Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I Hate Football

The only thing that can knock you on your ass worse than a break-up is a break-up that's immediately followed by watching every team you hold dear getting embarrassed on the same weekend. Don't get me wrong; I'm proud of the way FSU hung in there and gave it all they had against UF, but the offensive ineptness is still shocking to behold. I miss my girlfriend, and I miss the 'Noles I grew up with. Here's what I saw on Saturday...

The Good
- As it's done almost all year the defense rose to the occasion. Mickey Andrews must have ripped a couple new ones at halftime because the defense came out fired up and shut down the Gators for the majority of the second half. The defensive line that's been so beat up this year played great, and all three LBs turned in vintage performances. Lawrence Timmons' hit on Tim Tebow may be the highlight of the year, Geno Hayes wreaked his usual amount of havoc, and Buster Davis played nearly every position at some point in the game - seriously, I saw him lined up at CB in the third quarter after he was defending passes downfield like a safety earlier in the game. I predict Buster will slip into the later rounds of the draft due to his height, then play 12 productive years on a consistently strong defense.

- The team really played their hearts out in this one. Even Greg Carr looked like he was trying. The seniors went out in style: Lorenzo Booker did the best he could with what he was given (6.6 ypc but only 10 carries) and Chris Davis made plays at every opportunity. Lost in the cesspool of the second half of the season has been the strong play of Davis, who finally morphed into a big-play threat.

- Special teams were actually pretty special except for Gary Cismesia, who's currently in the midst of his annual meltdown. Graham Gano boomed punts all day and Michael Ray Garvin provided a spark that had been missing from the kick return game all season, barely missing a HUGE touchdown return in the fourth quarter. Really, the defense and special teams were there; if the offense was even remotely competent FSU would have won. Seriously Jeff, good luck and all but get the hell away from my football team!

The Bad
- It's always tough to criticize the defense when they're the unit holding the team together, but Mickey Andrews had a tough day on third-and-long. Early in the game I was freaking out over the dreaded three-man rush and zone coverage that allowed UF to convert numerous 3rd-and-8 situations. In the fourth quarter Andrews finally heeded my advice and brought the heat on 3rd down...only to see Dallas Baker catch two long passes, one for a touchdown. Tony Carter was burned on both plays, illustrating Andrew's dilemma all year: he's been hamstrung by a secondary that can't make plays and a defensive line that gets little pass rush on it's own. Hopefully both problems can be attributed to youth, because FSU must improve both areas to get back to the level of defensive savagery exhibited throughout the '90s.

- Another massive Achilles' Heel for the 'Noles all year has been the dropped passes. Brandon Warren: I love you man, but you HAVE to make that catch.

- If there was any tiny shred of doubt remaining about the future of Daryl Dickey it has to be gone by now. You could present the tapes of FSU's last three games as Exhibits A, B, and C in a program called "How NOT To Handle a Two-QB System". You've gotta give Dickey credit for raising his game this season... when Chris Rix was here Dickey was only ruining one QB at a time, now he's managed to destroy the confidence of two QBs in the same month! Pretty impressive, Daryl!

- Other than QB play the biggest difference between the two teams was simply Belief. It looked to me like the Crocs believed they were going to win, while the 'Noles hoped that somehow they would pull it out. That belief is a powerful thing in football and FSU used to have it. We'll know that we're truly "back" when we see it in the faces of our players again.

- By the way, my other favorite college team is Georgia Tech and my favorite pro team is the Falcons. Nobody should ever be subjected to as much gawd-awful QB play as I watched over the past weekend. As bad as Drew was at least he has an excuse. Reggie Ball had a terrific running game and a sublime receiver at his disposal and still found a way to hand Georgia the game. The announcers kept talking about his "linebacker mentality"; the problem was he never developed a "quarterback mentality". He is officially the Chris Rix of Georgia Tech. As for Mike Vick, what more can you say at this point? He stole the spotlight when we won the '99 MNC and he routinely kills the Falcons. Let's just say I'm not a huge fan.

The Ugly
- Usually I talk about different aspects of the game here, but one play stood out above all others as truly deserving of the moniker "Ugly". Late in the first half FSU was flailing towards the conclusion of another four-yard "drive" when Lorenzo Booker got tackled near the sideline. Ten yards away, completely out of the play, John Frady "blocked" Florida DT Stephen Harris by diving at his kneees from behind. Frady received a Clipping penalty for the dive, but he should have been kicked out of the game. I don't care if he is a senior; that kind of crap has no business on the field and that kind of dirty play has no business at FSU. As competitive and clean as the rest of the game was that play disgusted me, and I've been a big John Frady fan ever since he came aboard. He set a terrible example that I'm happy to say wasn't followed by the rest of the team.

I've seen a couple other fans say this, and it definitely feels weird, but I'm actually glad this season is over. It's just been too awkward, too disheartening. With the changes upcoming on the offensive staff at least we can all hope for a better showing next year with a bunch of talented youngsters, and hope is a dish I haven't sampled since September. Bring on Oregon or Arizona or whoever the hell we play in the Emerald Bowl!

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Greatest Game Ever Played

Okay, I'm running late so I can't write much about this, but with all the hoopla surrounding the Michigan-Ohio State tilt (RIP Bo Schembechler) I had to mention that 10 years there was another "Game of the Century" between arch-rivals ranked #1 and #2. On Thanksgiving Weekend of 1996 Tank Black's - ummm, I mean Steve Spurrier's - Florida Gators strolled into Doak Campbell Stadium with a #1 ranking, a Heisman-frontrunner at QB, and a full complement of future NFL busts at WR. The Seminoles countered with Thad Busby, Warrick Dunn, and one of the greatest Defensive Lines in college football history. Colege football wouldn't see a game of that magnitude, with that much drama, and with so many stars on the field until Southern Cal and Texas played for the National Title last year. I sat down and figured it out one time: out of the 44 starters for both teams at least 40 would go on to play in the NFL, including future Pro-Bowlers like Dunn, Jevon Kearse, Peter Boulware, and Walter Jones.
Warrick Dunn: the man, the myth, the legend

On offense, Warrick Dunn was the hero for the 'Noles, playing like a man possessed and rushing for an awe-inspiring 186 yards. On defense, the 'Noles kicked the ever-loving shit out of Weurffel from start to finish. In fact, that was the day Danny Boy earned the respect of most Seminole fans because he kept getting back up after getting flattened by Boulware, Reinard Wilson, Andre Wadsworth, and pretty much everybody else wearing Garnet & Gold. It was the greatest defensive performance in Florida State history, and remains my favorite FSU victory even ahead of the two National Title wins.

Just remember 'Noles: the greatest Gator team of all time got their punk-asses handed to them when they came to Tallahassee!


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Where Do We Go From Here?

At last comes the moment the college football world has been anticipating all week. No, not the epic Michigan/Ohio State clash...it's The Chop Shop's take on the resignation of Jeff Bowden! Can you feel the excitement?

There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Florida State football program in the wake of the loss to, well...Wake, and the subsequent resignation of JB. Something this huge deserves preferential treatment, so without further ado we present a very special mid-week Good/Bad/Ugly covering the aftermath of the game and the potential future for the Seminoles:

The Good
- First and most importantly, congratulations to my brother Stephen for getting married on Saturday! As Best Man, not only did I watch my little brother get hitched, I managed to avoid watching most of the catastrophe that occurred at Doak Campbell on Saturday night.

- Ironically the loss to Wake may have been the best thing that could have happened to FSU in the long run. It had been clear for some time that changes had to be made, but with FSU remaining competitive (albeit against sub-par competition) there was always an out for Bobby. In his interviews he could always point to a couple of mistakes that cost FSU the game, and for some reason the fact that these mistakes happened every week didn't seem to bother him. Well, there's no way to sugarcoat a 30-0 home shutout at the hands of a team that has less talent at literally every position. You couldn't blame injuries or youth for the complete lack of effort the team showed against the Demon Deacons. I said a while back that things were going to get worse before they got better - well, on Saturday night they got much, much worse. But the silver lining is that FSU finally has a chance to improve an offense that has weighed down the team for years.

"So let me get this straight - I've sucked at my job for
six years, but if I quit now you'll pay me HOW much?!?"

- Looking at things from a larger perspective, the loss will allow FSU to join the rest of the ACC in a badly-needed coaching overhaul. UNC got the ball rolling when they euthanized the John Bunting era and upgraded to Butch Davis. FSU is finally rid of Jeff Bowden. Miami is sure to fire Larry Coker soon, and hopefully NC State and Virginia will join the party after the season. In order for the ACC to blossom there had to be some serious pruning of the coaching ranks and it looks like the job is well underway.

- I promised more details on my experience at the game so here you go: after the wedding reception was over my brother-in-law Nick and I made our way to the stadium just in time for the fourth quarter. The security guard tried to stop us at the gate but I, emboldened by about a dozen Jack & Cokes, dashed past him into the stands. Of course, in doing so I completely abandoned Nick, who lives in Japan and had no idea where he was. Sorry buddy! I'm still not sure how security didn't catch up to me since I was still wearing my tuxedo and surely must have stood out among the 20-30 people that were still at the game. Anyway, I remember sitting in the stands with my head in my hands for awhile, and when I finally looked up everyone was gone and the field was empty. Now I'm a naturally inquisitive person so I started to explore a bit, and that's where things got wierd. Not only did I wind up getting into the luxury boxes and both locker rooms (FSU's is sweeeeeeet), but I eventually made my way out onto the field where, for the first time in my 24 years as an FSU fan, I stood on the 50 yard-line at the Doak! Apparently if you're wearing a tux people will pretty much let you go wherever you want. However, the night pretty much went downhill after that as I had no idea where Nick had left my car since I went to the reception in the wedding party's limo. I spent the next three hours limping around campus (those tuxedo shoes SUCK!) trying to make my way to the Civic Center. Many thanks to the kids at the Tennessee Street house party who gave me beer and cigarettes! And many apologies to Nick and my sister, who spent most of those three hours driving around looking for me. My bad. Anyway, in spite of FSU taking it's worst home loss of my lifetime it was a pretty fun night for me personally...

- A hidden benefit of the loss is that it inadvertently screws Florida's shot at the BCS Title Game. While Southern Cal closes their schedule with Cal, Notre Dame, and UCLA, the Gators will play I-AA Western Carolina and unranked Florida State. Assuming they both win out the Trojans will have better wins on their resume than the Gators, and although UF's loss to Auburn isn't as damaging as USC's loss to Oregon State the Crocs need to finish with a flourish to make up some ground. With USC already ahead in the BCS standings and their stronger schedule down the stretch, it's completely possible UF may not be able to catch the Trojans thanks to the weakness of FSU, and that fact gives me more pleasure than it should.

Any time a Gator gives you crap about
Jeff Bowden just show him this picture

The Bad
- Poor Xavier Lee! After watching Drew Weatherford get chance after chance Lee finally ascended to the starting QB role for Florida State. One of the great high school players in the state's history, it was obvious that Lee possessed physical gifts that Weatherford couldn't match and the team was more dangerous with him on the field. Well, I shouldn't say "obvious" because the coaching staff apparently couldn't see it. I don't have a problem with Lee being pulled from the game after throwing his second INT. I have a problem with him not being re-inserted into the game after getting coached up (assuming Darryl Dickey is actually capable of coaching anyone up), and as much as I love Drew I have a BIG problem with Weatherford being named the starter against Western Michigan. Anyone with eyes can see that Lee gives FSU the best chance for long-term success, and the steadfast refusal to give X a fair shake may go down as the biggest of many, many blunders made by this coaching staff.
Please don't go, X!

- One can only assume that more changes are in store for FSU after JB's resignation. Whoever the new OC turns out to be I can only assume he'll be allowed to bring in a new staff to replace the incompetent Dickey and the ineffective Mark McHale. So Bobby's choice for the new OC is of the utmost importance. However, based on his past few hires I can no longer say with certainty that I trust Bowden to make the right choice. For years and years Bobby enjoyed perhaps the best staff in the college football but in the last six years the only new hire that's worked out has been LB coach Kevin Steele. JB, Dickey, McHale, and Joe Kines were all disasters and I have my doubts that the trend will change when Jeff's replacement is brought in.

- Though I didn't watch the game it wasn't really necessary...I've seen that game every year since 2001. The play-calling was awful, outrageously stupid penalties cost us scoring chances, and you got the feeling the field was tilted at a 30° angle with the 'Noles playing uphill all day. I saw that game in 2001 against UNC, in 2002 against Notre Dame, in '03 against Clemson, in '04 against Florida, in '05 against Clemson and UF, and in 2006 against...well, just about everybody. It's been a tough century for FSU fans.

The Ugly
- I'm not so sure the new Offensive Coordinator will be picked by Bobby Bowden. I recently wrote that he would stay for at least two more years, but in the wake of JB's resignation you have to wonder if Bobby sees it all slipping away. Everyone knows he didn't want Jeff to leave and he's understandably upset about the way things have gone down. Nobody wants to see Bowden go out this way, but at this point in his career if he feels like he's losing control over the program he built from the ground up he may just decide to walk away - wins record be damned - and that would be a shame after all he's done for FSU. As much as I hated seeing the offense suffer and the team regress, I've always felt that Bobby deserved to go out his way, and this ain't it.

- FSU sits in one of the toughest recruiting regions of the country with Georgia to the north, Alabama, LSU, and Auburn to the west, Florida to the east, and Miami to the South. Any hiccup in recruiting can lead to a talent void that will be tough to make up. In addition, even one down year can lead to a situation down the road where you find yourself with a young team devoid of senior leadership...kinda like this year! FSU was already expected to struggle in recruiting this season but we may see a Chernoble-level meltdown if things really go sour. I'm already expecting Dionte Allen and Ahmad Paige to bolt, and they're FSU's only four-star commitments at this point. You can bet that the rest of FSU's recruits have been getting calls from coaches all over the southeast. This will bite us in the ass down the road, mark it down.

- The team did something on Saturday we haven't seen all year: they quit. Never a good sign. How will they respond after all the turmoil surrounding the team? Suddenly a win, even against Western Michigan, doesn't look like a sure thing. Yikes.

Through it all I'm proud to be a Seminole fan. Keep your head up 'Nole Nation for better days are ahead of us. Good luck to the team this weekend, and as always GO NOLES!!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What the Hell Was THAT?!?

The nice thing about FSU getting completely and utterly humiliated at home against Wake Forest is that it makes the post-game column really easy to write:

The Good
Everything...well, except for the actual game.

The Bad
See below.

The Ugly
Every single instant from kickoff until I woke up in the stands sometime after the fourth quarter had mercifully come to an end (more on that later...)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Random Thoughts on a Thursday

- You know, Rule 3-2-5e has gotten all the attention this season, and I'll admit that it sucks, but not many people have noticed the impact of rule 4-2-0c, which states that "if a team wins a big game at home and then has to immediately play another big game on the road, especially if they have to play on short rest or at night, that team shall fall apart in the second half in a crushing loss." Florida was the first to feel 4-2-0c's effects, losing at Auburn after their big win over LSU. A few weeks later The Clemson Tigers fell victim to the new rule when they followed up a dominant victory over Georgia Tech by getting owned by Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Tonight 4-2-0c claimed its latest victim when Louisville, fresh off a huge win over West Virginia, saw its National Title hopes die when Brian Ito's mulligan FG split the uprights. I guess that's the danger of playing a game in which emotion plays such a crucial role. It's not easy to maintain the kind of intensity needed to beat a fired-up opponent, as several contenders have learned so far.

- "Excuse me, Coach Schiano? You have a call from a Mrs. Shalala. She says it's urgent...."

- Arrelious Benn to Illinois?!? Ron Zook is an unintelligible, unintelligent mess who's absolutely useless on gameday. And yet he pulls in big recruits every year! And you know what? That's fine with me now that he's not at UF. Obviously I would have preferred if Benn had signed with FSU, but since the alternative was watching a 5-star receiver sign with Notre Dame I'm glad he decided to waste four years with the Zooker. Enjoy winning tenth-place in an eleven-team league every year, Arrelious.

- Thank God North Carolina did the smart thing and wrapped up Butch Davis. Sure, he's going to use them like a dish rag and bolt as soon as he gets a better offer, but in the meantime he should make the Tarheels a competitive team again. He's a great recruiter and he's got the talent-rich Tidewater area of Virginia just to the North and all ofhis contacts in Florida to the South.

- Speaking of Florida, it's just another kick in the nads that FSU and Miami are sucking this year when one-loss Louisville and undefeated Rutgers are stocked with Florida-born players the Big 3 didn't want. Ouch.

- Back on that topic, Louisville's offensive line was a sieve in the second half. Greg Schiano's defense did a tremendous job bring blitzers from all angles, but many times the pressure was simply due to Rutgers' undersized linemen outhustling the Cardinals' front five.

- How under the radar is Cal? They were written off for dead after the Tennessee game, then they received a ton of pub when they bounced back blowing out team after team, and now they're invisible again. If they beat Southern Cal - and they should - they could win the Pac-10 and head to the BCS 11-1. And no one east of the Mississippi will give a crap.

- Okay if each of the following teams was to win out who do you give the edge to for a spot in the National Title game? It should be based on schedule and quality of wins, right? So who do you pick out of this group (with their four toughest games in parentheses):
1. Florida (LSU, @Auburn[L], @FSU, Arkansas)
2. Auburn (LSU, Arkansas[L], Florida, @Alabama)
3. Southern Cal (@Oregon State[L], Oregon, Cal, Notre Dame)
4. Notre Dame (@Georgia Tech, Penn State, Michigan[L], @ Southern Cal)
5. Cal (@Tennessee[L], Oregon, UCLA, @Southern Cal)
6. Texas (Ohio State[L], @Oklahoma, @Nebraska, Texas A&M)
7. Arkansas (Southern Cal[L], @Auburn, Tennessee, LSU)

That's a tough one. It should be fun finding out!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Miami's Bryan Pata Shot and Killed

My heart goes out to his family, friends, and teammates. This is terrible, shocking news and at a time like this football just sort of shrinks away. My deepest condolences go out to Canes everywhere.

R.I.P. Bryan Pata

B(C)S Solutions

Come on, you didn't think I was going to just bitch and bitch about the B(C)S without offering some constructive solutions did you? I'll leave that to the professionals! I've developed a system that I think would be fair, would fit into the current system, and would ensure that the worthy teams were given a shot at the National Championship every year. Without further ado, The Chop Shop proudly presents the real Bowl Championship Series...

- First of all, EVERY conference becomes a BCS conference as long as they meet certain criteria. Automatic bids to the BCS are history, since every I-A conference that meets the minimum requirements is eligible.

- In order to become eligible for the BCS a conference must have at least 10 members and must stage a Conference Championship Game. If a conference has 10 members each team must play every other team in the conference, just like the Pac 10 does today. The two teams with the best conference records then meet for the Conference Championship. If a conference has 12 members they must be split into divisions with the division winners meeting for the Conference Championship, just like the Big XII does today. The championship games essentially serve as a de facto playoff round.

- After the Conference Championship Games the BCS Standings will be used to place eight teams into the BCS just like they do now, only there will be a Strength of Schedule factor in the rankings to discourage teams from scheduling cupcakes. Games against I-A opponents will carry a weighted score from 0.1 to 1.0. The tougher the opponent the more heavily the win is weighted. Games against I-AA opponents will have a NEGATIVE SOS rating from -0.1 to -1.0

- The six highest-ranked conference champions get into the BCS, as well as two wild card teams. However, if a conference champion is ranked below six other conference champions but is still in the top 12 of the BCS standings they take one of the wild-card spots. That should protect the smaller leagues that can't get the national recognition that the major conferences receive, while punishing major conferences that don't perform.

- The 5th and 6th highest-ranked conference champions play against the wild card teams in glorified exhibitions much like they do today. However, the #4 conference champ plays the #1 conference champ and #2 plays #3 in what is essentially a four-team playoff. Note that YOU MUST WIN YOUR CONFERENCE in order to play for the Championship. Don't have a conference? Tough shit. Notre Dame, if you ever want to win another National Title you'd better get on the phone with the Big 10 or Big East pronto before all the spots fill up!

- The two national semifinals take place on New Year's Day, and one week later the two winners play each other to determine a true National Champion. The beauty is that the infrastructure for this system is already in place... the difference is that instead of a watered-down BCS with four meaningless games, we get two hugely important games matching great teams followed by a National Championship Final!

- All conferences are included and everyone has a shot at the BCS Championship. The SOS component encourages teams to schedule tougher non-conference games, giving good teams from the smaller conferences a better shot at landing games against the big boys.

- Every regular season game is still important since you must win your conference to have a shot at the Championship. Just look at Auburn this year... their lone loss to Arkansas may keep them out of the SECCG, and under the Chop Shop plan that would eliminate them from National Title contention.

- There are never more than four teams that are really deserving of National Title consideration. Under this plan all of the true Title contenders will always get a shot at the Championship, and while there may be carping about the 4th and final spot in the Championship Tournament that's a hell of a lot better than arguing about #2 and having legitimate contender left out of the Championship entirely.

- Notre Dame gets screwed. Technically that's more of a bonus than a benefit, but I think it bears mentioning.

- The National Champion is determined on the field...and isn't that the whole point?

- The one major drawback I can see is if a 10-team league such as the Big 10 (assuming they'd go down to 10 teams) has a game like Ohio State/Michigan this year where the two best teams from a conference play at the end of the season. The regular season game wouldn't be as important because there would be an immediate rematch in the Conference Championship Game. Unfortunately I don't see an easy fix for this scenario, but it would be a fairly rare occurrence so I guess we'd have to live with getting to watch two powerhouses go at it twice. Bummer.

- Assume that the system I've described was in place this year. For argument's sake assume Ohio State, Louisville, Texas, and Florida win the rest of their regular season games, and each wins its respective Conference Championship Game.

- The BCS would likely consist of those four teams, plus the Cal/USC winner (Pac-10 winner), Boise State (6th-highest-ranked conference champ), plus Michigan and Auburn as the wild card teams.

- Note that Boise State would be rewarded for an unbeaten season, while the ACC - which has been the definition of mediocrity this year - would be justly punished by having likely champion Georgia Tech left out (unless the Jackets could somehow climb into the BCS top 12). I love Georgia Tech and the ACC but I believe we should have a fair system, and if the Big East was in the ACC's predicament I'd have no problem with them missing out on the BCS, so it's only right that the ACC - and for that matter all the other conferences - should be held to the same standard.

- Michigan and the Pac-10 winner would play in the Rose Bowl, Auburn and Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, and on New Year's Day you'd get to watch Texas try to contain Louisville's explosive offense in the Orange Bowl followed by a clash of great defenses when Ohio State took on Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Tell me that wouldn't be a great day of college football! (and note that last year USC/Ohio State and Texas/Penn State would have been the prelude to the Championship Game. How awesome would it have been watching AJ Hawk and Co. go up against Leinart, Bush, and Jarrett!)

- A week later the Ohio State/Florida winner would face the Texas/Louisville winner to settle the Championship at one of the four BCS bowl sites, which would rotate in a four year cycle. The National Title is solved on the field and all is right with the world.

So that's it - my grand plan for college football harmony throughout the universe. It's fair to all conferences, it would be a HUGE money-maker, and it would require minimal changes to the current system. In other words it's perfect. Now you may commence picking it to pieces...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Mickey Andrews for President of the Universe!

There are certain facts of life that I may never understand. For example...
- Why is Paris Hilton famous?
- What is the Dharma Initiative?
- How did Michael Rapaport ever get his own TV show? And most puzzling of all...
- How come when ESPN, Athlon, Sporting News and other so-called experts publish their pre-season previews and list the best Defensive Coordinators I never see Mickey Andrews mentioned?

Bud Foster's always in there along with Gene Chizik and Bo Pelini, and while those gentlemen are certainly worthy of the honor I don't believe any of them have coached multiple #1 rushing defenses like Mickey has, nor have they coached as many All-Americans and NFL stars as Mickey. Miami's Randy Shannon may match Mickey in productivity and star power, but Mickey's been doing it longer. Plus he's WAY more fun to watch! True, FSU's defense hasn't been as dominant the last few years as it was in the '90s, but a lot of that has to do with the 'Noles offensive struggles. Turnovers, poor field position, and the lack of long drives have repeatedly put FSU's defense in tough positions the last few years, yet they've risen to the occasion more often than not. In 2006 a new twist was added to the defense's woes: massive, crippling injuries.
That's two rings for Mickey,
one for Foster, Chizik, and Pelini

In order for Mickey to play his style of defense he needs run stopping beasts at DT, pass rushing terrors at DE, lightning-fast LBs who can hit, lock-down CBs that can play man-coverage, and play-making safeties. Thanks to unprecedented attrition he now has tackles and linebackers that used to be DEs, with a bunch of rookies at DE, more rookies at CB, and exactly two healthy safeties. And yet his defense just pitched a shutout. Unbelievable! Granted, Virginia helped out by dropping several third-down passes and their young QB Jameel Sewell hasn't yet grasped the concept of throwing the ball away, but the defensive effort was still mighty impressive and will do wonders for the confidence of a young but rapidly improving unit.

I had to mention all of this now since there's no room for "Spectacular" in the Good/Bad/Ugly format, but there's plenty more to talk about after FSU's first shut-out in three years so away we go...

The Good
- In his second career start Xavier Lee overcame a shaky start to record another strong outing. The passing numbers won't blow you away (12-for-25, 184 yards and 1 TD) but Lee added 49 yards rushing and was much sharper in the 2nd half once he settled down. His 37 yard strike to Chris Davis was a thing of beauty, and he made a couple of plays that simply wouldn't have happened with Drew Weatherford behind center. We love Drew, but the offense looked significantly less dangerous when he entered the game in the 4th quarter. If Xavier continues to develop and gets more consistent the FSU offense is going to be dangerous once again.
You have much much to learn young
grasshopper. But DAMN you're fast!

- Pass protection was excellent again. Virginia's no slouch on defense and they play a tricky 3-4 scheme but the Seminole OL kept Xavier Lee's jersey pretty clean all day. In addition to the line I noticed the backs doing a great job of blitz pick-up, especially Lorenzo Booker.

- The receivers are starting to play like men out there, led by senior Chris Davis. If Davis had played this way all season he'd be a Biletnikoff finalist, but at least he's finally turning it on. Greg Carr was mysteriously quiet, but Brandon Warren and Caz Puirowski made up for his absence. In fact, those two may form the best TE tandem FSU has ever had. Warren in particular is turning into quiet a player. And if you believe the rumors about the Caz Twins, Mr. Puirowski may be quite a “player” in his own right.
Davis has kicked his game into high gear

- Davis is also starting to pick up his game on punt returns. He averaged 12.4 yards per return and looks approximately 350% more comfortable fielding punts than he did early in the year. Willie Reid grew as a punt returner last season to the point that he was a threat to take it to the house on every return. Chris Davis has the talent to be just as dangerous as Reid if he continues to improve at his present rate.

- Myron Rolle is really coming on strong. I covered the defense in the opening, but young Mr. Rolle deserves special mention after playing a whale of a game. After all the pre-season hype Myron was fairly quiet the first half of the season, to the point that I wondered whether his shoulder was still bothering him, but he's really started to assert himself the last few games and was all over the field against Virginia. He made tackle after tackle - several of the Jack'd Up! variety - and played like a veteran, sniffing out several screens and play-actions. He's got to stay healthy now that he doesn't have a back-up, and I'd like to see him start making more plays against the passing game, but he's already living up to his five-star ranking.
Myron Rolle: the man, the myth, the legend

- No turnovers! FSU was -6 in turnover differential during their disappointing 4-4 start. Against the Cavaliers the 'Noles were +2, including Tony Carter's interception return for a touchdown. In a related story, the 'Noles picked up a W on Saturday.

- The kicking game was excellent again. Gary Cismesia nailed a 44 yard FG and Graham Gano averaged over 40 yards per punt. How we can get a great kicking performance in a season when every other unit has struggled is beyond me. I just hope it keeps up, because this is one area where we might have a decided advantage against UF.

The Bad
- The offensive production in the first half has been pretty poor all season, and that trend continued against the Cavs with the Seminole offense posting -9 yards of offense in the 1st quarter. In losses to Clemson, BC, and Maryland the 'Noles kept digging themselves into holes they couldn't get out of. Thanks to the dominant defensive performance that wasn't the case against Virginia, but the 'Noles can't keep trying to mount a comeback every week. If we fall behind against Wake Forest and their stingy, ball-hawking defense there could be trouble.

- As good as the pass protection was, the run blocking still leaves much to be desired. Too many times the FSU linemen simply leaned against their man instead of driving him back. Virginia has a pretty stout DL, but the 'Nole OL still looks too timid in the running game and I doubt we'll see much improvement in this area until next season at the earliest.
Hey, YOU try finding a good picture of FSU's OL!

- Kicking coverage continues to be abysmal. Again, I doubt we'll see significant improvement in this area due to our forced reliance on walk-ons. Wake Forest and Western Michigan shouldn't test us too much in this area, but Florida will definitely make us pay for poor coverage and shoddy tackling.

The Ugly
- There's not much to complain about after a 33-point victory. In fact, the only thing I didn't like was Drew throwing for the TD at the end of the game. The game was over at that point so why go for the score there instead of just running for the 1st down and killing the clock? Maybe we were working on our red zone offense or something, but it seemed like poor sportsmanship to me. On the other hand Virginia knocked us out of the National Championship race last year, so I don't feel too bad. I just don't think we should risk the bad karma.

Look, I hate to complain after a much-needed win. It was a great performance for a young team and I love seeing a new spirit of optimism among 'Nole Nation today. Bring on Wake Forest!

Friday, November 03, 2006

B(C)S Questions

In the wake of Louisville's impressive 44-34 victory over fellow Big East behemoth West Virginia the B(C)S Championship picture is starting to clear up. The problem with that clarity is that it exposes some pretty serious flaws in the B(C)S logic that could (and will) lead to much bitching and moaning once the participants in the National Title game are announced. If you're being fair this should be the list of contenders right now:

Ohio State
Southern Cal
Notre Dame
West Virginia

That's every BCS conference team with at most one loss that's currently in the BCS top 15. Now you'll look through that list and say "wait a minute, no way are some of those teams contenders!" Well, that's kind of the point. Teams such as Rutgers and Arkansas have no realistic shot at making it to Glendale, despite the fact that they could wind up with a resume as good or better than the so-called contenders above them...

Consider Rutgers' case: so far they're 8-0 with a Heisman candidate at RB who's leading the nation in rushing. Over their final four games they play #5 Louisville and #3 West Virginia. Should Rutgers win out they could boast an undefeated season with wins over two top 10 teams...just like Michigan. Yet there's absolutely no way Rutgers will play for the National Championship.

Consider Arkansas' case: so far they're 7-1 with a Heisman darkhorse at RB who's leading the SEC in rushing. Over their final four games they play Tennessee and Louisville, with a potential rematch against the Vols or a showdown with Florida in the SECCG. Should Arkansas win out they would own victories over Auburn, LSU, Tennessee, and possibly Florida which would be the strongest resume in the SEC and would trump either Texas or the Ohio State/Michigan loser. Yet there's absolutely no way Arkansas will play for the National Championship.

And what about West Virginia? Should they win out they would have one loss on their record - a 10-point road loss to a top 5 team - that would be a "better" loss than Auburn's or Texas' losses. If Louisville loses to either Pitt or Rutgers does West Virginia leap back into contention based on having the "best" loss of any one-loss team? Of course not... West Virginia's title hopes died last night. But is that fair when Auburn is still a contender?

And then there's Texas, who was blown out at home in their biggest game of the year and have narrowly escaped defeat the last two weeks against one average team (Nebraska) and one bad team (Texas Tech). They play in a remarkably weak conference, so why are they getting a free pass when on paper they have one of the weaker resumes out there? If they win out they're only behind a one-loss SEC champ in the line for National Title Game participation.

My point is that at the end of the season every team should be judged based on what they've done - who've they beaten, where, and by how much - yet there is clearly a bias when it comes to picking teams for the Championship game, and that bias is very much a product of the pre-season polls. Why are we using polls that are based on assumptions and speculation and applying them at the end of the year when there's a full season of empirical evidence to guide us?

I realize this is an old argument at this point, but could we just go ahead and agree that the 'C' in BCS is extraneous..."BS" is a much better description of the current system. What is the point of the polls if they won't objectively rank teams based on their actual accomplishments instead of their rep? Of course the answer is so plainly obvious that it will never happen... with an eight-team playoff we could be free of these ridiculous compare/contrast exercises to pick between teams with similar resumes. This season is shaping up as the perfect example of why we need to get rid of the ludicrous system currently in place in favor of a decent, respectable playoff system. Kind of like every other sport on the planet.

Not that it would do FSU any good, but still...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Random Thoughts on a Thursday

It's November, which means that while the weather's getting cold college football is heating up. The big conference-deciding showdowns kick off tonight when West Virginia visits Louisville (more on that later) and continue throughout the month building up to the (hopefully) epic Ohio State/Michigan showdown that will close out the regular season. There's just too much going on at FSU and around college football to write columns about all of it, so here's what's been floating around my head the last couple of days...

- X marks the spot? While I enjoyed Xavier Lee's outstanding debut as a starter as much as the next 'Nole I think the Heisman-hype may be a bit premature. That's the first time Xavier has looked good in an FSU uniform and it came in a situation in which there was absolutely no pressure. He found out he was starting just before the game so he didn't have time to think, all he did was go out and make plays. But what happens when he does have time to think? Will he get nervous once the pressure's on? How will he respond this week in a situation where he's expected to produce in front of a home crowd? I want to see X succeed as much as anyone, but right now he's a rookie with an 0-1 record. Let him grow into the job before declaring him the next Charlie Ward.
Are you the Chosen One?

- For the ACC to rebound from it's slump to the bottom of the BCS barrel there must be an infusion of fresh coaching talent throughout the league, which makes UNC's new head honcho a big deal for a league looking to regain the respect it's lost in 2006. The Big East's growing rep has been built on the solid foundations laid down by Rich Rodriquez, Bobby Petrino, and Greg Schiano. North Carolina must find a similarly gifted, dynamic coach to replace the rotund John Bunting in order to put the ACC back on the road to recover. UNC has money, facilities, and talent in the high school ranks. A decent coach could build a solid program there...a great coach could build a monster. Here's hoping they stay clear of the trendy Gene Chizik (another DC in the mold of Carl Torbush and Bunting) in favor of a proven winner from a smaller school, along the lines of a Jim Tressel. Whatever the Tarheels decide to do, they should move quickly before the coaching searches at Miami, NC State, and maybe Virginia start up in earnest.

Can't figure out why the ACC sucks? I'll give you three hints...

- Is it just me or is Troy Smith successfully executing the most boring, unremarkable Heisman campaign of all time? The guy's made one exciting play all year, yet he's unassailable in the race for the stiff-armed statue thanks to the superiority of the talent around him and the struggles/injuries of Brady Quinn and Adrian Peterson. It's just that kind of year...nothing really jumps out at you. Ohio State isn't as good as they were last year, yet they've been a comfortable #1 all season and their only competition appears to be a Michigan team that is defensively stout but inconsistent offensively. Maybe some enjoy the mess of mediocrity this season but I prefer last year when two juggernauts rumbled headlong through the regular season on the path to a National Championship collision. But maybe it is just me...

The next Vince Young... or the next Geno Torretta?

- I don't know how feasible it is considering his current employer, and I don't know if there's some history that would make it difficult, but I for one would love to see current Clemson OL coach Brad Scott return to the Florida State coaching ranks. Scott was the OC for the beginning of FSU's dynasty run and coached Charlie Ward before leaving for the South Carolina job. While things didn't work out in Columbia, Scott's a good coach and great offensive mind. I'd love to see Bobby bring Brad back to Tallahassee as QB Coach/Co-Offensive Coordinator in order to maximize Xavier Lee's abilities and help Jeff Bowden infuse some unpedictability and precision in the offense.

- Are we still pretending the SEC is that tough this year? Let's see what has become of the league that was supposed to have six MNC contenders this year... in the West, Alabama's offense has actually regressed from last year's inept unit, Auburn's offensive scheme is called "Kenny Irons", and LSU can't beat anyone with a pulse. Arkansas narrowly escaped Bama and Vandy and was destroyed by Southern Cal, and ff the SEC is going to base a large portion of its rep on Tennessee's thrashing of California they must also take the hit for Arkansas' beat-down at the hands of the Trojans. In the East the Vols have made a nice turn-around but everyone seems to weigh their pasting of the Golden Bears much more than the close call against Air Force. Florida's defense is lights-out, but that offense make you want to turn the lights off so you don't have to watch, while Georgia's as good as their quarterbacks (in other words, not very good). UF in particular gets much love for squeaking by mediocre teams like Bama and Georgia. All in all these teams seem to be ranked highly because of recruiting rankings and hype rather than the product on the field. What else is new?
Overrated, overrated, overrated. Seeing a pattern here?

- If FSU can stay healthy next year you'd have to think that they'll improve on this year's record (hard to imagine they could do much worse), and the core of next year's team will be a bunch of sophomores and juniors, most of whom will be back in 2008. With a potentially good team and an easier schedule in '08, can I go ahead and assume that Bobby Bowden will be back to take another shot at a third ring after next season? Hey, if he revamps his offensive staff in the off-season he might even have a legitimate shot at it. All I'm saying is, all those fans who are holding out hope that 2007 will be Bobby's swan song may want to brace themselves for disappointment. Barring health issues I think the Bowden era will continue for at least two more years.

- How thankful is the Big XII for the ACC's rough year? While everyone's busy trashing our five ranked teams and competitive division races nobody seems to have noticed that Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma are the only decent teams in the Big XII, and Texas has barely escaped with one loss the last two weeks while Nebraska just got spanked by Oklahoma State and the Sooners have disappointed on both sides of the ball. And the Big XII North is still the worst division in any BCS conference. As bad as the ACC is this year at least there's hope on the horizon. Next season the Big XII will be the conference everyone loves to hate on.
Texas is the only thing separating the Big XII from the WAC

- One thing's been bothering me the last few weeks: I know I'm seeing improvement in FSU's offense, yet we can't seem to score more than 24 points against anyone decent. If the execution is better than last year and the 'Noles have been putting together better drives recently then why hasn't point production increased? It took me a while to figure it out, but the key is field position. FSU has consistently lost the field position battles this year because of defensive inconsistency, poor special teams coverage, and lack of takeaways. The 'Noles are consistently forced to drive the length of the field, chewing up time, limiting scoring opportunities, and forcing FSU to play flawless football. In addition, the teams that score 30+ a game are those that can force turnovers and use special teams as a weaponm, and the 'Noles have been unchacteristically weak in both of those areas. The effect of the injuries on the defense gets a lot of attention, but you can't overlook what the losses of Marcus Ball, Jae Thaxton, and Tony Carter have meant for the special teams and FSU's ability to put points on the board.
Damn you BC, with your competent
ball-control offense! Damn you to hell!!!

- Poor Mickey Andrews. It's got to be killing him trying to stay patient with this young, reshuffled defense. He was forced to move his best pass rusher inside to DT, but the youngsters who are playing DE can't get much pressure so the baby-faced DBs are hung out to dry. So either he can blitz his LBs to get pressure which will force FSU's shaky secondary into man-coverage all over the field (see: Clemson loss), or he can pull the LBs back into zone coverage leaving the opposing QB all day to throw (see: NC State loss). There's nothing wrong with Mickey or his scheme, he just doesn't have the horses to play his brand of football this season. But when all looks lost I look at the projected two-deep for next year and see a lot of seasoned, talented players coming back a year stronger. My prediction for 2007? Pain.

- Speaking of which, allow me to wish a speedy recovery to Paul Griffin, Emanuel Dunbar, DJ Norris, Aaron Jones, Marcus Ball, Jae Thaxton, Derek Nicholson, Geno Hayes, Tony Carter, and Anthony Houlis. That's ten key defenders, for those of you keeping score at home.

- Unfortunately, considering the struggles and class-size limits of FSU and the coaching uncertainty at Miami, UF is looking at a banner year in recruiting, and for Florida that's saying something. Urban Meyer's offense will still suck, but in a state as talent-rich as Florida you don't want to see one school getting a big advantage like UF has this year. This will bite us in the ass in 2010.

- The Chop Shop extends a big thank you to Drew Weatherford for playing his heart out every game and leading FSU to the ACC Championship last year. Even if XLee leads us to the National Title and picks up a Heisman Trophy along the way Drew will always be one of our favorites for his toughness, his class, and his great work ethic. Drew 'da man!

- Note to the 'Noles: remember how Virginia got insanely lucky to beat you last year, hitting ridiculous play after ridiculous play? Rememebr how bad it felt to get knocked out of the National Championship race? For that matter, remember what it felt like to win an ACC game? What's say we get a little payback this Saturday and beat the living crap out of the Cavaliers for four quarters! Go Noles!!!
Seek. Destroy. Repeat.