in the free fall they seem to be experiencing.

To do better than .500 in that stretch would be hard and the Cowboys already have one loss on the schedule.

West Virginia

Kansas, @Texas, Oklahoma, @Iowa State, Baylor

The Mountaineers are still in nice shape to win the league, even after dropping the road game in Stillwater. It takes a truly great team to survive round robin play without dropping a road game against one of these explosive offenses in the Big 12 and there are no such teams in the league this season. In fact, there hasn't been such a team this decade.

The Mountaineers still have five games left, but two of them are against the league's dregs and that road date in Austin is a bit of an unknown at this point. Their big advantage is getting both Baylor and Oklahoma at home. One of those teams will do the other in earlier in the year and West Virginia may be playing Baylor for a chance at the crown at the end of the season.


@Iowa State, Baylor, @West Virginia, Oklahoma State

Still several tripwires out there for the Sooners, but they can probably afford to drop one of these games and still win the conference since it's unlikely any of the other teams mentioned will get through the league without taking on a second loss.

Bob Stoops is using this two week stretch of facing Kansas and Iowa State to get his team healthy for the stretch run. Obo Okoronkwo is back against Iowa State, and I've already noted that between him, Steven Parker, and Jordan Thomas the Sooners have the pieces to put together a "good enough" performance against most every offense in the league.

They're also getting a chance to work in some of their young DL that have promise for the future, some young LBs, and they got NB Will Johnson back recently which only serves to upgrade their coverage options.

This is where the smart money is right now. The Sooners have some of the best players in the league, they can score on anyone, and they have the athletes on defense to get enough stops to make winning shootouts a near certainty. The question now is whether they can go undefeated and if they do, will the committee even care?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Checking in on the Big 12 after week 8

In my estimation, week 8 was pretty ho-hum in the Big 12 unless you didn't already trust trends like Oklahoma finding ways to outscore everyone, Texas blowing it on the road, or West Virginia proving to be legit.

Here were a few highlights I took away from the weekend's events

Patrick Mahomes night in Lubbock was pretty amazing and fun to observe if you're not an Oklahoma fan. A line of 88 passes for 734 yards, five TD passes, 1 INT, 12 rushes for 85 rushing yards, and two rushing TDs is simply an amazing thing.

There's a lot of criticism floating around out there against Texas Tech from people saying that you can't win football games having your quarterback throw 88 times and leaving your defense out to dry...well they came pretty close. What's more, Oklahoma was a 19.5 point favorite and had a lot of advantages in this contest.

Coming at the Tech strategy from the perspective of "well they came within seven points, what would have put them over the top?" is reasoning backwards from the conclusion. Particularly when your takeaway is that the only thing that gave Tech a chance, which was Mahomes doing insane things, was part of the problem.

I'm going to pause now and note that Brent Venables' strategy for Tech would have been to bring an endless array of blitzes that aimed to keep Mahomes from winning the edge while sitting good tacklers in the middle of the field to run him down if he was flushed up the middle. You can get burned deep playing like that, but if you're going to try and win in a shootout anyways you might as well take the risk of getting burned in exchange for shutting Tech out on multiple possessions.

Anyways it all worked out for the Sooners and so long as Okoronkwo is back after the Kansas game I anticipate they'll continue to find ways to make enough stops to allow their now no. 1 rated O (per S&P+) to win them shootouts.

Mahomes is now at:

360 passes for 3313 yards, 9.2 yards per attempt, 26 TDs, and 6 INTs with
75 rushes for 237 yards and nine TDs (before taking out sack yardage).

He might be the most dominant QB the Big 12 has seen since Vince Young. Later on we're going to have to talk about that Red Raider defense, which is not fulfilling David Gibbs' mission to complement Mahomes by generating turnovers.

Mahomes may have been hampered by injury when he played against West Virginia but Kenny Hill wasn't and the Mountaineers shut him down. Only 4.8 yards per pass for an ordinarily explosive Horned Frog passing game against Tony Gibson's "all or nothing" defense.

If you listened to that full show with Jeff Postus that I was featured on you'll have heard a Mountaineer insider talk about how Florida transfer Will Grier has looked in practices at West Virginia. When you add up the Mountaineers great season, the program and staff they have in place on offense and defense, and the returning talent in 2017 you have a convincing case for Dana Holgorsen to stick around in Morgantown.

In the meantime, I've got the Mountaineers as the 2nd most likely team to win the Big 12 behind Oklahoma. Keep in mind that this team is playing both Baylor and Oklahoma at home.

I recently broke down Texas' abysmal performance in run defense over the last few years and particularly in Manhattan last Saturday at Inside Texas, so let's talk a little Wildcat football.

The Kansas State D played Texas reasonably well, although they bit on the customary "wheel route to Devin Duvernay" that seems to generate exactly six points every single week for Texas. The Wildcat strategy was very predictable as they alternated between playing off coverage on the boundary and dropping Kendall Adams in the box or playing him in cover 2 while playing off to the field to allow Dante Barnett to attack the box.

Either way, they played to contain the run and prevented Texas RB D'Onta Foreman from explosive runs although they couldn't deny him his typical 100+ yard rushing day.

The Wildcats probably win this game in a blowout if Jesse Ertz is healthy and doesn't turn the ball over twice down the stretch. Overall the Wildcats looked solid and I'd say there's a chance they make some noise down the stretch if Ertz is healthy and on track. They should be able to beat Iowa State in Ames on Saturday and Kansas at home, which would give them four conference wins. Their other games are Oklahoma State in Manhattan, Baylor in Waco, and TCU in Ft. Worth.

Winning 2 out of 3 from that slate would be really impressive. The big question though is what Bill Snyder will do. Will he finish strong and stick around one more year to coach a 2017 offense that will return Ertz, Pringle, Heath, 4/5 of the OL, and most of the backs? Or will he choose to retire?

If he retires, will Jerry Kill be the one making the call on how to replace him? If so, I've an inkling of who the next coach in Manhattan will be.

My sense of how week nine in the Big 12 will go:

Baylor comes out of the gate and puts a hurting on Texas, the Longhorns are unable to get back in the game. More on this later in the week at Inside Texas.

Texas Tech comes up short once more in their road trip to Ft. Worth.

OU looks to heal up at multiple positions but still destroys Kansas because Joe Mixon is the best player on the field.

If West Virginia is going to drop a road game this will be the one. Mike Gundy will have a good plan for attacking Gibson's defense but the question is whether Oklahoma State has enough athletes to stop the Mountaineer offense? More on this at Seventh Day Adventure later this week.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Eternal recurrence and the Texas v K-State series

If you're familiar with Nietzsche's concept of "eternal return" then you probably know where this is going...

My Texas vs K-State preview! Free of charge!