Horns Show Up Just Late Enough To Win

AP/Ross D. Franklin

AP/Ross D. Franklin

Texas 24, Ohio State 21 – That vaunted Longhorns attack via Colt McCoy wasn’t having a whole lot of luck in the first half thanks to a stout Buckeye defense (one of the squad’s better points as it has fits and starts by trying to mesh its QB’s amazing skills with the conservative nature of its coach), and Ohio State decided, for whatever reason, to keep shooting itself in the foot by trotting out Todd Boeckman for his Last Stand when they likely may have been better off putting their future in the hands and on the legs of Terrelle Pryor (personally, I’m still convinced that Pryor chose the wrong school; the Sweater Vest will get much too conservative on him in the years to come. He would have been a great fit with DickRod at Michigan, obviously, but I would think he’d be the natural heir to Daryll Clark at Penn State; running the Spread HD would have been good.)

The funny thing is that Texas wasn’t really able to get after Ohio State late in the game.  McCoy got after it for a 17-6 lead, but then Brian Robiskie stopped dropping balls and became a deep threat in the third quarter, with Pryor using his legs to scramble all over the place (not like he got a whole lot of time to set) and Boeckman got the occasional open shot, like when he threw a fade to the 6’6″ Pryor to take the lead by four points in the fourth.

Then, an EPIC FAIL of tackling and basic defensive skills by OSU, as McCoy had little more than a minute and led the Horsn down the field, using Quan Cosby as his go-to guy. A 4th down spot determined the game at the OSU 40, as part of an 11-play drive. Two inches shorter and it’s OSU ball, game over, the Big 10 saves a bit of face — but no….and a couple plays later, Cosby catches a pass (McCoy threw for more than 400 yards), and a Buckeye safety looks like he hasn’t even passed the most basic of tackling drills, letting the wideout slip through his hands, jiggling like Jello all the way to the end zone with 16 seconds left.

(I enjoyed Yahoo’s headline: “Wrath of Quan.” I imagine the Sweater Vest yelling it Shatner-style.)

The Buckeyes got back to about the Texas 40 when Boeckman, fittingly, was sacked to essentially end the game. At the end, both McCoy and coach Mack Brown made their pleas for being number one, as if barely scraping by an undermanned and clearly sloppy OSU team was any sort of achievement for one of the Big 12 South’s Holy Trinity, two of whom have been embarrassed in some fashion in their bowl games (Texas’ defense is not exactly top tier, but could and should have done better; Texas Tech’s meltdown against Ole Miss goes without saying).  Those calls likely fell on deaf ears, and 45-35 chants ought to be treated as such should Oklahoma win.

(A final note: Big East officials are just as bad as their Pac-10 and SEC counterparts. I’d accuse them of being in the tank for a team, but after a couple of questionable roughing the passer calls on OSU defenders, there were make-up calls of PI on the Longhorns, and a totally weak dual PI call on the two-point attempt after the Pryor receiving TD which should have been flagged solely on the OSU receiver. They may have bet on an OSU cover.)


Just Another Symptom


I don’t particularly like writing posts like these, because just like any fan who has a team, yet has a liberated ideal about college football outside of that immediate fandom, I like Will Muschamp. He’s intense, seems to get the best out of guys who play for his defense, and has deserved a head coaching gig for a while now.  While his current work with Texas isn’t the most impressive in terms of keeping points off the board, the important part is that Texas leads the Big 12 in scoring defense by creating turnovers. This makes the difference in a confernce loaded with very good offensive talent.

Well, Muschamp is going to get his head coaching gig at Texas — eventually — because the Longhorns’ athletic department has decided to make Boom Motherfucker himself the heir to Mack Brown, designating him head coach-in-waiting.

Muschamp is merely the latest in a trend: the most prominent name in this ilk is Florida State O-coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who’s been promised the head gig when Bobby Bowden either retires or keels over, followed by Kentucky OC Joker Phillips in the same position with Rich Brooks (it also exists at Purdue, but I can’t recall the guy replacing Joe Tiller next season.)  Hell, it isn’t even reserved for the NCAA — Jim Mora the Younger is set to replace Mike Holmgren with the Seahawks next year.

In Austin, this is considered a move to keep continuity in the program, which is true, and desirable from a program’s standpoint. Brown had his own comments on the practice:

Brown said he thinks it’s part of a new trend. “Looking across the country, I think we will see more of this, especially in programs that are working well,” Brown said.

I hope not.

Programs that are working well bleed into their own complacency sometimes.  Besides, shouldn’t a succession plan at least open itself up to a few other qualified people first? Like, y’know, maybe someone from outside the organization? This is a purely insular move — partially to keep a valued coordinator — but it has repercussions for sports and the coaching ranks.

I don’t have anything against Muschamp or Brown, and I think it’s a smart move for the program on that level. But given the recent report (PDF file) from Dr. Richard Lapchick and The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport amid an environment in which only 8 out of 119 NCAA I-A head football coaches are minorities (and that will be down to 6 next season, after Ty Willingham and Ron Prince finish up their lame duck status), any pre-ordainiment and assignment of a “head coach in waiting” is another door closed pre-emptively, and I don’t care how many times you bring up Joker Phillips being a black man. There is a good ol’ boy network in coaching, and it needs to be blown right the fuck up, no matter how deserving or worthy the heir is. Head coaches in waiting are extensions and an attempt to preserve that network.

“While the percentages are slightly better, the general picture is still one of white men running college sport,” said Richard Lapchick, the report’s co-author. “Overall, the numbers simply do not reflect the diversity of our student-athletes. Moreover, they do not reflect the diversity of our nation where we have elected an African-American as President for the first time.”

The report also looked at university leadership, including presidents and athletic directors. Ninety-one percent are white. Minority representation in all positions increased less than 1 percent last year.

Charlotte Westerhaus, NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion, said she was disappointed in the figures, particularly considering the election.

“This moment on Tuesday reflected the best of our country,” Westerhaus said. “Our country showed the will and the way. We have to do the same.”

It’s been about a week since the report was released, and it generally disappeared right into the ether, with barely a couple mentions on the Four-Letter’s broadcasts (of course, only brought up by Kevin Blackistone on Around the Horn and Desmond Howard sometime later) and only a righteously written column by Gene Wojciechowski on its dot-com operation to bring it up.

I only hammer at this because these are the ways entrenched university presidents and athletic directors protect their asses: extending the privilege of race and class in the coaching network by playing it safe, locking up the job with an heir when possible, not daring to venture outside the box. I thought it was telling when CBS’ Spencer Tillman absolutely went off about this two Saturdays ago:

“Who are the people that run college football? Fifty-and-older white, Southern men. Those are the people who run college football, and so to expect progress from them is a tough battle. They want someone who looks like them.”

Minority coaches are going to get short-ended more often than not between the hashmarks at higher levels: while Willingham deserved his firing at U-Dub, he still got a raw deal at Notre Dame, and Prince’s release by K-State was just as bad in my books — barring scandal or complete incompetence, no college football coach should be fired before the end of a full four-year recruiting cycle. It’s well past time for Floyd Keith and the Black Coaches & Administrators to merely express disappointment. Legal action will probably have to be the way to go now. It took legal action to get the NFL to adopt the Rooney Rule; it will probably take the real threat of it to get what Keith and Lapchick have called an “Eddie Robinson Rule.”

Locking up a desired coaching gig in the Big 12 years in advance seems like a further jump backwards for college athletics. Things could change; Brown could fail miserably and be forced out, and Muschamp thrown out with him — but isn’t that way too much coincidence? Both men are good football coaches; too good for that to actually happen beyond the three or four-loss season.  That’s too much “if” to leave to the traditional habits of university administrators. Admittedly, it’s only been maybe half a century since minority students had access to some of the public universities that are major athletic schools; thus, there is a base of power that still needs to be built.  However, that doesn’t excuse the presidents and athletic directors for a collectively lousy record.

Again, it’s nothing against Muschamp, who I think has more than earned a head coaching job somewhere in D-IA.  But the status as heir apparent becomes about the men not looked at, the perspectives closed off, the interviews not held, when a department decides to anoint a successor without so much as an evaluation of anyone else who might be interested, someday, when Mack Brown decides it’s time to move to the cushy gig in the athletic department.

(This didn’t fit anywhere else in the piece, but I wanted to note it: It’s rather instructive to look at Bill Rhoden’s column in the NYT from a few weeks ago on NFL players and their perceptions of coaches, as reported in a study, in the context of how it might apply to college football.)

Rushing The Field: Poll Anarchy

Well, seven weeks in and we’ve got the same damned problem we had last year with college football (or non-problem, for without these issues, the sport isn’t as half as fun to discuss or opine on.)  The field has leveled out so greatly that you have three of the top five getting knocked off on a Saturday.

Oklahoma and Texas were essentially trading blows for about three quarters, with Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy upping the ante on who would be favored in the Heisman race. Texas turned it in the 4th quarter: prodding Bradford into picks and getting big play from McCoy (who was 28-35 passing, good accuracy) along with a huge 60-yard run from Chris Ogbonnaya, and the Horns took the win 45-35. However, any analysis of this game without a lament about the sorry Big 12 officials in charge is incomplete. I understand the reasons for stringent rules about roughing the passer or personal foul calls; you want to keep people from getting hurt. McCoy flopped twice on ruhses out of bounds that got called for 15-yard flags, he and Bradford both were given the gift of flags on roughing penalties that shouldn’t have been called, an OU interception that should have been in the first half wasn’t, and the OU punter put on an acting job that Cristiano Ronaldo would have been ashamed of.

The Swamp is an entirely different beast of a stadium, particularly for a new starting QB like Jarrett Lee in his first road game as LSU “supplied the butt” for Florida to whip, in Mike Patrick’s parlance.  Florida got out to a 20-0 lead at one point; LSU closed it to 6 points, but the Gators’ defense finally stepped up, turning the multitude of running backs of LSU into an ineffective rotation, and forcing them to try to win on Lee’s arm — never a good prospect for a redshirt freshman.  Urban Meyer’s squad wound up putting half a hundred on ’em in the first complete game where Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin were not the sole playmakers in the Gator spread.

T. Boone Pickens’ money is apparently going to good use; it’s enough to buy a defense when there apparently was none.  A 28-23 upset of Missouri at Columbia gives Oklahoma State some of the respect they’ve been seeking, as no other team made Chase Daniel look out of sync as often as the Cowboys did (Mizzou fans may be tempted to blame the fact that Daniel was wearing #25 in honor of a fallen teammate rather than his usual #10 jersey), forcing him into crucial picks late.  Zac Robinson was a revelation for those of us who haven’t taken the time to watch him, pulling touchdown passes out of his ass. One in particular impressed me in the second half: he rolled out left and had NOTHING at the time downfield, he’d just avoided a sack, and to avoid another one, he hurled it to a spot in the end zone where he had two receivers against one cornerback — leap, catch, touchdown.

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Rock Chalk Jayhawk (Bruin, Tiger, and Tar Heel Too)

Maybe having all #1 seeds play in the Final Four for the first time ever will ensure us some close, interesting games — because watching three of the four teams whoop up on their opponents in Elite Eight games isn’t the most scintillating viewing.

UCLA was expected to win the West easily — playing a series of what could have been considered home games in Anaheim — and took apart the #3 seed Xavier with the precision Ben Howland teams have become known for in Phoenix.  Double-doubles for Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute represented ownership of the post and the boards, and Darren Collison showed his development as a point guard and a scorer by putting up 19 and turning Drew Lavender into a non-factor. Also important: UCLA got Josh Duncan in foul trouble early and kept B.J. Raymond from getting hot — which offset the apparent loss of Josh Shipp’s mojo.

I didn’t watch UNC-Louisville; I wasn’t sure it would be a double digit win, but apparently I did not miss a ton here. If the Tar Heels are clicking on all cylinders, that’s scary.

Memphis just flustered Texas completely, with size and strength inside and guards Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts just being bigger than D.J. Augustin and Damion James. Apparently John Calipari has figured out how to get this team to shoot from the stripe in the tourney, and Derrick Rose has probably shot up to where it has become a discussion of who would go first in the NBA lottery should he choose to go — him or Michael Beasley, and it would be a total toss up. Rose plays like UCLA’s Collison and Russell Westbrook combined and grew a couple inches: on the defensive end, he sees passes coming and is already going down the other way as soon as you’ve made the pass.

Bill Self is a very lucky man. Very lucky that Sasha Kaun bashed in the paint and Stephen Curry had a hard time getting open off screens all day, only shooting 9-for-25.  The one glaring fault with Curry’s game is that he does not have the ball-handling skills to create his  own shot, without the assistance of at least a screen or two — and when Self decided to go to the box-and-one defense, he couldn’t get those screens.  Kansas survived off nights from both Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush, but they had better show up against UNC next weekend.  As for Davidson’s future: the Wildcats will be back next year, and they may be better if Curry does learn a better handle.

Photo: AP/Eric Gay

Ill-Advised Elite Eight Predictions

Eh, like I’m not already in the hole and my bracket’s busted for good. Oh well.

Xavier vs. UCLA — the Bruins squeak this one out by the barest of margins. Ben Howland’s team has been scaring its fans from the beginning of the tournament with either comebacks or having teams get to very close margins. Xavier is the first threat of a team; one that people could actually see knocking off the Bruins. It essentially comes down to how Josh Duncan will play Kevin Love. I’ll enjoy watching two good point guards square off, too.

Louisville vs. UNC — the Tar Heels roll too deep on the bench to lose, in my eyes. Louisville makes it close — very, very close, and if this game goes to OT I won’t be shocked at all — but UNC will be in the Final Four come next weekend.  Also: please make note of how many times Tyler Hansbrough and David Padgett are referred to as “gritty” or “gutty” or “hard-working.”

Texas vs. Memphis — I give Memphis credit; they’ve lasted one round longer than I expected, but after watching the Longhorns destroy Stanford I think the Tigers will somehow manage to fuck it up, either via bad free throw shooting or being forced out of their game.

Davidson vs. Kansas – I don’t see this upset happening. Kansas is way too talented on both ends of the floor to get knocked off by a #10 seed. But if Sunday night ends with watching the Wildcats celebrate a trip to the Final Four, I won’t be surprised. Eventually we’re going to get used to Stephen Curry being amazing. Bill Self needs to get over the no Final Four hump here, but I have to admit, I’d like to see if Davidson’s trustees will cough up the funds to send students to the Final Four like they sent students and lodged them in Detroit for these games.

Photo: AP/Pat Sullivan

Ill-Advised Sweet 16 Predictions

Just the usual quick and dirty here. My Final Four is still intact, but I can’t say that I think it will be after the next two days.

East Regional:

  • UNC over Wazzu — this’ll be a slog of a game, I think, because this is the best defensive team the Heels will see unless they play UCLA in the final. UNC has enough talent to get by the Cougars, but they won’t be scoring 100 this time.
  • Tennessee beats Louisville — the Cardinals are streaking right now and the Vols look vulnerable. My pick of Tennessee is pure sticking with my bracket; it could go either way.

West Regional:

  • UCLA tops Western Kentucky — Nice run, Hilltoppers, but UCLA gets calls and plays defense too well. The Bruins can overcome a bad start.
  • Xavier over West Virginia — Like L’Ville/Tenn, this is a bracket pick that I’m sticking with because I think this will be a close game and don’t really know how it will go. I think Xavier’s defense will be the defining factor.

Midwest Regional:

  • Kansas over Villanova — Jayhawks, although it will not be a walkover and Villanova will give them a very good game.
  • Wisconsin ends Davidson’s run — On a Sweet 16 bracket, I picked Davidson for fun, but really, Bo Ryan’s defense seems to smother all and I don’t see another upset for the Wildcats here.

South Regional:

  • Michigan State upsets Memphis — Watch. The Tigers will kill themselves with bad free throw shooting and being forced to take jumpers that don’t fall.
  • Stanford beats Texas — Guard play is a big thing in the NCAA tournament, but having the Lopez twins to get points and clean up the boards will be crucial in a close Stanford win.

Photo: AP/Ted S. Warren

So, We’ve Got 16 Left

What did I screw up? Plenty, but all my Final Four choices are still in.  Let’s look at the less than obvious choices. UNC was expected to be at this level and are playing lights-out ball right now.  That’s about as simple as it gets. Tennessee and Memphis are serious liabilities at the free throw line, UCLA scared the crap out of just about everyone who’d picked them to win it all.  Kansas made short work of its first two opponents.

I should know better after watching the Pac-10 all year to have dismissed Washington State so easily. That’s a bad oversight, because I forgot that they played lockdown defense. Do I think they will beat UNC? Probably not, but it’s more validation for Tony Bennett.

Michigan State looked really inconsistent all year and then reels off two solid games to get back to the 16 — beating a Pitt team that was a very popular choice to go to the Final Four in the East. Now they get Memphis, and this is the round where no one will be surprised if Memphis loses to any of hte teams left.

I knew nothing about Western Kentucky going into the tournament. I guess I better know now.  I don’t have the same excuse for Davidson — I knew Stephen Curry was good, but 70 points in two games good? That I wasn’t aware of.

Wisconsin is consistent. They play Bo Ryan’s style and do it well enough to get back to the 16 even though they were a popular upset target.

Xavier worries me, they’ve had to make comebacks, and they’re going against a West Virginia team that’s overachieving in ways no one expected this year (this is one of the only feathers in my cap that I get to claim, predicting that WVU would beat Duke in that exact game.)

Texas has great players, but they’re just as likely to shoot poorly at the line as Memphis and Tennessee — and they have to play Stanford, who shoots well from the line, has better inside presence. Rick Barnes better hope Trent Johnson gets pissed off for no reason again.

Villanova, I completely passed on, and forgot that Jay Wright had gotten Wildcat teams to the Sweet 16 twice, now three times in four years as head coach. Oh well. Beating Siena wasn’t the hardest road into the 16, but who expected Villanova to be here right now?

Photo: AP/Chuck Burton