Monday, April 30, 2007

9 Thoughts on the Tiger 9

1. When was the last time Mizzou was ranked #2 in the conference this deep into the season? My guess would be NEVER (at least since the beginning of the Big XII).

2. How long does it take before Tim Jamieson and his Tigers get the respect they deserve as a D-I baseball program to reckon with? I'm thinking this year's success will grab attention in the college baseball world more than the past few years have. Everyone picked the tigers to be in a rebuilding year after the loss of Scherzer and Culp. Every pre-season preview (and even some articles within the past week) talked about Max and Nathan more than they talked about the 2007 squad. Even a TJ-hater hater like Tigerboard's NeverShutsUpDemon has to admit that this team's success is a feather in Jamieson's cap.

3. Can the Tigers catch the Longhorns? Is there any chance for MU to win the conference? Texas would have to more or less implode completely. First, MU would need to sweep Texas next week. The week after, Texas plays A&M. If A&M wins the series against Texas, that helps Mizzou in regard to the Longhorns, but A&M is only 1/2 game behind MU. And OSU is only 2 games behind MU.

So even if Texas lose 3 to Mizzou and loses at least 2 of 3 to Texas A&M, Mizzou would have to play extremely well against OU and OSU the last two weekends in order to stay out front.

The standings are so close for the 2,3,4 and 5 teams that the math on what would have to happen is way too complicated at this point. The standings are so close, in fact, that if Missouri stumbles, the Tigers could plummet to 5th.

Of course, Mizzou's offense seems to be coming alive (thank you #51), which is really good considering the tough remaining schedule. But the Tigers will need a lot of help from the rest of the conference to grab the top spot.

4. Is the greatest research tool ever for college baseball heckling? You'd better believe it!! This past weekend's Friday night starter for Texas Tech left his myspace page open for the world to see (LINK). The Taylor Stadium stands were alive with shouts of "Papi Chulo!" Friday night as their "ace" imploded in the 9-run 3rd inning. And when Larry Hayes inexplicably brought Papi back as his closer on Sunday, I have no doubt that the resulting reaction from the fans played a part in his inability to control his emotions as he threw that wild pitch to bring in the winning run. Thanks, MySpace! You really are worth something!

5. How much difference can one hitter make? Jacob Priday raised his batting average from .254 in March to .392 in April, sparking a resurgence in the Tiger lineup. With a reliable hitter in that clean-up spot, the hitters around him get better stuff to swing at. It's great seeing Jake find his swing again. Of course, this also erases any doubt that Priday will be drafted and head for the pros this June. Not that there was ever much doubt, actually.

6. Is legendary SuperFan Larry Wyatt getting {gasp} OLD??? As unlikely as it might seem, Ol' LeatherLungs is showing his age. He actually skipped the Kerfuffle at Kaufmann the other night for a Masonic Lodge meeting (which did NOT get rained out). He has often been seen at Mizzou games the last year or two just . . . sitting. And watching.

But this past weekend, Larry was full of energy, heckling, leading cheers, laughing up a riot. His voice, though, was struggling to keep up, sounding hoarse a number of times.

I guess it's time for another generation of leather lunged fans to get into the act. Is that Lance I hear cackling over in Section B??

7. That's what it's all about: Aaron Senne's father introduced me to some friends before Saturday's game. Aaron's Legion ball coach and one of his assistant coaches made the drive all the way down from Minnesota for Saturday and Sunday's games. When Aaron came through with a clutch 2-run double in Saturday's game, I saw his old coach turn around and point a finger at the elder Senne. Among the stadium noise I couldn't hear his voice, but his lips were clear: "We taught him how to do that! You and I - we taught him how to do that!"

That's what college ball is all about - the joy of watching these kids develop. I see young guys come in as freshman, green as a Spring twig, and watch them emerge and become a leader, a run producer, a feared pitcher. And then I get to see the best of them head off into the pros. That's cool. I can only imagine what it's like for these kids' parents and their former coaches, from little league on through.

8. Sweet justice! This weekend, Ian Kinsler, the second hottest player in Major League Baseball this season (behind some guy called A-Rod), hit his ninth home run on Sunday. Not only did he set a new Texas Rangers record for HRs in April, but he got this 2nd-tier outfield shot off some guy named Shaun Marcum, a one-time Mizzou Tiger and air conditioner abuser who left the hallowed environs of Simmons Field for Southwest Missouri State once upon a time. Ian probably doesn't even know Marcum, but it brought a smile to my face.

9. Take me out to the ballgame!
There's only 4 home games left this season. This week the Tigers take on Missouri State on Wednesday night - always a good time at the ballpark. And then the Sooners come into Simmons Field over the May 11th weekend. Hopefully the crowds will be great, even with the students fleeing town. Catch these Tigers while you can!


Mizzou Links, 4-30-07

Seth already covered quite a bit of this yesterday, but I'll still jump in...fantastic week for Mizzou...

  • Mizzou Softball did what they do best--take the first game of a series against a good team. Their 5-0 win over Baylor Saturday night set them up to split and maintain a tie for 1st in the conference with the Lady Bears. However, it's a bit weird at the top of the standings because Baylor and Missouri are tied at 12-3, but OU is in third at 14-4. They've had fewer games rained out, so they've played three more conference games...they're 10 games over .500, but they've lost more games than BU and MU. In the end, what's the final %? That's my guess...BU/MU are .800, while OU is .778. Interesting situation, though. The Lady Tigers have a slightly easier remaining schedule (two games against Nebraska, while BU plays UT and ATM), and if they can hold on (sweeping NU would clinch a tie), they would become Mizzou's second Big XII champion. The first one? Softball, a decade ago.
  • Mizzou Baseball scored two in the bottom of the 9th Sunday to win 6-5 and sweep Texas Tech. They're now two games up on Oklahoma State for second in the conference. Texas has a comfortable 3.5-game lead overall, but this has still been a great showing by Tim Jamieson's crew considering they lost their two best starters and their closer from last year's squad. Lots of freshmen are contributing.
  • Congrats to Brian Smith for being selected in the 4th round of the NFL Draft by Jacksonville. It makes sense that a defensive team like the Jags would draft him as a pass-rush specialist/OLB, though it did sprout a silly "I knew he should have played LB!" conversation at PowerMizzou. Smitty was our best DE for 3 years and would have set the conference's sack record had he not broken his hip. He was light, but he made more impact at DE than he would have at OLB. Maybe it hurt our run defense to have him out there (though maybe not...our run defense got worse the last half of last season when he wasn't there), but it would have hurt our pass defense (statistically the best in the conference in '04 and '06) to not have had him out there at DE.
  • Unfortunately, Smith was the only Mizzou player drafted. Looks like teams passed on Xzavie Jackson because of the broad 'character concerns' category. In all, most of Mizzou's seniors were from Gary Pinkel's Class of 2002, the first class he was able to recruit for a full year. Considering the big names from Missouri that committed to Mizzou in that class (Mario Whitney, David Richard, Dedrick Harrington, Zach Zwilling), one would have expected more. Oh well. We'll have more next year, that's for sure.
  • In all, the Big XII had 28 players drafted. The biggest surprise for me was Daniel Sepulveda going in the 4th round, but Mason Crosby not going until the 6th. I realize Crosby was aided a smidge by Boulder's thin air, but he was pretty much a badass on the road too. I think Green Bay got a steal.


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday Thoughts

I figured I may not have too many more free Sundays for awhile, and anything to keep Bill and Doug off my ass about not posting enough

  • Well, certainly an interesting series sweep for Mizzou over Texas Tech, their first of the Big XII season. I am hoping trrip will have more on them later this week, but a nice comeback in the 9th inning today to secure the sweep. Also great work by Greg Folgia and Kyle Gibson (both frosh) who went LONG to cover the so-so outing of Rick Zagone and the quick outing by Stephan Holst. Jacob Priday also seems to have finally turned it around, and Mizzou will need his bat with road series remaining against UT and OSU (with a home series against OU remaining in conference). Hopefully, we should find Mizzou in the Top 25 for this week.
  • Cannot ask for much more from the softball team, they did what they needed to do this past weekend at Baylor. Winning yesterday assured them of at least a split, and while they could not sweep the series with a loss today, they are in very good position to contend for the regular season title, which is all you can ask for. It does not appear that either team will play their 2nd game against TTech (Mizzou's was rained out, Baylor's is not actually on the schedule but I assume it is there.
  • Nice to see Christian Cantwell still getting it done on the national scene in the shotput. I dont know how disappointed it must have been for him to be recognized as the #1 shot putter in the world before the Olympics and then to not make it. Gotta believe he is really ramping up for China in 2008.
  • And there anything better than overtime playoff hockey? My Devils took a game last night in 2 OT, and I am sitting here watching the Rangers head to 2 OT at home against the Sabres. And as much as I dislike the Rangers, it is good for hockey for them to be around in the playoffs.
  • Congrats to Brian Smith on his selection today. I am sure we will read in the coming couple of days about other players who are going to get the chance to extend their playing days though free agent tryouts.
  • In case any of you were wondering (and I know some of you were), we did NOT make it through the entire first round yesterday. Poor execution by my friend on his pouring and consumption amount led to us calling it a day after the 25th pick. Whereas a 3-4 oz. glass would have made it possible to finish, we would usually end up drinking 6-8 oz, and therefore making it a little tough to do that 32 total times. We will take it back to the drawing board for next year and hopefully make the chances needed to complete our task next year.
  • Four weeks until I get married.....


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Numbers Numbers Numbers (Part Three)

Part One
Part Two

I’m no longer at a loss as I was in Part Two! Go me! Well...I still don’t totally know where this is going, but I’ve found some interesting things to share.

First, here’s what I’ve done since the last post:

  • I’ve entered box scores for 2003. I now have four seasons’ worth of Big XII box scores.
  • I’ve dabbled in some pivot tables (oh baby!).
  • I’ve looked further into the predictive values of my numbers (i.e. which factors are precursors of possible success the next season).
I've got plenty of material for future posts, but for this one I'm going to focus on one issue.

What do you figure is the most important of this list: Rush Offense, Pass Offense, Rush Defense, or Pass Defense? In other words, if you had to build a team from scratch, where should you start? As always, it depends on how you define those terms, I guess. Are we talking yards or yards per play? We’ll look at both. For results between 2003 and 2006 (Big XII teams), here are the correlations between quality in one area and overall success.

First, let’s look at the importance of overall yardage:

1. Rushing Yards (correlation: 0.51)
2. Opponents’ Rushing yards (0.48)
3. Opponents’ Passing yards (0.24)
4. Passing Yards (0.14)
This makes sense, really. Pure yardage stats are extremely circumstantial—how many times you run or pass (and therefore how many yards you rack up) can be closely dictated by the game situation (you’ll run more, and therefore rack up more yards, if you’re ahead; you’ll pass more, and therefore rack up more passing yards, if you’re behind). So if you’re able to get up early, you’ll likely run the ball more. However, some teams pass more than others when the game is close, so high passing yards could mean a couple different things (especially when Texas Tech is a member of your conference).

Just looking at yards isn’t a wonderful gauge because so many other game aspects/circumstances affect this category. Does it make more sense to look at yards per attempt?

1. Opponents’ Yards Per Pass Attempt (0.49)
2. Yards Per Rush Attempt (0.47)
3. Opponents’ Yards Per Rush Attempt (0.46)
4. Yards Per Pass Attempt (0.44)
There is little disparity here. They’re all of roughly the same importance. This almost becomes as much a measurement of big plays as passing or rushing proficiency. I guess we could average the two.

1. Rush Offense (0.49)
2. Rush Defense (0.49)
3. Pass Defense (0.37)
4. Pass Offense (0.29)
If this is a legitimate way of looking at things, then it would suggest that having a good passing game is the easiest thing to do, and it affects games the least. Meanwhile, having a strong running game is the hardest, and it has the most impact. Let’s look at the results to see if that’s true.

(To determine the “Best” for each of these, I just looked at yards per game and yards per attempt and used my own discretion)


Best Running Game: Missouri (conference record: 4-4, overall: 8-5)
Best Run Defense: Kansas State (7-2, 11-4, Big XII Champs)
Best Pass Defense: Oklahoma (8-1, 12-2)
Best Passing Game: Texas Tech (5-3, 8-5)


Best Running Game: Texas (7-1, 11-1)
Best Run Defense: Oklahoma (9-0, 12-1)
Best Pass Defense: Missouri (seriously, look up the in both yards and yards per attempt) (3-5, 5-6)
Best Passing Game: Texas Tech (5-3, 8-4)


Best Running Game: Texas (9-0, 13-0)
Best Run Defense: Kansas (3-5, 7-5)
Best Pass Defense: Texas (9-0, 13-0)
Best Passing Game: Texas Tech (6-2, 9-3)


Best Running Game: Oklahoma State (3-5, 7-6)
Best Run Defense: Texas (6-2, 10-3)
Best Pass Defense: Missouri (again, look up the numbers) (4-4, 8-5)
Best Passing Game: Texas Tech (4-4, 8-5)

Combined Records

Best Running Game - conference: 23-10 (.697 win %), 39-12 (.765 win %)
Best Run Defense – 25-9 (.735), 40-13 (.755)
Best Pass Defense – 24-10 (.706), 38-13 (.745)
Best Passing Game – 20-12 (.625), 33-17 (.660)
Figuring that conference record is the best gauge (since there’s a huge disparity among non-conference schedules), the order might actually be 1) Run Defense, 2) Pass Defense, 3) Run Offense, 4) Pass Offense. But really, there’s just not a distinguishable difference here, at least among the first three categories. All we know for sure is a) Texas Tech is pretty good at throwing the ball (duh), b) the “defense wins championships” cliché has some statistical backing (even bigger duh), and c) Missouri screws these comparisons up by showing up three times and never having a great conference record (for Mizzou fans, the biggest duh of all).

Yeah, that took a lot of words and numbers to basically reaffirm that you can win by being good at any number of things, but you’re more likely to win if you’re good at a number of things. I’m brilliant. So what do you think? I can twist these numbers to say that any aspect is more important than any other...what is your view of the most important? My assumption when I started was Running Game > Passing Game and Defense > Offense. Yours? Is there some other way I should look at this? I actually enjoy doing this for some nerdish reason...


Friday, April 27, 2007

Quick Hits

One of the world’s worst-kept secrets was confirmed this week, when it was announced that Glen Dandridge has left Mizzou’s basketball team. As much as you can be happy for someone in a situation like this, I’m happy for Glen, who by all accounts is a great kid, and (as a basketball player, at least) needs a change of scenery as much as anyone I can remember. After Dandridge signed with Mizzou, a prominent recruiting analyst raved to me about Glen’s shooting range, and people inside the program have long been impressed with his play in off-season workouts and pre-season practices. But it just never happened for him at game time. In three seasons in Columbia, Dandridge never got hot from three-point range. And that’s not hyperbole. It just never happened, not even once, which is amazing (if you need evidence, I can produce the numbers). Here’s hoping he can find a place where he can relax, finish his degree, make a lot of shots, and be at home and happy.

Dandridge’s departure opens a scholarship and raises the question of how, if at all, the Tigers fill it. Suffice it to say, it’s hard to find impact players come late April (there are a few rumors, ranging from credible to less so, about who the staff might be pursuing), but given the fact that six more scholarships open up a year from now, it sure would be nice to find a player now. That said, there’s no point in committing to a player with only slight prospects of helping the team. If the staff can’t find the right player, I hope they’ll consider rewarding senior walk-on Nick Berardini with a scholarship in his final season. Berardini gives maximum effort for minimum glory, and he may be the most enthusiastic guy I’ve ever seen on Missouri’s bench.

Noted without comment: “[Brandon Rush] said over the weekend the classes he takes now are ‘easy,’ but he has run out of easy ones.”

I had a great time speaking to the Cass County Alumni Chapter last night, and the event reaffirmed to me the obligation I had to be accurate with Missouri’s basketball history in the book. People remember. One gentleman wanted to talk about Redford Reichert, who played for the Tigers in the middle 1950s. Another recalled the injury that Mizzou center Bob Allen suffered in 1971. Yet another remembered watching Missouri teams coached by George Edwards. Edwards, for the uninitiated, retired in 1946.


NFL Draft vs. A-B Draft the Boy referenced below, I have a challenge in front of me for Saturday morning/afternoon/early evening.

As a great friend of mine works for A-B, he has (with some assistance from yours truly) amassed over 32 different types of product either produced or distributed by A-B. They range from the standards (Bud, Bud Light, etc...) to other beers you know but did not realize A-B had a stake in, to other beers you have never heard of.

There will be eight of us attending this shin-dig on Saturday.

32 picks in the 1st round of the draft.

32 picks in the 4 rounds of the beer draft.

The order of selection will be chosen by the old fashioned double blind method (two hats, 8 names in 1, 8 numbers in the other). For each selection in the draft, someone will make a selection of beer. At that time, everyone will enjoy a 4 oz (shell glass size) sampling of the beer. I believe the beer draft order will be the standard fantasy horseshoe.

Mind you, in 2004 I was the person who watched EVERY SINGLE MINUTE of coverage of the NFL Draft (that's what happens when you are at home 500 miles away from most of your friends). I will let everyone know how it works out.

And yes, so there is SOMETHING in here Mizzou related, Softball really needs a split this weekend to have a chance at a regular season title. A split (and they have split previously with highly ranked OU and aTm) will put both Baylor and Mizzou at 12-3. Mizzou finishes at home against a .500 in conference NU. Baylor finishes at home (gosh...last FOUR conference games are at home) against highly ranked aTm and not-as-highly ranked UT.

But once again, FANTASTIC job by Coach E on what had to be a tough situation to come into. There will be some turnover on the team next year, but a great effort this season and there is plenty left to go.


Mizzou Baseball Redux: MU 25, Texas Tech 0 on April Fools' Day, 2005

MU Wrecks Tech
(Columbia Daily Tribune, April 2, 2005)

The Missouri baseball team’s potent offense didn’t hit the ball in the early innings last night. It never got the chance.

The Tigers put up 17 runs in the second inning in a 25-0 rout of Texas Tech last night on Simmons Field. For the first nine of those runs, the Tigers didn’t put the ball in play.. . ."It’s shocking really," MU Coach Tim Jamieson said. "They’re a good baseball team, and it’s just an aberration on their side. Tomorrow will be a completely different day, I’m confident of that.". . ."

Obviously, they were giving us a lot of runs by walking us," said Boone, who was 4 for 4, "but when they started throwing strikes, we started hitting them. They didn’t just give us everything. We did earn some of those."

MU’s half of the inning lasted close to an hour, leaving Scherzer’s durability for the remainder of the game in question. Scherzer faced the challenge of staying warm during the lull.

"It was a long wait," Jamieson said. "It was like a rain delay in some regards. He came back and did a great job."

Scherzer pitched the equivalent of an inning in the bullpen to keep his focus.

"It’s much easier to pitch with the lead," said Scherzer, who improved to 6-1. "But it’s a challenge for me to get my body ready, to get my mind ready to pitch while all this fun is going on in the dugout. It’s kind of a distraction, but I like that distraction."

Raiders lose in nightmare
(Lubbock Journal, April 2, 2005)

"I don't know what to say," Tech head coach Larry Hays said. "Their guy pitched really well and we got behind in the first inning, and we called on some pitchers to do some work for us and they just didn't do it. I've seen that happen a lot but not that bad. I've never had anything happen like that.". . . .

"They didn't give up, they just lost momentum," Scherzer said. "No Big 12 team will ever give up. As long as you keep working ahead of hitters, they can't gain momentum that way."

Missouri flawless in victory over Red Raiders
(Kendall Rogers,

While quite complex in some areas, the basic fundamentals of baseball are not hard to understand – you throw the ball, hit the ball and catch the ball. But on Friday night in Columbia, Texas Tech skipper Larry Hays had to feel like the manager in the famous baseball movie Bull Durham, because his club played perhaps the worst game in the school's history, losing to Missouri 25-0.

Though the loss was difficult enough to handle form a pitching standpoint, the most notable happening on the night has to be the no-hitter that Missouri hurlers Max Scherzer and Michael Cole combined to throw. Scherzer threw seven scoreless innings, earning his sixth win of the season, while Cole threw two innings of scoreless work in just his third appearance of the year.

from the Columbia Daily Tribune
Saturday, April 3: John McKee drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on Adam Lawford’s balk. Hunter Mense singled up the middle to score McKee, and James Boone followed that with a towering fly ball to center that neither center fielder Fuller nor left fielder Chris Williams seemed to see right away. The ball fell in for a double, scoring Mense. Then Jacob Priday sent a bloop to right field that fell among three Red Raiders.

"The lights here aren’t the greatest lights, and that makes it tough if you haven’t played here," Texas Tech Coach Larry Hays said. "Our guys just never saw the ball. That’s discouraging."

Sunday, April 4: "When you get boat-raced 25-0 and then" Saturday "give up three runs because you can’t see a ball, you just feel like you’re snake bit," Hays said. "We hung in there today and battled.

from Lubbock Online:
Saturday, April 3: "We played good," Hays said. "We pitched really well. The sky and playing with these lights, you'd like to get mad at somebody for that. The first night, we got out here and tried to pick the ball up, and I got out in the outfield and I couldn't do it, and that hurt

from Message Boards:

Red Raider Dave: Worst night in Texas Tech Baseball history.

RaiderJM: Tech was dreadfult tonight. Despite that, here's a BIG congrats on the no-no! It's got to be incredibly tough to keep a no hitter going in a situation where you lead by so much. Incredible!bgrams14: Yeah, but when a team gets beat by 25 in baseball to a team that in reality actually isn't incredibly great, and still has to play that team the next two days, they might have a feeling of fear and/or even worthlessness because I have never seen a score that ugly in baseball, neither have most, if not all of you guys. As far as Missouri's talent level that I said wasn't incredibly great in the last paragraph, don't get me wrong, Mizzou's a solid team and all that, but not a serious threat for the Big 12 regular season or tournament titles, and probably won't be able to hang up there with some of the top teams in the league, especially late in the season heading into Big 12 tourney and NCAA tourney time.


Horn87: I have to laugh, because all the tech announcer (Mark Finkner) has been talking about all week is how Mizzou was overrated because of their RPI (in the 250 or so)--but Mizzou has had tech's number for the last 4-5 years or so

roofless: Let's not overlook this: Missouri's 2 pitchers no-hit the sand ags AND struck out a combined 18 batters. That in itself is beyond incredible. You just don't lose games that badly. Clearly, Tech is either having some serious problems in the dugout or they just stopped trying as of the middle of the 2nd. Either way Coach Hays has some 'splainng to do.


Mizzou Links, 4-27-07

You can tell it's been a slow week when the last three posts have all been Mizzou Links posts...oh happens...

  • The big (and pretty much only) news from yesterday is that Mizzou Softball swept Iowa State (a putrid 1-13 in Big XII play now) to move into a tie with Baylor for the Big XII top spot. Very cool. They're now 11-2 in conference and 35-19 overall. Oh, and Jen Bruck? Really good.
  • Sophomore Mizzou Gymnast Adrianne Perry finished 22nd overall at the NCAA's. Congrats, Adrianne. Here's a Trib profile of Perry.
  • And finally, good luck to Xzavie Jackson, Brian Smith, and others in the NFL draft this weekend. And good luck to The Beef in his quest to drink a different Budweiser product (at least part of one) for each pick in the first round. Some people are just overachievers.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mizzou Links, 4-26-07

  • Stupid rain is screwing everything up. The latest victim is the Kerfuffle at Kaufman. No makeup date is scheduled.
  • In brighter news, Mizzou Softball (who had a doubleheader postponed Tuesday night) is now ranked!
  • Dave Matter takes a stab at the football depth chart...looks about right to me. I do like how Steve Redmond has worked himself into a backup role. He was pretty much written off with all the new kids coming in, but it sounds like he had himself a helluva spring. You've also gotta love that there are only 3 seniors starting on D.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mizzou Links, 4-25-07

Little news again today...

  • Mizzou Golf took a #11 seed in the Big XII Championships and turned it into a 7th place finish. I guess that's good. And they beat Kansas to run up the score in the Border War, uh Your Shoe's Untied Competition.
  • And speaking of the aforementioned border competition, here's a preview of tonight's Rumble at Kaufman...wait, I'm supposed to use similar consonants there...uhh...the KERFUFFLE AT KAUFMAN.
  • Man, I have a strange sense of humor at 5:45 am.
  • Mizzou Softball had their doubleheader with ISU postponed due to the monsoon that hit the midwest last night.
  • What everybody figured would happen has apparently finally happened--Glen Dandridge is leaving the Mizzou basketball team, which opens up a scholarship for...well...I guess it depends on which rumor you enjoy the most.
  • Oh, and I should also mention that Mizzou Golf gets a new official (and challenging-as-hell) course starting in May. Apparently A.L. Gustin hurt recruiting? Hey...whatever works...


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cass County, Here I Come

I'll be the featured speaker at the annual dinner of the Cass County chapter of the Mizzou Alumni Association this Thursday, April 26, at the Harrisonville Community Center, 1700 Jefferson Parkway. The bar opens up at 6:30, dinner is at 7:00, I go on at 8:00. I'll talk about some Tiger hoops history and sell and sign copies of True Sons. If you were on the fence about attending, please don't let my appearance dissuade you.

I'll reprise the same role for the Adair County chapter on May 17 in Kirksville.


Family Tree


Mizzou Links, 4-24-07

Not a lot going on today in the world of Mizzou athletics, so I'll focus on one sport...

  • Mizzou Volleyball signs three more players. They were running low on scholarship players last year after a bout of attrition, so they're looking at signing at least seven girls this year...which just seems like a ton to me. Here's the class in a nutshell:

    Trinity Ojo (Middle Blocker, 6'3, Arlington, TX)
    Catie Wilson (Middle Blocker, 6'3, Omaha)
    Weiwen Wang (RS/MB, 6'0, China)
    Luiza Jarocka (Setter, 6'0, MO West Plains JUCO)
    Lindsey McDaniel (Setter, 5'10, Columbia Rock Bridge HS)
    Shayli Meyer (Defensive Specialist, 5'6, Sioux City, IA)
    Caitlyn Vann (Libero, 5'9, Muncie, IN)

    Size was an obvious concern for this class. The Tigers only lose three seniors from last year's squad, but two of them--6'2 Jessica Vander Kooi and 6'3 Nicole Wilson--were the Tigers' most reliable attackers. They do return 6'3 senior Na Yang (a favorite of Mizzou Sanity), and 6'2 sophomores Megan Wilson and Amanda Hantouli (both of whom showed potential last year), but depth is needed, and neither Wilson nor Hantouli play as tall as Vander Kooi or Wilson did last year (yet). If either Ojo or Wilson (no relation to Nicole or Megan) can work their way into the rotation (I assume Wang will redshirt, as is the usual practice with the Kreklows' Chinese recruits), then that will help depth considerably.

    The other concern for this class was addressed by getting a JUCO transfer (and a good one, apparently) at setter. Lei Wang was pretty decent last year considering she was a redshirt freshman and was replacing Lindsey Hunter, probably the best Mizzou volleyballer ever, but signing Luiza Jarocka gives the Kreklows depth and options...which will be nice. The Tigers hit some prolonged slumps last year.

    One good thing about a huge class like this is, you can prepare for the future too. They picked up a libero who will hopefully be ready to replace Tatum Ailes after next season. Ailes is a stud (and a personal favorite of my wife's), but she finally ends her eligibility in '07...seems like she's been around forever (in a good way). Shayli Meyer should have an opportunity to play right away, as Mizzou's only defensive specialist on the roster in '06 (Abbie Booth) graduated.

    I realize that's probably more than you ever wanted to know about Mizzou volleyball. Just wait until the season actually starts!


Monday, April 23, 2007

Mizzou Spring Football Preview

There will obviously be plenty more said about Mizzou football in 2007, but I figured I should finish off this spring preview series with a quick Mizzou summary.


In 2006, Chase Daniel replaced Brad Smith as Mizzou QB, and for a little while, it felt like everything had changed. Mizzou didn’t slip up against a mid-major team in the non-conference season. Mizzou destroyed a good conference team (Texas Tech) on the road. Heading into an October 26 home matchup with Oklahoma, Mizzou was 7-1 and looking to make a major statement. And then, over the last five games of the year, Mizzou would win once. The more things change...? Sort of.

Despite returning most major offensive and defensive weapons in 2006, and despite finishing 2005 on an emotionally high note—coming back from 21 down to win the Independence Bowl—it was hard for Missouri to find respect in the preseason. They were picked by just about everybody to finish closer to the bottom of the weak Big XII North than the top. Among other publications, the Sporting News picked Mizzou to lose at home to an Ole Miss team that had gone 3-8 the season before (granted, TSN is historically wretched at predictions—they picked Colorado #1 in ’97...and the Buffs finished 5-6—but still...). Say you have a player like Brad Smith, and say most of the country can’t name another player on your team...when that player departs, it’s pretty easy to predict that the bottom of the program will drop out. However, Bill Simmons hasn’t popularized the Ewing Theory for nothing. It turned out that the players who, for four years, deferred to Brad Smith on every major play (for better or worse), could make some plays themselves. In 2006, Mizzou averaged significantly more yards per play (6.0) than in any season of the Brad Smith era (5.3 in ’05, 4.9 in ’04, 5.7 in ’03, 5.3 in ’02).

The Chase Daniel era started with a bang—destroying Mississippi, 34-7, in a statement game, then going on the road to pick off New Mexico, 27-17. Missouri started to get some attention after travelling to Lubbock and nailing the Red Raiders, 38-21. The most impressive part of the Tech game, however, was how good the defense looked. Forcing turnovers, coming up with big sacks...this team appeared to have it all—even a consistent place-kicker! However, the next week Mizzou fumbled three times in the first half against Texas A&M, ran the worst fake field goal ever, and lost, 25-19. They appeared to bounce back the next week, thumping K-State, 41-21, in Columbia; however, that game represented something of a tipping point in the season. Brian Smith broke his hip while David Overstreet was returning a fumble for a TD—the flukiest of fluky plays—and the defense would suffer greatly in his absence.

Teams were able to run on Missouri, and though part of this could be explained by the fact that Mizzou’s opponents were simply better rushing teams, Smith’s absense really hurt. The swagger was gone. OU beat Mizzou pretty easily (26-10), and a couple of deflected interceptions threw the Tigers into a giant hole in Lincoln the next week. Mizzou threatened to come back in the second half, but they eventually fell to the Huskers, 34-20. Mizzou was now 7-3, but losses to ATM, OU, and Nebraska are nothing to sniff at. The first significant setback came in a road loss to a very poor Iowa State team playing their last game for Dan McCarney. I could write a 5,000-word piece about how putrid the officiating was in this game (including 2,000 words about the single worst call ever), but the fact was, Mizzou lost, 21-16 after being up 10-0 after two possessions. They were free-falling, and Kansas—winners of three straight over Missouri—was coming to town. The bandwagon was emptying in a hurry, but Mizzou responded with an encouraging 42-17 destruction of the Jayhawks.

And all I’ll say about the Sun Bowl is, the offense was amazing, the defense made some plays but faltered late, Adam Crossett did not touch the on-side kick, Oregon State got away with a fumble at the Mizzou 1, and a 39-38 loss did nothing to sway my ever-eternal optimism for the next season. Yup, that just about covers it.

Key Returnees

The offense returns almost every single major weapon from 2006, leading to insanely high offensive expectations for 2007. You have to love Chase Daniel’s “If they want to put expectations on us, then bring it on” statement in the B&G post-game, but Mizzou fans who lived through the disappointment of 2004 will likely be taking a wait-and-see attitude. Nevertheless, any team that returns Chase Daniel, Tony Temple, Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker, Will Franklin, Jared Perry, Danario Alexander, and four starting O-linemen will likely put up some ridiculous numbers.

On defense, there are obviously plenty of question marks. However, let’s start with the good news—the Tigers will have easily their best unit of defensive tackles since at least 2004. A healthy Ziggy Hood and Lorenzo Williams should hold up the interior of opposing O-lines, and strong play for them will make life easier for a set of fast but inexperienced LB’s (Brock Christopher is the only returning starter in the LB corps). The biggest question mark on the team will probably be at the DE position—same as pretty much everybody else in the conference. Along with Brian Smith, the Tigers will have to replace Xzavie Jackson, a possible second-day pick in the NFL draft. Likely starters Stryker Sulak and Tommy Chavis still need to distinguish themselves.

If the pass rush is at least competent, the pass defense as whole really could be pretty solid. Darnell Terrell was injured on the sidelines while the defense was getting lit up in the B&G Game, but he will be a pretty strong #1 CB in the fall. Domonique Johnson’s departure left a void at the other starting CB position, likely to be filled by either Hardy Ricks or Castine Bridges. The safety position should be pretty strong, as William Moore, Pig Brown, and Justin Garrett (among others) appear capable of replacing David Overstreet and Brandon Massey. Missouri only gave up 6.0 yards per pass attempt in ’06—best in the conference—and though there has been turnover from ’06 to ’07, let’s just say that I’m much more worried about the pass rush than the play of the secondary.

There is strong continuity in the special teams unit, as kicker Jeff Wolfert, punter Adam Crossett, leading kick returner Earl Goldsmith, and leading punt returner Tommy Saunders all return, though there should be challenges for the latter three positions into the fall.

Spring Developments

Everything you need to know about the Spring is in either Merlin’s B&G Game observations or the links at the bottom of the Merlin post.

Fun With Numbers

By the numbers, here are the five biggest keys to success for MU in 2006:

1. Rushing Attempts
2. Time of Possession
3. Opponents’ 3rd Down Conversions
4. 3rd Down Conversion Ratio
5. First Down Ratio

The offense had some ups and downs last year, and I’m sure there will be at least a few of those in 2007, but looking at this list, it’s pretty obvious how Mizzou games went down—when Mizzou was getting some defensive stops, they were winning. And when they were winning, they were running the ball more. Ball control will be the major issue in 2007. The defense will give up yards, but if they can force opponents to punt occasionally and prevent them from running the ball and eating the clock (in other words, the bend-but-don’t-break defense Mizzou patented in 1998), the offense should more than come through.

I’ll go much further in depth in the predictions department later on, but for now I’ll just say that the schedule is tricky but manageable in 2007. The season starts with a couple of landmines in Illinois (neutral site) and Ole Miss (on the road), but if Mizzou is as good as they’re supposed to be, they’ll be 4-0 when Nebraska comes to town to start the Big XII season. After that, who knows? Getting Nebraska, Tech, and ATM at home (and moving the Kansas game from Lawrence to Kansas City) could be huge. If Gary Pinkel’s team really does have a North title in them, the schedule won’t get in their way.


Mizzou Links, 4-23-07

In all, I'd say this was a pretty good week for Mizzou sports...

  • A gorgeous day for the B&G Game, Pinkel shows up at the big tailgate (as noted below), and there's a pretty decent crowd there (for Mizzou, anyway). And nobody got seriously hurt (on the field or in the stands)!
  • Mizzou Softball thumped #5 ATM Saturday night and split the series overall. They are 9-2 overall, tied with Baylor (in the loss column, anyway) for the conference lead.
  • Mizzou Baseball won yet another road series, taking 2 of 3 from Baylor to move to 9-6 in conference (3rd overall, 1 game behind OSU for 2nd) and 28-12 overall.
  • Shernelle Nichols had another ridiculous day in Lawrence this weekend. A day after breaking the Barbados national record for the hammer throw, she broke the Barbados shot put record as well, putting her in the top 5 in the country in that category.
  • And finally, lost (by me) amid the football talk earlier this week was a nice profile of Linas Kleiza in the KC Star.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Black & Gold Game recap

I was at a wedding yesterday, so I asked Tigerboard and PowerMizzou poster Merlin to write a recap. Thanks, Merlin!

After several weeks of preperation, and numerous phone calls and emails we were finally ready to hit the 1st annual B&G tailgate. The night before the game was like the season opener for me. I’m getting up at 6:00 am and I find myself up at midnight unable to sleep. I’ve got 3 cases of beer, 2 cases of sodas and water iced down and am hoping I can get all of it fit into the car. I get a phone call from TigerJeff shortly after midnight wondering if I was unable to sleep. About 10 of them are out of the site partying and have heard from others that they are on the way. I start to feel better that this is going to be a success. I definitely need to sleep for a couple of hours.

I hear music in my dreams. Why doesn’t someone turn that damn alarm off? Looking up I see it’s 6:00. I guess I’m the one that should turn the thing off. Time to get around. I need to clean up, get my oldest son moving and get the car loaded. We’re pulling out of here at 7:30 hoping for a 9:00am arrival. Oh the way over I get 3 calls from Jeff asking how far out we are. I’ll need to remember to install a tracking device next year. He does mention that we are nearing 50 people and it isn’t even 9:00 yet. I’m feeling better about this thing all the time. When we arrive, I’m just stunned. The parking lot looks like Nebraska is coming to town. It’s packed. I later discover that the students weren’t required to move due to the spring game. I stop by a group of RV’s and ask if these are PowerMizzou fans. Yep, I’m in the right spot. It’s shortly after 9:00 am and I see 30 or 40 geriatrics like myself eating breakfast burritos and drinking beer. Even if it hadn’t been the right place, this is where we would have stayed.

Introductions all around and more coming as people arrive. 10:00 am and we easily have 100 folks there. ZouDave arrives with his father and I finally get to pay homage to the guy that provided us with those fabulous videos through the season. He’s promised that next year they’re going to be even better. I’d brought my camera along, but Gabe has provided a staff photographer to record this for history. Since I’m into my 3rd beer I decide to just let his guy handle this photo op. I’ll concentrate on making people feel welcome. I get a chance to speak with Gabe and the other organizers and we’re hoping our surprise visitors make it out. Sarah Baumgardner (sp?) from the TSF arrives. She’s about as hot as I’d heard. If she’d send bikini photos out with her requests for money, she’d probably increase donations by 30%. I decide not to suggest that to her.

About 11:30 our main guest arrives. The SID bring Coach Pinkel to visit with the huddled masses. He’s out in his old gold suit and black pullover. I expected him to make a quick speech and exit, but he works the crowd. Lots of photo ops here for folks that don’t often get to meet him and he seems happy to be there. After his PR mistakes in the past, I think he’s starting to “get it”. After all, we’re Mizzou fans and we want to be catered to. Later, Mike Alden makes it by and works the crowd himself. I was happy to hear he received no death threats. On to the scrimmage………

As we enter, the band is playing and the Golden Girls are dancing at the main entrance to the stadium. Wow. Those girls just get better and better looking.

We select a couple of seats about half way up and it looks to be a decent crowd. I’m going to say that the lower section is pretty much full between the 20 yard lines with a very nice sprinkling up higher where we are. I’m estimating somewhere in the 10 to 12 thousand range. No Nebraska crowd, but nothing to be embarrassed about either. The offense appears to be what we imagined. While Chase Daniel is in, it pretty much looks unstoppable, and Chase Patton looks good too. I see that they are making an effort to get Jason Ray involved. Our 10-20 yard passing attack looks unstoppable. I sure hope this is because the offense is just that good, and not because our defense sucks. Ok, I definitely choose to believe that our offense is just that unstoppable. I’m a complete homer, remember? Temple runs the ball well and I’m happy to see Marcus Woods involved. We could be so much better if he can put last year behind him. I love the kid and you have to respect his attitude after all the adversity he’s faced. CD is taken out after 1 play in the 2nd quarter. It’s going to be mostly backups from now on. I was very happy to see one of my local boys; James Stigall working with the starters at right guard. I’m hopeful that his experiment at center is almost over.

After the scrimmage, we return to the tailgate and wait for some reports from Gabe on the recruits. I talk with Killer and Nick and some others. We’ve all agreed that we intend to believe that our offense is just going to be impossible to stop and our defense will do much better when not faced with such a dynamo. I come to the realization that I should have worn a cap since my head is apparently burned beyond recognition.

Gabe arrives after filing his stories. Still no Gabbert, but he still firmly believes that we’ll be getting him sooner than later. I’m hoping so also. We load up the coolers and prepare to head back to Blue Springs. One last tour, shaking hands and hugging like we’d known people forever, and it’s over. This fix is going to have to do me until September. It probably wouldn’t be this hard if only the Royals weren’t still so painful to watch. But it was a great day, and hope abounds for a 10 + win season this fall. We’re so overdue.

For those of you interested, here are some B&G Game articles:

* Official recap
* Power Mizzou's Instant Analysis and official stats
* Plenty of coverage from the Trib, along with a Chase Daniel Q&A
* Plenty of coverage from the KC Star, along with a lovely Marcus Woods feature
* Not quite as much coverage from the Post-Dispatch


Saturday, April 21, 2007

Texas Tech Spring Football Preview


With Mike Leach’s offensive scheme, Texas Tech would probably lead the league in passing if yours truly were their #2 receiver. Granted, my YAC average would be lower than Byron Hanspard’s GPA, but you get the point. But as the differences between 2005 and 2006 proved, continuity is still important in Lubbock. For the first time in seemingly ever, Leach handed the reins to somebody who wasn’t a fifth-year senior—sophomore Graham Harrell—in 2006, and the Red Raiders took a step backwards. That, or 2005 was above standard, and Tech just regressed to the mean. Either way, Tech managed to look a bit shaky while throwing for 369 yards per game last year...definitely not an easy feat. But if “regression” equals 8 wins, that shows how far Tech has come under Leach.

Coming off a 9-3 2005 season which saw them qualify for the Cotton Bowl—their biggest bowl game since, well, the 1995 Cotton Bowl—Tech took a step backwards in ’06. Playing someone harder than 2005’s non-conference slate of Florida International, Sam Houston State, and, I think, Lee’s Summit North High School, Tech barely escaped El Paso with a win on 9/9 (defeating UTEP, 38-35, in OT), then got tripped up by TCU the next week, scoring only 3 points in the process, their lowest total since scoring 3 against Nebraska in 2000. The Red Raiders rebounded by winning in College Station and moving to 4-1, but back to back losses to Missouri (38-21) and Colorado (30-6, the first time in Leach’s tenure that they’d been held to single digits twice in the same season) sent them reeling. A win in Ames got the Red Raiders back on the right path and moved them to 5-3 when horrid Big XII officiating struck hard against Texas; a couple of horribly questionable (to my eyes, anyway) calls—one of them being the right call being overturned in the replay booth and the wrong call standing—led the Longhorns to a 35-31 victory. Tech recovered well, however. They defeated Baylor and Oklahoma State and went to the Insight Bowl an overwhelming favorite over sinking Minnesota.

Either an inspired effort by Minnesota or a sleepwalk by Texas Tech led the Golden Gophers to a 38-7 lead halfway through the 3rd quarter of the Insight Bowl. However, Minnesota then learned what every Big XII team already knew—you must continue stepping on Tech’s throat, otherwise you might lose. Two TD passes and two TD runs later, it was 38-35 when Alex Trlica’s 52-yard bomb as time expired sent the game to OT. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who was going to win at that point. A 3-yard Shannon Woods run in the first OT gave Tech a 41-38 victory and the biggest comeback win in bowl history. The game signified the entire 2006 season for Tech—their defense was (as always) shaky and their offensive execution was inconsistent, but you can never, ever count them out.

Key Returnees

Continuity could be the major issue for Tech once again this season. Graham Harrell returns (though he got a strong battle from RS Freshman Taylor Potts in the spring), as does junior RB Shannon Woods. However, replacements are needed for Harrell’s top two targets—Joel Filani and Robert Johnson, who combined for 180 catches, 2,171 yards, and 24 TD’s in ’06. You know the system will produce new stars, but still...that is some hellacious production to replace. Danny Amendola returns, and guys like L.A. Reed, Michael Crabtree, Grant and Todd Walker, and Edward Britton will be fighting to become Harrell’s new top target.

Continuity problems might also strike on the O-line, where four starters must be replaced. Replacements like Ofa Mohetau were pretty highly-recruited, but a) there is always a breaking-in period with new linemen, and b) the number of scholarship players on the O-line is in the single digits. In other words...little experience and no depth. It’s hard to know whether to expect improvement or regression for the Tech offense in ’07—they have a returning starter at QB for the first time in eons, but the WR corps and O-line are quite raw.

In Texas Tech’s 2007 Spring Prospectus (pdf), here’s the first sentence regarding Tech’s D-Line: “At what might be the thinnest area of the depth chart, the Red Raiders enter spring practice with just seven scholarship players up front on defense.” OUCH. When former Mizzou commit Richard Jones went out for the spring due to shoulder surgery, Tech was down to two DT’s. Coach Leach, you might want to recruit more than just WR’s...just so you know. I mean, I realize you’ve always just looked to outscore teams in shootouts—and you’re pretty good at doing just that—but jeez...

There is at least better news in the LB corps. The group there is relatively unheralded, but they’re experienced. Seniors Kellen Tillman, Chad Hill, and Paul Williams might not make a lot of big plays, but they’ll at least bring to the table a stabilizing influence. With a porous D-line, though, they’ll be forced to make a lot of plays.

The one unit which could actually consitute good news is the secondary, where both safeties (Darcel McBath and Joe Garcia) and CB Chris Parker return. Tech’s pass defense was actually quite decent in 2006. They gave up only 5.7 yards per pass and 10.4 yards per catch, while allowing only a 55.0% completion rate. The problem here is, they will be quite overworked if the front seven can’t stop anybody.

Bowl hero Alex Trlica and strong kick returner Danny Amendola anchor a pretty decent special teams corps.

Spring Developments

The major developments were already mentioned above. Taylor Potts outplayed Graham Harrell on more than one occasion and threatened to turn Harrell into the first QB to throw for 4,500 yards one year and lose his starting gig the next since...ever? Meanwhile, injuries on the interior threatened to turn two thin units (O-line and D-line) into anorexic ones.

Fun With Numbers

By the numbers, here are the five biggest keys to success for Tech in 2006:

1. First Down Ratio
2. Rushing Yards
3. Yards Per Carry
4. Yards Per Pass Attempt
5. Third Down Ratio

This was relatively similar in 2004 and 2005, too. This is the Texas Tech blueprint, and I don’t see the results changing too much—for better or worse—as long as Mike Leach is there. The extraordinary turnover on the lines could cause some out-of-the-ordinary numbers this year, though.

Just like I don’t know what to think about Tech in 2007, I don’t know what to think about their schedule, either. Their three major non-conference games are at SMU, UTEP at home, and at Rice. All three of those teams are, to some degree, capable of knocking off a BCS-level team on the right day. Rice was in a bowl last season, UTEP’s been pretty strong for a few years, and SMU damn near qualified for a bowl themselves (I also don’t know what to think about the SMU taking place at 3pm on a strange is that?? I realize it’s Labor Day and all, but...weird nonetheless). It really wouldn’t surprise me if Tech’s non-con record was just 3-1. As for the conference schedule...road games against OSU, Missouri, Texas, and Baylor lead to a 2-2 record at best, I would think. They get ATM and OU at home (along with Colorado—revenge game!—and Iowa State) 2-2 or 3-1 is likely there.

In other words, even with almost nonexistant line play, Tech’s probably looking at the same 7-5 or 8-4 season they experience just about every season. But even though their records are relatively predictable from year to year, I have to admit...nobody in the country goes on (or gives up) 20+ point runs like Tech. They’re always exciting.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Texas Spring Football Preview


If it’s possible for Texas to fly under the radar much of the season, that’s what happened. The whole world was watching on September 9, when the #2 Longhorns lost at home to #1 Ohio State, 24-7. After that, 2006 was written off somewhat as a rebuilding year for the ‘Horns. However, they quietly proceeded to break off eight straight wins (including another domination of OU and tight road wins in Lincoln and Lubbock) and were starting to position themselves for a run at the BCS title. But when people started paying attention again, Colt McCoy got banged up in Manhattan, and they lost to both K-State and ATM, falling all the way from National Title Game to Alamo Bowl, where they crawled past a mediocre Iowa team, 26-24, and finished the season at a quiet 10-3.

Since I’m rarely right (and since I didn’t have a blog at this point last year), I will now brag that I predicted that Texas to lose three games while breaking in a freshman quarterback. That was about 2 more losses than most publications were predicting. Go me. I, however, predicted losses to Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech...not so much Kansas State and Texas A&M. When they got past Oklahoma, Tech, and Nebraska in October, I started to honestly think the preseason hype was justified, that their talent was just so much better than anybody else’s that they could afford to break in a new player at the most important position on the field. Naturally, when I began to think that was about the time they collapsed. But at least they avoided a major letdown in the Alamo Bowl. That would have been just an unforgiveable slip-up.

The good news for teams starting a freshman QB is, you’ll then have an experienced starter for the next three years. Assuming Colt McCoy stays healthy, the ‘Horns will be quite steady at the QB position for years to come.

Key Returnees

As always, Texas loses plenty of big names and returns plenty of big names. Junior Jamaal Charles joins Colt McCoy in the backfield. In his first two seasons (while splitting carries with the likes of Selvin Young and Vince Young), Charles has managed 1,750 yards and 19 TD’s on just 275 carries. Not surprisingly, Charles’ averages went down last season without Vince Young in the backfield, but with Selvin Young out of the picture, Charles could be ready to put up some huge numbers. Meanwhile, somehow both Limas Sweed and Billy Pittman still have eligibility remaining. Seems like they’ve been at Texas forever. Texas will never hurt for talent at RB and WR, but the amount of experience they have this year is impressive...and can only help in McCoy’s attempt to avoid a sophomore slump. Also helping McCoy will be emergence of sophomore TE Jermichael Finley, who caught 31 passes for 3 TD’s last year.

On the O-line, we’ll get to see just how good Texas’ recruiting has been the last couple of years. Gone are the likes of Kasey Studdard and Jason Blalock and Lyle Sendlein, but Texas just reloads when big-timers leave. Guys like Cedrick Dockery and Tony Hills and Adam Ulatoski are still around, so the line should be just fine.

As for the defense...DE’s Brian Robison and Tim Crowder are finally gone (Whaaat? A Big XII team losing their DE’s??), but a) their replacements (probably Aaron Lewis and Brian Orakpo) are very good, and b) the DT’s (led by Frank Okam) should be fantastic. At LB, junior Rashad Bobino and seniors Scott Derry and Robert Killebrew have been steady but not spectacular, and they’ll continue to have to fend off guys like sophomore Sergio Kindle. It’s probably the secondary that has to be the biggest concern for new Defensive Coordinator Duane Akina. With a steady group of seniors like Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin last year, the Longhorn secondary gave up an average of 7.5 yards per pass (9th in the conference), 12.9 yards per completion (10th), and 236 yards per game (99th in the country). Now they have to find a bunch of new starters. Early returns have been unimpressive, as you’ll see in the next section.

Spring Developments

The major spring storylines for Texas were probably the following: 1) Who wins the backup QB job? 2) Who wins jobs in the secondary? 3) Can the secondary achieve the improvement that is needed?

Well, my guess for (1) is Sherrod Harris. My guess for (3) is a resounding no...which means my guess for (2) is irrelevant since there likely be a few shakeups to come. Read this from the Austin American-Statesman:

The coaching staff is actually thinking about going with two groups in the secondary. The veteran group would have cornerbacks Ryan Palmer and Brandon Foster and safeties Marcus Griffin and Drew Kelson or Erick Jackson.

If Kelson continues his improvement through the summer after spending the last season-plus at linebacker, look for Akina to start him at free safety, with Marcus Griffin starting at his customary strong safety spot.

The second group is where Akina will earn his money. His Young Lions freshman group from a year ago — Deon Beasley, Chykie Brown and Robert Joseph — will have to contribute right away, because injuries can lead to a dropoff in production if a team doesn't have quality depth.
Granted, I’m sure all of those guys were big-time recruits, but...let’s just say I’m skeptical, especially with the way the secondary (just about everybody listed above) got rocked by the offense at the spring game.

Fun With Numbers

Statistically, here were the five biggest keys to success for UT in 2006:

1. Yards Per Pass Attempt
2. Pass Completion %
3. Turnover Ratio
4. Yards Per Pass Completion
5. Opponents’ Turnovers

Another team that thrived on (or was tripped up by) big plays. When they were completing the long passes or forcing turnovers, they were winning no matter how much the secondary struggled. But do you remember what I discovered last week about teams that rely on big pass plays? They rarely get those big plays the next season. This team will test that theory, though, as they return just about everybody who caught those big passes (Sweed in particular) last season.

The 2007 schedule sees no Ohio State’s on the non-conference grid (TCU is by far the toughest team on the schedule...and that’s a matchup I really like to see), which will be nice since the ‘Horns will be breaking in whoever they choose to play in the secondary. The only problem for Texas is, it’s an odd-numbered year...meaning the OU game in Dallas counts as a home game for the ‘Horns, and they only get three conference games in Austin. Of course, that didn’t really seem to bother them in 2005, did it?


Mizzou Links, 4-20-07

  • Not surprising at all, but Mizzou Women's Basketball signee Shakara Jones was named Miss Show-Me Basketball. I don't know the last time we signed a girl who was offered by Tennessee...hopefully she lives up to the hype. Now we just need Yvonne Anderson (Mike's daughter) to sign next year, and Cindy Stein might be able to keep her job...pull some strings, Coach!
  • Mizzou hammer-thrower Shernelle Nicholls broke a national record! Granted, it was a Barbados national record, not a U.S. one, but that's still pretty damn impressive, right? She's qualified for NCAA regionals and is now in the Top 25 in the country...not bad.
  • If you're going to stage a Globetrotters-versus-Generals-esque exhibition, you probably shouldn't put Jason Sutherland on the Generals-esque team. Just sayin'. A fight might break out. Would love to have seen this, morbid curiosity would have been flying off the charts...
  • Looks like Max Scherzer is attempting to take the Luke Hochevar route. I guess being the #1 pick is more important to actually contributing to an organization. Good for Max, I guess, for figuring out how to increase his stature and make more money (though scouts say it's not going to work and he's just going to end up having wasted a year), but...I really, really, really hate Scott Boras.
  • And just to make sure I didn't go football-less in this post, here's a couple-days-old entry in Dave Matter's blog, which talks about, among other things, the kicker-holder relationship and William Moore's rap career. Good stuff as always from Dave. And here's a Ziggy Hood profile from the Missourian.

Big football recruiting weekend ahead for Mizzou. The B&G game itself is usually pretty important, but I'd say the recruiting situation is more important. If we can finally get Blaine Gabbert to commit this weekend (I say if he doesn't this weekend, it will be a mid- to late-summer decision at the earliest, and with his profile improving by the day, this probably wouldn't be a good thing for us), it could open the floodgates for us. Even if Gabbert never contributes on the field (it's doubtful that he'd flop, but never impossible), his impact on this recruiting class (he's tight with a lot of good players) could be huge. Cross your fingers.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mizzou Links, 4-19-07

Just one link today:

  • Mizzou Softball swept Kansas in Lawrence yesterday. The sweep did two things: 1) put Mizzou alone in first place in the Big XII, and 2) clinched the Border War, er Skirmish, er Battle, er Pillow Fight, er Yo Mama Insult Contest. (Scoring the game winner in the 7th was the equivalent of a nice "Yo mama so fat, she fell in love and broke it.")


Texas A&M Spring Football Preview

(I know Texas is next alphabetically, but I just didn't feel like writing about the Longhorns yet. So we're doing ATM.)


Lucky or good? While Missouri was 0-3 and OSU was 1-4 in games decided by less than a touchdown in 2006, Texas A&M won a whopping five of those games. That’s pretty crazy. What’s even crazier is, they lost another three more! They played in EIGHT tight games in 2006. But when you think about their style of play, it makes sense. Led by 600-pound Jorvorski Lane and super fast Michael Goodson, ATM was content to grind the ball and wear down opposing defenses. They were good enough at this that it kept a lot of games close; however, they weren’t good enough to destroy people with it. Missouri fans like to talk about how ATM “ran all over us”, but they really didn’t. They controlled the clock and ran 51 times...but they only managed 180 yards (an unimpressive 3.5 yards per carry). That was pretty typical of ATM’s 2006 season. ATM’s 540 rushing attempts were third in the conference (behind only OU and Nebraska), but they only ran for more than 250 yards in a game twice. They were definitely consistent, and they finished the year with the most rushing yards in the conference (and the best time of possession), but they weren’t all that dangerous. If you were able to avoid wearing down by keeping your own offense on the field for a while and piling up first downs, you definitely had the opportunity to compete against ATM. Just ask Army. And, chances are, if you lost to ATM, you were pretty pissed about it. Just ask Missouri.

In all, though, whether it was due to talent or luck, the Aggies won 9 games, a 4-win improvement over 2005. They beat four cupcakes (The Citadel, UL-Lafayette, Army, Louisiana Tech) in non-conference play—though they barely held off Army, 28-24—and started Big XII play on a down note, losing at the last second to Texas Tech. They then moved to 7-1 on the season by beating Kansas (last-second TD), Missouri (+3 in turnovers), and Oklahoma State (blocked PAT in OT) by a combined 10 points; by contrast, their 10-point win over Baylor was utter domination.

Lady Luck, however, got tired of bailing the Aggies out after a while, and ATM lost to Oklahoma and Nebraska by a combined 2 points. The 8-3 Aggies then shocked the entire conference by taking down Texas in Austin (cheap-shotting Colt McCoy eleventeen times in the process) and preventing Texas from winning the Big XII South.

And then in the Holiday Bowl, ATM got run off the field by a California team that looked about 4000% faster than them.

In all, it was a strange season for ATM. They returned (at least marginally) to prominence and saved Dennis Franchione’s job (for now), but they didn’t really look all that good in the process. They return a lot of players from 2006’s squad, but does that mean they’ll improve, or is Lady Luck waiting to smack them down again? No matter what, their games will be close ones, I guess.

Key Returnees

On offense, most of the players you’ve heard of return. QB Stephen McGee, RB Michael Goodson, RB Jorvorskie Lane, WR Kerry Franks, TE Martellus “Overrated” Bennett*. McGee is a hard-nosed, competitive guy. He’s the perfect QB for the physical offense that ATM presented last year. The demand on his arm isn’t high in this system—only Oklahoma State and Colorado threw fewer passes last year than ATM—but he’s shown the ability to make clutch plays and avoid mistakes (only 2 INT’s in 2006).

Lane and Goodson made for a nice “thunder and lightning” combination, especially as the season progressed and Goodson gained confidence. As I’ll mention in the ‘Spring Developments’ section, they are receiving challenges for playing time, so they (Goodson in particular) will have to stay on their game. That can’t be a bad thing. In the WR/TE corps, Franks and Bennett return, along with Earvin Taylor and Pierre Brown. This was a decent collection of receivers last year, but there isn’t a deep threat in the bunch (though they did manage to complete two bombs against Mizzou).

No matter how good the backfield was last year, they’d have been nothing without a solid O-line. They do lose OG Grant Dickey, but the rest of the line—led by OG Kirk Elder—returns intact.

On defense, there are many seniors scattered amongst the front seven. DT Red Bryant returns for his 17th season in maroon and white, as does DE Jarrett Jack. Neither are spectacular, but they’ve both made quite a few big plays in their career. The Aggies also must replace LB Justin Warren, who was by far their steadiest presence on D last season. The secondary, much maligned in 2006, does return quite a few contributors, most notably CB Danny Gorrer and FS Devin Gregg, but they lack the athleticism that you need to compile a truly strong secondary in this conference.

Spring Developments

The main goals of the spring for ATM were developing better defensive consistency and integrating at least some semblance of a vertical passing game. However, it’s hard to show progress in both areas since they have to go against each other in practice, isn’t it?

The major development of the spring appears to be the emergence of freshman RB Cornell Tarrant. The Ags have plenty of RB’s already, but he worked his way into the equation with a Demarco Murray-like spring. Goodson’s a good runner, but he was a bit inconsistent last year, so if Tarrant has a good August, you could expect Goodson to lose a few carries a game.

Fun With Numbers

By the numbers, here are the five biggest keys to success for ATM in 2006:

1. First Down Ratio
2. Opponents’ Total First Downs
3. Pass Completion %
4. Opponents’ 3rd Down Attempts
5. Opponents’ Yards Per Rush

ATM played a game of Russian Roulette in 2006. They were content to get first downs, eat the clock and wear down opponents. However, if the other team were able to string together some first downs, ATM was in for a battle. Unless ATM is able to create (and take advantage of) some more big play opportunities, the defense will need to improve significantly to avoid the same situation this year. Luck evens out in the end (unless you’re Mizzou, ahem), and if ATM was 2 games over .500 in tight games last year, there’s a decent chance that they go 2 games under .500 this year.

That, or I’m still bitter that Mizzou lost to ATM the way they did. Or both.

ATM has road games at Miami-FL, Missouri, Texas Tech, Nebraska, and Oklahoma in 2007, but that might not be a bad thing. Somehow (despite the vaunted “12th Man”) the Ags went 1-3 at home in conference last season...and 4-0 on the road. However, if ATM goes 1-3 at home again this year, that means they either lost to Kansas or Baylor in College Station. Possible, but unlikely. In all, I don’t see ATM improving much this season in the record category, but I don’t see too far a regression either. In the end, I’m pencilling them in for about an 8-4 mark.

* I don’t actually have anything against Martellus Bennett. He’s a decent TE. But he’s consistently named on Best TE’s lists on par with (or ahead of) Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman simply because he was a big-time recruit out of high school. In two seasons, he has 56 catches and 6 TD’s. Not bad for a TE. However, in two seasons Chase Coffman has AVERAGED 53 catches and 6.5 TD’s. They are not equals, and I’m really tired of their names being mentioned as if they were.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oklahoma State Spring Football Preview


In 2005, Oklahoma State lacked consistency on the offensive end. For the year, they averaged <4 yards per rush and <6 yards per pass. That’s bad. In 2006? Not so much. The ‘Pokes threw a stud WR (UNC transfer Adarius Bowman), a couple fast RB’s (Dantrell Savage, Keith Toston) and a more confident QB (Bobby Reid) into the mix, and the 2006 offense was as explosive as anybody’s in the conference. They averaged 5.18 yards per carry and 8.17 yards per pass, and went from 20 points per game to 35, a ridiculous one-year improvement. Not surprisingly, the win total increased as well, from 4 to 7. The improvement might have been more considerable had the defense not given up an average of 30 PPG in conference play. Granted, that was an improvement over the 40 PPG conference average in 2005, but the defense still left plenty to be desired. Their performance (and luck) in close games did as well, as they went 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

The road to bowl eligibility was a shaky one for the Cowboys in ’06. A 3-0 start (against the likes of SMS, Arkansas State, and Florida Atlantic) quickly turned to 4-3 after losses to Houston, Kansas State (31-27 in the final minute), and Texas A&M (34-33 a last-second ATM touchdown in regulation and a blocked PAT in OT). A 41-29 win over Nebraska (shades of Missouri’s 2003 victory over NU, where a tight game turned into a laugher in the 4th quarter), and a whipping in Austin (a 36-10 loss) followed, and OSU was 5-4 heading into a game against Baylor. In ’05 Baylor jumped out to a 30+ point lead in the first half. In ’06, it was OSU’s turn. They coasted to a 66-24 win and qualified for bowl eligibility. Good thing they did, too, as they proceeded to lose their last two games to Texas Tech (30-24) and Oklahoma (27-21). Their first tight win came in the Independence Bowl against a head coachless Alabama team. They threatened to blow the game wide open, blew a lead, then rebounded for a 34-31 win.

Strange coaching decisions in the OU game aside, 2006 was, without a doubt, a large success for OSU and 2nd-year head coach Mike Gundy. The offense was ridiculously fun to watch (only OSU and Boise State averaged both 200 yards rushing and passing in ’06), and the defense improved, though not enough to warrant serious contention in the Big XII South.

Key Returnees

All of OSU’s offensive weapons return, sans D’Shaun Woods. Gundy has been successful in recruiting quite a few athletes in his first couple of recruiting classes, and if somebody—possibly sophomore Atrell Woods (no relation), sophomore Jeremy Broadway or incoming freshman William Cole—emerges to replace Woods, the Cowboy offense could be the best in the conference. Junior QB Bobby Reid made unbelievable strides in ’06, though that had a lot to do with the emergence of Adarius Bowman and his ability to stretch the field. I honestly thought Bowman would declare for the NFL Draft after his ’06 season, but his return will do great things for OSU. The Cowboys also return both Savage (a senior, the offensive MVP of the Independence Bowl) and Toston at RB, along with converted fullback Julius Crosslin for short-yardage situations. The O-line returns three starters and probably won’t see much of a dropoff in performance.

On defense, the good news is, almost 100% of the LB’s and DB’s who contributed in 2006 return. They are led by potential playmakers LB Chris Collins, LB Jeremy Nethon safety Andre Sexton, and LB/safety Donovan Woods (the last of the Woods brothers). Where there aren’t proven playmakers among the back 7, there is at least experience. Guys like LB Rodrick Johnson and CB’s Jacob Lacey and Martel Van Zant have been around a while, and if they continue to show at least slight improvement, this defense probably will too. Also, Ricky Price has moved from WR to CB and has enjoyed a tremendous spring so far. That can’t hurt.

The bad news, however, is that the D-Line has to be almost complete reconfigured. Gone are Ryan McBean, Victor DeGrate, and Larry Brown. In their place are some experienced players (DE’s Marque Fountain, Nathan Peterson), but they have not been consistent enough to earn a continuous starting position over the last couple of years. How the D-line holds up will determine how much success OSU will have in 2007. However, the Pokes will benefit from returning all of their major special teams contributors, including stud punter Matt Fodge and scary return man Perrish Cox.

Spring Developments

Honestly, the key contribution might not come from any of the players listed above—it might come from new defensive coordinator Tim Beckman. Beckman was Jim Tressel’s cornerbacks coach at Ohio State in 2005 and 2006 after spending six years as Bowling Green’s defensive coordinator. He will be mixing in a lot of different schemes and unpredictability, and his defensive adjustments have been the major storyline in the spring. Among other things, he has turned Donovan Woods into a hybrid at safety/LB. Expect Donovan to line up in many, many different spots in the formation.

The other storyline has probably been the emergence of WR Artrell Woods. He didn’t do too much as a freshman last season, but he’s shown significant big-play potential so far this spring. Of course, he’s making these big plays against the OSU secondary, so you don’t really know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but Woods’ play possibly fills in two holes—the need for a big play guy to lineup across from Adarius Bowman, and the need for a stud WR named Woods. Seriously, they’ve had a Woods at WR since about 1998.

Fun With Numbers

By the numbers, here are the five biggest keys to success for OSU in 2006:

1. Opponents’ Completion %
2. Opponents’ Yards Per Passing Attempt
3. 3rd Down Conversion Ratio
4. Rushing Yards
5. Opponents’ Turnovers

This paints a pretty telling picture. First off, looking at these indicators probably tells you that the defense was pretty bad. It also tells you that big plays (big runs, big 3rd down stops, turnovers) allowed OSU to sometimes overcome the overall crappiness of the defense.

It also reaffirms that the defense needs to improve significantly this season. Will they? Read the above paragraphs and let me know what you think. I have no idea. One thing I do know is, the schedule gets tougher. Here’s the slate of 2007 road games: Georgia, Troy (I just gave every Mizzou fan nightmares), Texas A&M, Nebraska, Baylor, Oklahoma. If OSU goes 3-3 in these games (presumably, wins over Troy and Baylor and an upset of somebody else), they are in good shape for a strong bowl, as they’ll be favored in 5 of 6 home games. I really like the potential and athleticism of this squad, but that’s a tough set of road games. With this schedule, I’d say 8-4 is the best OSU can hope for. It’s unfortunate for the Cowboys that they don’t get another shot at last year’s schedule, I guess. This is a really fun team to watch, and with a big win or two, people will start to notice.


Mizzou Links, 4-18-07

  • Mizzou Baseball gets a strong start from Ian Berger and beats SMS, 3-1. And let's face it, any time you can beat SMS (in Springfield, no less), it's a good day.
  • And speaking of teams it's fun to beat, Mizzou Softball travels to Lawrence for a doubleheader this afternoon.
  • Dave Matter has some nice coverage of Spring Practice going on at his "Behind the Stripes" blog. Check it out if you're not already. And while we're at it, Graham Watson's done a pretty decent job as well. KC Star? Where's your blog??
  • In case you haven't noticed, former Tiger Ian Kinsler is absolutely ripping it up with the Rangers right now. This is All-Star caliber ball he's playing...
  • And finally, here's a story about OU's NCAA hearing regarding Bomar et al. David Boren's definitely in full politician mode here...


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Oklahoma Spring Football Preview


What are the three lingering memories you have from OU’s 2006 campaign? 1) OU getting screwed in Eugene, 2) Adrian Peterson breaking his collarbone, and 3) OU walking into a hornet’s nest of trick plays in the Fiesta Bowl against Boise State. You’d think this was a disappointing season. It wasn’t.

Most analysts handed the conference title to Texas at the beginning of the season, and after UT whooped OU in Dallas, it seemed like a done deal. However, OU ripped off eight straight wins while nobody was looking, and UT stumbled late in the season against K-State and ATM, and suddenly it was the Sooners thumping Nebraska in the Big XII title game instead of the Longhorns. Of course, that set them up for the craziness that was the Boise State game, but oh well. No matter what, the season was a success.

What was impressive about OU’s success in 2006 was the fact that the two biggest question marks entering the season—QB and O-line play—were two of the stronger aspects of OU’s play. Senior Paul Thompson was steady and error-free most of the season and allowed OU’s weapons—namely, Adrian Peterson and Malcolm Kelly—to make plays. When Peterson went down, Allen Patrick filled in admirably. Patrick was a workhorse back, carrying the ball 30+ times in wins over Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M and when he went down, Chris Brown was strong too.

Coming into 2006, the defense was supposed to be one of Bob Stoops’ best, and for the first month of the season they were anything but. Against UAB, Washington, and Oregon, OU gave up almost 400 yards per game. However, something clicked around the Texas loss, and things started to turn around. They held Colorado to 113 total yards and 5 first downs, they picked off Chase Daniel 3 times, they held Baylor to 140 total yards (-48 rushing), and they gave up only 100 points in the 8 games following the Texas loss...which is enough to forgive the 43 points they gave up in the Fiesta Bowl, ahem. In the end, they finished #16 in the nation in total defense...a very impressive recovery from a horrid non-conference start.

Key Returnees

The good news is, OU only lost 10 lettermen from last year’s squad. The bad news is, that 10 included Adrian Peterson, Paul Thompson, and Rufus Alexander. And their top three DE’s. The secondary, WR corps, and O-line return almost completely intact, though, and that’s huge.

There are all-conference candidates everywhere—RB Allen Patrick, WR Malcolm Kelly, OL Jon Cooper, DT DeMarcus Granger, safeties Reggie Smith and Darien Walker, etc., and OU always brings in a strong recruiting class. There is, however, a giant, gaping hole at QB. Paul Thompson was nothing if not steady filling in for the disgraced and departed Rhett Bomar. Thompson’s replacement doesn’t have to be flashy, but he can’t lose games.

Spring Developments

It seems 90% of the attention in the spring has been paid to the QB competition. Heck, their Spring Game was on ESPN (how unfair is that??), and that’s pretty much all the announcers talked about for two hours. The two main candidates are junior Joey Halzle and RSFr Sam Bradford. Bradford looked phenomenal in the Spring Game—I know this because it was on ESPN...have I mentioned how unfair that is? Down the line, I expect him to take the job, but Sooner coaches might try to be as cautious as possible with the young Bradford. Keith Nichol, a true freshman, graduated HS early and was in for spring ball, but he appeared to be a few steps behind. I assume he’ll redshirt.

Another development of spring practices was the emergence of yet another stud running back, redshirt freshman Demarco Murray. At the very least, he appears to have taken over the main kick return duties for the fall, but with his staggering numbers (16 carries, 132 yards in the 2nd scrimmage), he butted his way into the RB picture as well. Stoops likes to break freshmen in shortly (Adrian Peterson didn’t start until a few games into his freshman season), so I would figure Patrick is still #1 to start the season. With OU breaking in a new QB, though, you figure there will be plenty of carries to go around for Patrick, Murray, and Chris Brown.

The new QB will also have some strong weapons ready to catch some passes. Everybody knows about Malcolm Kelly, but RSFr Adron Tennell emerged as a strong threat in the spring, and sophomore TE Jermaine Gresham has started to prove why he was the #1 TE recruit in the country coming out of high school. This OU offense, with a strong load of freshmen and sophomores, could be OU’s most explosive offense in quite a while, but with such young personnel, OU fans must worry a bit about inconsistency.

As for the defense, there were quite a few new faces to work into the mix on the D-line (doesn’t it seem like every school in the conference lost their DE’s??). You never worry about OU’s talent level, but the same inconsistency bug I mentioned regarding the offense could bite the D as well.

LB Ryan Reynolds was lost for the spring to a knee injury—after being lost all of last season due to a knee injury—and that was a disappointment, but JUCO transfer Mike Reed and junior Curtis Lofton emerged as big-time hitters. Overall, the offense crushed the defense in the Spring Game, and while you don’t want to read too much into that, a scenario in which the defense starts slow and improves throughout the season (a la 2006) is definitely plausible.

Fun With Numbers

By the numbers*, here are the five biggest keys to success for OU in 2006:

(* The numbers have changed slightly from this linked post as I tinker with ways to calculate correlation)

1. Opponents’ Completion %
2. Penalty Yards
3. Opponents’ Yards Per Pass Attempt
4. First Down Ratio
5. Opponents’ Rushing Yards

First of all, this does suggest that OU’s breaking in of a new QB won’t be the make-or-break issue for OU in 2007. Like everybody else in the conference, OU will be breaking in new pass-rushers, and how fast they find them (Alonzo Dotson appears to be the most likely candidate) will dictate how quickly the pieces of the defense fall into place. If the opponent’s QB is under pressure and the pass defense is solid, then OU will likely find success, new QB or no new QB.

OU was also the only team in the conference whose success was so strongly altered by their number of penalty yards. A team with this level of experience (and, one would hope, more discipline) on the O-line and in the secondary should be able to cut their overall number of penalties, and taking that out of the equation could lead to more success.

It would behoove the Sooners to not wait a month before playing defense like last season, though with this year’s slate, they might get away with it. Last year’s trip to Eugene is replaced this year with a trip to Tulsa—definitely not a gimme, but being that they’ll have half the fans in the stands, it’s definitely a better situation. Last year they hosted Washington, this year it’s Miami-FL. Sadly, Miami isn’t much of a step up from Washington, but you know they have athletes. Breaking in a new QB and playing so many freshmen and sophomores on offense, you could definitely see OU slipping up at some point, but I have to think that they still have pretty good odds of duplicating last year’s 10-2 regular season record, especially if they emerge from the non-conference slate unscathed.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Nebraska Spring Football Preview


After a five-year absence, Nebraska was back in the Big XII Championship in 2006. Granted, they got walloped by OU, but ask any Nebraska fan, and this was just a sign of things to come. Whether or not it actually is, has yet to be determined.

The 2006 Husker offense best represented what was expected all along from Bill Callahan. Nebraska rushed the ball about 40 times per game, and though their rushing attack didn’t threaten to break any records, when it was clicking, it opened up the passing game and made Zac Taylor’s job pretty easy.

The “Big Red is back!” talk peaked somewhere around the 4th quarter of the Texas game on October 21. At that point, NU was 6-1 (with only a road loss to USC) and leading the Longhorns. However, Texas came back to win, 22-20, and Nebraska was simply above average from then on out. Home wins against Missouri and Colorado, a road loss to Oklahoma State, and a narrow road win against ATM set the stage for the 9-3 Huskers to face a surprising Oklahoma team in the Big XII Championship. Nebraska lost, 21-7 (it really didn’t ever seem that close), then lost in the Cotton Bowl to Auburn. The 17-14 loss was highlighted by two things a) Nebraska holding its own physically against an athletic Auburn team, and b) Bill Callahan getting horrifically outcoached. That ended a 9-5 Husker season.

In all, NU’s offense tailed off over the last four games of the season, but not enough to keep Zac Taylor from winning the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year award and Nebraska from having their most successful season since Frank Solich was fired (for, ironically, winning only nine games).

Key Returnees

Nebraska lost two key contributors on offense—QB Zac Taylor and RB Brandon Jackson. Taylor was the award-winner, but he was nothing if Jackson wasn’t running (and catching) the ball well. We’ve all heard everything we need to hear about Sam Keller, Taylor’s likely replacement, but replacing Jackson will be the major key to the Huskers’ success. Marlon “Four Heismans” Lucky injured his knee in the spring game (though it’s likely a minor injury) and spent part of the offseason in the hospital for undisclosed reasons, and backup Kenny Wilson is out for the season already. It’s also been a while since Cody Glenn was 100% healthy.

In other words, RB is a huge question mark for Nebraska.

The WR position, however, is not. Maurice Purify is underrated, and along with Terrence Nunn, Nate Swift, Frantz Hardy and Todd Peterson, Callahan finally has the receiving resources available to run the offense he’s always envisioned. The O-line has key cogs returning as well; the unit showed improvement in 2006, though I still wouldn’t label this one of the better O-lines in the conference. We’ll see what another year of experience does.

As for the defense...there were losses galore. Like seemingly every other team in the conference, the Defensive End position is a question mark, as NU will have to replace both Adam Carriker and Jay Moore. The interior of the D-Line should be solid, as Ndamukong Suh looks like he could be a star. At LB, somehow Bo Ruud and Corey McKeon both have eligibility remaining. I could have sworn they were both seniors last year, but whatever. The secondary’s success will depend on JUCO transfers. Rarely is that a good thing, but you never know. It looks like Zackary Bowman will once again miss significant time due to a knee injury, and though the Huskers are expecting him to be ready to play at some point this season, how often do guys come back from multiple knee injuries to play at a super-high level?

One thing that could jump up and bite NU is special teams. Nebraska was averaging in the punting and return categories last year, but they had a steady kicker in Jordan Congdon (he didn’t have a booming leg, but he was steady within his range). Well, Congdon transferred, so this could be a mediocre unit all around.

Spring Developments

I complained last week about how some schools just don’t have much in regard to Spring Football coverage. Well...needless to say, that is not the case with Nebraska. There are plenty of good outlets for Husker football. This Journal Star article is a good, concise summary of NU’s spring goings-on. The main storyline, of course, was the QB battle. Sam Keller seemed strong throughout the spring, but he’s gotten a nice battle from Joe Ganz, whose physical non-prowess is balanced out by his strong grasp of the West Coast offense. You have to figure Keller wins the job in the fall, but Ganz is putting up a fight.

On defense, the story was the retooled D-line. Not only does NU have to replace four starters, but they also had to replace their D-line coach. Suh looks like a stud, but all the other positions are still a bit up in the air. NU seems pretty high on Ty Steinkuhler, who is roughly the 194th Steinkuhler to play for Nebraska. If the D-line can’t find consistency, the strong LB corps will be neutralized. And considering the secondary is every bit as shaky as the D-line, this might not be a wonderful season for the Black Shirts.

Fun With Numbers

As discussed previously, here were the five statistical categories that were most directly related to NU’s success/failure last year:

1. Rushing Yards
2. 3rd Down Conversion Ratio
3. Rushing Attempts
4. Pass Completion %
5. 3rd Down Conversion Rate

I’ve been tinkering with numbers a lot recently, and no matter how I look at it, the rushing offense is absolutely vital for NU’s success. Marlon Lucky needs to be a) healthy and b) every bit as good as he was supposed to be when he arrived in Lincoln if the Huskers are going to be successful. The passing offense should be strong with Keller throwing to Purify, etc., but that won’t matter if the running game isn’t a threat.

A fun schedule awaits Nebraska in 2007. A trip to Winston-Salem (where Wake Forest will look to duplicate last year’s unprecedented success...though I doubt they will) follows a tricky season opener against Nevada. After that comes (I assume) the College Gameday crew for a September 15 game against USC. Assuming NU’s 2-0, that could be a matchup of two Top Ten teams. NU will get to ease into the Big XII schedule, as three of their first four games are at home. They should find themselves 3-1 (I’m counting their road game in Columbia a loss, dammit!) heading to the back end of the schedule. They finish with three of four on the road, but only the trip to Austin is too daunting. They will probably need to avoid tripping up at Boulder or Lawrence to have a shot at the North title. In all, I’m think 8-4/5-3 is the most likely scenario for a team with this many question marks (RB, DL, DB, special teams, Callahan), but I’m admittedly biased against the Huskers (what Tiger fan isn’t?). I really don’t think Nebraska is back in elite territory, but I’ve been wrong before.