Saturday, February 01, 2014

Super Strong Extravaganza

My my my, how things have changed since we were last together. A new regime on the 40 acres, Peyton Manning entering "no he de'ent" territory, Rick Barnes giving the coaching performance of his career, and Pete Carroll is in a Super Bowl. That's quite a lot...where shall we begin?

Stronghorns:
I'm sure you won't hear that enough over the next 6-9 months (or buy the T-shirts)...in all seriousness, I know this is "old news", but this is a great thing for this program. People wanted a regime change, new mentality, new culture - well, that what we got. The more I got removed from the actual news of the change, the more I liked this move. Young, energetic, experienced, hard-nosed and trusts his instincts and methods. More importantly, he's 100% about football and football players.

My expectations are next to zero when it comes to this first recruiting class - and I'm sure there will be some players who won't take kindly to the new world order, but that's ok. That's part of it. This program needs a drill Sergeant right now and this team will be better because of it. The structure and discipline that he's bringing will do wonders - now maybe if a player is struggling to make his grades, they'll find out a little earlier than a week after grades come out.

I have no predictions or expectations about the coming year - it's ludicrous to even suggest it. But I do believe that regardless of the record next year, Texas fans are going to like the type of effort these players are giving. I expect a slow start - which could get ugly with games against BYU and UCLA early - but by the end of the year this team is gelling. I'm a big fan of this hire.

Super Manning Bowl:
Let's be honest, the season Peyton Manning has been quite spectacular. It's only fitting that he ends up in the big game this year, especially after last year's debacle. When you look at the injuries this team has endure over the season, especially with not having Miller on the defense, it's impressive how they've continued to play at such a high level. This is a team with a bunch of players who have bought into the system and know how to do their job. This should be a hell of a challenge for Manning and company. Side note - does anyone else ever get the feeling that John Fox is just along for this ride? I love the guy, but I can't help thinking that every time I see him.

On the flip side, so Pete Carroll is really in the Super Bowl? Huh. Either way, he's got himself a hell of a team here. Obviously the defense is what gets the props on this team and rightfully so. That IS this game - number 1 offense vs number 1 defense. It doesn't get much better than that. As much as I'd like to see Manning get another Super Bowl, and as good as Denver is, I'm not calling this a for-sure Denver win. Seattle is more than equipped to beat Denver. With all the talk about the defense, if Seattle is going to pull this out Russell Wilson is going to have to make a play with his arm. I'm not saying he can't or won't do it, but I do believe it comes down to that. In the last handful of games his passing statistics went way down, but they've also got Lynch who's been a beast since the midway point, and a defense that can give you easy points - so Wilson hasn't had to be great. But you still wonder. He made some great plays in that title game, but he also had some questionable decision making. I expect Lynch will have a big game, regardless of the outcome.

As ridiculous as it is that they are playing this game in Jersey in February, at least it doesn't really give either team an advantage one way or another. Sure Denver plays in the Rockies, but this is pretty cold. Combine the legend of "Manning in cold weather" and Seattle's performance/record on the road and you've got a pretty evenly matched pairing. I have to give a slight edge to Denver here of course. While I do believe Seattle will be able to exploit some things in the Denver defense, I think Manning will be able to figure out that secondary just enough times to make a difference. Lower scoring than if this game were in Arizona or Houston (where it should be).

What it will take for Denver to win...
1) Peyton, Peyton and more Peyton. This won't be about making big, long bomb throws (we're beyond in the Manning's world). It's about dinking, dunking and keeping the ball moving down field. The more than can keep that Seattle defense on the field - and back on their heels - the more they will chip away at that confidence and that's when big breakdowns happen.

2) Tame the Beast - absolutely, positively cannot let Lynch go off. If that happens, start crying now Broncos fans. Make Lynch suffer when he touches the ball....and keep his YPC under 3 and Denver will be in prime position to dominate this game.

3) Kick it up a notch - pardon the horrible pun, but this could go for both teams. Sounds like the weather is going to cooperate more than expected, but it will only get colder as the game goes on. That usually spells the kicking game being pretty important. Make your field goals, and pin Seattle deep. Seattle's offense isn't near the level of Denver's, we know that, but if you give them a short field, they'll make you pay. Kicker may be one of the most important positions in this game.

What it will take for Seattle to win...
1) Counter to number 2 above - Unleash the Beast. I'll put it in the simplest terms I can: If Lynch gets 130+ yards, I'm calling it here. Seattle will win this game. And let's not forget one thing - Denver's defense isn't near as good as San Francisco's and Lynch had a pretty good game there. Keep that in mind. PLUS, we've seen how he performs after a bye week. He is unequivocally the key to this game.

2) Seattle's QB is going to have to play like a QB - I don't say this to dog Wilson. Obviously he's been effective, albeit a little inconsistent, especially down the stretch of the season. But let's be fair: he does enough to move the chains and help his team win. We don't expect him to be Peyton, not even close, but at some point, if the Hawks are going to win this game, he's going to have to make a big play or two with his arm. Not saying he can't do it, we know he can, he just hasn't done it (or had to do it) since late in the season.

3) Get to Manning - We all know what happens when Manning has time and isn't disrupted. He makes you pay. Seattle is going to have to get pressure on him, disrupt his timing and get him on his back. Even if you aren't sacking him, make him know you are there. The good news for Seattle fans is they have the defense to do it. Granted, Denver's O-line is playing GREAT right now and they won't make it easy on Seattle, but if that Seahawk defense can get to Peyton and simply disrupt his timing with 3-4 rushers, it's going to be very hard for Denver to win.

What does it all mean...
At the end of the day it comes down to this. I*think* Seattle has the weapons to make enough plays to beat this Denver team, and I think they have the defense to keep the high-flying machine at bay. BUT, I *know* Denver has the weapons to make big plays and I certainly know what their QB is capable of. So I'm going with what I'm pretty sure I know vs what I think.

Denver - 27
Seattle - 21

I'd love to get into the Running Horns, but don't have time. I'll just say this - Rick Barnes is having the best coaching performance of his career with a bunch of no-name misfits (predominately underclassmen too). No one, and I mean NO ONE, wants to play this team right now. They could be very, very dangerous in the tournament. BIG game today at the Drum with Kansas coming to town. They don't even have to win to impress today. Just compete.

Going to be hard for Patterson to make a change after this season.

Enjoy the big game tomorrow.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Happy New Year

Another year gone the Sports Rant is still kicking. Let me take one moment and thank those of you who continue to corrupt your minds with this stuff....I sure enjoy doing it. I know there are those of you who were around back in the day when this whole thing started as email trash talking with a small select few at Tocquigny. Good times. Either way, I hope everyone had a great holiday and here's hoping 2014 brings all sorts of joy and goodness and stuff.

It's been a while so I've got a lot to cover. Settle in for this one folks, it's going to be a long one...

Texas Football:
All I can say is I'm painfully thankful that this season is just over. The finality of it all, coupled with anticipation of a new dawn so to speak, has been better than anything we saw on the field this year. Save for maybe the win against OU. That was nice. In the interest of brevity, let me slice up my assessment for you...
  • There's a lot of talent on this team. There's no denying that. You can see glimpses of it. Player personnel has been grossly mismanaged for a couple of years now. It's evident. 
  • It's inexcusable that we haven't seen more of Joe Burgeron throughout the year. How he is not getting 12 carries EVERY game is beyond me. He's a beast. I wouldn't be shocked to see him get a try out at the next level. 
  • You simply can't compete at the highest level without a quarterback. Sorry, but that's the long and the short of it. I hear Ash is symptom free and starting to even throw and catch with receivers (casually, not in pads or routes or anything) - and that's great, but I just fear his durability. He's clearly shown a propensity to get hurt, and maybe that's just bad luck, but you can't deny it. I like him and think he's a pretty good QB with tons of potential. Just don't know - you need insurance. This team needs a young stud to come in and shine, and be able to contribute fast. Someone you can build with. Perhaps it's the Hurd kid, but who knows. QB is primary need number one. With all due respect, good riddance to McCoy junior.
  • Jackson Jeffcoat is going to make a lot of money playing on Sundays. 
  • I don't think either Oregon or Texas players really wanted to be in that Alamo Bowl on Monday night. Oregon played really bad relative to how they usually play. I give the Texas defense a lot of credit though, they played them very tough. They got shredded on more than one occasion, but they only gave up 1 touchdown and 16 points. Against Oregon, that's great. Meanwhile, the offense was pretty lame, save for maybe Malcolm Brown and Joe B. Honestly, it was about what I expected, just higher scoring. 
  • Greg Robinson may have earned quite a few points with whomever the in-coming coach may be. He'll at least garner a discussion. He has done wonders with this defense, especially coming off the turmoil of the BYU debacle and subsequent Diaz firing. They have played pretty well considering the offenses they face on a regular basis. On a similar note - I think Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury would be smart to at least make a phone call to him and gauge his interest. Those teams need a TON of help on that side of the ball. 
  • I know circumstances weren't exactly lined up for success for Major Applewhite these last few years, but I'm betting he's coaching quarterbacks or running backs for the next few years before he gets his next OC opportunity. I don't know squat about the business, but that's my gut. 
  • Regarding the next coach: First of all, let's all acknowledge that coaches who recently signed contract extensions are no less likely to consider other jobs than had they not signed them. Let me also say that all of this is based purely on my gut after reading/hearing all the BS... a) My list in order of most likely to be the guy is Saban, Briles, Fisher, Harbaugh, Strong; b) Yes, Saban. Now that Mack is completely and officially out of the picture, I just think Peterson is going to sit down with his buddy and say, "ok, here's how this is really going to work, hear me out...", and there's a chance Saban leaves for the BIIIIIIG $$$$$$$$ and let's his pal Kirby Smart take over at Bama; c) I'm not saying Saban is the next guy/he'll say yes, but I am saying I think Peterson reignites it; d) If not him, I waiver on Briles - I hear he would do it/consider it, but just don't know. I'd love to have him, but not sure of his head; e) I also think Peterson will have a plan B before he goes and dangles the world in front of Nick. 
  • There are 2 schools of thought on the next coach: 1) I want to win NOW. I know I don't have a decade to "build a program", I want to win right now and a lot. Pros are you likely will be winning a lot and bringing in talent and winning more games. You'll also set a pipeline of talent that the next next guy can come in with a cushy starting point. Cons, you've got a 5-6 year lease (TOPS) on this big name. 2) I want the guy who we'll have around for the next 10-12 years. Young, proven, still a ton of potential, good references and connections - that's the guy you want. Strong, Harbough, Mora Junior, Malzahn - those kinds of names. 
  • At the end of the day, Peterson simply strikes me as a "win now" kind of guy. With no more Mack, no more Dodds, no more "alliances", it's 100% his nut on the line at this point. This will absolutely be 100% his hire and it would absolutely be in his best interest to win NOW. That's why I feel more and more, come Friday morning after that Sugar bowl, he's sleeping in a rental car outside Nick's home waiting for him to return ready to blow his financial mind. 
  • All in all I'm very optimistic about the future. Even with the same returning/incoming class of players, any one of those names could make huge strides in performance and wins and losses. I truly believe that. This is purely a culture thing. Some won't buy in and they'll wash out - that's the way it is, but as I said, I'm far more optimistic than I am doubtful. I would be happy with just about any name I threw out there above. Change is needed and it's coming. 
Mack:
I can't NOT say a little bit about Mack. I have been as critical of him as anyone on many, many occasions over his 16 years here. And I'm especially bitter at the lop-sided OU losses which was always really baffling and infuriating. I'm not sure what his overall record against Stoops is, but I think it's pretty close to .500, but the ass whoopin's was too much to handle. That coupled with his style was always my issue. Loyal to a fault; inability to adapt both in games on the fly, or over 1-3 years as a program; lack of edge - these are the main things that I could never get past.

With all of that said, we can't forget what he's done for this program. I honestly believe his contribution is immeasurable in terms of increasing the value of the brand and creating opportunity. Let's not forget that the program was coming off of the Machovic era, which was coming off the David McWilliams era. Outside of that Big 12 title over Nebraska, those were some bleak years. During Mack's tenure they won 10 or more games in nine straight years; won back-to-back Rose Bowls; won a national championship in '05; played for another national title in '10; was a dropped INT in Lubbock away from likely playing for another title in '09; produced a heisman trophy finalist and a heisman trophy winner. Outside of Saban, how many of those other coaches have played for 2 titles in 5 years? How many of won more than 1?

Let me be clear here - I'm not saying he doesn't or hasn't deserved the criticism he's received. I'm just saying let's not forget that outside of Saban and Urban Meyer, there's no one else who can claim stats like that. The fact is, sometimes change is needed for the greater good. Some of the best business executives will rotate or turn over some of their leadership to keep things from getting stale - keep things fresh. That is what is needed. Mack was able to recruit very well. The program was on a huge trajectory following the Ricky Williams years. Luckily for Mack, there were players who naturally stepped into leadership roles and recruited others to do the same: Major Applewhite, Casey Hampton, Vince Young, Michael Huff, Colt McCoy, Kenny Vaccaro, Jordan Shipley - these are all guys that either naturally embraced the leadership role, or took on that role for the good of the team. At some point, that dried up, and players weren't stepping up and embracing that role. I believe this is the single biggest reason why they went on the free fall following that night against Alabama. Coaches couldn't get the kids to respond with any consistency, and Mack continued to do what he always did, and I guess, hoping it would work itself out. The inability to recognize this and take necessary action was the ultimate indictment here. The environment became lax and status quo was acceptable...even when the status quo was deteriorating.

Make no mistake, this is all on Mack. You don't get $5 Mil a year to NOT take this squarely on your shoulders. But let's also not forget, the bar was hell of a lot lower than it is now. And although he has been unable to reach it over the last few years, make no mistake that Mack set this bar where it is today. You don't do that by sucking. He's a good man and although he seems a tad delusional at times, I do think he's got a very big heart and has been a great role model for many of those players. He's leaving this place in better shape than when he took it over.

Bowl Game Extravaganza:
I'm typing this on New Year's Day and already I'm tired of the bowls. NFL playoffs are here so I'm about done with college football for the year. A few thoughts...
  • Alamo Bowl - if you didn't see it coming, you haven't been paying attention all year.
  • Today's games (Jan 1) were DAMN good. Most of what I saw came down to a possession late in the fourth. ESPN is quite pleased, I'm sure, with the fact that have most of these games. Good day....good day. 
  • Bo Pellini got himself a nice win today. I know they're playing against Georgia's second and third teamers due to injuries, but that was a big win for him. Meanwhile, does this Mark Richt is back on the hot seat? Surely not...
  • How about that Aggie game. I mean, the defense laying their usual egg throughout the game, comes through with 2 huge plays to swing the game. I kept thinking A&M isn't going to be able to catch them with that defense. Oh my. That was a brutal way to go for Duke, but big kudos to them. Great, great year for the basketball school. Cutcliffe is earning his salary. They should have won that game and I think that will eat at him for a while. 
  • Great Rose Bowl match up - what a game! Dantonio has himself a damn tough team right there. Playing in Stanford's playground, getting down early and never getting rattled - that was an impressive performance. I was starting to get baffled at Stanford constantly running between the tackles on offense knowing that they weren't going to pick up squat. Kudos to them for sticking to who they are, but at some point you have to make adjustments. Great game by Michigan State and that defense lived up to every accolade and endorsement they've received throughout the year. Big win for that program and that conference. 
  • Man, Central Florida came to PLAY in Arizona. They overcame a potentially disastrous situation early on with 3 straight possessions with turnovers to thump the you-know-what out of Baylor. They had a great game plan and defensively, they made plays at the right time. Perhaps Briles as been distracted by something????.....
  • We've seen a couple of double-digit underdogs pull out a win thus far (Texas Tech and Central Florida)...will we see it again tonight when Bama takes on the Sooners?? Me thinks not. Right now the Tide are favored by 17...that sounds about right. Stoops always has some wrinkles, but he simply does not have the talent this year. Bama by 20. 
 That's what I've got for you guys - listen to the podcast to hear our take on the NFL final week, some season highlights, and a quick look at the playoff teams. Listen to it here